Last Sunday (June 2nd) I, along with 14 other sane people (this may be debatable but we’ll get to that in a minute) descended on Pippingford Park in East Sussex to take part in the 4 hour, advance group, of Spartan Race Training UK.
Having run one of the Spartan Sprints last year, and taken part in the inaugural Zombie Evacuation, I had a fair idea of the type of things that would come up in the training day. That said, I was still apprehensive and utterly unsure of going to the training camp.
The day before, I had developed a knot in the pit of my stomach, one that was threatening to flare up to the point of debilitation. It’s been a long time since I felt that sick through nerves. As a rule I tend not get nervous of many things, but for some reason this had me in pieces. It’s very strange, you’d think after 3 years of being a member of the fitness industry, having been through all the various courses I’ve done, not to mention performing on stage regularly, that going to a training day for obstacle course racing, well.. that would be a walk in the park, right? Nope, something was really playing on my nerves. And I know what it is. It was that ‘I’ll be find out’ feeling, found out that I’m not as good as these other people I’ll be with, not tough enough/strong enough/small enough/fit enough…. Silly? No. Natural? Maybe. But Pandora (remember her, that negative voice that creeps out of her box) she was back with vengeance.
After a quick chat in a lay-by with the hubby (he was on his way home from a Krav Maga workshop and we passed each other on the road), I got in the car, woman-ed up, and drove to my hotel near Gatwick. After a rather restless night, due to the hotel having had a hen party in residence who decided in their drunk state that loud was the only way to talk and to hammer on each others doors at 2am, I drove to Pippingford Park, an MOD training ground; still with a knot in my stomach and still hearing Pandora in my head giving me all those old thoughts. I first met Annie (phew, I wasn’t the only woman, a huge relief), then Fiona, Lauren and Alexandra. Five girls, thank goodness for that. Also joining us were some of the guys that are regulars on the Mudstacle forum and other mud running websites, as well as one of the guys who heads up Obstacle Racing Magazine UK (if you fancy doing OCRs, subscribe to the mag, it’s free and has great articles and offers).
All in all there were 15 of us, including assistant coach and Spartan Sprint champ Thomas Blanc, and Head Coach Michael Cohen, heading off to attack the 4 hours of training; training that would make us Spartan Fit, Spartan Safe, Spartan Ready.
We were given a pre-training briefing where we were given a little of the ethos behind the Spartan Race series, and the obligatory, ‘If I say Spartans, you shout AROO!’ lesson . Having already lost my Sparkle last year, I have witness first hand the teamwork and camaraderie that comes with taking part in mud runs/OCRs and that camaraderie was going to be instilled further by the training we were about to take part in. Then after our team photo with obligatory AROO! it was time to set off.
First up we were introduced to our new best friend: a 6 foot log that we had to keep hold for the duration of the training session. Taken on a warm up jog, with postural reinforcement, general centre of mass explanations, and reminders to swap shoulders to maintain balance and work our weaker side, I soon realised that my fitness levels were going to be really tested, more so than they have been in a while. I have to admit to all my geek friends, I did utter the immortal line, ‘Spartan come back with your log, or on it’. Well, it had to be done!
We ran down the main track and soon we were off road and running down into a wooded area. After quite a few weaving runs through the trees, and doing our best not to hit everyone else with the end of our logs, we got to a point where we were introduced to a series of crawling techniques. Bear crawls to help get up steep, muddy embankments and crab crawls to get down steep embankments without ending up with a nasty surprise in your posterior…ooer! Wave after wave of practicing these techniques really made the quads burn and slowly we were starting to get the hang of the Spartan team spirit, with hands to help you get up the steep muddy sides being offered and encouragement of ‘get up there, go on’.
With our logs back on our shoulders, we were off again through the terrain, until we came to an area with logs secured up in the trees and a low line. Here we were to practice our hanging and leg raising skills, all to help with core work and to get us used to the different types of grip we would probably need in different situations. We also were showed how to roll safely in case we tripped whilst on course.That was tricky to get the correct technique for after so much learning to roll for pole dance.
Yes, I was automatically, and without thinking, trying to bring a little flare to the roll when really I needed to take all the flare out. After a number of these, Michael asked us to remove all shoes and socks and get barefoot and in touch with ground.
Barefoot running is interesting and something I quite enjoyed. Granted the area of ground we were on wasn’t as treacherous as it could have been, and apart from the ants and spiked chestnut casings, it was actually quite nice underfoot. We then practiced more various animal movements, (these are all things that I am looking forward to doing on my Primal Move course later this month so was good to have a practice in the wild as it were). We did frog leaps up a small incline, monkey hops and then pressed our way down the hill starting in standard press up position but then moving hands and legs in to varying positions so that we forced more lateral movement.
