I had really wanted to run at what was being billed as the final Judgement Day weekend, but as the time approached, it was obvious that I was not fit enough to give it a good enough go, so I decided I would apply to be a marshall instead, to at least be a part of it and also to give something back. I had enjoyed a brilliant time at Copehill Down back in 2015, so it was the least I could do. I got in touch with their Facebook page and they very quickly replied, asking me to email Adam Luck, which I did, and after that I did not have long to wait before I heard back from him. It was all very well organised. Adam directed me to the signup page and a few days before the event I received an email with all the relevant details I needed and was invited to join a Facebook group for volunteers. I was added to the volunteer list for the Sunday. Sorted.
I woke up on the Sunday at 0500 and was out of the house by 0530. I needed to be at Pippingford Park by 0730 and Google Maps had suggested that journey could take 2 hours from St Albans, so although I was hoping for no traffic at this time on a Sunday morning, I did not want to leave anything to chance. As it turned out, there was no traffic, I arrived just after 0700, but I had driven through some pretty heavy rain on my way down, so I hoped that was not a taste of the weather to come.
It was easy to park up at that time of the morning and I walked into the village, to be met by Adam, who said, “You look like you are looking for me,” and told me to make myself comfortable around last night’s fire while he got everything organised. The rain began to fall a little harder so we all retreated to a gazebo for the briefing. Adam could not stress enough that while safety was obviously the first priority, everyone out on the course having fun came right after that. We were there to help, encourage, assist where we could, though not if that would leave ourselves injured and him down a marshall, and above all make things as pleasurable as possible for the runners, taking into account they were running an OCR ! Adam summed it up very well – completing the monkey bars, for example, was not a be all and end all – if someone had managed two the last time they ran with JD and managed three this time, then that was a triumph, and it was all about personal triumphs. He made sure we all had his telephone number in our mobiles because that was going to be the main method of communication with him, gave out a map of the course and explained how the laps would work, and then he began allocating tasks. He tried to accommodate requests from anyone who needed to leave by a particular time, putting them on obstacles nearer to the start of the course so they would be finished earlier. Then Adam started handing out cards, and we saw which obstacle we would be on. I got Hoist. I remembered that from Copehill Down – you think the pulley system will make it easy, and then you feel the weight of the sack you have to get off the ground… The cards served a dual purpose, because we would hand them in at the end to get a burger. Now we just had to wait to be taken out on to the course.
Then Adam came to find me because he wanted to change things around. He was taking me off Hoist and putting me on Incline Walls with Amelia Crowley, and he indicated there was something more than just the one obstacle for us to be concerned with, which would be explained in full detail once we got out there. We were driven out with the marshalls for the Monkey Bars, and once they had been dropped off, we headed back through a gap in the treeline to get to our obstacle, and as we approached it another vehicle appeared, heading for the same location. I am sure we accelerated to cut off their direct line. It turned out that they needed to find a different set of walls, so Amelia and I got out and stowed our kit while our position was explained to us. We were at the Incline Walls, the runners would approach us from the treeline on the other side of this area of grass, go over the walls, and then continue on through a pond on the other side.
We were towards the end of the first lap and the runners would also come through us on the second lap, at which time we would have a little surprise for them. Dean Newman came through on his bike to confirm we were all right and also to confirm instructions, and then we were all set up and ready to go. Both Amelia and I had brought enough Haribo to feed the masses, she had also been very clever and brought a chair and some music, the sun had come out without absolutely no sign of rain clouds, and we heard the noise of the start coming from the village. It had all turned out very well indeed.
Not before long we saw the front runners going over the JD trident branded ramps at the bottom of the field and wondered how long it would take them to reach us.
The answer was not very long at all, and in no time at all we got the first of what became a steady stream of runners going over the Incline Walls and into the pond beyond them. Even though the weekend clashed with the OCR European Championships there was still a very strong field out there, both in terms of quantity and quality. I recognised quite a few faces and Amelia seemed to recognise many more, and from a personal point of view I noticed that Team Nuclear Phoenix OCR had a great section of their team present.
You can see more of my photos of them here.
Everybody looked like they were having a great time out there, and the only people who did not make it over the obstacle were those who had injuries which prevented them from even trying it. If there was ever anyone who was struggling, there was always at least one other runner who immediately stepped in to help them. I particularly enjoyed seeing fingers appearing, then maybe a foot hooking over the top, followed by some part of the body, and then finally we actually got to see who was trying to get over the wall.
Our job was very enjoyable on a day like this and could not have been easier !
It was interesting to see that nobody rushed headlong into the pond, probably because it was so muddy there was no way of seeing what lurked below the surface, or how deep it might actually be.
You can see more of my photos of the Pond here.
And after about 1 hour and 30 minutes the tailrunners passed through our obstacle, and it was time to wait for everyone to come round again.
You can see more of my photos of the Incline Walls here.
