#WhyIRace

5 reasons #WhyIRace

To make peace with my thighs
My legs have always been a bit of a ‘thing’ for me.  To my eye, they’re disproportionately large, fat, wobbly and just.. they’re just a problem, okay?  With OCR, they go from being a source of shame and self-consciousness, to strong, dependable means of getting me up, over and across obstacles.  And I kinda dig that.

To get my arse out of bed
Having CFS does mess with my head a bit. I’m usually a productive, motivated person, and having something that limits me is really, really depressing.  At least knowing I have an event coming up, I don’t want the money and effort to go to waste, so I get up and train.  Some days I really just can’t, but I am buoyed by the fact that I’m trying as hard as I can.

To get fit
I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel EPIC to have conquered some of the courses that I have been on this year.  It feels fantastic to log those miles and feel myself getting fitter, faster and stronger.

It makes me feel proud of myself
Some days it’s pretty difficult to feel positive about yourself, no matter how much you may have achieved.  When the people around you are constantly encouraging you, and bigging you up (as the OCR community frequently do, even if you’re rubbish), a little bit does rub off and you begin to believe in yourself again. And that’s pretty nice.

To meet other people who get it
Honestly, I was of the opinion that I didn’t really need more friends, but after finding a whole new family in the form of my team, and other OCR nerds, I’ve realised that my life definitely needed enriching.  Now my support system consists of my team, my friends, my co-racers and people I haven’t even met in real life yet – but we all share a common interest, and the dickhead:lovely person ratio is alarmingly low amongst OCR types.  Now if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.

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Tough Mudder: The hills! My thighs!

Tough Mudder- the gateway to OCR and the polariser of opinions in the OCR community (but that’s another story).

I completed my first TM on May 2nd. It was the first UK event of 2015, where TM was to proudly debut new and improved obstacles such as Cry Baby and Arctic Enema 2.0 respectively.

I was doing the course with a group from work, with varying experience in OCR from a Mudder Legionnaire (that’s TM speak for someone who has done more than one event) and someone who genuinely thought Arctic Enema was an enema, so… a diverse group, one might say.

The Course

TM was actually my longest course to date, with the map showing a 10.7mile jaunt around Culden Faw, which I’m sure is Olde English for ‘Buttload of Hills’. The hills towered ominously over the up-beat frat party that was the event village. After missing our wave time because QUEUES, our team ambled up to the start for a tightly packed warm-up and a very rousing pledge of allegiance to the gods of Tough Mudder. Or something. I was near the back, I couldn’t hear.

After some serious chanting, we were funnelled into a pen, where the first obstacle (a 6 foot wall) was clambered over before we passed under the start point. The first part of the course was mainly some hills. They were nicely interspersed with some more hills, and then a brief flat section where some walls happened. To mix it up a bit afterwards, we did some hill work, and some uphill running, with some intervals of ascent. Just when my thighs were about to explode, they were gently soothed back to their normal size in a most convenient ice bath, in which I had to fully submerge my head to try to purge it of memories of the hills. Arctic Enema 2.0 wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I thought it was going to be, because, let’s face it, when you have to go on a caged slide to get in, you kinda resign yourself to the fact that you can’t get out without getting very wet and cold. Once you accept this fate, things become a lot easier.

It was with great distress that I discovered I could still feel my limbs after the icing, and they were to continue to clamour over the eleventy million more hill climbs that were to come, but I had fun nonetheless. Obstacles such as Birth Canal and Cry Baby had haunted my dreams somewhat, but they turned out to be a little underwhelming really. In fact, Cry Baby really sorted out my sinuses, so I’m thinking of constructing a small-scale version of it in my bathroom at home.

I had thought of Tough Mudder as the home of MASSIVE obstacles, and truly, yes, a lot of them were physically *big*, but the main thing that disappointed me was the brevity of them all. It was like a sort of… amuse bouche of obstacles. A sample of a cargo net, a smattering of muddy ditches, two walls, a haybale.   I expected to spend longer queuing (thankfully not the case), but in turn I expected to spend longer *on* the obstacles themselves that were mostly over before they started.

