It wasn’t too long ago when we were reporting that Fuego Y Agua – the Survival Run and organizers of several ultra’s was canceling their Celtic events, to be held in South Wales – in the UK. Normally, canceled races are met with much gnashing of teeth and cries of foul. Refunds don’t happen, and athletes are upset.
Not this time. Something interesting happened. With very few exceptions, the athletes shrugged their shoulders, accepted transfer to the upcoming Texas event instead, and rather than bemoaning their loss in flights and hotel costs – they got on planes and went anyway.
Even more amazing, a local company, Primal Events, stepped up to the plate and held an event regardless. Smaller scale than Fuego Y Agua, perhaps, but still challenging and demanding. #neseliteteam member Nele was there, participated, and will be in Texas for the rescheduled FYA too. This is her story.
Crossposted from Nele’s blog – http://nelesrace.com/i-am-un-named/
I am Un-named.
When I heard there was going to be a Fuego Y Agua Survival Run in Wales (close to my hometown on Liverpool) I knew I had to do it. So I registered and booked a flight. About three weeks before the race I got an email stating the race was cancelled due to various reasons (all completely understandable and I know they did everything they could to try and put the race on). I was pretty sad about it. I’d been looking forward to this event for a long time. Then I heard that Karl Allsop from Primal Events was trying to put on an event for all the survival runners and I was excited again. I was very impressed to hear that Primal Events were putting something together for all the runners who had booked flights and hotels. So on Friday 22nd of August, my husband and I set off for South Wales.
The racers had been given a code, a set of numbers, which we had to decipher. I had no clue, but thankfully a couple of the other races had figured it out. It was coordinates to our start location. So at 6am on Saturday I was stood at the edge of Cardiff Harbor waiting to start. There was 12 racers total. We had to empty our packs out, and I mean empty. I had a hair bobble and an old bag stuffed in a pocket and was given 20 burpees as punishment. Next, three people were picked as team captains (myself included), and we had to each pick 3 people to be part of our team. There were three teams: Team 1, Team 2, and Team 3. My team was Team 1 and consisted of Paul Kavanagh, Mike Ruhlin, Ben Kirkup, and myself. Then out of nowhere the RD’s (Karl, Rob, and Ben) shouted out coordinates to our first checkpoint and the race had officially started. The problem was we couldn’t remember several of the numbers/coordinates. We had a rough idea looking at the map, but we weren’t sure and the coordinates were not repeated. Team 3 took off, so we decided to follow them. Unfortunately we lost them at a fork in the road. Needless to say, we went the wrong way and got a little lost, but after talking to a local taxi driver we got some directions and were running the right direction. We were last to arrive at the first checkpoint. The teams were given the challenge and left to it. We had to run around a lake and remember vital bits of information from the information boards on the lake, then we had to head to a reconstructed medieval village. We were last to arrive there too, a theme that would carry on throughout the race. We listened to the history behind the village. Thankfully our team had pens, so we wrote down what we were being told. Then we were given more coordinates (which we wrote down this time) and we were off running again. Shockingly we were first to arrive at the next checkpoint on a beach. We were given our next coordinates and we were off again. Points were awarded based on which teams arrived first, second, or last to the checkpoints, as well as the order the challenges were completed. For the first part of the race teams were also awarded points for picking up litter. I thought this was really nice, helping clean up the communities we were racing in, but the race then felt a little bit like a litter-picking-up event and points stopped being awarded (it was a really good idea, but took a little bit away from the race).
We weather was surprisingly pleasant. Sunny skies, not too hot or cold, and my team were having a really good time. We all got on phenomenally well and were laughing and joking all the time. All the teams arrived at another beach. After writing down 30 facts learnt about the medieval village we were directed to a huge mound of pebbles. On these pebbles we had to find our team number before we could go to Sully Island and search for a lock box. Our team could not find the pebble. To say we were frustrated was an understatement. Especially as the other teams found their pebbles relatively fast. I am so thankful I had a great team though, because even though we were frustrated, annoyed, and angry we were still smiling. Eventually we headed over to Sully Island to search for the lock box. There were only two boxes, and one team had already found one, so two teams were searching for the last box. I was climbing over huge rocks and trekking through thorny bushes, looking for the box. In the end the other team found it. Team 1 was last again.
