Judgement Day: The Unknown
09th – 11th Sept 2016
100% effort, the expression comes for free.
How many life experiences can you say you’ve had? Real ones. Not just things that you’ve enjoyed or remembered. Your first kiss perhaps? University graduation? (if you went) Wedding? Becoming a parent? Most of us can expect to live for quite a while these days, even so these events are likely to be rare and most of us will have had them quite early on in life. I had just turned fifty when Judgement Day: The Unknown took place. I didn’t think that there was anything left to stir or move me anymore. Then at 21:00 on Friday 9th September 2016 something new started. And it began with an empty sandbag in a wet car park in North Wales.
But let’s go back a few weeks when Jon Salmon asked if I wanted a ticket for Judgement Day. Sure, why not. I hadn’t done an OCR since my 4 lap Nuts the year before. I had already done a Judgement Day event at Pippingford, so readily agreed. The ticket was due to a drop out, so I handed over the money in my usual blasé way and got signed up and then asked what it was all about. Jon explained.
Ahh! It’s not an OCR then.
Jon had marshalled the year before, but was keen to stress that 2016 could and probably would be completely different.
So, how do you train for an unknown event? Well, nothing specific really. It is called The Unknown after all. Now, I’m not a strong man and also a pretty awful runner, so I decided to up my running (with a backpack) and work on my upper body strength with lifting, tractor tyre flips etc. There would also be a lot of military ‘encouragement’ apparently. Now because I had only recently got married and have a reputation for feckless idiocy my ‘Being-Shouted-At-And-Not-Answering-Back’ training was already under way and going pretty well. After a leisurely drive from South London to North Wales, taking in every service station to carb load (not sure KFC has a lot of carbs), we pulled into the car park, got registered and put our overalls on. Then it all began.
I’ll try to remember the challenges as they happened, but to be honest everything blended into one. So if the order isn’t entirely accurate and the times are a bit skew, I apologise.
Firstly, we were informed that we no longer had names and we were going to be referred to by our allocated numbers for the duration of The Unknown. I was #135.
Friday Night/ Saturday Morning
We were instructed to place a sandbag over the head of the number to our right and then lie face down on the ground with our hands behind our head. I thought this was for about 15 mins but apparently it was more like 45.
We were then (still sandbagged) led onto a coach and driven off to another destination. We disembarked and were ordered to sit down, still with hands upon our heads. Then, sandbags off and we were split into three teams for the 1st challenge.
The idea was to navigate our way to base camp via 3 checkpoints. Sounds relatively straight forward but turned out to be quite a task. We were fully laden with our kit (bergan, tyre, bucket) and my map reading skills are non-existent. I can barely find my way down to my own kitchen some mornings. 2 or 3 of the numbers took on navigation duties and I just shuffled around trying to work out how to make myself useful but failing miserably. Getting to the 1st checkpoint took much longer than anyone, especially the staff, expected, but once we gained a bit of traction the next one came along without too much fuss. However, it had taken so long to find the 1st checkpoint and then get to the 2nd that the 3rd was abandoned and we were escorted back to the base camp. Once there we were ordered (always ordered, never asked) to stand around the muster circle ( a large rope circle) and given three wrist bands. We put them on and were then immediately told to take one off and snap it. Punishment for taking too long on the navex challenge. That really set the tone and brought into focus the enormity of what was to come. One challenge down. One failure. One band snapped. Two more failures over the next 32 or so hours and you were out.
Sprints and Beach Beastings
Goodness knows how long this took, but it felt like forever. We were run down to the beach and then beasted in freezing cold water. Now I’m a complete Mary when it comes to cold water so I can’t say that this was most pleasant way to spend the early hours of Saturday morning. Endless push ups, sit ups and burpees. Crawls up and down the sand. On your front. On your back. All the time being bellowed at for not doing it right or fast enough. I think one of the staff took a liking to me as he said he was going to **** me. But then again he also threatened to break my knees. Talk about mixed messages. Anyway, with my backside and knees intact we headed off to the car park for competitive sprints. Rewards for finishing high in the group, consequences for not. If you finished in the top 5 you got a brief break, if not then it was off for another 300m (approx) lung busting sprint. Needless to say, I was nowhere near the top 5. The final effort (as it turned out) was a sprint back down to the beach, complete a series of exercises (knee deep in water of course) then sprint back around the car park to the finish line. Top 8 get to go back to camp, the rest didn’t. To my enormous surprise, after the exercises I found myself in 8th place going into the sprint.
