Last Saturday saw over 600 racers travel to Swanley, Kent for Beast in the East. The race is a 10k mud run set on a motocross circuit and includes a mixture of trails, grasslands with one lap of the motocross circuit at the beginning and end of the race.
Thankfully the weather was a little warmer than it has been recently and early on Saturday morning I left London to travel to the race. I only entered a few weeks before the race and hadn’t done much research so it was a venture into the unknown for me; I actually thought this was an obstacle course not a mud run. Driving through the entrance to the car park I got an indication of the type of course – lots of mud and lots of hills.
The event area was quite minimal, with a registration area, toilets, changing tent, food and first aid. However it was great to see no major queues to register, as there often is at these events. I was given a race number and my timings chip was attached to this, I do prefer to attach these to my shoes as they are less likely to get ripped off or caught on anything. There was no organised warm up so once I had my race number firmly pinned on I went for a jog and stretch with my sister who I was running the race with.
Having completed my first obstacle race in April, and thoroughly loving every minute of it, I was intrigued to see what Beast in the East had to offer. My family have recently become involved in the obstacle racing community and there were four of us taking part in the race on Saturday. Living in central London means I can’t attend the training sessions they attend which are focused on obstacle racing so I had been mainly running in preparation for this event, and it became apparent as the course progressed that this was the best training I could have done.
Often at races they let the Elite runners start first, so they aren’t held up by slower moving competitors, however we all lined up to start together at 10.30am, only to be delayed slightly as someone had parked their car on the track! In the last race I competed in I held back and started much further back in the group, however when I reached the first few obstacles it was so busy I wasted time waiting for space. This time (feeling a little more confident) I made sure I was fairly near the start line. To the sound of an air horn we were off…down a steep hill we all turned right…the wrong way, not the best of starts. The course consisted of two laps of the motocross circuit and unfortunately I think a combination of wanting to get a good start and the built up adrenaline meant the front runners followed the signs for the second lap rather than the first (and everyone else followed). We all quickly got back on track and made for the woods, a rather long hill climb later and we emerged for a lap of a field (also the car park). Here they simply made use of the natural terrain, with some ups and downs, but not massive hills. After one lap of the field we faced the motocross track. At this point my sister and I split up as she had been suffering with some knee problems so it was time for me to face the course alone. The hills were tough, I’m not going to lie, and it’s very demoralising when you see racers ahead of you all walking up the hills on the first lap. After lots of hills, up and down we finally left the motocross track and headed towards fields and woods, I was pleased that part of the course was over, for now.
The stewards around the course had high visibility jackets on and were all really friendly. Whilst I had lots of family supporting me, they could only really access the motocross track so when we went off into the woods and trail runs it seemed like a long time before you reached the supporters again. I really appreciated the stewards’ words of encouragement and tips when you passed them – “watch out for that log”. When I reached the 4km marker the steward let me know I was the 8th female runner to pass – I couldn’t believe it! Whilst I obviously wanted to do well a top ten finish wasn’t something I was aiming for. Although tired and thirsty at this point, this information spurred me on and my response was “well, I had better run faster then”, with which I picked up my pace.
For me the temperature was actually a little too warm, so when I reached the water station (and my sister who was stood there with a bottle ready for me to take) I was grateful for some fluid but I knew I had to be careful not to take on too much water. I had a few sips and then tipped the bottle over my head! Not something I’ve ever done in a race, but at the time I felt I needed it.
By 5km I quickly regretted my increasing pace and when we hit the woods in single file I slowed to let a fellow racer pass, he declined and opted for a rest instead, so I carried on. I am quite determined and even when I am struggling I try not to stop as I know it is so hard to return to the same pace again. Thankfully during the wood run I was following three guys who were running a similar pace to me, I was happy to sit at the back and follow their lead, this was really important as it allowed me to get back into a good rhythm.
After we emerged from the woods and a few hills later we passed the 4km marker again, this time I was running in the opposite direction. Thankfully when I reached 4km there was no one running in the other direction, I think it is really hard to see faster runners passing you in opposite directions when you know they are so far ahead. I passed my sister again who enthusiastically told me “not long to go”. My response was “hmm, quite a way yet”!
