I woke up early feeling very excited, albeit slightly knackered, on the final day of my running tour. Just one more race to go and I would have done the week! But I also knew that Pretty Muddy wouldn’t be anything like the previous 6 legs of the tour. If anything, the name hardly suggested what I had signed up for. It could have been called Extremely Muddy or even Awfully Muddy because there wasn’t anything pretty about it. The reality was it was a 5km muddy, squelching course full of far too many filthy obstacles that you had to climb over, crawl under and charge between. The final obstacle of the course was the main attraction of Pretty Muddy and was strategically placed right before the finish to draw the crowds. It was a gigantic mud-coated, slippery slide that you had to climb up, hand over foot in order to get to the top. Once there, you faced plummeting it down into a deep, dark mud pool. Of course, the question that comes to most people is simply, why?! And also, who? Who would willingly choose to spend several days after doing a 5km run, still trying to get the mud out of their trainers, kit (and themselves)? Well the answer is that many hundreds of people are willing to make a mucky effort for a worthy cause and the funds raised by Pretty Muddy go towards fighting cancer.
With this in mind, if I had felt slightly pressured at times whilst running in the Tour of MK, then this final 5km leg for a good cause was sure to be at the opposite end of the scale. It wouldn’t even be as competitive as a Parkrun as there would be no chip timing and so no fights to the finish. Understandably, there are more important things to think about than running a 5km PB when you’re being sprayed by muddy water while trying to scramble, climb and run through sludgy obstacles. Which was great as a relaxing, muddy jaunt would help my legs to recover from the week of heavy mileage. The more I thought about it, the more I talked myself into believing that the mud may even have some restorative properties, like a mud pack for legs…Obviously, my tiredness also allowed myself to conveniently gloss over my memories of the last two Pretty Muddy 5kms runs with my daughter. Perhaps I had also deluded myself as a survival technique, as I could not escape the fact that I had signed up as the accompanying adult to my daughter and a friend of hers from her rugby team. In other words, there was no option of pulling out and letting the rugby girls down.
Once again, the high number of entrants for Pretty Muddy meant that it had to be started in several waves of runners. We had signed up to run it in the third wave reasoning that by then, the course would be sufficiently muddy and soft but not yet a complete swamp. However, when we arrived at the race registration, it was clear that it had been raining throughout the night and things were already swampy. For the moment, though, we were warm and dry and we walked up to the warm-up area and into a sea of pink.
There were masses of girls and women of all ages around us, wearing every shade of pink imaginable. As Wave 3 was called up to the cordoned off start area, it felt like we were entering a noisy carnival. We spent the next few minutes entertaining ourselves by trying to spot who was wearing the most elaborate fancy dress amongst the crowd. Above us on a stage, an announcer appeared from nowhere and loudly started to address everyone. As soon as everyone turned to look at him, his shocking pink hair set off a chain reaction of selfies, completely distracting anyone from paying attention to the health and safety fine print he reeled off. With an ear-splitting blast of 90s Europop, two very energetic fitness instructors then came on stage to lead the warm-up. It was unlike any warm-up I’ve ever experienced for a fun run and consisted entirely of kick boxing moves, left jabs and right hooks. As I tried to avoid both kicking and being belted by other runners, I couldn’t help thinking that it was an odd series of moves to practice before the run. Then again, the course was sure to be different this year and I really didn’t know what obstacles we would be facing. With the warm-up done, the announcer came on a final time to psyche up the crowd again and the marshals started spraying everybody with mud. My rugby girls quickly dobbed some mud on their faces to draw ‘war paint’, which in retrospect, I should have taken as a sign.
Once done, they quickly dragged me over to the start of the race, positioning ourselves first on the line. I reminded them that it didn’t matter where we started as we weren’t actually racing. However, as the countdown began they looked primed and ready to go. Sure enough, once the blowhorn sounded, the rugby girls sprinted off with me chasing behind, shouting, ‘It’s not a race!’ They didn’t slow down but sped up and all I could do was to try and run faster. I finally caught them as they paused to weigh up the first obstacle, a series of enormous slippery rollers on a field of mud which we had to get over. They managed to vault over the rollers skilfully like mucky ninjas while my technique of hugging and rolling myself over the top of the rollers only slowed me down. After we cleared the rollers, we were then greeted with several sprays of icy, dirty water fired at us by the race marshals. Since we were the first of our wave to reach the obstacle, we were a clear and easy target.
We quickly sprinted off again in the direction of the next obstacle and as we ran, we started to pass people who had started in an earlier wave. The course then veered towards another muddy area and we approached 3 large metal pipes laid on their side, as makeshift tunnels. Stationed to the left of the tunnels was a happily armed marshal which meant that the rugby girls immediately scurried into the tunnels to the right. Getting the short straw meant I was easy prey for the marshal and before I managed to even enter the tunnel, I was soaked to the skin. Unfortunately, the only way to get through the pipes was by crawling through wet, cold mud. I emerged very wet, muddy and cold and was not surprised to see the rugby girls smiling at my appearance at the other end. We ran off before we could be sprayed any further by the marshal in search of the next obstacle.
