Kerry Gowen at the Obstacle Racing World Championships 2015 – Report
Now I have to start this by first stating that I wasn’t there! I truly wish I had been, but things like money and time get in the way! So I’m going to talk about a few things, like getting Kerry there, the training, the support, and I’ll be sharing Kerry’s thoughts and memories that I can get from her on the time over there.
The World Championships was in Ohio in America on Saturday 17th October 2015. World Championships…. It just sounds amazing, doesn’t it? I think it may still take Kerry some time to realise that she has been at the highest possible level event in the sport she loves!
Kerry has been doing obstacle races for longer than I can remember, longer than she has been training with me, which is four and a half years and counting! But in the last couple of years she has really decided that this was what she wanted to focus on, and as a result started racing much more often, and doing well…
So she qualified for the World Championships earlier this year at the Dirty Dozen 18km obstacle race, but at the time it just seemed like a nice thing that she had qualified but nothing could come from it due to work, money, etc. Now I’ve trained Kerry for ages and I’ve always seen something special in her, more than she sees in herself. So I wanted to know how I could make a thing like her actually going to Ohio a real possibility… And her response was “Why don’t you start a ‘Get Kerry to the World’s’ Fund Bucket?”, and I thought that was a brilliant idea! But Kerry was joking… But it was still a good idea! So when I said I was going to go ahead with that idea, she was horrified! Kerry doesn’t like attention, bless her she gets all embarrassed! But I had it in my head now, and I knew I could pull it off, because quite frankly I think I can do anything! So I asked how much she needed, she gave me a figure, I thought yeah easy…
So I asked the PTS gym membership base to just give a £5 donation each if they wanted, I figured if everyone gave that small amount then we’d easily get there! Well, a lot of people gave more than that! I’m not going into full details of who gave what, because that’s not fair, but the response was overwhelming, outstanding, and just a beautiful thing. To see the people of PTS back Kerry like this was just fantastic, and why I’m so proud to be a part of such an awesome gym!
Here is a list of all the people at PTS, in no particular order, that contributed to help Kerry get to Ohio and do her stuff on the biggest, highest stage possible!
-The Vendetta Vixens
-Helen De Bono
-David Braithwaite and family
-Gary Lowe Brown
-Elliot and Steph Patching
And so a massive, huge thank you to all of you that helped make this happen!
So with the money obstacle hurdled over, Kerry was also able to clear her work schedule around the event, which meant she could actually go! Exciting and terrifying times!
Kerry is a very active athlete, she has never taken a full week off training ever in the time I’ve trained her (4 days was the longest off before the Worlds, but with the jet lag and hard competition she actually took off 6 days from the gym! Although that doesn’t really count as the 6 days still had the competition in the middle! But you get the idea) and she competes on a very regular basis. 3 weeks prior to the worlds she competed in the Bigger Stronger Faster strength and fitness competition, coming 9th out of 18 athletes, and that was while holding back because of the upcoming contest! So my main concern and priority with training Kerry is that she is healthy. Healthy in this regard is keeping her in the absolute best, robust shape she can be in so she can express herself physically to the fullest.
Obstacle racing is a hard, demanding sport. Forget the ‘fun run’ attitude and aspect, when you are running hard, dealing with water and mud, coping with cold, and throwing yourself into some very physically demanding obstacles and challenges, you body will take a beating. In order to take a beating, you must be strong… And here is one of the things a lot of people just don’t get or understand. When you are preparing an athlete for an endeavour, just training more and harder at whatever activity you’re competing in is not the optimal approach, especially for stuff that requires different attributes. Kerry has been on a training regime of heavy weights the entire time. THE ENTIRE TIME. Wonderful myths about getting ‘too big’ (she has lost maybe 8kg over the years, and is the lightest she’s been as an adult) or getting ‘musclebound and slow’ (she is now faster and fitter than ever) are so wrong that it amazes me they are still held in popular belief. Other notions such as ‘Why would you want to be able to pick up multiple times your bodyweight if you’re a runner?’ should be challenged with the far more appropriate ‘Why the fuck wouldn’t you want to be able to?!’. With a sport like obstacle racing, the challenge on the body is immense. Strength and all the benefits of good, regular strength training (increased muscular activation, co-ordination and flexibility under tension, increased central nervous system activation and appropriate dis-inhibition of potentially injurious muscle patterns, increased connective tissue strength and durability, increased bone density, as well just being to generate more force per movement) all have direct benefit to something as physical as obstacle racing.
Then there is the tactical element. If you are strong, you can take your time with obstacles that require patience, or if you need to learn on the job as it were. If you are strong, you can also recover from mistakes more easily. You also won’t tire as quickly on upper body obstacles, if you’re strength threshold means that the work is easy. It’s just common sense!
Three weeks prior to the worlds contest I moved Kerry onto a bit of a contrast style strength circuit, with heavy traditional movements like squats and presses followed directly with more cyclic and movement orientated drills like throws, jumps and the like. The goal was to use the heavy weights to potentiate the movements to make Kez feel more powerful and therefore move more quickly, but also under the pressure of doing it constantly, as per race conditions. Well what was really interesting was the entire circuit acted as an emotional dis-inhibitor for Kez, meaning she started attacking everything with more power, moving the heavy weights faster than she had ever used to, even under conditions of little or no rest! It’s little moments like that in training when you glimpse at the next level of an athlete’s development, and that shit is exciting!
