Primal Events ON TRIAL Training Camp

Saturday 7th February 2015

I’m not sure what part of me that thought it was a good idea to take part in a 12-hour training camp in The Peak District in the depths of winter.

But there I am, driving 2 hours from Lincolnshire to Edale at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, layered up so much that I look like a Michelin man and struggling to move my arms.

As I approached Derbyshire, the terrain became steeper, colder and to my delight (sarcasm), snowy.
Snow!!! And that was on the low ground.  There was no way the Race Directors weren’t going to stick us at the top of Kinder Scout during a Training Camp! Oh uh…..

5.30pm – Edale Car Park – 3 RDs (Race Directors) with 5 participants (3 females and 2 males) crazy enough to take on this event.

The training camp is designed for those wanting to take part in the full On Trial event, which can last up to 50 hours. Yes, I’m signed up to do that one.

I’ve completed a Primal Events F.E.A.R event which lasted 25.5 hours, so 12 hours seemed achievable to me. I shouldn’t have been so naive.

Wearing pretty much all the layers I own, a backpack full of moral boosting treats and the event kit list, the training camp had begun.

The RDs gave us a lantern with a tall candle in and told us that the candle was to remain lit for the entire event. There was a major flaw in the lantern, there was no glass to encase the candle.
However, we could buy glass by completing a task.
Task complete. Glass bought. The candle was now protected.

During our kit check, all the items I had neatly rolled, packed, precisely organised and put into relevant dry bags were inspected then thrown over the car park. We then had 3 minutes to repack our bags and anything remaining would be taken away from us. I spent the first 10 seconds staring at it all thinking “how on earth am I going to get this organised in 3 minutes!?” My tactic: stuff everything into my pack and hope for the best.

Our kit list for this particular event was:

  • Rope (minimum of 15m)
  • Knife
  • Empty sandbag
  • The ability to write
  • Whistle
  • Pack weight: minimum 15kg 
  • White fabric at least 2ft x 6in.

From previous experience and wanting to be prepared, I put my (unorganised) backpack on and stood to attention. This wasn’t the best move as we had a PT session with press ups, which was tough with 15kg on my back. 

As well as carrying our lantern and candle, we also had to carry ‘Henry,’ an atlas stone for the entire event. He went straight into one of the guy’s backpacks.

Our journey from Edale began, navigating our way through the night to our first checkpoint. En route, we were instructed to arrive with a ‘nice’ log each and by nice, the RDs always mean big and heavy.

As the terrain became steeper, the weather was getting colder and the ground becoming icy, so with a log on our backs weighing around 20-25kg, we were moving slow.

At the first checkpoint, we were told to split into 2 teams and head off in different directions to find a glow stick. The RDs told us when we found the glow stick, we’d have to communicate with the other team via morse code.

With our logs on our backs, we split and continued trekking uphill on our search. It was just a normal Saturday evening I’d say : )
My log was getting heavier and heavier. It had nobly bits on that kept digging into my back and neck.  I tried an alternative method of dragging it using rope, but the nobly bits kept getting caught in the ground and on fences and the snow made it so difficult, especially going uphill.

Finally, we found the glow stick. Attached were morse code instructions. We’d have to send a message to the other team who I think had been waiting for us for quite a while. 

Stupidly, we had not communicated with the other team before separating on how we were going to initiate communication, so as soon as we got to our position, the other team flashed their head torch and we were confused fumbling around for a pad and pen. Sitting on the snowy hill, we started trying to make sense of what was being sent. Surprisingly, it was easier than I expected to translate the morse code. Although we did not get the full message, we got the majority of characters correct.  Morse code complete, back down the hill with our logs, returning to our first checkpoint.

Don’t forget, during all of this, we were still responsible for the candle. I think it had gone out by this time. I can’t remember because we dropped it so many times, we lost count.

When we returned to our first checkpoint, we did some Primal Events PT with our beloved log and was then instructed to head to the next checkpoint. We had 90 minutes to get there and back (no logs this time) and we would have to leave our candle at the checkpoint.  It seemed reasonable – we had to hike about 4km in 90 minutes, “yes, we can do that…..”

During our icy hike up to Kinder Scout, I had been put in charge of the lantern and candle. Within minutes, I slipped, not only putting the candle out but also completely destroying the lantern and breaking the glass. Oops. The rest of the team didn’t seem too impressed, but it made me scream with laughter as I knew we’d be in for a massive punishment from the RDs. 

2.5 hours later, scrambling, falling, candle breaking, a mini blizzard, 20mph winds, knee-deep snow, at the top of Kinder Scout, maybe minus 10 degrees (if it wasn’t minus 10, it felt it) lost, cold, looking for the checkpoint, the RDs had to come to rescue us and told us we had to go back down. They put us into single file and we moved at the pace of the slowest person. It seemed the training camp had been turned off for a while and their priority was to get us down safely.

I’m always impressed with how the RDs handle situations like this, despite putting us through challenging situations, they are always completely on the ball and taking care of us.

Once we reached the bottom, we had a chance to take care of ourselves – food, water, foot care etc.  We were told we could buy a fire but we refused on the basis we thought we’d get too comfortable and not want to move after. Not a great decision as next we were instructed to make a bow and 3 arrows from scratch which meant we’d be still for a while. Fortunately, the team felt experienced in this and we cracked on.

In hindsight, we should have accepted the offer of a fire, because as soon as we stopped, my body temperature dropped rapidly.  As I suffer from a condition called Raynauds, my feet began to lose feeling due to the low temperatures and become painful.  We decided that a fire might be a good idea to boost morale so got one going instantly.
I decided the best way to continue would be to keep moving and collect wood for the fire. Sadly though, once that toe-numbing moment hits, it is very rare for the feeling to come back without getting warm.
The rest of the team were doing great, making the bow and arrows and getting warm, while my mind and mental strength began deteriorating.  It frustrated me that I felt physically strong and determined but my hands and toes were in so much pain.

Thinking back, as soon as I saw the snow as I drove into Derbyshire to start the event, I knew deep down that it was unlikely I would finish. That tiny seed of doubt, had eventually grown so big that I had to quit the training camp.

I had a little cry when telling the RDs that I couldn’t carry on. I never thought I would quit an event, especially after only 10.5 hours. Knowing my condition, one of them walked me back to the car park.

With only 2 hours remaining the rest of the team had to do another hike with one of them as a ‘casualty’ which meant one person and their belongings (including log) had to be carried by the rest of the team.

Within 2 hours they had returned to the car park, where I had fallen asleep in my car. They had completed the training camp.  I couldn’t help but feel disappointed I hadn’t finished the event however, I have learnt from previous experience that my health is my number one priority.

Despite not finishing, I still learnt a lot about the do’s and don’ts of a ‘death race,’ what I’m capable of and as always, the RDs teach us survival skills throughout.

I’ve not written about everything that happened during the training camp as I want to keep an element of surprise and intrigue attached to Primal Events.

As endurance races, death races and endurance races continue to grow in popularity, I urge you to enter one.  You will be pushed to your limits physically, mentally and emotionally, however, you will come out the other side stronger, more determined, resilient and with much more clarity for life!