I had met Coach Tony Campbell through the St Albans OCR Training Group (with Coffee & Cake) on Sunday mornings, so when I saw that his event, Bigfoot Challenge, needed marshalls for their Saturday race in February 2017, I was more than happy to put myself forward. I was contacted by Claire Rosser and also by Kirsten Whitehouse (who I also knew from the OCR training on Sunday mornings), and everything was sorted out very easily and quickly.
The drive round to the event location was easy for me with little traffic on the M25 and not long after I arrived I was joined by Matt Stewart, who was going to be running the route with his friend, Keith Lawrance. They got chatting with Stuart Amory, who was going to be MC for the event, and who finally recognised me, at which point we exchanged our own greetings ! It was great to see him again. I keep in contact with him on Facebook, he has been a brilliant inspiration to me in recent times, and nothing compares to meeting with someone like that for real. Not before long, many more marshalls had turned up and Tony led us away up the driveway into the middle of the farm buildings at the location, because the marshalls’ briefing was taking place in a shed on the farm.
Tony is completely larger than life, and if you know him you can imagine how the briefing went ! He ran through the order of the day, what would be happening in terms of the different options available to runners today, how the course was set out, and what would happen as things drew to a close. He gave out radios and hi-vis tops (I had my own Walk With The Wounded hi-vis top in the car), then allocated tasks. He had previously talked to me about being positioned at the 12km and 18km split, but logistically that did not work so he put me on the cargo net instead. I was happy to be on an obstacle out on the course.
As it turned out, my place on the course was not very far from the starting area, which I could see from where I was standing. The cargo net was spread between two trees, with the field on one side and a wooded area on the other. The cargo net went straight up on the field side, and flowed down on the wood side (or up, if you were coming from that direction, of course). The first event of the day was the junior race and that course would include my obstacle.
The juniors would come over the cargo net from the field side, go across some monkey bars just inside the woods, run to the other side of the wooded area and climb up a rope, then come back over the cargo net into the open area of the field.
Very soon the area was being filled with very enthusiastic juniors and by the time the first runners were coming back from the rope climb, there were still other juniors coming over the cargo net from the field side, so I redirected the route to make the returning runners go over a stile to the side of the cargo net to keep everything flowing while allowing them back into the field area.
I saw some of the juniors going round a few times and they appeared to be really enjoying themselves the whole time. It has to be said that they were also very good at the cargo net and the monkey bars, which were the two obstacles I could see from my position, so the future of OCR seems to be in very good hands.
Once the junior race had finally finished we taped off the monkey bars because they were not part of the adult course. From my vantage point I saw everyone setting off in their waves and then waited. I had not studied a course map, so I had not realised where I was on the course when I suddenly noticed the runners were coming the other way to the juniors, so they climbed the rope on the other side of this part of the woods, ran through another part of the woods, and then came out to the cargo net. They were not doing the monkey bars and although they were taped off some people did ask about them. A few more asked if they were supposed to go under or over the cargo net.
Some even went under the cargo net before finding they could not get out on the field side. What I did notice is that the cargo net seemed to take a lot of runners by surprise – practically everyone approached it with a high level of confidence, and then so many were almost immediately undone by how slack the initial part of the net was, so I got some excellent photos of people struggling to get over the obstacle smoothly.
Thankfully my time went a lot more smoothly and I did not encounter any incidents.
The tail runner came through so I finished up on the obstacle and headed over to the finish line where all the marshalls were gathering as their stints came to an end. There was a great atmosphere building, providing wonderful encouragement to the runners over that last little bit to the finish line, and the encouragement included an awesome cowbell which I took over for a time. More cowbell !!!
I had also finished my shift in time to see Matt coming in to finish his, and it had been a great run from him. Stuart was still here, of course, providing his own encouragement and entertainment, which suddenly went down the route of air guitar.
Everyone was enjoying a great time ! There was some delicious lemon drizzle cake being offered to the marshalls, and once all the runners had come through the finish and collected their medal and tshirt, Tony came round to each of us marshalls for a debrief, specifically seeking feedback, both specific to where the marshall had been stationed and also in general. I passed on the comments I had heard through the time I had been there – everyone seemed to love the obstacles and the course layout; the course marking at some points had been difficult to follow; the curse length for the shorter course appeared to be short (which may have been tied in with the course marking point; and there needed to be a more visible first aid resource. Tony took on board all these points so expect to see improvements in the next run in September. I had enjoyed a great day as a marshall with a wonderful group of people, and by that I mean organisers, other marshalls, and runners. There was a wonderful, friendly atmosphere around the event all day. I would definitely do it all over again.
You can see more of my photographs from the event here.