Up And Down, Through And Under …. Let’s Go Obstacle Course Racing!

The fantastic world of Obstacle Course Racing must have been in Reagan’s mind…

admittedly much of the rest is questionable… when he said…

“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone”.


YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg79vIcf0XmsoFm2IJz6aMg

Give us a Tough Mudder hoorah and join a Tough Mudder obstacle course near you.

You’ll face obstacles like Electroshock Therapy, Birth Canal, and Everest.

Check out these event highlights for more Tough Mudder motivation: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list…

Toughest London

The day the big boys came to play.

Toughest has long been my favourite event. Ever since my first visit to Toughest Ice I have admired their race format of fast lanes and long penalties while their obstacle complexity is second to none. So when they announced they were heading to England big things were to come and thousands flocked to sign up.

The hype for this event has been like no other, only matched in public desperation by the likes of Tough Guy. The release of the event map a month early sent waves rippling through the community with all the talk around the rigs, slides and dragons back. Many grew with excitement while others headed to parkour gyms, free running classes and ninja lessons in a desperate attempt to master techniques they’d never heard of. Myself included.

There was always the risk that with the previous race reviews, the hype and the complexity of obstacles that the event might not be what some expected, it may be too tough or not live up to the dreams of runners. It was something I’d discussed in detail with the ORM team and friends within the sport, I guessed only time would tell.

Skipping forward a few weeks and the Friday before was upon us. Arriving at 9 am on that Friday I was part of a support crew destined to help Ross Edgley climb the height of Everest on the 6m Toughest ropes. A feat he completed with surprising ease, that’s not to suggest there weren’t a few dark places over those 24 hours. Be sure to check out the #WorldsLongestRopeClimb for more on that!

So race morning was upon us and the event village was growing fast. It soon took the shape of one of the most formidable I’d seen even if a little bogy in some places. Hundreds of familiar faces littered registration, burger vans and checked out the obstacles surrounding. A big screen TV showed 2 hours until the elite men started while music blared from media tower in the middle.

Arriving the legendary Toughest commentators Wally and Brian with a new addition to the already infamous team. Behind them what seemed like a small Scandinavian army ready to take over. Athletes from all teams had made the journey with world champions littering the event. MIT Tough Team also had a great turn out and ran their customary wave later in the day with the legendary Latoff Brothers leading the charge!

Registration opened at 9:30 with Swedish precision and the elite males lined up ready for the 10 am start. Wally and Brian gave the course low down before the automated timer started counting down 10-9-8…2-1!! With the digital cannon off they shot! Its common for Toughest to have an obstacle very early on to break up the field and this was no different, a mere 30m from the start line a huge cargo net lay awaiting. Jonathon Albon took his normal start slotting into the middle of the pack while the likes of Ludavig and Conor fought for an early lead. I personally took to a later wave to enjoy the course with the likes of Paul Shanley and Paul Hayward.

Traditionally Toughest create a series of fast, low mud courses but this was in England and they adapted their design to really challenge the tightest of laces. As we started I shot across the cargo net and down towards the first technical obstacle. With the cargo net doing its job I had a play first completing the swing walks easy side before practising the hard side while waiting for Paul-Paul or Pablo and Mr S, a form of satnav upgrade I wish I’d installed earlier.

We jogged on down towards the step up, past an 8ft wall and on towards the traverse walls. Having practised the day before I knew these were going to be tough covered in mud but I was shocked to find the amount of work my core put in as I negotiated across a board of climbing mounts, traversed a scaffolding pole and swung through the second traverse section. Sadly Pablo was unable to complete while Mr S floated across more gracefully than most of the elites would have! It was great to see a legend of the OCR world James Appleton so early on with his camera, a true genius.

On we ran heading back into the event village. Toughest excel in their course design with many loops in and out creating a real spectator friendly environment. The talk soon turned to Mr S exceptional form on the dragons back early in the week and how much he was suffering… A small gathering of nervous people littered the top of the first spine, but shuffling through I was able to jump across, slipping momentarily, before finishing the next 4/5 jumps and hydrating while the others followed. The rest was short lived as we hit the monkey bars, one obstacle I’m disappointed to say I’m yet to achieve the fast lane on.

