I came, I saw, I cantered – Rat Race Horseplay

For those who have no idea what the title suggest, this refers to the running challenge that I completed with a group of adventure-loving friends on Saturday, including my fiance Simon, my friend Jenny from Reading and Steve from my church.

“Horseplay” is the name of the finale of the four-part Notorious Night run series organised by Rat Race, in the beautiful Hambleden estate in Buckinghamshire. The 10k run takes place in the dark, where all runners wear a head torch and conquer various natural and man-made obstacles through the woods, over rolling hills and green paddocks.

This year’s event attracted just under 500 runners, some of whom were wearing fancy dress as part of the fun, with riding regalia being one of the most popular outfits (Simon did a great job dressing up as a jockey)! The whole day was hot and sunny (quite unusual for the season), which turned into a balmy and tranquil evening – the perfect setting for the race.

The sun transformed into a burning bronze plate and we watched it slowly sink behind the rolling hills as we lined up behind the start line to listen to the pre-race brief. The air was filled with excitement and nerves about the unknown. The sight of the mud pool not very far from the start line filled many of us with the same thought “What have I got myself into?” but quickly dispersed as we all started galloping across the grassy “show field” at the gun shot and over the first of many genuine horsejumps and tree trunks!

After leaving the “show field”, the route led us into the forest and soon we found ourselves running/crawling up insanely steep hills looking for a good grip, then trying to get through narrow paths whilst fighting with branches and getting tangled up in the low grown trees.  When we thought we had been through the worst, we found ourselves landing in mud holes and pools of water… One hole had so slippery edges that I nearly slid back for a proper mud bath!

Steep steps, more giant tree trunks and obstacles along the way turned our legs into jellies. I felt remarkably energetic during the run and managed to settle into a good pace, I tried to resort to power walking rather than sprinting up the hills, recover on the slopes and the strategy seems to have worked as my legs stayed strong throughout the whole race. In fact, at some points I found it hard to keep up with Jenny who swung herself over the toughest obstacles with effortless grace whilst I felt very clumsy and heavy footed in my long pants (not very practical for this type of event, in hindsight) and shoes that soaked up all the water in the pool like a giant sponge. We lost the two boys somewhere along the way and managed to join a smaller fragmented group of runners.

I was so glad I had bought a powerful torch – getting lost on my own with a weak little light and not being able to see the route markers in the middle of the dark forest would have been very much like a nightmare coming true!  I found it funny when we heard the surprised scream of people behind us just landing in the mud pool…

When I think back of our rave run in the dark forest, flashes of memories keep coming back – our torches lighting the path under our feet, running fearlessly, freely, and embracing the next obstacle without thinking of a shortcut. Tiny lights illuminating the hills, marking the route back to the finish line. On the final stretch, I did a sprint to see if I can overtake Jenny – I felt throughout the race that I was the one following rather than leading! Sadly, I missed one of the obstacles, a net,  just before the finish line – I did not expect having to crawl under something after having to jump over and into or even onto obstacles along the course! In the end Jenny and I finished very close – I probably would not have won had I not missed the net!

I have to say that chocolate never tasted so good as on this night when we walked across the finish line to collect our drink and medals and snack pack. A few minutes after us, Steve stormed through the finish line, followed by Simon a shortly after, to my relief. We all looked quite rugged and tired. We could not wait to get changed into warm and dry clothes at the end. Our first stop was at the food counter to refuel, then watched the last group of finishers arriving looking terribly exhausted. I felt moved when I saw the last group run to the finish line together whilst holding hands. It made me ponder what is more important for me – winning or getting through this together with my mates, and my fiance. I think it’s both.

We joined the prize giving ceremony in the main tent once all runners were back. The boys decided to leave early but Jenny and I decided that the fun should not end with getting through the finish line so we joined the after party and danced until nearly midnight. They had a great band on stage who made us all forget how tired we were!

This has been one of the best races and craziest things I have done so far and I am glad I was able to do it with friends. Jenny and I finished in the top 1/3rd! I am very relieved that I have managed to get through this with only a few minor scratches and bruises – could not have faced our wedding with legs in plaster!

Below are a few pictures to give my readers a bit of a flavour of the race:

Before the race – Jenny, me and Simon

Simon and I acting silly

Jenny and I – we did not stay this clean for too long!

Braving a pile of logs

 Ouch! It is sticky, muddy and wet!

 Final push to the finish line

Our whole team (Jenny, myself, Simon and Steve) have survived the race in one piece

Now it’s time to chill!

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