We had another lap of the field (car park) this time in the opposite direction so lots more uphills than down. During the lap of the field I started to think tactics; I could see 3 female runners not too far ahead and was regularly checking that I didn’t have another female runner too close behind – thankfully no one in sight! I had to decide whether to push hard to try and catch any of those up ahead, potentially tiring myself out to be overtaken later, or to keep my pace and save some energy for nearer the end. I contemplated this for most of the lap of the field, not gaining or loosing pace and before I knew it I had hit the 8km marker and faced the final lap of the motocross circuit. Tactics quickly went out the window at the thought of the circuit again.
Second time round this was really tough, and regretfully I did end up walking up a few of the hills. I was continually battling with the dilemma of slowing, walking and saving energy for those sections I could run, or trying to run and keep my pace. I started by slowing a bit and walking a few and then I thought I had reached the final hill so decided I wanted to run the last one. Unfortunately what I thought was the final hill turned out to be nearer 10th to last – they just seemed to keep coming and coming.
I passed my family again and listed to the tips my mum was shouting about the upcoming lake “watch out for the big dip just before you get out of the lake, everyone keeps falling”.
I think it’s important that when obstacles are included in races they really challenge the racers as opposed to ones that look good but are actually just gimmicks. I felt crossing the lake was actually a really enjoyable moment of the course – it cooled me down before I had to tackle those final hills, however I doubt this was its purpose. Immediately after we exited the lake there was a cargo net to crawl under – again this wasn’t particularly challenging or draining – instead it just slowed racers down and caused a bit of a backlog as the faster crawlers were held up by those in front moving slower. I didn’t have many people running around me during the second lap of the motocross circuit, yet when I reached the cargo net, suddenly there were lots of people, so I dread to think how busy it got for those running at a slower pace when it was more crowded.
The final few hills were a struggle but when I can see the finish line in sight I always find that extra bit of energy and to my delight managed to overtake a female runner on one of the final hills. As I came off the final hill and onto the finishing straight I caught sight of my brother at the edge of the track, he ran a little way with me informing me that the next female was about 20 metres behind so not to slow down. The crowds at the finish line were great, with everyone cheering in all racers to the finishing post. I was greeted with water and a complimentary Beast in the East t-shirt, and it was great to see so many people stood around the finish line in these. Also a bonus that they are a sports fabric material (and not cotton like you receive from many events) so can be worn for future training.
I ended up finishing in 56minutes and 55 seconds, and according to the race results 10th female (obviously I had been misinformed by the steward, as by my calculations I should have finished 7th female). Oh well, maybe if I had known I was further back in the field I wouldn’t have pushed as hard as I did! 615 people finished the race so I think I should be pretty happy with my result. A huge congratulations to everyone who took part in the race.
What I wore for Beast in the East
I wore full length running trousers and a vest in a sports fabric. As there was wood and trail runs I didn’t want to worry about cutting my legs on brambles etc, however half way round I wished I’d worn shorts. Cotton tops are best avoided as they get heavy and weigh you down. I started the race wearing gloves but took these off after the first few kilometers as I realised there weren’t any obstacles and instead they were making me hotter. I would highly recommend purchasing some trail shoes if you are considering mud running or obstacle racing, old trainers simply don’t provide the grip you require. I wore my Inov8 X-Talon’s for this race and they were invaluable; I saw lots of people slipping when they were trying to get up the steep hills and they often put their hands down for support. If I remember correctly, I didn’t put my hands down once whilst climbing the hills, as the grip I had from my shoes was so secure – a worthwhile investment.
I entered late but still only paid £24, which in comparison to the prices of some other races is a bargain.
It was a hot day and by the time I reached the 8km marker I was gasping for some more water. Luckily there were bottles being passed to you as soon as you reached the finish line. However, personally I would’ve benefitted from some a little sooner. Maybe given the temperature a second water station would have been beneficial. All in all, it was a really enjoyable day and I can genuinely say I will be attending again next year, with a clearer idea of what the course will be like and after doing more hill training.
Now to find my next challenge…
Beast in the East is just one of the GRIM Series challenges, another 3 events will be held later this year if you are interested in entering:
Written by Ashlie Cherry, an ex-dancer with a newly found passion for getting muddy.