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Judgement Day: The Unknown 09th – 11th Sept 2016

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
Sandbagging
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.


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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.

 

Team Navex
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.

Hurrah.

Then I got overtaken.

Bugger.

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.

 

Saturday
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.

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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.

 


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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.

 

Tyre Hell
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.

 

Equipment Carry
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.

 


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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.

 

Sandbag Run
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.

 


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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 ……

 

Penny Hill
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.


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The End
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.
 


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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.

The Nuts Challenge – 4 Laps September 2015-09-06

The Nuts Challenge – 4 Laps

 

September 2015-09-06

 

“Dammit Indy, were doesn’t it hurt?”
OK, my name isn’t Indianna Jones and my head is really too small to wear a hat, but the question is quite valid. The answer is “everywhere”. Even my fingernails hurt. But that’s towards the end of the story. Let’s start at the beginning.

The beginning being in March 2015 when I booked my place. Since then I had the feeling of growing trepidation, like a child waiting for the first day of school to arrive. My pessimism I think, was well founded. My first attempt at 4 laps ended in intense disappointment and a diva-like tantrum. (See The Nuts Challenge March 14th 2104 blog for embarrassing details) So there was no blissful ignorance for me with which to laze my way through the summer. I attended the wedding reception of fellow OCR runner in June and was advised that lots of leg work in the form of box jumps was required. Now, anyone who has read previous blogs will know this, so at the risk of it sounding boring, I’ll say it again.

“ I hate running”
In fact, I hate leg days full stop. Box jumps, unless I’m mistaken, require legs. Therefore, I hate box jumps. Remembering the Bruce Lee quote “The art of fighting without fighting” I wondered if it was possible to perfect the art of training the legs without actually training the legs. …..
……..box jumps it is then.

Race Day

So, with a full weeks worth of carb loading and half a dozen box jumps behind me I stumbled out of bed at 5 o’clock Sunday morning. Negotiated the steep descent downstairs, a well controlled sharp left-hander into the hallway, a dash across the freezing cold kitchen tiles, and a precarious kettle-filling manoeuvre all completed with my eyes half closed. One mug of strong coffee later, eye-lids prised open and muscles warmed I felt confident enough to try and wriggle in to my Iron-Man compression top.

The drive there was uneventful. It’s a local event for me and although having done 2 Nuts previously was feeling pretty chuffed with myself for getting there without the use of the Sat-Nav. I did however find my way to the wrong queue at the booking in tent. After a bemused couple of minutes I managed to get myself in one of the 4 Lap queues. And a minute later realised that I was in the wrong 4 Lap queue and as innocently as I could, managed to filter my way into the high number booking queue. I’ll stop saying “queue” now.

The 4 Lap 8 o’clock start had for some reason been shunted back to 8.30. This immediately gave me the vapours as I now started worrying about the 2 o’clock cut off. Luckily someone at the back questioned this and we were all informed that the cut off time would also be put back half an hour. As this was supposed to be the ‘elite’ wave (I’ve never felt more of an imposter) there was no Personal Trainer doing a warm up. We were advised to do our own, which I did. This consisted of a deep breath and a quick prayer that I wouldn’t humiliate myself and not complete the course.

And Off

So this was it. The disappointment that had been plaguing me since March the year before was hopefully about to be purged. I set off, mindful of, Team Nuts regular, Jon Salmons words that a quick 1st lap was desirable in order to get in front of the 1 Lap waves starting later and hopefully avoid any bottlenecks. Last time I attempted 4 Laps I started off slow and steady and never made the cut. Although this was when the start time was 10 o’clock. Nevertheless, I was off at a considerably faster pace that I would normally have gone and stayed in the middle of the pack. After a while I heard a familiar voice and turned round to see a grinning Jon Salmon. My first (little) victory of the day. Being in front of Jon, even if only for 5 minutes was a bit of a lift for me. He then shot off like a stabbed rat and I never saw him again that day.

Now most people who read OCR blogs are familiar with the layouts and obstacles on many courses and I’ve gone into some detail of the Nuts course on other write ups, so I won’t repeat myself here.

Not far into the course the trail forked off. 1 and 2 lappers going one way, 3 and 4 lappers going the other. For the 3 and 4 lappers, which was all of us at this point, this part consisted of various obstacles, some of which had penalties for failure to complete. We first came to a bladed wall about 7 feet high. This was tricky to get over and in the end I had to accept a leg up to get over it. Then out over concrete hurdles, through a 4 tonne truck, over a 10 or 12 foot wall and on to the 1st penalty obstacle. The hang tough swing, up inclined ladders. No problem I thought. However, the hands were wet and muddy from earlier watery ditches and crawls and the rungs were thin, square and dug into your hands. I made it, but it wasn’t easy. The cost of failure was a log carry that would add precious minutes to your lap time. Another wall and a drop then onto the monkey rings. Again, this was something I was usually good at, but my hands were so slippery that I only got to the third ring. No second chances here, so I picked up a log and did my lap. My mind started thinking ahead. This was my 1st lap and I had already failed one of my strongest obstacles! What were laps 2, 3 and 4 going to be like? I tried not to dwell on it, got my head down and finished the 1st lap in a tidy 1.27. A quick swig of my homemade energy shake and I set off asap as I heard the 1 Lappers on their warm up and was keen to get in front of them.

I tried to keep the pace up on my 2nd lap and hoped that I wouldn’t hit too many hold ups. I needn’t have worried. The ‘fun’ runners had been briefed to let any 4 lappers go through. I looked nothing like an athletic 4 lap man at this point but when I, rather shyly, brandished my green wrist band about they happily gave way and the marshals were shouting instructions for the multi-lappers to use tubes 3 and 4. Brilliant organisation.

Mind you, my pace was beginning to take its toll. I wasn’t going fast compared to many, but I was already feeling a familiar cramping in my groin. This was beginning to create dark shadows in my mind. Barely 14k in and my muscles were already beginning to complain and by the time I had finished my 2nd lap my calves had started to join in as well.

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2nd lap finished in 1.36. I felt ok. Sort off. I was tired, no denying that, but there wasn’t the finish-line fatigue in my body just yet. But the cramps were beginning to worry me. At this point, only half way through, I seriously began to question whether my body could take another two laps. I heard a fresh lap warm-up coming to an end and decided that there was only one way to find out. A very quick refuel and I set off at a furious pace, determined to get well in front of the new starters.

The 3rd lap was a killer. I was still clock watching and striving to make the cut. I didn’t really register the comments from my ever supportive girlfriend that I was starting my 3rd lap at 11.30, so had a very generous 3 hours to get the third lap done. So I kept pushing. Hitting the 3 and 4 lap fork I approached the blade wall. I looked around. There were no other runners about. How the hell was I going to get over this wall with no help? I wasn’t actually. I tried a few feeble scrambles ever conscious of bringing on another bout off cramp. Luckily another runner rounded the corner and helped me over. I offered to double back and lend him a hand over, but was up and over the wall with enviable ease. We jogged on together for a while and he told me that he was on his 3rd and final lap. I felt the envy well up in me again and eyed him like how a starving man would look staring through the window of a pastry shop. We scrambled over and under the penalty obstacles and I failed the monkey rings for the 3rd time. My temporary companion disappeared ahead and I was left to my own dark thoughts.

Now things were mentally beginning to get tough. An hour into my pen-ultimate lap and I found myself alone for much of the time. It was difficult not to imagine that everyone else was in front of me, having fun, laughing and joking with their team. That I was in dead last place, exhausted and feeling…….. less, than everyone else. I looked behind. No one as far as I could see. In front, no one either. I began to feel very self conscious. Embarrassment began to set in. I had the thought that I was the only one crawling along at such a slow pace. The only one that was tottering around like a drunk man. I imagined that the few spectators were looking at me and whispering, “ My goodness. He’s going SO slow. He looks terrible” Now, a week later I remember that even on my 3rd lap I was overtaking other runners, but at the time I felt weak and defeated. Every step brought a spasm in either my groin or my calf. I waddled along trying to keep control of my slowly surrendering body.

