Obstacle Course Race Training : Verulamium Park (Circuit)

It feels like a long time since I was last at obstacle course race training on a Sunday morning.  Too long a time.  My life has been dominated by work since the end of 2016 and as a result my fitness has really gone downhill.  I am pushing on again now, determined to get back to the good level of fitness I had been able to reach back in December, before continuing on to improve on that, and these sessions will be a big part of that.

Coach Tony Leary had set the scene earlier in the week, “Morning everyone – putting on a race simulation training session next Sunday morning – non technical but a mixture of upper/lower body strength/power exercises (6-8 carries, pulls etc) followed immediately by a 1k hill loop in Verulamium Park which will be repeated 4-5 times.  As usual it will be tailored to different fitness levels but we will need to know numbers to work out the details.”  He followed that up on the Saturday with the words, “Got everything ready for the morning – I’m planning the exercises so please no maybes, if you have said you are coming I’ll see you at 0730.  That’s all, thank you.” and the following photo :

The kit

We had a good idea of what to expect.

I arrived at the museum car park at 0730 to help set things up and Ray Fletcher was already there, with Tony Leary arriving not long after that.  We were soon joined by Coach Tony Campbell and Dany Grade (both from Team Bigfoot (although between then and the time of writing, Dany has now moved on to Team Nuclear Phoenix, joining Nick Day and Tony Leary from these Sunday morning sessions)), and also by Holly Hall.  Four (very) old timers and two new faces.  I am sure you can guess for yourselves which is which.  We had got everything out of Tony’s car and were setting it up by the time everyone had arrived.  The concept was very simple – a run to the top of the field to warm up, then 6 stations in a circuit, after which we would go on a run again.  The 6 stations were a farmer’s walk using either a pair of dumbbells or a heavier pair of sandbags (which used cut down scaffold as handles); a tyre drag using a harness which went over the shoulder, and with a sandbag in the tyre; a tyre pull using a rope, where we would run out to the end of the length of the rope and then pull it and the tyre to us (with a barrel inside the tyre), before pulling it all back to the beginning; burpees; a barrel or a tree stump carry, carrying it to our chest, the Spartan way; and a sandbag carry.  The drags or carries went from the edge of the park near to the footpath over to the first row of trees and back.

It really was as simple as that.  I found the farmer’s walk, especially, tough with sandbags that heavy, and the running of the laps was difficult for me after putting everything into doing the station relays.  The laps would have been difficult for me anyway.  They were not posing any problems for either Dany or Holly.  We went through three sets of each station in the time available – I covered 6.2 kilometres and Ray covered 7.1 kilometres, with everyone else doing somewhere in between – and it had been an excellent session.  Tony Leary had noticed something about Coach Tony Campbell’s burpees, which Coach Tony Campbell explained were his ‘fast’ burpees.  He did ten of each so that the sets could be timed, and there was a difference of less than 10 seconds between the two, so I think those ‘fast’ ones will be consigned to the bin.

A great little group

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Obstacle Course Race Training : Waterford (The Quarry)

We were heading back to Waterford (you can read about my first time at Waterford here) and this time we had a target location and were not going for a recce.  “Hi team – next Sunday we are heading to the quarry near Hertford – on a mission – gonna be a tough session, bring your A game 720 meet prompt for start at 730, finish and leave by 930ish” and in case we had missed that, the day before we got this follow up from Coach Tony Leary, “Just a reminder – off to Hertford Quarry tomorrow morning – I will be leaving St Albans (Sainsbury’s car park at 650 if anyone needs a lift)  Ready to start at 730 prompt so we can get a good session in” 

I joined Rebecca Cohen and Neil Rainbow for a lift with Tony, and when we arrived at the pond meeting point Ray Fletcher was already there, as always.  We waited for a while for anyone else who might be joining us, thinking in particular of Robert Boarder and Coach Tony Campbell, but when nobody else showed up we got going.  We followed the same initial route as last time, running past The Woodman pub before turning right up a lane which soon led us to a track.  We followed that until we got to a gate into a field, where we took the opportunity to regroup, stretch off, and discovered that Neil had pulled his calf, which was probably going to bring him down to my speed !  We continued straight on until we reached another track and turned left, following that track until it reached an enclosed path which took us to the quarry entrance.  We had not been there very long when Robert joined us !

