And other times you dig really bloody deep.
This last weekend I took on one race I’d been wanting to complete since I first tasted Obstacle Course racing. I had my first OCR experience in 2012 at the Midlands Spartan Sprint. I fell instantly in love with the mud, walls, balances, ice crawls and all the rest of the paraphernalia that goes with the sport.
Then I learned that Spartan did this thing called a Trifecta. The Trifecta is made up for 3 races, the Sprint (around 5-7km), the Super (around 12-15km) and the Beast (anywhere from 21km up). Two years ago, I had to postpone my Trifecta dreams due to getting a bad bought of stomach flu before the only Super of the season. I was gutted. I actually sat at home and cried when all the pictures from the Super showed up online, that’s how much I wanted to get my Trifecta.
Last year, due to the business going through the usual peaks and troughs, finances dictated that I had to put my trifecta dream on hold, once again. So this year I was determined, come hell or high water, the trifecta was mine. I HAD to do it before my 40th.
So with season pass in hand, the Welsh Sprint and Super (with Gav) were achieved in June, with no niggle in the knee. The hills were something else but the knee held out.
In July, my lovely buddy Karen kept me company on the Manchester Sprint and Super. The Sprint went really well, but I caught my foot (and old injury) on one of the 6ft walls. During the Super the old niggle in my knee flared up, so we ended up walking most of the course, taking us just under 3 hours to complete it.
So yesterday saw myself, Gav and Karen take on the Beast to earn us our place in the Trifecta Tribe. With a head cold to add to the experience, we arrived in the glorious Southern England sunshine passing under one of the obstacles we would later face.
With the usual pomp and circumstance we’ve come to expect from Spartan, the usual cries of AROO and I am a Spartan, warmed us up ready for what many of us were expecting to be one hard slog of a course. Around 1km in, I could see Karen was itching to run as much as possible, so we told her to go for it and not wait for us.
The first half of the course was great fun, no issues running but the mud was something else. Not so much slippery as thick and shoe stealing sticky and there was lots of it which made for slow going on the first half. The usual muddy watery pits and the first barbed wire crawl were all taken in their stride and with the sun beating down, it was making the Beast feel quite enjoyable. The rope traverse across the river was hard on the arms but good fun. There was lots of laughter and encouragement from everyone on the course, and most marshals were in fine spirit. The rope climb is one of my nemeses. Gav nailed it (proud) but after two attempts to wrap my foot and get purchase, I ended up going for the burpees as the traverse had bitched my arms utterly. However, I was disappointed by the older gentleman marshall at this obstacle, who told me to pick up my pace because there was a fashion shop around the corner. I bit my tongue but I really I wanted to go back and give him what for. Not letting some everyday sexism spoil my race we continued to the lake swims, two of them with the over under through walls in between. Then straight to the A Frame climb. Now, Ive done at least 40 OCRs including 10 Spartans and not once have a lost the plot on the A Frame – this time, I completely freaked out. And that wasn’t the only time that happened.
Nailing the Herculean Hoist, the first spear throw, and going for the bigger tyre in the tyre flip, I felt good. The legs felt strong and we kept up a decent pace. Then came the biggest nemesis, the scaffold gantry. Slippery scaffolding pipes, the whole deck moving, and quite high made it nerve wracking. But as I said to the very lovely marshall, who was sat like pan on the top bar, if it doesn’t scare you it’s probably not worth doing. The marshalls on this obstacle were awesome, and wonderful, and not once condescending or judgemental. My bigger fear is falling, height itself doesn’t bother me, it’s the falling and hitting the ground bit that does. But I did it, again. I am forever surprising myself on these things.
However, from here on in the telltale signs that my knee wasn’t happy kicked in. More boggy mud where we almost got stuck, greeted us and before we knew it were on the top of the hills overlooking Ashburnham and Battle. The views were quite something, and now came the carries…..lots of them. We’d already had the gravel carry but now came the log, tyres, farmers carry, brick, sandbag and somewhere in the region of 7km of open country to navigate. In each carry we were met by either incline walls or low walls. Many thanks to my fellow Mudd Queens who were marshals at the walls on the tyre carry for the empathy with the knee issue. The downhill sections were becoming increasingly sore. But I dug in. Gav was an absolute legend in staying quiet but supportive and not asking every 100m how I was, stopping with me when I needed to stop and not molly coddling when on the sand bag carry I burst into tears because the pain became unbearable due to the camber on the side of the hill. More muddy puddles and another 50m barbed wire crawl, brought us to our memory test (we’d been give a work and some numbers to remember earlier on) and then it was down into the last zone. Romeo 308-6642, those who did the Beast will understand this, and probably never forget it.
As we continued the sun began to set over the course, and we were grateful we’d not left our head torches in the bag. The rig and the slippery wall were a welcomed sight as they were on the flat but alas the knee by this point meant even attempting them was fool hardy so I opted burpees, but even they were too much for the knee (I tried as many as I could then switched to press ups to give my knee a break). After one last dip in the river, and some more mud (I was absolutely done with mud at this point, and questioning if I would ever take part in something I once loved again), we were on the home straight and the final spear throw, atlas carry, high wall and fire jump. The sun had now set and the dusk was giving way to the dark. Before the fire jump, Gav gave me a huge hug and the tears started to flow but I spartaned up, leapt the fire and got over that finish line.
For the last 5km at least, the pain was something else but nothing on earth was stopping me getting to the end, getting a hug from the Muddy Highlander who had stood for hours, MCing people over the finish line, or getting my medal. But I did it, and my stubbornness was my biggest asset, for once.
After all that, we crossed the finish line in 5 hours, 57 mins and 48 seconds. Which makes me wonder, what time could I do a course of that length if I was fully fit without any knee niggles? While at the moment running another Spartan Beast is the last thing I’m thinking of…never say never.