 

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I came to the Apocalypse section of the course. By now I had a pretty good mental map of the course and knew that I wasn’t far from the end of the lap. Scale the cargo nets and over and under the logs and 3 or 4 hundred metres across the lake and over the hay bales.

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Lap 3 completed in just over 2 hours. I was absolutely finished. Except I wasn’t. I had one lap to go. It was 1.30 so I was well inside the cut off point. This news brought an enormous smile to my face. Ok, I hadn’t finished, but as far as I was concerned, the pressure was off. I had made the cut and now it was just a case of keeping going. I would have given my girlfriend a big hug if she hadn’t looked at me with an expression that said “Come near me you wet, smelly soggy sack of dirt and I’ll thunder punch you in the throat.” I settled for a slightly more leisurely refuel with 600ml of my patented Nut Juice. Sounds horrible, but 1 banana, 2 ½ spoons of porridge oats, 2 big spoons of peanut butter, 1 part milk and 4 parts water all blended together made for a potion that works very well for me.

 

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I set off on my last lap. My goal had always been to just complete the distance, not to chase a time so I just plodded along doing more walking than running. I was noticing every little discomfort by now. The obvious soreness of my body, the sagging and rubbing of my knee-pads, the wrinkles in my socks, the increasingly apparent throbbing in my fingernails. Fingernails? How did that happen? Onto the 3 – 4 lap circuit. The marshal kindly advised that at this point of the run climbing the wall wasn’t a necessity, injury being foremost in the organisers mind I suppose. I’d like to say that I went over the wall regardless. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I snaffled one of her jelly babies instead and wearily approached the ladder swing. To peoples surprise, not least mine, I made it across for the 4th and final time. I then failed the monkey rings for the 4th and final time. A word for the marshals, they were all absolutely fantastic. The one on top of the Nutcracker was full of enthusiasm and encouragement and I even spent a few minutes chatting to him when I had finished.

Now, with all this solitary running on the last lap, with the brief exception of running alongside a 3 lapper called Richard (who was brilliant for my morale by the way. Thank you Richard), it would have been easy to side step some of the obstacles. No-one would have know. Except me of course. But the temptation was there and almost overwhelming at times, but it is without ego that I’m pleased to say that I stubbornly refused to skip any. But sometimes I found myself paused halfway through an obstacle. Trying to get through a tire I found myself daydreaming half in and half out. Not sure how long I was there, but when I blinked I realised that I had just been sitting across a tyre, motionless.

But on I went. I came to the tyre carry. One of the military type personel was quietly giving individual words of encouragement to passing runners. When I came passed he said that at this stage it wasn’t about fitness and stamina, it was all about mental strength. I’m pretty sure fitness and stamina has something to do with it, but I knew exactly what he meant. Despite the physical discomfort of the last 2 laps, it was the mental challenge which I found the greatest obstacle. I wonder what he would have made of my out of body tyre experience earlier on in the lap? Whilst the pace of climbing, crawling and running was all under my control and therefore the cramps were also broadly kept in check, the waterslide was another matter. Hurtling helter-skelter down and hitting the water brought on a massive cramp in my right calf. I floundered around in the water desperately trying to reach the cargo nets with my leg trailing behind me like a floppy strip of pasta. Oh God. Please let this end.

 

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The end was indeed in sight. I completed the last few muddy obstacles and gleefully plunged into the lake. I took this opportunity to have a bit of a wash and ducked under the water and had a bit of a scrub for a couple of minutes. Bliss. A spa treatment at The Sanctuary couldn’t have been more welcome. Over the hay bales (more cramp) and across the finish line. I had finished. It was a slow last lap. The slowest 4th lap that day I believe. But with the medal round my neck, all was good. One dirty burger and sweet cup of tea later and I was ready for my finishing photo.

 

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But back to the first paragraph. The next day everything hurt. Every muscle. Every joint. The palms of my hands. My wrists. Yes, my fingernails. I had even acquired a rope burn on my, ahem, gentlemens love purse. If anyone can explain the mechanics of that to me I’d be very interested. My girlfriend laughed.

So that was it. 4 laps done. Never again I said. But then I looked at my laps times and a little voice said “You can do it faster next time” I’m resolutely ignoring that voice, but you just never know.

Judgement Day Pippingford Park July 2015

Judgement Day Pippingford Park July 2015

After the disappointment of missing out on Judgement Day last year due to a sudden bout of sciatica this was definitely a race that I was looking forward to. Two weeks before, feeling confident and training going well, I managed in my own special way, to burpee myself to a bad back.
For 5 or 6 days afterwards I hobbled around cursing my luck, but with a thoughtful mobility regime and an excellent massage therapist, I approached the day a lot cheerier than I could have hoped for. Indeed, the wonky back was only one of a catalogue of injuries and niggles that I had accumulated over the months. An adductor strain that was working its way deep into my groin and up into my abs was a cause for concern. After getting it checked out, Gilmores Groin was a phrase that was being bandied around. A quick bit of research and hey-presto, one pair of Gilmore compression shorts plopped onto my doormat. Now, this isn’t a plug for Gilmore, but I really believe these shorts helped me maintain my training right up to the event.
I needed all the help I could get. Judgement Day has a fearsome reputation. The sand-bag carry and rope climbs being my particular fear. Anyway, Sunday the 19th of July arrived, and the 6 o’clock alarm went off. In my view, getting out of bed that early at the weekend was the first obstacle. The carbo-loading of the previous day, (pizza, hot-dogs and cider) was still weighing heavily on my stomach, so a large mug of coffee was all I could manage to get down me. Never the less, I was reasonably sure that my well considered nutritional preparation would see me through. My running partner for the day, Andrew, turned up 15 minutes late at my house admitting that he slept through his alarm, but more than made up for this by brandishing a bottle of dark spiced rum about. Nice.
Now, despite the previous few words, we were both serious about what lay ahead, and had no illusions about how tough this might get. So we set off and despite the website promise of being well signed as you approached, we only saw one sign/banner and had to make a dramatic left turn into Pippingford Manor. Not that this was a problem as the Sat-Nav took us straight there despite taking a rather meandering route. The check in was very straight forward. Maybe I’m getting used to check ins now, but this was by far the easiest one. So, numbers pinned to our chest and written on our arms, timing chips attached to trainer (the right one seemed to be by far the most popular choice) we found ourselves with about an hour to kill. The village was small and consisted of two tents housing check in, bag drop and t-shirt and medal table. There was only one food outlet but it did have a whole pig on offer, so I couldn’t complain.


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A customary pre-race photo and shot of rum later and we were ready to go.

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The usual enthusiastic warm-up followed and participated in, in my usual unenthusiastic way and off we went. The field was quite small and the starting waves had been condensed to just the two. A 9.30 and 10.30.

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I hate running. I really do. Almost as much as I hate olives, oysters and my Mums cat. So 500 meters into the course, I was blowing hard, despite the terrain being flat apart from several 4/5 foot walls to negotiate, and was pleased to come to the first water obstacle so I could slow my already dawdling pace. It was a small lake that needed wading through. Everybody around me was plunging in with enormous bonhomie but I’m a bit of a blouse when it comes to cold water. The sort of person that sits at the side of a pool splashing water over oneself instead of just (wo)manning up and diving in. The water felt cold but not freezing, but enough to make me puff out my cheeks and hop around like a big fairy. Then it was on to the running.
The course was well marked with thousands of red flags lining the route so it was difficult, although not impossible to stray. A couple of runners early on had to be called back when they missed a turning and later on I was guilty of having a bit of a daydream and Andrew had to shout to get me back on track. Now there are lots of obstacles on this (20k) event and if you don’t have plenty of upper body and core strength you’re not going to complete, (to the satisfaction of the marshals), very many of them. However, if you’re a runner, then I would suggest that this gives you a massive leg up if posting a good time is your aim. After about 12k I was seriously beginning to feel the effort in my legs and lungs beginning to take its toll. The obstacles themselves I found challenging but not a huge problem, but it was the running sections that really slowed me down. But onto the obstacles most of which carried a two minute penalty if you failed to complete them.
 
