Obstacle course race training was going to be different this week, with the absence of Coach Tony Leary following an evening rocking out to Guns ‘N’ Roses. After running my slowest parkrun ever earlier in the day I had been sat at home on Saturday evening thinking about going for a (not very) long (very) slow morning run in St Albans on Sunday when I saw a note from Kirsten Whitehouse, “Coach Leary is off hanging with Axl tonight, so no training as normal tomorrow. However if anyone fancies meeting in Heartwood Forest at 8:00 or 8:30 for a run with some good hills and woods, drop me a line? X” and I was very tempted. Kirsten followed it up with, “Update again ! If you’re coming to Heartwood in the morning it’s 8:15 start. Bacon rolls at the ready – bring ketchup or brown sauce if you need it. And coffee!!” and I was sold.
I looked up Heartwood Forest and saw it was the other side of Sandridge from me, and a prefect distance for an early morning walk to training. The small of my back had felt stiff and sore during my parkrun, which had subsequently affected my glutes during the latter stages of the run, so I thought the walk would help ease my back before the running began. It was a lovely morning for a walk with the sun already out, I drank from my water bottle as I walked along, and just before I reached the turn off for the Heartwood Forest car park, Matt Stewart pulled over and gave me a lift for the final leg up the driveway. I had walked 4.4 kilometres, my back felt less stiff than when I had left the house, but I cannot help thinking there is something more wrong with it that I should investigate.
Ray Stewart was already there, as is usually the case, and not before long we were joined by Kirsten and Steven Lamb, a new face to me but I could immediately tell he had an OCR pedigree. Once again I was completely out of my depth ! We finished up a conversation about skipping obstacles in OCRs and the penalties that should be applied, and took a gentle run down the driveway away from the car park and towards the road, with Kirsten encouraging us to run in the ditch rather than along the driveway, before pausing to stretch at the bottom. We turned left and ran on a track following the line of the B651, before heading into the grassy expanse of Nomansland Common, crossing Drovers Lane and then heading left into the woods. I was already falling behind and flagging, partly due to the heat, but mostly due to my currently terrible level of fitness, and my biggest concern was that I would hold back the others. Fortunately (!) we had reached the point for some hill repeats, running a loop down into the dip and then back up again, with the target of ten repeats. A horse rider came past as we were doing this and must have wondered what we were up to. I was wondering that much myself…
We continued through the wood before coming out into an opening which contained a wooden bench and a family setting up a gazebo for a breakfast bbq. We could not stop for the bbq, but did hang around long enough for some box jumps on to the bench. We crossed over the road on to more open ground, turning right to take us into and through woods, before which Ray had tracked back to give me some support and encouragement. We came out of the woods and I turned left while the rest of the group carried straight on. I was somewhat worried by the signs saying this was a private track and when I came round a corner to find a couple of people in the adjacent field I kept my head down in case they said anything. They did not, and very soon the rest of the group were coming up behind me, having completed a wider loop. They began to sprint to catch up with me so I put on a bit of a spurt, but could not sustain that for very long. At the end of this long track we went back into some woods and I had fallen back to the extent that I was now following by sound rather than by vision. I passed a potential exit but could still hear the group was ahead of me so I kept going, before I heard them calling to me to turn left, which I did when I finally came out of the woods. This took me up and round a slope, back to the exit I had continued past while in the woods, and from there we went up another hill, following a track which brought us to the summit and a choice of tracks. The group turned left and I cut diagonally across the open ground to join them, finally catching up at the next wooded section, where they were going over a gate and back while waiting for me to catch up. I saw a sign for the car park and made the decision that I would follow that route so that I was not holding them up any longer. None of them had complained about my pace, they had always found something to do while waiting for me to catch up, and they all said they were more than happy for me to carry on with them, but I knew it was the right decision for me, to get me to the finish as quickly as possible, and the right decision for them, to allow them to finish at their pace.
I headed off down the closed track, passing many family groups going the other way, looking to enjoy the stunning sunshine, and finally came to a gate on the left. Having gone through the gate I followed another track down to the right which brought me to the car park, and at the bottom I followed that round to bring me to where we had set off from. At the same time the rest of the group appeared along a lower track. I had covered 6.6 kilometres, and at the other end of the scale Ray had covered 7.7 kilometres. We had been under the very hot sun throughout, and even when we had managed to be in the shade the air temperature had remained hot. Kirsten’s bacon rolls were very welcome, as was the lift Ray gave me back up the hill to the crossroads, making my walk home a lot shorter. It had been a tough morning for me, tough and yet very enjoyable in the best of company.