I believe there’s a common mindset when signing up for an outdoor sports event taking place in the peak of summer: that the weather will be glorious. It’s why, as the rain falls down as heavy as if we were standing under a waterfall – rather than the bright yellow tarpaulin sheltering the registration desk that we’ve taken refuge beneath – glum expressions are being shared between my shivering teammates.
“Why are we doing this?” moans my sister Sophie’s boyfriend Felix, earning an elbow to the ribs from her. “It was sunny in the promo video,” whimpers my housemate Rach, as though good weather had been sold as a guarantee. “Anyone fancy a beer instead?” asks my partner Jamie, reminding me why I’ve never invited him to do one of these events before.
“Right, c’mon you lot, move,” an attendant, fed up of our whinging, motions us towards the swampland outside. “It’s not like you were ever going to be dry for long anyway.”
He’s right. It is, of course, completely irrational to be complaining about being wet when we’re at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham, to do an event called Water Wipeout that is billed as “the wettest fun run in the world of obstacle racing”. The warning signs were there – we just hadn’t expected to be quite so sodden before the sodding thing had even started.
One of three annual events by extreme obstacle race organisers XRunner, the group specialise in putting on races that are “less run more fun”, or, in real terms, less run, more swimming, squelching, climbing, wriggling, splashing, slipping, falling and sliding. To complete Wipeout, participants need to complete up to 50 different obstacles over a 5K course (or 10K if you opt to do it twice at no extra charge) that range from climbing walls, army nets and tunnels, to open-water swimming, waterslides and even a hurdle of fire.
Then there’s the mud.
While the event was always pitched as a mucky one, the downpour – which stops almost as soon as we cross the start line – has increased the quantity of mud to what can only be described as a near biblical scale. Mother Nature’s intervention makes everything much harder.
A series of hay bales and hills that should have been a doddle become an embarrassingly messy tangle of limbs. It takes a few falls, knocks and an eventual leg-up from Jamie – the Hodor of the group, who’s finally proving useful for his carrying and lifting abilities – to get over a wooden wall no higher than my shoulders. Even just running is a precarious, slippery effort that threatens a Bambi-esque stack at any point (as Jamie beautifully demonstrates on the second lap).
Everything is also much more dramatic when coated with a layer of the gloop. As we hit an open path along one of the site’s lakes, runners from earlier heats are heading back from whatever we’re on our way to face, and they don’t look pretty.
It’s like the episode of Band of Brothers when the new troops are arriving – fresh-faced and eager for battle – while the comrades they will be replacing are hobbling off in the other direction, broken, battered and coated head-to-toe in dirt. There’s even smoke billowing in the distance (the fire hurdle, I assume). Noting our alarm, one girl who is so covered in sludge it’s like she’s wearing a mud onesie, takes it upon herself to dramatically announce: “This is your future!” Put it this way: it’s not the one I went to university for.
Still, mud is fun and there’s something exuberating about being at a point in your life where rolling around in it while fully-clothed isn’t going to get you grounded. On a series of boggy dunes that could have been airlifted from Glastonbury, it even becomes a challenge to become the most grime-coated. Earlier sulks long forgotten, the entire team – whose ages range from 24-36 and professions include accountant, designer, engineer and company director– have reverted into children; performing mud angels while giggling as hysterically as the woman with the Chewbacca mask.
Of course, on a race called Water Wipeout we were never go to be muddy for long anyway.
In a remarkable turnaround from when we arrived, being wet is now preferable, which is lucky, really, because the water events come thick and sometimes a little too fast. Dropslides send us flying into freezing cold lakes, while it’s mere seconds before attempts to clamber across the floating monkey bars end soggily. Then there’s the race’s piece de resistance: the water rapids.
Now, of all the many obstacles I have tackled in all the many obstacle races completed, I can honestly say that the water centre’s training rapids – more commonly used by competitive kayakers – are my favourite. Essentially, one long lazy river, we’re merely required to take a running jump into the cold stream (after securing a buoyancy jacket), put our legs up and let the current whisk us a good kilometre through the course. It’s downtime. There’s even music playing.
By the last few obstacles, which include a high jump onto an inflatable air mat that has two queues, one for the lunatics happy to throw themselves off first time and one for the more life-appreciating souls who need some extra persuading (a push), and water-tunnel hill slides that shoot us each spinning out onto a huge ground mat, everyone on my team is grinning like morons.
While it is a challenge that has certainly given us a good workout, Water Wipeout has been far too fun to be deemed gruelling, and would make a great first event for anyone just starting out in the world of obstacle courses. As we stumble towards the pub excitedly recalling our favourite parts of the event, not even the rain – which has just started again – is able to dampen our moods.
• The next Water Wipeout takes place on 8 July, prices start from £59. See xrunner.co.uk. Vicky tweets @TravellerVicky