We had something to do before everyone came round for the second time, but we did not want to make our move too soon, so waited for someone from the JD team to come and confirm the position to us. We could see runners over on a slope in the distance, going up part of the outer lap, and we knew they would have to complete that outer lap before coming back on to our lap, so we thought we had more than enough time, when suddenly a runner appeared at the bottom of our field, approaching the JD trident branded ramps for the second time. We sprung into action ! There were 5 kegs stored by the side of the Incline Walls, 3 black ones which were slightly heavier than 2 red ones, and we were going to set them up as an extra obstacle just out in the field between the gap through the treeline and the Incline Walls. The men would be carrying a black keg down the slope and back up, going to the end of a row of white flags, and the women would do the same with a red keg. It has to be said, there was not a huge amount of difference in weight between the two, as I found out as I carried them from the Incline Walls to the top of the slope. The kegs were lined up in a row at the top of the slope, the 3 black kegs first and then the 2 red kegs, and we had it all set up before Dean arrived to check in with us, riding ahead of the runners on his motorbike. He was as surprised as us at how quickly the front runners were going, so was pleased to see we had got everything in place ready for them.
The first of the runners came through the gap in the treeline and Dean set off to stay a good distance ahead of him. I positioned myself in the grass area up from the kegs, hoping to not give anything away before the runners actually came to this new obstacle. I then gave them very simple instructions – carry the keg to the bottom of the white flags and back.
I would say almost everyone was surprised to see this new obstacle, some wondered aloud if this had been here the first time around, and even if they had done this the first time around, some asked where we had been hiding the kegs (the answer to which, as I have said, was in plain sight – they had been standing by the side of the Incline Walls all the time), and most had some very choice words for me, especially after they felt the weight of the keg. I myself was well aware of the weight because I was not just soaking up the sun, I was also keeping the kegs in position for the runners.
I kept an open packet of Haribo by one of the red kegs, and those choice words became a lot more pleasant once they were spotted !
With there only being the 5 kegs we had wondered if we might create a bottleneck, but the field was spread out just enough pretty much all the way through that when it did become busy the kegs were just in constant circulation and hardly anyone had any sort of wait. When they did, it was usually because they were running in a large group anyway. We had also wondered if the weight of the kegs might put off some of the runners – obviously, we were going to make all of the front runners do the obstacle, but given this was coming towards the end of the 18k course on a very hot, sunny day, we did feel like we should be a bit more sympathetic to the rest of the field. However, we should not have worried, because the runners did Judgement Day proud and every single one of them gave it a go. It was only the fact they were carrying injuries that prevented any of them from completing the carry.
Well, I say ‘carry’…someone people chose to roll the keg, but the looks on their faces as they came back up the slope did not convince me that it was any easier. It was definitely not easier if you lost control on the way down, as one guy did, and then had to carry the keg back twice the distance.
You can see more of my photos from my camera of the Keg Carry here.
The battery on my camera ran out (and I must get a replacement because it should not run out in just a few hours !) so I switched over to taking photos on my phone. We were getting very close to the back of the field when a deer came prancing through the gap in the treeline, sprung a little closer towards us, stopped to take a good look, and then pranced off into the woods again, clearly wondering what the humans were up to today. Then the group of George Trotter, Lisa Leonard, Julie Lewis-Clements and Sam Hedges arrived, and George made it look easy, throwing the keg up on to his shoulder and quickly going down the slope and back up.
That just left the tailrunners, and I sat in the shade of the Incline Walls to wait for them, steadily eating my way through the remaining Haribo. We got a visit from one of the marshalls at the Monkey Bars because it had been some time since George’s group had passed through and there was still no sign of the tailrunners.
You can see more of my photos from my phone of the Keg Carry here.
The field had certainly slowed on the second lap but we would still have expected to have seen them by now. They decided to send Adam a message to find out if there was an issue. While we were waiting for a reply to that we saw a man going the other way with his daughter, collecting up every other one of the little white flags marking the route, to make it easier to clear them all up at the end of the weekend. His wife was in the tailrunner group and they were going to meet up with her. His daughter accepted the offer of some Haribo and, in a show of restraint how exhibited by most of the runners through the day, took just a few. I was happy because I knew I would just find myself eating however many were left over, so the fewer the better ! And then we saw the marshalls from the Monkey Bars coming through the gap in the treeline and walking across the field towards us, which was our cue to pack up and move out. Apparently the tailrunners were having great fun playing on all the obstacles and we were not to wait for them, so we walked back to the village, and I made sure to record that on my Garmin Fenix 3 so I had something from the weekend on my Strava. We got back just in time to enjoy the last of the delicious burgers, and once I had finished that off I sought out Adam to thank him for having me along, and we chatted for a while about the present state of play of the OCR world in the UK. Sadly, it becomes easy to understand why Judgement Day have had to take the decision they have taken, and this was simply reinforced when I had a chat with Mark Buller before making my way to my car. It had been a brilliant day albeit with a very sad background to it, but what could not have been made more clear to me and all those others who had been present was that this was not the end, Judgement Day were not disappearing, and we should all be very thankful for that.
As I drove away I noticed the Toughest trailers still parked up. Someone should hook them up to a tractor unit and take them to Milton Keynes…