Tougher Mudder North West (08-09-18)

Tougher Mudder is the competitive wave at Tough Mudder. They introduced this last year but this was the first one I have been able to get to. I’ve done plenty of Tough Mudders for fun and was really looking forward to racing one. My excitement was heightened even more as it had been a long time since I’d raced an OCR.
The course was in Cheshire so over 2 hours drive from home and it was a very early 7.45am start so I went up the evening before, along with my wife, son and daughter for a hotel stay.
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Entering the venue the first thing I noticed was it looked fairly flat, which I was happy about. I don’t mind hills but I felt my best chance of doing well was to rely on my running speed which is always better on flatter ground. The course was 10 miles long over 2 slightly different laps with 23 obstacles.
The podium positions offer prize money so that was my aim but as always I just wanted to finish as high up the field as I possibly could.
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We set off and almost immediately the front runners spread out from everyone else. I was in fifth position behind two guys who had come over from the Netherlands, last year’s OCR European age group champion Jesse Betts and multiple Tough Mudder winner Tristan Stead.
I soon moved into third and as early as the second obstacle I was in second place tucking in on Tristan’s shoulder. We got clear of everyone else and spent most of the first half of the race side by side, that was until the final obstacle of lap one, Birth Canal, which I found myself coming out of first and gaining a few yards. I picked up the pace a little and opened up a bit of a gap.
Through Electroshock Therapy with just one small shock to my elbow and safely across what is one of my favourite obstacle, Funky Monkey The Revelation, I was then tasked with a new obstacle which they had simple called ‘Alpha test 2’.
Entering into a lake the sign read ‘deep water, swimmers only’. I began to wade my way towards the obstacle half way across finding the ground really heaving going so even tough it actually wasn’t very deep at all I decided trying to swim would be the quickest option. Tristan seemed to be finding the wading a lot easier than me and soon caught up. Climbing onto the floating blocks we were again side by side. We both thought we had to step across each block but the marshals told us that we weren’t allowed to stand up so I shimmying motion was required. I found the blocks were a little too far apart for this to really work and soon rolled into the water and began swimming again. By this point Tristan had noticed that swimming was actually quicker so joined me in the lake and it wasn’t long before we were both on dry land again and approaching the Liberator which is a peg board obstacle.
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I reached up to the highest possible holes, stuck my pegs in and hauled myself up. It was then that the problems started. I pulled one peg out but the other didn’t follow. It took a whole lot of wriggling until it eventually came free. This was the case each of the following two times I tried to pull the peg in my right hand out until I reached the top. I was tempted to leave it stuck in but the rules state that you have to drop both pegs back down for the next competitors so I spend a good 10 or more seconds frantically pulling at it while Tristan was back running and gaining a lengthy lead on me. Finally it released, I climbed down the other side and gave chase.
I wondered if my chance of winning had gone but I wasn’t giving up yet. I was still feeling speedy so increased my pace and took down the next couple of obstacle as fast as possible.
Next up was Arctic Enema (the ice skip). I didn’t even give the sudden rush of freezing cold temperature a second thought as I clambered out and took off again. I was gaining ground rapidly but was it going to be enough and had I put in too much too soon?
By the approach to ‘Twinkle toes’ (two balance beams) I was back on Tristan’s heals. I’m not sure if it was my reappearance that knocked him back or something else but he did then fall from the first beam. Strangely though, this didn’t result in a penalty and he was able to go straight the the next beam and carry on. I got across both anyway and we set off running again.
Next up was another newbie again named Alpha test (3). It required crawling under electric wires (more electricity, just what OCR needs I thought to myself sarcastically) but luckily the wires weren’t low enough to cause any shocks.
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We were now down to the final mile and there were just two obstacles remaining both right before the finish line. I was confident that if Tristan was on top form he would have made more of an attempt at a breakaway by now so I was content to sit in, still feeling strong, and hope I had enough in a sprint to the line.
As we came back into the event village rubbing shoulders I could feel the excitement of the crowd and hear the announcer drumming up the race for the title.
I made my move, Tristan responded but I had a little more and started to pull away. I didn’t feel him coming back at me so felt that all I needed to do was successfully negotiate the final two obstacles and the race was mine. If only it was that easy!
I came around the corner and sprinted straight up Everest (a high ramped wall). I grabbed the ledge at the top but my fingers slipped and I slip desperately back down. Tristan by now had arrived and took his run up. I knew if he made it there would be no time to catch up again and my race was over. He missed!
We then both ran up again, both reached for the top together and both fell again.
As soon as I reached the bottom I pulled myself up first and went again. Third time lucky I had made it! I climbed down and headed to the last obstacle not even daring to take a look back.
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I clambered into the water then slipped submerging my whole body even though it was only knee deep. I waded over to the high ramp and pulled myself up with the rope, Tristan still wasn’t in sight so I knew I now had the victory. Jumping down it was then just a 100m glory run to break the tape.
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I have spent the last couple of months working really hard on OCR specific training and this was the first test to see if I’d been doing the right things so I’m really happy with the result with a month and a half to go before the World Championships.
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Endure 24- Leeds (30/06/18)

I first did this event in 2013 and fell in love with it almost instantly. It went straight to the top of my favourite races list and from that weekend the countdown to the following year’s event began as it has done every year since.

