Brooks Hellrunner: Hell Down South Longmore Camp, Hampshire – 16th January 2016

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

&

Helly Hansen

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First up, here’s a short video we shot during the event, to give you an idea of the course and atmosphere.

Part 1: Steve Kimberley:

In the days leading up to the Brooks Hellrunner 2016 race, I was filled with a quiet confidence that this race would be just another one for the medal cabinet. With claims of being “tougher than Tough Mudder”, yet having absolutely no obstacles that aren’t part of the trail itself, I assumed that these were just hollow marketing words. Surely, after countless obstacle races and trail runs under my belt, this trail run would most likely be thoroughly enjoyable, but would not really put me out of my comfort zone.

Oh how I was wrong.

Now whilst Brooks Hellrunner is entirely a trail run offering only natural obstacles, the sheer size and severe inclines of some of the hills made climbing them a mammoth effort. The water crossings, in -2 degrees, were absolute agony that brought about all sorts of cramping and fatigue, and the general air in the freezing winter morning made even catching your breath a task of its own.

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I know that the organisation of large-scale races such as these must be a nightmare, and factors like parking alone could be seemingly impossible to arrange to the point where it runs entirely smoothly. I have however, attended countless races of varying distance and location, yet never come across a parking experience like this one.

Totally isolated by the A3, even participants from the local area would have found it difficult to make their way to the race village without a car, yet the car park was a seemingly endless narrow road on which cars took their turn reversing into a straight line. We had arrived 45 minutes early for our wave, yet waited in a mammoth queue of traffic for close to an hour before we were able to park, but worse still we were now well over a mile from the race village, so had to practically run to the start amidst the many others who were now late for their wave.

Luckily, the organisers realised the problem occurring in the car park, so delayed the start of the second wave and even added a third wave so that everyone would get a chance to run the course.

On a more positive note, with the really disappointing parking debacle out of the way, it was otherwise a well-organised event with genuinely outstanding marshals. There was none of this “one mile to go!” nonsense that you get every time you pass a checkpoint- just a smile, a word of support, and sometimes a helping hand.

Throughout the entire route of the Brooks Hellrunner, the scenery was absolutely stunning. The deep woods and picturesque views gave you absolutely no clues to suggest a nearby motorway, making it genuinely hard to believe just how close we were to London. As if some crazy juxtaposition with this awesome sense of natural solitude, the final surprises in store for us towards the end of the race really brought us back to reality in a crushing and agonising sense.

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As we knew that we must have been edging into the final kilometres of the route, the sound of approaching dance music pulsing through the woods and into your very core filled me with a short lived sense of hope. Usually signalling the approach to the finishing line, this music was far from conventional. As this evil trance beat became imminent, you could now hear the accompanying screams of agony.

There, waiting for us upon a huge steel scaffolding was the devil himself dropping the foulest beats on the wheels of steel, towering above the most agonising water crossing that I have ever laid eyes upon.

Submerging myself in the aptly named ‘Bog of Doom’ up to my chest in -2 degree temperatures was a chill like I’ve never felt before. Cutting me to my very core, I have never rushed through an obstacle quite like I did this one.

Bog 1

My biggest word of advice to anyone considering the Brooks Hellrunner would be, under any circumstances, do not let your hands go under the water. I tried my very best to keep them above the water level, but after tripping on a sneaky bog log the momentary submersion was all it took. For the remaining kilometres of the race, my hands were in agony. Totally numb and completely useless for helping me climb, they did not actually regain their feeling until about 20 minutes after finishing the race.

While I hate to moan, this pain that I found my hands in really put a bit of a dampener on the closing stage of the race. We passed through a final tent playing dance music, occupied by female marshals dressed as angels and handing out energy blocks. I really would have liked to have had a bit more of a laugh in the ‘Heaven’ tent, but my thoughts were well and truly focused on just finishing and wrapping my hands up in anything dry.

Overall, a very tough and immensely challenging race. One which I would strongly not recommend for the inexperienced trail runner. You get a cracking finishers medal and technical t-shirt in black, along with the knowledge that you faced the very elements, and refused to give up.

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Part 2: Dave Sherman:

I completed ‘Brooks Hellrunner: Hell Down South’ back in January 2014 and in our event review - http://yoursay.trekandrun.com/2014/09/01/hellrunner-hell-down-south-2014/ - I described the event as “a great change from my usual road races and an event I’d definitely recommend to anyone looking for a new challenge”. However one thing I didn’t say was that I was looking forward to doing the event again because, in all honestly, I wasn’t! That year heavy rainfall had flooded the Bog of Doom so we’d ended up swimming through freezing cold water and as we exited the bog I’d found I just couldn’t warm up again making the last few miles pure hell – the Devil had well and truly defeated me! But of course, the part of my brain which keeps signing up for hilly trail marathons, long-course obstacle races and long distance triathlons is always looking for a new way to challenge myself, so what better way to face my fears than face the beast again… Hell Down South 2016 was on!