The uphill (have I mentioned them?) stints were numerous and challenging, adding to the sense of achievement when I finished, and the trail runs really were quite lovely. The downhill trails were in fact, so dreamy that I would have let them carry my off and marry me. I’m not even kidding; they were glorious – the Mila Kunis of forest tracks. A distinct lack of mud (thanks, weather) made them easier to navigate than in most mud runs, I noted, as I didn’t fall on my butt once.

Marshalling was pretty top notch, with only one notable miserable person having spoken to our team on registration. The atmosphere was really jovial, encouraging and the water stations were pretty much what I imagine heaven to look like to sweaty, dehydrated running people. There were even portaloos on the course, which was like discovering that Christmas had decided to fall on the 2nd of May this year, as I found that no matter how full my bladder is, I definitely cannot pee whilst running.

Overall I would say that the terrain was the most challenging element of the course, in the absence of any really meaty, testing obstacles, but the event does bring out the team spirit in all participants, whether they’re head to toe in specialist gear or a hippo suit. With all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities completing the course, it would be very difficult to please everyone. It was not without its fair share of show-boaters, the ratio of which was pretty high compared to other, smaller OCRs, but I totally expected that.

The Goods

Obligatory TM headband of infinite glory, saddeningly poor quality cotton shirt for napping in and obscure TM teatowel? Beer towel? Towel for dirty dog paws?

The Kit

I wore:

  • Nike anti-blister dri-fit socks
  • Salomon Fellraisers
  • Nike Pro full length tights
  • Inov8 Merino baselayer
  • Nike Pro Combat compression top
  • Tech team vest
  • Kooga fingerless rugby gloves
  • ORM Wrag
  • Nike headband

I get cold. I’m the worst Northerner ever. Thankfully I pitched this correctly, neither being too hot nor too cold for the duration of the course. The only real gripe with the pro-combat baselayer is that it rode up, and also the fact that they only make them for men. Once again my tights were immovable and hard wearing.

The Fellraisers, in retrospect, were completely unnecessary. There was no mud on the course (which is nobody’s fault but old man weather), so there were dusty tracks covered in hefty sized pebbles. I would have gotten a more comfortable ride in crossover trail shoes, and it wouldn’t have impeded my grip. The Fellraisers also squelched notably, which if anything, was quite amusing as it sounded like I had tiny ducks on my feet, and after 8 miles of running I had probably gone a bit insane anyway, so it was light relief.

The socks did another sound, blister free course, and I think I might be in love with them.

The Verdict

People’s main gripe with TM is the expense, and rightly so. It’s not a cheap day out unless you book it super early bird; like the day you are conceived. Personally I don’t think the amount you pay is proportional to how much fun you have. I think it makes for an excellent taster session for OCR (albeit with a tonne of running), and fits a niche for corporate days out, team building, and people who want to tumble around an obstacle course for a day dressed as the Teletubbies. Competitive it ain’t, but elitist it can be, with its almost bizarre hero worship for its returning customers. The course is well laid out, marshalled by mostly excellent types of people, and provides a platform for OCR promotion, but isn’t something I’ll be clamouring to do again.

The only massive dampener on what was a pretty nice day out was the utter shambles of the bag drop pick-up. I was lucky to have gotten to it early, as many people were in the queue for around an hour, shivering and furious. I even lent my DryRobe to a blue-lipped teammate who had more goose pimples than an Icelandic goose farm. Even when I had gotten to the front of the line, it was still an absolute state: it looked like the aftermath of a drunken bag hurling contest, and I had a complete sense of humour failure when being asked to ‘just hop in and find your own bag’ after having paid a hefty price for the tickets in the first place. Wasn’t too chuffed about every man and his dog being in there and potentially having access to my bag. I needn’t have worried about stuff being nicked out of it too much though, since it was buried so deep in the wrong pile that it had probably been on a brief holiday to Narnia.

Tough Guy: Quite tough, actually

I ended up doing Tough Guy as a result of a happy accident, whereby a fellow Mudd Queen couldn’t use her ticket.  It hadn’t really crossed my mind to enter the iconic race this year, as I didn’t think I would be up to it.  As it happened, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had to date in OCR.

