If you don’t go over the top – how are you going to know what’s on the other side?
Hang-On Run. More like “Hang On Where’s The Running” AmIRight? Well, no actually, because there was some very nice running through some beautiful Autumn-coloured woodlands, and plenty of space to allow recovery between obstacles. But this isn’t really about that.
If I ever was going to use ‘roller coaster of emotions’ to describe a race, it would be for this one. Here’s a brief summary;
- Watching videos of obstacles online creating worry and panic ↓
- Practising techniques in training & forming a bit of confidence ↑
- Watching people race on the Saturday completely removing that confidence and creating more worry ↓
- Pre-race excitement ↑↑
- Immediate fatigue from the first sections ↓
- Strength and confidence as more and more obstacles get conquered ↑↑↑↑
- Extreme fatigue setting in again with panic and worry that this obstacle might be the one that finishes you off ↓↓↓
- EXTREME relief from just about making it through that obstacle ↑↑↑↑↑↑
- Repeat those last two point multiple times throughout the race ↓↑↓↑↓↑↓↑↓
- A crazy high amount of excitement, achievement, and emotion finishing the race ↑↑↑↑↑↑↑↑
- Ouch ↑
I ran the 15k race with a friend (who I shall refer to here as Mark, because that is his name) to support each other and for a shoulder to cry on when needed. There’s so much I could write down about every single obstacle here there were so many, and each and every obstacle whether it be a simple “up and over” or some kind of disgusting “rope traverse, then climb this, then go under that, then go over those”, had it’s own impact and warrants it’s own little story. Without this turning into book-length though, I’m going to try to split this race into 3 sections;
1: Sand Run & Ropes in the Woods
Beginning with a nice little run to stretch out our legs and warm us up, we headed off through the woods into a run & carry section over some dry sand. Amazing, creating fatigue in our legs already but knowing that we were about to hit the ropes it was at least nice to be warm on an otherwise cold day.
“In at the deep end” comes to mind when we hit the first woods section. This was just crazy hard, there were loads (loads) of climbing and flipping over ropes and beams, lots of traversing, lots of climbing then traversing, and lots of going ‘over the top’ of a rope or log (Dutch for this is apparently “over the bollocking”).
Thankfully our fun-run wave were given just parts of some obstacles so we missed a lot of looong traverses and we just had to touch some of the beams rather than go over them – at the time we wished we had to do some of it, but immediately after completing just our bit we were pretty thankful that’s all we had. I have no idea how the top lot complete 21k and every obstacle in full. Honestly I’m not sure if I’m impressed or sickened by them.
The nature of going up-and-over, up-and-over, up-and-over, only to be broken up by a few climbs under cargo nets or across rigs and a very compressed zone was obviously tiring, especially with clumsy technique but personally I felt ok through here with nothing really feeling like it was going to be a potential failure but in fact a good confidence builder for later sections, getting used to using my body on the ropes and poles correctly.
2: Woods, Field, Rigs etc
Feeling great, we hit the middle section buzzing with confidence. Getting over monkey bars, mixed-grip rigs, beam traverses, and more, our bodies were completely ready and in the zone through these areas. While it didn’t feel like it at the time, this must have been where we made up most of the distance of the 9 mile course – it certainly didn’t feel like we were making up that distance anywhere else with how condensed the obstacle placement was. Even the longest run sections were completely broken up by the odd wall or carry.
Getting around the field’s various rigs and rope climbs with no issue, all the while taking advantage of the bananas, oranges, and drinks at the well-placed recovery stations, we were led back into the woods adjacent to the first section for another rig. This rig was split into four;
-Firstly we grabbed a bar and slid it along the overhead beams to reach the first rest stop. All good and not too tiring but easy to get caught out and have your bar come off the beams if you’re not careful (I think this one took the prize for highest injury rate on the day).
-Secondly there were hanging vertical & horizontal Lego blocks to work your way across, or a flying monkey option – again, tiring if you’re clumsy like me but that’s definitely the quicker option.
-Thirdly were horizontal bamboo poles to climb across one at a time with a small dangling rope to aid grip. This one sapped away a lot of grip strength and I could really feel myself struggling to hold on by the last pole. One more I think would have been questionable.
