A Date With The Devil…

“Brooks HellRunner offers trail running at its toughest and most enjoyable. 10 -12 miles of challenging off-road running… tough, twisting trails… including the famed Hills of Hell and the Bog of Doom!

The Finish will bring redemption… but only to successful HellRunners.

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Shivering uncontrollably, covered in mud, and with my fingers so cold I couldn’t even bend them to untie my shoelaces, I swore I would never ever do HellRunner ever, ever again…

…yesterday I completed the insane course for the 4th time.  I have honestly never been so cold in my life.

It was -6 on a cold November morning in 2010, (that’s 6 whole degrees below freezing) and myself and 3 friends had just run a 10 mile trail race around Longmoor Military Camp.  When I say ran, we scrambled up and down the never ending ‘Hills of Hell’, splashed through the ‘Bog of Doom’ and shuffled through the ‘River Wade’ then, as if that wasn’t tough enough, about a mile towards the end they hit you with energy zapping sand dunes, if you have any energy left of course.

They say a picture paints a thousand words – I genuinely had no idea this was being taken during the River Wade…

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I think I finished in around 2 hours.  I spent the journey home shivering quietly, I just shivered and shivered and I decided I had hated every second of it.  In hindsight I might of even had a mild case of hypothermia, I didn’t even want to eat Percy Pigs!  I had a shower…and I went back to bed.  The next day I could barely move.

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Around 9 months later Kate suggested we enter again…ermm, no, no, absolutely NO.  But it was August, it was a warm sunny day, and it was difficult to remember just how painfully cold I had been.  So I signed up!  The Devil had beat me once, it was time for a re-match.

But as the Summer passed, it got colder, race day got nearer and I started to experience mild to moderate panic as I realised what I had committed to.  I was driving this year so there was no getting out of it.  I decided to go a bit nuts on layering, the the year before I had foolishly worn one top so this time I wore 3, and took a post race flask of hot tea.  It would all be OK…

Luckily when the day came it was about 10 degrees warmer than the year before so we took Laura with us as photographer and headed back to the Bog of Doom.  The increase in temperature made a huge difference (in fact I got too hot) and it was actually fun!

I’m not very confident going down the hills and much better at scrambling up them, a man cheekily said to me ‘you run down hills like a girl!’, I remember thinking, ‘I’m still beating you though aren’t I?!’  It was all in jest so I didn’t mind.  I was much quicker this time and finished in 1 hour 37 and 32nd female, screw you Devil!

Much happier this time!

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When I entered for the 3rd time in 2012 I was supposed to be running with some friends but they all pulled out.  I was running solo!  It was still fun, and much better than the 1st time but it would have been better with some buddies.  It was a gloriously crisp sunny day so conditions were favourable and I really enjoyed it.  I decided it would probably be my last.

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The 2013 event was postponed from November to January this year due to military training but I had no intention of doing it.  On a whim, I entered a Brooks competition and I won!  The prize was VIP entry to Hell Up North, Brooks Cascadia Trail Shoes, some funky capris, a t-shirt and a cosy hoody!

The only problem was that I live in London and the North event is in Chester (about 1 million miles away) and it was just 6 days after the Frankfurt Marathon (I clearly didn’t read the details when I entered).  Even if I did get there it would have been pretty risky so soon after that.  I was gutted.

I emailed the Brooks lady and asked her if I could transfer my entry to the South event (including pictures of previous participation so she could see I was a committed HellRunner!)  To my surprise she said yes and sent me all the goodies!  And so I was entered for a 4th time.

Awesome Brooks kit

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Over the last 2 weeks we’ve had torrential rain in the UK, it pretty much hasn’t stopped and caused some serious flooding.  Combined with post Christmas blues and my desire not to get injured I decided I wasn’t going to run, I was adamant.

By Friday evening I had a sore throat, I knew I was getting ill, and it was still raining but I found myself packing my bag for the morning, just in case.  I didn’t sleep much and woke up with a raging sore throat and even more heavy rain.  But could I really be a DNS on my first race of 2014?  OOooohhhhh!!

