As obstacle racing becomes more popular, The Nuts Challenge is just one event that has popped up over the last few years that bills itself as one of the UK’s toughest events.
This one is slightly different, though. It’s a permanent setup located in Dorking, Surrey, and is owned and run by ex Parachute Regiment soldiers. But does it live up to the billing? Our obstacles expert and resident personal trainer Sam Tucknott gave it a go…
The first weekend of March saw me take on the ‘Nuts Challenge’ – a genuine ‘must attend event’ of the UK obstacle course race calendar; whether you’re a first timer or an elite obstacle runner, this event ensures everyone will be challenged.
I was very excited leading in to this challenge as I haven’t had the taste of mud in my mouth since arriving back from the ‘World’s Toughest Mudder’ in New York last November. The World’s Toughest Mudder is a 24 hour obstacle race with 30 obstacles within a 5 mile lap, so I’m no stranger to knowing what could be coming my way. Since coming back I’ve had some time off training (maybe a bit too much), but after a few 5-8 mile runs in February I was ready to get back to it! So what better way to do it than diving straight back in to another obstacle event.
My first impressions of The Nuts Challenge was how well organised it was. The post code given on the website took us straight to the event. The event was well sign posted throughout the local country lanes for at least 4/5 miles and led me to the well advertised parking area. Parking for this event was £3.00 (pretty good considering this event has grown over the years). Although the only down side was the long walk to the main event area (maybe down to the bad weather, parking on the grass etc).
When arriving in to base area / event village, it was great. There were 2 very large and well organised registration tents, as well as changing areas, toilets and various refreshments.
The registration for this event was very easy and very quick – unlike other events I have entered. You sign in with stating your race number that was emailed to you 3 days prior to the event…. That was it done! No sign this, sign that, show 2 forms of ID etc… a nice quick easy sign in! This was definitely refreshing and something other events could do with copying.
And so after the last min prep of attaching numbers and time chip I was ready to take on The Nuts Challenge.
The Nuts Challenge course is multiple laps of 7k, which allows for all types of fitness levels. They break these down in to good advertising names
More Nuts 7k (1 lap)
Mixed Nuts 14k (2 laps)
Complete Nuts 21k (3 laps)
Tough nNuts 28k (4 laps)
After easing myself back into training, I knew that the 28k ‘Tough Nuts’ would be a bit of a push, especially not knowing what to expect but also down to what I can only describe as extreme conditions. The air temperature was quite pleasant, but there was a slight chilling breeze… (The last thing you need after climbing out of a river) So I hoped to complete 3 laps… That’s still ‘Complete Nuts’.
Even before the event you could see this was going to one cold/messy run, the walk to the start line was a work out in itself…. Complete Nuts was looking more like Mixed Nuts or in my case No Nuts by the end of this event!
I though the warm up was pretty lame, considering we had to stand around for quite a long time in the wet and cold. When standing side by side with ‘Nutters’ awaiting to attack a 19 mile obstacle course, the last thing you need is a Zumba instructor getting you to flick your wrists and shake your hips!! I was thinking more army style star jumps and squats would have suited their image.
Looking at it from a more novice point of view, there was no break down of the course, no do’s or don’ts nor no count down, I may be being a bit picky here as I know I am standing next to runners that just want to get out there and challenge themselves, but I think someone getting you pumped explaining what you’re about to embark on, would have set a better atmosphere for first timers and elite runners alike.
As the horn sounded, I wanted to make sure I was in the thick of it – normally I like to fight my way to the front with the first 10/15 runners, looking to avoid the queues on the first obstacle, but with this being a new run for me and more importantly a review, I thought I should stay within the pack.
Within minutes I landed in the first of many muddy trenches, the comfort of nice warm feet/clothes was gone. From that point on the muddy trenches come think and fast, as did humps of sticky soft mud. This was the perfect introduction gearing me up for the likes of climbing up tyers, crawling through tunnels and running in cold streams. Within 10minutes and no sign of 1k done, I knew why this had been outlined as the ‘best all-round mud and obstacle race’.
The Nuts Challenge, unlike other events, is filled with permanent obstacles and that’s what sets it apart from the others I have done, where they use temporary features. There was a section around the 3k mark that was very well put together, closely spaced obstacles – cargo nets, pole slides, rope swings, log balance, as well as lots of crawling in mud. The stewards/marshals shouting words of encouragement and giving you extra advice is always nice to hear.
From 3k to 5k there were still lots of other built up features to jump over/climb under, but was more of a run (if that’s what you can call it). The terrain itself was tough – wading through thick mud reminded me of what you always wished cross country would have been like at school. The only down side was it was impossible to build up any kind of running pace. I’m sure the recent weather had a major factor on this part of the course, And yes I know I’m running in a mud run, but I just wanted to build up some speed to get my body temperature up. So looking back it may have been more the fact I was getting a bit cold and knew I had another round of this thick, thick mud to contend with.
Towards the end of lap 1, I faced probably the most challenging of obstacles, the quad burning ‘Hamburger Hill’ and the much talked about river crossing.
Hamburger Hill was a series of slopes to climb/crawl up and down. With the course already having a beating the day before, with the ground churned up to thick slippery mud, this was a killer! I think that’s what I needed – a nice increase in heart rate right before I was to attack a river crossing. Although I had submerged my cheast in to the cold water earlier in the run, this was a different story; this water was freezing! Half way across I decided to swim to maintain the heart rate I had gained from ‘Hamburger Hill’. Climbing out of the river, I didn’t know whether to laugh (the fact I’m going to be doing this again in an hour) or cry, because my skin was burning from the chill – it was one of those kind of pains!
Done! Lap 1 was done! That 7k felt more like 7 miles. Stopping for a quick 3/5mins to refuel with some warm water and a bite of banana bread, I was now ready to attack my 2nd lap. Knowing what to expect, I knew I had to up the gears and go at this course like the rest of my wave of participants.
The second lap did see a few more bodies on the course due to later wavers setting off, but the course is well designed with the obstacles and the trenches all being large enough to find space to skip past people if you wanted to, which something I over looked on my first lap.
Getting in to the 2nd lap I, wanted to finish this run as quick as possible… Not in a bad way as it’s a great challenging run. It was more the fact every breeze on the 2nd lap felt like a blizzard, the mud was thicker and the water seemed colder, also the fact I wasn’t fighting the run for a good time (looking down to see my time chip had snapped). My biggest motivation to complete this lap as quick as I could was the hot orange and the foil wrap waiting for me at the end!
All in all, my overall view of The Nuts Challenge was very good. It was really well put together and the organisers had done a great job considering the recent weather. I’d say it’s a great challenge for all fitness levels because of the varying options available. Don’t underestimate the distances – I would even go as far to say wear a light 3m wetsuit if thinking about taking part in the winter runs! The mud and cold water were really the toughest obstacle/challenge of the day. This run would be great to do as a team. I will defiantly be back for the next one to complete the 4 laps.
Here’s what I thought of various aspects of the event (out of 5)
Organization – 5
Registration – 5
Warm up – 2
Course layout – 4
Obstacles – 5
Mud – 5
Weather – -1
Hot Orange – 6
Foil Wrap – 6
Overall – 4/5