-Lastly were some thankfully simple little monkey bar poles to swing across in what felt like a huge relief compared to the earlier sections.
From this rig, with a Weaver and a few others thrown in for good measure, I could feel that a lot of energy had been used up but the strength wasn’t really hit until we stumbled across one of the most awkward things I’ve ever done – climb a rope, over the top, and back down without letting go of a tyre.. Simple enough in theory but with a big tyre on your shoulder and in your face while being already tired (tyred, ho ho ho) makes this much harder than it should have been.
Mark got over this with more ease than me, who was reduced to sitting at the top of the rope trying to figure out what my body was even doing for what felt like an age before just about managing to swing the tyre over the top for leverage, using someone’s face as a foothold, and somehow getting down without falling to my death. I found this obstacle more exhausting than I realised at the time – really highlighting what a difference clumsiness and lack of technique make. Honestly I wish I could show a video of how sloppy this really was.
After this we went and sawed a off little part of a log which was fun at least.
3: Water Section
Describing this as the water section is a little unfair as (unless you’re unlucky) you only actually get into the water once, but holy hell was this whole section unwelcome.
The whole area around the lake was a brilliant design, featuring more cargo net rigs with various overs-and-unders, firing a bow and arrow with a ridiculous penalty of hammering a nail into a plank if you miss the target, monkey bars over the lake, ramps, and more. The obstacle that needs talking about from my point of view was that rope traverse. Holy shit.
Simple enough – traverse a rope over the lake, reach the end and climb onto a cargo net, go under, then across a couple of ropes. Easy, Mark and I were both feeling good and besides, I’ve done way longer at Mad Mike’s with no trouble. You know how ladies synchronise when they’re around each other for long enough? I’m pretty sure something similar happened to us on this rope. About three-quarters of the way I could hear Mark calling my name, not really sure what he was saying I just heard my name, at this point I looped my elbows around the rope as my strength had literally disappeared, and just remember shouting back “I’m done”. I’m not sure if one of us fell first but it was near enough at the same time. We had crossed the lake and reached the bank but were still nowhere near the net. This.Felt.Awful.
We agreed to take as much rest as we needed and strolled back to the beginning, leaving a little piece of our souls behind. After ample (but still probably not enough) resting, we went again – this time on top of the rope rather than underneath. So easy! We slid along at the same pace, like a pair of desperate worms wriggling our way towards the relief of the cargo net. Mark made it on while I really felt my energy drop – this came from wasting too much at those earlier obstacles. Just as I reached out for the net someone else got on my rope, rattled me, and I couldn’t reach it.
All I really remember from here is yelling “Mark!! Pass me the net!!!” as he tried to push it towards me. I nearly came off the rope, just dangling by my elbows(!!), somehow managed to get a foot to the rope and dragged my withered body to safety. This was just brutal – no strength was left in my but I still needed to get under the beam and across a couple of ropes! Weirdly when doing things like this you find strength in reserves – and gripping something from a different angle can feel easy when you’ve exhausted yourself holding something in a particular way. Does that make sense? Probably not but it’s true.
Mixed in to this section were more vertical wooden poles to climb (one which took me far too long) a big Stairway to Heaven, a little wade in water with 2 ropes to go over (one weighed down by a tyre), an Urban Sky Rig (easy enough), and a finisher of 4 horrible ropes into a horizontal cargo net climb. This last rope obstacle took us both a few retries again, I was able to get to the last rope each time before feeling my ability to hold on just disappear. With it getting cold at this point too (3 hours into the race!!), it was hard to avoid frustration and stay calm but Mark managed it followed by me eventually a while later! The cargo net climb was a horrible elbow scraping mess for us both.
Brutal section. Thankfully it was a nice little run to the finish line from here. A few more ropes which for some reason felt completely easy this time and we hit the bell and were given our wristband for one of the most satisfying finishes I’ve ever experienced.
Side note: The finish line is a narrow walkway designed so that a timing team can spot your race number and wristband – great idea. After that though you’re just kind of left to wander off, a big photo board or clear finisher’s area would have been great here before moving to the sidelines.
