Hang-On Run really is like nothing else. As far as obstacle course races go you’ll be very hard pressed to find anything as intense, as obstacle-dense, and as challenging without one hill run involved.
I’m going to put lots of photos into this as I took a lot and I think that will set a good scene of how it feels to take part in Hang-On Run. I don’t want to get into too much fine detail (although I’ll probably still waffle on), go and read last year’s race report if you want some extra info on the race and what it’s like.
Compared to 2018, this year’s event seemed to have more condensed obstacle sections in the woods, missing out on an open field section towards the middle which really broke up all the climbing. The relief of short runs between these sections this year was really felt, thankfully it was always just enough to allow a bit of energy back into the upper body before coming face to face with the next horrible looking rope-covered frame. Starting off was fine, a nice flat woodland to get us running and start the blood pumping before a leg-draining sandy run and some simple standard monkey bars – immediately these felt far more difficult than they should have from not really being that warmed up. First worry about 1.5km in.
The first real section appeared earlier than was welcome – a lot of rope climbs, either go over the beams or touch the beam that the rope is hanging from. A traverse or two, climb underneath a cargo net, probably go under or over a few other strange objects and big scary section number 1 is over and done with before you know it. There is an awful lot here which can catch anybody out so it really (really) pays to be careful and go through nice and steady, get used to climbing ropes, and do not waste any energy making silly mistakes!!!(!!)
The second woodland section jumps out at you before you would like it to as well – and here’s where a lot more people start to get caught out. After a few more long rigs and traverses, we reach the Lego-Block-Rig-Thing.
First up: Grab a wooden bar and slide it along the top of the frame towards the first rest point. Simple enough as long as you keep the bar straight, can get enough momentum to slide it along the frame, and still hold on while you’re essentially doing explosive half-pullups. Fall off and at best you will get a bump on your bum.
Secondly: Navigate your way across a variety of horizontal and vertical hanging Lego blocks.. these swing freely and have all sorts of bumps and ridges to hold on to, but none of them are actually easy to keep hold of. If you simply don’t fancy doing that – you have the option of a flying monkey instead! Personally, I am someone who does not enjoy a flying monkey and has never been very good at it, but I still find it easier here than trying to get across these ridiculous colourful bastards.
Thirdly: A series of vertical wooden poles (with a tiny bit of rope dangling from the top). Just shimmy from pole to pole until the next rest point – either just hold the poles and risk sliding down, or hold the rope tight and use your feet to grip the poles as your work your way across. Either way this is a slow and very taxing section which looks like it should be much easier but just becomes a drain by the last two poles.
Finally: Basically some wooden pegs sticking out of a beam which you can monkey bar your way across. For me this felt like a relief after the wooden poles but even a simple set of monkey bars can become a nightmare after the time it can take on the previous three sections of this beast.
Arriving at the final section – the much dreaded ‘lake section’. Surprisingly this also appeared what felt like a lot sooner than was welcome (even at 2hrs into the race). This year we were treated to a couple of changes and new bits towards the end. Following yet another cargo net climb and very high flip over a beam we had the fun of the bow & arrow, monkey bars over the lake, and then a pause for a rest before the lake rope traverse. This was the obstacle that very nearly finished me off last year and the one I have been dreading all year round.
I arrived this year feeling ok and bizarrely confident that I might make it all the way. It was definitely worth waiting for a clean rope as another person on with you can shake things around so much that it doubles the difficulty (not to mention the guy we watched dangling taking a rest halfway only to be caught up by someone else who proceeded to just climb over him). Dave (who I was running with) started about the same time although he went off a fair bit quicker – I was feeling fine the whole way, pretty sure I could do it even knowing how the last few metres are as the rope sort of goes uphill to reach the frame. The moment I noticed I had overtaken Dave however, my arms did the equivalent of that thing your bowels do when you reach the end of your street and they decide that you’re close enough to your toilet for their liking and just go to work, my energy just disappeared and I felt that one more movement would see me drop. I decided at that point that a second go wasn’t an option and wrapped my arms around the rope, shuffling my way painfully up the rope until I could reach out to latch on to the cargo net, lock myself in, and swing my legs for a rest.
