No Fear on Wheels Challenge

Review by Mark Larkworthy

We first featured Zeus Races back in October last year where we expressed how impressed we were at their range of different events on offer (https://quirkyraces.com/2016/11/04/zeus-races-zombie-chase-halloween-2016/). This past weekend they were back with two days of racing including their quirkiest event of the lot, No Fear on Wheels Challenge. We were lucky enough to have our guest reviewer Mark on site to share his in debt thoughts.

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This race is designed by Shaun Gash. For those that don’t know him Shaun has been wheelchair bound for over 25 years after an car crash left him paralysed from the chest down. Since then he’s been told there’s many things he won’t be able to do again but Shaun continues to defy the odds and I’m pretty sure the people who have told him those things would be shocked to see what he gets up to at the weekends. Along with his team ‘No Fear On Wheels’ Shaun does a whole host of hugely demanding physical challenges including obstacle course races. He doesn’t just settle for getting round either, Last year he and all his team qualified for the 2016 UK OCR Championships. I digress. (This might happen a lot!)

Teams of 10 strap one member in a wheelchair and aim to get around Zeus’ obstacle course. This challenge is the main event of the Zeus Big Weekend but there’s so much more than just that so I’ll get back to the big race in a bit. More digression….

The weekend starts for some on the Friday night with some of the campers arriving, drinking, partying and generally getting into the Zeus spirit. The event proper begins on the Saturday, this is when the slightly more sane of us arrive. So at 7.30am the wife and I arrive blaring out Thunderstruck just to make sure those camping are aware of our arrival and excitement. There’s a £4 parking fee which unsurprisingly goes to charity. We park up by the camp site and start to unpack. For those that know me you’ll know camping and me just doesn’t happen. Well due to a clerical error (Mainly I forgot to book a hotel and they were all full by the time I remembered) we ended up borrowing a friends tent which was surprisingly spacious and also thrust us straight into the full event vibe.

Now onto the main event…

In 2016 at the first ever No Fear on Wheels Challenge there were only 2 riders that weren’t able bodied, this year we doubled that and my team’Team RunFlex’ were proud if not more than a little nervous about our rider. A tetraplegic called Ben. Ben broke his neck around 6 years ago and is paralysed from the chest down and much like Shaun has been told there are lots of things he can’t do, having met Shaun and Gav (one half of the Zeus organisers, Mark is the other) at a motivational speaking event he started thinking maybe this OCR thing might be a laugh. Anywho, we’ll get back to the wonders of Ben shortly.

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Having learnt from last year’s event that trying to tilt a chair back through a 7km mud run destroys your (and everyone else’s) backs I was busy modifying our chair. When I say modifying don’t start picturing a F1 pit lane, welding kits, sparks flying etc. Nope, it’s all basic skills here. A little boy scout knot tying and a huge amount of Gaffa tape to strap to garden patio scraper handles to the back of the chair. Yes, I was a little worried that my handiwork wouldn’t hold up buy after a nervy start it seemed that it was more than up to the job. In fact it was more difficult to remove after the race than put on.

As I finished making our mods Ben rolled up to say hello. Now apart from a couple of Facebook threads none of us had met Ben before and this lad had placed his trust in us all to keep him safe and get him around the course in one piece. I think this is when the thoughts of competing for the massive trophy left us. Our priority was Ben and his safety. Bringing him into the OCR family and giving him the time of his life.

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I apologise in advance. To say this experience was emotional is an understatement, I still feel a little choked now just rethinking the event. I even posted a lengthy update on Facebook in an effort to clear my head for this review but I can’t.

So we transferred Ben from his state of the art chair into our, well, not so state of the art chair and rolled down to the event briefing. I gathered our team, attempted my own brief- Ben’s safety first, lets have fun, yadda yadda yadda then we headed to the start.

The smoke grenades flared up and the ‘ZEUS, ZEUS, ZEUS’ chants got louder and louder as each of the teams got released 3 minutes apart. We lined up, had a brief intro from Gav on the mic then the chanting began, no more time for nerves, we were off.

