After a year of training and a myriad of energetic events like the Helly Hansen Adventure Challenge, Tough Guy, the BG Challenge and half marathons, Gwyl, Kate and Jen decided that they would round it all off with a 12 mile fell run in Delamere Forest in Cheshire otherwise known as Hell Runner.
We were woken on Sunday morning very early by the sound of rain drops the size of golf balls hitting the windows. It was raining and windy and really not running weather at all, or at least not the kind of weather I wanted to run in. I think we all had the same collective thought, 'I wonder if we could get out of this?' The answer was yes, but the hardcore runner in us decided that we couldn't back out now.
We arrived at the car park spot on time and went through our usual ceremonies whereby we slowly adorned ourselves with our running kit, race numbers and knee supports. We proceeded to the start area where over 1,500 runners cowered from the wind. There was the usual line of men by the hedge and the usual row of women waiting for the portaloos. As the rain died down, so did the wind, and we made our way to the start line full of grit and determination.
The horn sounded and we were off. There was no easy start as we were launched immediately into our first hill, as the first leg took us on a circular route up and around a hill back down to the start where the devil was waiting to cheer us on. With a quick high five as we ran past we set off for the real challenge through the forest. There were inclines, there were showers of pine needles, brambles, nettles, branches, tree stumps and roots, logs, streams, lots of puddles, mud galore and more inclines. At one point you were literally scrambling around in the mud using your hands to pull you forward. We were taken to the top of some fantastic hills for just long enough to enjoy the beautiful views, before being plunged back into the heart of the forest on narrow, uneven tracks. There was no slowing down as the people behind you wanted to keep going, you could only look in one direction and that was forwards. Just when you started to overheat and your muscles were burning in your legs, you would be propelled into another pit of water or mud, culminating in the mighty Bog of Doom. This was a bog in every sense of the word, thick gloopy mud which, if you stayed still long enough, held you in place and didn't let go. Wading through this cold substance put even more pressure on your muscles and even when you emerged on the other side, your clothes and shoes were so weighed down that running was almost impossible. But, this was Hell Runner, it wasn't supposed to be easy, it was supposed to be Hell, and so it was.
Eventually, the sound of the tannoy could be heard and you knew that you were nearly there. This gave you an extra spurt of energy, knowing that fortune and glory were yours if you just pushed on a little further, kept your head up, fixed your sights on the person in front, caught them and over took them. The last small section took you back up the hill you first ran up and then took you on a small uphill slalom before a flat run to the finish. With everything burning and aching there was just a tiny amount of energy left to force your way past a few more people, who seemed surprised at your energy but were powerless to stop you.
And then it was over. The devil laughed. The crowd cheered. You threw your arms in the air and knew that you had done a good job. Hell Runner 2009 - Hell Up North was over and we had survived.
We were slightly broken before we set off, with knee supports and numerous tablets, but nothing compared to the pain of walking back to the car, slightly hypothermic but elated, realising that your legs had stopped working properly. Needless to say, we'll be playing hell's minions next year in an effort to beat our scores!
Pictures by Simon: