Posted by: Bruce Duncan | November 29, 2010

Hell Runner

This past Saturday I had agreed to run the Hell Runner Down South with Ed Coats.

Fairfield Horseshoe in the Lake District on Saturday

When he’d asked me back in September it seemed like a great idea, but turning up on the day in the sub zero temperatures I wasn’t so sure.

I had driven down from the Lake District the day before, and was glad that snow arrived after I’d left, although I’d love to still be there as the pictures I have seen look amazing.

Arriving at Longmoor Army camp I met up with Ed and we caught up and joked about how cold it was.  We got ready for the run, there were lots of people wondering around in shorts and t-shirts or running vests.  It was -2degC , there was no way I was wearing anything other than full tights and longsleeve thermal, hat and gloves.  Ed was of the same opinion, we were never going to win a fashion award, but at least we were warm (ish).

There were about 2000 people taking part in the event on Saturday alone, and about the same number for the next day, and I suspect the vast majoirty of them had no idea it would be as cold as it was when they signed up. Ed and myself went for a wee warm up jog and checked out a section of the course, which seemed to consist of hills and soft sand, it didn’t look like it was going to be an easy race at all, not that I expected it to be with the name of the race!

Lining up at the front of the mass of runners there was some good chat between us all, and then we were off, running after a quad bike, with all sorts of coloured smoke billowing from the back of it.  It might have looked great, but didn’t sit in the lungs very well.  The pace was lightning fast, and I knew there was no way I could hang onto the front runners, so settled into my own pace and chatted away to some of the other guys around me.

The first few km’s were easy going, fast track and gentle hills, then we hit the rougher stuff, hitting hill after hill, both up and down, often one after the other.  It was here that I pressed my advantage, and 2 of us broke away from the chasing pack, slowly closing the gap on the 3rd placed runner.  We battled hard and the hills were relentless, and it was starting to take its too.  I’d glance at my Polar heart rate monitor at regular intervals, to see how long we’d been running and to see how high my HR was.  It never seemed to be below 185bpm, which indictaed, as I felt, that I was running almost flat out.

Track of the route of the Hell Runner Down South

The chap I was running with started to slowly inch away from me, especially on the downhills, my legs were tightening up and I could tell I was slowing down.  Luckily at that point we hit the ‘Bog of Doom’  a 25m long section of very cold water, which was up to my chest.  It was possibly some of the coldest water I’d ever been in, and with the ground very uneven I was being very careful to stay upright.  This was aided by the inflatable crocodile I hung onto!  I waded as fast as I could just to get out of the water. The atmosphere was amazing, both sides lined with spectators shouting and cheering, and then a row of fire balls exploding to one side, and huge aritllery shells being fired overhead, all made for an amazing experience, but I was so glad to get out the other side.

I have no idea how my legs still worked, I couldn’t actually feel them at all, which was slightly odd.  We were straight into a hill after the water, which I think was good as it got you working hard again.  In the water I’d managed to over take the guy I’d been dropping behind, and I was keen to press on and stay ahead.

After a few more hills, music started to filter through the trees, getting louder and louder.  This had to be the next fun section, another pond crossing.  Cresting the steep hill at the side looking down on a very cold pond surrounded by spectators again made me push on harder.  I leapt into the water, and pushed aside the thick ice to get across fast, I was just thinking how glad I was that I wasn’t first and had had to break all the ice, when abruptly I stopped dead in my tracks with thick ice jabbing into my chest.  Fists clenched I started to smash the ice infront of me and pushing the thick sheets aside, it was very very cold in there and I had to get out fast.  With a steep climb up the far side and then a 180degree turn and back into the shallower section I was finally out of the water, really really cold and my legs didn’t feel to be part of me, how they still functioned I’ll never know.

Glancing at my watch I saw it was getting close to the hour, this had to be good as I’d heard people say the winner usually takes around 65 minutes.  I gritted my teeth, glanced over my shoulder and realised the gap was up to about 50m to the guy behind.  Entering the last section I pushed as hard as I could running up and down more hills, through the very loose sand, a real contrast to most of the course.  As it was so cold the ground had been very hard everywhere, brilliant for a sandy area, but here they had clearly loosened up all the sand to make it tough at the end.

Finally through this nasty wee section it was a short run back along the main track and down the hill to the archway signalling the finish.  I crossed the line in 3rd place in a time of 67minutes.  It was a heck of a fast pace for just shy of 10miles over very rough terrain with lots of steep hills in it.  The 2 guys ahead of me were in a league of their own, I was over 3 minutes down on them, but wasn’t bothered at all, give me a bike and a kayak and I’m sure I’d get them back!

I quickly guzzled my For Goodness Shakes, and trotted back to the car to get changed into warm and dry clothing, I really don’t think I have ever been so cold after a race.  Getting back to the finish I was just in time to see Ed cross the line in a respectable 1hr 25mins, he’d loved it, as had I.

It had been a great event, not my usual race, but great to test my flat out pace.  I was pleasantly suprised to go as well as I had against some very good club runners, and bearing in mind I was a lot bigger than most of them, that serves me well for adventure racing, but not for flat out running.

It was also good to give my legs a good fast run before I head off to Abu Dhabi to race in just over a weeks time, not sure about the conditions though.  The guys I’m due to race with out in AD tell me its cooling down over there to the low 30’s!! I was running in sub zero, through thick ice and water, I can’t wait for the tropical heat.

The day finished up with a great pub lunch with Ed, and then a night out with my old friends from the small village I grew up in out in Clapham.  All round a top day.

Thanks to Ed Coats for asking me to run and to Paul Magner of Trail Plus Events for a great day out.  And thanks to adidasTERREX for providing me with the perfect kit and shoes for the job.



  1. Sounds epic! Nice picture of the Lakes 😉

    • Yeah, it was. And the pic isn’t bad eh, taken by someone oop norf i think 😉 !

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