One of the stand out weekends of the obstacle course race calendar, I had been looking forward to this event for months. It was also my first proper OCR after my knee operation 7 months ago, so I was eager to take on the challenge of 20 miles and 200 obstacles again.
I absolutely loved this event last year (Rat Race Dirty Weekend 2016 review), so it definitely had a lot to live up to.
The biggest contrast with the previous year was unfortunately the weather. The 2016 Rat Race Dirty Weekend (RRDW) was absolutely scorching, with beautiful sunshine and temperatures reaching mid 20s (Celcius). Whereas this year it was cold, drab, and later in the day raining.
Everyone was still in high spirits at the start, though the cold weather would play a factor for many later in the race, with several people dropping out with symptoms of hypothermia.
With the usual pre-race talk and warm-up from Keith and Mike, the race was quickly underway. My goal for the day was to finish in under 4 hours, so I set off at a reasonable pace but not too quick as to burn myself out too early.
The first few miles flew by. I was having a great time, chatting with some of the double muckers and some familar faces, and my legs and lungs felt great.
The obstacles came thick and fast: hay bales, tyre carry, walls, traffic cone carry, cargo nets, sternum checker, sandbag carry, mud crawls. After predominantly doing running-only races for the past few months, it felt great to be tackling all the staple OCR obstacles again.
One of the first themed zones was the "School's Out" zone, which featured fun (and a bit wacky) obstacles like a giant ball pit, the space hoppers returning from last year, and then a large pretend washing machine full of foam which you climbed into.
The Water Zone
Before long it was time for the water zone. I was actually quite looking forward to the 20ft+ water jump, after getting quite a buzz from it the year before. I was hyped and all ready to jump off the top of the platform, then the marshal asked me stop and wait briefly for another 3 people to fill the other 3 jumping spots. I'm assuming this is so that they don't have people jumping off at random intervals, which makes sense. However, it meant that I had plenty time to look down and think about the massive drop to the water below haha.
With the water jump over with, the water zone continued with a short slide back into the water, and then various water based obstacles across the lake.
This section included my least favourite obstacle: a balance beam over the water. I felt it was too wet and slidey to run over, so resorted to the technique that most were using of straddling the beam and shimmying over to the other side. Why is this my least favourite obstacle I hear you ask? Well, let's just say that it was fairly painful on ye olde gentleman's area.
The water was pretty cold to say the least, and the mandatory life jacket made it difficult to swim at any kind of speed. So for many this was the start of the hypothermia issues. After ditching the life jacket, I started to feel a bit funny myself; I couldn't really feel my limbs and started to find it difficult to concentrate. I knew I had to warm up quickly, so tried to up my running pace quite a bit.
The Ewok Village
Thankfully there was a decent stretch of running after the water zone, so I was able to generate enough heat to be back to a functioning state by the time the Ewok Village came around.
The obstacles in this zone were even bigger and better than the year before, with additional climbing sections added on to existing obstacles, as well as the new super high balance beams called the "Rollercoaster".
For the "Rollercoaster", there was a low, medium or high option. The high definitely wasn't for those who are scared of heights, though there were safety nets in place for most of it in case anyone fell. (I understand the high option was closed later in the day due to the boards being too slippy)
At about the halfway stage, I started getting cramp in my quads and hamstrings. Probably partly due to the cold, and partly due to making a mess of my nutrition prior to the race.
I battled on telling myself I would be able to get something salty at the next aid station, to then find they only had Haribo and flapjacks. The flapjacks admittedly tasted awesome, though there was a distinct lack of anything salty to help with cramp. (I'm sure last year they had salted nuts among other things at each station).
With me crossing the 10mile mark in 2hrs 2mins, and with my legs cramping, the goals of finishing under 4hrs was starting to look pretty doubtful.
I knew at that point the next 10 miles was going to be pretty painful. The stretches of running were not too bad, but at each obstacle, whether it was climbing the giant hay bale pyramid or the seemingly never ending cargo net crawl, my hamstring or quad would seize up with cramp.
Men's Health Zone
The next zone was the "Men's Health" section, featuring various obstacles from the Men's Health Survival of the Fittest race series. A fun section including a couple rigs, walls, and jumping off a high platform on to an airbag.
One gripe with this section is that the rig attachments (hang tough rings, ropes, and barrels) were way too low. Even with my legs bent, my feet were skimming off the ground. Granted I'm 6ft 2, but still these were way too low and took away some of the enjoyment.
Once over the Wall of Fame (a 10ft wall), it was on to the World's Longest Monkey Bars.
My hands were still covered in fairy liquid from an early obstacle, so I didn't fancy my chances making it the full length. In any case, there was a bit of a queue to attempt the full distance lane, so I opted for one of the shorter monkey bars lanes followed by the penalty metal fence hurdles. Despite the slippy hands, I completed the shorter monkey bars section with ease, so I do regret not waiting to attempt the full distance.
After the monkey bars, the obstacles were a lot more sporadic, giving a good opportunity to open up the legs and make up some time. Unfortunately, my cramping had only gotten worse, and by the time I got to miles 17-18 I had pretty much lost control of my legs. I've never felt anything like it before, I could feel the individual quadriceps muscles spasming independently from each other.
For my sub 4hr goal, I had 30mins to complete the final 3.5miles. Definitely sounded fairly doable in my head, but my legs had other ideas. I imagine I must've looked a bit of a state, as a lot of the marshals in the last couple miles asked me if I was alright haha.
I was a bit apprehensive about the travellator near the end of the race, due to the state of my legs. However, I mustered up the strength for a short burst of speed, fueled by the cheering and support from the spectators, and made it to the top on the first attempt.
The final obstacle was then "The Big One" - a series of cargo containers to climb, followed by a giant slide. The slide was huge, even bigger than the year before, and was great fun to fly down. A brilliant way to end the race.
I crossed the line in 4hrs 6mins, feeling pretty broken and my entire body cramping uncontrollably. Although I failed my target of sub 4hrs, I ran the entire 2nd half of the race with badly cramping legs, and was still 14mins quicker than the year before. So all things considered, I was still reasonably happy with my attempt.
Definitely lesson learnt about not paying enough attention to my pre-race nutrition.
As always, Rat Race put on a well organised professional event. The Dirty Weekend remains one of the stand out OCR weekends of the year, and I already can't wait for next year.