Obstacle Racing Write Up: Nuts Challenge! 6th Sept 2015
On Sunday September 6th 2015 a small group of PTS folk Kerry Gowen, Leanne Clifford, Gary Skilton and Ali Wilson (me) headed to Surrey to take on the Nuts Challenge Obstacle Race. This is apparently a very tough course, done in 7km laps. Because I’m stupid, I agreed to sign up for doing 4 laps of this horrendous experience!
Some back story… I’ve been competing since the start of August 2015 raising money for Cancer Research UK by having half my hair and beard shaved off (www.justgiving.com/FayeAndAliShaveTheirHeads to donate!). I compete all the time in Powerlifting and Strongman already but I’m just not that good at those sports, even though I love them. However, I should, in theory, be much better at endurance events like this. So I decided to throw my hat into the ring of competitive Obstacle Racing and see what happens! I was following in the footsteps of Kerry Gowen, who I have trained for years and is now one of the top obstacle racers in the country, and Leanne Clifford who has been a regular goer to the PTS gym for some time now and is also proving her worth as an obstacle racer. These girls are machines! Gary is a regular runner but has only done a couple of obstacle races before, funnily enough I think his first race was the Nuts Challenge a couple of years ago!
I was also supposed to do the Nuts Challenge a couple of years ago but had to pull out at very short notice due to illness, and Gary took my place. Kerry also ran the Nuts race on that day, and both of them managed to complete 3 laps, but not the fourth and final lap. So they were coming into this race with the determination to see the job done this time!
Two weeks prior to this, on 22nd August 2015 I had entered the Iron Run Obstacle Race 12km as my first competitive race. I had competed the weekend prior to that in a fitness competition (read about it here: https://www.progressivetrainingsystems.co.uk/news/fitness-competition-pts-at-the-kents-hill-rumble-16th-aug-2015/) and had slightly strained my lower leg, making me limp a bit all week. I was worried about the lower leg going into the Iron Run, but that ended up being fine… But my hip wasn’t! As soon as I hit the first obstacle my hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes all on the left side locked up and I could barely move it. The pain was awful! I had to pull out after about 5km, feeling very dejected. So I felt like I could get some redemption at the Nuts Challenge…
So the trip to Surrey was around a 2 hour drive, and with registration at 7am for a 8am race start, we were leaving Northampton at 5am. When we arrived the air was chilly, and even with a forecast for sun and around 18 degrees temperature, it was pretty damn nippy in the morning! It’s always a good idea to arrive early for these events as there is quite a bit to sort out, the queues can be quite long for registration and there is things to do like get your race number on, your timing chip on, sort out your refueling station stuff, have multiple pre-race toilet trips… You don’t want to be rushing this stuff too much!
We met up with Dave Peters from the Energise Mud Runners group in Milton Keynes who Kerry and Leanne also train with, he had run one lap on the Saturday with the other Dave and they had come in 1st and 2nd places! So that was his warm up then…
Now I’m totally inexperienced with obstacle racing. I know how to train, I enjoy running, but obstacle racing is COMPLETELY different. The majority of the time you will be wet, covered head to foot in mud, quite banged up, and obviously have the running broken up very frequently with obstacles. I want to do well at this sport but I also am aware that I don’t know what to expect! Kerry had made a point of drilling into my head to pace myself, as the same distance in running, 28km in this instance, might take me 2 hours and a bit or so to run normally, but times here were looking at over 5 hours for the same distance, if not more!
So when the go was given for the people doing 4 laps, off we went. I ran at a steady pace, just looking to watch my feet as we had been warned the ground was quite churned up. I really can’t remember the order of things in the race, so I’m just going to list stuff I experienced:
-Jumping over gates and small walls. These were no problem, other than smashing my bollocks every now and then in enthusiasm.
-The Nut Cracker section. This was a cool bit of the course, with monkey bars, swing rings, ladders, a big slated wooden wall to climb, a chimney made out tyres you had to climb inside of. BUT, and here is the thing, doing monkey bars in the gym or playground is so utterly different to when they and your hands are completely caked in wet shit. I will now be training my swing rings with wet hands in the gym! This was quite early on in the lap and when I slipped off both the monkey bars AND the swing rings Kerry overtook me as you had to a penalty lap carrying a log for each slip. Joy!
-The forest section with all the ditches and muddy water. These are quite a pain, IF you think you have to go in them. It’s quite easy (as happened to me) to just do what others are doing, and join in with just sliding down into the water, wading slowly across and then scrambling out. But if able, you should just jump across these fuckers. I hated landing in these as the water was muddy and you couldn’t tell what the depth was. Some were very shallow in inches, some had you land up to your waist. They were also all very cold! So the less time you spend in these the better!
-Cargo nets. There were quite a few cargo nets at different stages of the lap, and I have to say I fucking loved these! Felt like Spider-Man! Need to work on the technique on flipping over the top, but climbing up and scrambling down felt easy and was great fun!
-Tyre Mangle stupid fucking things. Actually it’s not their fault, I’m an idiot haha! In the woods section I came across what I thought was a wall made of two rows of tyres, one on top of the other. When I went to climb over it, they rotated, making me fall off. I was on my own at this point, so I spent a couple of very frustrated minutes trying and eventually succeeding climbing over this fucking stupid rotating tyre wall thing. Straight ahead was another one… Oh fuck off you cunt. So I’m trying to climb the second one and some guy catches up with me and just dives through the middle of the tyres… I felt like a right twat!
