Date - 5th March 2017
Course Length - Between 1 and 4 laps of 7k & plenty of mud, obstacles and river crossings
Approximate cost - from £55.99 - £69.99 depending on course length
Location - Surrey (Rural England)
Website - http://www.thenutschallenge.co.uk/
Why I Signed Up
Soon after one of my colleagues told me that he'd attempted an obstacle course race in the past.
“Oh really?” I asked.
“Yeah – Nuts Challenge”
I hadn't heard of it before. He then continued to tell me that it was the hardest thing he'd tried and that he wasn't able to finish it.
“As in you started it but didn't complete it..?!” I asked with a slight hint of superiority. The concept of not finished a race that you start was alien to me.
I was also confident in my own obstacle course racing ability. Before the conversation I'd already completed; Tough Mudder, a marathon, the London 3 Peaks, Toughest London and even an obstacle course in the Arctic Circle.
“Surely a simple obstacle course in England couldn't be that hard to not even complete it..?” I continued.
He then responded by exclaiming how cold and difficult it was on the day.
I wasn't convinced.
The next week I felt the attraction of potential bragging rights and the opportunity for a challenge. I then signed up to complete the Nuts Challenge and convinced a friend to join me for the day.
The following sections explain the events that followed in the lead up to and after the event itself.
- If it's cold - you're likely to have your testicles disappear for the duration of the event
- You have to be genuinely crazy / have no instinct for self-preservation to try and complete 4 laps of the event
There was 4 options to choose from when signing up for the race:
1 Lap: More Nuts (7km)
2 Laps: Mixed Nuts (14km)
3 Laps: Complete Nuts (21km)
4 Laps: Tough Nuts (28km)
Naturally - I signed up for the full 4 laps...
My friend had failed to complete the full length of the event due to the cold. I decided to throw in a few ice baths for good measure in the weeks leading up to the event as extra preparation.
I felt fit and ready for racing on the day. Even with the weather at 5oC (40F) I was feeling confident to tackle the full 4 laps totaling 28km (over 17 miles).
I'd mentally prepared myself for the entire 4 laps to take about 5 or 6 hours. The reasoning being that a 28k may take 2-3 hours. Include the obstacles and it takes up to three times as long – depending how many obstacles there are!
I was naive in how long it might take. I was also naive as I didn't look at the course map beforehand. (From memory – this wasn't shared before the event as I'd expected).
A very rough tour of the course was as follows:
- A short run 2km of getting into, wading through and jumping out of multiple river crossings
- Crossing lots of mounds of mud and water Jumping through some tires
- Another 1km of getting into, wading through and jumping out of multiple river crossings
- A short tactical area including a wall climb, rope climb, climbing up through tyres and of course , a classic monkey bar set up
- A 2km run through a forest A crawl through a tunnel
- A selection of going up and down a series of (very) muddy hills before flying down a slide into (surprisingly) clean water
- A swim across a lake Jumping across some rubber dinghies
- Arrive at the refueling station and eat supplies (That's 1 lap – repeat as long as you're body will let you)
Here's a visual of the course – one things to note is the significant amount of the course which is water and river based. Before completing this I'd even completed the London River Rat Race – which wasn't half as wet!
After a couple of hours on the course, it was easy to think “Ugh, another river crossing...”.
There is a significant period of time spent getting in and out of water throughout the course. Unsurprisingly - you'll spend most of the event wet. On a cold day – this is a particular problem and could make you ill if you stop moving for long enough.
Fortunately – the course was well distributed for those of us starting at 08:20am or so. This was a nice refreshing change to some obstacle courses where queuing is common. This not only makes the race less fun but reduces the feeling of pace.
The course was also a simple circuit of 7km. There were both positive and negatives to this. On the negative side, the second (third and fourth) laps could feel even more repetitive once you've completed them already.
On the plus side – so many people who signed up for the 4 laps in total were not able to finish on the day. The option to call it a day after completing your first, second or third lap was gratefully received by lots of people on the day. It also meant you could refuel easily at the same spot each time you finish a lap.
This also made the option of finishing the race early very available. I do wonder whether more people would have been able to push themselves further if this wasn't the case. However once I called it a day myself it was completely obvious that more time on the course would have caused a lot of people to become injured and ill.
Having spent so long wet and cold, as soon as I stopped running I couldn't stop myself shivering. When I got into the changing area, I realized I was not alone. Never before have I seen so many grown men shivering as they try to get into new clothes. There was also a range of people who had received foil cloaks to stay warm from the medical team.
I'd hoped to get a foil cloak for myself, although the medical team told me I needed to change out of my old clothes first. Back in the changing area I started trying to take off my wet and muddy clothes with great difficulty. Unfortunately the “shower” / a pipe with water, wasn't working. This meant it was almost impossible to get clean on site.
Despite signing up for 4 laps – I only completed 2. I was a little disappointed at first. I soon realized if I'd have attempted a third lap – I would have been in a whole new world of pain (and would have been much more likely to get ill).
Having a look at the results list, only 65 individuals out of the 217 people who signed up to complete 4 laps, actually completed 4 laps (that's less than 30% of people).
Most of the 65 people who completed all 4 laps spent at least 7 hours on the course. This gives you an impression on how brutal the Nuts Challenge is as an event.
Clothing / Equipment
On the first lap I quickly realized was the amount of time I'd be spending getting in and out of rivers. When you combine this with a cold English day, you're going to feel extra chilly.
The key was to keep moving to try and stay warm. Without moving quickly enough you'd easily feel as if your feet were going to freeze off.