The course is in the Midlands, in the specific region of backend of nowehere, and I wasn’t relishing the idea of a three hour drive by myself to do a hard race, then take myself home at the mercy of my jelly legs.  Thankfully two blokes I had never met offered to lift-share with me, and I discovered, courtesy of my teammates that they were definitely not murderers, so that was that.

I met up with the two gents at my workplace, and rather amusingly, found they run for another team.  Cue threats to leave me in the nearest service station car park, but it was all in jest, right?  RIGHT?

Turning up at the event village basically turned me into a jibbering wreck. I was terrified of the course, of keeping the boys waiting for me as I trundled over the line two days after they had finished, of not having the right kit on and of achieving a DNF.  I have no idea where my confidence went that week, perhaps it was on annual leave.

The Course

It all began simply enough – warm up, get excited, go to the toilet repeatedly, weep when you shed your DryRobe and line up at the start.  Trot down a hill and into a gentle warming jog, trying to vye for the first half of the pack to avoid bottle necks at obstacles…and then there was a bastarding hill slalom.  Seriously, it was insane.  We ran, jogged, walked, tripped and cried our way around 20 sections of steep hill running and I cant decide whether it would have been preferable to die on the spot or try to poop out a hedgehog.  I actually can’t believe I survived it.  I will say something for it though- I was very warm afterwards, and had to shed a layer whilst running (which is as dignified and graceful as it sounds).  The run then settled, terrain wise, and we passed through the elephant graveyard, complete with some electric wires, some muddy trenches and undulating, natural terrain.

Willing myself to run as fast as I could, I made up a lot of ground and positions in the Gurkha Grand National, where you had to plop in and out of a deep stream/mud pool up steep banks, much like on hell river at NUTS except without the kind addition of cargo nets.  I said some swear words when I put my hands on a thistle, but other than that, it was pretty fun.  I assumed by this point that I was probably about half way, but a marshall laughed at me when I asked if we were ‘nearly there yet’, so I guess we weren’t.

The race was peppered with tough obstacles, which, although not terribly technical, were legitimately dangerous and difficult to complete without occasionally falling into water (thankfully not from great height).  The obstacles are permanent fixtures, and trees have started to make friends with them, making the landscape look quite post-apocalyptic in places.

Pushing through, we encountered underground bunkers, concrete tunnels, stagnant water, climbing frames and spider nets and unconscionably spritely children on a 7k ‘Tough Kids’ run that put most of us to shame.

I caught up with my ‘mark’  – the woman that I had (rather optimistically) tried to keep in my sights throughout the race, during a stint of water wading, and managed to keep up a decent pace over the last few KM.  I was actually really enjoying myself, so got a bit of a shock when I found that the run was nearly over.  The last obstacle was to climb up a steep bank with overhanging electrical wires – thankfully I was channelling Kimmy Schmidt, and telling myself that you can endure almost anything for ten seconds, so I could certainly endure an electric shock.  I only had two shocks, and of those two, one of them managed to take my arm out from under me as I crawled desperately up the hill.  Bewildered, I stood around at the top before realising that the finish line was about ten metres from me, which resulted in a delighted skip down the bank to receive my medal and hot chocolate, which I promptly burned myself with.

The Goods

Tee shirt, hot chocolate, amazing medal and HOT BLOODY SHOWERS, MAN.

The Kit

  • Salomon Fellraisers
  • More Mile trainer socks
  • Nike Pro 3/4 length tights
  • Nike Pro hyperwarm top (mistake)
  • Inov8 Merino baselayer
  • Wrag and headband

Seriously regretted that second top about ten minutes in to the run.  Had to tie it around my waist and let it flap around like a sad, muddy butt-flag for the whole race.  It’s a wonder it wasn’t left hanging on a barbed wire fence, if I’m honest.

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Casually about to fall to my death, yaaay.

The Verdict

Tough Guy is inimitable.  It’s iconic.  I’m so proud to call myself a Tough Guy.  As fifth ovary-bearer over the line, I qualified for the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS here, which made me feel absolutely fantastic.  I can’t decide what made me more happy: this, or finding out that I’d beaten the boys I’d travelled with.

Best go with the former, or next time they really will leave me in a service station car park.

X Runner: How not to behave when you fall in a lake

X Runner was important to me, as it was the first race where my mum came to watch me. I didn’t think I’d put in a particularly stunning performance owing to a bit of a back injury, but I was going to give it a good shot.

