Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Dirty weekend - the worlds biggest assault course.

Challenge 4  – Top ten in the world’s biggest assault course.  
Saturday was the Dirty Weekend, a 20 mile assault course with 200 obstacles including an 110 meter monkey bars. My challenge was to finish in the top ten overall based on time.  It was two weeks since my last race (the Questars weekender) and had a full taper for the race, although my last long run in Devon took in 1800 feet of ascent, a  lot more than I would want. I'd built up to 100 push ups and 25 pull ups per session and was in the best shape I've ever been for an adventure race.

With 5000 runners, we were split up into waves of 250. I started in wave two - fifteen minutes behind the leaders. Wave one typically is the fastest as no queuing, but my plan was that in wave two I’d get more help from other runners on obstacles, could see runners on the obstacle in advance to help me figure out the best technique and also I’d always have someone to chase after, to keep me running hard. That and it was £20 cheaper!

Most people assume these races are won by GI Joe types, but in reality the muscleheads are too heavy to get round the course quickly, most obstacles require fitness and a good power to weight ratio and as a result athletic runners tend to dominate. After a night being kept awake listening to the tent next to us playing a tedious game of ‘I have never’ into the early hours (who's never even had sex outdoors? really?) I woke up at 5.30 to eat some breakfast and made it to the start line for our 8.15am start. Rain was forecast, but the morning was bright - good race conditions.

A brief warm up by the rat race Timmy Mallet and we were off. Within the first hundred meters it became evident that only two of us were going to be competing for the wave two title. John, a friend of a friend, was running alongside and a brief chat confirmed that our half marathon times were pretty similar, given my previous three challenges I was worried about how quickly I’d tire and if he therefore had the advantage. We hit the first set of obstacles together – climbing through a car, over a six foot wall, through some tires and up and over a lorry and I’d managed to pull twenty meters ahead. He sped up to catch me and fairly soon we were into a large inflatable and then met by eight rugby players with training bags. The first two double teamed me surprisingly hard, then my Jason Robinson instincts kicked in and I even managed a hand off, before escaping the rest of the group. John has dropped right back and feeling confident that I'd stretch my lead on each set of obstacles I set about the task of reeling in wave one.

My legs already felt surprisingly heavy, the climbing was really draining and I could feel the hills from the previous week still in my glutes. Thankfully the course was very flat, so I kept up the leg turnover and pushed on. Over the next ten miles I picked my way through wave one - face down through mud, up in the trees of Ewok village and then we hit the main water section. It was brutal. We had several hundred meters wading through a waist-high mud based pond. Every step was incredibly sapping, so I developed a doggy paddle technique, pulling on the bottom, taking the weight off my legs and started accelerating through the pack.  Mud turned into open water swimming and then hauling yourself over children’s inflatables. Should be fun, but the holds were tiny and as a result you couldn't get your feet in them, so you had to pull yourself over four meter high obstacles using just upper body strength.  I'd packed nine nectar gels with me, which seemed excessive, but was trying to treat the race as a marathon, hoping for a similar finish time and it made a huge difference. I never stopped other than grabbing water and people started cramping up and dramatically slowing down. I’d made it up to thirtieth in the lead group and with the last ten miles mostly running, finishing top ten seemed a real possibility. I was barking at every steward 'how many ahead?', being a chaser felt great and every person I caught sped me on.

By 13 miles I was up to 11th and everyone looked broken, using each obstacle as a chance to slow down and catch their breath. Our legs had been shredded crawling over jagged rocks in farmer Giles fields (some kind of razor blade farmer I assume) and with our upper body strength fading we were having to push a lot more on obstacles with our knees and shins to climb, resulting in further cuts and bruising. I developed a flying arse jump and seeing everyone else crumbling drew strength, took my proplus and sped up.

By Sherwood forest I could see 5th, 6th and 7th ahead of me and I was the only one still running hard. The finish was a ten meter wooden tower – I raced up it, applauded the crowd and then descended with my trademark cheesy grin. I’d made it up to fifth, despite their fifteen minute head start and ended up with the quickest time of the day – 2.51 kaboom!

Having the quickest time of the day, but not officially winning has led to some confusion among friends and competitors alike, so just to clarify - you needed to start in wave 1 to win. My time was quickest, but I'd received help on a few of the obstacles - most notably the large inflatables in the water, which saved me a considerable amount of time. If I'd have started in wave one I think I'd have probably finished third.