Would you like to learn to fly ?

We began with a general run around, checking out the area, having a look at what was available for us this morning, then started climbing up on to low walls, running along them, then jumping off before climbing back up. 

The low walls

Tony had spotted an area with some concrete blocks conveniently located by a track which went in a square around some trees, so we moved there to do some presses with the blocks of masonry, some push-ups, and some running laps. 

Block presses

Push-ups

But do it the way Tony tells you to

Or face the consequences…

Somehow Ray managed to injure his head doing this.  We were falling like flies ! 

This is what Tony makes you do if you pick up an injury

Neil was tasked with running the laps with one of the slabs while we ran over to the piles of gravel and sand, going over them from one end to the other, crisscrossing, going up and down, before going back to the slabs and running another lap over there, doing some more push-ups, then going back to the huge dunes of gravel again. 

Running up that hill

None of the slopes were gradual or easy, and it was just as hard coming down as it was going up ! 

Running back down

We gathered together at the concrete slabs then ran over to a water container for a grip-strengthening session (or photo opportunity) before moving on to a massive wall. 

Grip strength practice

They were both adorned with the most remarkable graffiti. 

What a stunning playground

There was a plank against the wall and Tony, Ray and Rebecca used that to get to the top, really for no other reason than another photo opportunity. 

Sun’s out !!!

Once they had come down we did some hill repetitions off to the edge of the quarry, before returning to the long chasm running along one corner of the quarry.  This had long, steep slopes leading into it at both ends, and Tony, Ray and Robert found a long piece of pipe they were able to fill with stones, to give it some weight, which they then carried between them to run down from one end to the other and back again.  Rebecca joined in for a second sweep and was practically dragged along at one point.  We were in the middle of a quarry.  We had left health and safety at the gate for an hour or so !

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and it became time for us to go.  We moved away from the chasm and headed back, Neil and I taking a more direct route, round the top edge of the quarry to bring us back to the enclosed track, and going across a field from there to bring us back to the track which led back to the village and the pond.  I had covered 6.8 kilometres, Ray had covered 9.1 kilometres, and everyone else had done something in between.  It had been a fun session, full of a lot of testing exercises, and as with all of Tony’s sessions, very suitable for training for OCRs.

Is it tea you’re looking for ?

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Obstacle Course Race Training : Mardley Heath Woods (Spear Throw)

We were going to a new location, and we were going to be using some new kit !

Our coach and leader, Tony Leary, had introduced this one very nicely, “Planning another one of those race simulation type sessions this Sunday guys – Mardley Heath Woods Nr. Knebworth meet 7:20 for 7:30 start.  Not actually racing but a circuit session with a rig, carries etc built into it to run around for a few laps”, before throwing in an extra surprise, “Hhmmm…….what other obstacle might we have tomorrow???”

Clue number 1…

Clue number…ok, that’s pretty much revealed all !

I agreed to meet Tony at 0650 at the Sainsbury’s petrol station in Marshalswick, because the plan was a few of us would arrive ahead of time to set up the circuit.  Naturally, I left my house just late enough to mean I had to run the final stretch to get there, and I think Tony is getting used to seeing me come running round a corner at the last second.  There were three cars parked up – Tony, Nick Day, and Rebecca Cohen, and Tony told me to jump in with Rebecca because he had Neil Rainbow in with him.  Nick was going to have to leave training early.  It did not take us very long to get to Mardley Heath Woods, and as we drove into the car parking area I spotted Ray Fletcher waiting for us, and it turned out that the other car already parked up belonged to Glenn Coleman.  Matt Stewart turned up very soon after, and Robert Boarder managed to arrive from the opposite direction to the rest of us…