Set in the absolutely stunning grounds of Osmaston Manor in Derbyshire, X Runner was a pretty slick outfit, with a well laid out course and registration area. The atmosphere was a weird mixture of relaxed and electric, and the weather was totally on our side, with loads of sunshine.   Before the race day, X Runner had done a great job of briefing runners about cold water shock, which was a real and present danger on the course, with tonnes of water obstacles at the end of each 5k lap.

The Course

The course began with a couple of tame hay bales, twists and turns around the spectator area and then a brief dip in a spring before a thigh-busting ascent into the forest. After realising that I probably wasted more energy huffing, puffing and walking up the hill than I would running it, I resolved to do better on the second lap.

The forest trails started with some cool runs over massive log stacks, which slowed the pack considerably. There were some decent bursts of running with the odd spider-web, log pile and wall dotted about in the woods. Anyone who thought they might be making good time had their hopes dashed by the most insane mud I have ever seen. It was dark, gloopy and in places, up to my waist. I managed to navigate it pretty swiftly the first time, passing through droves of people trying to extricate their trainers from the sink holes… on the second lap I wasn’t so lucky, stacked it in a sort of awkward slow-motion and ended up having to commando crawl through it. Conveniently, a cameraman was on hand to document the whole process. No, you can’t see the pictures.

The level of difficulty wasn’t particularly high in terms of technical obstacles, but mental grit was tested when the water obstacles loomed. The first was a steep slide into a deep lake, which I didn’t really attempt to think about before I threw myself down. Oh my ACTUAL god, it was so cold I think my brain froze and fell out of my ear. That’s my excuse for allowing all rational thought to be overtaken by my urge to gasp and flail, taking on a couple of gulps of probably fetid water. Oh well, what’s a little Leptospirosis amongst friends? Astonishingly, I managed to coordinate my legs into some sort of paddle, and hauled myself out of the lake, gagging and coughing and wondering why the hell I bother. I didn’t have much recovery time though, as I then had to throw myself into the water again to swim to a remote pontoon where spectators waited expectantly to watch us complete the monkey bars and swim to the opposite side. Delighted to once again submerge myself and float along in the dignified manner to which I’d become accustomed, I flopped into the lake and scrabbled over to the pontoon. The monkey bars were actually ladders, which made for uncomfortable hands, and I swung off them at the halfway point, once again landing in the water. Totally over it by this point, I had to get out, jump over the pontoon then get back in and swim towards my mum, who of course, was filming the whole thing.

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why I will never be a Bond Girl

The problem with lap races is that when you near the finish point after your first lap, you think, “nobody will notice if I just give up. I can run over the finish in a blaze of glory and everyone will be none-the wiser.” Then you strap on your lady balls and carry the fuck on. After a slightly faster second lap, the water obstacles didn’t seem so daunting, and I even managed a celebratory air punch after completing the monkey bars the second time around. Then it was just a swim, a wall and a couple of cargo nets before I could nestle into my Dryrobe and enjoy a hot pork sandwich with my mum and the dogs. In all, not a bad way to spend a morning.

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The Goods

Technical tee shirt, medal and some water (I think), by that point I was pretty much hating on water. Results still have yet to be posted online, so I’ve almost given up hope on ever hearing back on that promise.

The Kit

  • Salomon Fellraisers
  • More Mile trainer socks
  • Under Armour Heatgear tights
  • Inov8 merino baselayer
  • Decathlon neoprene rash vest
  • Nike Pro Hyperwarm long sleeved top
  • Inov8 Wrag
  • Kooga fingerless rugby gloves

For most of the first lap I was cursing my rash vest, because I was hot, but I was incredibly grateful for it at the end of the laps due to the intense nature of the water obstacles. Everything else was bang on. Not sure if the Kooga gloves were a bit big for me, but that’s pretty much every sports manufacturer in the world’s fault for not making delicate lady hand sizes readily available.

The Verdict

This is another one of those courses that gives an excellent all round experience of what an obstacle course can be like. It’s great for fun runners, although I doubt it’s challenging to seasoned OCR types. The organisation was brilliant, and the website is pretty easy to use, but I would have liked to have had the results published even just so I have a personal goal to beat if I ever did it again. The perfect race to drag non-OCR mates to.