The Carries
There were three carrying sections. The first one being a tyre carry, that followed a trident shaped route. I seemed to have found my pace and was surrounded by people who seemed of the same ability as me. When we got to the sandbag carry I hefted the 30kg weight to my shoulders. I had been training the previous few weeks with a 20kg Jordan PowerBag and jogging a mile or so at a time with it. That was hard enough so when the 30kg bag bared down on me I thought “Oh my goodness” However, where as my 20kg bag was quite ridged this one shaped itself to the contours of my shoulders. Now there are many techniques employed by the runners on the best way to carry the bag, but the one I eventually settled on was to have it across both shoulders and hands planted firmly into the small of my back so that my upper arms were extended behind me providing a shelf for the bag to sit on. It worked for me but my only concern was that I looked like the love-child of Mick Jagger and Larry Grayson as I strutted/minced across the hills. I’ll let you work out that image for yourselves. Luckily the only photographs of me at this point was when I was adopting the more conventional manly technique. Although this obstacle was tiring, it wasn’t quite the nightmare I had been expecting. A rare occasion where my pessimism and dread proved to be a positive. So after nearly a mile carry, up and down hills, wades through waist and knee high water and over a 4 foot wall I could finally drop the bag. .

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The final carry was a brick sized/weight rock that had to be carried overhead for just less than 1km.


Water and Rope
Then there was the water and rope obstacles to be negotiated. Apart from the many deep troughs to be jumped in and clambered out of the first real one was a suspension balance across a stretch of water with a rope strung across a little higher for a hand hold. Andrew unfortunately seemed to pick the wobbliest one and halfway over did the most graceful one eighty and ended up with his head in the water and feet in the air, perfectly balanced. After a few seconds he seemed to realise that the situation was not retrievable and dropped into the water. I dared not laugh (too much) as I had yet to take on the crossing myself. After that, a short run then a swim across a lake and up an approximately 20 foot high cargo net. The swim was fine, as was the climb, but when I got to the top, just for a few seconds I had a mild panic attack as I tried to work out how to clamber onto the platform without losing my grip and tumble back down into the lake taking several other people with me. A word of encouragement from a fellow JD’er and all was well.
The rope traverse, swim and rope climb came up later. The traverse was exhausting and when the marshal said I could drop off the rope and swim, it came as a blessed relief.

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Then it was straight onto the rope climb. Rope climbs are tough enough as it is without having to start in a meter of water first. But, thanks to Mike Midgley’s expert tuition on rope climbing a few months earlier I managed it without too much fuss. Although it doesn’t look like my technique is up to much in the photo.

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Hang Tough
The toughest obstacle for me was the Complex Rig. About 15 meters long it consisted of 3 rings, then a chain, then a rope and this then repeated itself to the end of the rig and object being to swing across it without touching the floor or the sides. I’m not too bad at this stuff usually. The two other similar obstacles (monkey bars and rings) I completed with no problem whatsoever. But this rig defeated me. I could have spent all day on this and not beaten it. Having looked at the Sunday results everybody bar one person had at least one time penalty and I’m betting this was the most common failure.

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Walls and the “Irish Kiss”
Although not particularly high, ranging from about 5 foot to ten foot, I was a little apprehensive about the walls as it was negotiating a 12 footer on the Nuts course that triggered off my groin issues. According to marshals towards the end of the course, they said that many runners were cramping up as they jumped/clambered over. True story as it turned out, as my left calf spasmed on me on the last few wall climbs. Luckily, the Irish Kiss (as this obstacle seems to have been dubbed) was earlier on the course. This was a 6 foot high beam and although 6 foot doesn’t seem too intimidating it was an absolute dog to get over. There was nowhere to plant your foot like on the walls and the beam was at an awkward rotation so that getting a decent grip was extremely problematic.

The final stretch was a clamber over man-made muddy hillocks and through watery ditches. A rope climb, then the rings. I’m still sulking a little bit that I got penalised on the rope climb. Up I went like a greased up cougar, then down again only to be told that I hadn’t gone high enough. I was supposed to touch the blue canvas instead of just the metal bracket a measly 4 inches lower. Everyone was shouting at me apparently, but I was in my own little oily feline world and only noticed went I plopped back down on the ground. I was absolutely knackered by now and another attempt would have surely taken me more than 2 minutes. I slunk off grumbling like Mutley.

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I mean really. Should I have got a time penalty for this? (See above photo) Oh well, rules are rules I suppose and I’ll try my best not to let it eat away at me for years to come.
So that was it. What a fantastic, gruelling event. There has been quite a bit of chat about the perceived low numbers for the day and indeed, me and Andrew did seem to be on our own a lot during the running sections as the field thinned out. Some are saying that the distance put people off. That maybe so. I don’t know how well the Saturday 10k version was attended. With other events that I’ve been on, you’ve always been surrounded by people and this can lift you and make it seem less of a slog. But I believe that some of the obstacles were just too difficult to attract the fun runners. The team I did The 1 Lap Nuts Challenge with last year, many of them simply wouldn’t have been able to complete the obstacles. With other races, like Back To The Trenches, it is perfectly possible to complete all of the course albeit slowly. With Judgement Day, obstacles like the Complex Rig, the Irish Kiss, the Traverse/Swim/Rope climb, the Sandbag Carry, would have been just too much for some of them. They wouldn’t even be able to lift a 20kg bag, let alone run the best part of a mile with it. Put it this way, I couldn’t see teams like The Glittery Princesses getting through this.
But I for one am extremely pleased that tough events like this exist. It fills a niche and the sense of achievement is what I run for. I wanted to feel absolutely finished by the end of this. I was. I also wanted to finish with a grin on my face. I did. Any course that can achieve both of those things is a course worth running. At the end, I said to myself “Never again” Now I’m thinking, “Bring on Borden”

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Back To The Trenches March 2015

Back To The Trenches March 2015

A weekend treat for the girlfriend. What might it be? A trip to Paris? An evening at one of the restaurants in The Shard? The West End to see a show? Or an hour or so stumbling around the Surrey countryside, in the cold and wet? These were the options floating around in my head. I didn’t ask her what she might like as, rather foolishly, she allows me to make my own decisions. In all honesty and with a well developed sense of hindsight I’m thinking Paris might have been a better idea. Never the less, Back To The Trenches 5k won the day (lucky girl) and we set off early Sunday morning down to Nutfield. The venue should only be about 20 minutes away but because I have a sense of direction akin to that of a broken shopping trolley, I immediately turned the wrong way out of my road and added another 15 minutes to the journey.
Still, we arrived in good time and the parking was almost on top of the BTTT village so no long walk there and back. Because of this there was no need for a bag drop area which kept the faffing around afterwards to a minimum. We had both neglected to breakfast (a schoolboy error, but the bed was just SO comfy that morning) so was hoping for a few food stalls to fuel us up. As it happened, quite surprisingly, there was only the one. So, one Mega Trenchburger and Styrofoam cup of sweet tea later, we were ready to go.

