#Dolph10k – How the Race was Run…
The road I’ve traveled to go from a completely inactive gamer to a 10k adventure race runner has been seemingly long, but just over one week ago it all came to a head as I stood on the start line in the shadow of Battersea Power Station, waiting for the gun to set us off.
6,000 people had made a similar pilgrimage that day. Like many others, I had stayed local to the event in London so as to avoid any snarl-ups with traffic or public transport in the morning. At breakfast in the hotel, I could see a swarm of Men’s Health ‘cover models’ swanning around picking up a few extra vital carbs from the ‘all you can eat’ buffet.
I remember saying something obvious to break the ice, like “I guess we’re all here for the same reason then”. They nodded, and we started chatting about what the day might hold. Of course, none of us were really there for the same reason. One was running because he wanted to beat his personal best time. Another was doing it because he wanted to finish all four Survival of the Fittest events in one year (the race had previously gone to Edinburgh, Nottingham and Cardiff before reaching London).
I was there for a completely different reason. I wanted to raise lots of money for GamesAid. And I wanted to prove to myself that, in just three months, it is possible to go from twiddling your thumbs (literally) to completing what many believe is the most difficult 10k race in the country (also literally).
If you have read any of my training journals, you’ll know I put a lot of time and effort into preparing for this feat. In the 13 weeks I spent preparing, I lifted a cumulative 4.29 tonnes of weights to build up some muscle and ran over 50km in total, although it is important to note that I never managed to run more than 5km in a single session. In fact, when I started running at the beginning of my preparations in August, I couldn’t manage more than a single kilometer.
Now was the time to put all that training to the test and not only run twice as far as I have done in over 20 years but take on this task with obstacles getting in my way.
The race started in waves – 20 of them to be precise. With 6,000 people to manage, it would have been impossible to start them all at once. The first wave went out and everyone cheered. I ran around the corner to the spectators area to see what lay ahead for me, and there was the first hurdle. A set of hurdles, in fact, made from bales of hay that stood 1.5m high. I could also see that unless you were right at the front (which I was never going to be), you were going to have to queue at every obstacle.
I finished off my fuel and hydration preparations over the next 35 minutes and met up with Seanoc who had come to offer support, take some photos and look after my bag while I ran. He claims that was the ‘hard part’ of the day, but I beg to differ! I was now just a short 15 minute warm-up away from starting the race, and my confidence was about to take a big hit.
The leader of the first wave was coming around to the final obstacle – the much-lauded ‘Wall of Fame’ – a 2.5m high behemoth that had already sent a shiver down my spine when I arrived at the event. How would he manage? What could I learn? While the leader of that race managed to get over the wall reasonably well (although not with great ease), the second-place runner was there for what seemed like ages. He was super fit. He had the kind of physique you’d expect to see in a fitness magazine. And he was struggling to get over the wall. In fact, it took the third-place man to give him a boost before he could complete the race.
That really knocked me back. If a super-fit guy can’t make it over the wall, how was I going to?
I warmed up and got ready to start my wave with 380 other willing participants. The gun went off. It was time to find out if all the preparation had worked.
As expected, I queued for my chance to get over the bails of hay. We then had to deal with the ‘Parkour Zone’, which involved a series of challenges such as monkey bars, a 2m wall, a double under-and-over section and the first of many ‘crawling’ obstacles.
After a short run, I had to climb in and out of a big refuse skip, climb up a ramp to a gangway and crawl along before jumping down and continuing on.
These first two sets of obstacles came in quick succession, blowing away any thoughts of ‘one challenge per kilometer’. Thankfully, I was now able to get into my stride and do some running as we headed into Battersea Park. There were several long stretches of flat running here broken up with the occasional inflatable challenge and a very high a-frame that I had to climb up and over. They also threw in a run around the 400m athletics track along with all the hurdles, and the water jump, you’d expect from a steeplechase race.
The bit I wasn’t really prepared for was just how wet and cold I was going to get. In Battersea Park, they made us run through two inflatable pools of ice cold water, and when I landed in the water jump during the 400m hurdle section it did surprise me how deep it was. But this was nothing in comparison to what lay ahead.
As we headed back into the Power Station area, they slowed us all down with a tyre maze that was both difficult and hazardous. That was where I made my first slip up and tripped over, landing on a pile of Pirellis. Once through there, they made us climb through a car over a whole Army truck before going on to a horrible tunnel that seemed to last forever. It was an awkward tunnel too – not low enough to make you crawl, and not high enough that you could squat through, so the only way to make it was to walk on your hands and toes.
But it wasn’t until the final kilometer that I met my real nemesis. Inside Battersea Power Station, the people at Men’s Health had created a monster.
Inside the building (we had to wear hard hats for this section), they made us pick up a traffic cone (the biggest I’d ever seen, in fact) and carry that down a hill, over hurdles, and up the same hill. It was a killer, especially since I had hurt my arm earlier in training and was carrying that injury into the race. But that was just the beginning. Elsewhere inside Europe’s largest brick building they made us climb over a dozen pedestrian barriers, crawl through a tunnel filled with stones, navigate through a spider’s web of bungee cords, run around a maze and then get over two more a-frames.
The second time I tripped was inside that spider’s web, and I managed to get my left leg trapped in the cords. It took seemingly ages to free myself, and I could feel my hamstring going as a result of the effort. After a short rest and a stretch, I shook it off and carried on running. Now, all we had to do was get past the last set of obstacles. But I had no clue that they had packed so many in to the last 1k run.
First up, a huge challenge stood in the way. It consisted of three 2m step-ups followed by a vertical slide on the other side that was like dropping off the tallest half-pipe you’ve ever seen. And it wasn’t a smooth landing – I really bumped into the ground on the other side.
Then they made me climb into another skip. This time, it was filled with ice-cold water and woodchips. Then I was faced with crawling through a trough of ice cubes and a mud pit before racing onward to a swimming pool of – yes you guessed it – more ice cold water. To keep that water as clean as possible, two men with fire hoses washed you down after the mud bath.
With all of that done and out of the way, it was time to hit the Wall of Fame. I simply couldn’t manage it without help, especially with the injury I was carrying, so some brilliant people helped me up. I couldn’t believe how high it was when I looked down the other side, but with a little help I climbed down and jumped off. It was pretty slippery as I landed, but I managed to get down without further injury. Others weren’t so lucky – I saw several people twisting ankles and hurting themselves as they landed.
I ran over the finish line just over 1 hour and 24 minutes after starting and immediately felt exhilarated, with a huge air of accomplishment wafting over me. The experience was just amazing. Would I do it again? Probably not, if I’m honest – it was really hard work and extremely tough. Maybe there’s another challenge I can put my mind to for next year, but I’m happy to say that I’m a survivor of the most difficult 10k the UK has to offer – and that’ll do me just fine.
The donation page to raise much-needed funds for GamesAid will be open for another three months, and we still have a lot of prizes on offer if you get your donation in during before December 16th. Think of it as buying one extra Christmas present to help children have a little more joy in their difficult lives over the Holiday Season. Now that you’ve read what went into this, and what I had to deal with, I really hope you feel you can dig deep and make a donation today. Every little helps, and as little as £5 will get you into the prize draw to win some amazing prizes.
#Dolph10k was a truly incredible experience. Thank you to Seanoc for coming along to support and assist, and big thanks to all the fantastic team at PS3 Attitude for organising the prize draw, the brilliant coverage on the site and the social networking aspects of the challenge. I’d also like to thank all the developers, manufacturers, publishers and PR firms who offered up amazing prizes to help us boost the donations. Please give them a virtual round of applause in the comments below before you head to the donation page.