Ythan Challenge 2011– 1:28:18
7.3 soggy miles of mud, mayhem, madness and…wasps?!
I’d been looking forward to the Ythan Challenge race ever since i first heard about it early LAST spring when I found out it had already sold out. This race is quite notorious around the North East of Scotland for being huge amounts of fun and it sells out every year with some competitors coming from as far afield as the Central Belt to compete. It’s a tough and punishing course which is between 11km and 12km in length and features numerous obstacles and challenges, but as it changes every year it’s hard to know exactly what to expect – especially for a 1st timer.
There is a field of approximately 500 runners, which is split into three waves starting in five minute intervals, fastest predicted runners going first. The course starts and finishes at the Meadows Sports Centre in Ellon but leaves public land after about 3km to disappear in to the Esslement Estate which is privately owned and not usually accessible to the public. Obstacles include devilishly steep muddy inclines, a bog which is lovingly cultivated in the Spring purely for race purposes, haybales, cargo nets and a couple of dunks in the river Ythan for good measure.
All in all a huge amount of fun made even more so by tackling the challenge with friends! The weather was absolutely atrocious but did nothing to detract from the event which says a lot about the impeccable organisation and fabulous marshals. I will be back next year without a doubt!
Race day started as is customary with a bowl of oats pimped with mixed seeds, dried fruit and a dollop of almond butter.
It was a fairly early start given race registration began at 9am and Ellon is about 14 miles away so I was up around 7am and was greeted with grim, grey skies and torrential rain.
Sad kitty! The look in Azul’s eyes betrays his confusion over why Mum consistently goes out to play in the rain when she could be at home on the couch. Still, I figured since we’d be getting wet in the river anyway, rain made absolutely no difference. Cold racing beats hot running any day of the week in my book!
Customary shot of walking to registration here.
We were there rather early in fact and I clearly could have had an extra hour in bed, but it was interesting to see competitors come in in dribs and drabs.
I wasn’t sure what the ratio of ‘serious’ runners to happy amateurs to novelty runners would be. It appeared that several clubs had the race in their club championships as there were strong contingents from Perth, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Metro and Edinburgh clubs running in club vests. There were fewer novelty office/charity teams than I thought but then it is a reasonably tough race and you need to be stronger than 10k fitness to complete it easily so I think that would put a lot of people off picking it for a charity event. The field was mainly made up of lunatic runners who liken getting soaked and muddy on a Sunday morning to be their ideal way to start the day.
Like this one.
Soon the rest of the gang turned up – Mike and Annette, and Ian and Donna; aka the University of Awesome.
Once everyone got registered, changed and marked with their numbers we were ready for a group shot.
Well some us were Ian had created his facial hair masterpiece especially for the race and I have to say it’s done a lot for the standard of my pictures.
Would you mess with this man if you came across him running through the Esslement Estate?! Only joking Ian, I happen to be a big fan of extreme moustaches so it gets my vote.
We had some time to hang around before the start at 11am – I don’t know whether this was some kind of crazy ultra runner’s pre-race ritual or not, but as usual Mike was on fire throughout the race so maybe i should give it a go.
Soon enough we decided it was time to get outside and brave the rain for a warm up. It wasn’t cold or windy, but the rain was…serious rain. 30 seconds in it and you were very wet.
A quick sprint around the park and we were good to go. At this point I’d like to take the opportunity to thank my lovely, patient and ever supportive partner Badger who continues to indulge me in my hobby which, at times in his opinion, borders on lunacy. Especially when he comes to support us at races in the rain
Mike was in the first wave which started at 11am so we got to cheer him on before I departed in the 2nd and Ian, Donna and Annette went with the 3rd.
Lots of runners in red – 82AD.org had a lot of runners out on Sunday; they’re a group of runners based locally and around the country who run in memory of their friend Andrew Dunne who tragically died in the first Scottish Kilomathon race on October 3rd 2010. They always wear their distinctive red shirts and have some damn good runners amongst them as well. They raise money for charities in every race they run – I think what they do is pretty cool so do check out their site to read a bit more about it.