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The first part of the course is easy going just to give a little space and then came the first of the obstacles, an inclined wall. The team worked like a finely tuned machine. Without any practice or training everyone was in place. Ben was out of the chair and sliding up the wall in no time, next up another inclined wall, this one taller. Again we got Ben up but with the extra height and no harness I made the call to slide him back down and into his chair. Later he told me he reckons we could have done it. What a legend! Next up the Wrongens Double Dip Mountains (Or some such name). Here’s another beautiful thing about Zeus, obstacles are built in honour of racing teams so the Wrongens Mountain had a bright orange ‘W’ along it’s main ridges, there we’re also flags and banners from all sorts of clubs posted around the course and village along with their own Zeus branding. This obstacle involved water dips and slippery climbs and as we had no harness on Ben, nor did I want him wet just yet as we had the whole course to go and I wanted him to complete as much as possible before getting to cold to continue we skipped this too. When I say we skipped it what actually happened was Ben watched us all clamber over it and get soaked before getting him back to the chair.

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Muddy trails followed. Our confidence grew, Ben’s confidence in us grew, the jokes and laughter started getting louder. I think there was some football banter at one point and our pace got faster. I openly admit we didn’t have the right kit to get Ben through a lot of the obstacles and ended up skipping several. Our planning stage was a little rushed and some parts (like a harness) were forgotten. That along with not knowing if this kind of event would appeal to Ben made us concentrate more on getting him though the trails than over all of the obstacles. There were some that he simple wouldn’t have been able to do like the rig however he was taken through it so he could at least see what we see as we swing from the scaffold.

More trails and more running, by having to take alternate routes now and again we actually ended up adding an extra kilometre to our route but each time anyone looked back to check on Ben they were met with a beaming smile. He went quiet at one point while we all squashed through a narrow passage. He explained later that he had gotten a little emotional, as a child he used to run cross country through woods just like these and this was the first time since that he’d even been close to that. Wow!

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We eventually cleared the woods and hit the mulchy ground of the MotoCross track, steep hills and wood chippings make for some sapping running at the best of times but while pushing/pulling a wheelchair! Oh my lord!!!

Finally we rolled up to the finishing straight and were actually asked to slow down so a photographer could get into place. Yep we were flying. The PA sparked up in the event village announcing the first team in. We were a little shocked but I guess missing so many obstacles meant we skipped by those teams in front of us. Rolling across the finish line we collected our medals and had the obligatory photo’s before helping Ben back to his regular chair and awaiting the results.

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Now winning the No Fear Challenge isn’t about being fastest. Nor is it something any of us were even focused on. Before Ben came on board we wanted to win and wanted it bad. Having Ben join the team changed our focus completely to his safety, I’m not even sure if any of the team had even given the trophy a thought. Anywho, another digression and I hope my last. The winners are decided by the race directors and marshals. Due to the nature of the event running marshals had been provided to accompany each team and to stop them if needed for safety reasons. Because we had Ben we were allocated 3 running marshals who were absolutely fantastic. I’m sure that like us each team felt they had grown from 10 to 12 or 13.

Once all of the teams had returned I can only assume the marshals and organisers gathered and discussed their teams before coming to a final decision. At this time we were deep in conversation with Ben over how we can improve for next year and even what other events we could do with him.

Finally we were ushered back to the event village for the big announcement. Gathered at the back and waiting to applaud the winners it was a little shocking to hear our team’s name being called out. We sent Ben up to collect the trophy which is the biggest thing I think I’ve ever seen.

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Each team had their own challenges and their own goals. Ours was to get Ben through safely and to hopefully bring another member into the OCR family. I’m pretty sure we did that. It wasn’t until a few hours later when chatting with teamies with a few drinks that it finally dawned on us what we’d done.

For me the No Fear on Wheels Challenge wasn’t about obstacles nor the terrain but the pure challenge of the team event and pushing ourselves to keep Ben safe while giving him the best time we could. I cannot tell you how much this feeling beats those of my personal race goals. Roll on 2018 and defending our title.

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Shaun and Ben
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Iron Ram

Obstacle course racing (OCR) is one of the worlds fastest growing sporting activities. Just like so many others we at Quirky Races enjoy getting wet and muddy while having a great workout of a weekend but what we love even more is a new and different concept. Step forwards Iron Ram.

This is established and well respected industry event provider The Ram Run’s creation and involves a short course OCR of just 1 mile with a format of rounds and elimination. We’ve seen something similar to this indoors before but never outdoors. It was to be held at Cliff Lakes, ‘West Midlands premier watersports and events venue’, who also just happen to have their own OCR team and permanent obstacle course. It promised a lot but could they deliver? We were lucky enough to get an invite to see for ourselves so naturally we sent our top (and most competitive) obstacle course racer Chris along.

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I was as much intrigued as I was excited for this event. They had sent out a course map pre race but like most OCR’s some of the obstacle names meant little in the way of knowing what it actually was and I had no idea of what the terrain would be like or how much mud and water to expect but arrived in good time and with the course being so short I was able to jog around it all to see exactly what was to come.