Then I got overtaken.
With about 150m to go, I was remarkably, still in touch. A crazy sprint to the end and me and #47 (I think) finished neck and neck. Staff seemed impressed by the effort and we were both allowed back to base camp for a short rest. For the last little bit we had to fill out buckets up with sea water and perform lots of lifting and holding moves before finishing off by pouring the water over our heads. We were then allowed to go back to our camp area for a bit of rest. It was now about 5.30 in the morning and I was already feeling completely spent.
The Rolling Road
This was approximately a 150m sandy course. The first bit was to (sausage) roll about 30 or 40 metres, then do 5 burpees with a 360 degree jump. Then onto leopard crawls up and down hills for another 40 or so metres and 5 more jumpy, twisty burpees. More rolling, more dizzying burpees and more leopard crawling. Then answer an IQ type question. Get it correct and you got a tick and 3 more circuits to do. Get the answer wrong and you’re off of another circuit with no tick. Keep going until you get 4 ticks. Also, after each question you had to drink half a bottle of water. Not because the staff were being kind. Oh-no. With all the rolling it was there to make you feel sick. And Oh boy, was there a lot of sick. Ever see the Family Guy episode where Peter, Brian, Stewie and Chris are having a being sick contest? Yep. A bit like that. This was really quite horrendous. I was feeling very queasy but luckily managed to keep everything down.
The Bergan Run
This was a long ‘tab’ with a fully laden bergan. Staff said to pack everything that you had or face the consequences. By now I was far too scared not to do exactly as instructed, so everything got piled into my backpack. I have a 20kg Powerbag at home and my bergan was definitely heavier. We set off at what for me was a pretty intimidating pace. We were run along the beach for another beasting session which involved dragging your partner up and down the sand with various techniques. A quick dunk in the sea to wash off any sand and then back to the tabbing in earnest. This was a real low point for me. I just couldn’t get the technique right. Walk and I couldn’t keep up. Run and I was working inefficiently and wasting energy. I was exhausted, at the back all the time and losing ground. Staff kept shouting “Close the gap”. Lag more man 15 metres behind the main group, you have 30 seconds to catch up. If you don’t, you’re out. Get more than one warning, you’re out. I really thought that my weekend was over. I cannot adequately convey how much of a struggle this was. Agony is a much overused word but this was my personal agonising hell. My body was giving up and my mind was in a very dark place. Not even halfway through the weekend and again I thought I had nothing left. There was no ‘happy place’ for me to go to. No zoning out and plodding on. Every step, every laboured breath a reminder that I was moving inexorably closer to being pulled out. A foregone conclusion in my muddled mind. Then a shout went up. “Nearly there”. Bit of a fib really as the “Nearly there” call went out another three times over the next 10 minutes. But it was just enough, along with the invaluable help and encouragement from the staff, to get me to the end of the run.
Individual Navex/Memory Test
This was an individual task involving map reading (gulp), running (sigh) and memory (oh ffs!!) You had to navigate between 4 checkpoints, remember 3 playing cards, numbers and suits in order at each checkpoint. Get back to base camp and recite the 12 cards in checkpoint order. My map reading was slowly improving but still wasn’t really up to snuff. Nevertheless I did manage to find all the checkpoints but it was a long, slow arduous task that in my heart of hearts (no pun intended) I knew I wasn’t going to complete. I got back to base camp many hours later just as the challenge was finishing. I, along with several others had to snap our second bands. One band left. I couldn’t afford anymore slip ups.
