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Wednesday 23 July 2014

'I survived Hell and Back with a tetanus and a cry'

Clare Cullen, Louise Kelly, Mark McConville & Jason Kennedy

Published 04/02/2014|07:56

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Four "brave" Independent.ie journalists ran the 'Hell and Back' Trojan 10k Challenge in Bray last Sunday.

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CLARE CULLEN

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In the run up to the Hell and Back challenge, I wrote a blog about how terrified I was. I had no idea!

5799 lunatics assembled on farm out in Wicklow to run a 10k obstacle course on Sunday the 2nd February. The one thing that sticks out in my mind was the sense of camaraderie, watching out for your "fellow Hellraisers". In this way, it's unlike any other race I've taken part in - because it's not about your time. It's about everybody finishing the challenge, and helping each other to do so. (Of course, it's different from every other race in every single way, but let's not split hairs.)

First of all, the unifying thing about Hell and Back is that fitness won't help you. it's as much a mental endurance test as a physical one, and running fitness will only get you so far. It takes you so far out of your comfort zone you'll briefly think you may never find it again. The cold, which was the thing I was most worried about, is indescribable by the end.

From 1k on, I was cursing Jason Kennedy and his 'teambuilding' ideas. Having just got over the flu didn't help; there was a LOT of unladylike coughing, hocking and - how do I put this - projectile nose-blowing sans tissue. Poor Jason got an eyeful of my charming behaviour at one point, serves him right for telling us it would be fun!

The worst bit about the whole experience was the sniper alley. The pellets they shot you with were agony, and unfortunately for me, the girls in front of me kept stopping instead of running. Every time they did this, I would nicely get shot in the - excuse me - arse. I am now the proud owner of around eight raised welts on my left bum cheek, which surprisingly, I'm actually quite proud of. They're my 'medals'.

The best bit was doing it as a team, watching each other fall over (and laughing) and then helping each other out. I couldn't have done it without my teammates and the help of other Hellraisers who pushed, pulled and propelled me through.

I huffed and puffed up the Sugarloaf and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, we passed the 5k mark, having not seen a sign since 1k. The elation I felt was unlike anything I've ever experienced. Unfortunately, the second 5k was by far the hardest, both mentally and physical, but I revelled in my achievement for a good kilometre until the water stop at 6k.

During the toughest times of the race I wrote this article in my head to distract me from- well, everything. I had the whole thing written by around 8k, until the coldest swim of my life caused both my calf muscles to seize and my brain to forget everything it's ever learned, including, briefly, how to speak. After the first crossing of said river (yes, there were more than one!), I stood to the side shivering. I thought I was beaten. I forlornly watched the other three complete the three crossings in total and I suddenly thought "NO. I won't be the only one not to do it!" I finally swam across and back to sound of their supportive cheers and although it was truly horrible, I was ecstatic that I did it.

At the third last hurdle, a slide with no way to get up to the top other than to be given a boost, I was pulled up by a helpful man whose strength was probably too much, honestly, as the momentum I gathered sent us both barrelling down the slide, me headfirst. Hurtling towards the ground at a very sharp angle, I twisted and let my elbow and back take the brunt of the impact. Unfortunately, the impact was more impact-ful than I had expected and it broke me. Not physically, but mentally. I broke my Hell and Back promise to not be a crybaby and cried. Louise was a bit shocked to see me half howling and half smiling to pretend I wasn't crying- I'd say it was some sight.

As my arm was not working and my hands had been excruciatingly numb for the last 2k, I limped past the 10 foot wall at the finish. I also limped past the electric fences because mentally, I was broken. I had to finish. I limped across the finish line and the (fantastic) Order of Malta volunteers jumped on me, wrapped me in two space blankets and rushed me through to the showers so I could regain feeling in my limbs.

Getting dressed was the final challenge - peeling off the wet clothes and attempting to pull new, (now muddy) clothes onto frozen, dirty, shivering skin was a feat in itself. Modesty went out the window as getting warm was the primary aim. I personally then headed to the First Aid tent where the Order of Malta wrapped up my elbow and recommended a tetanus shot (to avoid Well's disease) and a checkup for a possible fracture.

Luckily, it was nothing but a scratch, some swelling and a touch of dramaticism on my part, and I left the hospital with one tetanus (in my poor sore bum) and the best war story of all four.

