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.
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”
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.
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.