Photo by SportSunday Event Photography
I HATE getting my feet wet. With a passion. It’s pathological. I’ll do anything to avoid it. When I ran the West Highland Way in Scotland last year, I probably added about 10 miles to the 96 we were already running trying to find routes that didn’t involve wading through streams and ditches. It’s a throwback to childhood trauma. When I was about five years old, I remember my mum chivvying me along – ‘Hurry up, you need to get in the bath now!’ So I stripped off my clothes and leapt into the warm, bubbly water, still wearing my brand new red sandals. Sigh, the ruined red shoes, the despair, the cost of counselling…
So, what does a person who hates (hates, hates, hates!) getting her feet wet go and do? Why, she only signs up with her friend, Heather, to do The Pain Barrier, a mud running race of filthy, wet horror, with only one guarantee – your feet will get soaked in the first five metres and stay that way throughout. I spent a good deal of time in advance fretting about the wet feet thing, eventually deciding to treat the whole event as inexpensive aversion therapy. I figured that if I didn’t get over my phobia by squelching through the swamps, bogs and mires that dog the 10k course, I probably never would.
I asked our followers on Twitter for top mud running tips and ended up with this checklist:
– Lycra/tight running gear (nothing baggy as it drags when it’s sodden with mud)
– No phones, Garmins or other such gadgets – they won’t survive the journey
– Old trail shoes – definitely not your best running shoes as a) they don’t grip well enough and b) they get completely ruined
– Nothing cotton because it will get heavy, clingy and frozen
– Hat and gloves if the weather’s even slightly less than lovely.
– Camera – you need evidence
Photo by SportSunday Event Photography
It was quite warm before the race started so I asked someone who looked like a nutcase (erm, I mean experienced mud runner) if I really needed my gloves. He said yes, definitely. There’s rope climbing and desperate scrambling up slippery banks and hillsides. Anything that can help you get a purchase, however minimal, is worth having. Hence the gloves, which were drenched and clogged with mud in minutes, making my hands feel twice their normal weight. Wearing them was definitely a Good Call though.
There wasn’t the slightest chance of keeping my feet dry. Indeed, after a while the feeling of squelchy trainers was quite comforting – at least I knew I still had my shoes on, unlike one poor guy running near us who lost his shoe in a bog, never to find it again! He gamely jogged on for a little while but it became a losing battle. Sliding everywhere even with trail shoes on was hard enough; with one bare foot, the whole venture became impossible.
Mind you, he had it easy – he didn’t have to run it anymore! If I tell you sections were called the Dips of Despair, the Pool of Punishment, Horrific Hills and the Swamp of Suffering, you can get a reasonable picture of what it was all about. All of these sections lived up to their names. At various points, we waded through waist high mud (chest-high in my case – I’m only mini!), plunged into an icy lake that you had to drag yourself across with a rope, climbed up near-vertical hills and crawled on all fours through bogs because there was not the slightest hope of keeping our footing.
All of this inevitably induced a great sense of camaraderie. At one point, we were laughing so much we could barely stand up, though by then we’d more or less forgotten how to anyway. I would also like to apologise to any total strangers I gave innocent buttock shoves too; it seemed right at the time to help you up that bank, hill or mountain of mud. I received a few helping hands under my bum too, so am guessing it’s just par for the course.
I have to say The Pain Barrier was really hard work – it took us more than twice as long as a normal 10k – but it was brilliant. I have never been so muddy in my life (nor do I ever plan to be again) but it was the most amazing feeling to just get on and do it. My clothes were sodden, about 5 times their normal weight, and I’ve washed them all twice but there’s no sign of them ever recovering. I lost my wet foot phobia though (there was so much else to think about) – cheaper than a therapist and about 1000x more fun 😉
If you want to test your own mettle in the mud, check out the Pain Barrier website for upcoming events.