This is the third year Rat Race have held their 20 mile Dirty Weekend event – as such it presented the opportunity for me to win a third time in a row, remaining the only person to ever win the race. At 20 miles of obstacle course (without multiple laps) it is one of the longest of its kind and includes some pretty special obstacles such as 110m of monkey bars and a 10m high jump into water.
Arriving on the morning of the race it was clear the event was going to be as big as ever: over 5,000 competitors were due to take part! Having completed the race twice already I had a pretty good idea what it would be like and where I may face problems. Two things I wasn’t particularly looking forward too were the stinging nettles (for obvious reasons) and the reservoir section roughly half way through, which usually leaves me pretty cold…
The weather was going to be fair with broken cloud allowing some sunshine through bringing the temperature up to as much as 15 degrees celsius. The real enemy was the wind that was relatively strong and would make being wet pretty miserable!
Ross Macdonald and Conor Hancock were my main competition but as Ross managed to fall of his bike the night before and putting himself in A&E it was a miracle he was even taking part let alone racing.
As we got underway I didn’t feel amazing; an impromptu race on Thursday night had left me a little more drained than I would have liked but I was still looking forward to the race. This soon changed when I got to the stinging nettles after about 3km; what felt like nearly half a km of waist high stinging nettles was bad enough but to add insult to injury a maze had been built within them! Taking the wrong route twice and backtracking through the same stingers I picked the correct lane just as Conor turned up to tuck in behind me. My mood had now turned sour as my legs gave the familiar ringing feeling as if they had just been dipped in acid.
The race then went on with me opening up a lead on the running sections and Conor closing the gap on any swimming sections. This was highlighted as we completed the reservoir halfway through side by side. He was looking exceptionally strong and I was feeling exceptionally cold. It was disheartening how he seemed unaffected by the cold where I was having trouble balancing on a 6-inch wide plank! Experience told me to just keep plugging away and I would warm up though.
As we arrived back at the main arena roughly ¾ of the way through the race there was still no real distance between us. Conor was still racing strong but I was at least feeling a little less cold. Knowing this is usually where I would start to open a lead I began to try and rush through the obstacles. This never ends well and only resulted in me making mistakes costing me yet more time and a bump on the head.
Definitely feeling like it was a tough day at the office things didn’t improve much with the monkey bars. As I got started on them I was informed the rules for completing them were different this year. Usually you go as far as you can along the 110m stretch, if (once) you fall off you move over to complete the remaining distance by hopping over a lattice work of crowd barriers (as a forfeit). These barriers only go until half way along the monkey bars, so if you make it to the half way mark you can drop from the monkey bars and carry on with no forfeit. This year I was informed if you fell before the halfway mark you had to run back and do the entire length of crowd barriers!
Making it to within 5m of the required halfway mark I slipped from the bars so had to run back to the start to do the crowd barriers too. After hopping over the first I decided to climb on top of the barriers and walk along balancing as I went. Not entirely sure as whether what I was doing was okay I was soon nearing the end of the barriers where Conor was now reaching the halfway mark on the monkey bars. This means as he dropped of we were once again neck and neck still with about 8km to go.
Conor had fought exceptionally well but this is a long race. As we turned to the next loop away from the event center I started to crank up the speed. When I looked back a few kilometers later I found myself completely alone; I checked my watch and found I was running at a similar pace to how we started the race. This I held through to the end, finally finishing in just over 2 hours 46 minutes - about 10 minutes ahead of Conor followed by Ross who miraculously took 3rd.
Not entirely happy with my performance but having learnt many lessons I then watched amazed as Clare Miller won the Female competition finishing an incredible 4th place overall!
I’ll next be racing a somewhat shorter 8km Toughest race in Umeå at the weekend which I am really looking forward too.