Although my first five events were all at Reading on relatively the same course, each year threw up something different from boiling heat to torrential rain and I have participated in a team of eight, three times as a soloist and once in a pair so no two races were the same. I had however racked up a grand total of 67 laps of the five mile course so as the organisers had added a new venue in Leeds my running club teammates and I thought it would be a welcomed change to give that a go.

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I was once again going as a soloist and aiming for what had so far been an elusive 100 mile/ 20 lap target. Even more excited than usual for the different venue and better prepared than ever before I headed to Leeds with my first ever 100 mile training week and an ultra race win under my belt.

The plan was simple – Hit 40 miles in the first eight hours, 35 in the next eight, leaving me ‘just’ 25 in the final eight for the magic 100. The race starts at 12 midday so I thought that middle section which covers the entire night would be make or break and that turned out to be right.

Arriving at Brammam park roughly two hours before the start along with my mum who was going to be my support for the weekend, we pitched up our marquee, met up with our fellow Parklands Jog and Run club mates who were in a mix of teams, pairs and four other soloists including my Dad and I got kitted up ready to run.

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It was a roasting hot day, the sun was beaming down on us as we stood on the start line raring to go. The excitement is high and adrenaline is pumping but with so long to run you have to stay calm and really rein it in. As 12pm struck we were set off with the first members of the teams flying into the distance as the solos ambled along at ‘24 hour pace’.

Within the first couple of kilometres I found myself running with my teammate Steve Cory who has done the event twice before running 100 and 110 miles so I thought he would be a good, experienced head to guide me. We ended up staying together for much of the first three laps. One of us would slow down for one reason or another then we would find ourselves side by side again. That was until Steve said he wasn’t feeling great and told me to go on ahead. I certainly didn’t speed up but it was a while before I saw him again and it ended up not being his weekend to hit a triple century.

I however was feeling very good. The heat was tough and there was very little shade on course but other than that I liked the route and everything was going to plan.

Every lap my mum would be waiting for me with a smile at the area set up just for pairs and soloists which was situated just past the start/ finish point. Early on I would just grab a drink then get going straight away but as the hours went on I would take a little more time here. It was working out at roughly 50 minutes on course and then 5 minutes ‘in the pits’ refuelling. After five laps/ 25 miles I took my first extended break where I went back to our camp area and had a sit down and some pasta.

A quarter of the way to my target and well inside time I headed back out to get another three laps in to reach the first 40 miles going back to my strategy of very short stops between laps. Up to this point I’d been running all of the course but from here decided to start walking the hills. There were four significant ones over the lap but none were very long so it didn’t slow me down much and I was still maintaining a fairly good speed throughout the rest of the course.

As confident as I was feeling I knew the real test would come when darkness fell. The weather was far too hot for ideal running conditions but it had been a beautiful day and as the sun set there was a huge moon on show. It was a stunning scene.

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Eight laps completed I moved on to the second section of my three part plan. I’d done four 24 hour races before and never made it through the entire night so as darkness fell I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little reluctant. I knew if I was going to get to 100 miles then keeping going was the only option.

The next milestone I had in my head was ten laps. Not only did it signify half way but it also meant my lap countdown went into single figures which felt highly comforting as lap 11 came around.

The sun had now gone down so I chanced from a vest to a t-shirt for the first time but soon realised that the temperature was still high and the air still very close. I tipped some water over me in an attempt to cool down but then felt uncomfortable with my top sticking to my skin so although it was now dark I decided to go shirtless. With a refreshing breeze in the final quarter of the lap I stuck my t-shirt back on and thoughts soon went back to counting the miles.

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Apart from the ones by the start/ finish arch there are no lights at Endure 24 other than from your own head torch. What I found much better on this course than the Reading one was that there is much less forest which meant significantly less tree routes to look out for. This along with the clear sky allowed for the night running to be almost hazard free and it seemed to fly by.

Before I knew it my next big milestone of 75 miles was complete and it was well inside my 16 hour target. I stopped for what was only my second extended break and went into the food tent where my mum got me a jacket potato and a cup of tea. I struggled to get the food down but eat what I could. Physically I felt good but mentally I was now really tired. I put my Dryrobe on the grass and laid on top of it. I told my mum that I didn’t want to fall asleep but if I did to wake me after no longer than 15 minutes. I didn’t nod off but I think that rest made my body think it was finally bedtime so when I did get back up and sat down at the table again I was now really struggling to stay awake.

This was clearly my worst period but knowing I now ‘only’ had 25 miles to run and I had over eight hours to do it in was keeping me going. I had come so far and there was no way that I was stopping now. I pulled myself up and was back out on course within target time of 4am.

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On this lap the sun came up which is always a massively revitalising feeling. I’d made it through the night! It wasn’t long however until the heat was back. 80 miles done and a quick change back into a vest and I was off on what would equal the furthest I’d ever ran. I use the word ‘ran’ loosely as the more I realised I had time on my side the more my pace slowed into walking as energy levels were by now pretty depleted.

85 miles/ 17 laps in the bag everything I did from here was new territory. There was only one thing I had my mind on though and it required another three laps/ 15 miles to achieve it. My focus had remained throughout and now that goal I’d wanted so badly for so long was within reach.

