Claire Maxted from Trail magazine put together a team of three to find out at a Helly Hansen event in Surrey...
There�s a splash. And a squelch. And then come the screams of shock at the icy water. It is 10am on a Sunday in December and hundreds of people have just voluntarily launched themselves into a large puddle of freezing cold water.
This is the Helly Hansen Adventure Race series and it is not for the puddle-of-mud-shy. If the route goes through mud, you go through mud. If the route goes through puddles so large they may have tides, you go through the puddle. And you will enjoy it.
We definitely did. Three adventure race newbies, Kate, Sara and I, formed team �All the gear, no idea� for our first ever event at Hawley, an army barracks near Camberly.
If you are a relatively fit person who doesn�t mind getting muddy, can run comfortably for 90 minutes (it doesn�t have to be fast!), cycle for two hours and manage not to go round in circles in a kayak, then you will love the HH challenge series. All three of us keen runners, mountain bikers and canoers, we had been looking forward to the event for weeks.
The start was superbly organised, with numbered spaces for your bikes in the transition zone and a split start where the elite racers sped off first, followed by the regular challenge teams. We saw three guys dressed as Santas and a mixed team wearing lumo orange knee high socks and wobbling antennae head bands. Adventure racing was clearly a very serious affair.
First was the run, through the woodland. We cracked twigs and slipped on roots as we dodged trees lining narrow tracks, all carpeted with shoe-stealing, strength-sapping squelch. We soon learnt not to dodge the mud and puddles as it just slowed you down and you missed a chance to over take the more cautious runners!
A sprint back to the transition zone saw us yanking out our bikes and helmets and slurping down as much fluid and Clif Shot Blocs as we could before jumping on to the saddles and riding a longer, even muddier course than before.
The racers had not spread out so much at this stage, so here the skill came in not falling off into the bog or careering off into a tree when the person in front of you slithered to a halt. Our thighs burned and our lungs worked hard as we turned the pedals again and again through thick, rust-coloured mud.
We enjoyed some exciting single track sections with some steep downhills and passed several teams with mechanical problems, apart from one amazingly fit guy who was running with his knackered bike faster than we were riding!
A second skid into the transition zone and it was time to kayak part of the lake. Thankfully, Sara and Kate are excellent canoers so we headed straight for the marker buoys rather than paddling backwards or veering round in circles like some of the other teams.
Zooming over the rippling green water we overtook the three Santas, who we accidentally splashed as they were cheating with the use of three paddles.
Then it was back on the bikes for a second lap of mud, and at this stage we were thinking, �Where on earth are we going to get the energy for the second bike and run sections?�
But somehow the kayak section and our tussle with the Santas had re-energised us, and we sped off again on our knobbly tyres, this time a fair bit wiser about where the deeper puddles were and which bits of mud were definitely not cyclable.
This still didn�t stop each of us all falling off in a puddle and getting soaked at some point or other during the bike section, but by this time, people were getting tired and slowing down, so we were thrilled that just by keeping going, you could even sneak past some of the all male teams!
On the last kilometre of the bike section we saw a team of three girls running solidly on their last lap round the lake to the finish, with an impressively high fitness level. We have a long way to go to becoming like them.
One lap of running to go and Kate and I were reduced to our just-keep-going pace, while super fit Sara bounced ahead of us saying �Gosh this is hard isn�t it?� to which Kate and I could barely muster the breath to reply.
The great thing about adventure racing is that you have to stick finish as a team, so at this point it was great to have the support of a fitter person to keep us from slowing down.
Amongst the trees, in the middle of muddy paths and at the side of grit tracks team mates were stretching out and massaging each others� cramped up thighs and calf muscles.
It was a very strange sight! We stopped briefly to give one lady a Shot Blok as they had no energy food with them, which turned out to be a good plan as they later caught us up and helped us with the three team challenges at the end of the run.
The first team challenge involved all three team members walking on two planks of wood, a bit like skis. The first and last person jam their feet under the loops of rope at the front and back of the planks, the third stands in the middle and you walk together as one two-legged creature.
Teams were falling over each other, bumping into others and shouting left, right, left, right in an effort to walk at the same time round the sandy track. When we finally got the hang of it we realised it was a welcome relief to use some brain power rather than push your muscles harder.
The second challenge was to crawl under a heavy rope net. Here, the team we had given the Shot Blok to held the net up for us in thanks as their lady team member was now cured of cramp.
Sara found the crawling slightly more difficult as the crotch of her leggings had ripped and she was worried about the people crawling behind seeing her pants. Fortunately everyone else was too busy concentrating on not getting stuck to notice, so we escaped the net and hauled ourselves to the last challenge as fast as our now massively tired legs could carry us.
And woa was this last challenge a challenge! We had now been on the go for three and a half hours and we had no energy or strength left. Even worse, there was a photographer sitting there ready to shoot our knackered attempts at the notorious �slippery wall�.
It was only about 7ft high, but this steep concave slide took us about 5 minutes to overcome. Other teams were taking a run up and managing to clamber to the top despite the slippiness, but I only got three quarters up and slid straight back down.
In the end, we gave Sara a leg up and we clung to her to pull ourselves up. Then, not a moment to lose, we sprinted to the finish line to finish our first adventure race together.
We ran through the finish as fast and as elite-athlete-esque as we could, with mud freckles all over our faces, aching muscles and sweaty, wet clothes.
We were completely knackered at the end as we collected our free HH hat, T-shirt, energy bars, and milk shake, but already we were wondering where we had come in the race and thinking about how we could improve our fitness in time for the next.
With a hot cup of tea in hand, we asked one of the organisers where our team had come. The answer was fantastically surprising, we had come 6th out of 44 girls teams and 102nd over all out of 315 teams.
For our first adventure race we were thrilled, this had been one extremely wet and muddy Sunday morning to remember forever.
Now we can�t wait to throw ourselves at the hillier, Grizedale Forest event on March 21st in the Lake District. I would recommend these races for any reasonably fit people with a sense of adventure. See you at the next!
Click here for an interview with team mate Kate
Interview with team mate Kate
How were you feeling before the adventure race?
Very very excited! Really looking forward to doing the challenge as a team with my friends. Bit worried about parking the car!
What was your fave part?
Probably the bumps going downhilll on our bikes!
What was the best costume you saw? Tempted next time?
Loved the Santas - although they did cheat! Defo tempted to dress up next time - possibly shower hats on our helmets?!! Wouldn�t want any fancy dress that might stop us winning next time!
What was the most challenging part?
The last section of the run... was pretty tired by then and had got cold after the ski plank and cargo net challenge.
Were you fit enough?
Well I got round in one piece! Would have liked to have been fitter especially on the up hill muddy sections of the biking.
How did you feel afterwards?
Amazing! Was so much fun, a real challenge but great to have finished it. Defo appreciated the Helly Hansen hat in the goody bag to keep me warm once I�d stripped off all my muddy gear. Forgot until I saw in the reflection of the car that I had mud freckles all over my face!
What do you think about us coming 6th out of 44 girls teams?
Lets do some training and win next time! No really... very proud of us. Loving that we did it as a girly team!
What training will you do before the next event?
Well in theory would love to do loads, get up to the peaks and bike up some hills followed by a run. However in practice probably just the Helly Hansen training day that they might be able to organise with their elite team and my regular ride to school and once every two weeks jogging to the common and back!