Finding the Answer
I’ve been pushing my body passed it’s known limits for several hours, I’m exhausted, cold, wet, hungry and thirsty. My once very distinctive lightning blue RunFlex clothing is covered from head to toes in a mess of mud. I’m running (or trying to) up and down a succession of no less than twenty hills so steep you’d be forgiven for thinking you were deep in the heart of the Peak District and as if this wasn’t enough punishment, I’m doing it while carrying a 20KG sandbag. This isn’t for the first time either. I’ve already done it all once.
It’s at this point I find I’m asking myself the question of ‘why am I doing this?’ It’s not the first time I’ve asked myself that very same question during races and it dam sure won’t be the last. In fact it’s only once you’ve put yourself into a position several times over whereby you need to ask it that you truly know the answer and it’s experiences like this one that make it all the more clearer and easier to give a valid explanation.
Before I got to that savagely evil sandbag hill slalom for the second time I’d already completed the Suffering race’s 10 mile lap (which was actually over 13 miles) and was well on the way to finishing the 10k lap (which was actually closer to 15k). I then went on to complete the 5k lap (which was over 8k) to become one of the first ever Relentless Suffering Legends. I had become part of an elite club in which, when the day was done, only a further 27 people would join. 27 people from the 319 that had set out to complete all three races in one day and even five of those had failed for make the eight hour cut off time.
I covered over 28 miles of brutal obstacle course with between 5-6,000 feet of assent. The immense self pride I got from doing it, the feeling of achievement and the massive respect from others are all the answers I need as to exactly why I did it.
Signing up for a race called Relentless Suffering gave no illusions into just how hard this was going to be. The Suffering race series are notorious for making their races well over the specified distance which is only ever described as ‘at least’ 5k, 10k and 10 miles anyway. The profile at the venue of Rockingham castle in my home county of Northamptonshire is a roller coaster of steep hills and floods in the days leading up to race day made the already tough terrain a whole lot more trickier. They had also upped their game on course by adding several more obstacles including a very technical rig and a weaver.
After a slightly delayed start due to car parking having to be moved from the venue itself because of the flooding we were off on what was about to become a truly epic journey for all involved.
Although I started fairly reserved I found myself in the lead. Having done the 10k twice and the 5k once at previous Suffering events I knew this was a course that suited me well. There was lots of extended running sections, plenty of carries and a large amount of body weight exercises. All things I do a lot of in my training so I was confident of doing well.
There soon became a group of four of us who had broken away from the rest of the field who rather sensibly seemed to be running in reserve with such a long way to go whereas us four had already began to race it out on the first and the furthest lap.
It wasn’t long before the hills arrived and at one point on the highest of ground we were able to catch a glimpse of what we were in for. Not everyone was crazy enough to be attempting all three races, some were just doing one and they had been set off 15 minutes before us. As I looked across the land at that dreaded hill slalom I was horrified to see them carrying sandbags. I already knew the Suffering race directors were in the business of putting people thought vast amounts of pain for putting this challenge on in the first place but this was just purely sadistic. My wife who was there supporting me and running the kids race with my little girl gave the best description of this view when she described it as ‘looking like something from a concentration camp.’ She wasn’t far wrong.
By the time I actually arrived there the leader, Scotland’s Connor McGourt, had pulled away. I was sitting in fourth place with second and third just in front of me. I’m no stranger to running with a sandbag so I decided to use this to my advantage. I quickly moved up two places into second and started to open up a gap. As I completed the final hill I was exhausted but rejuvenated. I continued to push on. The leader was out of sight but I knew there was a long way to go.
I’d managed to shake one of the two behind me off but Ryan Bennett was hot on my tail. We ran together for a while having a chat about how tough the course was and negotiated the weaver side by side. A lot more running, crawling and climbing followed and Ryan began to edge away.
Then came an almighty new rig split into serval sections each one as tricky as the next. Your feet were not allowed to touch the ground at any point. I made it across at the first attempt but it took a lot of strength out of my arms so I was relieved to see the lap finish point was in sight.
I clambered my way over the five walls which were strategically placed in the finishing straight and lap one was done. I spent minimal time in transition as I didn’t want to stiffen up and preferred to treat this as one long race rather than three slightly shorter ones. I grabbed a flat jack and a drink and I was back out on the 10k lap eating and taking in fluid as I went.
Within the first mile Ryan, who had taken a longer break, again appeared on my tail, ran with me for a short while then disappeared into the distance. It was like déjà vu. I got word that Connor was still some way ahead so I was now back in third.
Although this lap was slightly shorted it seemed to still include almost all of the toughest elements baring the weaver and two high walls which just had a couple of skulls as grips and involved a muscle up to get over. I must admit I was pleasantly pleased theses were missing.
Perhaps the only good thing about the dreaded sandbag hill slalom was that I was able to get a good look at what was in front of me. When I got there this time I learned that Ryan had closed down what had seemed like an insurmountable lead of Connor’s then was in fact now building up a sufficient gap of his own. They were both still some way ahead of me but I smelt blood.
As I got round to the rig again I had Connor firmly in my sights. As I started it he was on the penultimate section. This time it took me longer to get through. I had to take two attempts and several moments to composing myself to get over the line but eventually I made it. I looked across and could see that second place spot only a couple of minutes at the most ahead of me.
Much to my relief as I finished lap two Connor was still in the transition tent. He came over to chat to me as I grabbed another flat jack and Lucozade. The told me he’d pushed too hard on that first lap and had no racing left in him. I wasn’t taking any chances and again went straight back out for the third and final lap, this time of 5k (yeah right).
I knew from experience that this lap did miss out most of the hardest elements including the sandbag hill slalom and the rig. I told myself I just had to get round in one piece and second place was mine and who knows Ryan might reappear at some point too and I could challenge for the win.
That never happened but Connor did come back out almost immediately after me meaning I wasn’t able to take my foot off the gas for the majority of the lap.
After 6 and a half gruelling hours I make it to the finish line for the final time. Firstly I was just pleased to have completed the job but finishing in second place was a massive bonus. This event did exactly what it said on the tin. Relentless Suffering. I received four t-shirts and four medals. One for each race and one for completing the full set. Each and every one was most certainly well earned and perhaps most importantly I’d found the answer to my question and the next time I find myself having to ask ‘why am I doing this’ it’ll be that little bit easier to justify.