Stronger Than You Think You Are

Well, the weather outside is frightful, and shortly I’m off for a vertical swim (which is how I’m styling my run today, because I reckon I’ll end up marginally dryer than if I actually got into a pool). But I have last week’s memories of hot sunshine, gentle showers, and warm breezes in the Shropshire and Leicester countryside to keep me going until the next sunny spell.

It was half term, and we set off on our regular May bank holiday camping trip, which is like a dry run for the summer holidays. It’s when we remember all the things we forgot to bring, discover which airbeds are giving up the ghost, and which boardgames we’re enjoying most this year. With a large and growing family, how camping works bests changes every season, so our three or four nights away at the end of May is a good practice ground, preparing for longer trips further afield in July and August.

We usually stay at a campsite at the edge of the Long Mynd in the Shropshire hills. It’s basically perfect: just the right size and feel, there’s a beautiful stream running along one edge which is ideal for cooling down on hot days or building dams on wet days—and best of all, it’s at the centre of four fantastic trail routes for hiking or running.

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about a mile into Monday’s run

The first night was misty, blue grey and warm; a fine drizzle in the hills, and my run alongside the stream, through a valley and then up into the hills was almost magical. Going against the current and steadily upwards, the run out was hard work, especially after riding in the car for a couple of hours—but so worth it for the race back down. I channelled my inner Nikki Kimball and burned back over rocks, through gorse, jumping streams, and splashing mud everywhere. It occured to me that this was good prep for the Wolf Run, the following Saturday…

…As it turned out, they don’t make mud in Shropshire like the kind I encountered at Stanford Hall.

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At one point in our race it took five —5!—men to haul one of our team out of the mud. This photo (from a previous event) gives you some idea of what we’re talking about… image credit: http://thewolfrun.com/gallery/

I’ve never tried an obstacle race before, and I entered this one was because a good running buddy was up for us doing it together. I don’t have particularly great upper body strength, and the prospect of hauling myself over twelve foot high walls and up long, slippery ropes felt a little daunting. What convinced me it was possible was the strong ‘pack’ ethos of the Wolf Run: the team approach of making sure we all accomodated and built around each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

I knew that the distance would be no problem for me—I run 10k at least once a week—so I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t be holding the team back waiting for me to get between stations, but actually making it up and over the scaling-obstacles might be a significant challenge.

There were a couple of walls which I simply wouldn’t have been able to do alone, either because they just looked too hard, and I needed my pack encouraging me to make it, or in one case, literally getting a leg up. (Naturally, as this was the only obstacle which I initially gave up on, until our fantastic pack leader called me back to try it with some help, it was also one of the very few my kids saw me do. A bit frustrating, but hey, it was a humility / authenticity check for me!)

Another challenge was that my dear friend who was supposed to run with me was sick and couldn’t make it, so our team was five guys and me. Four of the five I didn’t know at all—we met outside the start line at the warm up—and they were enormous.

The swim aspect of the race was a bit daunting for all of us: none of the team were convinced they’d complete that section (at the Wolf you can skip anything you don’t feel able to do). Swim 1, we had to go head first into mud-black water, under metre long floats on the water line, followed later by two more swim stretches, one of which must have been newly flooded, because the water was filled with nettles! (Comprehensive nettle rash + muddy water = two full days of stinging…)

So, it was a challenging course for me. But it turns out, we are stronger than we think.

We did get over all the walls, swimming, mud and everything else they threw at us. (Except the monkey bars. But I mean, come on. They were ridiculous.) I ran hard the whole way, and the adrenalin and strength which came from a great team leader and the energy of the whole group definitely leveraged my ability to charge towards almost every obstacle with complete commitment and confidence, and barrel up, over, through, along, or under it. Blood, sweat and fear.

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Our triumphant #teamwarwickuni Pack

So that was Saturday. On Sunday I gingerly levered myself out of bed with all the fire and grit of a newborn kitten. I couldn’t even squeeze the lemons for my juice. But you know, post race muscle hangover is what ibuprofen’s for.

Would I run an obstacle race again? Maybe… There wasn’t nearly enough actual running for me to feel comfortable, and two baths and three showers later, I think I may still smell of the mud. But I’m not really all about comfort zones. We are stronger than we think we are. So when my friend is better, if she happens to spot a good one, well. I may check for nettles.


Running streak total today is 159 days, 589 miles. #runeveryday

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