Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Hell and Back Apollo Race Review

Pain. All consuming pain. 

It has been two days since I competed in the Hell and Back Apollo race in Belmont estate and the nightmare experience is still fresh and constantly replaying in my head... and my muscles. A few hours after the race, as I was consuming as much beer and pizza as humanly possible, I was feeling pretty damn good, smug even, that I didn't have one ache or pain and could walk or even run with ease. Oh, how wrong and ignorant I was. I currently resemble an arthritic 80 year old trying to lumber out of bed and going up or down stairs is simply out of the question! I look like I've been in a pretty tumultuous fight with all my cuts and bruises and the camomile lotion slathered all over my legs to calm the grass and nettle induced itching makes me look a bit disease-ridden. All in the name of fun eh?!

Richard, Dean, Stephen and Me. Team Above Average Fitness after we finished!

My first thoughts while getting the convenient shuttle bus from the car park to the site was man I don't remember it being this far away last time, until my friend pointed out it was on a completely different farm than the race in January. I'm not so astute. Mid-way through the journey the friendly driver halted the bus and unexpectedly hopped out to buy some strawberries from a vendor at the side of the road. It gave the whole bus a good chuckle and created the positive and friendly atmosphere that was present throughout the entire day. The first thing I was surprised at was just how organised and clean everything was. I was running at 1:15pm in the orange wave so was expecting the place to be packed with people by the time I arrived. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the walled garden area was big enough to hold everyone comfortably without feeling crowded and yet small enough to establish a certain level of intimacy between competitors. It felt like a festival arena with the stage and happy people lying in the sun, except instead of drinking cans of dutch gold, energy drinks and power bars were the fuel of preference. Everything was within easy reach and all the buildings were clearly signposted to avoid any confusion. The changing rooms were absolutely fantastic, the space was huge and dry and those door flap things at the entrance were clearly the invention of a genius. They were in stark contrast to the small, stoney and drafty buildings we had to get changed in in January! It was just black plastic covering the opening to the changing rooms and they would just flap wildly in the wind for all to sneek a peek at your nips! The showers were another fabulous addition that weren't available when I ran in January, they were colder than the ice baths but no complaints here! The lines went quickly and it was nice to just wash off the bulk of the mud before changing into warm clothes.

I have a somewhat intense fascination with watching people, like yesterday morning for example, at 8am as I was trudging down Grafton street in the rain with my kit bag slung over my shoulder and my stylish Dunnes Stores bag filled with my rank kit from the race the day before. My mind was completely taken off the fact that every step I took made the bags feel heavier on my already obliterated muscles because I was too busy watching people. Everyone was looking in the one direction and carried very disinterested expressions on their faces. A very normal way to feel and appear on a dreary wet Monday morning commute. Whereas, my head was going in every direction, like a puppy you keep teasing with a ball, left right left right, all so I could watch as many people as possible. With this little hobby of mine I tend to take in a lot of details about the people around me and my surroundings so when I was confronted with the amount of people in the walled garden my poor eyes barely had time to focus on anything because they were in a frenzy! While gorging on this visual feast my eyes landed on a group of army men not so far away. One was smoking a cigarette, which I always find so odd because it seems so counter-intuitive to have one just before a race! My brother was quick to chime in that these guys do this type of training every week and they're essentially hard as f**k so it'll be a walk in the park for them. I knew from looking at them that they were a great bunch of lads, all sitting on the grass laughing and talking. My suspicions were true when the whole way throughout the course there was a helping hand extended to me at various obstacles and on the other end was a smiling man happy to help in his army gear! They stayed around the obstacles that they knew people would need a hand with, like getting out of the river and getting over the walls. They were true gentlemen and possessed team spirit in abundance!

Found a picture of the Army lads in question,
just look at em, great bunch!

I would literally have to be blind to not see all the men who were walking around topless. I would like to say thank you on behalf of my eyes and I think I had to pop them back into their sockets a few times but kudos to you guys, I really, really liked what I saw. The stewards that were dotted about the course were also a great source of entertainment, encouragement and help! I would like to be friends with the girl who was shouting "THIS ISN'T THE WOMEN'S MINI-MARATHON!" at the very beginning. A huge thanks to the steward who gave me a boost on one of the obstacles at the end because there was no one else about to help, he got his hands filthy from my runners and had to deal with my muddy ass in his face, a real prince! As I was making my way through the slithering little forest trails where every tentative foot you placed on the slippy ground had the potential of landing you on your face, there was one woman in purple who was shouting encouragement at everyone. Didn't matter who you were she was gonna encourage you! It's these people who embody what events like this are all about, camaraderie. It's this feeling of alliance that make people feel a part of something, where everyone is connected and it creates a sense of belonging. If everyone was out to get the best possible time and were trying to undermine and overtake people constantly, it wouldn't be the same and these events wouldn't be as popular as they are. I doubt you'd strip bare ass naked and start wiping the mud out of every orifice if you were put in a shed a week ago with a few hundred women and men you didn't know but share the same experience like running a gruelling 12km obstacle course and we're all best naked friends.