With the way Kerry had responded to training in the build-up, and the way she had been performing all year, I honestly felt going into the competition that there was nothing more that could be done at this stage. We had got glimpses at obstacles from videos on the interwebs and had strung up appropriate fittings at the gym (one of the benefits of having a fucking cool gym that you own yourself, you can do whatever the fuck you want!), but with events like this the best thing, apart from being prepared, is to just experience it. This is next level, top tier stuff, and just being there will make you a better athlete. So Kerry was on something of a reconnaissance mission! Bring back some awesomeness so that next time is even better!
There was a few things to consider as goals for this rather huge level event. One was to just finish the course, ten miles of crazy American terrain, with literally some of the biggest and craziest looking obstacles I’d ever seen! So just getting round is an achievement, but that’s not the spirit of aiming high! As well as obviously competing against people in your age and gender category, there was also a nice individual motivator in the form of the wristband. There were 53 obstacles, you were given as many goes as you wished at an obstacle but as soon as you decided or were unable to complete an obstacle the wristband was cut off! Then, every obstacle after you failed incurred a 4 minute time penalty added to your final race time. If you lost the wristband you got listed as DQ’d in the stats, and here is some interesting stats from last year’s World’s. The DQ rate of Kerry’s age group in the 2014 championships was…. 100%! So not a single lady in that group kept their band! In fact, the elite male group DQ rate was still as high as 70%! So there was another personal goal; Keep the wristband!
With this being a jaunt to another country Kerry had managed to get one of her best friends Katie Skilton to join her on the journey, which is a big deal! Going out to stuff like this can be daunting, so having the support of a close friend can make a huge difference to the amount of enjoyment you get out of the whole experience, but also allow you to focus more on what you’re there for! Kerry also trains with an obstacle racing team called Energise Mud Runners based in Milton Keynes, and they had a couple of people qualify for the World’s; Sarah Greene and Dave Loveridge, plus the husband and wife team of Mark and Linda Johnson who had done a bit of preparation down at PTS were also all over for the competition in Ohio, so Kerry would have familiar faces around!
With the competition being in America it was down to the wonderful internet to keep up with what was going on. There was hopes of a live stream video, but unfortunately not only was that not at all possible due to the remoteness of the location, but even updates via sites like twitter were very delayed! Quite frustrating when you’re keen for information!
I’m now going to try and relay Kerry’s thoughts on various bits as best I can, although bear in mind I’m writing this from memory from conversations, so don’t blame her for my mistakes! One thing that came across was the terrain was really quite alien. There was seemingly no flat surface anywhere in the race! Very steep hills, lots of rocky, hard ground, everything at angles. It was also very cold. Cold was bashing people a lot in the race, with obstacles being on a scale that most were not used to, lots of people were hesitating and that was then making them freeze, which then will slow you down even more! Some of the featured obstacles that lots of people were chatting about in a bit of fear, like the Sternum Checker (A giant hurdle made out of tree that you had to leap on to climb over), the Platinum Rig (a hang tough section of lots of different types of grip like rings, unstable bars and the like), the Inverted Monkey Bars (a very steep set of angled monkey bars going up and down), the Weaver (a set of horizontal beams you had to over and under without falling off) all posed no problem for Kez! In fact she only needed to retry I think 3 or 4 obstacles in the whole race, until….
Obstacle 52, Skull Valley. Now from the twitter feed I knew this catching a lot of people out, as it was at the end of the race and people’s hands were cold, this was another grip heavy event of hanging and swinging on some skull fixings before having to climb under the bottom of a cargo net wall then back up to the top before doing some rope swings to the final obstacle. Up to this point in the whole race Kez had managed to keep her wristband, and one fond memory of hers from the experience was random American racers shouting and congratulating her at later parts of the race for still having it on! From some stats I think there was something in the region of 1700 total racers, but only about 150 kept their wristband…. Quite an exclusive club! But alas, this was the one that took it from Kez…. I think she said she had four attempts at completing it, but the cold was making her hands become useless and she felt herself shutting down. When you fail an obstacle you have to head back and then queue to have another go, but queuing at this late stage was something that really took it’s toll. So with a heavy heart Kerry had to offer up her wrist and send the wristband to it’s fateful demise as a loose length of rubber rather than a glorious loop of victory!
So Kerry finished the 10 mile course in a time of 4 hours and 7 minutes. Her initial position in her age group of Females 40 to 44 years (which had 63 athletes in) was 7th…. 7th! But wait a moment, now you have to factor in time penalties for missed obstacles you say? So once the dust had settled, and all things were accounted for (it took over a day for this information to come out!)…. Kerry came 4th!
Kerry Gowen, 4th in the WORLD in Obstacle Racing in her age group! Holy fucking shit!
I’ll be honest here, I just don’t have the words to express how fucking proud I am of Kez! I think going into this I had higher expectations of her performance then she did, but she blew past all expectations! The PTS members are also incredibly proud, it just goes to show that the combined effort of everyone’s help to get Kerry to Ohio was not just a token effort, but a completely justified and massively worthwhile exercise in faith, friendship and belief! Wonderful!
In the overall standings she came 44th, which is out of a total of over 400 woman across all the age groups. Now that this is over, and Kerry can actually start to realise her potential (i.e. she is fucking awesome!), 2016 looks like being an interesting year! But first we have the UK championships at the Nuclear Fallout race on 14th November 2015 to get on with. I’m racing in that one as a non-championship racer because I’m lame and didn’t qualify, but expect a nice write up of our experience at that one!
Until then, stay happy!