A whole year had passed since my first ever Spartan race at the Beast in Hastings. I arrived that day with the aim of a top 10 finish in what is always one of the most hotly contested obstacle course races in the UK. I left relatively happy having placed 9th.
12 months on, this time in Royal Windsor I was back at the Beast in what would be my fourth Spartan race having done the Olympic park Sprint and the Midlands Super earlier in the year. On one hand I felt more prepared because of those experiences but on the other hand I hadn’t done many other competitive OCR’s this year and my running had taken a backseat for the first 6 months of 2016 while preparing for Ironman so I really wasn’t sure how I was going to do.
Beating last year’s finishing position was an obvious target but having come 7th at the OCR UK Championships last November I felt I should be aiming slightly higher. Because my running isn’t currently as strong as it could be I decided to settle on top 9 being a satisfying effort by top 5 for a good race.
On the start line I spotted some familiar faces but not as many of the big names were there as I was expecting. After going through the usual Spartan hyped motivational brief (which I actually quite enjoy) we were off. The Beast is advertised as being ‘at least 20km’ but a fast early pace was being set by the leaders.
Very few obstacles were involved in the first few kilometres and the terrain allowed me to settle into my running. The first two had already got out of sight. One was Tristan Steed who had won almost every other Spartan race this year and the other was an unknown (who I later found out was a 2.23 marathon runner from the army on his OCR debut). I was in fourth just behind Ross Macdonald.
As we entered the first of what was to be many woodland sections the course markings seem to run out. Ross and I took a left and reached a dead end. We turned back to follow our tacks and saw the next batch of runners. This must have cost us a couple of minutes but only one runner had overtaken up. We quickly gave chase and it wasn’t long before the positions were back to how they were. That was until we came to a long log carry. Ross had pulled away slightly but it was here that I managed to get back onto his shoulder. We finished together and were almost immediately tasked with another carry, this time with a sandbag. To our dismay the same runner was ahead of us again yet he hadn’t overtaken us. Apparently he’d taken a wrong turn of his own and missed some of the course out. The three of us completed this tricky loop with the heavy bag of sand almost in single file.
Once running freely, again Ross and I moved back into 3rd and 4th place respectively and this was the last we would see of any other competitors for the remainder of the race.
Some of the most technical running I’ve done was to follow in long periods all through forest land. Every step was greeted with the crashing noise of my foot snapping a twig or branch. The amount of times I tripped went well into double figures and in other circumstances of would of slowed write down and aired on the side of caution but I wasn’t letting a top 3 placing slip away without a fight. Especially not in an event that make so much of the podium finishes.
I dug in and continued to push on. Ross had enough of a lead on me to disappear at times but not enough that I wasn’t able to catch a glimpse of his back each and every time the course opened up.
Finally out of the woods we came to a section that doubled back on itself a couple of times. This allowed me to see exactly how far away from 3rd place I was and also gave me the knowledge that there was no danger from behind with nobody else in sight. This doesn’t mean a great deal in Spartan races though with a strict 30 burpee penalty in place for any obstacle this isn’t competed on the first attempt. This rule can be the making or breaking of you and today I was using it to my advantage to motivate me to keep pushing hard. I knew that one mistake from Ross and I could take my chance and sure enough that’s exactly what happened.
It wasn’t long before I could hear the noise from the event village. This gave me mixed feelings as I was pleased there wasn’t long to go but concerned that I hadn’t seen Ross in a while. I picked up my pace again and to my surprise as I reached the first obstacle back in the open fields of the start/finish area, a traverse wall, Ross was doing burpee. I got across safely and moved into 3rd.
Next up was the atlas stones something I couldn’t complete at last year’s race costing me 30 burpees but that wasn’t the be the case this time round and I flew through it with no problem with Ross right beside me.
It was monkey bars next, knowing how costly any mistakes from here could be I took the cautious approach putting two hands on every bar then once back into running I really put my foot down.
After some high walls two water sections followed and a tight tunnel crawl. Surprisingly I couldn’t sense Ross giving chase. A long double Spartan pancake (basically small sandbags) carry was next up. I managed to find a comfortable technique to hold these while still maintaining a good running speed. This carry seemed to go on forever but eventually back at the starting point I dropped the pancakes off and couldn’t see any challenger to my podium finish from here on in other than a personal error but I knew the lottery or the spear throw was still to come.
I successfully negotiated a cargo net climb and a couple of inverted walls before what can be a game changer arrived. The spear throw.
I pulled back my spear, straightened my arm and throw it at the target. It couldn’t have been a cleaner shot, piecing through the hay bale smack bang in the centre. The biggest rope climb I’ve ever faced was up next but full of confidence and flew up and down without any issues.
All that stood in my way now was a log flip, two more walls and the customary fire jump to finish. That podium finish was mine!
I was really happy having not expected to have run so strongly off little quality work but the bit of fine tuning I have done over the last few weeks mixed in with the strength training I’ve maintained and the general fitness I’d gained from earlier in the year all combined to pull me through. I now have 7 weeks to perfect this before the OCR UK Champs with some other races in the meantime.