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I had two laps left to run and over four hours to do it. The dream was becoming real! Strangely though, this didn’t give me a new lease of energy, quite the opposite in fact. Knowing I had so much time to spare I was finding it hard to push myself to run. After four and a half miles of plodding I managed to muster up a jog as the lap finishing arch was in sight. I’d now covered 95 miles. It didn’t seem real.

In the pit area spirits were high. I didn’t want to hang around too long though, I had a job to finish. I put on my custom made club t-shirt with ‘solo’ printed on the back so that I could lap up the appreciation from fellow runners on what was going to be my final lap and headed out.

The pace was slow, again I knew I didn’t need to run so found it hard to motivate myself to do so. This was however the glory lap so I did push on a little bit more which meant I finished with plenty of time to spare in a time of 22 hours, 49 minutes and 30 seconds.

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Five years in the making, four previous failed attempts but now I’d finally joined the 100 mile club! I wasn’t feeling as emotional as I thought I would but I put that down to being so confident for so long as almost everything had gone to plan. After all, you get a lot of time to think during 24 hours of running, the majority of which was on my own.

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I’m writing this over a month on and it still seems surreal. I know to many accomplished ultra runners coving 100 miles in 24 hours is a big milestone but it’s nothing special but to me it really does mean a lot. Five years ago when I first turned up at this event as a middle distance track runner in a team of eight I was completely in awe of the solo runners and I didn’t even know it was possible for a human being to run 100 miles in a day (and night) so to achieve it myself is up there with my biggest ever running accomplishments.

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London Marathon 2018

It was April 2014, I’d ran my debut marathon just 7 days earlier in Manchester but I knew then, just as I know now, that the London marathon is the pinnacle of distance running so I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to run the greatest marathon on earth. Predictably that day was a struggle, my legs gave up on me quite early on but I pushed to the finish line and knew I’d been a part of one of the best races in history. From that day forwards I vowed to run the London marathon every single year that I could and four years on I was back in the capital for my fifth successive appearance.

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The following year I recorded a time of 2:46:12 which still remains my personal best to date. In 2016 I was training for Ironman so had done less running than normal and last year I had a PB attempt in Paris two weeks previous still in my legs but this year I was going into London firmly fixed on running my fastest ever 26.2 miles

It had been a very cold winter with 20% of my preparation done in snowy conditions but despite this my training had gone very well. I’d done everything on my plan and I was feeling good. I had ran my second fastest ever half marathon in the build up so I knew I was in good shape.

After the coldest few months I’d experienced in my lifetime three days before race day the sun made an appearance. There was talk of a ‘mini heatwave’ and then the news that the forecast was predicting it to be the hottest London marathon in its 38 year history with temperatures reaching 23 degrees. This certainly wasn’t ideal but nothing could be done about it so I remained positive.

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Sunday soon came around. I had hoped the 10am race start would at least give an hour or so of cooler air before the sun came out but standing in the ‘fast good for age’ starting pen sweat was already dripping down my forehead as I watched Queen Elizabeth push the button on the big screen to get us underway.

My target was a PB but I really wanted sub 2:45 which is the Championship qualifying time so that is the pace I’d been training at. That required me to run 6:13 miles. As usual the first 1KM was very congested but I’ve ran this race enough times now to know not to panic as the spaces soon open up. Purposely avoiding too much weaving around people I clocked an opening mile of 6:16. I followed that up with a 6:08 which meant I was now well into my stride and by mile three I’d hit my rhythm perfectly with a 6:13 split.

Already though I felt the heat was getting to me. Normally in the early stages of a marathon I’m having to constantly remind myself to hold back as the pace feels ridiculously easy. That wasn’t the case and the next couple of miles didn’t feel particularly hard but they certainly weren’t as comfortable as they should have been.

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Thankfully there were water stations every mile. I was making sure to take some fluids in and I was also tipping plenty over my head in an attempt to keep my temperature down. As the miles went on and the sun beamed down stronger I found myself yearning for every drinks stop and was so grateful for each and every one of them.

I was finding it very tough going but I was still hitting my splits without too much strain. I decided I needed to get myself in a better frame of mind so I focused on my legs which were still feeling good (as you’d expect only a quarter of the way in). This really worked and suddenly made my whole body feel better. I told myself I needed to enjoy the race and I started to really take in the crowd and the atmosphere which is always second to none in London, this year more so than ever with the weather bringing out even more people onto the streets.

This feel good factor carried me though the next two miles in times of 6:04 and 6:06. I had also seen my Dad cheering me on which had given me a further boost. I couldn’t get carried away this early on though so brought the pace on mile right back to where it should be with a 6:12.

Unfortunately this feeling of running on air didn’t last long and by mile ten, which I always see as a significant marker, I was back to finding it more of a struggle than it should have been. I was now just focusing on getting to the milestone of the halfway point. I reached it in 1:22:12 so almost perfectly on target.

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If beforehand someone had offered me that time at 13.1 miles I’d of taken it all day long but in the circumstances of this day I knew deep down that it was very unlikely I was going to be able to run that speed for that same distance again especially as I’d just clocked my slowest mile split so far of 6:19 and followed it up with exactly the same time again on mile 14.