We were split into two teams. Our equipment was one rope, 1 tractor tyre and 10 car tyres. A bit of pre-challenge beasting naturally. Tyre pushing, sprinting, carrying the tyre above the head etc. This in itself was incredibly hard work and then came the actual challenge. With the rope, drag the tractor tyre up the course, attach one of the car tyres and drag both back. Do 1 burpee. Repeat 10 times. So 2nd lap you dragged the tractor tyre and 2 car tyres and did 2 burpees and so on until you were dragging the big tyre, ten smaller ones and doing 10 burpees. The idea was to see how we worked as a team as well as to test strength and stamina. This far into the weekend teamwork was becoming second nature but it wasn’t really until the 4th lap that we got a system together.
Three 70kg stretchers, a number of heavy bergans, ammo boxes, logs and car tyres had to transported several kilometres to a checkpoint up the beach. The staff set the pace and the brief was quite simple. As a whole group, we had to keep up. Moving along the beach was reasonably straightforward, albeit we were knee deep in the surf most of the time. Then came the sand dunes. Hoiking your own body weight up and down the shifting sands is tough enough. Add in the equipment and the effort required is trebled. But everything on The Unknown was hard work, so the numbers just got their heads down and ploughed on. A quick break at the checkpoint and then the second part. Approximately a third of the kit had to be taken back to base camp. This time however, there was a time limit. Get back too late and the consequences seemed pretty obvious. I have to say, I loved this bit. Working as a team and up against the clock. Quick changes on the equipment, no egos. We absolutely smashed it. All the numbers did their bit, no passengers. It was great to be involved.
Escape and Evade
I’m sure there were other things going on before this, but I think this was the next notable challenge. Full bergans of course. Tabbed to a checkpoint and simply told to get back to base camp in the dark without getting caught. If you were nabbed, you got a beasting. If you got back late, you were out. So what to do? Get captured and suck up the beasting or try to avoid capture and risk missing the cut off time. I was paired with #119. Luckily for me as his map reading was far better than mine. Although, to be fair, my beef stew and dumplings ration pack meal I had earlier had better navigation skills than me. First off, we took a bearing and headed off in that general direction keeping to the smallest most inconspicuous paths we could. After about an hour or so of nerve jangling creeping around we knew exactly where the camp was, but getting through was nigh on impossible. Too many staff around. We decided to take a detour round to the beach and approach from the west through the sand dunes. Tiring is an understatement. The dunes were burning my legs and my nerves were firing off at every shadow, every sound. We didn’t have long left. Maybe twenty minutes. As we slowly approached the camp, our leopard crawling from before all made sense. We got low and edged our way closer. Up to the edge off the car park. #119 saw a gap in the torch beams and shot off. I dithered and hid, rather un-heroically behind a bin. I stayed there for a couple of minutes waiting for the light show to calm down, expecting any moment to be discovered. I went for it. Scooted as fast as I could across the open car park, down the sandy pathway and into the camp. Made it. #119 was already there of course, and staff looked a little surprised that we had got through. So the reward? Not a beasting. The numbers that hadn’t got caught (7 of us) made our way back to the camp area. I tried to get my head down, but as our communal poncho area was on a slope, every time I relaxed to go to sleep, I slid down the slope and out of the poncho.
So after two hours of not getting to sleep (I’m not knocking it. At least I wasn’t being beasted) we were up around the muster circle ready for the sandbag challenge. It was 4 in the morning and I had lost my trainers. I ran around panicking before hurtling down to the circle quite prepared to do it in my bare feet. Then I remembered that I had safely stowed them away in the top compartment of my bergan. I’d like to say that this lapse was down to 30 hours of cumulative fatigue, but in all honesty I do this sort of thing all the time. Hence my reputation and exasperated wife. Nevertheless, 20kg sandbags on our shoulders and off we went. This time I managed to get in my zone and just grind it out. We got back to camp about an hour later and got scolded by the staff for not taking enough water with us and informed that as a punishment we were going to do it again. We were only about 6 hours from the finish by now and the staff knew that the remainder of us were perhaps feeling a little over confident and mentally switching off a bit. This unwelcome bit of news was a real hammer blow, but at least had the effect of not taking the last few hours for granted. We set off again and completed the second lap.
No denying it. This really took its toll as you can see in the picture.