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Our 11 o’clock wave was called and we all milled around waiting for the warm up. No enthusiastic Personal Trainer at this event, just a very capable looking Army gentleman with an impressive ‘tache shouting out the orders. A few lunges, burpees and adrenaline inducing roars later and we were ushered to the starting line. BareBonesFitness - Personal Trainer in Stanstead

As I do quite a few of these events and this was my partners first real OCR my tactic was to forge ahead on the running parts and then double back in an attempt to keep myself moving and warm. We quickly allied ourselves to a couple of running teams, Muddy Mums and The Glittery Princesses. After a very un-princessy clamber over the first obstacles, a load of hay-bale hurdles, we hit a running section. At least I think we did. I must confess, I can’t really remember much of the order of the obstacles. What I do remember is that the obstacles, though many in number, were quite short. No long drawn out grind of negotiating 12 foot walls, or seemingly endless effort of going over and under logs. True, Back To The Trenches has all the same sort of barriers that many other events have but they seem to be smaller and shorter. Now this may seem like a negative criticism and in some way imply that this is an easier event. Not so. Yes, everything was on a smaller scale, the cargo nets weren’t as high, the water slide not so long, the water not so deep, the hilly zig-zags not as long or zig-zaggy, the watery log obstacles shorter. I like this. This means that obstacles can been negotiated at speed and keep those fast twitch muscle fibres firing. The hills can be sprinted up and allow you a cardiovascular break as you let gravity assist you as you gallop down the other side. Being asthmatic and not having the most efficient aerobic system these intermittent maximal intensity obstacles, rather than the 60-70+ second effort obstacles on other courses, suit me down to the ground. On the Welsh Tough Mudder there were long ascents (and other obstacles) that took me many, many minutes to complete where I lost a lot of ground and time getting passed them.
We came to the 5k 10k split. My previously mentioned sense of direction came into play here. 5k one way, 10k the other. I dithered, then started off in one direction, was put right by the marshal, set off down a different path, was put right again by the same marshal who pointed at a pile of tyres. I picked one up and decided to wait for my carer to come along and show me the way. On cue, she rounded the corner and without missing a beat, grabbed a tyre and headed off where we were supposed to.
A crawl under the wet, muddy barbed wire logs was quite uncomfortable on the knees and elbows. I was expecting some cuts and scrapes but seemed to get away with it scott free. The only mark on me was a 3 inch graze down my shin which wasn’t from the course, but from an over enthusiastic left-back, with no sense of timing, from football the day before.

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We came to the final ‘sprint’ including the fire jumps which were welcomingly warm, and under the electric fence. I waited here as I wanted to cross the line with my good lady. As I had spent most of the course pausing at the end of obstacles, one of the Glittery Princesses was beginning to recognise me and accused me of stalking her as I always seemed to be hovering around. Good naturedly of course. (I hope) We completed the last obstacle together (me and my girlfriend, not me and the Glittery Princess) and posed for our finish line photograph, collected our medal and made our way back to the car.
By now the cold was really beginning to get to me and I was shivering uncontrollably. I got changed into dry clothes which was a bit of a drama as I had forgotten a towel. But by now I was beyond caring and just got changed as quickly as I could and giving a couple of finishers a bit of a surprise as they walked passed.
This was a well organised event from start to finish. From the online booking to crossing the finish line. This is, I think, a perfect event for beginners as well as for seasoned OCR’ers. I shall be back for the 18k Big Push next year and seriously looking forward to it.

Paris? Pah.

Zombie Evacuation November 2014

Zombie Evacuation Nov 2014

Allianz Park

Now, I along with several team-mates did the Zombie Evacuation at Pippingford Park last year (2013). It was brilliant. The most enjoyable event I have done to date. It is only 5k, so not particularly challenging, but a real hoot. Especially when watching Superbeard get completely owned by a 10 year old zombie. There were only 7 of us in the team last year and I can’t remember exactly how the booking procedure went as another team member did the honours.

This time however, the task was mine and mine alone. I had recruited 19 people for Team BareBones (checkout the Team BareBones/BareBonesFitness Facebook pages for photos) and set about submitting a team. This has to be done online and with 27 years of IT experience behind me this should be a piece of cake. Not so. I left my IT job because I was rubbish at it. Anything more technologically advanced than a balloon on a stick and I get completely lost. Anyway, after much cursing, button prodding, vacant screen-staring and getting distracted by videos of someone spinning around on an office stool, (I kid you not) I managed to get the team booked up and paid for.

After sitting there for a bit, basking in my Bill-Gates-like intellect, I wondered where the confirmation email had gone. I checked. Re-checked. Watched another stool spinning video. Went to bed. Got up and checked again. No email. Did we get one last time? I couldn’t remember. Over the next two weeks I tried getting in contact with the organisers. First using their e-form, then the email link, then FaceBook messaging, then Twitter. No luck. Even a response saying that I was a plank and confirmations don’t get sent out would have been preferable to the stony silence. I was beginning to get grumpy. I did consider, out of frustration, going round my Mums and picking a fight with her cat, but then remembered that I came off a serious second best last time we met. To make matters worse, the date and venue was changed from Pippingford to the Allianz Park and from an October Sunday date to a November Saturday date. This meant that five team members had to drop out.

Three months later.

One week before the event many of the team had still not received joining instructions. I launched off a few more frantic and increasingly snippy emails. I was (eventually) assured that emails would be sent 48 hours before the event. Now at the risk of being accused of behaving like Little Miss This Isn’t Flipping Good Enough, I thought this was cutting it a bit fine. The day before the run we still had a couple of people sans email and using the ” running-around- my-house-with-my-pants-on-my-head-screaming-with-panic” approach didn’t seem to be helping. I then received an email saying that everything was ok and that I didn’t need to panic. I wasn’t convinced and kept my pants close by. Just in case. Anyway, the day arrived, we got to the venue (more on the travelling later) and the registration went by without a hitch except for the fact that I was checked in as another Steve Wright who was running two hours after my start time.

Right, so, what’s this blog supposed to be about? Ah yes, the Zombie Evacuation Race. Let’s get on with that.

Our wave was called up, so up we trooped and listened to the dire consequences of straying off the course. Or attempting to hide our ‘lives’. Or engaging with the infected. All misdemeanours it seemed resulted in getting shot. One of the team was busy fanning herself and repeating “I’m so scared. I’m so scared”. We were very sympathetic.

And off. We jogged the length of the stadium pitch whilst being “cheered” on by bloodthirsty zombies, then out into the wilderness of Hendon NW4. It didn’t take long before we ran into our first group of zombies. (What is the collective noun for a group of zombies?) It also soon didn’t take long to realise that the danger to our little band of apocalyptic survivors didn’t necessarily lay with the undead. A narrow pathway led to an opening infested with a groan of zombies. I bravely abandoned everyone else and ran ahead and turned to see one of our team body-check my daughter to the ground, then hesitate as if to weigh up the pros and cons of going back to help, before pulling her to her feet and safety. My paternal instinct kicked in and I for a few metres couldn’t run straight for laughing. Now the screaming had started, it didn’t stop.

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The terrain was much easier than at Pippingford, but there also appeared to be many more zombies this time round. Zombies with a sense of humour apparently. After successfully negotiating another lurch of zombies, Team BareBones rounded a pathway and came across a deep ditch. Catching our breath, we slowly started to cross the obstacle. Lots of help, teamwork, pleases and thank yous. All very civilized, but to be honest we were taking our time and making a bit of a mission out of it. I looked back to see that we were being observed by the recently avoided zombies. It seems that they had decided that we were faffing around too much and thought (if zombies think) that a little bit of a gee up was required. They started barrelling towards us. The scream went up “They’re coming”, which triggered off the most almighty ditch-crossing bun fight. All humanity and teamwork went out of the window as we shouted, pushed and then clambered over each other to get away.

Yay. Go Team BareBones!

The solidarity didn’t end there. One of our team, who for confidentialities sake, I will call Mike was intent on surviving. After clashing with and dropping to the ground another evacuee, he spent the next 5 minutes apologising profusely. Lesson learnt, our liberal survivalist then floored a female zombie and again spent time apologising. He wasn’t the only one with a well developed survival gene. Robbie (who shall remain nameless and most definitely wasn’t the one who shoulder-barged my daughter over and almost cost me a life because I was laughing so much I nearly got zombied), was at it again by executing his signature move by shoulder-barging Aiden out of the way. After a calming walk across open fields, we came to a building. Up the stairs, across a balcony-type walkway, down and around. Seemed quite straight forward until we realised that this allowed the zombies to double back and set off after you again once you thought you were safe. A common zombie tactic. My daughter showed me her bleeding hand from the collision earlier, foolishly expecting sympathy. With a fathers love I gently explained to her that the smell of blood might attract the zombies and that it might be useful if we used her as bait, before I galloped off.