Number of times I thought I would be giving up my wristband:
At least 4
Number of times I genuinely made peace with my imminent death:
Size of forearms:
Scrapes, bruising, and burn locations:
Back of knee, elbows, forearms, biceps, sternum, shins, ankles, lower-lower abs (you know where I mean)
Number of times I sincerely thanked Jesus:
All of them!!
Hang-On Run was brilliant – it’s as simple as that. The location was a Centre-Parcs type place which gets used as a training facility too, so not only do you have loads of well-built permanent obstacles laced throughout some beautiful woodlands, but there’s decent toilets, a restaurant, things to see and do etc all around the area. If you’re travelling and staying there then the startline is pretty much on your doorstep! This really gave it a race-village feel, and you could see that signs had been up letting the general public and holiday-goers know that the race is on. For families and spectators the race is so so easy to navigate, not only because most athletes are moving slowly through the obstacles but the set out lends itself to being very spectator friendly.
When registering we were given a paper wristband and a t-shirt. This wristband is of course the one you’re aiming to keep or give up if you can’t complete an obstacle. Those who have taken part in the OCR World Championships will be familiar with this, except here you can’t remove the band, instead you can trade it for a rubber one at the end (“earn” your band, if you will). This is a nice idea that a lot of people have called for at the championships to prevent people from hiding them, cheating etc. For those who do want that introduced into the OCRWC – here you go, Hang-On does it, and it works just fine!
What Hang-On does that I LOVED, was give us t-shirts with our race number on and a colour that matched up to your wave. For example red and blue (I think) were different types of competition waves, kids seemed to be in purple or green, and those of us just out there to get it done (open wave) were in grey. For championship races this is perfect! Why isn’t anyone doing this yet? Not only does it save faffing around with safety pins (like cavemen) and losing our numbers on course, but it’s clear for the marshals and other runners who is in what wave or race, what instruction to give, and a little flag on our arm let them know we were English so required instruction in our language, because god forbid we learn to speak anything other than Enligsh.
I really, really would love to have this in the major championship races – some people want to run for their own teams or whatever, but this puts everyone under the banner of representing their country. If you’re that bothered then get some shorts or leggings printed with your own logo. This looks so smart.
As for the marshals – there were absolutely loads of them all around. Every obstacle must have had at least two, and a lot of them were young guys and girls. I learned from a brief chat with one of them that they all take some sort of exam before they’re allowed to marshal at Hang-On. I don’t know what they’re doing to convince all these people to get out there and volunteer like that AND take a test – but we need to learn from that over here. Everyone I came across knew exactly what they were doing, they all managed to explain it to us, then berate us, in English as we approached each obstacle. There was no hanging around and nothing was left unclear.
What Are You Waiting For?
Hang-On Run is hard, that should be clear. The amount of upper body work involved is like nothing else around, certainly like nothing else in the UK. That’s not at all a slight on UK races, it’s great that there are completely different styles of racing. Anyone in the UK who enjoys a rig or two, and DEFINITELY anyone involved in the UK Ninja Warrior scene should 100% get out to Holland for this race. If you’re in a UK based elite team – why haven’t you gone out there yet?
Whether you think Hang-On will be too hard or not is beside the point – the experience of getting out there and running with someone else or a group is just so much fun, whether you complete everything or not. You’ll take on challenges and do things you’ve never done before I guarantee. Not only that, but Hang-On features a pairs race where you and a partner are allowed to help each other complete each obstacle (think monkey bars while sat on someone’s shoulder). I think entry was only around £25 as well so you literally have no excuse. Can you think of an excuse? No you can’t.
So obviously I had a pretty good time at Hang-On Run. 3hrs 15mins for 9 miles seems a bit over the top but I loved every second of it. As with a lot of races (or anything really) the people involved make it what it was, from running with Mark – I don’t think I would have got through half as well on some obstacles as I did without him there, to Dave Peter’s tips leading up to the race – I would have had no idea how to do some of those stupid flips without the visits to Rumble, to sideline support from the Rumble gang, to the people in the race seeing others struggle in completing certain obstacles and all watching and supporting, to our housemate Sanne – thanks for the help with the camera and for ordering our pizza, to the Hang-On team themselves – they put on a great event and were super friendly the whole time.
My advice: Go and do it next year.
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.