It’s difficult to remember exactly what happened next. A combination of both exhaustion and having so many challenges/tasks and covering so many miles. At one point we were on Barry Island (and thanks to Ben I know that Gavin and Stacey was set there). We were on the beach and told each team had to make one 100lb sandbag out of the materials we had. Fabric was on our gear list, and Paul had packed the perfect material. The team worked awesome together. Ben designed the bag, we used Paul’s material, Mike sewed the bag together with Paul, and I dug up the sand we would need. The sandbag was brutal. It was too heavy for the scale to give a reading. It was well above 100lbs. While constructing the sandbag all the racers had to run into the sea and submerge themselves every 10 minutes. After I submerged myself I was cold and the sand rubbed all over my body. Team 1 got the sandbag put together pretty quickly, so we only had to endure one submersion. The sand chaffed me badly. I was very uncomfortable. I am so glad it was relatively warm that day. After doing team PT with the sandbag the whole team had to sprint with the sandbag across the beach and back. Our team did the sprint in 3:55. Another team beat our time with their sandbag, so we had to sprint again. After what felt like forever, we were guided off the beach towards showers. I was so happy when we were told we could shower. Even ice cold showers helped so much. My ruck was rubbing on my back and it was becoming extremely painful very quickly. I must have spent about 10 minutes under that shower trying to get rid of all of the sand. I should have known it was too good to be true, because immediately after showering we regrouped on the sand and had to do sugar cookies (all kneel in a circle and throw up sand so it gets on everybody). A couple of racers showered again after this and were punished by being made to roll in the sand. Right before the sugar cookie I put on a super tight long sleeve, and I am so happy I did that. It stopped my ruck from rubbing and gave me a little bit of warmth.
We were all given our next coordinates and decided on our routes. As a team we decided to head quickly and cross the next bay before the tide came in. Our gamble paid off and we appeared to be faster that the other teams. I couldn’t carry the sandbag by myself for any substantial distance, so the three men on the team each took turns carrying it themselves. Even with the sandbag, we were all having a pretty fun time. We reached the next checkpoint first. We were given a little break (I sat and stuffed my face with an energy bar thing) before we were told to count the number of arches in the viaduct located where we were. It was pretty hard to count them on foot because each end of the viaduct was located in thick woods. While a couple of my teammates went to count the arches, I went to the café and asked an employee if he could google the answer for me. He did. According to google there were 16 arches in this particular viaduct. We carried our sandbag to Rob who told us to hide them in a bush nearby. Our sandbag was an army green colour, so it blended in perfectly. We all followed the RD’s into the woods nearby where we given a lesson on camouflage.
We were told to camouflage ourselves. We were all wearing white t-shirts, and 10 minutes later we were covered in mud; hands, face, t-shirt, everything. Next we had to carry our packs, and crawl through a muddy stream. If Karl or Ben saw us then we had to get out and our team lost 25 points. I was leading the group through the stream. Some of the water came up to mid-thigh, deeper than I expected, and it smelled. Terrible. Every now and then we would encounter a damn of logs and twigs, and the water would be all scummy and pretty disgusting. I tried to keep off my knees as much as possible because of all the rocks, but a lot of the time I was crawling through the water. There were flies everywhere. All over my face. I was crawling through the water for about two and a half hours before I reached a blockade of logs. The water had scum all over it and the logs were a tiny bit too high to climb over and going under them would require me to get on my belly and army crawl through the water. I decided to take a gamble and try to climb over the logs. My gamble failed. I was spotted. I apologized to my teammates and I climbed out. I stood with Ben in the sun trying to warm up and watching the rest of the group try to make it all the way. In the end only Paul made it the whole way. Unfortunately everything in Paul’s bag had gotten wet. He had no dry clothes to change into. I was already in my change of clothes. The sun was setting and being wet made it very cold. Paul was shivering like crazy and couldn’t get warm. I felt terrible because I didn’t have any spare clothes, no one did. The team was given the next coordinates and told to take the sandbag to it. Paul carried the bag first in an attempt to warm up. It didn’t do much.
We were following the Wales Coast Path towards the next checkpoint when the path took us through a trailer park. We were the last team again. There was a lovely old Welsh man out on his trailer porch. He asked us what we were doing. Mike and I carried on walked, letting Ben and Paul chat to the man. Two minutes later they caught up with us. The man had asked them if we needed anything, Ben had said we could use some water. Ben was carrying a big bottle of water, three cans of beer, and a box of cakes! This was a great morale boost. We shared two cans of beer, saving the last one for the finish, and we ate cake. It was a great moment.
Eventually we reached the checkpoint. It was dark now. The checkpoint was at a cottage or farm. We got briefed with instructions: split the 100lb sandbag into four 25lb sandbags. We were also told that we could build a fire with the rest of the teams if we wanted to. Mike helped others make the fire so Paul could warm up and dry off. I hung my trousers up to dry too, so I’d have them for the rest of the night. Ben and I started to make some sandbags. After about half an hour we had four sandbags and drier clothes. Then we left for the next checkpoint. We had to walk through a little Welsh village, and it was about 1am, which seemed to be when all the pubs closed. We encountered several drunk people on our route. They were entertaining to say the least. Then, we got lost… We were on some trails for a long time, and they didn’t seem to match up to where thought we were on the map. I remember thinking what would happen if we were lost, with no phones, and nowhere near civilization. Thankfully I didn’t have to find out the answer as we stumbled across a Wales Coast Path sign. I breathed a sigh of relief.
