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Running wild at Wolf Run

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Monday 11th September 2017
Tags  OCR   |   Obstacle Course Racing   |   James Jelfs
By James Jelfs

One of the first things I noticed when I arrived at Wolf Run was the number of people there wearing finishers t-shirts from previous editions of the race. I’d heard positive things from friends who had been here before, but to see this many people coming back to run again was surely a good sign, plus the t-shirts are some of the best I’ve seen. 

The Wolf Run (Woods, Obstacles, Lakes and Fields) is a 10k off-road run featuring a series of man-made and natural obstacles located throughout the course. There are 4 event weekends throughout the year (Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter) alternating between two venues in Leicestershire and Warwickshire, although a 3rd venue has been recently announced and another 2 race weekends added to the Wolf Run calendar for 2018. I was taking on the Autumn Wolf in Warwickshire.
Now I have to admit I’d never done a Wolf Run before and for probably the most silly of reasons: there isn’t a finisher’s medal. What can I say? I love medals. There is a medal for those runners who complete all 4 seasons in the same year to gain Alpha Wolf status, but I wasn’t aware of this previously. 
Car parking and registration was a breeze, the event village was an impressive size and well laid out, and I was impressed by how professional the place looked. Having spoken to one of the organisers to get a bit more information I found out that unlike the majority of races who have a couple of paramedics on site, Wolf Run boasts a well-equipped onsite hospital (staffed with army medics including doctors)! I hope I’m injured at an event but if it does ever happen then I hope it’s somewhere with this level of commitment to the safety of their runners.  Anyway, back to the race.
After the usual pre-race safety briefing and warm-up we were on the start line ready to go. I shot off like a rocket down the opening straight and climbed over a series of hay bales blocking our path, and was thrilled to realise I was now leading the pack! I believe I let out an audible whoop of delight (I’ve never led a race before) and enjoyed my hundred metres of glory until I was overtaken by a faster runner who disappeared into the distance, never to be seen by me again. I settled into a more sustainable pace and started to enjoy the trails because that’s really what this run is all about. 
Throughout the 10k course there were a number of natural obstacles to slow you down and take you out of your running stride. There was a shallow lake to wade through, a series of muddy trenches to negotiate (one got me rather stuck and in need of a push to get me out… I may then have run off and left my fellow racer and rescuer behind: sorry Gaz). There were also wooded sections where the route markers gave you a choice of routes to take (running through a bramble bush may be a shorter option but it’s probably not much faster and hurts a lot more: trust me). The course seemed to have everything you could want for a trail run. Just as I was getting to the point where I didn’t think I could run much further before my legs gave out, I hit the lake swim. This was around 8k into the course and was a welcome break to ease my tired legs. While most people resort to breast stroke and the super keen choose front crawl I just lay on my back, enjoyed the breather, and slowly sculled my way across. After climbing the bank out of the lake I settled back into the running feeling refreshed and enjoyed opening up the pace as best I could for the final 2k to the finish. 
At this point I haven’t mentioned the obstacles and this is partially because my memory is awful at remembering the order they came on the course and partially because I don’t feel they were intended to such a major part of the race. Yes, there were obstacles, but the rugged terrain of the trails is the hallmark of Wolf Run.
After the initial hay bales successfully spread the field out, we came to a crawl through some tunnels, then over a wooden wall (with handy gaps to give your feet purchase), followed by a wade across a shallow lake. Further obstacles included: a series of tyres of various sizes to pick your way across; a large inclined wall (the Wolf Wall, below) with a rope to assist with the climb; dark tunnels almost totally pitch black inside: a long ramp (again with a rope to assist) which led up onto a cargo net crossing and descent; and an OCR mainstay obstacle of a crawl under a cargo net. Obstacles were fairly evenly spaced with distance enough between them to find a good running rhythm without leaving you running for prolonged monotonous stretches wondering when the next obstacle would crop up.

Wolf Run 2
The 'Wolf Wall'

 After the aforementioned lake swim came the slide. I’m not going to lie; I’m not a fan of slides at OCRs. I feel that they’re usually poorly built or located, and with most it’s too easy to lose control and end up with needless injuries from on an obstacle that requires no skill to complete. Every now and then though you find a race that does it right and it’s fun, and safe, and just good harmless fun. Wolf Run must have seen one of the events that did it right and then decided they could do it even better. Their slide is glorious! I could have spent the rest of my day going down the slide and then running back up for another go. 
After dragging myself reluctantly away from the slide there were a few more obstacles before the finish: a climb up the side of a container using climbing holds with hay bale steps to get down the far side, and a large obstacle called the “nutcracker” but which I can only describe as a series of horizontal logs and different heights to jump or climb up, over and down (see photo below). Luckily there was a safety net underneath because I’m pretty sure that I would have been a little scared of falling without one. From there it was a run back towards the event village via a scramble over the other half of the same wall from earlier in the race, then a sprint to the finish ending on a large A frame cargo net climb before leaping into a muddy water-filled ditch before crawling across the finish line (you didn’t have to crawl, I was just a little tired).  

Wolf Run 1
The 'nutcracker'

According to the website “The concept behind the Wolf Run was to re-create the feeling of running in natural terrain - a wild run that would allow people to experience natural, raw running conditions as far as possible whilst also presenting runners with a challenging, interesting and enjoyable event.” Well congratulations and mission accomplished because I had an amazing time, and I’m also reliably informed that their marshals/volunteers are also looked after incredibly well by the organisers so it’s not just the runners having a great day. 
At this moment I bet you think I’m being paid for this due to all the compliments I’m paying this event (I’m not by the way). The run isn’t perfect but at the same time it kind of is. There’s no chip timing, which for those of us who love to race is a bit of a shame, but with a GPS watch or similar you can time yourself and if you set off in the first wave of the day you can easily judge where you are in relation to the rest of your heat. The obstacles aren’t going to cause any problems for seasoned OCR runners and are not particularly challenging, but they don’t need to be: if you want to make this event harder for yourself then run harder, because the terrain is the best and hardest part. Personally I ran my heart out and couldn’t have put more effort in if I’d tried. Did I feel like the obstacles challenged me? No, but the course as a whole definitely did and left me with a strong sense of accomplishment. If you do a lot of this type of event and have friends or family you’d love to take along to a race, Wolf Run is an ideal entry level run. The relative simplicity of the obstacles makes them doable by OCR beginners and veterans alike, so there’s no risk of newcomers going home demoralised because they couldn’t complete the obstacles. I would recommend Wolf Run as one of the best events to start your journey into muddy races or to make that crossover from trail running into obstacle course racing. 
As I mentioned earlier Wolf Run have a new venue next year and this is kind of a big deal because it’s at Pippingford Park in East Sussex, which is all but legendary in the UK OCR scene. The terrain there will suit Wolf Run perfectly and I for one can’t wait to see what they have in store. I’m certain it will be a great addition to their event calendar, and after the amount of fun I had this weekend Wolf Run will be definitely be making future appearances on my calendar too. I may just have to go for my Alpha Wolf medal in 2018!
The next Wolf Run (Winter Wolf) is on 4th and 5th November and you can find out more information at www.thewolfrun.com 
They are also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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