We got the kit out of the cars, carried it across the road to the edge of the woods opposite, and as Tony put in place a rig, I helped set up the rope traverse between two trees with Ray, very sensibly leaving all the tying off to him.  I tested it for my weight and it worked.  I also tested the rig for my weight and did not break any branches !  Once all the equipment had been put in position we had a rig, a rope traverse, a barrel carry, and a rope climb along this stretch of the edge of the woods.  The idea was that we would go through the rig, across the rope traverse, down a very steep slope to the barrels, where we would then carry them up and down another steep slope before coming out of the dip by the slope we had taken in the first place, then go up the rope climb using only our arms, before continuing to run a lap of the woods.  We would run as many laps as possible in the time available, and each lap was around 1km.  We ran a lap first to spread us all out, and I ran 5 laps in total.  Nick ran his with a weighted vest.

We don’t use the barrels only to rest things on

The running itself was fine, mostly flat, a couple of downhills and a few ascents, but nothing too steep, and the ground was good underfoot.  The rig was way beyond me, to the extent that I could barely manage to get through the first two parts.  It is something I need to work on, and something that will also naturally improve as my weight goes down and my strength increases.  I was much better on the rope traverse, although the rope did rub uncomfortably on my ankles and lower legs as I was just in shorts this week.  It was a very steep slope down to the barrels, and there was really no choice but to go for it each time – I could feel the barrel getting heavier on each lap !  Coming back up needed a bit push, but there was a small bush near the top which provided something to grab hold of just when that sort of assistance was needed.  The rope climb was impossible.  I just hung there for as long as I could, before moving on to complete another running lap.

Robert shows Glenn how to do it

And then, at the end, Tony introduced the spear throw.  Rebecca’s husband had constructed the spear, and all we had to do was throw it into the hay bale.  We had a few Spartan veterans in the group, so a lot of experience to show us how it is done.  Matt did a great throw, Robert did a great throw, and great things were also expected from Glenn.  Glenn missed.  It was very close, though.  It had been a tough, fun training session, and I had covered 5.7 kilometres.  Ray ran 7.6 kilometres, and everyone else ran something in between.  There was still more to come, and once we had taken down all the kit and got it back across the road, we got to the best bit of the whole morning – hot dogs !!!

Hot dog selfie !!!

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Obstacle Course Race Training : The PT Barn (Monkey Bars)

Road trip !!!

Kirsten Whitehouse had organised a trip to The PT Barn for the St Albans OCR Training Group (With Coffee & Cake) (we really need team training tops for the group…) and as my arrangements for the weekend gradually fell away, I became able to attend.  Which filled me with equal parts excitement and dread.  I was about to face something I knew was not within my skillset, in the company of the elite, and under the guidance of coaches who would be used to dealing with people far more experienced than me.  It was a 0700 start, so I left St Albans at just past 0600, and made very good time on the M25.  The PT Barn was very easy to find from the postcode and instructions on its website, and there was more than sufficient parking space available outside.

Why am I here ???

I had parked between the cars of the very familiar Matt Stewart (who I had seen at the Bigfoot Challenge the day before, which you can read about here) and Ray Fletcher, and we were soon chatting as others started to arrive.  There were many faces I recognised and also a few faces I did not recognise, but they all looked like they would know their way around monkey bars and a rig.    As soon as Tony Leary arrived we began to make our way inside.  Now we had Kirsten, Tony, Matt, Ray, Robert Boarder, Daniel Spears, Jake Barber, Lee Jackson, Coach Tony Campbell, Andrew French, Robin French and Neil Robinson, all of whom I recognised, and a few new faces to me, in the form of Martin Bullock (who appeared to be still in his pyjamas), Dany Grade and Wendy Macartney, and then Nick Day joined us as we moved into a warm up.  Once again I found myself completely out of my depth at a Sunday morning training session !