Disappearing down a hill, nattering with some Swedish legends, we hopped a wall and head out on the second of the loops, a long and technical run wound around the edge of the lakes testing shoes and ankle mobility alike. This incredible trail section lead us to the slide, sadly on this day the slide was closed, something the others will tell you I was glad of! I am not a fan of cold water and it was, in my mind, threatening my completion with Paul-Paul! Taking the penalty we walked up the hill, now I’d love to sit here and say I walked with Paul-Paul, but I think they carried on running long after I stopped! This loop brought an old rival my way, the sternum checker! Now an obstacle I compete with dignity, grace and technique rather than speed and force we were soon continuing up the hill, and by we, I man Paul S and I… They just don’t build obstacles for short people do they Pablo!? Still, ribs intact we all trudged on.

The top of this hill climb brought a hoist, a simple yet irritating obstacle that is never as easy as it should be. Again Mr S. smashed it while Pablo and I struggled with our height and weigh disadvantages! Jogging down, clearing another wall we met the most hated, and most loved woman in OCR right now. Tammy Beckett was one of the best marshals I’ve ever come across, set the instruction of ensuring every tire carry was at arm’s length she echoed across the hills, struck fear into my puny shaking arms before feeding me Haribo when I got back. What a marshall! Those haribo were long overdue and lead me back into the event village, ready to tackle the legendary platinum rig.

Normally I like to attempt the fast lanes, but being unable to complete a flying monkey I chose to take the easy lane, I guess when you are not racing there is no rush… Completing the rig I passed through the under overs, crawled and relaxed again waiting for my teammates. 5.5k in team KitBrix-ChiaCharge-Muddy Kit-IceBug-Run247-ORM was going strong, even Mr S had received his second wind!

We headed off down into the technical woodland again, completing the dips walk, Bulgarian bag carry before moving onto the rope climb. Déjà vu. The ropes soon channelled round too the swinging wheels. A new obstacle for Toughest they were awesome. I was a little unsure which was the fast and easy lanes but decided to have a go at both and found them both equally brilliant. While Paul-Paul took the easy lane additional crawl I took a few more attempts and helped coach Liam across as gracefully as you’d expect…

Down into the woods, we had more beautifully technical trails before emerging at the pegboards. Here the sun left us and out cold wet bodies really started affecting us. The mucking around swiftly stopped and we all flew over and crawled as fast as we good. I jogged and jumped while waiting for the others, stuck behind slower crawlers.

We really put the pace down on the way to the ring walk before taking a sharp turn into the quarter pipe. Having been on site the day before I knew tackling this really did depend on grip so I set about drying my shoes on the dry grass. Brian had picked up on my where about’s and soon was hyping me up over the tannoy. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous running into a wall, but thankfully my brilliant IceBugs gripped and gripped well, I trotted up the wall with relative ease, soon to be joined by Paul S, but sadly never to be joined by Pablo. Sliding down the finishing pole I collected my medal and joined the queues waiting for that finish line photo. The mood was electric, my body racked with shivers and teeth chattered but I’ve not felt a rush like that for months. What an event.

While brilliant this event wasn’t without its problems. Course sabotaging is sadly becoming the norm in the UKOCR scene with larger races being the victim of jealous rivals. While one obstacle was closed a huge shout out to the build crew and race directors is needed, having pulled an all-nighter they headed out early to fix obstacles, retape the course and ensure the race could go ahead. The overwhelming vibe coming from the community is one of brilliance while a few individuals have fairly shared their opinions of negativity. Personally, the event was a 9/10 from me, almost perfect, the only reason I have to mark it down form 10 is based on the standard of other Toughest events which utilize mountain terrain, frozen lakes or extreme heat, something they didn’t have.

The next Toughest event will kick off in 2 weeks on the 7th May in the beautiful city of Malmo. Flights into Copenhagen are around £50 this late with a short drive and hotels needed its where you’ll find me.

The Interview

I went for my first formal interview today since 2008 and my goodness I was nervous.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m comfortable in my job, I enjoy it and I find it very rewarding, however, this opportunity has presented itself and I thought ‘Why not?’ so as part of my being brave thing, I filled in the online application and hit send.

