After a rather disappointing delay since fracturing my leg the first time round, I’m extremely pleased and proud to say that challenge 9 (Hell Runner) is finally complete. I know that some people think that failure is not an option, and while I do buy into that mentality somewhat, I think failure can be very beneficial. It shows you that you’re not perfect and that things can go wrong. What makes the difference is how to react afterwards, how you pick yourself back up and how you not only move on, but move up.
So only two weeks after completing the Dubai marathon in 25 degree temperatures, it only seemed normal to be completing a challenge in temperatures nearly 30 degrees colder! Saturday morning arrived and I received a nervous call from Rupert – and for anyone that knows Rupert, for him to be nervous, you know something’s up. “Mate, have you seen the news – it’s been -15 overnight, are we seriously doing this?”. A year ago I might have said no, but now my response was “just you try and stop me”. Actually I’m still very impressed that Rupert decided to complete the race for the second time in less than 6 months. A dedicated challenger, a loyal friend or a crazed loon? Most likely a combination of all three!
In addition to Rupert, I had two new [21:21] challengers accompanying me this time – Luke & Phil from work (in orange & green respectively). Both physically fit guys, but neither had undertaken a challenge quite like this – something you could see on their faces as we got closer to the race in Staffordshire.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Hell Runner is a multi-terrain, cross country race of about 10-12 miles (they say that mile markers are for wimpy road runners – shhhh don’t tell the Chorlton Runners I said that). With the famous Hills of Hell and Bog of Doom, their strap line of Punishment of the Sole, Redemption of the Mind is pretty accurate I’d say.
As we all squashed towards the front in the last few minutes before the gun went, there were definitely a few demons (no pun intended) floating around that I was determined to resolve before the end of the morning.
Beat me once, more fool me. Beat me twice…….NOT GUNNA HAPPEN!
We set off and within minutes we were dealing with uneven terrain, jumping over fallen trees (well I was, trying to overtake the slow coaches!) and then arrived at the first hill of many. It felt like I breezed up it, but knew that in the back of my mind I would soon be dreading the inclines, dreaming of the warm climes of Dubai and the flatness of the marathon. After looping back via the start, we then headed back out into the wilderness of the hills and forest.
Before leaving relative comfort of an icy road, it was great to see Nat who had come along to support. I’ve said it on numerous events, but you really can’t underestimate the power of having supporters to cheer you on – challenges like these are just as much mental as they are physical. It was also great to see so many people clearly doing the run for charity. I admire those elite runners at the front, the competitive fell runners who complete the course in just over an hour, but the truly admirable folk are those with personal stories of determination and challenge, running for other people and for a cause.
The route went up & down hills, with inclines getting steeper, then round & through forests, with trails getting more uneven with each step. As my legs started to feel like they were quickly losing all available energy, I got a great boost from a guy who was also running for Help for Heroes. As I was struggling up a particularly steep hill he shouted, “come on mate, keep it up, do it for the lads!” Needless to that was all I needed to get my arse into gear.
After 7 or so miles we knew we were close – not to the finish line, but to what we’d all been dreading. We were on approach to the Bog of Doom. While Rupert had been caked in mud after the September race, we knew that sub-zero temperatures meant that it wasn’t the mud that was going to get us; it was the freezing cold water.
After swimming in the North Sea on New Year’s Day, I wasn’t too worried about the water, but as I approached the bog I could see the sheets of ice floating on top were a good 2/3 inches thick and looked like they were going to hurt like hell. I waded through and was very much on a roll until I got half way through, wobbled just a little too much and lost my footing. SPLASH!! As I tried to re-balance myself it was too late, I was neck deep in ice cold water. I know I’ve been taking ice baths a lot recently, but this was taking it to the extreme! Just as I thought I was clear of the bog, a sneaky ice berg (OK, large piece of ice) decided to make one final attack, and got me right down my left leg.
Whilst I’d lost Rupert after about 3 miles, I’d not seen Luke & Phil since the start, due to the many bottle necks scenarios up & down the first sets of hills. But as the photo will prove, these guys soldiered through their first [21:21] challenge with great prowess – in fact, they could easily pass as experienced fell runners by the look of this shot.
So, lets get down to the nitty gritty. While my primary objective was to complete the course without any broken limbs, I did secretly want to finish in under 2 hours. The increased training must have done the trick, as I showed that bad boy who was boss and crossed the finish line with a sprint finish in 1 hour 50 minutes, while veteran challenger Rupert, smashed the course in 1 hour 36 minutes.
Newbie challengers Luke & Phil definitely pulled it out of the bag though. Many said that it would take them 3 hours plus to complete, and some even said they wouldn’t finish at all. Well more fool them, as these two crossed the finish line bang on 2 hours. A very commendable achievement, and even more impressively they’re going to sign up to the next one in November – clearly got the bug now!
As for me, I’m so glad to have finally finished this challenge. The demons have well and truly been defeated and I can hold my head high once more and crack on with challenge 14. And whilst I have been very engrossed with the training pre run and the celebration afterwards, let’s not forget why we’re putting ourselves through these kind of crazy adventures; because it’s not about the challenges, and it’s most definitely not about us. It’s about the brave and honourable men & women of our Armed Forces. It’s about doing our bit to show our support and compassion to those who put their lives on the line to fight for Queen & country, to serve and to protect not just the British people, but those further afield as well.
So if you’re not quite up for joining us in freezing bogs or don’t fancy running 26.2 miles in the Middle East, then you can show your support and do your bit by donating some money to help fund the amazing work that Help for Heroes do for our lads. Come on, for the price of a pint or a trip to the cinema, you can help make a real difference – please donate here.
Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge