I saw a post on Facebook a few months ago for the Grim Challenge series, sent by a friend of mine who wanted to get into mud and obstacle running. After answering a few general questions on these sorts of runs, I decided to keep this on the back-burner as a possible short run to warm down after the Spartan Beast which was only two weeks before it.
As it transpired, the friend was unable to do the run so I asked around a few people who were also trying to get into these runs. As it was only an 8 mile run I thought it would be ideal for people looking to start out. Turns out the person I was due to run with had to pull out last minute, so in the end I decided to run it on my own and treat it as a fun wind-down to the end of a long season of mud runs.
After finishing the race I only have one word to describe it- Exceptional!
The race was amazing from start to finish, and not just the course. Of all the races I have joined this year this was the best organised, with the best atmosphere and without a doubt the best value for money.
Firstly, the welcome pack. I received a fully glossy race pack with lots of information, my race number, timing chip and information on future events. All other races have just provided an email, often missing some pretty vital information. In the case of the Spartan series, I often didn't even receive the email and had to chase them!
Next was the general organisation. I know that it was on a military camp, but you got the impression that it was being run as a military operation (maybe it was!). There were signs guiding us in from as far away as the M3. Again, with other races there has been confusion as to the correct sat nav postcode, or no signs until you are actually at the entrance to some small farm in the middle of no-where. This sat very well with The Wife, aka The support crew, who I always burden with being the navigator, and if she likes a race it makes it far easier for me to justify going to another in the series :-) Bravo Grim Challenge, bravo.
The entrance to the race was easy to find with good parking facilities and helpful marshals A short walk from the car park got us towards the start line where there were plenty of toilets, including the male only urinal port-a-loos which are great in avoiding queues for us gents. As we already had race numbers and timing chips there was no rush once we were there. You could simply soak up the atmosphere, which was really nice. Again, it's the little things which make all the difference.
As I wasn't too fussed about my time for this race, I didn't worry about joining the start line too early and ended up about halfway through the queue to start. The temperature was hovering just above freezing and I was still trying to decide whether to run topless or use my Under Armour heat gear top. In the end, I decided to test myself against the elements properly and take off my top just before the start. With the GoPro set, I was ready to run.
The run was itself was great and the atmosphere superb. As I was doing a gentle pace I had chance to talk to people as I was running, and everyone was having a great time. I got a few funny looks when breaking ice wearing not very much, but that's all part of the fun of it for me.
I coped pretty well after mile 3. Between miles 1.5 and 3 I started to get very, very cold to the point where for the first time ever I was starting to wonder if I could get through it. My severe lack of prep meant that I was burning off my morning breakfast pretty quickly and I wasn't battling the cold as easily as I normally do. I started losing feeling in my left thumb completely to the point where I had to run holding it in my other hand. For whatever reason, my temperature stabilised by mile 3 and I was able to properly enjoy the rest of the race.
There were very few obstacles as such, only a few cargo nets and some logs to run over. The mud and water were considered the main obstacles, with people choosing how thick and deep they wanted to go through them. This seemed great, especially for those starting out. I hit full force to begin with, ducking out only between miles 1.5 and 3 as I tried to warm up. I didn't avoid altogether, but chose on some to exit puddles before the very end until I got warm again. Later on in the race when the track opened very wide many chose, as I did, to aim for puddles and mud not directly in the way. Great fun.
Towards the end, still sporting my ridiculous Movember 'tash
That brings me on to another great feature of the course- the width. There were no points whatsoever that forced you to run at single file so you were never stopped by other people's pace. Take note Spartan and Tough Mudder!!!
The marshals throughout were also great, offering encouragement, telling you about dangerous ice, guiding you in the correct direction and generally paying attention to what was being done. This was coupled with visible off-road Ambulance presence throughout the course to give the overall impression that the organisers cared about the runner as much as they did about taking your money. A really nice change!
My wife commented that the information for spectators was also great, with plenty of room to let my son run around and get muddy himself whilst they waited for me at some of the obstacles. the only thing missing that would have been nice would be a spectators map showing good photo spots, but the marshals again were very helpful I'm told in pointing out the good spots. She managed to get this footage of me running through one of the lakes:
After 8 miles or mud soaked fun, I reached the finish line and despite taking it pretty causally, still came in the top 100, which I was pretty pleased with. When you crossed the line, the announcer called out your name as well, a really nice touch. I picked up my race bag which had a decent quality cotton tee. Ok, it wasn't a technical or branded tee, but all things considered not too shabby. There were also some free samples of snacks so it was easy to get a bit of food immediately (Though I admit I headed straight for the burger van ;-) )
After the race times were announced very quickly and photos placed up pretty quickly. The Grim Challenge Facebook page also had the courtesy to repost links to mine and another runner's GoPro footage. This helps with the views and ads on our own pages which in turns helps to pay for the recording equipment and promote things like this little blog. Little things like this make a big difference to those of us that have these races as our main sport and hobby.
I can honestly say that after the huge disappointment that was the Spartan Beast, this was a refreshing change for all the right reasons. For the very low £30 entry fee, this was the mud/obstacle run bargain of the century and I can do nothing but sing its praises. I seriously hope that the "Big three" race organisers in the UK had reps running this race and took something away from it. A lot of lessons to be learnt and a massive round of applause needed for the organisers of Grim Challenge.