On 32nd January 2015 I took on my first Obstacle Course Race of the year, the one and only, the original and best, the mighty Tough Guy. Whilst I was expecting it to be hard, I was not expecting to find it quite as tough as I did.
Tears, tantrums and numb body parts meant a few weeks with very little training: honestly, Tough Guy stole my mojo.
I’d originally been signed up to run the Stunt Challenge on 7th March 2015, when this was postponed I consulted my race planner, RAW's very own Scott “Honey Badger” Seefeldt who advised me that I had to be at Nuts Challenge. I duly signed up for “mixed nuts” two laps of the 7km course, and all was fine up until about a week and a half before the race, when I started to hear whispers of “harder than Tough Guy”, at this point I sat up and took notice. Lake crossing, slide into a dip pit of water, cold, and 100 obstacles per 7km lap. Is this really the right race to get me back into it after the hell that was Tough Guy? Add into this that I would be running solo (or as solo as you ever can be at an OCR) and I was seriously concerned.
My kit had been decided, I was going with the same set up as Tough Guy: Shortie wetsuit, base layers and compression top layers, minus the merino socks, and my Inov-8 200s. When I say it had been decided, I mean it was decided up until it was announced that the weather that weekend would be in the mid teens, suddenly all over facebook debates were raging over what the correct kit would be. I myself put out a panicked plea the night before, to be met with ever so helpful responses such as “Wear too much and you’ll be hot, too little and you’ll be cold” and “MTFU”…you’ve got to love the OCR Family!
Seeing as I had been frozen to the core at TG, I decided to stick with the neoprene, and substitute the long base layer trousers for shorts. Although our heat didn’t start until 10.30am, we decided to arrive in time to see the 4 lappers go through their first transition (where they pass the start line and have a chance to refuel and make any clothing changes that are needed). As we neared the race course we passed some racers nearing the end of their first lap, as we entered the event village I heard a laughing voice pipe up: “It’s too hot for neoprene!” Racing for Mudstacle, Tom Nash of the “MTFU” comment.
Watching racers at the pit stop of the transition area I drove Kevin and Ami (of RAW) mad with my running commentary: “Well Tom’s Taking off his Neoprene, And Christie has her wetsuit pulled down, but James has put some on…Kim looks perfect! What’s she wearing?”
Race time came before we could blink and suddenly we grouped together at the start line: with an air raid siren and chants of “HELL. RIVER. HELL. RIVER” It felt more like we were going into battle than a race.
We started running, with the usual scramble for pace and placement. On this day I was racing, I wasn’t planning on getting stuck back or hanging around. I was later told that I was too “focused”, and I quote “I barely got a snarl from you when I jokingly said you’d pushed me in one of the ditches near 1km”, maybe the racing persona doesn’t suit me so well!
What I found interesting about this race was that it wasn’t the physical challenge I was going to be facing, but the mental one of racing alone, which I haven’t got much experience in.
As cannons periodically sounded it felt like we were taking part in the Hunger Games, another one down with every blast, and that was it, I was off in make believe land in my head.
Every competitor was chasing me down for survival, every obstacle was life or death; I became a character in my very own story. I fled from the hunter chasing me down (my marker, the person I choose at every race as not wanting to overtake me); I scaled cliff faces (tire walls) in search of a fresh water source (the handy water stops) and foraged for food (the sports beans I kept down my bra).
Even the nosebleed I had at kilometer 4 added into my storytelling. Although I was slightly concerned that having a blood soaked shirt and face would make me look even more feral than usual.
The soundtrack to my story was the following song by Felix Hagan, which I couldn’t help but sing to myself in my head as I went round:
“Through the noise and cloying mud, soaked in guilty wasted blood I crawled the lonely mile, shuddering with enmity
The cannons boomed their harsh reveille as all around me such decay Such monumental disarray abounded mightily
My thoughts were wrung with cruel intent, such vile sinful sentiment And though my breath was all but spent I pressed on doggedly”
As I reached the lake crossing, which I had been fearing, I realised that I was actually having a huge amount of fun. Crossing the water with no struggle I rounded the corner on the last stretch to the transition station, slowed only by my mud clogged Inov-8s, which had come very loose and were getting stuck.
Entering the pit stop I was swept up in the biggest, rib-crushing hug by Tony Campbell, RD of The Bigfoot Challenge, who was there to take part in Nuts Challenge. With help from him and Lou, one of the amazing marshals that day I managed to add calf compression guards to my kit, and get my trainers back on tight enough.
Tony decided to accompany me on my 2nd lap and be my wingman. “I have a time to beat, we have an hour and forty five to complete this lap, ideally an hour and a half”. I barked. “You’re the boss” He replied, “let’s do it”.