The Dream Team

The session was being taken by Scotty PT, who was another new person to me today, and we began with an active warm up, moving around the edges of the inside area while doing various functional movements, all of which were very clearly intended to get us ready for the session to come.  It was a bit worrying that before we had even finished this bit Scotty already knew my name.  It then became even more functional as we split into small groups (and I was with Daniel and Matt, still feeling so far out of my depth !), starting off with taking turns just hanging from a bar, then moving from one side of the rig to the other using parallel bars, with one hand on each. 

I’m actually doing it !!!

I was surprised that I could manage that, because I would not have thought that I could.  I had started off wearing my fleece, but did not need to keep that on for very long at all !  This was not just any old warm up, some actual thought had gone into what should be included in it, and by the end of it I felt ready.  Or as ready as I would ever be.

Very arty pic from Kirsten

We split into two groups, the more advanced (most of the group) going off to do their own thing on the rig, while a few of us stayed with Scotty at the monkey bars.  We started with the (very) basics, some talk around technique, before he got us up there and working.  He took us through the correct grip, the different ways to travel, how important it was to have the proper movement happening, to be using the knees, and it all made perfect sense.  In my head. 

Use those knees !!!

However, I was finding it a lot more difficult to put it into practice.  I could barely reach up to the first monkey bar and just stay there holding it.  Scotty had noticed this and had a solution.  He told me to do three burpees and then go for it, and if I did not get to the other side I would have to do fifty burpees.  I got down and gave him the three burpees, sprung (ha !) up and attacked those monkey bars like never before, and managed to go from zero monkey bars to three monkey bars just like that.  It was all a matter of getting that initial movement, but more to the point it was being fortunate enough to have the good coaching analysing me to spot that.  Having been through the basics, we now moved on to more advanced movements like the gibbon clamp, but I was already more than happy with the level I had reached this morning.

A view of the rig

I continued practising what I had learned until my hands hurt enough that I knew it was time to stop, which allowed me the opportunity to watch some of the elite go through the rig, each of them helping the others to find solutions or offer help with new techniques.  Nobody was hiding anything from anyone else and it was a very collaborative session. 

Action shot !!!

It was also fascinating for me to be able to watch how they got from one end to the other with some ease.  They then added a progression and tried it with wet hands.  The rig seemed to contain everything – bars, hoops, ropes, rings, boards. 

Lee on the peg board

Once they had finished with the rig they moved on to the peg board, which, again, was just awesome to watch, as they flowed up and down it, or across it, with seemingly little effort.  By now we had been joined by more members of what has become Team Nuclear Phoenix OCR, who train at the PT Barn on a regular basis, and it shows.  They were going to be having a full training session after we had finished.

An awesome group of athletes, and me

We had been there for at least a couple of hours and because of the size of the group it has cost us £10 each.  For that we got access to excellent equipment and top class coaching.  The size of the group did not stop Scotty from making himself available to anyone who needed his input.  I would thoroughly recommend the PT Barn and it will be a big part of my training going forward.

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Bigfoot Challenge – A Marshall’s View

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.  

Marshall’s briefing from Tony Campbell

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.

I could see the start from my obstacle

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 first of the juniors arrive

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.  

Swarming over the cargo net

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.  

Look who’s taking on the monkey bars – Mr Smevs from The Elements 🙂

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.

The adult race starts

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.  

Wrong way !!!

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.  

Oops !!!

Oh dear !!!

At least someone is enjoying it…

Thankfully my time went a lot more smoothly and I did not encounter any incidents.

Having fun and helping each other

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 !!! 

Great run from Matt

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.  

You’ve been…thunderstruck !!!

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.

