Fire, Guns, Masks and Mountains

This was my fourth Bear Grylls Survival race and its fair to say that I’ve experienced a few negative issues on at least two of the previous three events. With so many great obstacle course races out there I normally wouldn’t give any other race even a second chance but there’s several factors that keep drawing me back to this one.

Their genuine efforts to want to prove they can make up for their errors is something I’ve found commendable, the impressive editions to this year’s courses and the continual originality. Where else can you legally run around wearing a mask, light a fire, shoot a gun and slide down a 60 foot high friction tube?

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The fire lighting and rifle shooting I’d done in the last two races, climbing ‘the mountain’ and flying down the giant shoot was something I’d been reluctantly looking forwards to since it was shut down at the last event I attended due to high winds and the wearing of the Phantom training masks was a complete surprise to me, something I didn’t find out about until my late arrive only 30 mins before the race was due to start.

I came through registration in a hurry knowing I had very little time to warm up for the 8.30am elite wave and gave a blank look as I was asked if I had a mask. Still not really knowing what was going on I collected one and was told I was required to wear it for the first 5k. Apparently those who had signed up early enough in advance had been sent their masks in the post to try out. I knew the idea of them was to reduce air supply to mock training at altitude but had no idea how I would cope with it and wasn’t really looking forwards to it as I was already suffering the after affects of a stinking cold I’d had all week.

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Inevitably the long distance coupled with the uneasiness of the reduction in air supply resulted in a slow start. I’ve found from experience that obstacle course races seem to string out very quickly but a much larger than usual pack assembled at the front this time with nobody seemingly wanting to take it by the scruff of the neck. Rather that the stated 5k though, we were able to lose our masks after approximately a mile and immediately the race got going.

Tristan Steed (who had won Spartan Beast the week before) took up his usual position in the lead and began to put his foot down. I moved my way up the field and settled on the shoulder of the second placed runner.

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After some swinging rings and a high rope climb came one of the new obstacles, a very testing sternum checker. This is basically just a log suspended at chest (or sternum) high that you are required to get your whole body over. It’s a lot harder than it looks and sounds! I managed it first time of asking where as my closest competitor didn’t meaning I moved into second place and he took the crawling penalty. This was a position I would remain in for the next 10k until we were back at this obstacle for lap two of three.

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Just before this point you get a good opportunity to check back on the course and it was here I saw that I hadn’t pulled away as much as I’d of hoped on the rest of the field. I cleared the sternum checker again but then began to feel very drained.

The runner behind me was closing in and during one of the running sections between a succession of carries he made his move. As hard as I tried to hold on I had very little of my usual fight and I soon lost sight. My legs felt OK but I just had no push in me to get them moving to their normal speed. I felt totally exhausted as I reached the half way point. I knew I had a long 15k ahead of me.

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It took all the strength I could muster just to get myself up the impressive scaffolding structure named the mountain and as I shot down the material tubing for the first time in my life I found out what claustrophobia felt like. On other days I think I would have enjoyed this obstacle more but today I just wasn’t feeling it.

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My energy levels were as low as they’d ever been during a race and I couldn’t believe nobody else had caught me. I was hanging on for dear life to that final podium place.

The last lap was one of the toughest 10k periods I’ve been through. For the first time in any obstacle course race I actually walked for a couple of short intervals. I managed to dig in to find enough strength to complete every obstacle but my running in between was at an embarrassing slow pace.

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I’m not sure I’ve ever felt exhaustion to the level I did during the final double sand bag drag. Each bag weighed 60kg. This didn’t feel to challenging on lap one but by lap two I was struggling and on lap three I was ready to give up. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for my daughter being there screening encouragement at me I don’t think I’d of completed that task.

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Some how still in third place I had 5 more kilometres to hang on. I was checking back at every chance genuinely expecting runners to be queueing up to overtake me but they just never came. Just as I found an extra bit of enthusiasm as I was back in the event village for the last time and the finish was in sight I slipped on a wooden balance beam getting a dead leg in the process. This turned my already lacklustre running style into a limp for the next few hundred meters before the last few obstacle were upon me. I climbed a couple of walls, rolled in some sand under barbed wire and jumped some fire before finally reaching the finishing arch.

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I had held on to the last podium place but it had taken all of what little energy I had. I stumbled my way to the changing tent and found I was staking as I took my kit off. I had a little sit down to compose myself then headed back out to see my supporting family. A 10 minute lay down in the festival area helped me to regain some normality before going up on stage to collect my prize and give a little interview.

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This time round I couldn’t fault the organisation, the course marking or the marshals. It seems much to my delight the Bear Grylls team have nailed it. It was just a shame that my illness had also nailed me. Luckily I know from last week’s performance at Spartan that I’m in good shape and just need to shake this off before I go again.

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