The Fantastic FFC Ladies team: Lucy Tapper Howe, Jane Bollen, Karina Grimes, Stephanie Fry, Shelley Stel, Francesca Chiorando Meredith, Emily Red & Claire Bracuti
What do you get if you cross a barrister, a roller derby queen, a single mother of three, a RAF police officer, a part time ballerina, a floral designer, and an artist? Actually, all jokes aside, you get the best team a girl could hope to run with!
OK, so I know I said that the Grim was going to be my last race of 2014, but, if you want the honest truth... I lied. In all seriousness, with more race options happening before the end of the year, you really should've seen it coming. And i'm not even sorry....
An event based on teamwork rather than placings, this race would not be timed. (Which made me awfully relieved as I was quite worried about keeping up with the other ladies in my team!)
Single sex or mixed teams of 6-8 had been put together weeks ago, but in the week leading up to the race, there were changes happening on nearly every team as injuries became apparent, or family plans could not be changed.
Foolishly I had expressed interest in this event a few weeks ago but oh! Registration is over, and I don't have a big enough team anyway. Dang it, never mind!
Until the inimitable Christie Wright (some of you may know her as “Gym Bunny”) put out her plea on facebook for a replacement team member for the ladies team of Fortitude Fitness. After her sterling performance at Urban Attack she had caused damage to her hip flexor which would not be fixed in time to run at Judgement Day.
Of course I couldn't resist, and this is how I came to be in a cold, wet start line at 10.30am on the 21st December, 20kg of sandbag in tow. Actually, that's another lie. It was neither cold nor wet, not at the beginning anyway (but we'll get to that). Yet again, we were blessed with perfect weather. I'm actually yet to run an OCR in the rain or actual cold...i'm a little scared that the universe is saving it up for Tough Guy in February.
Luckily I had managed to stay with a friend not too far away the evening before (see, I do do some nice Christmassy things, not just get wet and muddy). So thankfully this time there was no 4am rises as opposed to my day at Grim.
After a peaceful drive down to Surrey alone, I managed to get round to see my very good friend Nick Page.
Nick has duchennes Muscular Dystrophy. He also has a wicked sense of humour, and an outlook on life that would put most of us to shame. Nick has been an inspiration to me since I first met him, Every mile I run, I dedicate to this wonderful man, with a grateful heart.
With only an hour to travel from where I was staying to the race venue, i'm not sure how I messed it up, however, after several panicked phone calls to my new teammates (who had yet to meet me, but who were very patient at my scattyness that Sunday morning, thanks ladies!) I finally arrived at the event, with half an hour to spare, in true Frannie style.
After brief introductions, and handing out of T Shirts, antlers (yes, antlers) and racing goodies, we began to prepare ourselves to race. Here I must say a very big thank you to George “The Gentleman” Trotter, for once again helping out where he could: being a marshal that day he was in charge of handing out tyres and sandbags at the beginning and retrieving them at the end (and Haribo, Thanks George!) he made sure that we got (relatively )dry sandbags to make our race just a bit easier. As always Gentleman, your efforts are appreciated.
As we gathered at the start line we were saddened to hear of the passing of Tom Smiths father the previous evening, who would attend every OCR event to support his son. A minutes silence in his memory was a lovely touch, and is one of the reasons the OCR community is known as the OCR Family.
Now I must say, I did think it was only myself who moaned round courses, but running in a team I thankfully found this wasn't true...anyone listening from the outside would think we didn't enjoy this, but strangely, there's nowhere else we'd rather be!
Now, to run round a (very) hilly 5 mile course, with 7 other ladies who are not massively well acquainted, or indeed have never met, several of whom are in the throes of illnesses (chest infection, cold, sickness, anyone?) could be a challenge. Throw in two 20kg sandbags and two tyres (one incredibly awkward, one reasonably easy to carry) with obstacles such as 9 foot walls to scale, and barbed wire to crawl under. Add into this that anyone putting down or dropping an obstacles incurs a 15 burpee penalty for the WHOLE team. Well, to be honest, this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
It wasn't. I was amazed at these women. Seriously, the team gelled immediately. Tactics were discussed before we started, and conversations were had the whole way round, regarding each others efforts, strengths and comfort. (comfort? What a word to use!). Myself and Karina started the race with one of the sandbags shared between us, with the remaining carries split between another 4 ladies, with two ladies as back ups to take over.