The zombies volunteers were, as usual, brilliant. Only once did the facade slip. When crossing a park road the zombie in question started off dutifully shambling around and moaning, then realised that a car was approaching. Without skipping a beat, she went into living traffic-warden mode. Then, a second later, back into zombie character. For about 10 seconds she went seamlessly from one to the other. It was mesmerising. A bit like watching Peter Sellers at his creative best.

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Another great obstacle was a through a pitch black building with a sprinting track. The screams echoed off the wall as half-seen shadows jumped out at you as you ran passed. Then we made it to the final hurdle. A mad dash across the stadium pitch. We were now a complete team as we had caught up with Sgt Major Rizwan at this point. Linking arms, our plan was to charge the zombies using an unbreakable Spartan phalanx formation. We eyed up the massive stumble of zombies in front of us. The signal to go over the top was given and we immediately let go of each other and ran off in different directions like well drilled headless chickens.

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I got my head down and heroically decided to use other team members as decoys in an attempt to protect my one remaining life. As I got to the finish I turned round to see how the others were doing. I spotted Lois (name changed) who had a look of steely determination on her face, arms and legs pumping as she Forrest Gumped her way up the centre of the pitch.

We had all made it. Air punches and high fives all round. What a great event. Despite the aggravation of the booking, we will almost certainly be back for the next one.

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To the organisers, even though once at the venue, there was no problems, the communication really does need sorting out. If that is sorted then I feel I can confidently retire my Pants of Panic.

As far as the travel is concerned, the website suggests making your way to several local stations, then catching as bus to the stadium. This is a pain and involves quite a walk. I for the life of me cannot figure out why it isn’t advised to just drive to the stadium and park there, thus taking 20 minutes to half an hour off the travelling time. If you are travelling from the South East as we were, this is not an easy place to get to.

To sum up. Lots of screaming. Lots of running. Lots of fun. There is so much to talk about afterwards. Team BareBones will be back in 2015. See you all there.

The Nuts Challenge August 2014 Sutton MENCAP

If an OCR race could be compared to a Hollywood action star, then perhaps Tough Mudder would be Jean-Claude Van Damme. Tough, good looking, slick and well produced. Back To The Trenches – Sly Stallone. The excellent Judgement Day – Jason Statham. But The Nuts Challenge would undoubtedly be Chuck Norris. A course so tough it could grow its own beard. So, an ambitious event with which to break your duck. Sutton MENCAP had pulled together a sizeable and virginal OCR team and was certainly up for the challenge. Sort of. Several months ago when it was all booked up, I asked whether any of them had been in training. “Training?” was one incredulous reply. “We have to train?” She nearly choked on her cigarette.

Ummm…….

Never the less, the day arrived and we all convened at the venue with no fuss. Parked up. Again, no fuss. The porta-loos beckoned, so as soon as we found the MENCAP tent I made my customary dash and it being the summer event, no injury-risking struggles with a shortie wet-suit. Having learnt nothing more about social media tech from the last Nuts Challenge in March, I didn’t even attempt a tweet myself and just handed my phone to my girlfriend who did the honours. Registration was quick and easy and as far as organisation was concerned this event was flawless. So with pre-race team photos done we made our way to the start for the warm up, which this time seemed to be Zumba based.

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Not a big fan of Zumba. Too much rhythm required. So instead I hopped around self-consciously like a Dad on the dance floor at a wedding. The rest of the team were not as curmudgeonly as me and threw themselves into the spirit of things.

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While we were at the front for the warm up, when the gun went, we (I) realised that we were at the back of the queue for the start. Not to worry, we all started off together on the approx 1000k cross country run before we hit the obstacles in earnest. We had all chosen to do the 1 lap 7k, but as most will know, there are 2 lap (14k), 3 lap (21k) and 4 lap (28k) options. As we came to the first obstacle, a jump into water and a climb out again, it became clear that there were vastly differing levels of fitness and we weren’t going to run round as a complete team. As I waited at this obstacle a few of the team ran by. The second group appeared several minutes later and I was advised by this group that the rest were some way behind. I hopped around Zumba-like for another few minutes or so, then decided to just move along at my own pace. Certainly on a course like this, and especially if you are doing multi-laps, keeping to your own pace is essential. Trying to keep up with a faster runner is a dangerous tactic as you could find yourself blowing up and having little left for the rest of the lap(s). Waiting around for a slower runner can be equally perilous, you would just get too cold. So, off I went on my solitary way. As I ran, the course took on a familiar look. The climbs down into the stream and the clambers out again. The wall climbs, cargo nets and fire-mans poles. I was really enjoying myself and with the tips I had picked up from the training day 3 weeks earlier was managing to clear the obstacles quicker and with less effort. However, concentration was still needed and as I approached one drop into a stream I saw one poor guy at the bottom. He had apparently broken his ankle. It was quite early into the lap and he looked, quite understandably, pissed off. Now I certainly don’t want to put people off doing these races, but taking part obviously comes with some risk. These courses are hard and shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially this one. But I have been doing these kind of events since late 2012, about 2 years, have completed 9 of them and have only been witness to two injuries.

Then I came to a serious bottleneck. It was for the uphill tunnel climb. The queue stretched back for about 40 metres and was hardly moving. After what seemed like 10 minutes the cold was beginning to set in and as I slowly approached the tunnels I didn’t relish the idea of standing around for another several minutes, this time in ankle deep water awaiting my turn. For the first time ever I deliberately side stepped an obstacle, scooted up the side and got on it again.

After a long running section, well I thought it was long (I hate running, have I told you?), I came to the tyre carry. Good fortune was on my side and I picked up a tyre that weighed as a tyre should. I since found out that one of Team MENCAP had picked the heavy one. I’m sure Nuts deliberately play tyre-Russian-roulette on that section. Through the zig-zags then onto the water slide. I had ear-wigged in on some other runners earlier who had mentioned that taking the right-hand side was the best option as the left had a huge bump in the middle. Thinking I was being clever (a dangerous occupation) I climbed up the right hand side and, you guessed it, hit a massive bump half way down, lost control, picked up speed and I imagine had a look of terror on my face that it looked like I was being chased by my Mums cat. Again.

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Another short running section, over another cargo-net then over and under the logs. Hit the water section, (the floating pontoons, across the inflatables and the wade/swim across the lake) and a quick sprint finish over the hay bales and across the line.

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I was absolutely buzzing when I finished. Bouncing around and full of energy. Doing the multi-lap run in March was (obviously) more difficult. Dealing with the pressure of trying to do quick laps because of the timed cut off point and starting each subsequent lap tired I found mentally draining. And it was this psychological strain than contributed more to my hissy fit and flounce off the course more than the physical effort. This time though, I had a massive grin on my face the whole way through.

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I received my bottle-opener medal and made my way back to the logs to watch the rest of the team come in. I also grabbed a burger and conspicuously ate it in front of the other runners who still had about 1500 hard metres in front of them. This seemed to be a popular place for crowed to gather and shout support. Although when one woman hollered “Come on girls, you can open your legs wider than that” I nearly choked on my food.

An absolutely massive well done to the Sutton MENCAP team who all completed the course and raised about £2000. A great and successful day for all the individuals and for MENCAP.

For more pictures see BareBonesFitness Facebook page.

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Exercising With Asthma The Straw In Your Mouth

The following is only a personal account of living and exercising with asthma. It is not intended to be used as advice either for life-style, exercise-preparation or medication.

