Birmingham Living editor Jon Card enjoys the mud, hills, obstacles and icy waters of the Major Series, a “tough but fun” 10km obstacle course. He lives to tell the tale here
It’s 7am on a Saturday morning in late October as I clamber out of bed to do some stretching exercises. In a couple of hours’ time, I will be embarking on a military-style, cross-country, 10km run in Weston Park, Staffordshire. As I stretch out my hamstrings while scoffing a banana and a jam sandwich, I look out of the window to see a gloriously wintery scene. My 66-year-old dad, who will be joining me on this mini-adventure, informs me that the temperature is precisely zero. “It’s going to be a real cold one,” he reassures me. The Major Series, organised by the physical instruction company British Military Fitness (BMF), is a series of biannual races held across the country, with marketing literature promising “mud, water, hills and obstacles”. In fact, a race is probably the wrong description. It’s more of an endurance, a battle of will. Those who complete the course are “survivors”, presumably those who don’t are “casualties”. At Weston Park, several hundred other like-minded fools are dithering in the cold, waiting for this act of collective masochism to unfold. Thumping rock music blasts through speakers while the runners, with icy cold fingers, attempt to attach race numbers to their shirts. There’s an endless supply of black humour, and lots of muttering of the question: “why are we doing this?”
COURSES FOR HORSES
After a brief warm-up, we charge through the starting gates and onto our first obstacle – a water jump, usually reserved for show jumpers. We slide down into three feet of icy water, plough through with a smile on our faces and head towards the woods beyond. Smoke bombs are fired, there’s a scramble through a ditch, a crawl under barbed wire and then a mud pool to navigate. There’s actually only one way to get through mud and that’s to crawl. You simply can’t walk through the stuff when it’s up to your waist. We’ve completed little more than 3km, with several water jumps behind us, and our legs are frozen and numb. We get to a barrier to jump and I go up, lose my balance and come down with a crash on my ankle. The pain shoots through and I figure that’s my race over. However, a friendly BMF instructor comes over and helps me straighten it out and, after a few minutes, I hobble back onto my feet.
We plough on for a few more kilometres, the distance broken up by more crawls under barbed wire, a rope climb up a muddy slope and, of course, more water jumps. By this point, I’ll admit I am looking forward to the finishing line. My ankle isn’t feeling great, I’m frozen and knackered. You might be wondering why people willingly put themselves through this, indeed why they pay for this experience. To me, the Major Series is in a similar vein to bungee jumping, rock climbing or even white-collar boxing. It’s a fix for a world which has become sanitised, safety-obsessed and anodyne. It’s a way for office dwellers to experience some danger, excitement and something physical. I am reminded of the Samuel Johnson quote that every man thinks “meanly of himself for not having been a soldier”. It’s surely relevant here, although it must be said that roughly half of those running today are women – they must think meanly of themselves, too.
THE HOME STRAIGHT
We make it to the top of another hill and there’s a fast way down. Some soldiers have laid out 20 metres of plastic tarpaulin and poured water and washing up liquid over it. I dive on and rocket down the hill, head first. A cheerful marshall informs us we haven’t far to go, but I can see there is still a big hill ahead. Some ropes have been attached and we haul over heavy, sodden bodies up to the top and then go back down, then up again, then down again. There are some bales of hay to climb under, then one final water jump and we are on the run home. Just to add to our joy a couple of BMF instructors, armed with water pistols, leap out and give us a final soaking – well at least its clean water. We cross the line and punch the air with relief. There was some applause and praise from well-wrapped up onlookers. A goodie bag, a banana and a Chomp bar awaits us as we cross the line – we are officially survivors and have the medals to prove it. We clamber into the car, strip off our soaked and muddied clothes and warm up with some tea. As my legs thaw, my twisted ankle screams and later grows to twice its natural size. The temperature outside, according to the car thermometer, is now a whopping 3.5C – positively balmy, or is that barmy? Never mind.