“There is nothing pleasurable about this”, I remember saying to myself, as I took a deep breath before submerging into a deep cold darkness. Kicking my legs, I swam through a murky bog and under a floating barrel, before surfacing on the other side looking as if I’d just been through a sheep dip.
No, I wasn’t re-enlisting in the Army – I was actually at Hop Farm in Kent, midway through the UK Obstacle Course Race Championships, where the stars of the OCR world had gathered to find out who was top dog in this green and pleasantly muddy land. Those that finished in the Top 30 qualified for the OCR World Championships that were to take place only a couple of weeks later in Cincinnati, Ohio – ‘The first truly independent global championship.’
Much to my mother’s bewilderment, I am just one of hundreds of thousands who willingly sign up to be electrocuted, jump off 1ft high planks into freezing water, leopard crawl through mud and under barbed wire or wade through neck high bogs, as part of the current obstacle course race phenomenon. Perhaps more puzzling still is that we’re willing to pay through the nose for the pleasure.
Amongst all the muddy races out there, there is one event series, called the Dirty Dozen Races, that stands out for the quality of its obstacles and the standard of entries – which is possibly why the the ‘Dirty Dozen’ event was the perfect host for the UK OCR Championships. All credit goes to its charismatic founder, a man who curiously goes by the name of ‘The Beard’ – though if you sneak a look at his driving licence, it says Doug Spence.
The Beard has earned a reputation in the UK OCR world for putting on good quality races. He’s earned respect from many of the elite athletes, some of whom he trains in his garden where – much to his wife’s dismay – he’s erected his very own obstacle course.
“I wanted to give the everyday runners a chance to say they’d done something amazing on the weekend,” The Beard tells me as we make our way to the race start. When they stand around the coffee machine at work on Monday morning, instead of saying they went to the pub or just stayed in, they’ll be able to say, ‘I took part in the UK Championships and raced on the same course, at the same time, as the best in the UK.”’
Although Dirty Dozen Races have a number of distances on offer, from the Dirty Dash 6k, to the ominous sounding Dirty Destroyer 18k, I’d chosen to enter the Dirty Dozen 1k, which has over twenty major obstacles.
“The Dozen is our blue ribbon event because it’s accessible to different levels of fitness”, explains The Beard. “For the elite, it’s more like a sprint packed with huge obstacles and for those working on their fitness it’s a personal challenge, to finish it with pride and a smile on their face.”
Despite my Army background and the fact that I’ve developed a reputation for doing barmy sounding races, I felt like a bit of a novice on the start line compared to everyone else around me. ‘This is their sport, they train for this’, I kept reminding myself.
I decided not to go out hell for leather, but ease my way into the race and try to conserve my energy. Wishful thinking. Within minutes I was soaking wet, attacked by stinging nettles and scratched by brambles in places I’d rather not speak about. It felt every bit like a race. And curiously, I was enjoying myself.
I felt an ever-present sense of urgency. I climbed over multiple 8ft walls, leopard crawled under barbed wire, swung on Tarzan bars (which saw me plummeting into the water below and subsequently having to do 0 burpees), waded through waist high ditches, climbed up cargo nets, clambered up muddy banks from water pits (called a Bitch Ditch!), carried logs on my shoulders and even dragged a car tyre 500m – and all as if the Devil was after me. It was relentless. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one looking sorry for himself.
I finally stumbled across the finish line a smidgeon over an hour, not into the arms of my wife, but into those of The Beard, who ensures he’s there to welcome every competitor coming over the finish line.
“How did you find it?” he asked me, eager to hear my thoughts.
“Despite feeling as if I’ve just done twelve rounds with Mike Tyson, I weirdly enjoyed myself,” I replied.
And having come 3rd, I’d even qualified for the World Championships – although I it didn’t take long to decide to give that one a rest. For this year, at least!
To learn more about the 015 Dirty Dozen Race series and how you can take part in the UK OCR Champs, visit their website. If you’re really keen, you can purchase a season pass for £15 that allows you to do all the Dirty Dozen Races.
For more details, visit www.telegraph.co.uk