Gladi8or was not really on my radar until a friend and fellow OCR novice suggested that we get our big girl pants on and do a winter race. Dutifully I signed up; ‘how cold could it be/I’m gonna train so hard/no post Christmas lull for me/I’m a HERO’. Unfortunately she neglected to, and I was a lone Gladi8or on my second ever OCR. Daunted by going solo, I sought reassurance from People I Don’t Know On The Internet, and they assured me I’d be totally fine. I took their word for it – thankfully, they were right.
On the evening before the race, I thought I had better route plan and ensure a timely arrival at Thetford Forest, the majestic and picturesque venue for (what transpired to be a 9 mile) jaunt through countryside littered with rustic obstacles. Turns out it was a two hour drive away, which was a slight fly in the ointment – in England, this is practically a different climate away. London did not have snow. Thetford did.
I know everyone’s first thought when arriving at a race venue and discovering that there is snow on the ground is, “Do you wanna build a snowmaaaan?” That goes without saying. My second thought, however, was “Oh, shit.”
There was a slight queue for registration and the obligatory sign-your-life-away waiver, but the team behind the desk were friendly and accommodating, giving away Gladi8or branded bags containing Gatorade, water, some Gatorade powder and a much appreciated jelly-type pre-race drink (also Gatorade), as well as a discount voucher for the local Go Ape attraction. There was also a map to allow your supporters to plan a route to come and laugh at you / cheer you on. After using the facilities (decant portaloos – that’s important), I had a slight crisis of confidence about which socks to wear and then I was READY.
By 10.30 am, the atmosphere was as warm as the air was cold, and it wasn’t long before a beaming troupe of OCR enthusiasts were bobbing up and down on the start line, awaiting the much hyped warmup. Unfortunately the lack of a stage meant I couldn’t actually see the much hyped warmup, but I copied some people around me and ended up pretty warm, so no harm no foul.
The whole mob set off together, and it was really luck of the draw as to whether you got up and over the first few obstacles, or stuck queuing for them. From what I could see, the field cleared relatively quickly, but I found myself with the second ‘pack’ of runners after the really enthusiastic lot had sprinted off. The first mile boasted over 17 obstacles including the ubiquitous rectangular haybales to fling yourself over, a daunting bale pyramid, and a very tough pyramid of round bales, with nothing to grip onto or get purchase on. In true OCR spirit, most seemed happy to push and pull comrades over these mini-mountains, which made for a swift start. Other obstacles included net crawls, tyre runs and a dastardly field of skips to jump in and out of, which was particularly punishing for those of us under 5ft4 or so, as our little legs didn’t allow for a nifty hop-over.
After a few more bales and a trip both over and under clever tyre bridge, the trail run element began. Taking us through rugged forest tracks, littered with tree-debris, it seems the organisers really didn’t want any of this race to be too easy. White, spray painted Gladi8or signs on trees and plastic tape kept us on the straight and narrow, with only a slight directional hiccup at a course crossing point, where a wrong turn would have cut off a good chunk of race. Luckily, stewards were flagging up these issues as the race continued, but it was a bit bewildering at times, and not just because I was running without my lenses in (thanks, corneal ulcer!). The race made use of a large field to place more rustic obstacles into what was turning out to be a nice, flat run. Dipping through tyres and cargo nets seemed easy enough, although there was ample room and opportunity to go around the obstacles on the trail runs. I only noticed a handful of people with obstacle (or part of the race) avoidance, but I was there for the challenge, and made sure I stayed the course to the letter.
Falling into a steady pace, and actually beginning to enjoy the run (which is a big deal, because I do not like running that much), I was almost disappointed to be flung into another gamut of obstacles, but we had a fun crawl under some cargo nets in freezing mud, and a short wade. Cracked ice crunching underfoot reminded me how well my cold weather gear was doing, and with very cold feet, we ploughed through another field and through some more beautiful forest trails before finally reaching the river crossings. By this point, I hadn’t got a clue how long I’d been running for, and crucially, how far I had gone. Personally, I like the odd distance marker to let me know how I am doing, and few stewards seemed to know how far we’d come on the course. By the river crossings, there were few people around me, but we’d all decided we were past half way and on the way home. These warm, fuzzy thoughts were shattered by the crippling cold of the river, but it was great to see and hear supporters on the riverbank. Wading wasn’t so bad – the highest water was up to my armpits (I’m about 5’3”), and the ground was fairly steady underfoot. Plus, the third plunge into the river, I had pretty much stopped caring about my hurty toe, which had been bugging me for the past mile. Some cheeky bales appeared at the river exits, reminding you that upper body strength was a bonus, and a cargo net crawl later, we were back on the run towards home. A great forest section with some punishing ups and downs, barbed wire crawls and a great wall of tyres kept us occupied, and then we started to double back onto the trails that had brought us out from the start.
Repeating some obstacles on the way home gave me a feeling of being close to the finish, and I was relieved to see the home stretch, however my happy thoughts were crushed by the realisation that I was going to have to throw myself into all of those skips again. By this point, I could only see about five other people around the course, and we were none-too-spritely! Hearing the screams of the supporters gave me the push I needed to throw myself at the bale walls with success, apart from embarrassingly bouncing off the round-bale tower of terror. I heard someone say, “Oh look, that poor girl has nobody to help her”, and that was about all the motivation I needed to do it my bloody self, heaving myself over it, with, I should imagine, all the grace of a dying fish. I had a quick semblance of a weep under the final cargo net, and hearing that we were on the two hour mark, summoned every bit of energy I had to sprint finish. I still don’t know why I felt the need to do this – probably because I’m a show off.
One shiny medal and a clothes change later, I was ready for a nice cup of tea. Unfortunately everybody obviously felt this way, as the catering van had run out of everything apart from beefburgers. I made do with one of the free bottles of Gatorade, which unfortunately tasted like the inside of a gym bag, but I didn’t really care at this point. Come to think of it, a hydration station at the half-way point would have been very welcome. I hear this may have been put on for the Sunday, but I know a couple of competitors came away with a stinker of a headache for lack of hydration on course.
A medal, a goody bag with Gatorade energy gel, powder and drink, a bottle of water.
- More Mile Cheviot 2
- More Mile trainer socks (changed in last minute freakout from Nike Dri-Fit)
- Under Armour HeatGear compression tights
- Inov8 merino baselayer
- 2x (Yes, 2) Nike Hyperwarm long sleeved tops
- Merino Buff
- Nike headband
- Gul neoprene gloves
I did have a last minute crisis of sock confidence, changing from warm socks to ones I had raced in before. My bottom half was spot on, and I didn’t feel too hot from having three tops on, because I am a wuss. The neoprene gloves were probably overkill as I didn’t need to really clamber through sheet ice, and my hands felt weirdly hot for a lot of the run, which is more disconcerting than you’d realise.
I’ve no doubt that some more hardcore OCR or runner types wouldn’t have found Gladi8or taxing, but I’m not ashamed to say that it tested my limits, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to OCR newbies, particularly if the directional and hydration niggles are ironed out, which I’m sure they will be. The only real disappointment was the lack of technical T-Shirt, which is a shame given the price of the event. The medal is lovely, but I can’t wear that to strut around in the gym.
All in all, a good day was had out on the Gladi8or course – as seems the norm, I met some wonderful, kind people, and learned more about what you can achieve when you put your mind to it. With the use of natural, farm orientated obstacles, Gladi8or had found its niche, and I’m excited to see how it evolves.