-The Water Slide! This was near the end of the lap and an awesome way to get cleaned off! I closed my eyes as I was scared of losing my contacts!
-The Pontoon. A bunch of small dinghy runner ring things attached in a line you had to crawl over, floating in water. The only thing on the whole course that made me feel any physical effort in my heart rate, these were horrible!
-Underground crawling tunnel bits. Quite a few of these, some in pipes, some a bit more open in space but dark. Lots of people wig out on these but it’s quite fun, they’re never that long and the most painful bit can be getting out! Sharp edges ahoy!
-Big wooden walls. There was one normal wooden wall, pretty high, that was ok. There was another though, early on, I think they’re called ‘Blades’, it’s a wall at an angle and you have to climb over the lip to come down the ramp the other side. I fucking hate this! With muddy hands, and hardly any purchase, and pretty much nothing to kick off, these are fucking hard to get over WITH HELP! On my second lap I was scrambling up and had a foot over the edge and someone pushed my other leg up, all of a sudden I got violent cramp in both hamstrings! I was hanging on, unable to pull up any more, with someone holding me up so I couldn’t drop down either! A most uncomfortable scenario! I had to shout for them to let me drop, which I think confused them as I was so close to just rolling over the top, but my body said no!
-Sandbag and tyre carries. These were just up and then down hill jaunts carrying something, they weren’t particularly heavy but I imagine in the later laps these sucked a whole lot more!
-Big hay bales. These were just something to climb up and over, some higher than others. These were quite nice in relation to a lot of other stuff on the course because they were soft, and for a split second you could imagine it was in fact a nice warm bed. Then reality kicked in, and off you went!
-Wooden beams or logs to balance on while holding a rope. Not a problem, unless someone behind you pulls the rope in the other direction! Quite a pant filling moment that, I tell you!
So I completed my first lap in 1 hour 23 minutes, Leanne had overtaken me on the final cargo net I think, but she nipped off to grab a flapjack, I just kept running as I was starting to feel cold. And here is the lesson for me I think…. I ran too slowly in general. I was pacing myself but I also was not generating any heat of my own, so by the time I was finishing my first lap I was shivering. I was running slower than I normally do because I was so unsure of what was coming (I mean, I ran off course a couple of times! I’m the worst, or is that best, person at getting lost, even with directions!) and also unsure of the footing, and unsure of the obstacles… I was a bit of a timid wuss really! But that is also why it’s good to throw yourself into stuff you enjoy, experience it so you can get better, learn from your mistakes and then really have fun!
One of the things I’ve definitely taken away from this is to run at your own pace. I found myself running behind or near other runners a lot, simply due to the comfort of someone being there and seeing what others did at the obstacles. This is not a good thing! It made me run slower, it also made me tackle obstacles in slower ways too. So when I was with a pack of faster people, the way they took on obstacles influenced me. They were jumping over ditches, so then so did I. But when I came into my second lap I was surrounded by slower runners, and if they were sliding down into ditches instead of jumping I just went on auto-pilot and copied them. So in future I must do what I should do, not just blend in due to perceived (and very misleading!) comfort.
At one of the ditches I slid down, fell a bit and landed onto my left knee and it was quite an impact. I got up and continued running but soon after my left knee just stopped working. It didn’t hurt but I couldn’t push off anymore. As soon as I couldn’t run the cold REALLY set in… I was directed to a paramedic who advised me to pull out, and by the time I’d finished chatting my knee now hurt and it was hard to bend. So once more I had to pull out of an obstacle race!
They took me to the medic tent where they measured my temperature somewhere around 32 degrees, a bit low so they said I had to stay until it was back to 35 degrees. I think I got pulled out about 2 hours into the race, around 10.30am (we started at 8.35am), and I was in that tent covered in blankets until I decided to get some sun, and when I looked out it was 1.10pm! What the fuck, where did the time go? Just as I popped my head out of the tent I saw Kerry go flying past at what must have been her starting her fourth and final lap.
I stood and waited at the finish line, I couldn’t walk very well, but it was nice to see all the people crossing the line. Dave Peters came through with a finish time of 5 hours 21 minutes which was good for 15th overall position, when he came over he looked like he had on very prehistoric make up on. Kerry and Leanne crossed the line together, I think they had met up in the third lap and stuck together. They came in at around 6 hours, with placings of 38th and 39th overall, 7th and 8th in overall ladies, and both getting 3rd in their age groups! What was impressive about these two was how they finished. In front of us was a couple of obstacles of climbing just before the finish line, and they just looked fresh and strong, like they had just started. I think they would probably disagree in how they felt, but they looked good for some more laps! Gary came in a bit later, he finished up 11th in his age category, which considering he’s only done two other obstacle races before, was good going just to finish! I think less than half the people that started 4 four laps finished them all!
So afterwards I felt several things. Disappointed I was unable to finish yet another race, inspired by watching people like Kerry, Leanne and Gary motor through it with such professional level determination, and motivated to get my arse back into gear and do some more of this stuff, and very importantly learn everything I could from the experience! So would I do it again? ….Oh hell yes! I’m not very good at quitting, and as much as I’ve had some negative experiences with my obstacle racing encounters, it just makes me believe that when I crack it it will feel so much sweeter!
Here is a small video of some clips taken from the day, you can get an idea of just how muddy and wet the whole race is!
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See you soon!