Two more challenges to go, but first we had to retrieve the remainder of the equipment from the day before. This was done and then off to the penultimate challenge ……
As part of our mandatory equipment list (tyre, bucket, basha amongst other stuff) we had to bring 100 pennies. They were put in bucket #1 and each number had to take two pennies, run up an extremely steep sand dune, deposit one penny in bucket #2, run down the other side and put the other penny in bucket #3. Keep doing this until bucket #1 was empty. There were about 2500 to shift. This apparently was going to take about an hour and a half. I wasn’t keeping track of time. I was just looking in bucket #1 every time I went past and seeing that the pile of pennies just didn’t seem to be going down. It was demoralising and the longer we took on this, the less time we would have for the final test. So there was still a real danger of losing my final band. To be so close and not making it was unthinkable. I tried to increase my pace and watched in amazement as #7 and #138 bounded up and down the dune with the energy and enthusiasm of a couple of randy Labradors. Of course eventually we emptied the bucket and were left with about 100 minutes to finish the final individual task.
Beach Run Relay
Ok. Last task. No teamwork as such just personal determination to complete it in the allotted time. We had to run 1 km from camp, round a flag and into the sea. Do 3 three second submersions and three burpees, then back to camp. Second lap, run to second flag that was another 50m further down the beach, do six submersions and six burpees. Then nine and nine, twelve and twelve then finally fifteen and fifteen. For the first 3 laps, even at this late stage, I wasn‘t sure I could physically make it. Every time I came out of the sea, my vision was blurred and I was tottering sideways. This hadn’t happened to me since 1983 when I smashed down a bottle of Thunderbird and passed out in someone’s front garden. At the end of lap three I was given an energy gel and a bar of Snickers. This had an amazing effect and even though I didn’t exactly set off like road runner I felt pretty good. Fifth lap. I Mary’d my way into the sea for the last time and then headed back to base camp. #106 ran alongside me, egging me on for the last stretch, #123 feeding me up with Kendle mint cake and a big hug off of #105 when I reached the finish line. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You were a massive boost for me.
So that was it. I had made it. We had made it. They were some of the challenges. Seems straightforward enough written down, but with the mental and emotional layers on top, they were almost indescribably difficult. I know I haven’t done them justice. I can’t go into detail about the mental stresses, as although the physical challenges will change from year to year, the mental and emotional side will, I imagine, remain in principle the same. There is a lot that I haven’t mentioned, so if you really want to know what The Unknown is about then you will just have to do it yourself.
Every one of the numbers deserves a mention as all of them, finishers or otherwise was instrumental in me completing the event. I simply couldn’t have done it without them. Their efforts were absolutely vital to me. To #136 for her Herculean effort in dragging me across the sand. #119 for getting me through escape and evade. #19 and #132 for their strength and motivation. #104 for his selfless help with my map reading. #158 for coming back from the brink. And then there was #140. With her quiet, stoic determination throughout the whole weekend. And of course, everyone else. True warriors, all 46 of them. A lifetime of inspiration squeezed into 38 hours. If there ever really was a Zombie Apocalypse then these are the people I would want around me, wielding cricket bats and drinking warm pints in The Winchester.
As we had been numbers all weekend, I didn’t really know anyone’s name. I asked #129. “Natasha” was the reply. “But I like 129. Natasha was just a name given to me. 129 is a name I’ve earned” You can’t argue with that.
Judgement Day: The Unknown is, by general consensus, a life experience. It’s not an OCR race by any means so don’t make that mistake. The Staff were absolutely fantastic. Judgment Day events are in my opinion, without compare. The staff are knowledgeable, knew when to push, knew when to encourage. They had organised a great marshalling and medical team. As tough as this was, you knew you were in safe hands. The aftercare on social media was second to none. I can’t recommend them enough. If you think you’re tough enough, do a Judgment Day event. If you think you are tough, stubborn and stupid enough, do The Unknown. The coverage by Mudstacle TV was also top notch. Watch the short documentary on their Facebook page if you can.
#135 signing off
P.S My wife doesn’t shout at me. She just looks at me, shakes her head and questions her life choices.