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Friday 22 November 2013

Fed by Broom & Whipped Cream Thief: Winter Wolf Race Report

We park in a field. It’s cold. 

Jo turns to me accusingly. “No one else is wearing vests. Look that man’s got a woolly hat on. And gloves. We’re going to freeze.” What can I say? Vests had seemed a good idea at the time. A time before I’d remembered it was November. And cold. I hadn’t even brought a bin bag to wear at the start line. “Sorry.”

I looked around.  No one else is wearing vests. Except for that very hairy man. And he looks like he’s wearing it over a brown curly jumper.

There were a lot of people wearing fairy outfits though. It seemed to be almost a Wolf Run theme. Going to get covered in mud and crap? Swim some streams? Why not do it in a fairy outfit! You think you’ll look stupid doing it in normal gear? Well, why not look EXTRA stupid?! A tutu seem to be the domain of super-fast chaps and middle-aged woman. I guess that’s when I know it’s crisis point for me. An urge to wear a tutu, Sarah? You’re either gender-confused or about to hit middle age. 

Registration was simple. A signed disclaimer form was exchanged for an envelope with our names, our bib number and a coloured wristband which we assumed denoted our start time. Nice and simple. As an added touch we got our numbers written on our foreheads with a magic marker. We were hoping the marker would be magic enough to withstand bogs, mud and open water swimming, but still wash off in the shower. 

The warm up was run by a military fitness chap and involved getting shouted at, lying on the ground to do exercises and jumping around giving each other high 5s. I’m always a bit suspicious of people who shout at us to do things but don’t do them themselves. I bet I’d be good standing around shouting at people while wearing a nice thick jacket as well. Rather than in a tiny vest. Bloody hell it’s cold. 

The horn blew and the very first obstacle was immediate. A splashy jump-into-and-wade across a lake. Cold water, but at least I wasn’t wearing heavy layers which would weigh me down. Off and out the other side and onto a bit of nice muddy trail running, tree-trunk-jumping and dodging through the woods. This is the bit of these challenges I enjoy the most; running on an interesting path knowing there are people to chase down ahead. Jo and I were first women in our wave but we knew the next wave was only 10 minutes ahead. We just had to make sure we stayed in front of anyone else wearing pink wristbands. Competitive? Us? Of course not. (Cough) We just want to make sure it’s safe for everyone else. By um ... checking it out first. 

A decision. A choice of two paths through some thick bushes. I took the right, Jo took the left and we converged at the start of a windy, muddy fun-to-run trail. This is trail running at its best. Fast, fun and muddy. The path went over a series of high hills and deep ditches. No flat parts and had to keep the momentum going to get up the other side. It was strength sapping. But fun.

Notable points of the challenge:

Taking Up Permanent Residence in the Bog. 
I got myself stuck in the bog. Properly stuck. In mud about waist height. A nice chap tried to help me out but had to give up as I was securely embedded in thick black muck. I had a moment where I thought I’d have to stay there, surviving by being passed food and drink on the end of a broom lowered out over the mud. Ended up pulling self out using handy tree. Suspect may have had to have help getting out without tree. Such as tractor, length of rope and extreme embarrassment.  

Really smelly bogs. 
I don’t know whether several runners had soiled themselves in fear of never extricating themselves from the mud or whether the bogs were made with the help of manure but they stank. As a result, I stank. But on the plus side if I took a wrong turn on the course the marshals – supposing their sense of smell hadn’t already been completely destroyed – should be able to sniff me out and rescue me. Rescue possibly after a hose down. 

Am a Foamy Sliding Machine!
A massive slide down the side of the hillside made out of polythene sheets with water and washing-up liquid. I managed to get a good speed up and took 2 people down with me. Luckily they’ll never be able to identify me as the marshals got overenthusiastic with the washing up liquid and I look as though I’ve been hit in the face with the most unfunny custard clown pie ever. 

Trail Running Vs Obstacles.
Overtaking people on the trail running bits and GETTING overtaken on the muddy bits. It was obvious where my strengths and weaknesses were. Strengths: Running in mud and on trails – yes please! Weaknesses: pulling self out of bogs, climbing up cargo nets, swimming in lakes. Basically ... the obstacles.

Pyramid Cargo Net ... of DEATH
The pyramid cargo net is my nemesis. I just don’t like climbing to a height on what is basically plaited hair, swinging my leg over the top and trusting my life to the mud encrusted, slimy strands at the top and then climbing back down the other side with the possibility of being hit by a hurtling body as another climber misjudges their grip. The ropes at school in PE? No problem. Abseiling? No problem. Cargo net? No thanks. Although there is apparently a trick to it. Jo showed me quickest way to climb cargo nets: keep one of the vertical rope parts in front of you and climb like a rope at school at PE. Doing it this way means it’ll stay taut and not move around. Still didn’t solve the ‘hurtling body’ body dilemma. 

Have Discovered Amazing New Swimming Style
The Winter Wolf had a lot of water obstacles and included were several wades up a stream, swim/wades across lakes and a ditch swim. For the taller runners this wasn’t a problem, waist-high water – no problem. For someone of my shorter stature this was nipple-height freezing cold water and was as fast to swim as to attempt to wade. I tried several different techniques with varying success. Front crawl involved putting face into brown murky water which had the muck coming off the several hundred runners in front of us in; spit, mud and urine. Backstroke was slow and had the big disadvantage of not being able to see where I was going. Wading was just splashy and slow. I ended up using a less-than-graceful stroke I like to call the Breast Paddle. Rather than an S&M device it sounds like, it was a cross between Breast Stroke and Doggy Paddle.

