If you have been following my obstacle course race training blogs then you will know the sessions are organised and run by Tony Leary. Well, this one was going to be different, as we headed to Nick Day’s backyard, with the promise from Nick of “something a bit different! Trail shoes on! No water but definitely an explore into tyre track territory and while I introduce you to my favourite hill repeat place, Tony will no doubt have a few exciting crawls, carries and grip plans up his sleeve for the bits in between our trail session!”.
As usual we met at the museum car park at 0730, the now very familiar faces of Tony and Nick, Rebecca Cohen, Robert Boarder and Ray Fletcher, and another couple of new faces for me, Gareth Beavis and Peter Williams. It was a cold morning, so cold, in fact, that I had put on my fleece hat, so we were all keen to get going. We ran straight up the park fields from the car park, heading for the exit at the top where we crossed King Harry Lane and then took a route through the trees and bushes running between Mayne Avenue and Bedmond Lane. I had run up from the car park with Rebecca, but somehow had found myself in front of Tony and Ray by the time we had crossed the road and were running through the trees, going at a pace I knew I could not sustain indefinitely, while being well aware that if I was to suddenly slow down there was a good chance I could cause a collision with either or both of them, so I kept pushing along until we got to the end of the wooded area, thankfully going downhill for the last part, and turned left to follow the road round, now wishing that Tony and Ray would just go past me. I certainly got the feeling that Tony had no intention of doing that when he remarked on the pace I was managing to keep on this section of our run. We kept on, following a track behind the houses, until we got to the entrance to Meauty’s Field, where we stopped. I was glad for the chance to get my breath back !
It was time for some hill repeats. We would be running up the slope directly ahead of us until we reached a point after it had levelled out, then coming back down to do ten dips on the structure at the opening to the field. We would be doing ten hill repeats. The slope did not look that daunting but it very soon revealed itself to be somewhat deceptive as the run to the top kept going on and on before evening out. The surface was also a little slippery. We were running on mud and although initially it was firm enough, as I have said, it was a cold morning and the frost was certainly having an effect on grip to start with, and then as we ran on it more and more it began to thaw and get wetter and muddier underfoot. I was also trying to keep myself out of the way of the faster runners, which meant going off the flat surface to the more uneven borders. All in all, it was a very challenging run for me, and having the rather lovely sunrise pointed out to me did little to take my mind off how hard going it was. It also appeared to be a challenging run for the others, as they pushed through the required number, and it was not made any easier be having the dips at the end of each return from the hill repeat. The metal structure was a tall one, so I had enough problems just getting to the top of the dips position, let alone then doing ten dips. I did the ten dips each time, and got in six repetitions of the hill repeats before it was time to move on.
We ran to the top of the field, turned left around its edge, then went over a bridge to cross the A414 and take us into Park Wood. We ran off to the right from the corner we had entered, running along tracks which were more muddy and a lot wetter than the field we had just been using for our hill repeats, and as we turned to the left the track was even more covered in puddles, to the extent that there was no choice but to run through them. Not that we would have avoided them anyway ! We reached a clearing in the woods where they had been felling trees, dragged out a number of logs from the piles, put them in a row and then did circuits of frog jumps over them. That hurt. It hurt even more when we were then sent off to run a lap of the wood to come back to the logs for more frog jumps and a session of log flips, pushing them over from end to end. And then we were done with the logs, so we cleared them all away and ran off again, leaving practically no trace that we had ever been there.
If I thought we were on our way home I was very wrong. We continued on the lap we had run to get here and stopped at a thicket of reforestation. The new trees were clearly growing very well and were already very strong, a fact which was proved as the spidermonkeys began to climb all over them, working their way from the track into the thicket. They bent, and at times bent to a tremendous degree, but did not break, and we watched in awe as Ray weaved his way through them because they hardly moved at all as he worked his way from one to the next, and he proved himself to be the King of the spinderninjamonkeys on this morning. We were not finished with the thicket yet as Tony split us into two teams and we ran a relay through the trees, running from the track to the other side of the thicket and back again. The run out was fine, just a matter of swerving through the trees until you got to the other side, but the moment you turned around to run back it had changed. Where was everyone ? I could not see the group for the trees…and went some way off course before catching sight of them and correcting my route. We were in two teams of four and ran through three times each, although I lost count of where we had got to (actually, I am not sure I ever heard the rules…), so did not really understand the excitement as I turned for my final run back, but I pushed on as a result and emerged from the thicket on to the track just about level with Robert. I am calling it a draw.
We ran back into the main wood, to a clearing where there had been more felling of trees, to run laps of the clearing. That sounds a lot easier than it was in practice – not only was there debris from the tree felling covering the surface, but that debris was itself still covered in the morning’s frost. Every step of every lap was different, even if you followed the same route, and the natural obstacles meant a lot of high knee raising was needed to make any sort of forward movement. We were set the target of three laps and I managed two in the time available. Overall, despite the hardship associated with the actual running, this section was a really enjoyable experience, with the clearing looking stunning under the frost, and the wonderful woody smells coming from the cuttings as we ran over them – this is what training outdoors can bring to you.
We were finished, but, of course, still had the run to get back to the car park starting point. We followed the same route we had taken to get here, going out of the wood and across the bridge to get to the field, down through there to the grass at the back of the houses, then around to the trees and bushes. I was struggling and knew that we would be going uphill from here. Tony was encouraging myself and Rebecca as we followed behind the others. The gap was wide enough that we lost visual contact with them, and this led to us heading more off to the left than was ideal for getting back to the road, so we ended up threading our way through the bushes, following any route which took us back towards the houses, and then we were back with the group, ready to cross the road and head back down the park to the museum car park, which was a nice fun run down to the bottom.
We were joined by Coach Tony Campbell, who had seen us setting off before going to do his own thing, and we enjoyed bacon rolls and hot drinks. I had run 10.7 kilometres and managed PRs on the Step Section Meauty’s Field Climb (well, of course, as this was my first time running it, and we ran it multiple times) and Bluehouse Field Uphill segments on Strava. Nick had run 13.7 kilometres, and everyone else had done a distance in between. I had driven over this morning because I had stayed the night in Amersham, so my car was parked on King Harry Lane. I had a feeling that was going to be a mistake, and so it proved. A few weeks back Nick was heading up to the Cathedral after the session, which is they way I usually go to get home, and we had ‘jogged’ up to the Cathedral together. I put that down as a tempo run. Now he suggested we run back up the hill together…and just when I felt like walking would be a great idea, he encouraged me to push on. It was a fitting end to an excellent session, a session which had given me a number of ideas and locations for future runs.