I’d had a preliminary interview a couple weeks back which was more of a chat over coffee but today was in a meeting room and I was asked to give a 15min presentation of which the first part was to answer the question, ‘What qualities can you bring to this role?’  I’d had a week’s notice of this presentation so plenty of time considering it didn’t require a significant amount of research but it wasn’t until last night that I actually sat down to write it because I really couldn’t think of how to deliver it.   15min is not a very long time for a presentation bearing in mind the second part was a more technical based question that I could easily spend a good couple of hours talking about.  It felt a bit wanky to have a PowerPoint presentation about me yet I felt it would look like I was underprepared or worse didn’t care if I just sat there and talked for 15min without anything else.  I consulted The Husband on what he would expect if he was interviewing for a similar standing role and going on his advice (‘…just don’t ramble on about pointless crap’), I decided to go for wanky and prepare a PowerPoint presentation.

I don’t know about you, but listing my positive qualities and ‘selling myself’ is about as comfortable as using stinging nettles for toilet paper.  When I suggested lover of glitter and ‘really good at making tea and choosing biscuits’ as contributing qualities (incidentally the latter worked at my last proper interview), I got the eye roll and sigh response from The Husband.  I know, I know, I needed to take it seriously.   I typed out the list of qualities and then spent a good couple of hours trying to work out how to present in a PowerPoint without it being just a generic list.  After accidentally posting this predicament on a group chat with fellow Okhane contributors, I thought screw it, I’m going to use pictures from OCR to help illustrate some qualities and make it at the very least, not just some other boring list.

Adaptability – OCR is the ultimate sport for displaying continuing adaptability.  Every single race is so gloriously different. Different course layout, use of terrain, the variety of obstacles that require different skills to complete them; running, jumping, rope climbing, scaling walls, rolling, crawling just to name a few. Even races at permanent courses like Nuts, Nuclear and the race formerly known as Tough Guy can be completely different from one day to the next thanks to Mother Nature and her mood.

Team Player – ‘Team Work Makes the Dream Work’ as the saying goes.   Every OCR runner from the Weekend Warrior to the Pro Elite Racers have at some point in their OCR sporting lives have been given a helping hand, knee, shoulder or leg by someone out on course.  There’s something about the brutality of some of the conditions of an OCR course that brings out that truly wonderful human instinct to club together.  I remember the very first time I was presented with a 6ft over-hang wall.  Having only done a couple of 5k inflatable obstacle courses beforehand, I looked at this wall wondering how the f**k am I going to get over it when a total stranger offered me a boost up and helped me safely over, he himself was not sure of how to tackle it so I returned the favour.  We then carried on around the rest of the course together working as a team.  We still talk to each other via Facebook and meet up at races, this is my favourite thing about OCR and the community.

Empathy – The anguish of seeing someone just missing that bell at the end of an otherwise perfectly executed rig traverse and then the roar of elation when they finally ring that sodding bell with a very defiant slap. It’s probably the memory of the rope burn from falling 15ft off a rope climb or the devastation of that DNF thanks to hypothermia that cause OCR runners to display empathy by the ice-filled skipload.

Enthusiasm – OCR runners are crazy about OCR.  Runners get protective about their ‘run days’ but to an OCR runner everywhere and everything is an opportunity to train.  Kid’s playground = low rig training, icy lake when on a Sunday walk = cold water training, Shopping = farmer carries, The Underground = jostling your way to the front line.  OCR runners will participate in a race NO MATTER WHAT.  Where else would you find people on crutches, with an arm cast on or even with a whacking great laceration in their head merrily making their way around a course?  It’s the enthusiasm and love of OCR that also compels many of us to wake up at the crack of dawn, drive for 3 hours all to stand in a muddy field for at least 6 hours, hand feeding runners’ from a 20kg supply of sweeties and home-make cake paid for out of our own pockets.  We clap, cheer, whoop, high-5 and dole out muddy hugs till our hands are sore and our voices have become croaky squeaks.

Tenacity – Tenacious is the more PC way of saying ‘pig-headed idiot’.  All of us like doing things that we find easy but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a ‘challenge’.  OCR runners are no exception.  The look of concentration and determination on faces is amazing to see and if truth be told, sometimes downright hilarious.  The bruises, falls, cracked ribs and shredded hands are testaments to the utter stubbornness that the OCR runner displays in pursuit of overcoming their nemesis obstacle (sternum checkers are w**kers).  The evolution of rig style obstacles and the endurance events bring out levels of tenacity that are beyond comprehension.   Crutches, a gaping hole in the head, a prosthetic leg or even a wheelchair do not stop OCR runners from achieving their goals.

