Rat Race Dirty Weekend – The Volunteer Perspective

I’m tired, irritable and haven’t eaten for over 10 hours. ‘I need some serious appeasing,’ are the first words out of my mouth as I stroll into the volunteer tent to sign off for my shift. Luckily I’m greeted with a warm smile, a big hug and lots of thanks and appreciation. I feel myself calm a little …. the £15 of food vouchers I’m offered are enough to dampen the final embers of my foul mood. A small pizza and a burger later, at ‘after-party’ food prices, I’m all vouchered out and my mood is fifty percent restored. All I need now is some sleep. But looking around me at all the muddy, wet and exhausted looking bodies stumbling over the finish line, I realise things could be worse!

Jim Mee - Founder of Rat Race
Jim Mee – Founder of Rat Race

This weekend I found myself volunteering at Rat Race’s Dirty Weekend. Set in the grounds of the rather stunning Burghley House, I had visions of a pleasant spring weekend of leisurely volunteering. Yeah right! Dirty Weekend claims to be the world’s biggest obstacle course race – ’20 miles, 200 obstacles’ – and is set amidst a full on festival weekend of mud, music and booze – and on this occasion, plenty of rain too.

I might as well admit it now – I’m not big on volunteering – it’s just not my thing. Whilst I appreciate the crucial role that volunteers play in many walks of life, I also know from the other side of the coin how they can be sorely under-appreciated at times. For many, knowing the benefit they’re bringing is enough of a reward, but for me it’s all a bit too bittersweet for my liking. I didn’t suddenly have a revelatory u-turn moment, I was just being selfish – I wanted the £100 volunteer credit! The plan – to use it to join in the fun and games first hand in 2015 (crossing off challenge number 11 in the process).

Registrations was where I applied to help out on and this was where I spent my first shift (friday 2pm-10pm) and the start of my second shift (Saturday 6am-11.30am). Eeek! The buzz of pre-run nerves and pre-festival excitement vibed through the air. With the added benefit of a friendly team, who were full of life and raring to go (most of which were running in the final wave too – nutters!), it was great fun. Registrations was a well oiled machine, running smoothly and with minimal hiccups along the way. This was my type of volunteering – clean, dry, happy and well organised! I left Friday night tired, but exhilarated, ready for Saturday’s early start.

Word on the grapevine was, somewhere in the region of 180 volunteers didn’t turn up for duty. I don’t know how accurate that figure is, but what I do know is that the volunteer co-ordinator, Rosie Maclennan, was pulling her hair out due to the shortage. So, at 8am on Saturday morning, when I was asked if I’d mind being re-deployed and doing a few extra hours, I felt some sort of twisted responsibility to help out. That’s when it all went downhill. Three of us were ferried out to the outer  hebrides of the course. Abandoned at the ‘pit-stop’, on our own and miles from everything, we prepared for the onslaught of runners. The next five hours were relentless. I’m now an expert banana chopper (if I never see another one, it’ll be too soon) and can spot hypothermia at a hundred paces. Positioned straight after the well publicised ‘water wipeout’ zone, in the unrelenting wind, we had our fair share of medical issues. With medics and transportation for the injured thin on the ground, it tested my skills and patience to the limit. I’m glad I’ve got an all-inclusive mobile phone plan – with no radio for us, it was my lifeline! I might have earnt myself the equivalent of £100 – but throw in losing a day of holiday from work and all the childcare management it entailed, I’m sure it would’ve been a lot less hassle to just buy the bloody ticket in the first place. But then I guess I wouldn’t have the memories of a rather interesting weekend!

My one regret, I didn’t get to see very much of the course. But what I did see looked ‘big’, well constructed and good fun. The feedback I’ve heard from runners who took part was that it was hard, but a great laugh. I never made the after-party, so missed Greg James’ DJ spot, opting for passing out on the sofa in front of a spot of Jimmy Carr instead – hey my age is catching up with me! But I’ll be back next year – as a runner this time – to soak up the atmosphere all over again.

My fellow co-volunteers on registrations
My fellow co-volunteers on registrations

With a massive 5,600 runners coming through, the planning must have been immense and I’m sure the Rat Race staff will still be recovering in weeks to come. No event is without its ups and downs, but what I do know is it couldn’t happen without all the masses of volunteers who kindly gave up their time this weekend. I met some lovely people along the way, including a couple of the ‘Run Mummy Run‘ girls, who took the time to stop by and say hello (note to Leanne Davies (founder of RMR) – we really should have our own team for next year).

One of the taxis shipped in to ferry all the injured back to first aid HQ proved to be my ride back to base. As I sat in the backseat, accompanied by a fellow volunteer and a hypothermic runner (who had never run before and was on some crazy stag weekend) – the taxi radio kicked in. ‘They should have rat race more often, its good for business’ the dispatcher’s voice crackled. The three of us looked at each other, amused, and grunted a replied snort in unison.

I know I need a good year to recover before Dirty Weekend 2015!


If you are interested in volunteering next year, then keep an eye on their website for further details.

There is a RMR team already being planned for next year. If you are interested in joining us, then keep an eye on the Facebook event for further details of how to join in the fun.


Posted on the Moonshine Grid no. 160

2 thoughts on “Rat Race Dirty Weekend – The Volunteer Perspective”

  1. Another “perk” of volunteering is that you now know how well-organized the event is. I know I would never want to participate if I witnessed injured runners being neglected. Now you have a behind-the-scenes perspective.

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