Going Insane (Terrain): my first obstacle race

I really, really didn’t want to sign up for Insane Terrain. It’s difficult to put into words quite how resistant I was to it, so I’ll sum it up with this photo.

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Why was I so horrified? Well firstly I have, as mentioned, the upper body strength of a Betty Spaghetti doll (do they still make these?)

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So the thought of having to winch myself up bales of hay and – my own personal nemesis after an exhausting day at Go Ape – cargo nets, filled me with a deep sense of dread. Especially when I imagined the type of people who would enjoy obstacle races (eg burly macho men on stag dos wearing Borat mankinis and crushing cans of Stella onto the forehead of a naked, comatose groom) braying with laughter as I slipped to my death/drowned in mud/got eaten by a rabid cow.

Secondly I have Raynaud’s disease – a joyous, if non-threatening, circulatory issue that means my hands are perpetually a shade of blue known in painting circles as ‘floating corpse’. Therefore getting drenched in cold water and mud, without the prospect of warming up until I reached a hot bath (assuming my useless fingers could correctly fumble with the taps) was not a tempting one.

Why did I agree? I was ‘persuaded’ (read: emotionally blackmailed) into it by two of my running friends, Sam and Carol, who felt (accurately) that I owed them one after making them go to a particularly brutal exercise class (with each squat, Sam’s eyes had clearly read: ‘This is your fault’.)

So, buoyed up by the fact that I could whinge at them the entire way around the course, I signed up. And it all seemed a blissfully long way away until, suddenly, it wasn’t.

Yesterday morning I woke up at a reasonable time (we’d sensibly signed up for a wave starting at a most civilised 11.30am), ate some cereal, complained to my boyfriend, laced up my oldest shoes (before apologising to them that their year of hard service was about to be rewarded with mud-mageddon) and fearfully climbed into Sam’s car – towel and clean clothes in hand.

It didn’t take long to get to the course, in Doddington towards Cambridge – in fact we had almost an hour to spare after registering. Unusually there was no race pack sent out for Insane Terrain, and no number or time chip (it’s an untimed race, which I loved, plus a number would be unreadable by the time you’d tackled your first mud hill) but registration was blissfully simple and quick. And I’d forgotten you received a free T-shirt, so that was a bonus. Although possibly foolish of me to put it on straight away, therefore coating it in thick black pond slime (it’s fine after a good wash).

We then hung around in the sunshine (yay) watching the waves before us head off, and trying to work out what the course was like based on the state of the finishers. Essentially muddy, wet and foamy. It was particularly hilarious watching groups of girls set off in matching pink or orange tutus, only to return looking like the grimy confetti in church gutters.

Apart from the sunshine, I was greatly cheered by the type of people who had turned out to race. There were lots of women of all different shapes and sizes (always one of my favourite things about running – it’s such a equalising hobby) men who didn’t look like they were on stag dos or practicing for army recruitment, and even families and dogs, not racing but sitting happily with pulled pork sandwiches and watching the racers.

The sick feeling in my stomach started to lift. Perhaps this would all be ok. Or even… fun?

Finally it was time to start, and after a quick warm-up, a group of around 50 of us (although I am notoriously bad at estimating crowd numbers, so read ‘between seven and 300 of us’) set off. At first, as is usual in races, there was a bit of a pile up, especially as we reached the first obstacle – a thigh-high pit of brown water to wade through. After being a bit precious about my trainers during the first faintly muddy section of the run, I realised resistance was futile – they were going to be ruined – so I might as well enter into the spirit. I plunged in. It was cold, but not as shocking as it might have been. In fact the only shock was the man in front who deliberately slapped water behind him, soaking us all (thanks bud). I emerged with soggy legs and a mud-streaked face, curious about what would come next.

The racers were dispersing now, allowing us stragglers to walk the most slippery sections of path. We wound through a little wood, climbing (gracelessly) over tree trunks and getting our trainers stuck in muddy puddles. It was a little wait before more obstacles, which included a balance beam and wooden logs to climb or slip under depending how lazy you felt (very).

Then it was on to the best bit – slippy, slidey inclines which were almost impossible to scramble up. It was difficult enough to get any purchase in the first place, but even more so after you’d fallen into the squelchy puddle of mud at the bottom, giving your body the traction of a wet bar of soap. If there’s anything more hilarious than watching your friend face-plant into a puddle, and laughing so much you instantly do the same, I’d like to know about it. I think I burnt more calories laughing on these slopes than I did during the whole run.

Grinning ear-to-grubby-ear, we eventually were hauled over the top by friends and strangers, and moved on – but not before Sam’s daughter snapped this marvelous muddy shot.

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The next tricky spot was an inflatable run-through, which was a lot less fun than the hills. Mostly because, as a vertically-challenged woman, I found it impossible to get over the bouncy fences when I was so slick with mud. In the end I abandoned all dignity and was man-handled over by a very tolerant marshal. Next we scrambled over hay bales like graceful antelope. Only joking. We took many unsuccessful run-ups, and finally heaved ourselves over like elephant seals onto a sunny rock. I managed the first few ok, but then my arms began to tire and I was extra grateful for the generous souls at the top who were willing to grab an arm here or a grimey shin there.

There were more strangely warm ponds to wade through – one so deep I had to swim a section, and another filled with black slime that smelt like a million cow pats – and a strange foam lilypad to run across before falling in and inhaling lots of water (although I believe that last part was optional). The best obstacle, at the end, was an inflatable slide made extra perilous with the addition of washing up liquid. Not only was hurtling towards the finish on my belly good fun, but it did a pretty good job of mud removal too.

All too soon, we were sprinting (as much as possible when your wet leggings are sticking to you with every squelchy step) hand in hand to the finish line, for medals, water and clean, dry clothes.

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Thanks to Sam and Carol for forcing me into it – I had an amazing time, and now know that, come the zombie apocalypse, I can at least lift myself over one haybale.

Oh yes, and check out our socks at the end of it all.

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Find out more about Insane Terrain here. The race was two laps of 5k, although in the end we only did the 5k option.

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