An All Rounder – Run, Jump, Crawl, Swim, Climb and Carry: an OCR runner is able to do it all sometimes also wearing a pain in the arse costume that ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’.  The aim is to do all these with ‘flow’, that mythical state of being where each component of the race is completed in a seemingly effortless fashion.  Whilst we wait to get ‘flow’ we will huff, grunt and ooft our way over walls, sternum checkers, rigs, and through the seemingly never-ending supply of bitch ditches and cargo nets.   Granted most of us get to an obstacle semi praying for a teeny bit of a queue just to be able to have a little bit of a rest, then of course it’s necessary to slow down and strike either a badass or hilarious pose for the photographers and most importantly, stop for a chat and a muddy hug with those awesome volunteers who have been standing out in the muddy cold for hours.  It would be awfully rude to not to sample the sweeties and cake that they had so kindly hauled across the country just for us.  After all, good manners are also a very important quality.

 

 

 

 

I Didn’t Get That One Right!

I was going to write a piece about my “race” at the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships, held in the absolutely stunning Blue Mountain resort in Ontario, Canada. I was going to write a piece about how I was prepared to go out there and race, and race hard. A piece about the chances I had of doing really well. The expectations that had crept into the back of my subconscious mind. I had a thesaurus next to me, open to words like success, achievement and potential ….

…. and then I participated in the 3km Short Course on Friday!

So let’s go back a bit! ….. (insert your own travelling back in time soundbite!)

Leading up to the OCRWC, my training had all been towards Ironman Austria (another pound in the IM box!) and then I had added 4 or 5 weeks of obstacle training at the absolutely superb facilities and knowledge set, owned and run by Dave Peters, Rumble Fitness based in Swanbourne, near Milton Keynes. (www.rumblefitness.co.uk). I had done pretty well last year at the UK Championships and it appears that I had a reputation for being better than I thought I was/am.

Now, many who know me, know …. or maybe surprised to hear …. I have a constant battle with seriously low self-esteem which I normally hide behind a thin veneer of silliness, something close to humour and a light-hearted approach. I have backed off from “being upfront” because, quite frankly, whatever the result, I felt I would have been told that I had not released “my true potential”.

I share this not for sympathy, I neither want or need it. I have spent many a year working on it and am comfortable with the whys nowadays. I share this because I don’t believe I am the only one who feels like this. This story is about how I felt good whilst failing! It was an awesome feeling! Liberating!

Tash and I flew to Canada on the Tuesday before the race. I won’t deny I was buzzing and nerves had, unusually for me, get the best of me. I normally have a mantra of “I am not a victim” and “Is that all you’ve got!?” to get me through, to empower me, to get all those chemicals flowing in the right direction …. not this time.

Blue Mountain is about a 2-hour drive outside of Toronto and we arrived in the pitch black of night. I woke very early and, as the sun peaked over the horizon, I slipped on my running shoes and ran around the resort, getting to know the area. It’s something I always do when I travel; it’s a sort of connection for me. As I ran around, I could see the course, stretching up the long grass mountains. To the top, I must climb! And off I ran! The view from the top is simply beautiful! It is worth the trip to Canada just for that, let alone the run-up. I found a fantastic single track back down through the woods. My feet light, I skipped, jumped, ran, leapt to the bottom.

…. I was feeling good!

Friday morning came. I had not slept for what felt like 10 years and my stomach had decided that anything and everything in there was poison! I had been drinking (water!) constantly but as I stood on the line, my mouth was dry, cotton-mouth had come with a vengeance! Coach Pain gave a motivational speech …. I was not really listening at first, but his words, his passion started to saturate and my emotions built up! My fists clenched, heart pumped …. “take it easy, Nick” I said to myself, “use this to get aligned, get in balance for tomorrows big race!”.

Go!

Straight up a long hill, around the corner and we were racing …. and I was feeling really good! Up with the front runners! And only really running at about 70-75%! I flew across obstacles I had not seen before, tried before, I was starting to think …. “maybe, Nick, just maybe …..”

Now obstacle course racing really is a test but has always had an element of lightness to it. A community of fun loving people, looking to conquer demons, prove a point, laugh with mates, raise money for charity amongst so many other walks of life …. but it is a huge challenge for all, at every level. The harder you go, the harder it is! And this was the World stage, the first time I had been to it. The best in the World! And the course needed to reflect that …. and it did!