On reflection – there are 2 main strategies to deal with the wet and cold combination:
- Option a) wear a standard, dry wick t-shirt. By wearing less clothes, the less you have to carry around when you're dripping wet and the quicker you may dry.
Advantage – you'll dry off quicker
Disadvantage – you'll get a serious amount of cuts and bruises through the race. Combine this with being continuously muddy and you best hope you've got a strong immune system.
(When finishing this article 8 days later – the skin on my legs is still recovering)
- Option b) wear a thermal compression top / leggings. As you're always moving, you'll keep warm enough to counter-act the cold air on the wet clothes. Once dry, it's easier to keep warmer.
Advantage – you'll be slightly warmer when dry. You'll also reduce the amount of cuts to your forearms and legs.
Disadvantage – you'll feel heavier and colder as you get out of each river as the material drains of water. You're also very likely to rip your under armor on either gravel, barbed wire or any of the course's obstacles.
Personally – if I was to do the race again, I'd choose option b.
Although it's several days after the event as I write this, I've still got a couple of wounds on my leg. I spent several hours being muddy with open wounds on the day. I'm very impressed my body has been able to fight off any infection.
Disclaimer – I did rub coconut oil into my wounds the following day to help fight infection.
Useful tip: if you've got an open graze around your ankle (e.g. from climbing across rope) – do not wear socks over the top.
I hadn't realized that a graze on my ankle was still healing over. The next day I wore my socks as normal. As I joined a yoga class that evening, I realized that my sock had begun to bond with my open wound during the day.
As you might expect – the course on the day was extremely muddy. It was by far the muddiest course I've ever been on. The mix of in-and-out-of river crossings left all the banks and surrounding areas squelching with liquid mud.
This amount of mud makes appropriate footwear critical. This was something I had not prepared for effectively myself.
Hoping for a slightly less muddy event, I began the race in normal running trainers. Within the first 1k of the course, I completely regretted that decision.
With the lack of grip on my usual running trainers, I was slipping around for at least 60% of the course. It took more energy from my core to keep myself up-right than it did to complete an obstacle.
This also made me much much slower than I would usually be. Despite starting the event with a close friend, we decided it was best he carried on alone. The other option was for him to wait for me every few hundred meters as I slipped, slid and danced across the mud.
“You look like Bambi on ice!” I was told (many times) by event staff.
From trying to remain standing on slippery mud, I had completely exhausted my abs. Even after the race, my core was so drained I could barely bend down to take my own shoes off.
If I was to do this event again (and it's a big temptation having not completed all 4 laps) I'd make a serious investment in appropriate footwear.
Google “obstacle course racing shoes” and have a look around if you're thinking of getting a pair. You'll need some designed for trail running / have excellent grip.
Without great footwear, you'll have little chance of running through the mud without falling over every 200m.
As a whole, the course felt safe all the way around. At about halfway through the first lap, I saw a wooden beam fall as someone was climbing over it. The race organizers sent everyone around the obstacle to prevent any further risk of injury.
Fortunately nobody got injured, but as people get more and more tired, the risk of injury goes up. If the wooden beam collapsed with a tired person climbing over it – it could have been race over very quickly for that person.
For me this is where Nuts Challenge lost a few points in my eyes. Obstacle course races are lots of fun, but if the obstacles aren't fully tested, it can become a very dangerous sport.
There were a host of marshals around the course offering words of encouragement. They even gave out jelly babies and sweets when they could see you in pain. They helped give the event more of a community feel which is rare among these types of races.
Nuts Challenge was a very good value event, costing around £50 to attempt 4 laps. As expected, the goodies from the event were not as exciting as other obstacle course races.
They did provide some great gear, including; a technical t-shirt and a medal which also works as a bottle opener – great for opening a beer or two after the race!
At the very end of the race, the organizers put a medal over your shivering body. They also offered a warm juice once you finished.
Although nice – the warm juice didn't do much. A protein bar would have been much more appreciated to start the long recovery process.
Other than the freebies – there were a range of photographers around the course taking action shots. These are all view-able on the Nuts Challenge website but unfortunately aren't free (costing roughly £16 for all the images of 1 participant).
The price is reasonable, the course is wet and muddy and you get a decent t-shirt for taking part.
If you're looking for a fun morning, stick to the 7k or 14k if the weather isn't forecast to be forgiving. If you're lucky, it could be a lovely run in the woods with some friends if the weather is nice!
For me – the event felt like more of an adventure race / challenge rather than an obstacle race. The challenge of completing the event came from the strength sapping cold from being wet for more than 50% of the time rather than from the obstacles themselves.
I prefer a less wet and muddy event with more challenging obstacles – but that's just personal preference!
I'd recommend giving the Nuts Challenge a go – especially if you live in a nearby area. If travelling from London, it's not quite as convenient with trains and taxis. (We woke up around 5:30am to try and catch an early enough train). Of course, there are plenty of other obstacle races nearby if you live near Central London.
Overall - the event was probably the toughest event I've attempted to date (mainly due to poor footwear and being wet in the cold for several hours).
I spent over 4 hours and 30 minutes suffering through river crossings, being very cold, ripping my shorts and having so many cuts on my legs I was bleeding for a while.
It doesn't sound much fun, and at the time it wasn't all fun. However, once crossing the finish line and spending a day or two recovering, the sadist inside me had already considered signing up again for next year...
...Who doesn't love a challenge after all right?
Overall Rating = 4 Stars