It was time for a reality check and to reevaluate my goals. My options were 1. To keep pushing at this pace for as long as I possibility could which would almost certainly result in me going to pieces and the last quarter (or more) being absolute hell or 2. Come off the pace slightly, set a new target and try to enjoy it. Anyone that knows me will know that I would normally almost always go with option one but in this case, due to the extreme weather conditions, I went with option 2. This meant the new target naturally had to be sub 3 hours. It would mean I still had to push and couldn’t afford any stops or walking but I could run at a pace where I didn’t feel like I was going to collapse with heat exhaustion at an minute.

The next six miles averaged around 6:45 pace which was by no means easy with my thighs beginning to tighten up but getting to 20 miles was a big relief. All I really wanted now was the finish line.

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The mile splits began to creep over 7 minutes but I wasn’t too concerned as my maths told me that I had room to manoeuvre. My energy had been sapped but I was determined to keep running and at 22 miles I got another boost when I saw my mum, sister and wife. I gave my wife a cheeky kiss on the lips as I passed her then focused on the last few miles.

Passing mile 23 and knowing all that I needed now was a 27 minute last 5KM allowed me to relax a bit more. I would like to say I cruised home but in truth it was more of a stagger but I made it stopping the clock at 2:57:31.

It wasn’t what I’d trained for or what I’d set out to do but neither had I trained to run in 25 degree heat. Sometimes you just have to accept what you’ve done on the day as good enough and move on. I know my time didn’t justify my true current fitness level but hopefully I can take that on to the next few challenges now. It was still a great pleasure to be a part of this historic event yet again and I hope I can continue my streak for years to come.

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Charnwood Hills Race (04-02-18)

Although my home town of Northampton isn’t exactly flat and there are some sizeable hills to train on in the surrounding countryside there’s certainly nothing that could be described as mountainous or even fell like so when I found out about a fell race that took place less than 50 miles away I jumped at the chance to compete. At least I tried to but the event only has 350 places and they sell out rapidly.

3 years in a row I’d missed out then by chance I was scrolling through Facebook back in November when I saw a post come up saying that the entry was opening in 10 minutes time. Finger on the button and cash card ready I swooped in and finally got my place.

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On a sunny but cold February morning I made the short journey across the East Midlands knowing a big challenge was in store in terms of the course but what I didn’t really know was what the standard of competition would be like or how my legs would cope with 14 miles of hills.

We started with a lap around the sports field of the school where the race HQ was located and I tucked in amongst a lead pack of up to 10 runners before we headed down a narrow path which stung everyone out a little. I found myself in fifth place for the next mile or so and I was feeling quite smooth in the muddy conditions.

The course then opened up as we entered a beautiful county park with the landscape of an old castle ruins set on top of the hill. This for me was where the going got tough. It wasn’t the incline I was struggling with but the terrain underfoot. The mixture of overgrown hay like brush over boggy ground was really sapping my energy. Several runners started to overtake me in the quarter mile before the climb really began. A few more went past before I started to descend down the other side.

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Back in thick mud I was only roughly three miles in yet I’d already learnt that firstly I’d gone off too fast and secondly the standard of competition I was unsure about was in fact pretty high.

I knew that there was a long way to go so I made the decision to just relax and run comfortably for the next few miles. This really helped and by mile six I was back on track and feeling good. The next really significant hill came and I was able to run it all and put a gap between myself and a guy I’d been running with for some time. From this point on I didn’t get another bad spell, in fact I went from strength to strength.

The miles flew by as did the hills. I tried to take in some of the stunning scenery as I looked into the distance at my next target. I found myself on my own for quite long periods but every now and then as the course opened up I got a glimpse at runners in the distance and as the race went on one by one they got closer. The lonely wasn’t an issue though as there was great support on route. Most of the time I wasn’t sure weather the words of encouragement were coming from people who were just out on a Sunday stroll, of which there were plenty, or actual supporters but all were very kind in there words which contributed to keeping my spirits as high as the peaks of the hills.

Just past the ten mile mark the course began to go back on itself for the first time. Because of this I was expecting to go back up the steepest part of the route that I had struggled with so early on but this time the markings were set around the hill. The masochistic part of me was slightly disappointed about this but I used that to push my pace on further.

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I now had a clear view of the runner one place in front of me and although I wasn’t sure, I had been told that I was in 21st place, so a top 20 placing was within reach. With two miles to go I was really encouraged with how much running my legs still felt like they had in them. The gap was still considerable but I knew if I didn’t close it down I’d feel like I’d not given my all so I went for it.

With roughly a mile to go we reached the penultimate mud heavy field and to my surprise and delight my efforts to catch the guy in front had also reeled another one in. Two runners were there for the taking and surely that top 20 place that had motivated me for some time now.

At last I passed the back of the green vest I’d been staring at for miles and as I turned the final corner entering back into the school playing field with just one hundred meters of the home straight remaining I also went past the other guy. He put up a strong fight but my surprisingly fresh legs brought me to the finish with a good sprint.

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In the end my watch told me that I’d covered 14.26 miles and 1,657 feet of elevation gain in 1 hour 43 minutes. I waited up until midnight to get the news that my calculations (or those of the gentleman who informed me) were correct and my official finishing position was 19th. I’m happy with a positive run which has acted as great training in my marathon preparations and for other challenges as the year progresses. No medal for this one but a most welcomed cup and tea and piece of cake.