My favourite part of all mud runs/OCRs tend to be the water obstacles. I feel very much at home in the water, probably comes from growing up close to the sea. I was thrilled that we had river crossing obstacle practice.
Two options for crossing the river were presented, one where both hands and feet are on ropes so that you are upright and the other a single strap across the river. Unfortunately the bottom rope on the two rope crossing came away mid cross and I have to try a style of crossing called monkeying. I wasn’t going to let he water claim me just yet, so channeling my inner stubbornness, I dug in and got over to the other side of the river without ending chest deep in the drink. I did attempt the single rope crossing in the traditional arms and feet up style but got halfway, lost my feet and ended up chest deep in the river. The water was, surprisingly, a pleasant temperature.
After a small run and some more technique practice with our shoes and socks back on, we lifted our logs back on our shoulders and took them across the river. Some followed Michael’s example of taking the log across on the two rope crossing, others got in the water and walked across. With more running through various terrain and getting up and down slopes, we then did throwing practice with the logs up a small incline to get used to different ways of throwing, more grip practice and how to safety lift a 6 foot log for throwing, always keeping in mind not to hit the camera man who was furiously taking pictures of the day.
Our second water obstacle was the river walk, which I loved doing at the Spartan Sprint last year. And with some simple technique instructions from Michael, we were all keeping upright and not sinking in the very muddy and rather soft river bed. The water was a little colder this time but still not unpleasant after you got over the initial chill and reminded your body to regulate it’s temperature. After the river walk, to dry off came the last push back up to the base camp. I’m not quite sure how long the run was, I would guess around a kilometer, but it was all up hill and with the log on your shoulder we were close to the end of 4 hours. Our simple instruction for this part: No walking, no stopping, you have to run and if you have to drag your fellow Spartan with you, you do so. We leave no one behind! At this point every muscle in my body was begging me for more glycogen. I had very little left. My runny buddy, Jon had been awesome in support all day and once again stepped up to help. With a constant ‘one foot in front of the other Krissie, you’ve got this’ on the left side and a helping hand from Michael in that he grabbed my hand and started running faster pulling me along, I got a little further, I didn’t stop. Next thing I realise my log is being taken off my shoulder by Jon for the last 400m and I’m hearing that ‘one foot, keep going’ – I still owe him a pint or six! Thank you Jon 🙂
I kept my feet moving in a trot, with the log gone I found I had a little more in the tank and I am thrilled I didn’t stop once to walk and made it to the top. I am a little disappointing that I didn’t finish with my log and that last 400m is now my target for the next training camp to complete it with log in tow!
I am inspired by the people I trained with that day. They proved that you can do anything when you put your mind to it. The great thing about the day was that there was no judging of anyone and their abilities. Everyone helped everyone else, we all pitched in and were supportive of each other and complimentary on each persons different sets of skill strengths. It was a joy to be in the company of such like minded people. I felt quite at home.
After a quick towel off and change, a very welcomed slug of coffee and a flapjack, we all hung around the cars talking about the day and really having a good geek out over mud races. It was at this point I found out that not only were most of these people seasoned runners, most were elite obstacle course racers, and a few were world class competitors in their previous field, including our very own World Champion Triathelete. And you know what? I kept up with them. I may not have been the fastest, or the most agile but I held my own. And Pandora was once again firmly put to sleep back in her box.
Just over seven years ago I weighed over 18stone and smoked 30 a day, and here I was keeping up with elite athletes who had been training for far more years than I had. I realised that I was that much stronger than I gave myself credit for, was far fitter than I gave myself credit for, and that my stubbornness is a positive. All those worries over not being good enough had dissipated by the end of the first hour. It was tough, it was insane, my shoulders still haven’t forgiven me and the bruises are something else (but then with pole bruising my skin is getting used to it) but it was so much fun. The other added bonus, not one twinge from the knee all day. Looks like I have nipped the IT Band issue in the bud finally.
If you are seriously considering a mud event, be it Sparatn, Tough Mudder, Rock Solid, Zombie Evac etc, I would heartily recommend you get to one of the training days that Wild Forest Gym host. It will give you a great insight into how the OCR mentality works and how to get around a course safely and they even do one to one and group sessions. Do check them out.
Huge thanks to my fellow team mates from the day, it really was a pleasure to meet you all and spend the day training. And massive thanks to Jon, Michael and Thomas. See you some of you in July! AROO!
All photographs courtesy of Matt Bradshaw and Spartan Race Training UK. AROO!