We had to cross the first obstacle again – a splashy-wade-run through a lake to get to the finish and we posed for our pictures by the poster and made the obligatory ’grin and ‘arms raised’ pose as is demanded at the end of races. Our beautiful smiles and triumphant poses which are somehow transformed by the sneaky photographers into ‘gurn and zombie poses’. 

We collected a goodie bag containing Clif Bar (which was very welcome – like a chocolate hug!), technical t-shirt and water and space blanket.  It was at this point Jo realised that the wristbands showed T-shirt size NOT wave time. That made sense. Despite running like crazy ladies we had been wondering how so many people in our wave got such a good head start on us ...

We stood there dripping in front of the Wolf Run sign and looked at the amounts of mud we had collected. Jo turned to me. “I think we were right to wear vests.” We looked around and saw the groups of spectators wearing thick winter coats, scarves and woolly hats. “Maybe it’s time to put something dry on now though.”

We stopped only to collect a thick hot chocolate with whipped cream AND a flake in. The proper way to enjoy hot chocolate. I paid the poor chocolate van man with quite possibly the soggiest tenner ever which I held ever so gently in case it disintegrated before I palmed it off on him. The beautiful hot chocolate moment was only spoiled by a sudden gust of wind decorating a nearby bloke with my whipped cream. Cream thief. He was also covered in mud so couldn’t even attempt to siphon it off with a straw in an attempt to retrieve it. At least he didn’t get my flake. 

It was less than a 10 minute walk to the car, but we were shivering and covered in mud, manure and straw although a significant proportion of this had been washed off by our last splashy wade through the lake. 

We had been organised enough to remember a towel each and a change of clothes thankfully as it was very, very cold and we needed to get changed into warm, dry clothes as soon as possible. Not having the room in the car, I stood outside and whipped off my vest and tied my silver space blanket around my waist like a girlie space man. 

I got my damp gear off by degrees although the gusty wind threatened to lift the space blanket and flash my arse. It wouldn’t have been a good sight with the mud and straw - the sort of thing only the strange, strange people turned on by Worzel Gummidge would have found attractive. I pulled a top on and tried to get my jeans on. Skinny jeans are NOT the best idea when hands are cold and legs are damp. I got the jeans halfway up my legs and they stuck fast. Great. I was going to have to get in the car, apologise profusely to Jo and explain that she was going to have to drive me home while I was wearing a space blanket skirt, a pair of jeans ‘penguin style’ and a pair of damp knickers with straw and mud stuck around. 

Worzel Gummidge Picture Source

Crap. How was I going to explain that? Tugged harder on jeans and my frozen fingers responded and I finally got my jeans over my arse. Phew. New t-shirt on and a warm top over it and I was starting to feel less Mud Monster and more Slightly Grubby Runner. 

Top run! Although I did take a few things away from it:  

Learning points: 

  • Don’t wear skinny jeans to change into. Unless you want to scare friends or flash arse at strangers.
  • Practise swimming in full running kit. After next cross country run should attempt to hurl self into nearest body of water. 
  • Get yourself Wolf Run Slide-ready by inhaling washing up bubbles while cleaning plates in sink.
  • Don’t drink hot chocolate when it’s windy. Unless you’re prepared to lick muddy strangers.


  1. That. Race. Sounds. Abso-Frickin-Lutely. Amazingly. Fun! Except for the urine and faeces bit, I'm definitely not in to that bit of the race...

    1. I think you should do it!! You could be the first person to run it in a bio-hazard suit! Might make the stream wades a bit tough though ...

  2. lol you had my rolling on the floor :) well done you madwoman !!! did you manage to come first in your T shirt size ? x

    1. Hee hee!! Glad you enjoyed it!! I overtook everyone in pink I saw but the race directors set people off every 10 minutes and they started about an hour before we did so don't think so (sulk!) … Had huge amounts of fun though!! :)

  3. Replies
    1. Can totally recommend this race … although there are lots of tree roots ;) Maybe not before your brilliant racing year in 2014!!

  4. I love the sound of this race - maybe a possiblity for next year as I am aiming for some form of obstacle race as my challenge!
    The thought of being stuck in that bog though does not sound appealing and the smell bleurgh!!

    1. Don't worry - I'll bring clothes pegs for our noses next year!! We're looking at getting a team together for the one in April if you fancy it? Running it purely for fun and walking parts if anyone wants to. Fancy it?

  5. This sounds like really good fun! I found Hell Up North the same, I overtook so many people on the trail running bits but when we got to the obstacles I messed around being a wuss and lost loads of time!

    1. That's exactly it! You're being more truthful than me though ... messing around being a wuss pretty much covers my attempts at the obstacles! :)

  6. I love your preparation tips! The pictures are excellent too :)

  7. Thank you!! I definitely could have done with some resistance to the washing-up liquid bubbles - that stuff stung! It got up my nose and in my eyes and just everywhere. But I did smell lovely and (Forest) Fresh.