This quick blog hopefully strikes a chord with other asthmatics out there. I originally read a blog quite a few years ago and tried to find it and post it. I couldn’t, so I’ve taken the essence of what I remember and put it in my own words with hopefully a few original thoughts. I was hugely inspired by the words this person wrote and I only hope that my memory serves justice to the original write up.

I’ve has asthma for as long as I could remember. In fact some of my most striking childhood memories are of my asthma. The 2 or 3 times a night waking up. The ambulance arriving on the school fields when I had an attack. Sitting in an oxygen tent in hospital. And worst of all, not being able to do sport. This was all in the early seventies. Medication then was obviously not as effective as it is now. I remember when I was very young using a Spinhaler. It was a bit of a faff to use. You had to take it apart, insert capsule, put it back together then slide the blue/grey sleeve up and down to pierce the capsule. Then breathe in. I remember it as being a bit like inhaling talcum powder and not being terribly effective.

Later, (I can’t remember when) I was prescribed Salbutamol under the brand name of Ventolin, a reliever treatment. Salbutamol was introduced as an asthma treatment in 1969 and was found to be highly effective. I wasn’t prescribed it this early, but when I was, I found it to be enormously beneficial. So much so that as the years went by I began to rely on it, not just physiologically, but mentally as well. (See below*)

Then came Becotide. This was a preventer. I never really got on with this and always felt slightly breathless when I did use it. Some of the reported side effects were hoarseness, throat irritation, and unexpected narrowing of the airwaves. (paradoxical bronchospasm). Looking back, it seems I suffered from at least these three. Becotide has been discontinued since 2007. Whether the active ingredient, beclomethasone dipropionate is available in other types of medication, I do not know.

I am now on Symbicort. This contains a combination of budesonide and formoterol. Budesonide is a steroid that reduces inflammation in the body and formoterol is a bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airwaves to improve breathing. My asthma seemed to be getting progressively worse as far as exercise was concerned and one of my footballing team-mates mentioned that he was on an inhaler that was proving to be of great help to him. (It didn’t improve his football though, as Symbicort has not improved mine.) This prompted me to go and see my GP and he said that if I was using my Ventolin more than six times a day (which I was) then the asthma was not under control. He prescribed Symbicort and now for the first time in my life I feel as if I do not have asthma. My team-mate is not on Symbicort. His inhaler is purple. That’s all I know, but it does go to show that asthma treatment differs from person to person.

I hated not being able to give it everything during PE lessons. My enthusiasm for sport far out-weighed my ability. Both in talent and the physical. Consequently sport passed me by during my childhood. Not that I’m blaming asthma for my lack of sporting prowess. I’m rubbish at football because I’m rubbish at football. I’m brilliantly mediocre at kickboxing simply because I am distinctly average at it. Since I’ve matured I’ve never used my condition as an excuse. As long as (sporting) expectations are realistic, asthma is not an insurmountable problem. It should not stop you leading an active lifestyle or indeed scaling the peaks of sporting excellence. Paul Sholes, Paula Radcliffe, Jackie Joyner-Kersee etc are inspirational examples.

However, asthma is a serious condition and Exercise Induced Asthma is a real issue. It’s not just exercise that brought my asthma on. Cats, dogs, dust, pollen, all these things contributed to tightness of the chest even if they didn’t trigger a full blown attack.

It’s difficult to really explain what an asthma attack feels like. The only way I can think of describing it is if you take a narrow drinking straw, then do some vigorous exercise whilst trying to breathe only through the straw. But it’s not just shortness of breath. It’s not just the physical, it’s the mental as well. Most people when they play sport get out of breath. Asthmatics on the other hand do not have the luxury of simply taking things easy for a few minutes before things are back to normal. Once an attack takes hold, it usually (or in my experience, always) stays until medical intervention is administered. Just imagine for a second, being completely breathless and knowing that it isn’t going to get any better unless you have your medication. I can’t speak for any other sufferer but just realising I didn’t have my inhaler with me was almost enough to bring an episode on.* Panic and anxiety are symptoms that can stop you getting involved in a sporting event in the first place. And in my case lead to frustration, despondency and sometimes anger at the condition. I remember on occasion, deliberately going out on a run without my medication, setting off at a frantic pace and daring, challenging my asthma to take hold just so as I could rail against it. To keep running and refusing to give in. Of course eventually the asthma won. It always did. But sometimes you have to fight even when you know you are going to lose.

Just going out for gentle jogs may be good for some people. Others need more of a challenge. This is of course true for most of the exercising population, not just asthmatics. The problem for asthmatics is, remaining competitive whilst dealing with EIA. Personally, I had a tried and tested routine for warming up. An easy jog for perhaps 10 mins. Stopping every time I felt I was pushing my luck a bit. If all ok, then I would slow right down, then after a few minutes, start running again taking the intensity up a notch. This stop/start method and slowly ramping up the effort was pretty effective for me. The whole warm up might last 20/30 minutes.

And that was the problem. Going through all of that at the start of a football match or a 5/10k race is just not practical. Was I regularly going to turn up before matches/events and go through all of that? No. Particularly not at the shoddy standard I play/run at. Consequently the first 20 mins of every match I was really just jogging around the pitch and probably not contributing too much. It was always on my mind that for the remaining 25 minutes I’d better have a blinder or find myself getting substituted toute suite. The second half was where my hard earned fitness began to show and I usually managed to finish a match stronger than many of my team mates. So you see, in my opinion, asthma is no barrier to fitness. You just need to manage it in a way that suits you.

Running was and is still a tricky pass time. As would seem obvious, the above warm up is a practical non-starter, unless of course you are a regional/national class runner, in which case you do what is required if that is the standard you run at. I mean, really, how many recreational runners would be willing to go through such a time consuming ritual to run a, let’s face it, an unimportant 5/10k race with nothing except a PB riding on it. However, when you are out with a group it isn’t always possible to go at your own pace and you don’t really want to slow anyone else down. As you can probably guess from this ramble, I am not a hugely competitive person, but many people are. Many asthmatics are. Even if they are not particularly good at football, tennis, running, rugby etc, they quite rightly want to give it their all. This is where I have enormous respect for asthmatic athletes. Imagine once again for a second, that feeling you get when you make that lung-busting effort when you sprint for the line at the end of a distance event. Or that maximal effort you make to reach the ball before your opponent. Think about how you felt. The sickness in your stomach. The burning of your lungs and the fire in your throat. The straw in your mouth. This is how asthmatics feel ALL the time. And yet you carry on. You continue running. You continue competing. This is what makes you stronger than the next person. This is what gives you a mental fortitude that non-asthmatics simply cannot appreciate.

Hats off to all you asthmatics out there who compete. You are not weaker or less able than the next person. In many ways you are stronger.

The Nuts Challenge March 2014

Right, let’s start with the numbers. 1 lap equals 7k. 4 laps equals 28k. For our 4 laps we had a start time of 10 o’clock and had to be on our final lap by 2 o’clock. So, 4 hours to do 3 laps, (21k) and give us time to enjoy our last lap. That works out at (and forgive me for mixing my units of measurement) a snip over 13 miles. Which, if my CSE Grade 4 maths is correct is 4.3 miles per hour.

Piece. Of. Cake.

My training had been going pretty well. Resistance, circuit and interval training is like mothers milk to me. I love it. I do hate distance running though. Luckily team-mates were on hand to drag me out on 8/12 milers around Headly several times and 10 days before the event I was declared Nuts Challenge ready. Superbeard on the other hand was suffering a bit of a mechanical breakdown. He had been dealing with an irritating ankle condition (tight, inflamed tibialis posterior tendon) and was unable to run. Sure, he was still uber-fit but hadn’t been able to get the miles in his legs.

So, the day came and as it was one of the more local events for us, not an excessively early start. As with pretty much all of the events I’ve been on, it was easy to find and parking pretty straight forward. I made my customary dash for the porta-loos then we made our way to the main tent. As we had a bit of time to go I busied myself looking at peoples footwear, (mainly Inov8’s and Salomons) and renewed my battle with technology and attempted a tweet. After 5 unsure minutes, I handed my phone to my girlfriend and she did it for me in a couple of seconds.

