Born Survivor by Rachel Holliday

Several months ago I agreed to take part in Born Survivor with the team of Responsive. Now the last time I did anything as hideous as this was in 2015 when I took part in Hell on the Harbourside. A 2K horrific ordeal….running, climbing through mud clambering over walls etc. I hated it. It was awful. I refused to speak to my best mate for weeks afterwards for dragging me round.

So what made me think a 12K course would be a good idea? I don’t know. I say “Yes” to these things and figure out the details at a later date…..

Last month, I thought I better try and do some training. So I joined a gym next door to the Wow centre….I said , “Hi, I’m doing “Born Survivor”….he said “Next year…”? I said “No, next month…”. He showed me a routine and suggested I did this 3 x  a week. So I managed three times in total before the big day.

I started getting scared, what if I can’t get all the way round? What If I collapse? So I thought of a plan. I’d let the team run ahead and I’ll just plod / waddle my way round. I mean, I can walk the whole thing if I have to and walk around the obstacles. That would be the worse-case scenario.

I picked up Amy & Blake from Calderwood house and Amy asked me if I had my ticket….errrm nope? So we spent a good 10 mins sorting all the paperwork and the waiver to sign which basically says if you die its tough and its your own stupid fault.

We set off and I think I know where I’m going as Penrith is less than an hour away…..except Lowther Castle is further, I found this out when we stopped at Starbucks for breakfast!! So were now running late but its important I have coffee and grub.

Once registered we get ready to start. We are in the very first wave at 10.30am I start feeling scared…… the DJ announces, “Make your way to the holding pen”…… I thought, “I don’t want to go into a holding pen!!” We are all shuffled in like refugees of war…..

A guy starts reading out the health and safety which to me at this stage seems entirely pointless as we are staring death in the face.

Some Marine guy helps us with a warm up before we are all off. Now, I actually feel ok… wind in my hair and jogging away but then come the haybales….I see folk leap over them….but I can’t do that. I have to drag myself up…then shuffle my bum over it and get off the otherside……its not a quick fix….. back off to the jogging and getting over fences and I am absolutely knackered. I know we are passing through a river and I can see it at the bottom of the hill so I thought now’s the time to pick up speed and catch up with everyone. Every pounding of my foot downhill ruptures my bladder and I start to wee….But I don’t care. I’m going into a river so no one will see and it will wash away……. Except…

There’s another obstacle before the river…..its like a huge log ladder. People are racing over them, but I can’t. I step on one log, my other foot on the next log, my hands on the top log but with my legs so far apart I’m stuck!! And everyone can see I’ve wet myself!! Eventually I move backwards, drop through between the logs and run round…..!!

Finally, into the river up to my chest and I cant breath! I’m a good swimmer but it took my breath away, so I drag myself through to the otherside by the rope.

Now I’m soaking wet, soaking feet and trainers but its only gonna get worse. Under the nets. I realised if you follow someone bigger than you it’s much easier as they have to push the net up. (Getting the hang of this) then another river and off to run uphill. I find running so hard anyways but worse when I’m all soggy.

There were high planks to climb and run across but I’m scared of heights so I crawled across it….got to the end and I got stuck! How do you get down?? Luckily my team where there to give me the simple basic instructions a toddler could follow of how to “get down”.

Finally got to an obstacle I just couldn’t do. It was called “the mincer”. Tons of tyres held together by rope and you have to squeeze through it….so I just ran round and waited for my team on the other side. Tova, my team mate seen me, “Rachel, have you done this?” I shouted “No!” She said “Come on you can do it, ill help you”. And this wonderful women lifted up every tyre as I squirmed face down in the mud. I slithered out the end and got up and said …”thank you”….its was so surreal!!!

Next were these 10 foot walls with no grips. I said I cannot get over that…..Tova said, “Yes you can…Stand on me”…..and with my muddy soggy trainers, I stood on her and her husband Gareth pulled me up and over. This was when I started to really think about what was going on here….now this bit gets deep.

My mindset in the run up to born survivor was just get round in your own time, doing what you are capable of and if that’s missing the obstacles (cutting corners) so be it. Then I realise I’m part of a team, this team want me to succeed they want to help me over the obstacles and they want to show me that I can do what I actually thought I couldn’t. Not only that, when they were helping me up and over, it was so much easier than trying to pull myself over on my own. I started seeing, working in a team makes the whole process easy, but it has to be a good team, a kind team, a team who understands me and my fears. I started thinking about the last few months and how alone I’ve felt, but I didn’t want to work as a team then. I wanted it done quickly, with no fuss and the way that I wanted it to be. Now sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that, but if I had done this with Born Survivor, if had tried the obstacles alone and failed and had to go round them, I would have felt alone and all the responsibility would have been on one person (me) which is such a weight to carry.

The next obstacle I remember was the slide……….this is literally throwing yourself down hill at high speed with a photographer at the bottom. Watching people going one after another made me so scared and again, If I was on my own, I wouldn’t have done it. But we stood as a team, reassuring each other……I was first to go…….and it hurt, and I hit my head, but at the bottom I had this amazing sense of “YEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSS”.

I set off jogging again and the next obstacle was walking through a river but you have to go under some barrels. I didn’t know how I was going to do it and before I knew it a team member said lets go together on three, and we did. And I didn’t drown….and I felt quite proud….!!