Posted in Days Out, Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | 1 Comment

Lean Machine Project : Week 1

I have signed up for the Lean Machine Project to give me a boost going into 2017, and some good nutrition habits to take forward through the year.  It is the brainchild of Mitch Shepherd and Emz Watts, both highly respected Personal Trainers, with Emz also a nutritionist, and together they have created a 28-day male-specific nutrition and exercise plan.  I have been sent three manuals, Introduction, Nutrition and Workouts, and they are thorough, clear and easy to read through.  I just need to put them into practice.  In these blogs I am going to give some idea of what I do and eat, without giving the precise details, obviously, but I will give you the full facts and the true results, so you can judge the effectiveness of the Lean Machine Project for yourself.

January 2017 has turned into a very busy working month for me, so while I attempted to start the Lean Machine Project on Monday 9 January, after two weeks it was clear I was not doing it justice as I had barely managed to carry out any of the workouts.  I started again on 23 January, but again very long working days prevented me from doing the workouts, although I was managing to stick to the nutrition side of things.  With that in mind, and definitely wanting to do it full justice to measure its effectiveness, I started again on Monday 30 January.  This will be my final attempt, and I will make it happen.

I took my before photographs and my measurements on the evening of Sunday 8 January, and will use Sunday evening as my measurement point at the half-way mark, and at the end of the 28 days.  I will post before and after photographs in my final blog of this series.

All my initial measurements are in centimetres :

Neck – 38

Shoulders – 55 (122 all round)

Chest – 109.5

Bicep (unflexed) – left 34 right 33.5

Waist – 105

Hips – 101

Thigh – left 60 right 58

Monday 30 January 2017

I was working from home today and planning to get the week off to a good start as I know it will be filled with work meetings from Wednesday.  The Lean Machine Project suggests starting the day by drinking a glass of water with the juice of half a lemon and some tumeric.  I will be taking that a step further, and started my early morning with a frozen lemon drink I have mentioned in my blogs before now.  It is a mixture from Matt Ollie Ollerton (of the Channel 4 television programme SAS : Who Dares Wins fame) to be drunk first thing each morning, at least 30 minutes before any food.  It is half a grated frozen lemon, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of virgin coconut oil, a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and hot water.  It works for me, definitely kick starts my metabolism, and seems to hold my appetite in check !  Once I had drunk that I ate my breakfast of muesli with almond milk.  The muesli is from Rude Health and contains oats, rye flakes, raisins, sultanas, barley flakes, apricots, almonds, brazil nuts, dates, golden linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cranberries, quinoa flakes, apple, buckwheat flakes, goji berries, hazelnuts, puffed rice, blueberries, poppy seeds, linseeds and cinnamon.  As I have said, I was working from home today so I was able to make my banana wrap morning snack when I wanted it, and was also able to make my lunch today !  I had a super wrap which was delicious, but impossible to wrap because the ingredients were bursting out.  I have come to love the wraps in the weeks I have been following the nutrition advice, even taking a couple of them along with me when I was a spectator at Tough Guy, which you can read about here.  I was making sure to keep drinking water through the day as well, with a target of between 2 and 3 litres each day.  I also drank a cup of green tea in the morning, and one in the afternoon.  I have also certainly developed a taste for green tea over the last few weeks.  My evening meal was a quick and easy 3 bean salad, to which I added some of a Tribe paprika and chilli mineral boosting seed mix.  It tasted very good.  However, my workload did not allow me to find time for a workout, so that was not such a good start to the week.

Be interesting to see what this does…

Tuesday 31 January 2017

I was working from home again and knew it was going to be another packed day.  I had my lemon drink first thing, and made eggy avocado for breakfast.  It sounds so easy.  I really need to work on my cooking.  The photo is actually from last week, but my cooking has not improved since then !  I drank water and a cup of green tea through the morning, and ate a banana wrap for my late morning snack, which really doubled up as my lunch.  I walked to the shops in the afternoon to stock up on food supplies for the week, and in the evening ate a 5 bean salad.  Once again, I ran out of time to do a workout, which is starting to get to me.