I had been unsure of how I would handle laps: anyone who knows me knows that timetables, plans and everything set out is the order of the day for me. In this case though, if I was struggling would I be able to face another lap? Luckily I was fine, and set off eagerly.
Unfortunately the start of my second lap coincided with a heat of 1 lap runners setting off, who many in inappropriate kit and not sure of what they were doing were throwing themselves around with gay abandon. I soon realised one of the things that made this race hard: the addition of later heats. The mud that an hour ago had been manageable was now thigh deep and impossible to extricate myself from. If it hadn’t been for Tony literally pulling me out by my arms, I probably would’ve been there for another ten minutes. Also with Tony’s guidance we managed to overtake a huge chunk of runners before they hit too many of the obstacles, weaving in and out of competitors and fun runners alike: a fresh set of legs helping to set the pace on this second lap.
I later found out that I had fared incredibly fortunately amongst the fresh heats, speaking to a very unhappy Tim Lovett of Obstacle Kit, he had experienced the misery of a DNF after being kicked in the head by an errant foot and seeing stars.
Knowing what was coming was a blessing, there was nothing to fear and I could really gauge how I was progressing on the course, surprising myself when I realised that we were halfway through the second lap without even noticing.
Having seen him several times that day, we had a quick chat with James Ruckley racing for Mudstacle, who was attempting a staggering six laps, equaling an epic marathon of Nuts challenge, soon passing George Trotter of RPCC Warriors who was tackling the four laps that day. A quick hug and a pep talk, and we were on our way again.
Nearing the last portion of the course Tony realised I had my eyes on someone behind me, my mark still catching up with me, which spurred him into encouraging me further. “Come on, you lost ten seconds there!” he berated me when I chatted to David Hill after the water slide (which by the way, is possibly the most fun obstacle I’ve ever encountered).
Clambering over the final cargo nets we were faced by a cluster of RAW cheering us on, before heading into the lake for the final dip, which not only did I complete, but actually left the guide rope to overtake people in my quest to finish within my target time. (If you’ve not read about my Tough Guy battle you may not be aware that I am not overly fond of water chest height and above).
“You got this. You got this” Tony chanted, “I’m behind you” he told me as we approached the finish post, to be greeted with a medal and a delicious warm cup of sweetness.
The course itself was brilliant, great fun and perfect for my skill set: very few portions of running, mainly obstacles to overcome, which I am more capable of than running. None of the obstacles in the 1 and 2 laps were unachievable (the 3 & 4 lappers had additional, very tough obstacles to take on).
Pound for pound, two laps was not as hard as Tough Guy, it was fun and nothing but fun. Three or four laps? Now that I imagine would be harder than TG, especially in the cold. However, if Tough guy were 21 or 28KM it would be harder still so I find that a difficult comparison to make in my head.
Should I have attempted 4 laps? Personally, I don’t think so. Some amazing racers took on 4 laps and really struggled, I knew what I wanted to aim for and did it. Should I have pushed myself more? Maybe next time, but completing two laps well was a great morale boost for me and I’m pleased I did it this way.
There were plenty of opportunities for the public to spectate around the course and it was brilliant to see so many familiar faces along the way cheering you on (especially when asked to show them the “famous wink”!).
The marshals must also be commended, every single one cheerful and helpful, even seeing them an hour and a half later saying the same thing, still with a smile on their face, a cheerful voice, and Jelly Babies a plenty: bearing in mind that some of them were out on the course for 6 hours.
There were a few people who for many reasons did not complete the four laps: injuries, cold, exhaustion. I know that these people are disappointed but I want to say that I am in awe of all of them for attempting something so massive, something that I did not even think about attempting.
Team Raw took to the course en masse and we achieved some amazing results, with a total of 24 of the the adult team running over the weekend, and an amazing 13 Rawlings who took on the childrens race on Saturday.
Amongst the team we had the following Rawsome placings: 8th and 10th Male to Scott Seefeldt and Jamie Burke, and 4th woman to Kim Bolton in the four laps, who have all qualified for the OCR World Championships in Ohio in October. In the two laps we had the following results: 6th male to Kevin and 1st and 8th female to myself and Ami Sawran.
Overall, the day was perfectly run, smooth, safe and full of mud and obstacles. A huge thank you to Sonia for being so helpful in the lead up to the race, and for her and Wayne for putting on a brilliant course, I’ll be back in the summer to take it on again.
The Nuts challenge gave me my mojo back: my Katniss mindset mixed with the best wingman ever in Tony worked as I beat my target time by 15 minutes and achieved my first ever First Place, for first female on two laps.