Eventually got a a totally gross part which was climbing through tunnels in the dark with dirty water. It was really horrible and grim but by this point my mind set was “do it”. With every muddy ditch I just kept pushing though. The one I had feared the most was now in front of me. It’s a trench full of muddy water with a grill on top of it, you have to pull yourself on your back, breathing through the grill. The staff could see I was struggling to get going and he said, “Don’t worry if anything happens to you Ill be right in there!” And I just thought….bollox!!! there is no way of getting in or out of here but from either end! He did have a long stick so he maybe could have used that to drag me out! Anyways ….I got in, dragged myself through and went on to the next obstacle.

Now when I say I did 31 out of 32 obstacles well, it was more like 30.5. The mud pits are where you jump in and clamber out with no ropes and no handles. Just your hands….. so I jumped in…. but I couldn’t find anything to grip to so I scrambled out the side and walked round. I know!! If I had done it with my team they would have helped me through the whole thing…..but I thought I could do it by myself…!!

There was a fair bit of walking / jogging after this. But the next obstacle, I don’t know why terrified me!

It was a huge hole with muddy water and handles along the wall so you have to sort of climb side ways but if you let go you fall in!!!

I could see how deep it is and my legs were so weak, I was so tired and exhausted I thought If I fall in I’ll drown. My team could see I was worried and guided me across. Then Tova says, “On this wall there is a handle grip missing, but don’t worry you can still do it”. I just freaked! I froze and said “I can’t do it I’m gonna fall in”. She said “You are NOT going to fall in just listen to us…. I listened to them, I had to really stretch across the last part with the missing handle but made it across.

I kept saying “thank you, thank you” all the way round, I felt quite vulnerable how much I was relying and depending on these good people to keep me safe and keep going.

I’d finally hit the wall. I couldn’t run anymore and I just wanted to go home. I was done. Mathew our team leader picked up on this and as everyone else moved ahead he walked at a snails pace with me. Our next obstacle was called “Hit the wall”. I said “I do not have any strength left to climb over those”. Mathew said, “Just stand on my knee, you’ll get over” and I did. One after another I stood on him with my muddy trainers and he just kept saying how well I was doing and that we were more than half way round etc.

Next obstacles were monkey bars over a huge tank of water. I said I cant do it, not even attempt it…..that’s the one I walked round….

We finally got to the castle and Gareth and everyone else was waiting for us. There was a huge fabric climbing net. Gareth said “Do you want to do that?” I said, “Do I have to”? he said, “it is part of the course?”. So I stood and looked at this thing for a good couple of minutes and then made my way to the top then back to the bottom.

After this it gets hazy. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other and have my sun glasses on so I can’t see anybody I don’t know what time it is, or where I am, I feel totally disorientated. I finally get to an obstacle where you have to carry a log down and back up a hill. Some big strapping guy says “Give me the heaviest!!!”….. I say…..”Have you got a stick” and everyone laughs….except me….I’m not laughing……I’m deadly serious……

She gives me a light log and I’m just losing the will to live. Why am I doing this? What point does it serve? Are there not more productive ways to be spending your time???

And just like that……….I walk round the corner…….it says obstacle 30…….(I thought there was 31 obstacles but there were actually 32) I thought I’ve made it. I could see flags in the background and lots of people and I just filled up. In front of me was a waterslide I had to pull myself up. I was so weak and my hands were shaking. I thought……I’m getting up there one way or another….I got mostly to the top when I slipped. Another team saw me struggling and said “Hey, pull that girl up” and all of a sudden, clinging on to a rope……..I was at the top……

Except I wasn’t at the top……there was another huge hill………totally delirious now I’m feeling tears running down my face, the pain in all of my legs and feet meant I was hardly moving forward at all…..when I finally got to the top of there……there was another obstacle. You had to climb up on the top of this wooden stand and drop through a shoot into a muddy water tank. I thought this is going to finish me……but I did it, and something just bolted me into getting out. The next bit was downhill, and another slide, and another photographer and another crack to the head…..

But the last hill wasn’t painful… was the sight of the finish line that hurt. A huge wall where people have to run up it and jump to get over the top. I thought, I can’t do that, but I felt sad, I’d been through so much. How could I get over this wall? I heard people shouting “Go on Rachel!!!” You can do it.

I saw a rope to the left hand-side of the wall. I thought. I’m going to try…just once to get up it and if I can’t at least I tried. I slowly started pulling myself up but the wall becomes vertical can I feel the rope slipping and I just say to myself out loud…”I can’t do this”, the guy at the top says, “Yes you can! grab this ledge!” I said “I’m too scared to let go of the rope”, he said “I’ve got you now, grab the ledge! I take a leap of faith and I’m clinging to the top of the wall with my fingertips and my other hand on the rope. He said “Get your elbows over”, I get one elbow over and with my last burst of energy I swing my leg and get my left knee over the ledge as he pulls me over the top.

I hear some cheers. I start to cry. Just sat there, on the top of the last obstacle over the winning line.

I took so much from this experience. But the number one thing was how one small company can have so many wonderful , positive people in it. They work together like clockwork supporting each other and being kind even in the most gruesome of settings. How does Lee Grears manage that? Is that a skill building a team who care so much for each other?

The other thing is I always thought I had a weak mind. As someone who has had severe mental illness and lifelong mental illness, I always thought my mind was the problem. That it was weak and broken. Born Survivor changed my mindset. When I am determined, I can get through anything. How I get through it is a different matter and I want to work more on how I get to where I need to be when it comes to work.

And finally. I’m bruised, I’m sore, but I did this for Women in West Cumbria who are in desperate need. If you can donate please do it here –

Rachel ready to race for #EndThisInjustice and #GetMeHome

A beautiful day for the Born Survivor challenge!

Born Survivor completed!

The Born Survivor Team