Very eggy avocado

Wednesday 01 February 2017

I had a meeting in Birmingham today, which meant getting up around 0500 in order to get the train from St Albans to St Pancras, then taking the short walk to Euston to catch the train to Birmingham.  I did not have sufficient time to have my lemon drink and then wait 30 minutes before eating, so I just ate a bowl of overnight chia oats, which I had prepared the night before and left in the fridge.  It included strawberries and banana, and was delicious.  I drank water during the journey up, and drank a green tea when I arrived.  I had brought a banana wrap and a super wrap with me for my morning snack and lunch, and continued to drink water and another cup of green tea through the afternoon.  I also drank a cup of peppermint tea after each time I ate through the day of contract negotiation.  One very good thing from the last few weeks is how much water and other good liquids I am taking in each day, and I am definitely feeling better for that.  I did not eat after my lunch.  I had left the house before 0600 and I got home just before 2300.  Another day without a workout.

Yummy fruity chia oats

Thursday 02 February 2017

Matters had changed, and I was working from home today instead of going to a meeting in London, so I decided to take full advantage of that.  I started the day with my lemon drink, and half an hour after that I ate a bowl of bircher from Rude Health, which contains oats, apple, raisins and banana, and to which I added flaxseed and chia.  As well as constant sips of water, I drank a green tea in the morning, and ate my banana wrap, and then before I knew it the afternoon had disappeared and I was into the evening.  I ate a 5 bean salad.  Again.  It has become my go to meal when I run out of time.  I did not do a workout, and I need to change that.

One of my many bean salads

Friday 03 February 2017

I had a meeting in London during the day which was just going to get in the way of everything.  I have settled into a good morning routine of lemon drink and breakfast, which was bircher again today, and then banana wrap morning snack.  I also keep going with the water and green tea.  Where I fall down is eating at lunchtime and through the afternoon, and continuing drinking water in the evening.  Plus I need to do my workouts !

Super wrap

Saturday 04 February 2017

I woke up later than planned and the small of my back was aching.  I drank my lemon drink to get me going, and ate a banana wrap from brunch.  I was down in London during the day for a performance of Candide by Leonard Bernstein as Debbie was playing bassoon in the King’s College London Symphony Orchestra.  We went out for a curry in the evening and I stayed as good as I could be with a chicken tikka tandoori and a mushroom rice.

All the ingredients for the delicious banana wrap

Sunday 05 February 2017

It was another early start but for the right reasons this time, as I was going to Sunday morning OCR training session, which you can read about here.  That left me too tired to do any other exercise through the day, so I had not managed any of the workouts this week, which is very disappointing.  It has to be the primary goal for next week.  After our training sessions we always have a picnic of food everyone has brought with them, and this week we were treated to blueberry muffins from the Lean Machine Project cookbook, prepared by Kirsten Whitehouse.  They were delicious.

Loving the variety of the picnics

  1. OCR Training (St Albans) – 8.1 kilometres – 1 hour 16 minutes

Positives from this week : my nutrition has definitely improved, and so has my water intake, and I feel much better for that.

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Obstacle Course Race Training : Verulamium Park (The Beasting)

“Hi everyone – we are in Verulam park this Sunday – 720 meet for 730 start – please don’t be late as a couple of people need to be off by 915.  Not sure of the plan yet but I’m thinking beasting.”  And so the tone of the session was set by Tony Leary, and the name of the blog was also chosen by him.

Tony needed some help setting up the session and by the time I arrived just after 0700 on a mild morning after walking through the park by the lake, I saw Tony, Jake Barber and Neil Rainbow heading off from the museum car park towards the field off to the right hand side of the football pitches, by the road.  I passed two sandbags and a tree stump as I ran to catch up, and was pretty sure I would be coming back to get them, but did not want to spoil anything which had already been set up.  Of course, once I caught up with the others I was immediately sent back to get the sandbags and the tree stump.  Fortunately, by the time I got back to them Coach Tony Campbell had arrived and we were able to share the load.  I carried one of the sandbags up to the others, who were now in the copse setting up a rope traverse, and Tony said to put the sandbags and the tree stump on the other side of the copse with the beer keg.  The rope traverse was tied off by Tony Campbell while Tony and Jake attached some hanging straps to tree branches, and a length of rope was attached to the crossbar of the nearest set of goalposts, on the other side of the hedge.  The session was all set up and we went back to the car park to see who else was here for it.