I got up, ate my porridge and went through the motions.  It was absolutely pouring with rain and, knowing the course, I really didn’t want to go. But I did.

The rain slashed down the whole way there, to the point where I couldn’t see the road, and I genuinely wondered why I wasn’t still in bed.  Why was I so inconceivably off-my-face mental???  The forecast for Longmoor was 100% chance of rain all morning.  This really would be hell this time.

It was a relief to see other people when I got there, people who were as mental as me. I wasn’t going to be running alone!  I wrapped everything in plastic bags, pulled my hood up and went to the start area.  To be honest it did seem much quieter this year.

Previously I don’t remember getting properly dirty until the Bog of Doom around 6-7 miles in but this year I had mud in my eye after the first 1.5 miles and had already jumped into a waist deep ‘puddle’.  The course, although different from other years (not sure if this was deliberate or due to the weather) was horrendous.  Thick, sludgey, 6 inch deep clay mud type stuff and blocks of water to jump in every few meters.  Whilst I don’t mind this, and it was actually quite fun, it was near on impossible to run for most of it (unless you were willing to risk life & limb which I was not!).  It was slow going, and that made you cold.  There was also a lot more bottlenecking than I remember and some waiting around in places but people were friendly.

The hills come thick and fast and hit you hard. If you’re lucky there’s a tree or branch or barbed fence to desperately cling to as you slip and slide all over the place.  If not you just clamber around the best you can hoping you don’t get wiped out by someone slipping over behind you.  The hills are relentless, nature at it’s worst (or best..?), if you’re not used to them you’re in for a shock!

The Bog of Doom was deeper than usual.  It’s only ever been chest high before, allowing you to wade through with a smile, but this year it was straight up to my neck and a few steps later I couldn’t feel the bottom, I was swimming through the bloody Bog of Doom and my god it was COLD!!

The cold literally took your breath away and I very almost panicked, why wasn’t I moving forwards?!  The atmosphere is fantastic and spectators line either side to cheer you on but the devil is there to spray thick mist over the bog so you can barely see as you move under the arches of fire.  The Bog of Doom lived up to its name.

Coming out of the bog you’re heavy from all the water and numb from the cold, it’s difficult just to get moving again let alone tackle the next mammoth hill which is even more slippy when you’re soaking wet, but you just have to get on with it, there were still 2 miles to go!  The hills seem to get worse after this point, steeper, longer, muddier.  It might be my imagination but I’m sure they save the ‘best’ for last!

Amazingly the rain stopped just before the start and held off for the whole race, except some light spitting.  My new trail shoes proved to be grippy in all the right places and I was glad I had decided to wear them despite the mud.  The hills were steep and I had to learn to trust them on the declines although some were still much more appropriate to slide down on your bum than attempt upright!

I’m not going to lie, it was the toughest year I’ve run it.  Yesterday I finished the 9.7 mile (according to my Garmin) course in 2 hours 45.  That’s well over an hour slower than my best time.  We won’t mention that again!

I’m not sure I really enjoyed it yesterday, I got very cold and I would have preferred it if I could of run a lot more, but I knew what the course would be like after all that rain.  It was as fantastically organised as ever though with extra marshals at the Bog of Doom to help those in difficulty, however I did miss my For Goodness Shakes drink at the end!

I finished my first race of the year and got a new medal and t-shirt…and bragging rights, I definitely earned those!

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HellRunner isn’t an obstacle course like the man-made Tough Mudder, it’s real trail running, in a natural environment, on a military camp, and it’s tough out there.  If you fancy a date with the devil check it out – www.hellrunner.co.uk  they hold 3 events, Hell Up North, Hell in the Middle and Hell Down South.

As for me, I think after 4 dates the devil is dumped!

….although I might change my mind come August…

This years medal and t-shirt are definitely the best!

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