I'm not going to re-hash all the obstacles as I'm pretty sure we all remember them in all too graphic detail! The obstacles were so well thought out, devilishly evil and meticulously planned and executed. I can only imagine how long it took to create them! I don't know if you have ever watched or read the Hunger Games trilogy but it felt like I was taking part in one. It seemed like I was never running for too long before I came to a new obstacle, be it a small log you had to climb over or a steep hill you had to abseil down with a rope. It was such a creative use of land where you were constantly interacting with it in ways in which I doubt any of us have done since childhood. The most fun I had was sliding down the pipe face first into mud and jumping into the river and swimming across, screw the ropes, I'm well hard. The ones I wasn't too mad on was the snipers and the electrical shocks which I'm sure is fairly self explanatory. I think they gave a great edge to the race but I don't think they were totally necessary, I think getting shot at once or twice was fine but the third and fourth rounds really did hurt and no matter how fast you ran you were still shot because the shooters were stationary and aiming the gun at the path that you had to run on. I don't mind pain, but I'd rather it be self inflicted by my clumsy self than by someone shooting at me! I don't think I will ever forget the electric shocks, I was shocked three times and they were horrible, all my muscles tensed up and whenever I was shocked I ended up paralysed on the spot which brought the onslaught of "RUN! JUST RUN!". People might not have minded this too much but I hated it, I have always hated shocks, like I said in a post before, I won't even go on a trampoline on a hot day for fear I get a tiny one and I won't close car doors by the edge, only the glass, in case I get a shock. I was tempted to say I had a plate in my hip or something to get out of it but I am no pussy. Speaking of pussies, I did witness some cheating throughout the course, at one point, I saw three people skip the entire uphill section at the bottom of the sugar loaf, they just went under the tape, skipping a good 2-3km. This was definitely the hardest part of the course in my opinion and seeing them skip it made me slightly mad, you won't get anywhere in life by skipping the hard parts. If you're going to enter into the an event called Hell and Back you should know what you're signing up for and skipping parts is pretty disrespectful to the thousands of others who sucked it up and did it, but more importantly you're just letting yourself down. On a more positive note, I think the slide that you slid down in order to finish was brilliant, I love slides and I can't think of a better way to end a race! I did grate the arse off myself on the mat at the bottom but I didn't mind! The course was a perfect mix of torture and fun, I don't think anything was too impossible and it felt like a huge awesome playground that we all got to explore for the very first time.

These events create an environment in which it is okay to let loose, get dirty and not give one flying f**k about what you look like, being by far one of the most liberating things I think you can do. I think doing events like these really bring people together and more importantly gives you something to talk about and be proud ofNo Mary, we don't care about how your baby can now suck its own toes and sorry Paul, but we're sick of hearing that your engine light has been on for 2 months and you.have.no.idea.why. Getting out there, challenging yourself, experiencing new things and meeting new people are essential in this nine to five way of life that comes with being a responsible adult. It keeps life interesting and breaks the dreary routine people can find themselves in! I know I'm not quite a responsible adult just yet but I hope no matter how old I get or how invested I get in my job, that I will always take the time out to partake in amazing events such as the Hell and Back. As my team mate said:  "You would spend the same if not more on a night out and have less fun than we did, plus you feel great after it (apart from the pains) mentally knowing it was good for you." All in all, this event was the most exhilarating fun I have had in a very long time, yes it was tough, but I enjoyed the challenge. Everything was planned with precision and nothing was overlooked, making the process of getting to and partaking in the race effortless for the participants, apart from actually doing the race obviously! All our needs were taken into account, from the parking facilities, the shuttle bus, the woman giving out pins, to the changing rooms and the showers! I thought the venue was extremely well planned out and it was a huge contributing factor to the positive atmosphere of the event. All the staff were really friendly and helpful and I cannot commend them enough for their supportive and encouraging attitudes. They're really onto something here, those Hell and Back folk, I have a feeling this is only going to get bigger, better and more hellish and I plan on hopefully being a part of every single one!

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has been reading about my Hell and Back journey so far and to Kieran Ryan, from Alive Outside, for giving me the opportunity to bring my blog to a wider audience. In my next post I'll go over my results, how I feel I did and what I would improve on training wise!

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