As we ran, we passed several more groups of muddy runners and walkers and I reminded them again, that it wasn’t a race. The rugby girls looked at me incredulously and said, ‘But we’ve already caught up to the front of the second wave!’ However, I also noticed that we were not the only ones. Not far behind us was another girl that I recognised from the Wave 3 warm-up and trailing some way behind, was her slightly harassed looking mother. I could see that the girl was trying desperately hard to hurry her up. However, as soon as the rugby girls also clocked the competition, they took off running again saying, ‘She’s trying to beat us!’ I ran after them and realised that the fun run had turned into a muddy race. I couldn’t believe it! It was my final day of my running tour and it just had to get competitive! I could only hope that the obstacles might at least slow them down.
We headed towards the next obstacle but this time, I was more prepared to watch out for the armed marshals. As we got closer, it looked like we would have to crawl under some heavy netting that was lying, invitingly, on some wet, thick mud. Unfortunately, there were two armed marshals, stationed on both sides of the netting, ready to fire from every angle, at their leisure. Since there was no way to avoid them, my only defence was speed, so I dove under the netting and crawled at what I imagined was a lightning pace. The rugby girls used the same tactic and mud flew everywhere as we power crawled under the netting. Only disaster struck, when my hairband got caught in the netting and I was temporarily trapped like a dirty rat. And just like shooting fish in a barrel, the marshals easily fired their puddle water at me until I managed to wriggle free and crawl to safety.
Completely drenched and with my trainers soaked through, I ran to the rugby girls and we continued around the lake. As we ran on, we passed even more people and realised that we were starting to catch up with the first wave of runners. Every now and then, the rugby girls checked behind us, like watchful meercats, to gauge if we were sufficiently ahead of the competition. Which meant that every time they imagined that the competition was advancing, we had to ramp up our speed another notch. I wondered how many other parents were, literally, chasing their children around Pretty Muddy?
Nevertheless, we soon made it to the next obstacle which looked like a cluster of several outsized punchbags, hanging and swinging together, above the mud. The challenge of this obstacle was to get through the cluster of punchbags without falling or being knocked over into the mud. This time I didn’t hesitate, and I quickly weaved around and between the heavy punchbags whilst trying to avoid getting sprayed by the marshal. My rugby playing daughter, however, approached the punchbags as opponents in a match. In other words, she rammed into the first punchbag, tackling it so hard, that she knocked it completely off its support. As the liberated punchbag carried on bouncing away into the distance, the shocked marshal ran after it, shouting to my daughter, ‘Are you ok?!’ I shouted back, ‘Sorry! She plays rugby’. We could not stop laughing as we ran on in search for the next obstacles.
By then we knew that we were more than half-way through Pretty Muddy and there would only be a couple of obstacles left before the infamous mud slide. We passed through the next two obstacles unscathed as they were manned by unarmed marshals. Whether they out of muddy ammunition or not, we took full advantage of the situation to power through as it was far easier climbing over high barriers and ducking under bungee cords in a mud bath, when you are not being intermittently sprayed by cold, dirty water. Even when we had to immerse ourselves into cold muck, at the back of our minds we knew it could have been far worse if we had been under fire. However, the marshals’ truce didn’t last. We spent the penultimate obstacle being fired on as we bounced around a circuit on dirty, slippery space hoppers. By then, my legs were too tired to bounce with any speed and as I wrestled with staying on the space hopper, I was an easy target.
We ran on but after checking the location of the competition behind us, we were compelled to sprint to the final obstacle. However, when got there, we found that there was a complete bottleneck of people waiting to climb the slide. As we joined the long queue of muddy runners, we could only think about how deep the mud pit we would be sliding into. However, I could see that the rugby girls were still nervously glancing around them, wondering if we would be overtaken by the competition. However, I knew that this was now impossible simply because we were in the UK. We could rest assured that no one in their right mind jumps a queue! We eventually got to the front but by then, the mud on our bodies was dried and cracked. Since I had been fired on so many times with dirty water, I appeared slightly ‘cleaner’ than the rugby girls and in my daughter’s words, I was not muddy enough. I told her that it wouldn’t last much longer as we stepped up to the start, waiting for the signal to go.
Up we went, climbing thick, mucky ropes, towards the top of the enormous, steep slide. After losing my footing many times, I joined the rugby girls at the top. We quickly swung our legs around and pushed off, launching ourselves down the slide, like slippery eels. We splash landed straight into the cold, dark mud bath and before I could react to the coldness, my daughter grabbed a big handful of mud and landed it on me. I quickly retaliated and we all stumbled out of the bath and ran over the finish line, still laughing and dripping with mud.
I was so happy to finally finish the race, and what a way to finish my running tour. After a very long week, full of some crazy challenges, I was more than ready for a break! We headed back to collect our bags and on our way, we happened to spot some more muddy members of the girls’ rugby team. As they began to swap stories, I shared a knowing look with another mother and knew that they, too, had been racing in Pretty Muddy. I can only conclude that children, and especially rugby-playing teenagers, are even more willing and ready than adults, to find competition in just about anything. In fact, they even enjoy it! If there is one thing that I have learned from my running tour it is that I don’t really enjoy competition. Therefore, the challenge for me is to resist competition whilst still participating in events. How to actually do this is the big question and like a running Holy Grail, I guess I will have to continue to search for the answer. In the meantime, the safest bet is to enter events that sound more interesting than competitive…or at least come with a nice t-shirt. I wonder what colour the Tour of MK t-shirt will come in next year??
In the meantime, I made this Warm autumn salad with cauliflower and tahini which went down very well at home and the leftovers did not last very long…