At first I thought I wouldn't do it again, but I've already found myself contemplating how I could be more prepared for the next one. Wear a rash vest instead of a sports top or just do the entire thing in a wetsuit? Would waterproof gloves help, or even work? Editing the above video and listening to the rousing speech made me want to be a "Hellraiser" all over again. The summer one will be warmer... Right?

 

JASON KENNEDY

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Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. As possibly the clumsiest person from Tipperary, signing up for 10 kilometres of slipping and sliding in mud, muck and sludge might not be the best of ideas. It was though.

This wasn’t my first Hell and Back experience, but the race has changed since my first encounter with it last summer. The one thing that didn’t change is my inability to cope when my balance skews. Thankfully I have the ability to laugh at myself and trundled on through.

My favourite part, which my colleagues may disagree with, is Sniper Alley. The pellets don’t hurt as much as I expected and the adrenaline kept me going. Unfortunately for poor Louise Kelly, my klutz-like nature meant she also took a tumble when I bumped into her while trying to escape from the trigger-happy shooters.

The race probably isn’t for those who are afraid to get down and dirty, but it’s perfect for me. I’m already looking forward to torturing myself during the next race.

 

LOUISE KELLY

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What a money-spinner indeed. Throw a few strategically placed bits of wood and net among well watered up mounds of muck and the crazy people of the nation will come flocking.

Oh yes, a small crew from Independent.ie were part of that insane crowd.

Not adverse to stretching the legs of a Sunday afternoon, and happy to work off the the extra pounds I was bound to find over Chunky Christmas, I immediately said yes when Jason suggested we tackle Hell and Back.

But as the weeks rolled on and D-Day loomed on the horizon, I'll be honest, I tried to back out as best I could. Oh I had all the excuses - no time to train, I had a bout of the sneezes, my toe was so very, very sore....

Yes I was more than a little reluctant in the run-up to the freezefest that was Hell and Back. And this main concern - the plummeting temperatures - was completely warranted.

Cheek-deep in beetle-infested icy brown water was not what I had in mind when I signed up to improve my fitness levels. After the first crossing of Hell and High Water, I am convinced my body went into shock as there is no way I could've gotten back into the water knowing what lay ahead of me.

So yes, for me, the worst thing about doing the Kilruddery course on a February weekend in Ireland - the same week snow fell countrywide - was the unbelievable lack of any sort of warmth.

Even as we wrapped up afterwards in our tinfoil huddled around a tube of hot air blowing into a tent, I vowed never to put myself through that sort of torture again.

Yet, a day later, as bruises mark my shins to my thighs, and my shoulder could do with a reset, I've rather had a change of heart.

My stomach muscles hurt just as much from laughing as from scaling and dropping over the 10ft wall. The incredible views and sense of elation having climbed Little Sugar Loaf are more forefront of mind than the waste water I drank while face down trying to avoid electric shock wires.

Yes, the muck gets in your ears, up your nose - and there's no delicate way of putting this - in your knickers. But that feeling when you finally stand on that filthy crate at the end of the course and pose with your adrenaline fuelled grin; that has to be repeated.

 

MARK MCCONVILLE

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I wanted to start the year doing something I’d never dream of doing before. Ive never ran 10k in my life and when Jason introduced me to the world of hell and back, I thought that would be some experience.

At the beginning of the event, you automatically get the sense of being apart of something. ‘If you see a fellow hell and backer on the ground and struggling to carry on, you don’t run past and forget about them, you help them up!’ ‘This is not a race, it’s a challenge!’ Quitters never win and winners never quite!’

Just a few of the statements yelled out at the beginning to get us pumped up and bring everyone together.

I couldn’t say which part I thought was the best because I felt each obstacle had something to give to the overall experience. But what I can say is, the climb over the 10ft wall was the scariest but the most rewarding. Near the top, I took a look down to see what lay ahead if I was to take a fall – it wasn’t a nice thought. But it was near the end of the 10k and no way was I not going to do it. With the last ounce of strength I heaved myself up to the top and dropped down the otherside to cheers, especially my own.

To some up the experience – Everyone should do it, even just the once. You will come out battered and bruised but once you finish, it’s all worth it.

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