My Masterclass with Doug "The Beard" Spence
It usually starts around September “What do you want for Christmas?' my Mum asks me. Normally this is a bit of a struggle, but with my OCR obsession, the list last year was as long as my (out of proportion) arm.
At the very top of this list was a training day with Doug “The Beard” Spence of Dirty Dozen races. Of course, try to explain this to your mum, who really doesn't approve of all of this muddy malarky (her response to the Tough Guy photo? “WHY on Earth would you do that to yourself?” *walks off shaking head in disgust*...)
Imagine my surprise (after months of badgering) to find that Kevin had in fact bought me a masterclass with Doug (who says husbands don't listen?).
The date was booked for February, and I eagerly counted down the weekends until the big day. After a pleasantly relaxing night alone (sometimes it's nice to be alone!) in the very glamorous local Premier Inn, I set about my morning with Doug. After a spring like week I was expecting pretty warm weather for “down south”, so imagine my surprise when I opened my curtains to big fat snowflakes falling a pace..swiftly followed by an status update from Doug himself warning of the cold weather training to come!
The premise of the “masterclass” is in theory, quite simple. You get two hours with Doug himself (in groups of no more than 5 people), the class takes place at the famous “Back Yard Jam” site, just south of Tonbridge. In these two hours, legend has it that the man known as “the Beard” will impart unto you his hard discovered secrets of how to improve in skills such as rope climbing, wall clambering, and mokey-barring. Considering his sessions have received high acclaim from anyone who's anyone in the OCR world, including the imitable Jonathan Albon, we can pretty much assume that the masterclass is going to be awesome.
In the interests of saving time and suspense I can tell you now, that it is. It is awesome.
I shall now list to you why it is awesome.
Despite having to fill up my tank (yet again, damn car) and losing several minutes of journey due to lack of phone signal, I managed to arrive in time. “I knew you'd be on time” Doug said, as he warmly greeted me. “Oh yes?” I replied. “Yes, you strike me as someone who doesn't want to waste any time and get on with it.” He said “Oh and good news, you're the only one booked in today so you're going to be worked extra hard”.
Damn...Was this some kind of mind control to firstly place a high standard which I now have to live up to? (yes, in my over analysing head it is!)
I was very quickly put at ease by Doug's calm manner and we set about our session with a warm up and a chat about my sporting background. After a quick chat about not getting frustrated during the exercises and listening to what he is teaching me, we set about our first obstacles, the 4ft and 5ft walls.
Doug's methods of teaching are quite simple, he asks you to complete an obstacle and works upon what you've already shown him. The fact that he managed to make me so at ease on my own, and not feel like doing something not quite right would be a total failure is what is amazing. (Anyone who knows me knows that although in neutral situations I am pretty loudmouthed, invite me to your private space and I'll sit in the corner needing the toilet for four hours but too scared to ask.)
However, this was not the case with Doug. I was quite happy to bound upon the wall and be corrected, this is after all, what I was here for, but not many people even if they had Doug's massive knowledge, have the people skills to effectively teach.
Doug is incredibly technical. You can see the hours of work that have gone into his analysis of obstacles and the best way to overcome every one. You can see this by the minute adjustments he makes, starting off by learning how to land -yes, bent knees I thought..no no, there are so many more ways to make it better!- trigger words, body alignment, eye placement, this isn't a case of throwing yourself around, but breaking down every obstacle into manageable pieces. We covered every aspect of how to get over these walls, with reasons and explanations of why and how. Doug is big on making each obstacle efficient and safe, to ensure that on race day that you get over them and carry onwards.
After mastering the lower walls, we moved onto the overhang wall. After determining which side I would climb the wall (yes he even has a technique for that!) Doug showed me the method, he then broke this down into parts. “Go for it” he said. I stood there... “errrm”... There's no way I can get over this! It's massive! But I did, time and time again, granted, often with little grace or elegance, but I got over it. Each time with a new slight adjustment making each manoeuvre more efficient.
Feeling a little bit bruised we headed back to the 6ft and 10ft walls.
Yes. 10 foot wall. Yes, I am 5ft5”.
Amid shouts of “Elbow! Foot lower! Knee....THUMBS!” these insurmountable obstacles became, well, surmountable.
What was great about learning with Doug was that he has the immense background knowledge to explain to why every move he is explaining to you is the most efficient, and the safest way of doing it. When you see Doug go over a wall, he puts barely any effort into it, he pretty much walks over it. Rather than just giving you an instruction he gives you the why, and this makes perfect sense to my brain
From here we moved onto the vertical cargo net. I scrambled over this, surprised by the amount of movement in the net. Needless to say by the end of this obstacle I was swiftly clambering over (ok, that's a strong statement to make, but I was getting over with a lot less messing about than before!)
This was followed by the rope climb: here Doug focused a lot on safety, learning how to get down the rope as much as up (which actually, was quite a lot harder! Yes, I am guilty of being a “slider”), and the traverse rope. By this point my arms were pretty tired, but it was great to have a go on this obstacle which I have never yet been on.
We had a quick play on the monkey bars, but my arms were not playing ball (yes, these are the hardest monkey bars in the world). A little game with weightlessness (I can say it, I sucked at this part...) and then with the final few minutes we headed back to the walls for a last attempt and a little video.
Aside from an incredible amount of bruises (sorry, OCR kisses) I left my masterclass with a list of key areas to improve on, and a new and immense amount of knowledge on how to overcome obstacles.
I can't really express enough how amazed I am at the technique adjustments Doug gave me, and how they helped me so much.
This sport is relatively new, and we are all making our own way in it. Some of us have trainers, some go to specialist centres. Some of us never attempt an obstacle until the day of a race. There are very few set rules in how to learn.
Imagine, for example, trying to learn the ballet Swan Lake by watching a DVD, reading a book and doing what you think is right. Who knows how far you'll get, it may look ok after many many months of practice, but actually, it would probably be wrong. It would be an imitation of what you wanted to achieve.
When with everything else we do requires step by step instructions, and learning, knowledge & understanding it makes sense that this is required for OCR also. Yes, races are a lot of fun, but more and more people are taking them seriously and want to actually compete. With this is mind, as well as practice, learning is required.
I hope I get to attend another Masterclass with Doug one day as his knowledge is immense, I also can't encourage others enough to get down there and have some fun, and improve your game whilst you are at it!
Oh and by the way, no, I didn't sing Old MacDonald...