It had been advertised as two rounds, a semi final and a final but at registration we were informed that one of the rounds had been dropped for the males and that it would be just two rounds for the females due to less than anticipated participation number. This could have been seen as a disappointing factor but in light that every entry was already getting a free place into the afternoon’s full 8 or 16KM races as well as the Autumn Ram Run event in October (all this for just £40) nobody seemed too bothered and I can confirm that after round one almost everyone was thankful that they had one less time of going through what was a thoroughly energy sapping course.

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There were just under 80 runners in total which was more than enough to fulfil the pre event advertisement of ‘A great challenge for the ultra competitive racer but also a great personal challenge for someone just ready to give it a go!’ The 40 fastest participants would go through to the next round and as one round had been cut it was said in race director Iain Exeter’s usual comical race brief that anyone who didn’t make it through but wanted to go again would get the opportunity to do so later in the day.

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I was pretty confident I was going to make the top 40 without having to go too hard so I planned to use the first round to test out the obstacles and work out the best strategy for the semis. We were set off in groups of four every few minutes from 9am. Once it was my turn I picked up the 20KG weights attached to straps (one in each hand) and set off on my way up the 25 meter grass course and back.

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It was then a short run to a 50m beer keg carry followed almost immediately by a 100m sledge pull and a 100m punch bag carry.

Finally into some running this was broken up with some hurdles to jump. At the end of the straight we reached Cliff Lake’s permanent obstacles but only actually did the a tyre run/ crawl and their 8 foot wall separated by Ram Run’s signature huge rounded hay bales.

‘Steeplechase’ followed which was another slightly further run while jumping the ‘Yellow Perils’ (hurdles) before a really tough 70m out and back water walk carrying a 25KG weigh above our heads. Arms had to be straight at all times and the weight must not be rested or there was a 10 burpee penalty, as there was for any other failed obstacle. This was really hard going especially at this point in the course and the most heavy section of obstacles was still to come.

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Named ‘The Ram’s Inferno’ this was 250 meters which included 3 tilted walls, a pole under traverse then a technical multifunctional rig with all sorts of hanging and balancing objects plus a pole over traverse before a sprint to the finish line.

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One of the standout features of this event was the impressively efficient timing system from Race Timing Solutions. A chip on participants shoes was recording our times as we crossed a mat under the finishing arch and they could be viewed instantly, in the correct order, on two laptops. It normally takes at least a day or two for races to publish results yet here literally one man from the back of a van was making magic happen.

I had stuck to my plan, saved plenty in the tank and still managed to record the 7th quickest time which gave me the confidence that I could do pretty well. After a little rest and a bacon sandwich from the venue’s cafe I was ready to go again.

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Now the racing really started with only the fastest 8 going through to the final. In the first round we were able to pick our own groups to run with but this time we were called up based on times from the previous run.

I took the lead from the start in my race and held it throughout. I pushed hard but felt I still had something more for the final. Again I was able to find out my time/ overall position straight away and I was a little surprised to see I had ran the fastest of all 40 runners.

We then had about 45 minutes to recover before the final and in that time we were able to get our pulses racing by watching the women’s final which promised to be fast and competitive and it didn’t disappoint. As well as being a great racing platform this event also offered a fantastic viewing spectacle. The short distance made winning margins much tighter which allowed for added excitement and the whole course could be seen from the start/ finish area. The final section of obstacles also meant the whole race could be won or lost in the dying seconds.

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It seemed like everyone had stayed to watch the finals and those doing the afternoon’s race had also began to arrive as the crowd gathered in anticipation for the men’s showdown.

My tactics were to hold back a little in the early carries but not let anyone get too far ahead then use my running speed down the first straight and go all out from the far end heading back. The race played out perfectly for me as I found myself in the lead on the punch bag carry and build up some daylight between the rest of the field without really laying the hammer down.

This was a leading gap that I was able to extend on the run back towards the water walk which was the part I really wasn’t looking forwards to but turned out to be where I pulled away further before hitting the walls.

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I knew all I had to do now was get through the rig without making any silly mistakes and the win was mine. Almost as soon as that thought had gone through my head though I slipped from one of the hanging rings and was left dangling one handed. I reached to the ring once and missed. I reached again and missed. Everyone was catching up and I knew letting go would result in disaster.

I found some extra strength from somewhere and propelled my body forwards finally making the required reach. The ring was in my hand and I knew that was the last mistake I could make. Three runners were now right back in contention. I needed a clean run and I needed to do it in a hurry.