Let me say here, yes 20kg split between two people really doesn't sound difficult, why on earth am I going on about it so much? Well, if you're saying that, then you haven't carried these damn sandbags. With devilishly short handles on the sides and top, it's difficult to get a comfortable grip. To carry over the shoulders (as we eventually realised was the best way) meant having your arms bent behind your head holding on to the bag, whilst totally unmalleable, it dug into your shoulders (how I cursed my bony shoulders! How sore they are today!) and pushed your head down so you could only see a few feet in front.
Carrying the bag with another teammate also meant pacing yourselves together so that neither was going too fast or too slow, whilst also being aware of your team, how they were doing, and where they were (obviously wanting to stick all together). With that in mind, I really want to comment on the course, but i'm afraid, aside from lots of hills, I remember little of it!
As you can expect, after several (very) steep hills, we came upon our first real obstacle. This is where things got interesting. This was a wall, a high one, i'm going to guess at 9 foot, but it could've been more- it was high!
Now bearing in mind that we have 8 ladies (all of medium height, some having never scaled walls before) four objects to get over the wall, both awkward shapes and heavy, that cannot touch the floor, then this could be harder than we first imagined. Up steps Stephanie, our RAF officer in training. In true forces style, she rallied us and gave orders (one over, tyre! Two over, tyre! Three over, sandbag!) whilst standing at the base of the wall giving everyone a leg up. (By the way, i'm really sorry about standing on your head Steph....) It looked like from now on, strategics would be Stephs specialty.
Now, contrary to what you may think, i.e., people would be skirting carrying responsibilities, this couldn't be further from the truth. It was at times, almost a battle to get someone to give up their sandbag or tyre and take a break.
A huge shout out goes out to Claire, who was barely without a sandbag for more than a few minutes at any time. In her words “I have twins and another child under three, not lugging round a weight feels weird to be honest”.
Just before the halfway point we got into a nice balance as a team, with the tyre carriers up ahead, one lady on each sandbag towards the back, with a back up alongside her for when she wanted to swap, and two ladies going in between the two, swapping and encouraging.
I've told you before, and my teammates were pretty sick of hearing it on Sunday to be honest, but it's still true: Hills are not my friends. I apologise here to my team for the incredibly slow progress I made up the last hill before the water stop, but my god, that was steep, and I was finishing that hill with that sandbag on my back! The plus side of running with a sandbag (well I say running, moving at a glacial pace in my case) is that when you don't have it, it feels amazing. When being momentarily relieved of their bags, our ladies were positively bouncing up the hills. (which i'm going to tell you once again, were plentiful, and steep!)
The barbed wire crawls caused little difficulty but were more about working out the best way to manoeuvre the carries underneath, the mud was sticky and glorious and we couldn't have asked for more!
Whilst we were blessed with perfect weather, the water obstacles hadn't quite cottoned onto this. Yes I shouldn't be surprised that on 21st December the water was icy, but I was. Dancing through to avoid our feet being submerged for too long, was forgotten when we spied a photographer (team events make the best photos!). The water just reminded me that I have a lot of cold weather acclimatisation to do before Tough Guy in February. (Can you tell i'm scared about that?)
The obstacles were not overly plentiful, and were limited to variances of crawls and walls, but anything else wouldn't have worked with the carries. Also, part of the challenge was the team running, rather than working as an individual. Again, this was a totally different concept in racing, which was enjoyed by everyone who took part.
I myself thoroughly enjoyed running with a team, and found their encouragement and support amazing. I hope to run again with you ladies.
I also found the set up and organisation of Judgement Day faultless, the bag drop was excellent in the sense that it wasn't limited to one small bag, and was very efficiently run. The parking was limited, but we were warned about that, and that's small fry when you have a location like we had! Being the first time I had run a Judgement Day event I was very impressed, and will definitely be back next year for more mud and hills.