Since 2010, the military style long distance obstacle course race has taken the US and UK by storm. Most famous of these is Tough Mudder – a 10-16 mile course littered with army style obstacles which play on common human fears. Obstacles featured in Tough Mudder include electric shocks, jumping off a 15 foot platform into an ominous pond below and being dunked into a bucket of ice water.
I’ll try it one day, but I thought it was more sensible to start with a somewhat kinder obstacle course race. Battle of Lansdown is based in Bath – it takes its name from a 1643 English Civil War battle fought in the same location. 370 years on and the battle consists of fewer swords and more crazy obstacles. Something tells me the civil war soldiers didn’t go zooming down a mud slide!
The course is 10 kilometres long and consists of 30 obstacles which range in difficulty. The run starts with a huge tiered haystack that you have to heave yourself over; then you run around the corner, through a tyre and string trap, and over the first wall. This is about 7 feet and slanted, so it’s possible to get over this one independently – which can’t be said for the later one…
A couple of kilometres later and JUST when you start thinking Obstacle course? This is easy…. You reach the slides. The first one, the ‘Baby Slide’ is (would you believe) quite fun – it’s just a water slide with mud on. Everyone has a tiny part of them that wishes they could roll around in mud without caring, and here that part of you can revel. You end up pretty wet and very muddy, but happily liberated.
Then you turn a corner and reach your next obstacle – the mega slide. It’s six feet wide and bordered by haystacks. At the bottom there’s a pool of water. It’s 9 degrees outside and you’re going to get dunked. Which obviously, by the expression on my face, I was mega excited about.
It’s not the most pleasant thing and you feel absolutely frozen but you make it out the other side – just to be dunked again if you can’t hold yourself up from the swinging hoops. Just don’t knock your head like I did!
A few nets and fireman poles later and you reach ‘The Chilli Hut’. This has nothing to do with chillies and is actually a pretty sadistic climbing frame – there’s places to put your hands and feet but they’re all blocked by a box on the inside, so you can only latch on by the tips of your toes and fingers. And you’re already wet and muddy.
But the toughest of them all is the 10 feet high ‘Wall with a View’. I’m not sure what the view was, I could barely see anything through tears in my eyes! You quite literally have to heave yourself over this monstrosity and if you’re half that height like me, you’ll need some help. Luckily the stewards are pretty well practised in this, and as the event is all about teamwork, your teammates and other competitors are more than willing to help. But despite all the assistance I still got completely stuck at the top of the wall and started whimpering like a four year old… luckily I found enough momentum in my leg to swing it round and then dropped down.
A few more kilometres and other obstacles and you finally reach the end. The last obstacle is the coolest- named ‘Hea-van’, it is a ‘Battle of Lansdown’ branded van which you can climb over and get your picture taken at the top, and then jump off of! It’s a pretty momentous way to say ‘Battle of Lansdown… conquered!’
You get a medal and a neat t-shirt that states that you’re a ‘Battle of Lansdown survivor’. And of course a great sense of achievement. Even if you can’t warm up for a few hours after.
Here’s a few top tips I’ve thought of for Battle of Lansdown or any other obstacle course race.
Obstacle course race survival tips
- Unless you’re a serious body builder and long distance runner mixed into one, you’re going to look like an idiot at times. Embrace it – it’s one of the only places where it’s acceptable to look this ridiculous.
- Bring gloves, even though they will get wet. They make it a lot less painful to grip some of the obstacles!
- If you’re only going to train in one aspect, make it your upper body. There’s an insane amount of arm and chest strength needed to hoist yourselves over some of the obstacles.
- Distance running training isn’t so important, as you’ll be stopping and starting a lot. But if you want to be able to run as much as possible, you’ll need to do some serious hill training.
- Also, if you’re really serious about getting a good time, it might be a good idea to practise running in wet clothes. It’s a lot harder than it looks!
- Lucozade gel sachets are a bit of a lifesaver when you’re 6km in, wet, cold, walking up a steep incline and in need of a quick pick me up.
- If you’re not exactly gifted in the height department, there might be a couple of obstacles that you just can’t do. The monkey bars were an impossibility for me – I just couldn’t reach them! Give them a go, and if it’s physically impossible just move on.
- That being said, you might just surprise yourself. I never thought I’d get over a wall twice my height. It took some help from those around (and a few tears at the top), but after a great amount of heaving I did it. And it was one of my proudest moments of the year.
- Don’t give in to fear. These obstacle courses are mentally draining, but don’t let the fear stop you from competing. There’s a few obstacles I didn’t want to do, but as long as you hold on tight and be careful of your footing, you’ll be fine.
- Smile! A cheery attitude and determination to get around all 30 obstacles will help you through!
As long as you’re prepared for mud, sweat and tears, it’s not too hard to survive an obstacle course race! They’re mentally, physically and emotionally tough – even the track itself is an obstacle, with steep inclines and rocky terrain – but difficult as they may be, the sense of achievement when you finally clamber over the last hurdle is overwhelming.
Of course, this is just about the race that I did, and while I’m sure some of these tips can be transferred to the much harder Tough Mudder, I’m not in a position to comment on it!
For more competitive race tips, check out the 13.1 stages to a half marathon.