The best thing about starting a race at 8.15 is that you're done by 11 and there was nothing left to do other than head to the bar to drink 3000 calories worth of beer to try and achieve calorie neutrality for the day.

So next up the final two challenges at the Sierra Leone marathon - top 3 in sub 3. Don't think I stand a chance, but then again I didn't think I'd be heading there with a shot of a clean sweep. Prey for freak snow storms! 

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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Leading the London Marathon - Challenges 2&3

Being third a in queue never seems that bad, especially a queue of several thousand people. I'd almost made it to pole position on the start grid of the London marathon, but as the gun went off I set off at a jog; third row seems a long way back when you're stuck behind a Skoda.

To be fair that Skoda was Simon overall, Britain's fastest marathon runner, someone far quicker than I could ever hope to be, but my challenge was to lead the London marathon after 400 meters and every second I wasn't going flat out meant Mo Farah was building a comfortable lead.

I had originally thought that the challenge might be possible, as I was lucky enough to have a championship place, so could in theory start just behind the internationals  The winners normally average a 71 seconds per 400 meters throughout the marathon, so allowing for a slightly quicker start I figured that if I could somehow skirt round the pack within five seconds of starting I might stand a chance.

Twenty minutes before the start I took up my position, forty meters from the line, the closest I could get at this stage, while the other runners warmed up around me.  I'd always hoped that I'd blend right in among the championship athletes, but my visor with a go pro strapped on duct tape scuppered that idea.  As the area filled I received a few odd looks, but mainly smiles and laughs and the atmosphere was far more relaxed than I had expected.

The area filled and the pro's started pacing in front of us until the marshals edged us towards the start line. The length of the front row reduced as we neared and the marshals struggled to contain the surge as runners jostled for position in a very British way - polite passive aggression all round. My pace band of 3.10 was being noticed and I was being squeezed out by runners unwilling to start behind someone going so slowly. 

I'd lost my position, so explained my plan to my neighbours- one was confused, one unimpressed, but thankfully one suitably amused, who swapped places placing me directly behind the pro's. The greatest marathon field ever assembled were then individually introduced to the cameras and my plan to keep a low profile worked - no mention of me by Dave Beresford. It's far easier to win a race no one else knows they're in.  Following the quietest silence I've ever heard we were off.

Almost immediately the two rows ahead of me closed rank and two became four, the Kenyans were already streaking away, but I was boxed in - a few more meters and they'd be gone.  As the pro's bunched to the centre I found a small gap between two runners and then in a mild panic mounted the pavement and ran along the muddy verge. The other runners followed into the center and I was free, with clear road ahead of me, but still flanked by numerous elites ahead of me, blocking any sight of the leaders. 

I started to run hard and then out I popped, at the front of the right hand lane. I glanced over to see the lead pack and they were only ten meters ahead, I still wasn't full pelt, so I pushed a little harder and before I knew it I was passing them. I flashed a little smile expecting to see concern  on their faces, but their reactions were a mix of bemusement and nonchalance, as if they'd just seen a cow try to mate with a horse. Could it be the fact that I was white gave me away as not a serious contender, hmm, that or the fact I had a go pro strapped to a flapping blue visor.

I started to push away and was quickly closing in on the camera bike, who was tracking the pack. I couldn't figure out if he hadn't seen me or if he had to stay put to keep his camera angle, but I needed proof and it was clear that the cameras were either unaware or ignoring me, so I jumped the verge to the left hand lane and lead out the pack. It felt great, people were cheering, the odd person laughing, yet after a while I wasn't really sure what to do. I felt I could probably carry on at this pace for another minute or so, but I'd passed 400 meters, the challenge was met and I still has a marathon left to run. I couldn't just slow down, I'd obstruct the other runners, so I held my arms to reveal my Sierra Leone hash tags and then skipped back to the other side of the road.

I slowed down and checked my watch and despite the slow start had averaged a speed of 4:20 per mile. I looked up and just like that, they were gone.

The rest of the run was pure joy, club mates throughout the course, the sun shining for the first time this year. I was meant to be pacing 3:09 for the second part of the challenge, but ended up finishing in 3:03, probably a bit foolish given the challenges to come, but wearing a big cheesy grin for 26 miles is like rocket fuel.

Challenge 2 and 3 accomplished, half way there. next up finishing inside the top ten of the worlds biggest assault course.

To see a video of my first 400 meters

To donate to Sierra Leone Street Children

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