Hellrunner. Wetter and better than ever before.

This is all that’s left of my favourite New Balance trail shoes and Thorlos socks after yesterday’s Hell Up North leg of the Hellrunner series. The picture hardly does justice to how ruined they are, but suffice it to say that not even bleach has had any effect on the socks, and as the soles of both shoes have also separated, I fear it may be time to get a new pair.

Last year’s event was held in April, and while I got plenty muddy, I was clean again after just one jetwash, two showers and a bath. This year, I’m already up to three showers and two baths, without very much success in getting rid of the ingrained mud from yesterday.

As it’s been raining for weeks in the North of England, I should have predicted how tough yesterday’s race was going to be. But I didn’t, and was consequently astonished throughout at how much tougher the course was than usual.

Obviously, the opening hill is gravelled, and the subsequent downhill path was pretty OK. But after that, woodland paths through Delamere Forest, which had been springy with pine needles in April, were just an endless quagmire that you didn’t so much run across as wade through.

I found myself crawling up the steeper slopes, as even my fabulously grippy but now deceased New Balance 471s couldn’t find any purchase. And each successive bog simply filled my shoes with more peaty mud and twigs, covered my legs with more mud-etched scratches and allowed fellow Hellrunners even more opportunities to step on my achilles tendons as I became ever more bogged down. By the time I finally reached the finish line, in a highly unimpressive 2:06, I felt as exhausted as I usually do at the end of a marathon.

Just to sum up then: I had an absolutely fantastic time yesterday, and can’t wait for next year. Though in fairness, it may take me that long to recover sufficiently to be able to run again. Switching from Salomon sponsorship to Puma obviously hasn’t hurt the Hellrunner franchise, and while some of the web forums have been critical of the organisation, I thought that yesterday’s race was much better organised than last year, if only because there were three water stations rather than just the one.

Sure, there are parts of the course where single-file tracks mean you have to slow to a walking pace for steep descents or ascents, but while I’m usually the first to make fun of a walk-run strategy, I’d like to ‘fess up here and now that I enjoyed every minute of the enforced walk breaks I took yesterday. In fact, some of the Hills of Hell were so steep, and so late in the race, that I couldn’t have run up them without the aid of a pursuing pack of wolves.

So well done to everyone at Puma and TrailPlus. Hellrunner is still the most fun adventure race there is. It’s just a pity that the technical t-shirt with the iron-on plastic logo is so naff…

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