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The Ram Run (07-10-17)

Not A Good Day At The Office

After a solid weekend at Spartan I went into Ram Run with high hopes of a good performance. I had recovered well and was raring to go.

Lining up against some strong competitors I was in confident mood with the plan of taking the first of the two 8KM laps steady then pushing on. As it turned out I did go steady on lap one but it felt a lot harder than it should of done.

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Right from the off I was struggling. I felt heavy legged and tight armed. I tried not to worry about this and hoped that I would improve as the race went on but that never really happened.

Eddie Whetton took up the early pace and I some how found myself in 2nd. Unlike most OCR’s there were lots of obstacles early on in this one so I put my lack of energy down to the fact that I was having to exert myself a lot sooner than usual.

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We soon reached the water where Jason Brunnock, someone I’ve had several close races with in the past, came alongside me and then overtook. After a pretty long wade I was back on dry land and tried to give chase but I felt like I had nothing in the tank. A succession of hills followed which didn’t help my tiredness. Jason took the lead and pulled away but Eddie was still within catching distance.

After lots of varied wall climbs and many surprisingly energy sapping hurdle jumps we reached Ram Run’s piece de resistance, ‘The Bridge of Despair’. On the approaching swim I managed to draw close with Eddie before climbing the rope that lead to the bridge itself. This obstacle was once awarded the UK’s toughest by the sport’s leading media source Mudstacle and it’s easy to see why. I did the hard bit then struggled to clambered through the bridge’s supporting structure to begin running again. That allowed Eddie to gain back all the lead I’d closed down but I certainly wasn’t giving up yet.

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Next up we entered the woods and with several cut backs I was able to see that I was right back in contention for 2nd spot. A long hill drag followed and although I wasn’t by any means up to my normal speed I was finally beginning to feel a little better.

Running alongside the lake I got level with Eddie at which point he told me he was stopping at the end of the first lap. As I passed him with the knowledge that the leader Jason had said at the start that he was also only likely to do one lap with the OCR World Champs next weekend in mind the win suddenly opened up for me but there was still a long way to go and a lot could still change as I was about to find out.

It was time for the challenge of the Cliff Lakes permanent course section. This was a gauntlet of technical obstacles which elaborated to me that today just wasn’t going to be me day. As I swag across the long line of hanging rings I began to feel faint. I had to take a moment before moving on to the flying monkey bars then another before the rope traverse as my head began to pound. I felt horrid going across the bar slide and as I went up the inverted monkey bars my arms started to burn and my fingers tighten.

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My grip strength was fading fast as I laboured through some more hanging rings and another set on monkey bars. Then came the final section of this intense and testing set up in the form on some V shaped bars that you had to clamber down, go under the bottom and climb back up. As I reached close to the end my energy levels were now at zero and I couldn’t hold on a single second longer. Although this was a very tough series of obstacles I know on almost any other day I would have been able to cope with it a lot better but it wasn’t any other day so I had 10 burpees to do before progressing on the the final few hundred meters of the lap.

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I still had another small water crossing to negotiate, some more walls and a weaver but I managed to muster up some strength to complete them all before the final run and jump over the hay bale to signify the half way point.

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Eddie had now stopped but Jason, how was flying, had carried on meaning I was still in 2nd place. I started lap two but in all honestly didn’t have a whole lot of desire to finish it and the combination of the chasing pack closing in, my body seemingly shutting down on me and then cramp setting in resulted in me calling it a day mid way through the rig at roughly 9KM. I wasn’t going to gain anything from carrying on and was in danger of causing myself some damage.

I can’t really put my finger on anything in particular that caused the way I felt and I know I’m in good shape from my efforts the previous weekend. I hadn’t done anything differently to normal so I think I’ll just have to put this one down to being one of those days. As competitive athletes we have good ones and bad ones and luckily I’ve had a lot more good days so I’m not going to dwell on this one, just hope it remains a rarity.

Spartan Windsor Weekend 2017

Podium Chasing 

After a good return of two podium finishes from my two Spartan races in 2016 things had been very different in my two races so far this year. Back in May I went into the South West Sprint fatigued from completing nearly 40 miles at Europe’s Toughest Mudder the week before so finished a disappointing 11th place. Right at the start of September I did the Maston Lodge Super and never recovered from slipping off an obstacle at the mid way point and my 14th place finish that day showed me a lot of work was needed to get back to full fitness.

From that point I’ve put three really positive weeks of training in followed by an easier week to make sure I went into this double header fresh. Even though I’d stayed in nearby accommodation though due to a big wait to get into the car park I still managed to arrive late and have no time at all to warm up. Luckily the first race of the weekend was the longer one so I could ease my way into it.

It’s a good job I went into it with the strategy of starting steadily as within 200 meters we were on a single track trail and I found myself way back on the early leaders. I stayed calm knowing there was a long way to go (the Beast is typically well over half marathon distance) and I knew plenty of those ahead of me would have started too fast and fade. Soon enough the course opened up and I started picking people off.

