Sportsister’s Lizzie Flint left the roads behind to take part in the WildMan; an off road running event that is a part of the ASICS Off Road Trail Run Series.
The running series is organised by Human Race, an event management agency that focuses on multisport events. The Off Road series comprises of five trail running races; WildMan,TuffMan, TrailMan, IceMan and MudMan, that each take place at various locations in the South East of England.
Just to make them tougher, they are held only in the cold, wet winter months and as their names would suggest, these races are not for the faint hearted! It is a Saturday morning experience that I am not going to forget in a hurry…
The WildMan had a choice of three events; a 10k run, 15k run and a duathlon, the latter being completed as either an individual or as a relay. I opted for the 10k. Having never run off road before, I had no idea what to expect and this made me a little nervous.
Due to the uneven terrain, I know that cross-country is more demanding than the road running that I’m used to, so I was unsure as to how my fitness levels would cope.
The extremity of the event also added to my nerves as I didn’t want to injure myself. I’m currently in training for the London marathon and the last thing I need is to go over on my ankle – that’s my excuse anyway!
I arrived at the venue an hour early and after a three hour drive I was grateful to stretch my legs before getting started. The moment I arrived and had got my race number and free t-shirt, I sensed a real feeling of community amongst the athletes.
It was a fairly small event with only around 250 people taking part, and I got the impression that people were regulars on the scene; many knew each other and were catching up on the various events or races that they had done since the last Off Road Trail Run. I liked this friendly vibe and it immediately calmed my nerves.
One hour later
And it was time to get down to business. The race was scheduled for 10am and like clockwork, the Human Race organisers rallied us up at the start line where they gave us a quick talk about what to expect, some health and safety regulations and then all that was left was to wish us luck.
Unfortunately, I found myself right at the front of the start line. Looking around I as surrounded by 250 mainly male, grunting, well prepared, head-to-toe in lyrca runners with ‘yes I’m ready and up for it’ written all over their faces. I knew it was only a matter of seconds until I felt like Simba in the middle of the herd of antelope.
“Take your marks…Go!” Well I wasn’t wrong… but once the more elite had shot off and I found my rhythm, it didn’t take me long to adjust to the foreignness of running on sand and find myself tackling the first hill.
The route takes you through the heavy woodland of an army testing ground; Hankley Common in Surrey which couldn’t have been a more perfect location for such an event. No more than two minutes into the race and we came to the first steep sandy hill.
I’m used to hill running but only on the road, adding sand is definitely a whole new ball game, it’s very demanding on your energy levels and for a while you feel like you are very quickly getting nowhere.
At the top of the hill the ground flattens and we followed a sandy and muddy track to the next hill. At the top of any hill there is always the pleasure of the downward, but the steepness and uneven surface of the declines were a challenge in themselves to get down safely. A lot of us were holding on to each other for balance and support.
At the bottom it’s only minutes until you are greeted with the next steep rise. The course is intended to test even the fittest athletes with many runners having to walk the steepest parts. It was designed to involve as many hills as possible, meaning a lot of changing direction by coming back on yourself. This was another hindrance to the speed of the race as the sharp bends meant that you really had to slow the pace down.
The trail was a punishing adventure of muddy and sandy hills whilst muddling through puddles that tested us both physically and mentally, but it was brilliant fun and the breath-taking views at the top of the hills were worth the struggle (only just though!).
The organisers were fantastic in getting involved with the event. One of the Human Race team dressed up in a crocodile outfit and started the race two minutes before the rest of us. The challenge was to get past him and win a prize.
There was also the addition of a rubber duck competition. There was a huge puddle that had lots of rubber ducks in. Amongst all the yellow, were a few green ones and people were challenged to find them whilst running through and carry them to the finish line to win another prize.
Unfortunately I wasn’t one of the lucky few that over took the croc or found a green duck, but it was a fun idea that got people more motivated for the competition.
Would I do it again?
I would definitely take part in this event again, or one similar. I liked that there were only a small number of people participating; it gave the event a real sense of community in being a part of the ‘slog’ together.
I also have a new found love for the demands of cross-country running; it is a challenge that really tests your fitness and mental toughness that road racing doesn’t offer.
I found out afterwards that WildMan is the hardest one in the series and so if I can do that, I can do any of them!
- The organisation and team in charge were great. Very friendly and helpful
- The small number of runners provided a real sense of community and friendly vibe
- The scenery was idyllic – so peaceful and beautiful, much in contrast to how we were all feeling running around it!
- Participants were able to run with their dogs on leads, which made for a unique experience and added to the element of ‘WildMan’
- The facilities weren’t great – there were only five toilets, which resulted in very long queues, and there were no changing room or shower facilities. Luckily it wasn’t raining so we didn’t get as muddy as we could have, but it still would have been nice to freshen up before the drive home
- There were no marker points throughout the run, so you never knew how far you had already run or had left. This made it difficult to pace yourself
Want to give it a go?
The next race is the TrailMan on Saturday 10 March.
More info: www.humanrace.co.uk