Neil tests the rope traverse

Everyone had arrived, so we had Rebecca Cohen, Kirsten Whitehouse, Matt Stewart and Glenn Coleman to join us (all of whom had been at Tough Guy last Sunday, which you can read about here).  It is remarkable how this Sunday morning group has grown, because we had a few ‘regulars’ missing this morning and still there were 9 of us setting off at just after 0730.  Tony said we would do a warm up lap, during which he pointed out the various stations for this circuit : after the tyre pull, with a sandbag in the tyre, we would run round the outside of the bottom copse, then cut across to the main copse which contained a few stations : the hanging straps in the copse, where we would go from yellow to green to purple to a second yellow and a second green; the rope traverse between two tree trunks, which we would do using the monkey crawl technique; the carry shuttle runs, going out and back around 20 metres, with a heavy sandbag, a not quite so heavy sandbag, a tree stump, and a beer keg, where we would do each carry before going over the portable step they had used to put up the rope traverse; we would continue our run up the hill, cutting across to the left at the top into the next field, and we would come down from there to the first set of goalposts to do a crossbar traverse, where a rope had been attached so that it hung down from the crossbar and we could use it to help us get up.  Tony had in mind that we would do 5 circuits.

Shuttle runs

We would start off by running one lap without the stations, to spread us out a little, and by the time I got round to the tyre pull the front runners were clearing the stations in the copse.  The tyre pull is something I can definitely do, and I always feel where it is hitting me.  From there I ran round to the first bit of the circuit I was not looking forward to, the hanging straps.  Sure enough, I found myself stranded on the first yellow one, just swinging there.  I got down and moved on to the next bit of the circuit I was not looking forward to, the rope traverse.  I surprised myself by getting my feet up and around the rope at the first attempt, and then continued to surprise myself as I moved from one end of the rope to the other.  It was most certainly not a smooth, gliding motion, but it was still a success.  I also managed to finish the carry shuttle runs before Jake reached me, which is definitely a success in my book, as he was smashing up the course.  He went past me going up the hill, not very much longer after that.  I continued on the running part of the lap, and as I was running down the hill, Tony and Glenn passed me at the goalposts, with Tony telling me that if I was not able to get across the crossbar I should hang for as long as I could instead.  Over the course of the three circuits I ran, Jake, Glenn and Tony all passed me twice.  I achieved another partial success When Tony coached me on the hanging straps, and I managed to get from the first yellow to the first green before becoming stranded trying to reach the purple as my feet were basically in the wrong order…a lot more work is required here !

Not convinced this is the way to do it…

We carried all the equipment back to the car (and that seemed like a long walk with the tree stump !), but we were not finished yet and took a warm down run over to the weir for some water training for Rebecca and Kirsten ahead of them taking on a couple of laps of the Winter NUTS.  I have been on part of the NUTS course before when I was in a photoshoot for Pukka Races, which you can read about here, but I got injured before I could take on any of the races over the course that year, so maybe I should have a go at the real thing now.  Luckily I did not have that thought at the time, or I might have found myself in the cold water. 

That looks deep, and it’s about to get deeper

As it was, Rebecca and Kirsten did two outstanding runs up the full length of the weir with much encouragement from both Tonys, with Coach Tony Campbell managing to encourage Kirsten to fully submerge herself at least 3 times.  The cold water came up pretty high on both of them anyway.  

Pretty sure that’s still a smile !

Nick Day had not been able to join us this morning because of injury, but his dog Buster did make an appearance to also provide his encouragement !  We ran back to the car park, with Rebecca and Kirsten taking occasional dips into the river as we made our way, and not before long we were back at the cars.