What happens next is a little fuzzy in my memory. We came across Rob at a checkpoint where we had to use our 1/2” chisels to chisel into a huge block of concrete that contained our next clue. It took a little while but we did it. The clue was coordinates to our next checkpoint. So off we went.
Now it was roughly 22 hours into the race. We were cold, wet, and sore. But we were still smiling and laughing. We followed the path to a ravine. There was a small beach and the path seemed to end abruptly. The other two teams were there. They couldn’t seem to find the way and they had been there for almost 2 hours. We all walked along the coast to see if the trail was around the side. The cliffs were huge! I thought to myself that even if there was a path there I wasn’t sure I’d want to climb up it, it looked so dangerous. After about ten minutes we decided there was no path there. There was a small trail opposite the trail we arrived on. Our team decided to follow it. It was the correct trail. Paul was in a lot of pain and slowing down, but he still kept moving with the team. Team 1 and Team 3 arrived at a fork in the trail. My team went right, and the other team went left. Turns out the right path was the correct way and we ended up far ahead. Eventually we found the next (and final – but we didn’t know it at the time) checkpoint. We were first to arrive and we cracked on with the challenge. In the sand there were three 8ft tubes sticking out. The tubes had holes from top to the bottom. Inside the tube, at the bottom, was a small plastic ball, which floated, that had the next clue on. We were told the tubes could not be moved, and that we had to float the plastic ball to the top to retrieve it. We started by taping up all the holes. We took one of the empty sandbags and filled it with seawater and all worked together pouring it into the tube. It was then that we realized the tube had no bottom. The water was flowing into the sand almost immediately after pouring it. We had various ideas, from trying to push the float up with sticks through the holes, to digging underneath the tube (which we weren’t allowed to do). After about 20 minutes the next team arrived. We hadn’t made much progress. Both of the teams were trying things with no luck. My team decided to tape a needle onto the edge of the stick and try to spear the float. It didn’t work, so we decided to use a knife. Team 3 next to us was also trying the knife method. It worked and they were the first to finish. Team 2 arrived. At this point Paul was done. He had pushed himself to the limit to remain with the team but couldn’t go on any further. We all said our farewells. I wish he had stayed; we were so close to the end. Hindsight is 20/20. But we didn’t know how close we were, for all we knew we could have another 5-10 mile walk, or a swim, or any a million burpees. It could have been anything. Team 1 cracked on with the pipe. I climbed on Ben’s shoulders and Mike passed me a spear made out of two sticks lashed together with a knife on the end. I tried a couple of times but I couldn’t seem to pierce the float. The “spear” wasn’t straight and the tube was too narrow to be able to see where to spear. We were almost about to try something else but I thought I’d give it one more shot. As I pulled up the spear I was thinking to myself “please let me have got it, please let me have got it”. When I saw that blue float I actually screamed with excitement. I was so happy! On the float it said, “pay point”. As we were next to a car park we ran towards the parking meters. None of us could find anything. Turns out the local bin men had removed the box we were looking for. Thankfully Karl was able to get the box back before they left. In it was a wooden block. We had collected three other wooden items throughout the race. Two wooden blocks and two wooden cylinders. The RD’s told us the blocks fit together and we had to build an item out of them. We were given some screws and got to work. Then we were done. It was over. The structure we had built became our trophy, finished off with glow in the dark spray. Team 1 cracked open the victory beer we’d been carrying for about 10 hours and shared it amongst the three of us, and high fived each other.
I left this race with new friends and time spent with good friends, other survival runners. We had been going from 6am on Saturday and it finished 27 hours later. We covered somewhere between 45 and 60 miles. We’d been wet, sore, muddy, frustrated, ecstatic, miserable, and happy together. I had gone into this event with no expectations. I was just happy that the guys over at Primal Events were putting on any event at all. The race was difficult, but so well planned that I could have been fooled into thinking they had spent 6 months planning it, not just two weeks. Surprisingly my team finished in 2nd place. It was quite unexpected. All along we had just wanted to have fun and do stupid things, like carrying a 100lb sandbag for 5+ miles. We were never in the race mindset. We had also been in last place for the majority of the event. I was so happy to have the team that I did. Karl, Ben, and Rob did a phenomenal job organizing this race. I would do any of the Primal Events in a heartbeat. I can only hope that they put on another race like this one.