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I must have been around 20th position after four or so KM but soon moved into the top ten overtaking quite a few going up a long gravel tracked hill. Then, without meaning to, much like I did at my last Spartan race, I managed to get a few meters on the group around me on the concrete block drag.

I was now in 4th spot but the top three had a good gap on me. I needed to run hard, not make any mistakes on obstacles and hope that they did. The UK champ, Tristan Steed was gone and away in first but I was catching glimpses of the other two on the various cutbacks. I gained some ground on third place but the guy in second looked very strong as I saw him power up a hill.

Then my chance to move into the podium positions came from nowhere. As I approached a traverse wall that same guy who had been looking so good was struggling to make it past the first rope. In fact I saw him try and fail twice on my approach (Spartan rules state you only get one attempt at an obstacle then it’s a 30 burpee penalty) but rather than complaining I just concentrated on making sure I got across it which I did.

Now in third all eyes were on second place. We were in a hilly wooded section and I was closing the gap on every up hill stretch but then he would fly down the hills and get it back again. I knew he had gone out hard so I told myself that if I kept piling on the pressure then he would tier and eventually he did and I made my move.

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I ran hard and got through all the obstacles in my way. I had shaken off the two runners that had been in front of me for so long but now Nick Day, who I know pretty well from racing over the last few years, was doing his best to hang on to me and the last remaining podium place.

As I came back into the event village area I faced the Twister. This was an obstacle I’d only ever done once before and I had failed it. I knew I had to nail it this time and I did! I was now just 20 meters from the finish line and still in 2nd place but five obstacles still remained. The infamous spear throw, a balance beam, Olympus and two eight foot walls.

The spear throw can be a game changer and so often is. Unfortunately for me this time was no acceptation. I picked up the spear, aimed it at the hay bale, let fly and missed. That meant 30 burpees. As I counted out my burpees I watched Nick arrive and also miss. Maybe a podium place was still a possibility. Two more athletes then caught up and both hit their efforts on the target. Top three placing gone.

finished up and ran it in to place 4th. Another runner had hit the spear in the meantime meaning Nick ended up in 6th. I then found out that Tristan had also missed but his lead was big enough for it not to have affected his position. I wouldn’t like to see the spear throw at any other races but I do like Spartan having it as their unique thing. I just wish they wouldn’t place it so close to the finish as they always do so that it doesn’t define the race especially after over 12 miles of hard effort. I left feeling gutted to have lost a podium place at the death but encourage at how I’d performed overall and really motivated for the Sprint the following day.

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Sunday soon arrived and this time I made it to the venue in time for my normal pre race preparations before the same 8AM start time. The sprint course would take in a shortened version of the same route as the Beast roughly being the first and last 3KM. Having the advantage of knowing the course my aim was to get close to the front from the start ready for the single file trail. I got through the gate that lead into the woods first then settled into 3rd.

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Although I’d been through the same trails the day before the terrain had changed dramatically. Ankle deep mud had become knee deep bogs. We were over a kilometre in before yesterday’s dominant winner Tristan came past and again took the lead. I fancied my chances more over the shorter distance so didn’t want to let him get away. I went past the two early leaders and gave chase.

I reached the rope climb, fly up, hit the bell at the top and slid down before running back into the woods. I listened out for the next ringing of the bell to find out how much ground I had gained over those behind me and it turned out to be quite significant in quite a short space of time.

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When I arrived at the Z walls Tristan was still there which only made me grew in confidence. After a little more running he was just coming off the slip wall as I was going up it. Just up the path was the plate drag. We were both there at the same time but my plate got stuck half way so I had to move to the next one along and start over. This gave Tristan some breathing space and he flew off to take full advantage of it. Again I gave chase and from there the gap remained a similar distance of around 30 seconds. My hope now was that he’d again miss the spear throw but this time I’d hit it.

Before that though I had to make sure I got through the rest of the obstacles and kept my running to a speed that nobody else could make any ground on me. As I ran through the woods nearing the last KM I thought about what had happened the day before and wanted to put in as much time as possible on everyone behind me in case I got burpees again.

Then, much like the early running, the terrain took a significant change. This time what had been knee deep mud became waste deep. It was really hard going to wade through but I didn’t want to lose any unnecessary time so where I would have normally been slightly more cautious I ploughed on.

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Covered in mud I ran back into the event village and saw Tristan finishing the Twister as I was approaching it. I managed to get across it again but my technique wasn’t quite as affective as the previous day so I was a little slower. Running to the spear throw there was no sign of Tristan so he’d obviously hit his effort meaning second place was now the best I could hope for. I steadied myself and took aim. It had the distance and the power but lacked the hight and hit the wood just below the hay preventing it from sticking.

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I started my 30 burpees banging them out as quickly as I possibly could reaching roughly the half way point before anyone else arrived and to my relief the next two competitors both missed their throws as well. Next to arrive was Nick who had lost his podium place along with me the day before. This time he stuck his shot and ran on to take 2nd spot. I was determined to get that last remaining place in the top three and as I finished my burpees I sprinted off over the balance beam, across Olympus and over the two remaining walls to claim it. I was slightly annoyed that I’d put myself in 2nd place with 20 meters to go in both races only to finish 4th and 3rd but happy that I had managed to at least go one better on day two and get a podium finish in what was the final Spartan race of the year.