Winter Nuts: If I had nuts, they’d be frozen

For those not in the know, NUTS is kindof a big deal.  I’m not sure how much I appreciated this fact before I signed up for NUTS, but then I got a big attack of the terrifieds and signed up to a course-specific training day.  Thank GOD (and Michael Midgley, who might actually be a god, I’m not sure), that I did.

The Course

The NUTS course is like no other – it’s extremely obstacle heavy and purpose built on a permanent basis.  Winter NUTS is notoriously cold, difficult and testing of both physical and mental strength.  It’s based in clay-type mud, which is slippy and really clogs you trainers.  This sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not – because it was fantastic.

The team have been at it for a long time, and it’s a slick, well established course with unique, relentless obstacles that give you a full body workout…and then you’ve got to go round and do it all again.  With the choice of 1 7k lap, or 2, 3 or 4, the course appeals to both the elite and the fun-runner, with those on 3 or 4 laps taking priority in any traffic jams.  They also get the dubious honour of doing several extra obstacles with failure penalties.  No way, Pedro.

Content with my two laps, I crashed through the first part of the my first lap like an ungainly hippo, only not as fast.  I cursed my stupid legs as I trundled through the forest with all the speed of an egg rolling up a hill.  Eventually though, it was like they didn’t exist, as they were frozen into submission by the many dips in to freezing water.  When I eventually hit my stride, I was catapulted into an obstacle heavy area (as always happens. Like, every time).  This is where I became very grateful that I had attended a training day, as I’m quite certain I would have freaked the actual fuck out if I’d never seen the fireman’s pole before (no, it’s not a euphemism, there’s literally a pole there, and it’s scary).  Thankfully I could potter through the obstacle field without much of a problem, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  In fact, I’d wager that anyone who didn’t enjoy it has some sort of fun-deficiency that can only be remedied by an immediate trip to Alton Towers.  Of course my sense of fun and carefree joviality was somewhat dented by the appearance of bloody hills that I had to run up and down, sometimes accompanied by a tyre, but this did signify that it was almost the end of the lap, so it wasn’t all bad.

I think that if I had stopped after 7k, I would have felt disappointed, because I certainly wasn’t tanking it around, and I felt like I had a lot more to give.  As luck and design would have it, I was signed on to 14k, so I had a quick pitstop for a drink and a truly terrible flapjack, and tootled on past into my second lap.  I’m pleased to say that this lap was faster and easier, and gave me the opportunity to give some legups to tiring elite racers on their fourth lap and making me look like a lazy lump of half eaten bacon.  This made me feel all inspired but also important, because there aren’t many sports in which ordinary humans like me get to knock about with the top three types in the country, even if it is just to pull them out of knee deep clay and send them on their way.

In the end, I finished a respectable 8th female, and I’m pretty chuffed with that.  It gives me a great basis for next year and some targets to beat.

The Nuts Challenge 2015 Winter Race 2015 #running #ocr #racephoto #sussexsportphotography

After this course, I momentarily misplaced my brain and signed up for three laps in September.

The Goods

Tech tee, wrist band (no, I don’t know what they’re for either), and nifty medal.  Also some hot squash, which made me want to marry the lady who gave it to me.

The Kit

  • Salomon Fellraisers (Maiden voyage)
  • Nike Anti-blister socks
  • Decathlon neoprene socks
  • Under Armour heatgear tights
  • Inov8 merino baselayer
  • Nike Pro Hyperwarm baselayer
  • Decathlon neoprene rash vest
  • O’Neill neoprene gloves
  • Merino Buff / ORM wrag

Yeah, I took my kit pretty seriously here.  It was cold in the water, but the air was more ambient than usual, so I’m told.  But because I’m a sap, the kit was spot on for me.  The gloves were particularly phenomenal, and are my new best friends.  Neoprene socks were also totally necessary, as when I tried the course without them the week before, I couldn’t feel my feet and left them in a cargo net.

The Verdict

This course is fucking brilliant and I want to do it every year until I die.

Gladi8or: actually 9 miles, but that didn’t sound as cool

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. Continue reading