The sign-up process for the event was nice and simple with regular pre-event emails keeping us informed, and getting to site was easy (especially if you’ve actually read the site directions rather than relying on your Sat-nav, as we did in 2014!) with Longmoor Training Camp located just off the A3. Unfortunately, our arrival on-site wasn’t quite as simple as despite arriving almost an hour before our start time we ended up stuck in a long queue of cars eventually parking over a mile from the start area! This was due to a terrible parking layout involving cars parked either side of a long road leading away from the event village, and when we eventually arrived in the start area we watched as our wave departed and ended up having to run through the start line to catch up with everyone else - and we definitely weren’t the only ones having to do this!

This issue aside, the fact I went into this event prepared and knowing what to expect made for a much better experience which leads me to stress to anyone worried about this event; watch our Hellrunner event videos (including the one from 2014) and read through all the event advice posted on the website and sent by email. Most importantly, be aware that although the Bog of Doom really is hell (well… if you replaced the fires of hell with bone-chilling ice cold water…), at the same time it’s do-able and there’s a great feeling of relief and pride once you’ve conquered it. It’s tough, but worth it for the bragging rights of being able to say you’ve done it! More on that later…

In the weeks leading up to the event the temperature had dropped and I’d completed a few sub-zero training runs which left me worrying just how cold Hell Down South was going to be! I mean, a training run is fine as you can layer up then dump layers if the weather improves, but my rule with events involving water is to wear as little as possible so less water is retained (which will inevitably weigh you down), however when the temperature is sub-zero less clothes is a bad idea, and this is where I’m eternally grateful for the awesome Helly Hansen technical gear I was wearing! I also chose to wear running tights despite a reluctance to wearing them in general, and besides the fact my event photos have required some severe cropping to make them decent enough to use on this site, I’m sure the tights prevented my legs from falling off with frostbite! One regret was that I didn’t wear gloves as towards the end of the race my hands were absolutely freezing and just couldn’t seem to warm up (I overheard a number of other people complain about similar problems including Steve who mentioned it a good few times in the final miles!) so one piece of advice is to remember gloves, but make sure you keep them out of the water!

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Brooks Hellrunner describe this event as ‘Tougher Than Tough Mudder’ and I have to agree, it seriously lives up to this claim. While they’re not technically in the same category (Hell Down South is more of a mud-run rather than an obstacle course), the event organisers have chosen some seriously tough terrain and you’ll find yourself constantly struggling up and down hills, climbing through thick mud, and of course wading through streams, lakes and rivers. Marshalls were in abundance throughout the route offering shouts of encouragement and even a hand up on particularly tough climbs, but some parts of the course really were hell with tight paths usually congested by walkers (generally people who’ve given up hope and decided they’re just going to walk to the end!) but thankfully the majority of the course involves open paths and wide open grasslands you’re generally free to run at your own pace without any hold-ups.

Hell Down South 1

Then of course, there’s the infamous Bog of Doom… As mentioned earlier, on race day the temperature was sub-zero and we ran past so much thick ice I was mentally panicking just how cold the bog would be! Back in 2014 I’d jumped into the bog and received a nasty calf cramp in return, so this time I waded in carefully and planned to get through it and out as quick as possible, but I’d forgotten just how awesome the atmosphere was when we finally arrived there! Techno was blasting from the Devil DJ as we approached the bog and spectators surrounded both banks yelling encouragement over the blaring music. The water only came up to my chest this time (although I saw shorter people who had to swim as I had the previous year!) and despite the chill, once in the bog I was still smiling and even made a grab for one of the beach-balls floating in the water. But of course the Bog is only part of the challenge and there were still a few miles left to go until the end of the race…

Bog 2

I don’t want to reveal too many secrets about the final stages of the event, but as you’ll see in our event video it’s deceptive just how much there is left after you’ve crossed the Bog! A small moment of respite is offered as you pass through ‘Heaven from Hell’ complete with its own rave-in-a-tent and staffed by Angels offering Clif Bar Shot Blox and bottles of water, but as you leave this small piece of sanctuary you’re soon back onto the trail and plunging into waist deep freezing cold water again… No rest for the wicked!

Eventually we passed through one final icy stream to re-join the main path back to the event village, and as the crowds of supporters grew alongside the finishing straight, an announcer called out our names and finishing times and congratulated us as we crossed the line – Hell Down South, done. We’d defeated the beast! As we passed though the finish area a troupe of drummers provided an excellent finish line atmosphere and we passed through a huge hanger where local army cadets handed us a finishers t-shirt, space blanket, a goody bag packed to the brim with goodies (rather than the usual trick of a cereal bar and loads of leaflets!) and of course that all important race medal. A few times in the past I’ve felt disappointed when an event medal doesn’t do justice to the difficulty of the course, but I was pleased to see just how chunky and heavy the medal for this event was – seriously impressive race bling for a seriously tough challenge!

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This time 2 years ago I vowed never to take part in something as tough as Brooks Hellrunner again, but despite the fact the weather had made the course even tougher than back in 2014, I’d had an awesome time and loved the experience.  Brooks describe their slogan ‘Run Happy’ as the ‘emotional core of the running experience’ and I had such a great time I’m even considering upping the ante and tackling Hell up North in Cheshire later this year (www.hellrunner.co.uk/hellupnorth) . Have you got what it takes to defeat the Devil himself?

To find out more about Trailplus’ Brooks Hellrunner series, visit www.hellrunner.co.uk 

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