My first Gauntlet Games was in Cardiff in 2015. It was also my first obstacle and first muddy race. Taking on the 10K version meant I completed a 5K trail run followed by a 5K obstacle course. The tough hills at Coedarhydyglyn reduced me to alternating between running and walking, with maybe a bit more walking than running. I got round the course and was exhausted but exhilarated. That first Gauntlet Games is still amongst my favourite ever races.
Last year I was meant to be taking part again. Unfortunately in the week prior to the event my car was written off in an accident, which left me without transport at the last minute. I ended up missing the Games and was naturally disappointed by this but there would always be a next time. As such picking the 2017 Games as part of Run Big Year was a no brainer. This was an event that I was particularly looking forward to and had unfinished business with. But with such high expectations could The Gauntlet Games 2017 possibly live up to my expectations?
The short answer is no – or at least not entirely anyway.
I arrived around 45 minutes before my start time and went to sign in. There were a couple of queues for the registration tent. I could see that there were intended to be separate queues that were divided alphabetically by surname. The longest queue was for E-K which was of course my queue. The queue didn’t appear to be overly long and I thought it wouldn’t be a huge wait. More people joined behind me. Everyone seemed to be joining the same queue. The other short queues more or less cleared apart from a few people whilst my queue got longer behind me.
By this stage it was apparent that a lot of people just thought that there was only the one queue because that was all that they could see. The queue was very slow. I wondered why the people in front of me had not moved to the other queues – surely they could not all be so alphabetically close to each other? There were sporadic incidents of small groups behind me realising that they did not have to be in the long queue but could just move to the correct section. I also wondered why none of the organisers came to sort out the ever-increasing queue problem. After 30 minutes one of the Gladiators finally did come over to direct people to the right sections. This didn’t help me as I was in the correct queue to begin with! As my wave time approached the wave participants were called to warm up with half of us still stuck in the queue. We were told not to worry and that we would be able to go in the next wave if we were still queueing. It was not announced when the next wave was though, which caused more confusion.
Once I had finally gotten through the queue I had missed my 9.30 wave start time. After getting my registration pack and putting my number on there was a call for the next wave at 9.45. It was a relief to find out that the next wave was so soon and that I wouldn’t be waiting around too long. Before starting there was a compulsory warm up to get everyone ready. As there was a large group taking part in this wave they held the group back and let the rest of the wave go first to ensure they would not hold others up if they wanted to stay together. With this small exception we were finally off and running!
We set off along the route, initially on grass before hitting the trails. There was a gentle initial section with a few small slopes before we headed in amongst some trees where the first obstacle waited. This was The Giant Web, which consisted of a tangle of ropes to clamber over and under as you ascended a bank. It was then back onto the trails towards the next obstacle and so on.
It wasn’t long before I hit the front of my wave and shortly after that I caught up with the end of the 9.30 wave that I was meant to be in. As some obstacles could only be passed by one or two people at a time this did mean queues could develop. The wave separation pretty much disappeared from that point on as everyone found their own pace. For the most part there were no obstacles where the queues got too long, although as the morning progressed and the course got bigger the queues got bigger too.
Halfway round the first lap there was the See Saw obstacle. A Gladiator said that the weather had made this obstacle slippery and it was recommended that we go around but it was our choice. I chose to go around and continued on – better safe than sorry. When it came to my second lap there was a different Gladiator at the obstacle and people were no longer being advised to go around. I’m not sure why this was the case. I did go over the obstacle on that lap and made it without any particular issues.
In my preview of the Games I mentioned that I was a bit ambivalent about the 10K version having changed from a 5K trail run and then the 5K obstacle course to two laps of the 5K course. My misgivings were only increased when there was a sign directing 10K runners on to their second lap and bypassing 6 or 7 obstacles. This was not what the route map had indicated was going to happen. Nevertheless I followed the instruction, although I believe some other 10K runners ignored the sign and did the full 5K loop before getting on to their second lap.
On the 10K we got the extra Tipping See Saws obstacle on the link between the two laps. The name turned out to be a misnomer as the obstacle consisted of inflatable humps for us to run up and clamber over. It was then back on to the 5K course and a second shot at the obstacles we had already done. This did allow me to successfully cross the Monkey Business obstacle when the first time round I had fallen from the Monkey bars into the pool below. I then bypassed the wobbly bridge as a huge queue was waiting for it and it wasn’t one of my favourite obstacles so it wasn’t worth the wait. I was not the only one to make this decision.
With this being the second lap I eventually got to go on the obstacles that we had bypassed previously. Sadly the second to last obstacle (the Jump and Smash) was closed by this time as it appears that an accident had occurred. I don’t know what happened and so will not speculate here. Someone did appear to be hurt and I do wish them a speedy recovery from any injury that they sustained. Unfortunately there is always a risk with this type of event and all participants must sign waivers before they compete. As such this is a logical point to remind anyone thinking of taking part in this type of event to follow instructions and to look out for both themselves and their fellow competitors.
The final obstacle was The Gauntlet – a run down a narrow channel bordered by inflatable walls and guarded by three gladiators. After barging my way through there was a short jog to the finish line where I was handed my medal. I checked my trusty Garmin and saw that I had covered 5.69 miles in 1 hr 45. This distance is only 9.16km so was significantly shorter than the advertised 10K. I’m not sure if there were any course alterations or how much being directed on to the second lap early affected things but I did feel a bit let down by this.
But enough of the negatives. Whilst this event had flaws and did not run as smoothly as it should have, overall it was still a really enjoyable experience. With some great obstacles such as the Flume of Doom (a giant Slip ‘n’ Slide, albeit one that the gladiator was struggling to keep lubricated), the Bouncing Rally (a race course navigated on space hoppers) and Slam Dunk (trying to run past a Gladiator to drop a tennis ball into a bucket) it was challenging and entertaining. The Gladiators also deserve a big shout out as they were an important factor in making the event such fun and they did not go over the top when challenging the competitors. It was also nice that as a returning competitor I was given a loyalty wristband in my registration pack along with the normal t-shirt.
So back to those initial expectations. The event did not live up to them but this was partly due to how high my expectations were. I would still recommend this event, particularly for anyone looking for an introduction to obstacle courses and muddy racing. With a bit of improvement to the organisation this could have been a great event and as it was it remained a good one. My love for the Gauntlet Games may be diminished but it still remains.
One final thought – I really need to do some more cross-training before my next event at Survival of the Fittest…