10 o’clock approached and me and Superbeard made our way to the start line. Quick equipment check, laces done up tight, knee supports on, my new Billabong shortie wetsuit was comfortable. The wildly enthusiastic Personal Trainer put everyone through their warm up paces. Except me, I was having a last minute crisis and debating with my bladder the merits of another quick visit to the loos. The thought of a frantic struggle with my wetsuit in a confined space made my mind for me and I opted for a few forlorn star jumps and a few arm swings instead.

The Nuts Challenge

And off! The course zig-zagged for about 600m and I saw that the people at the front had set off at a pace that would have finished me within a mile. We soon found ourselves in the last quarter of the field but with my calculations still in mind I thought slow and steady should see us through. And this proved to be a catastrophic error.

The greatest obstacle on this course, I found, was the mud. The whole country had been suffering unprecedented rainfall and flooding the previous few months and the mud, even just 2k in, was beginning to set off alarms as far as the required pace was concerned. Even what should be a straight forward dash across open ground was evidently going to be more difficult than usual. The obstacles themselves didn’t initially appear too intimidating. The usual leaps into varying depths of consistently cold water. The wading through shallow(ish) narrow rivers. Even the man-made obstacles were great fun and weren’t phasing either me or Superbeard. There were a lot of them though. An awful lot. There was a lot of climbing. Walls, rope-swings, cargo-nets, tyre-walls, fireman poles. Steep uphill tunnels that you couldn’t just wriggle along. You had to pull yourself up them with the rope the organisers had thoughtfully provided. Most people can run me to a standstill pretty quickly. Superbeard, over long distances, can literally run at double my speed. But I had always prided myself on having plenty of upper-body strength. I even found the 12 foot Tough Mudder hero walls perfectly negotiable on my own. But having pulled myself out of those tunnels the first time I found myself thinking “Blimey, three more of them”. Nevertheless, a few obvious QI buzzer inducing quips about pulling yourself up a damp tunnel and on we went. Eventually we came to an OCR standard, the tyre carry. I reached for the closest one and started off up the hill. Almost immediately I thought that this was a bigger tyre than usual. Now, during training I’m used to plodding around with a 20kg Powerbag across my shoulders. Maybe it was the mud. Maybe it was the incline, but this tyre felt just as heavy. Too heavy for a regular one. My feet started sliding back down the hill. Deep breath, more effort. More sliding downwards. Mild concern crept in. The idea of dropping this curiously heavy ring of rubber and watching it bounce down the hill knocking over other runners like muddy tenpins quickly sent me into a bit of a panic. With legs spinning like the Roadrunner and the expression of a frantic, confused Wile. E. Coyote, holding a stick of lit dynamite, in my eyes, I hit the deck without so much of a “Beep beep” I looked around for a few seconds and saw that NO-ONE else seemed to be having this problem. Just me then it seems. After much embarrassing huffing and puffing I reached the end of that particular section, and thought, “Blimey, three more of them”

The Nuts Challenge

The Nuts Challenge

During. Then onto more pace-slowing muddy, hilly zig-zag running and lake crossings. We finished our first lap in 1 hour 38 mins and made our way to the re-fuelling station. As we ate, it dawned on us that we simply weren’t going quick enough. We had a quick chat with another runner, about our concerns and he seemed to think that we were still on course for our full 4 laps. I think he must have been in the set below me in maths at school because in my mind, the numbers just didn’t add up. But seeing as he had done two laps the day before, I took him at his word as he seemed to be quite an experienced OCR runner. Nevertheless, me and Jon decided to try and up the pace for our second lap.

Easier said than done. We set off on our 2nd lap at exactly the same time as a wave of 1 lappers and the inevitable bottlenecks appeared. Now 4 lappers are supposed to have priority on the course. A different coloured number and a shout of “Tough Nut coming through” was supposed to alert the marshals and get them to assist in providing us with a clear path over the obstacles. Two problems with this. One, I don’t have the ego to shout that I’m a tough nut. (I’m most definitely not) Two, even when you did shout it the other runners and the marshals either didn’t register the shout or just ignored you.

We carried on. The uphill tunnel pull was just a little more exhausting and then I came to the tyre carry again. Grabbing a tyre and steeling myself for the effort, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I hadn’t picked a concrete one this time and sailed up the hill. The other obstacles that had seemed so easy on the first lap were now beginning to take their toll. Even the lake crossing on the inflatable pontoons, which was cause for much merriment first time round was now beginning burn the muscles and scrape the skin. Even though the cumulative effect of the course was growing I still felt good for another two laps. Up and over the haystacks, through the tyres and on the home straight to finish our second lap.

By now the time was13.10. Unusually, I was in front of Superbeard who was really struggling with his ankle. Looking around, the course was beginning to look very under-populated and the tents were rapidly filling up with blue-lipped, shivering runners. Marshals were reportedly ushering people off the course and into the warmth, even though some runners were apparently insisting that they were still good to run. Physically, I genuinely felt full of energy still. Jon had a pained expression on his face and although he had the will to carry on, his ankle had called time on his attempt. I looked up at the grey sky. 50 minutes to finish a third lap and start the fourth. Even the most optimistic could see that that was unlikely. It was at this point I began to have a bit of a sulk. Sure, I could finish a third lap, but without my team-mate, who in previous events had provided invaluable encouragement to get me round, I didn’t really want to. But mainly, I had come here to do four laps, not three. A fourth lap wasn’t going to happen and putting in another hard 90 minutes and still fall short of my target just didn’t seem worth it. I decided to flounce off the course like Za Za Gabor. If there was an available cat to kick, I would have. (Not really, before anyone gets sniffy and reports me for promoting animal cruelty. I would never kick an animal. Except my Mums cat. I hate that cat)

We called it a day after two laps.

We went to receive our medals and bag of goodies and made our way to the blissfully warm changing tents. There were no cleaning facilities, so the mud we had accrued crawling around under tarpaulins was set to stay despite my feeble efforts to scrub myself up with an already dirty, wet t-shirt. Still, in warm, dry clothes, we ambled out of the changing tent and was greeted by my tweet-savvy girlfriend who handed us a couple of chilli filled baked potatoes.

The Nuts Challenge

Looking back, I’m still surprised I didn’t complete my laps. On previous Tough Mudders the team finished the 21k course on average, 3 hours 20 mins. Maybe it was the mud. Or the weather. Or as I suspect, the course itself. If you want to finish 4 laps, then you really have to fly over the (short) running sections of the course and be really nippy over the obstacles. I’ll know for next time and keep checking my watch.

This is the genius/horror of the multi-lap Nuts Challenge. One lap? Fine. Enjoy yourself. You’ll have a gas. 2 laps or more? Then you’d better be prepared. It’s not the distance or even so much the obstacles that get you. It’s the time constraints. The less laps you do, the later your start time, which right from the start puts you closer to the dreaded 2 o’clock cut. If you intend to do a multi-lap Nuts Challenge, then you had better take it seriously. If not, then you could find yourself walking into a massive bear-trap.

HellRunner Jan 2014

Hellrunner 2014

Hell Down South 4th Jan

Iran Happy

 

Having personally ticked off 2 Tough Mudders, 1 Back To The Trenches, 1 Battlezone, 1 Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest 10k, and 1 Zombie Survival Race in 2013 (my team-mates having completed several more events), I should perhaps have been feeling a little more confident than I was. There was however one problem.

 

I dislike running. With good reason, I’m not very good at it. And Hellrunner is a runner’s event. There are no walls to scale, no monkey bars to swing from, no cargo nets to scramble across and no fire pits to leap over. Nothing to break the grind and pain of mile after mile of relentless, muddy, hilly, wet terrain.