Mike ready to go.
Soaked to the bone, it was now my turn to line up. There was good banter in the corral with everyone looking forward to the surprises in store.
And thus concludes the pictorial part of this re-cap until the first of us arrived back at the finish around an hour later.
The route made it’s way around the football field once before heading down towards the river Ythan and following it for a couple of kilometers. There were some steep steps and some uncomfortable terrain but that was about as extreme as it got, until we ascended to and crossed over a bridge, with a very steep muddy slope down the other side. I had been overtaken by quite a large amount of runners before this section and thankfully things were a bit spread out by this point as there was no point in trying to hurry or else you would have ended up on your backside. I was particularly careful here as I did not want to fall foul of the banks of tall nettles as well – not a great way to endure a race I thought.
I think it was about 4kms when we entered the gates to the private Esslement Estate. The route then went off the concrete road into the forest where we found ourselves running on soft pine needles and dodging spikey branches. The first obstacle was a series of fallen tree trunks to traverse – easy; being tall helped me spring right over them. The path joined some landrover tracks which were nice and muddy and then there was the first set of haybales to clamber over. I ran straight for the middle of the two (they were set on their round ends side by side) and jumped and twisted so I landed bum first facing left. I then swung my legs over to give me momentum as I sideways-rolled over on my back and landed deftly – winner! I decided to stick with that technique; no clambering for me. At the time I wondered why some bales had been cordoned off – it turned out that the first pack of runners to cross them had revealed a very angry swarm of wasps to be living in the bales. Many of the front runners got stung (including Vik Lomax who won the woman’s race). You can read Vik’s race report here – I love how the wasp stings only get a trifling mention!
Still deep within the forest, the next task was to get down a verrry steep, narrow, slippy, muddy incline. I don’t think I can describe it in any other way than downright precarious – it had to be take one at a time and due to the amount of runners which had already gone through, the mud was ripe and slippy with nothing underfoot for traction. I remained upright, which was a good start. At the bottom of the hill was the infamous bog – about 15 foot wide with rippling deep, black, stinking mud. I had watched videos of this online so I knew the secret was to go as fast as possible and lift your knees up high. I went for it and was surprised at the depth – it was mid thigh! Still I got through without assistance (there was a marshal here with a pole in case anyone got stuck!) and continued on my way.
We were now running parallel upstream to the Ythan River travelling north. There was no path here, just your average grassy river bank which thankfully by now had been trampled down. I could see the water section was up ahead and people were either up to their chests or swimming; hang on, this wasn’t in the brief…I thought it was only wading in the river..?! A marshal guided us one by one into the river and we had to go out a few meters into the depths of the middle before travelling upstream into the current for about 15 meters. The water was SURPRISINGLY not cold, but adrenaline and being 100% soaked already probably helped. There were also marshals from the local Sea Rescue and Coastguards in the water to guide us who also had buoyancy aids in case anyone struggled. These guys did a fabulous job and the race wouldn’t be the same without them – as was the case last year when they were called away to an emergency and the course had to be changed at the last minute.
Shortly after re-emerging from the water cleansed of all mud, the course re-ascended up an impossibly steep, muddy slippy vertiginous slope. Wearing road shoes with no extra traction, my legs were going like I was on a travellator as I tried to find some grip. Persistent scrambling saw me to the top with a nice gash on my leg and shredded hands to show for it. More haybales and more running occurred before another decent and another dunk in the river – this time the water was only knee depth but the current was much stronger. Looking down at the rushing water as I moved was quite disorientating and it felt like I wasn’t going anywhere at all!
Out of the water and back into the forest on flatter ground there were new obstacles such as cargo nets to climb up and over, scramble nets to go under and tunnels to go through. Also conquered – gates, fallen trees and other random blockages. Oh, and more hay bales of course. Eventually we ended up back on a proper road where I was able to re-gain my stride, settle my heart rate a bit and get back into some proper running.