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Spartan Super (02-09-17)

Having not done an obstacle course race in nearly 2 months my anticipation for this one was at a high. I also always get an extra little buzz for a Spartan race because the competition is normally strong and those are the types of races I like the most. This one was conveniently just a 30 minute drive from home which was a good job as I’d not been able to get the day off work so I was due in after the race, something I wasn’t looking forwards too.

Although it was an early start time of 8am I was feeling good having got a decent warm up done but this feeling didn’t last long as the race started with an up hill climb which left me struggling. The favourite Conor Hancock (3rd at OCR World Champs) was already pulling away and five or six others had gained several meters on me. I wasn’t too worried at this early stage though and remained calm.

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I’m not sure if I was rusty from not doing many competitive events for a while or it just wasn’t my day but I continued to feel sluggish as the early running and the first set of obstacles came and went. Strangely thought I wasn’t losing any ground on those ahead of me and I surprisingly I was actually gaining on the hills.

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As the race progressed I began to feel more like my usual self and I made up more ground going over a succession of walls and on a multiple tyre flip. I was now in third place and moved into second during the concrete block drag. With a running section to follow I saw this as my chance to get away. I put my foot down and created some clear breathing space between myself and the chasing pack.

Now I was feeling a lot better and was confident that with no mistakes I could seal second spot from here. With this thought in mind I was purposely overcautious on the traverse wall which allowed the gap to narrow but I wasn’t at all concerned as I felt I had plenty of running left in me.

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Next up was Spartan’s newest obstacle, a long pole suspended in the air with a sequence of handles which spun as they were gripped named The Twister. I’d seen some film footage of this but not had a chance to try it. I got approximately three quarters of the way across then still holding on stretched my leg out to gather some more momentum at which point my foot touched the floor. This counts as a fail so I automatically let go. A failed obstacle in a Spartan race comes with a 30 burpee forfeit. No retries are allowed.

30 burpees takes me around one and a half minutes when fresh so at this stage in the race I’m guessing that was two minutes plus (it felt like ten!) As the marshal counted me down I watched 20 or more competitors go passed. That was the competitive element of my race over. Normally from here I would have given chase and picked off as many people as possible but already not feeling great the burpees had taken a lot out of me and two big hills immediately followed which cut any last bit of speed I could muster at the point.

Little did I know I was only half way through the course and the hardest parts were all still to come. With motivation lost I was affectively ‘jogging it home’ from here. The hills got steeper, the terrain became more technical and the obstacles more demanding and at several points I was actually really glad I was no longer racing for a place.

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The only other obstacle I failed was the spear throw which is generally a complete lottery anyway but man did I find the bucket carry hard. A huge plastic bucket full of gravel we were tasked with carrying it up a hideously long and steep hill then along the top and back down. I had to take several breaks during this and it was killing my lower back. Finally at the end yet more hills and carries followed.

There was also a similarly long and steep double tyre carry as well as all the normal Spartan nasties which when feeling strong I actually quite enjoy (for want of a better word).

As the end neared I began to find my mojo and started to pick people off. Over the final couple of high walls what was just over eight miles (but felt like eighteen) was completed and as well as my medal I got the final segment to complete my second Spartan Trifecta.

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It hadn’t been a good day at the office but I now know I’m too tall to not keep my legs bent while on the Twister and that I need to get back into some consistent training ahead of the last few OCR’s of the year including another couple of Spartan’s later in the month.

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Breca Swimrun Gower (19-08-17)

The beginnings of something special

Breca Swimrun is a pairs event. I had signed up with a friend who a month before had picked up a shoulder injured which forced him to pull out and left me looking for a new partner. Several avenues were explored but all of which had come to a dead end and with hope lost and the acceptance that this event wasn’t going to happen for me, with just 5 days until race day an email dropped into my inbox from Breca’s race director Ben. He had just been contacted by someone else looking for a partner. A couple of emails, a Facebook friend request and a phone call later and ‘team thrown together’ was formed.

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It’s probably not ideal preparation to only meet the person at race registration who you’re about to take on an event with that involves 40 KM of running over 1,800 meters of elevation and 6.5 KM of swimming in the sea with 16 transitions but that was what we were dealing with.

My new partner Jon had told me he would just be happy to finish and decried himself as a plodder but it didn’t take me long to realise he was playing himself down. As we sat on the coach that took us from Mumbles pier (where the finish was) with all the other competitors on the way to the start line Jon casually dropped into conversation a list of events he’d done including several Ironmans, a 50 mile ultra on the same route we were about to face and a channel swim amongst others. This may have been daunting to many but all it did to me was add more fuel to my already fiercely burning fire of excitement. I knew this was going to be an epic day but the scale of which I hadn’t yet realised.

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The race started on Hill End which although still quite picturesque was nothing compared to what was about to come. As the name suggests it was a vertical run before hitting some treacherous rocky terrain with lead us to the first swim. Although I’ve done plenty of open water swimming it’s all been in lakes so as we made the final scramble to the sea I was feeling quite apprehensive and rightly so. This wasn’t any regular sea swim, this was in waters that were so dangerous due to it currents that a warning had been put out prior to the event advising that anyone caught attempting to train in this would be at a real risk to their life and would be banned from this and all future Breca events. Added to the already significant challenge was that we would be swimming against the tide.