Balancing my way across the slack lines, hanging from the ropes and swinging through the trapezes I was onto the very last obstacle, the pole traverse. I’m not sure I used the most pretty of techniques but it got the job done and I sped my legs as fast as they could go to the end winning by a little over a second.

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Looking back now I’m kind of glad I had that little slip on the ring as it gave the race the excitement it deserved and elaborated the fact that anything can happen in an event of this nature. It almost guarantees exhilaration for both runners and spectators alike which most certainly means it should have a place in this developing sport. Well done to The Ram Run. They took a risk, tried something different and it delivered with flying colours.

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Box End Park Aquathlon

Box End Park in Bedfordshire is a popular training facility for triathletes and swimmers as well as a whole host of other water based sports. The venue boasts two exceptionally clean lakes and an off road cycling and running course amongst other things and have been putting on low budget triathlons since 2012. This year they have added an Aquathlon to their four event summer race series. This consists of a 750 meter open water swim followed by a 5KM run. With swim runs being something fairly new and certainly a bit different (but growing in popularity) we sent our Ironman Chris over to check it out.

I first visited Box End Park in April 2016 as I set about training for Ironman in July that year. I had done a bit of swimming in a pool the previous few months but that was my first ever experience in open water and I loved it. After Ironman I didn’t end up swimming again until the open water season recommenced in April this year. I am now training for Breca Swimrun in August (an event I’ll also be coving for Quirky Races) so thought this was a great opportunity to get some practice in within a competitive environment.

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The event was just £15 to enter which is exceptionally lower than your average multi disciplined sport and was the same price as the triathlon which is even better value. They were also taking entries on the night. All the race series events take place on Thursday evenings at 7pm.

I arrived to see the park in its full glory with one lake taken up by waterboaders on the cable tow busting out some spectacular moves on the ramps, a speedboat whizzing round the other lake (which we were going to be swimming in a little later on) towing a water skier and the impressive aqua park full of school children having the time of their lives.

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With the Aquathlon and the triathlon starting off at the same time I wasn’t sure how this was going to work with us runners and the cyclists both using the same course but with the simple instruction of ‘runners stick to the left and those on bikes stay on the right’ it all played out just fine with the width of the permanently laid out course.

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Before that though came the swim. One clockwise lap of the boating lake starting in the water. I had no idea what to expect in terms of numbers of participants or standard of competition and didn’t have a lot to judge my swimming ability on. I know my swimming is fairly one paced and I’m better at longer distances so I was prepared to lose some time and didn’t think I’d be anywhere near the top half. What I wasn’t expecting though was to be right at the back. I would blame this more on the standard of my own swimming though rather than the level of competition which was a completely mixed range.

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As I was preparing for Breca Swimrun I had asked if I could swim in my trainers (perhaps why I was a bit slower than most) and was told that this was fine. It meant my transition was almost non existent, which was a good job as I needed all the time I could get to catch up.

I was straight off into the run which was all on grass. Within a couple of hundred meters I started to overtake people. Running is my main strength and I was now feeling a lot more at home than I was in the water. After 2KM or so the good no gets a lot tougher with some rolling hills and several twists and turns. I thought to myself ‘I’m glad I’m not on a bike’. Other than a few very early on, who must have been slow in transition, only one cyclist overtook me so being at the tail end of the swim did have its upsides.

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I continued to pass people throughout and in the end registered 8th place overall after recording the fastest run time of the night. I didn’t know any of this however until the results were posted online the following day and I never really got the feeling that this was in anyway a competitive event. Russ from Box End Park told us that the intention is to offer the races as a ‘no frills’ alternative to the increasingly expensive triathlon and Aquathlon series being run’ and that’s exactly what you got.

Just when you think your value for money couldn’t get any better as well as changing rooms, lockers and free parking, there’s also lovely hot showers.

I would highly recommend these events to anyone who is a swimming, cycling or running enthusiast and wants to try something a bit different in a competitive but relaxed environment with absolutely no pressure.

Beat the Boat

What better way to spend a sunny June morning than running alongside the river in the shadow of the majestic Windsor castle? How about doing all that while racing a boat full of spectators to earn one of the most impressively detailed medals you’re ever likely to set your eyes on?

