This was my second Sunday morning obstacle course race training session with Tony Leary, and you can read about the first one here.
This one was at at Aldenham, near Watford, which was only a short drive for me, and we were promised steep hills and cold water, so I took a towel and a change of clothes for afterwards. I parked across from the church and looked around for the others, a little worried that no-one was to be seen as it was almost the start time – I definitely did not fancy having to run (sprint !!!) to catch them up ! Then Tony arrived in his car, checking for any stragglers, and he took me to the real starting point round the corner and just down the road. Once we got to the small parking area at the top of a bridleway, I saw that as well as Tony there were Will Harbour, Ray Fletcher and Robert Boarder from last week’s session, and a new face for me, Rebecca Cohen. So here I was, still well out of my depth ! It was a cold, clear morning, and once Will had returned from a toilet break we were all very keen to get going.
We set off running down the bridleway, very soon, and very naturally, splitting into pairs of Tony and Will, Ray and Robert, and myself and Rebecca. The bridleway had an even surface, was pretty much dry, and was going downhill, so it was a relatively pleasant start to the session, even as I saw the first two pairings pulling away from us. Rebecca and I were running at a pace which allowed us to chat as we moved along, and when the bridleway opened out into fields she told me we should turn right, as I watched Ray and Robert trailing Tony and Will as they carried on straight across the field in front of us. We were running along a track under the cover of trees, and as we passed it on our right, Rebecca pointed out the area where we would be doing the hill repeats. She explained there were three loops as you progressed up the hill, lower, middle and upper, and that last time they had been here Tony had made them go through the water at the other side of the field we had just avoided before doing the hill repeats. We carried on along this track before Tony and Will came round the corner towards us. Tony was very surprised to not see Ray and Robert with us, and I told him I had seen them following him across the field, so he went off to find them while Will, Rebecca and I went back to the point along the track where the hill repeats would start. We waited for a little while, and I was happy to catch my breath before we began the hill repeats, and then Tony came back up the track alone. He had not found them and headed off in the other direction to continue his search, and it was not long before he was back again, still without them. During the course of his search he had passed a lady with her dog, and she came past us now, confirming that she had not seen the two guys, and would tell them to come to us here if she did, but almost as soon as she had carried on her way, and just before Tony set off again, Ray and Robert came round the corner, totally oblivious to our concerns for their welfare !
It was time to hit the hill repeats, and Tony described the three loops, A, B and C, and then ran us through a practice lap of the longest one (C), with me cutting across near the top to take on B. It was all in the woods, running up a steep slope on a narrow track, at best, although there was so much leaf cover that the track could mostly not be seen. Once we all gathered at the bottom Tony allocated three laps for each of us, and we were off again. I was set two Bs and an A, and it was good, hard work. The surface was fine for climbing and just as good for coming downhill, with some fun twists and turns on the way down, but nothing too sharp, so you could really pick up speed if you were careful with your footing. The first climb up was tough, and I almost made it to the top before being brought to a walk, picking up pace again as I cut across and then came downhill; the second climb up was harder, brought me to a walk sooner, and by the time I got to the bottom Tony, Will and Robert had finished their laps, so I had no choice but to push it all the way up to the turn on my lap A. Once I had got back down (and lap A was definitely not a long one) we pretty much all finished at the same time, so Tony had got it spot on when allocating routes.
There was still much to do, and we ran back to the crossroads of the tracks and turned right across the field until we came to the river and a metal bridge across it, with railings down each side. By the time I got there the others had already started crossing the bridge to the other side of the river. Naturally they could not simply walk across the bridge, and instead were climbing along the outside of it, before coming back the other way in a squat position. I bet it sounds easy. It really was not. And especially not when repeated a few times. Then they all began to climb under the bridge and back on to the walkway. I knew that was beyond me and was simply being careful not to be in the way of anyone when they appeared from the side. Rebecca did come off and landed on her feet in the stream, which simply confirmed my decision to leave this for now to be the correct one, because I could easily see myself belly-flopping into the cold water. I was not to escape the water entirely, because now we were set the task to cross the stream 5 times. I managed it twice before having to stop and wait to get some feeling back into my feet, and then did it one more time. It was very definitely colder than the weir at Verulamium Park in St Albans.
This was not time to be standing around so we began our run back to the cars. Rebecca and I took the direct route up the track we had initially come down, while the others headed off to the right. The track had not seemed to be very long when we had set off earlier this morning, but now it seemed to be going on forever. One thing was very clear – both Rebecca and I were determined to run it to the very end, and we even picked up the pace when we saw the finish line. We were busy stretching off when the others arrived a short time later. This had been another excellent session. I had covered 7.6 kilometres in the hour and a quarter we had been out, while Will had covered 9.7 kilometres. Tony would have done a bit more than that besides. If I was not already sold on this as a permanent fixture for my early Sunday mornings then Rebecca announcing that there were bacon rolls available certainly sealed the deal. I dried off, put on some warm clothing, and drove home, happy that I had put in a good fitness workout before most people had woken up.