Hard Work Pays Off

This was an event I’d been looking forwards to for a long time as being at the same venue and ran by the same race directors, it would act as perfect preparation for what will be my biggest obstacle course race of the year, the UK championships. It had also been some time since I had taken part in what was their first and my only Judgement Day event and they have built up an outstanding reputation for themselves since then so I was excited to check it out for myself.

Pippingford park in East Sussex is the most used venue for OCR’s in the UK but quite surprisingly this was my first visit. It’s 130 miles from home so it was an early start for the 9.45 am first wave. I was feeling better within myself but still hasn’t done a lot since feeling really unwell during Bear Grylls Survival Race a fortnight ago so only time would tell if I’d fully recovered or not.

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As I came along the driveway to the carpark the first thing I saw was a huge rig with a whole array of hanging objects. As soon as I stepped into the event village the next two things I noticed where the longest rope traverse I’d ever seen and one of my favourite obstacle, ninja rings. These were all very close to the finish line and would turn out to play a major role in how this race unfolded.

After meeting up with the huge Parkland Tough Running contingent who had also made the long journey from Northampton we had a team photo then lined up on the start line.

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I felt the early pace was fairly steady which wasn’t too surprising as everyone know a tough, hilly 18k was ahead of them but I didn’t want anyone having it easy so I upped it going into the first long hill. Immediately I found myself in the lead and creating a gap from the rest of the field without really having to turn the screw too much at all.

By the top I had some clear breathing space. I’d almost inadvertently thrown down the gauntlet and felt I now had to prove I’d made the right move by holding this lead. Going back down the hill I put my foot down and was feeling really good. It had been a while since I had lead a race from so early on but I was confident in my ability and I knew from my experiences at Bear Grylls race that if I was going to start feeling bad again I had to get as big a margin between myself and everyone else as I could.

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There wasn’t a great deal of opportunities to check back on how far ahead I was on this course so I just had to keep pushing hard. My running felt strong and I was flying through the obstacles. It was good route planning to bring us back into the event village a couple of times before heading back out to the water and hills of which there were plenty.

The first chance I got to evaluate how far ahead I was came with a deep water wade which became a short swim followed by a climb up a rope onto a bridge which we then had to jump off and do a 20 meter swim back to dry land. As I looked back there was nobody else in sight. This was a relief as the longest of the hills followed which brought us to the highest point of this stunning landscape.

Going up I began to feel the strain for the first time but this was understandable with the shear gradient of this climb. Normally as you reach the top of a hill there is a rest bite of level or down hill running but here I was faced immediately with a one mile sand bag carry! It was towards the end of this that I saw another competitor for the first time since I had taken the lead around half a mile in. The long carry ended with a wade through waste deep water and felt like your feet were sinking into the ground beneath with every step.

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Finally getting to relieve my shoulders of the heavy bag I was able to get a look at how far head I was. I estimated it a between 1 and a half and 2 minutes. I’m not the best at running down hills but I felt I moved well on the descent back into the forest. Next came a drag of a concrete block on a chain around a lap of approximately 300 meters. I completed this and set off running again before anyone else was in view coming down the hill.

I was well over half way now when faced with lots of technical running through woodlands. After feeling good for all of the race so far I began to go into spells of feeling strong one minute and tired the next. This went on for some time and I was getting slower and feeling weaker with every bad spell but still able to push hard making the most of my good spells.

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Eventually I came back into the event village and cruised across the monkey bars before heading up another long hill drag. It was here that my energy levels dropped rapidly. Reaching the top and going over some slippery ninja steps I felt the end was nearing. I never wear my watch when doing OCR’s but I’m normally a good judge of distance. I was expecting to take a left turn towards the rig but instead was directed right back into the forest.

The next couple of miles were some of the toughest running wise that I’ve faced in a race due to a combination of the uneven ground, extremely undulating profile of relentless hills and the fact I was now feeling completely spent. I was getting slower with every hill that came and was reduced to a walk for the last few. I knew it was only a matter of time until I was caught while running at this speed and eventually that time came.

Luckily it didn’t come until the final hill and I wasn’t overtaken until I reached the top. When it did come the move wasn’t a decisive one which meant, now back on flat land, I was able to hang on and not let a gap develop. Finally we did reach the rig. I knew this meant that there was only around one kilometre remaining and it would feature the three obstacles I’d noticed first on arrival.

Although I’d lost the lead I’d had for almost the entire race I didn’t let any negative thoughts come into my head. I remained positive and still believed I could win. Going across what was by far the most technical rig I’d ever faced I regained that lead as I made it to the other side in one go. My competition wasn’t far behind. He’d slipped right at the beginning and had to start again but then cleared it. I ran on down the hill to a barrel carry. It was 10 meters out and 10 back. As I got half way back we crossed paths. This was going to be an exciting finish.

Knowing what was ahead and the lack of energy I had left rather than flat out sprinting the short run to the penultimate obstacle I decided to compose myself and save anything I had left for what was apparently the world’s longest rope traverse. We arrived together, climbed the wall neck and neck and began the long traverse side by side.

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This was an obstacle I had failed on in the past on the biggest stage of all at the first ever OCR world championships two years ago. It cost me my band that day and ultimately any hope of a high finish. I have worked tirelessly on my strength and technique since then and wasn’t going to let it beat me again.

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Half way (20 meters) in there was still nothing between us but towards the end I found myself pulling away ever-so-slightly. We were then told we had to dismount by getting over the wall at the end straight from our dangling positions on the rope without touching the floor else we would face a penalty run. This was a tricky manoeuvre but one I somehow managed to pull off in one swift movement. It came at a cost though at the awkward position I had left my left leg in while turning my body around had brought on the early stages of cramp. I very carefully lowered myself to the grass below and limped over to the final obstacle, the ninja rings.

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As I stood on the hay bale beneath the uninviting structure I keeled over with my hands on my knees. My leg was still cramping and my arms were screening in pain. I told myself I could do this. This is an obstacle we have in our (Parkland Tough Running) gym (Rough and Ready in Northampton). A gym I get myself out of bed at 4.30am twice most weeks to get to where I’ve put in so many hours of hard work to enable me to be at the front in races like this. One more push and the win would be mine.

I mustered up ever last ounce of strength I had left and hauled myself across without fail. The training had paid off. All that was left was a 10 meter run to the finish line. I had made it.

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As I looked back James, who had kept me on my toes throughout the race and pushed me so hard towards the end, was still on the ninja rings. He had found the tradition to get off the rope to wall a tough one and in the end came in just over a minute behind me.

I later found out that we were the only two who were tasked with getting off the rope in that was, everyone else was simply allowed to drop down. I was also informed that the total distance was over 21km meaning my estimation at the advertised distance of 18k was actually quite accurate and it was that extra 3km that really got me.

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I was happy to have won but concerned with how, for the second race running, my energy levels had almost given up on me. I was hugely encouraged that I had won this race on my strength on obstacles whereas its normally my running speed that gets me through. Allowing my body to fully recover from the illness I had then continuing to work on getting my running back to where it should be while topping up on my strength and conditioning should combine to see me in great shape for the OCR UK championships. I just hope I have enough time.

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