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Beat the Boat was 10KM in distance with three spectator boats sailing out and back along the Thames at 40 minutes, 50 minutes and 1 hour pace. The target for the runners was simple. Pick your pace and race your chosen boat back to the finish line. That task however wasn’t as straightforward as it sounded as the course looped away from the river and around fields several times including at both the start and finish meaning you couldn’t just tuck in behind the boat and put in a sprint at the end. This meant pacing was key and of course you also had to allow time for at least one of the two beer and Prosecco stops on route.

To set the tone the event registration was aptly set in a pub garden perfectly located between the race start and the boat boarding point which were on opposite sides of the river. It was at this point that I said my farewells to my wife, son and daughter as they headed off to catch the boat and I made the short jog to the start area.

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It was lucky that I had allowed plenty of time as I then spent 20 minutes in the queue for one of the four toilets. With 550 runners in attendance this clearly wasn’t enough but it was good to see that the organisers Runface recognised this and pointed it out straight away in their post race communication. Other than that though I would struggle to find anything else that wasn’t positive.

The event MC was brilliant always keeping everyone in the loop of what was going on and it wasn’t long before he called everyone to the start line. I had chosen to chase the fastest boat so I positioned myself near the front. Before we got to the river though we first had to do two laps of the event village field. This meant that I didn’t get a glimpse of my boat until the first straight close to a mile in. I did however run passed the other two and it was great to see everyone on board cheering and waving.

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As I closed in on the leading boat I could hear the excited voices of my children shouting “go on daddy”. I picked up my pace so that I could run alongside them for a short while before the course took us into a field of long grass and a trickier uneven trail.

Lapping these fields meant that you could always get a good look firstly in front of you and then see what was going on behind which was really good for a competitive racers point of view, not that I was one of those on this occasion as I was filming and taking photos for this review but I was still in the top 15 until I stopped at the drinks station and much to the marshals delight opted for a nice cool beer. Apparently I was the first person to do this (although I’m sure a lot more followed). I though this was a great addition to the run to make it even more different from you standard 10k trail race.

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There was only a couple of kilometres left from here and the first part was back on the path along the straight so I used this to catch up the time I’d lost having a drink and managed to overtake all those that had passed me while I was stationary.

I was just under 40 minute pace and had further left to travel than the boat so it was still a way behind me but I could see it approaching as I crossed a small bridge. I slowed a little as I wanted to run alongside it as we went down the finishing straight for entertainment purposes but this meant judging it just right as I had 500 meters left to run back around the field we started in first.

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I ended up getting there a little early giving me time to film my run in with the boat sailing in just over my shoulder which was perfect.

I collected my medal, race t-shirt and goody bag and headed back to meet my family. To my surprise I was greeted by my son and daughter who were both also wearing the medal around their necks. They informed me that every child on board were presented with one as they departed. In my honest opinion I’m not sure medals that have been earned by the runners should just be given away to others but on the other hand this was a nice touch that certainly put a smile on my two’s faces. This wasn’t an advertised perk of the spectator boat ticket so if it was a case of using up spare medals then what better way to do it I suppose. They only go to waste otherwise.

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I asked my wife Becky what she thought of spectating from this completely different way to usual and here’s what she had to say:

My first thoughts were how well organised the whole thing was. Clear instructions were being called out and the three boats were very obviously marked so there was no danger of anyone getting on the wrong one.

As we boarded a staff member gave us a warm welcome and took our buggy to store away for us. We then took up our seats and as we started sailing into position to start the race a marshal informed us of exactly what would be going on over a microphone.

Then perfectly in sync with the runners we got going along the river. As we passed certain landmarks the marshal gave us some facts and historical information which was very interesting. She also introduced each on course marshal by name as we cruised by and we all gave them a wave.

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It was great seeing my husband running by several times in both directions, something that normally just isn’t possible on a predominantly out and back route. Time was also filled by a quiz for the children on info they’d been given during the trip with chocolate for the winner and lollies for everyone else. This was in addition to the medals which was a really nice surprise for them all. Everyone was made to really feel a part of the race.

As we approached the finish it was exciting to see some runners sprinting for the line in order to beat the boat before our horn was sounded to signify the time limit had been reached.

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As we disembarked the staff were again very helpful and the logistics mean that it was just a short walk to meet back up with Chris just after he’d finished his run.

Final thoughts:

Beat the Boat has an ambitious race to put on with the potential for a lot to go wrong but nothing really did. For things to go that smoothly at the first attempt show a hugely impressive level of organisationally skills in which the organisers should be highly credited for. They’ve already said that the event will happen again next year so it certain comes with a big recommendation for Quirky Races.

Check out our full event video edit here: https://www.facebook.com/Quirkyraces/videos/1904817169761251/