At this point it was probably about 7km in and the course was verrry spread out. I was just behind a lady from the Arbroath Footers running club though and she was chugging along steadily so I decided to pace with her at about 9m 30s a mile. During these sections of normal running I wanted to stick with my half marathon pace and go no faster in the interest of not damaging anything. Or at least having one less thing to blame if I did damage something. After a while I could see she was tiring though and I over took her when she slowed to a walk; I then ran the final 4km along the paths back into Ellon pretty much by myself, with encouragement from cheery marshals every now and then which was always welcome.
There were quite a few members of the public along the river path and I suddenly became quite aware of how messy I must have looked – my make up had long been washed away and I was coated in mud (although the rain did help shift it). Everyone was clapping and saying ‘Well done’ and I made sure to thank them all – it was lovely to have some support when I was just plodding along by myself! Until, I experienced something which has gone immediately to the top of my ‘Weirdest and rudest running heckles EVER’ list. A little boy, maybe about 8 or 9 years of age, was sitting on a bench with what would appear to be Mum and Granma. There were some other people around who clapped as I passed, but this little cretin stood up, pointed straight at me and said “You, are SO FAT!”. No, really. I’m not kidding – I wish I was. I was expecting Mum to batter him and chuck him in the river for being so rude but instead they both giggled as I passed. Utterly baffled, my first response was to smack my lycra clad backside and holler back “Tell that to my ass ‘cos it’s AWESOME!”. Of course, hindsight is always 20-20 and a short while later I realised the most appropriately hilarious re-heckle would have been “Not as fat as yo Momma!!”.
Seriously though, what the hell?! What kind of mother raises her child to think that that’s ok to shout at women? Note the plural – he also said it to Donna and Annette, and presumably every other woman in between. As I ran on trying to figure out what the hell just happened an advert came to mind…
Whatever kid – wise up. Fat talk is so 90s. Once you grow up you’ll appreciate the booty.
Before I knew it I was passing the 11km mark and turning back into the field!
In the interim of course, Mike had finished in under an hour – lets take a look at how he finished:
Aha – I see he went for the climber’s approach. No undignified bale-hurdling for him.
He came in in 59minutes 6 seconds. Just for those of you who might have missed out on last weeks antics – he finished the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in 21.5hrs just seven days prior to this!
Now, back to me. After this piece of grass there was another killer hill to scramble. No mud, but slippy wet grass.
And here’s my bale hurdling technique; I’ve trademarked it the “Mitchell Ascension”.
Making this face is essential to successfully complete the manoeuvre.
After this the performer gracefully plops to her feet and continues onwards with all the adroitness of a sugar plum fairy.
Wheeeee! They announced my name as I crossed the finish line which I liked
Hawt. The gothic emo eyeliner tears extended down my face, across my face and right down my chest. I’m remarkably not muddy though! The rain helped of course.
Such a fun race! I felt like a big kid again, roaming through forests and caked in mud without a care in the world. I normally race by the saying “Look good, run good” but in this case I clearly didn’t need a scrap of makeup to have a good run
Too chuffed to even hold my medal the right way around!
It wasn’t long before we spotted then Duggans who had managed to stay together.
Here you can see them making a valiant attempt…
Oh Ian; don’t desert your wife! Whatever happened to for better or worse?!
Donna got the last laugh though;
As she steamed home to a victory over Ian
I don’t think he’s the least bit pleased about that at all…
I had to go and change out of my wet clothes at this point as I was getting a chill, but the lads stuck around to see Annette in shortly after.
We stuck around for some home baking courtesy of the local Girl Guides, and the carnivores amongst us were able to feast on BBQ’d burgers and sausages. We watched the prize giving and the rain *almost* held off for the end but another tropical-style downpour started and we made haste to the car before I drenched yet another set of clothes.
As I said before – a fantastic race, well organised and well attended. I can’t recommend this enough to anyone with a sense of humour and in need of a challenge. The course changes every year so they keep it fresh and you never know what’s in store. Stick this in your diary for January 2012 if you want to get a place though as it usually sells out within a week or less. I will definitely be back