This was the rudest of awakenings for yours truly and I must admit I found it really tough and was questioning if I’d be able to complete this event if I was struggling this much this early on. One thing I will say though is that despite the rather worrying warning about this particular swim and although the waves were seriously choppy I never felt at risk. There were safety personal in canoe boats close by here and on every swim section and having someone close to you at all times is exactly why this event is done in pairs. As an extra safety measure every participant also has to carry a whistle to alert of any dangers.

Once back on dry land Jon put my mind at ease by assuring me the hardest swim was out of the way and once we reached the iconic Worm’s Head which is the most westerly tip of Gower we’d have the wind with us for the remainder of our journey to the finish line.

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It was more hazardous running on rocky ground first though as we made our way over the naturally formed ‘Devil’s Bridge’ along the stunning peninsular before reaching the head and turning back. I may not be the best swimmer by any means but I do consider myself to be a pretty competent runner but this was super technical. Described by the race director as ‘a challenge even for experienced skyrunners’.

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The next swim was a carmer one and then although very hilly the running settled down to more regular trail for what was the longest singular section at 8.2 KM. Just as I was putting my earlier fears behind me another choppy swim segment arose. At ‘only’ 0.7 KM it should have been over fairly quickly but in these waters it seemed to go on for an eternity but the biggest tests were still to come.

The Oxwich point to Oxwich beach swim was the longest of all advertised at 1.1 KM. It was also around cliffs meaning for the first time so far you couldn’t see the red flag you were heading for. Psychologically this made things harder put physically the swells and shifting tide made the going so so tough and increased the distance. This was by far the hardest swim I’ve ever done and although it was a lovely day with the sun beaming down so strongly at certain points that I developed some rather unfetching tan lines, as time went on I could feel myself getting colder and colder to the point that once finally on the sand some 56 minutes (and 1.8 KM!) later I was shivering.

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During this section I was also becoming more uncomfortable by the stroke due it my wetsuit rubbing against my upper arms and back. It meant I was having to pull the suit down to the waist for every run and dreaded putting it back on each time we reached water. The pain got worse as the event went on but all I could do was try to block it out and get on with it. It left me with some nasty friction burns which will teach me never to buy a cheep wetsuit and wear it for the first time on race day.

It was just two and a half kilometres of flat beach running to the next transition which was bad news for me but music to Jon’s ears as he was thriving on the manic conditions that the South Wales ocean’s were throwing up for us and that was a huge blessing as I honestly don’t think I’d of survived the next swim without him.

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As we reached Three Cliffs Bay the marshals informed us to be very carful and swim well out from the huge cliffs we were tasked with getting around. The waves were crashing in on us like a scene from The Perfect Storm movie and I wouldn’t have even considered entering these waters in my wildest of moments had this not been an organised race situation.

Reluctantly, following Jon’s lead and instructions I went for it. We were against the tide to begin with and I didn’t feel as though I was getting anywhere but slowly but surely progress was being made. I was very relieved that another team were also taking on this epic endeavour at the same time as us purely for safety in numbers reasons.

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An extremely nervy 26 minutes and 1 KM later the jeopardy was over and I could enjoy some more breathtaking views and let my heart rate settle back down on an 8 KM run knowing that just three more swims remained and we were most definitely over the worse of it.

Arriving at Caswell Bay it was another rocky scramble down to the sea and this was again a swim that felt like it took so much longer than it actually did. 36 minutes seemed like an age but once on Langland Bay it was just 5 KM of running and only 300 meters of swimming left with four transitions.

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We had set off at 10AM and it was now approaching 6PM so it had been a long and tiring day and it was a great feeling to know the end was approaching. The penultimate swim was short and the water was relatively still, ‘If only they’d all been like that’ I joked to Jon as we clambered up the bank back on to the costal path.

We had kept our running at a good consistent pace throughout and we were still managing to maintain it although we were having to take regular stops by this point for Jon to heave up all the saltwater he’d inadvertently swallowed. He’d spent much or the day waiting for me to complete the swims so I didn’t mind this one bit. After all this is a team event and you take the rough with the smooth. We both had good and bad spells that we helped each other through. You can only be as good as your partner and although I hadn’t picked mine I was more than pleased with who I’d ended up with.

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Back in the water for the final time this was just a token swim to finish on but although the remaining running was also minimal it was by no means easy. It was fitting that this event would end with a crazy descent down a cliff face before a joyful skip across the sand and a climb up some steep steps to bring us back onto Mumbles Pier and 8 hours and 12 minutes after starting this epic journey we’d completed it.

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Nearly 100 teams started, 30% of whom didn’t make it to the finish and Jon and I had arrived home in 34th place. Not bad under the circumstances.

Breca Swimrun Gower put me out of my comfort zone more that any other event I’ve ever done but I’m so glad I did it. It’s proof that taking risks pays off. Fear can be a good thing and you are capable of things beyond your expectations. It’s given me an amazing experience I’ll never forget, confidence in my swimming I never had and perhaps best of all a partner who in the space of 24 hours went from being a stranger to a true friend. We may not see each other often in the future but Jon and I will always have the bond that completing an event this special creates. I would recommend anyone searching for a true challenge to look up what Breca have to offer.

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