Imagine 10.5 miles of mud, steep terrain, and bogs – bogs so cold that you feared for your manhood when you came out the other end. Imagine that and I welcome you to HellRunner.
In the build up to January 17th’s Hell Down South, I couldn’t help but watch the HellRunner trailer on their website several times. I have never done anything like this before, in fact, I have never run in a race longer than 5K before. If I looked a little anxious, it’s because I was.
In the two weeks before this hellish event, I did a parkrun with my girlfriend(who would be accompanying me on this journey through hell), a lunch run with my editor and a slow 8.5K after work on my own. Despite feeling like a relatively fit young man, I still wasn’t quite sure how I would do over a longer distance, and, more importantly, how I would cope with the cold.
Then Saturday arrived. It was a cold, cold morning at Longmoor Camp. It even flickered with snow for a moment. As we drove through the military training camp, the echoes of a speakerphone voice and faint music flirted with our ears.
We turned a corner and despite being 10 minutes early, there were swarms of people, buzzing, ready for the race.
Exiting the car, we knew it was time. I was wearing a long sleeved base layer, with a technical t-shirt on top, base layer shorts, with running shorts over, long compression socks and my asics 33-DFA’s, which I knew were going to be lucky to come out alive.
I soon learnt that being so specific about my attire was probably a waste of time, because everything came out drenched in the end anyway. However I appreciated the warmth of my base layers and, next time, I may well just wear full length tights: my aim isn’t to win the thing, it’s to complete it, alive.
Heading to the start line I am freezing, I keep jogging on the spot to keep the blood flowing. We enter a large crowd of people who are also eagerly waiting. The warmth of everyone huddled together is a welcome feeling.
A voice booms out over the speaker and announces the devil’s arrival. Up he stands in red paint, a cloak and black trousers. Unleashing his flares the countdown begins… 10, 9, 8… I wonder how hard this really is going to be… 4, 3, 2, 1!
We’re off! Everyone starts at a slow trot, and for a while it all seems relatively pleasant and social. In fact we were running on road for about a mile before that false sense of security got ripped away. After turning off road and entering some sparse woodland, we had hit our first ditch, literally.
There were yelps and screams and lots of ‘oh my god, that’s so cold’, and it really was. Being in these situations you just need to go for it, and we did, my shoes filled up with infuriatingly cold water, then the wet hit my legs and knees. The cold was a thousand sharp pains all at once.
Quickly I waded and came through the other side. I turned round to make sure my girlfriend was ok; she was wearing an expression that matched my thoughts.
On we went, through a mile of woodland before we hit an even bigger and deeper ditch. Plunging into this one as I did the first, the floor underneath was moving, almost as if you were standing on quicksand. My right ankle got firmly stuck and twisted to the side; it was a slight niggle but something that I would have to put up with for the rest of the race.
Climbing out of this hellhole proved another tough task, it was level with my chest (I’m 6ft1in). Using my hands, I scrambled up and had the aid of Jenny Bozon, Women’s Running’s digital writer, who pushed my bum up the rest of the way.
The next four miles were up and down, literally. It was open, barren land, with dry muddy paths. Occasionally there would be a queue to get down one hill, due to the vast steep nature of the decline and a build up of mud where everyone had been trouncing through.
Some hills were tougher than others, some I had to walk. These unfortunately were not the Hills of Hell.
Upon reaching the halfway mark we were greeted by warm looking army cadets with bright smiles on their faces, handing out small water bottles. It was the perfect amount of water. The last thing I wanted to feel was heavy for the remaining six miles. It was at this point we lost Jenny to a call of nature.
For another two miles it was up and down woodland, and before I knew it we had reached quite a high altitude. The Hills of Hell came out of nowhere. Six hills, each with 50 feet drops, each over a very short distance. After completing one, back up you went again. It felt like I was doing 12, let alone six.
The Bog of Doom was probably worse than what I had imagined, and what the pictures showed. 30 metres of neck deep, cold, muddy water. I looked at Kayleigh and thought ‘bloody hell’.
In we went, it was the coldest experience I have ever undertaken. You know when something is so cold it takes your breath away? It was the worst kind of that, and then some.
You only go in halfway at first, then there’s another three-foot drop. I managed to wade through, Kayleigh was swimming. Barrels pluming out fire on the side alleviated the pain for a brief half a second, before plummeting you back into the deep, dark, cold.
On the side I saw my mother waving frantically which was a nice distraction, and pointing toward my father who was taking photos. I could only imagine that seeing the photos would replicate the same feeling you felt when your girlfriend saw your baby pictures for the first time.
Halfway through my toes are fully numb, and as for my nether regions, I genuinely doubted their existence for some time.
Finally, the end of the bog. I crawled out after Kayleigh with my Dad sticking his camera in my face and then struggled on.
This was the hardest part of the run, I genuinely couldn’t feel my legs. The cold, wet and soaked clothing made any kind of physical activity nigh on impossible. Putting one foot in front of the other was tough work.
After a mile of half running we reached heaven; much to my disappointment this was not the end. However, they did have jelly babies which I scoffed a treat; these were a welcome consumable seeing as I was starving after mile two.
As per every other obstacle in this run, just as you start getting over the last one, another one ensues. This one, known as Lucifer’s Lido, was less of a bog and more of a lake, not quite as deep, but just as cold.
All the things I never thought I would feel again from the Bog of Doom, I experienced only quarter of an hour later in this lake, created by Satan himself.
At this point I knew we were near the end, and we trudged on for another three miles through rough terrain, and at last the finish line was within reach.
We rounded the corner and yes of course, one last ditch to get through, struggling through we hit the tarmac and over the finish line.
It was an amazing experience and one of the toughest I’ve endured. I was immensely proud of the both of us.