It was a pretty damp and murky drive to Pippingford early on Saturday morning and I was feeling very smug that I had bottled out of camping on-site the night before. This feeling was heightened when I arrived (I should note: free parking!) to find a gaggle of more hardcore OCR-ers who could definitely not have been described as ‘happy campers’! “Wet” was the most common response to being asked how they felt. Despite this, anticipation for the first Bigfoot was high and there was a typical OCR-family-like feeling around the event village.
Having completed the compulsory mingling, I went for a sneaky scout out of the course. Located near the event village was the main obstacle area. From what I saw the obstacles looked solid and well built plus a little different to what we’re used to so it was looking promising. Tony Campbell (Race Director for Bigfoot) had built a weaver due to demand for pre-World’s training and I was itching to see how I got on with it having never met one in a race. I could also see little bits of tape all over the woods so was looking forward to some serious technical running which Pippingford is famous for (love it or hate it, depending on how many hours you've spent traipsing round it!).
Registration was fantastically straightforward - there wasn't one. Waivers had been signed online and the event wasn't chip timed. This upset a few as it had been advertised as having chip timing but it was a very understandable decision considering the limited number of runners. The nature of having few runners (most likely due to the number of events on the same weekend) also meant we could all squeeze under one marquees and have a good old natter whilst waiting to start.
We were eventually cajoled out of the dry marquee into the rain to start a group warm up which went along the usual lines of press ups and burpees, along with a few more unique exercises such as touching ourselves all over followed by doing the same to a partner… I’m not sure that my nerve pathways felt any more connected but it succeeded in raising spirits and moral! A quick 3-2-1-GO and we were off through the woods past the obstacles we would come to later. There was a good bit of running until the first obstacle (even more so if you managed to miss a sneakily placed directional arrow) which was a rope traverse over a typical Pippingford pond/bog. There were 2 rope lines which allowed a variety of techniques to get to the other side dry. Some tried going bog wading (perhaps inspired by Joel Hick of AWAS’s recent bog snorkelling pursuits?) with the rope for support but this isn't recommended, I did hear reports they were still there on the Monday.
Rope traverses was the theme of the day and to be quite honest I couldn't tell you how many there were or what order they came in. We all knew ropes were going to feature a lot in Bigfoot and Tony did not disappoint there!
The first 6km also included a fantastic log carry at the top of a hill. It was fantastic for 2 reasons: the logs were wonderfully light which pleased my useless-at-weight-bearing shoulders but more importantly, the route we were taken on was genius. You picked up the log out in the open and then entered some very densely packed woods. Each step took you either under or over fallen trees, through bogs and thick fern, ducking to prevent decapitation and slowing pace so much everyone pretty much gave up on racing and instead went round in small groups advising on tricky areas.
Having parted with our logs, we were sent back down the hill into more woods and more rope traverses. This section included some exceptional off-track running which required you to make your own route through the undergrowth. There were little bits of tape tied to trees to guide your general direction but how you got there was up to how much you wanted to avoid scratching up your legs! I loved this section but a few more directional markers would have prevented a fair amount of getting lost and having to back-track until the next marker was spotted. At one point there were runners coming from every direction with shouts of “It’s not that way!” and “Can anyone see the way out of here….?”
The first 6km section was finished off with the main obstacle area. This started with an apex-ed rope traverse which was tougher than it originally looked. There were then a few ladder type obstacles which were beautifully built and finished off with fern which just provided those extra finishing touches. A large cargo net quite high up in the trees was one of the more unusual obstacles and flipping off the end of it felt brilliantly ninja-ry! A further rope traverse and then a (quite low) rope climb brought the 6km route to the finish by the event village.
At this point we were sent off on the 12km route. About half a mile up the path the front runners suddenly appeared over the hill running towards us, having unfortunately been sent the wrong way by a rogue marshal. They claim they added on 2km in all but I think this was a slightly manly exaggeration…
We formed a group and set about at a steady pace for the next few miles. This second 6km section was mainly running and opened out into the rest of the estate, making good use of the exhausting hills on offer. It was a good chance to open up the legs after the fairly trappy first 6km and it was at this point I managed to finally gain a bit of distance ahead of a lady I had been leap-frogging with since the start. There were a few more obstacles such as a rope to abseil down under a bridge, a rope under a cargo net going up a very steep scrambling slope and a Jacob’s Ladder made out of… drumroll… rope!
Coming to the end of this second section we learned that the final 6km was to repeat the first 6km. With my fitness levels at an all-year low I decided my legs had done enough and went on to the finish line to complete the 12km race as first female. I had forgotten to start my Garmin but I was fairly sure I hadn't just run 12km, despite my calves and quads complaining about the hills! A few other runners measured it at about 10km. Those that went on to complete the 18km came back with distances of between 14 and 15km depending on how many times they had got lost in the woods!
I hung around at the finish to gauge the general impression of the event and most people had experienced the same feelings: awesome terrain, very well built but fairly basic obstacles, unfortunately let down by the course marking. Even as we were standing there at the finish there were runners crossing it in different directions which is never a good sign!! Also the lack of chip timing or recorded finishes meant there would not be any results. This didn't bother those there for fun but for some people they would have liked to know their placing. I have to talk about bling as well as for a lot of people this is an important deciding factor when entering races! Here Bigfoot stepped up and its a great solid bit of metal with its own unique design. We also received a finisher’s technical t-shirt which kept up to the same quality level as the bling.
And now the weaver… I was very disappointed to find I had finished the course but had not encountered what I had been eagerly anticipating! I asked Tony and he too looked baffled. I wandered over to see how I could possibly have missed it out and then realised it had been taped into its own title bubble with no entry or exit point… minus marks for whoever did that bit of taping!!! Tape now removed, I had a little go before the next runners came through. All I can say is, its tougher than it looks and requires serious upper body strength!!
I did speak to Tony after the race about the course marking and he explained he had experienced some trouble with tampering of the course and also had been badly let down by some helpers. I do believe the small niggles of navigation and timing will be easily fixed and the next Bigfoot will be a brilliant and challenging event. It was the first race Tony has put on so teething problems were always to be expected. I just hope people will give Bigfoot a chance and support it in becoming one of the must-do events in the OCR calendar.