This was an incredible relief to reach and I really can’t stress how painful it was on the backs of my knees and inner elbows. Also another reason why running with someone else is such a benefit – the chance to rest here as Dave caught up was invaluable and I got to watch another guy slip on the rope and slide all the way to bum Dave right in the face. Right.In.The.Face.
A short run around another lake and we were right back to traverse number two. Imagine this: climb along underneath a rope, but halfway transfer to a vertical rope. Climb up that, touch the beam, then back down onto the traverse for the rest of the distance before a rest stop then a Hang Tough rig. Sounds simple enough and I felt confident but it turned out that, no, I should not have been. My strength disappeared at the climb and it was time to take a long rest. Annoyingly it was then pointed out that a better technique could be climb on top of the traverse rope, stand on it using the vertical rope for balance, then reach and touch the beam before continuing. While I really appreciate being told that *after* I had failed and wasted energy I still got on top of the rope and wasn’t tall enough to reach the beam. I ignored the ridiculous advice of ‘jump’ as if I could land back onto a thin, moving rope and resorted to bouncing for momentum, tapping the beam, getting back on to the traverse, and just, just, just having enough energy to make my way to the rest point. Literally there was about 0.01% left in my arms to reach the end by reaching out, wrapping my arm around a rope and connecting my hands to create a lock to be able to drag my limp body across. The stupidest thing about all of that is the fact that swinging across the Hang Tough rig felt easy right after that. What the hell?
Oh yeah, THEN after a ramp to run over there was a Mixed Grip Rig (ropes, nunchucks, rings) over the lake. To be fair this looked worse than it really was but being so late in the course and being over water made it fairly intimidating. After a silly slip off on my first go I got through happily second time around (THEN there was a Stairway To Heaven, wow looking back on this whole section it’s actually ridiculous).
These are all the bits I remember but there was so much more around the whole course eg. more rig obstacles, tyre drags, a Weaver, walls, jumps to ropes, grappling hooks, sawing some wood, hammer-and-nail, and more.
To me, Hang-On Run is really all about friendship and camaraderie. Both years for me I’ve ran with friends, keeping at a similar pace and if I get through an obstacle quicker than them then resting, while they do the same to prevent any kind of rushing and making avoidable failures. While we’re not exactly standing next to each other giving pats on the back or waving flags with our faces on them, running with someone like this is still support and having that support definitely helped me get through every obstacle, for others having a team and group around is great for morale, and I think for everybody taking part, just having plenty of people around at all times is so useful – from picking up technique tips to just being on the same team. It’s Us vs. Hang-On.
On the flip-side of the people just trying to finish Hang-On Run, the elite race is absolutely insane. They take on the course at a crazy speed, flip through obstacles with (what looks like) ease and complete everything quickly and with the pressure of racing. Much, much respect to them – and the kids who take on the course!! There are waves for kids who must all be well under 15, most probably not even teenagers and it’s no easier than the adults course! In fact there were a few tyre rigs and other bits which they had to do that I was pretty glad to avoid in our race.
Simply put, the Marshals were amazing again – there were absolutely loads of them everywhere speaking multiple languages giving faultless instruction to racers. We all wore different colour t shirts depending on the wave we were in or the type of race we were doing so they know what instructions to give to each racer and as far as I could see, they all managed this brilliantly. This is so obviously a good idea, yet somehow at top championship races elsewhere in the OCR world we struggle to even have marshals be clear on instructions to give *everybody* on how to actually complete the obstacle that they are assigned to. What’s going on?
For goodness sake everybody reading this, go and do this race. You will have such a good time and the cost for the whole weekend including flights, travel, food, accommodation, and race entry probably equals pretty close to a Spartan Race or the big championship race entry costs.
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? The feeling of ringing the bell on the finish line is probably one of the best in OCR.
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.
P.S. we reached the lake area in about 2hrs. We finished the race in about 2hrs 50mins – we took a good 50 minutes to do a mile.
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Trail Runner.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.