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…


Getting ready for Hellrunner.

I’ve had a few emails this week from Hellrunner virgins who are getting all hot and bothered about their first time at the event this weekend. So I thought that today I’d cover off a few things about the event, as hellrunner.co.uk no longer has a forum where you can ask questions.

First off, it seems there’s a rumour going around that you have to gaffa tape your running shoes to your ankles, in order to avoid losing them in the Bogs of Doom. Well, It’s true that one guy did lose a shoe last year, pretty early on, and had to complete the last 8 miles or so with just the one shoe. Which makes him as brave as two short planks, IMHO, but I suppose you’ve got to respect that kind of commitment.

None of which means that gaffa tape is required, however. You just need to make sure that you’re wearing shoes you can tie on fairly tightly, as there is a certain amount of suction coming into play in some of the deeper bogs. It’ll also help if those shoes are fairly grippy and have a reasonably solid sole.

I’d also recommend wearing running kit that you don’t really care about, as the peat bogs seem to ingrain every fibre of your being, never mind your clothing, with mud; and the shorts, vest, socks and shoes I wore last year will probably bear the scars for evermore. Especially after I wear them again next Sunday…

Yes folks, this is just about as wet, muddy and tiring as it’s possible to get outside of a mud-wrestling festival.

In fact, last year, I actually had to be jet-washed at the mountain bike hire place in Delamere Forest before my long-suffering wife would allow me to get back in her car. Even then, we had to call in on family who live nearby in order for me to rid myself of the lingering smell of the bogs. Fortunately, with teenage girls in the family, their shower featured a plethora of shampoos and assorted unguents, allowing me the opportunity to clean, scrub, tone, moisturise, exfoliate, depilate (bit of a mix-up reading the bottle, if I’m honest), and generally make myself fit for human contact again.

Having said that, it was another couple of baths later before I was fully clean again. So don’t say that you haven’t been warned.

You should also be aware that a full immersion in a peat bog is possible, though not obligatory. So if you were thinking of bringing an iPod, please do so only if you’re pretty sure that your case is water- and mud-proof. And if you do lose your footing in a bog, for goodness sake, close your eyes and mouth as you fall. I saw a girl go under last year who didn’t do this, and to say that she wasn’t a happy camper afterwards would be something of an understatement.

Apart from that, the only other main point to note is that there are no mile-markers on this one, and only one water station, which is at about half way. The lack of mile-markers really threw me for a loop the first time I did Hellrunner, especially as the organisers are fairly non-specific about the total distance anyway.

This year they’re calling it at about 10-12 miles. So I shall be working out my position by adding 10% to my half marathon pb (to account for the Hills of Hell, Bogs of Doom and the occasional queue) and dividing the total by 12, which should, if last year is anything to go by, allow me to assume an average 9 minute mile pace, or 1 hour 50 to get to the finish.

It’s not a perfect system by any means, but trust me, it’s better than staggering up and down the Hills of Hell with no idea if there’s ever going to be an end to it all. Anyhoo, I think that’s probably everything you need to know that isn’t covered in the race notes. So, if you’re going: I’ll see you in hell.