 

Jon and Dal have no such issues. Dal is an overly modest and gifted distance runner. No matter how fast we go or how far into a run we are she always smiles and manages to exalt a loud and cheery “Good morning” to passing ramblers, dog-walkers etc. I don’t smile when I run. It’s a waste of energy. I would scowl but even that is too much effort.

Jon is a machine. With a beard.

 

There were however other problems. I was still trying to shake off a chesty cough that I’d had for 5/6 weeks and Dal had picked up a nasty cold just before Christmas. Such human concerns are not for Jon (Superbeard). A quick trim of the ‘tache and an oil change and he was ready to go.

 

Race Day

The weather leading up to Hell Runner was suitably hellish. Cold, wet and windy. Previously, weather wise, our luck had always held out as we were always blessed with warm, sunny weather. As we neared Longmoor Camp from the A3,  the rain beat down harder and harder. However, we got there in good time and the parking was well marshalled. We pulled up, drew lots as to who was going to make a dash for the port-a-loos first (I won), had the obligatory lost-car-keys-panic and then off to the start line.

 

The rain stopped and the temperature was a reported 7 degrees. Our meteorological luck was holding. The first quarter mile passed in deceptively easy fashion with the race chip recording vans beeping in our ears. A quick left turn and the race was on in earnest. Well, I say race. I had no intention of racing. People enter these events for, I imagine, varying reasons. One of these being the target of posting as fast a time as possible. Not me. Like I say, I’m not a very good runner. Stephen Hawking with a flat battery can move quicker than I can. However, the terrain and the race in general suited me. What I thought was going to be a long, monotonous slog turned out to be an interesting and varied challenge. The course twisted and turned and ploughing through the mud and puddles never got boring. Because the ground underfoot was so treacherous it was difficult and unwise to thump along at too quick a pace anyway. The puddles were particularly deceptive. Some were just that, puddles. Ankle deep and just the thing to cool hot feet. Others were knee deep, some coming up to mid-thigh (depending on how tall you were of course). They all looked the same though, so you had to exercise a little caution. Although there were no man-made obstacles the terrain itself was obstacle enough and the organisers had done a brilliant job of designing a course that worked not just the legs and lungs, but the upper body and the mind as well. The hills very quickly made an appearance and rather mischievously hung around for the rest of the race. Unlike the Welsh Tough Mudder hills, these were tailored to my liking. In Wales, the hills were long and leg and moral sapping, sometimes just plodding uphill for up to 10 minutes at a time. Here, they were very steep and slippery, but I found that with a deep breath and the mental equivalent of spitting on your hands and hoisting up your trousers they could be sprinted up in about 30 seconds leaving me breathless but somewhat exhilarated at the top. Getting back down though was another matter entirely.

Now you might occasionally get a slightly egotistical 47 year old bounding up the hills, but going down required a much more mature approach. Descending was challenging and the runners seemed to be aware of this and realised that this was no time for egos and care was taken on each descent. This created welcome (to me anyway) bottlenecks at the top of each hill.

At halfway there was a water station and this was where Superbeard gave it the berries and took off. Me and Dal carried on at our own pace. The second half of the course I assumed would hold no further surprises as far as the terrain was concerned. More hills, more mud and a few more water obstacles. There was however the small matter of The Bog of Doom to negotiate. I wasn’t overly concerned. I had done a couple of Arctic Enemas without too much drama. I mean, really. How bad could it be?

 

I first realised we were approaching the centrepiece of Hellrunner when I heard shrieks and screams filtering through the woods. As Dal and I drew closer, the clamour seemed to take on (at least to my ears) a less joyous tone. As the trees opened up we could see the obstacle ahead. I had heard a few second hand reports as to what to expect at this point. Thigh deep, cold sticky mud stretching out for approximately 50 metres. Well, the 50 metre bit seemed accurate, but the mud was submerged under nearly 6 foot of water. I gallantly let Dal go first then I stepped in. Knee deep. Not too bad. Thigh deep. Mmm, that’s getting cold. Then in up past my waist and up to my chest. If I could have sworn, I would have, but my breath was completely taken away. The water was colder than I could ever have imagined. It felt like someone had taken a blowtorch to my skin. My insides felt like they had been scooped out and replaced with several buckets of ice. I battled to regain my breath and composure as I tip-toe bounced along, desperately trying to keep my nose above water, hoping that things would settle and I would adapt to the cold.

 

I never did.

 

There were tree branches on either side of the 4 metre wide trench and I couldn’t help but grab at them for a bit of support. Normally the crowd would give me a lift, but their cheers of encouragement faded into the background until all I could hear was a distant buzz of white noise. The poor chap in front of me seemed to be having even more of a bad time of it than I was. It looked like he had gone down with cramp and every time he went to clutch his leg, his head disappeared under the water. It seemed quite a dilemma. After a few leg/head repetitions he frantically clutched hold of a branch and held on for what looked like, dear life. I had decided at this point to stop trying to bob along and swim for it.  I began to gather my senses and looked up to my left and there was the Devil himself, blasting out music. Periodically smoke, or whatever it was, was pumped across the water reducing visibility and for a few eerie seconds I was completely alone. As the mist cleared I realised with a sinking heart that I was only halfway across. I wasn’t warming up and to make things worse I spotted Dal several metres away ploughing ahead, grinning, giggling and I think conversing with the crowd and generally behaving like a joyful toddler in a warm bath. Obviously there was no question of giving up and trying to clamber out of the side, but when my feet gained a firm footing and I began to emerge from the water I really could not have been more relieved. Having listened to Jon and Dals experience of The Bog of Doom afterwards it seems that a neoprene shortie or top is recommended to make the crossing more ‘enjoyable’.

  140105064259_H

 

 

Hysterically happy to be out of The Bog Of Doom.

 

We decided the best course of action now was just to keep moving. I began to notice that the sides of the course were beginning to fill up with casualties. People were sitting down with glazed, vacant expressions on their faces. I could quite understand it. The Bog of Doom was a real and unexpected shock to the system. Still, we had got through it,  although I had  survived with considerably  less ‘joie de vivre’ than Dal and could only imagine that The Terminator, (Jon, the man of many nicknames) either did it completely underwater or decided to squeeze in a few lengths just to make it more of a challenge. The course immediately went uphill and halfway up we found a runner sitting by the side with the worst case of cramp that I had seen. His calf looked like it had some kind of living creature under the skin, so bad was the spasming. We decided to stop and give a helping hand and after 5 minutes of massage and stretching he was on his feet again and back in the race. We then quickly came upon a lake crossing, which thankfully wasn’t as cold as The Bog of Doom. Dal disagreed and was adamant that it was colder. We debated for a bit as we ran on, then without reaching a consensus the course u-turned and we were back in The Lake of Indeterminate Temperature.

 

As we clambered our way up a particularly steep hill, we could hear music, a buzz of crowd noise and see a large tent-like structure. Was this the end? It looked like it. Yep, there was the cheerleaders. There were the massage couches. We had made it.

No we hadn’t. Whether this was a deliberate ploy by the organisers or not I don’t know, but I wasn’t the only one to fall for it. After a quick groan and good natured grumble we got our heads down and surmised that we couldn’t be that far from the finish. We weren’t, but the course had one last trick up its sleeve. The sand dunes. Not particularly sandy or dune-y but certainly heavy enough under foot to drain the last of the strength from your legs. A few more twists and turns, then back on the tarmac and the welcoming sight and sound of the timing vans signalling the end of the race. Me and Dal crossed the line, as it turned out,  15 mins after Superbeard. We picked up our goodie bag which contained the usual sponsor items, a nice medal and a decent quality t-shirt that had the legend ‘I Ran Happy’ emblazoned across it. Although it was agreed that perhaps someone should have had a closer look at the way it was printed as it looked more like ‘Iran Happy’

One bacon roll later we all made our way to the very nice hotel, ate and drank just a little more that perhaps we should have and generally enthused at what a good event it was.

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