Hills, hills, hills. Whenever somebody is asking about which OCR to do as their first, I always recommend Devil Mud Run. Thinking about it though I’m not really sure why I suggest this to first-timers – this is a HARD course!
Devil Mud Run throws us straight into the fire on an uphill – dragging ourselves over a few hurdles in the form of tyres, walls, and haybales, then it just.keeps.climbing. Whether through muddy tracks, in the woods, or up grassy slopes the first two miles or so just don’t let up. Mixed into this of course are a couple more walls to climb, tyre pits, and a brick carry before hitting the top and the very welcome respite of a fairy-liquid soaked slide back down a short side of the hill with a brilliant view of the world around us.
Speaking of that brick carry, while the bricks are relatively lightweight, this area is a tricky bugger as holding two is just a little bit awkward enough for the hands, and takes your arm momentum out of your hill running – adding to the effort of getting up to the top. Devil Mud Run is always just chip, chip, chipping away at your energy.
Throughout a nearly 6 mile course there were perhaps one or two sections where the legs could open up to attempt some sort of running pace, but we were always hit with some walls, another monster slope, or a boggy river or stream to trudge through.
Just chipping away.
Looking at the elevation profile it does appear that the second half of the route is mainly steady downhills but for the life of me I can’t remember any descents apart from the odd scramble down some banks deep in the woods.
The barn dance on top of the hill is always a favourite, the fantastic marshals in here providing us with a chance for a mid-race dance and a quick water stop, depending on your priorities. Stacks of haybales and the ice water pit made up the challenges on the (elevation-wise) high point of the course. If you didn’t stop to observe the surroundings on top of these haybales then you missed out as the Cotswolds holds incredible countryside and you can get a pretty sweet view of a good portion of it from up there!
Throughout the course obstacles we had thrown at us were plenty of boggy rivers getting us muddy, a long, long downhill crawl (seriously I can’t exaggerate how long this is) which thankfully turns into more of a muddy slide as the day goes on, monkey bars, and walls strategically placed on hillsides to make sure they were that much harder to climb, and that your legs spent the whole time feeling like they were on fire. Always chipping away. All of this was before the cargo net/haybale mountain at the end and two big water dips as a lovely cool off as we reach the finishline.
As mentioned the countryside in the Cotswolds is amazing and Devil Mud Run is in an incredible location – with the startline/event village being set right below the Gloucestershire-Warwickshire Railway, giving us regular pass-bys and friendly toots from the old steam trains, adding to the atmosphere of the day.
The marshals here always do a great job, running around the course I was able to hear them making noise and cheering people on 100% of the way – personally I had a lot cheering me on by name which certainly adds to the race experience and something I’ve been massively appreciative of each time I’ve been! From the startline, to the barn dance, to the muddy woods though every single marshal on course carried a level of enthusiasm that is rarely found. A real treat.
Really, Devil Mud Run is perfect for beginners, there are no long walks around flat fields, no obstacles that are too over-the-top hard, large, or heavy, and everything is spread out, achievable, difficult, and funny. All of this, however, does come together to make a very hard course and I’d be very surprised if anybody who finished spent the rest of the weekend without feeling destroyed.
This race holds a special place for me, since their first run I’ve taken part in their first wave and usually come back in first (missing out on this once from coming 2nd, and another time missing the race through injury). I love going along and giving this a really hard push, somehow always being caught out by just how long and tough these hills are. I’ve taken part in a lot of races and these still catch me out. Devil Mud Run is primarily aimed at teams and people wanting to go out and challenge themselves to finish, but at the same time some of us are always going to want to race. Since introducing a first wave for people who want this – aka an ‘Elite Wave’ – there have been awesome prizes on offer at Devil Mud Run, from hoodies, mugs and t-shirts, to pressure washers, tattoo vouchers, Superdry clothes vouchers, endless milkshakes, BMW watches, and more.
As mentioned I got a lot of personal cheering from the marshals, some of whom I recognise from previous events, some of which I’m sure were encouraged by one of the RDs, Nick, who was leading the way in a little jeep making sure the first wave were on track (something I find very useful as I am not one for paying much attention when racing). This is amazing and adds to the whole experience so much it’s just great fun.
This is always worth training hard for, and the last couple of months for me has consisted of hammering hills as much as I can, whether just running up and down the same long slope carrying a heavy bag, or on stretches of the Cotswold Way, getting big climbs in on long runs. I’m pretty happy I did all of that, and yet it still felt like it wasn’t enough! While I felt strong working my way up a lot of the trails here, so many times I was reduced to leaning forward, hands on knees, and powering my way forward as much as I could, never wanting give second place a chance to make up any ground on me.
With the way the route loops back on itself a few times, I was always able to hear marshals cheering people on and I could never tell if they were cheering for later waves or if for Roland making up distance behind me so I had no choice but to keep moving!
Thankfully this was enough to keep me in the lead, and despite the odd slip or trip on uneven ground in the streams I felt comfortable dragging myself over all the walls and mountains of haybales that I came across. I suppose when your heart rate is already at it’s maximum, hitting an obstacle isn’t going to send it any higher…
This was the warmest and most dry it’s been running at Devil Mud Run, so feeling like I was getting too hot when warming up I traded staying a bit cooler for risking a scratched torso and disposed of my t shirt. On my feet were Salming OT Comps – I’ve been training a lot in these but this was my first race in them, and as expected they were perfect – nice and light, comfy and all that, and they gripped just fine on long grass, muddy rocks, and steep dirt banks.
There’s not much more to say really, this was a race where it was a case of digging in and keeping moving. Hitting the big cargo net and muddy pits at the end was an amazing feeling and great relief. My legs, as of writing this, still feel empty and I’m not sure when my glutes are likely to start getting a bit of energy back into them. I love this race and equally love and hate the way it makes my body feel while taking part in it. March will come round fast so I’ve got a Winter of running up and down muddy hills ahead of me!
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.