My nemesis came in the form of a technical rig. It went something like …. monkey bars, to a rope, to ring, to loop, to ring, to a rope, to nunchuck, to a rope, to a rope, to ring, to a vertical bar, to horizontal bar to bell, the bell being the target. I heeded Dave Peters advice and walked along the side to check it out. Remembered all the advice about keep moving, momentum etc ….

I got my head in the game and went for it …. my foot locks working, swings working …. I reached for the vertical pole and gripped with all I had! I slipped straight off; no grip, nothing!

My forearms were screaming nearly as loudly as the voice in my head …. “There’s nothing left! What am I going to do!?”. I paused, for a long time. 10 minutes! Stretching my forearms out, trying to get something working again. All around me were athletes with bigger arms, forearms, smaller waists …. all looking down, shoulders hunched with the prospect of not only losing their band but the fact you can not place without your band …. dreams vanishing.

I tried again, teeth gritted! I touched the horizontal bar, swang for the bell …. MISSED! I could not believe it! I was at Tex Rex stage, my arms short and useless! Don’t give up Nick! The race has gone but keep going!

A good friend of mine had also been re-trying, JJ Jelfs. I watched him jump up and try again. All the “re-triers” urging him on! With Herculean levels of strength, he did it! I was elated for him …. but another part of me broke.

I tried twice more, each time getting close to the bell but close is not good enough. With more obstacles to go, I decided to move on, my band removed and added to a huge pile on the ground.

I eventually finished, my arms spent but I managed to complete everything else. So, I had my medal and had crossed the line at a World class event. The expectation had gotten the better of me. I had tried but came up short ….

…. but not everywhere, I began to think! I ran really well, I got further on most obstacles than many, and overcame many more than I had seen before! I had been thinking this is the end of my OCR Racing “career” …. but hang on! It was actually only one obstacle! It may well have been more, or even one later on, but in this situation, it was one obstacle! I don’t give up. I learn from failure. I grow. I have more to give. Now that’s an exciting prospect! I’m in Canada at the OCRWC, with friends!

100% was given. If I can grow 1% more, I wonder what that will look like? I like this though ….

This was one of the best events and weekends I have spent and I thank everyone for adding something to it. I do have more to write about it inside of me, but I think there is only so much dribble anyone can handle! 🙂

Train for Spartan Race

Preparing for your first Spartan Race can be a tricky one where you will need to not only run but also build some upper body strength. These exercises are perfect as an introduction to build to obstacle races so give them a go to get yourself race ready.

Spartan Walls

Workout: Dips – 4 sets of 8 reps

How to: On a set of parallel bars, Raise yourself on 2 supports with arms straight. Lower your body until your shoulders are lower than your elbows, keeping your elbows tucked in throughout. Push yourself up by straightening your arms for one rep.

Spartan Carry

Workout: Kettlebell Step-Ups 3 x 15 reps each leg

How to: With a weight, you find challenging, hold two kettlebells by your side like briefcases. Find a raised platform that is around waist-height. Lift your knee, plant your foot on the platform and stand up straight for one rep.

Spartan Rope Climb

Workout: TRX Row 4 x 12 reps

How to: Hook up the TRX Cable so that it hangs down to your waist, hold on to the cable and back up about 2 steps.

Hold the handle to your chest and make sure the cable is taught, keep your body in a straight line and lean back, extending your arms out as you do. Pull yourself back up for one rep. Find this easy? Try holding one with only one hand.

Spartan Jump

Workout: Box-Jumps 6 x 6 reps

How to: Stand in front of a platform about waist-height, bend your knees slightly and explode up to land on the platform with both feet together. Carefully step off again for one rep.

Spartan Monkey Bars

Workout: Overhand Pull-ups 5 x 5 reps

How to: Stand below a bar that is higher than head height, hold on with your palms facing away from you and hands as wide apart as you can manage. Squeezing your shoulder blades together, try to drive your elbows into your ribs to raise your chest to the bar. Straighten your arms slowly for one rep.

Your Spartan Workout

  1. 3 – 5km Run
  2. Kettlebell Step-Ups 3 x 15 reps each leg
  3. Tricep Dips 4 x 12
  4. TRX Row 4 x 12

Then 3-4 Rounds of this circuit:

  1. 10 Press-ups
  2. 10 Squat Thrusts
  3. 10 Bodyweight Squats
  4. 10 Burpees
  5. 30 Seconds rest

*NB: Each of these exercises can be performed outside in a park using park benches for high platforms, trees or playparks can provide something to hold onto for rows or pull-ups.