Loving the variety of the picnics

Kirsten had made us some blueberry muffins from the Lean Machine Project cookery book, which were delicious, and we also had delicious chocolate brownies and coffee from Rebecca.  If anyone ever asks why we do OCR training, this has to be part of the answer !  I had covered 8.1 kilometres this morning, which meant everyone else had covered at least that distance.  I had also managed to achieve a 6th Overall on the Strava segment Westminster Lodge XC Figure 8 (although once Tony Leary got his morning on Strava I dropped down into 7th Overall).  It had been another brilliant Sunday morning.

Another great start to a Sunday

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races, The 100 Peaks Challenge | Leave a comment

Tough Guy 2017 – A Spectator’s View

The Sunday morning training sessions of the St Albans OCR Training Group (With Coffee & Cake) run by Tony Leary had been leading towards his running of Tough Guy 2017, and I knew a few of the group were going along to support him in his race.  While we were driving back from a freezing cold trail running session (which you can read about here) I had wondered aloud if it was still possible to get a spectator’s ticket, only to be told that Tony still had one available, so I immediately added myself to the support team as this was billed as being the final Tough Guy and I did not want to have missed it completely.

I would be travelling up with Tony and Rebecca Cohen, while Kirsten Whitehouse was taking a car with Daniel Spears and Glenn Coleman (who were both running), and Matt Stewart was giving a lift to his friend Keith (who was also running).  I also knew there was going to be a team running from Tactical Training & Events, although I was not sure who was going to be in their team.  So as I packed my bag on the Sunday morning I was looking forward to a good day out with the chance to meet a lot of friends.  I was going prepared for whatever the weather and the ground conditions might bring, essentially wearing the same gear I use for my mountain hiking, and taking a hat, gloves and a fleece in my bag, together with a banana wrap and a vegetable super wrap from the nutrition part of the excellent Lean Machine Project from Bootcamp Revolution, some Tribe bars, a litre of water, and a flask of peppermint tea.  As usual on Sunday mornings recently, I was late leaving the house, and I needed to get to Tony’s for 0645 in about half the time Google Maps estimated it should take me, so I ran down.  I got close and had to check my phone to confirm the location on Google Maps, and then, just as I was sure I had spotted Tony’s car, I saw he was phoning me through Facebook.  I was running at this point, so I could not answer my phone, and I continued down the middle of the road towards his car, my blue Mountain Equipment Fitzroy jacket open and flapping about me, as he phoned me again.  I got into the car, seeing Rebecca was already there and apologised for being late and for not answering my phone.  Tony said it was fine, that Rebecca had only just arrived herself, and that he had guessed why I was not answering my phone when he saw someone running down the street looking like the Batman and Robin scene from Only Fools And Horses.  I replied that I really needed to work on my physique if I resembled David Jason, and our journey began.

The M1 could hardly have been better and the drive up seemed to take no time at all.  We were passed by Kirsten at one point, although she was going so fast she did not notice us, and we presumed that was Matt following hard behind her.  Tony decided he would stop at the first services on the M6, but no matter who Rebecca tried to contact in Kirsten’s car, no-one was answering their phones, and the opportunity was missed.  Fortunately, we caught up with Kirsten, and she noticed us this time, so we followed her, although Tony did not recognise the route she was taking, and once we had come off the motorways we pulled into the McDonald’s at Fallings Park for a pitstop, being very careful on the icy, slippery surface of the car park as we walked from the cars.  

Just a quick stop

It was good to meet Glenn for the first time, and it turned out that it had not been Matt following Kirsten up the motorway.  There was some talk about suitable clothing between Tony, Daniel and Glenn, but they all seemed reasonably relaxed at this point.  We did not stay long, just long enough for Daniel to eat his pancakes with maple syrup, and so very soon we were driving on again and not before long we began to see signs for Tough Guy.  We came to a stop at a junction which bent round to the right to reach a roundabout, and Tony expressed concern that we were already queuing this far out.  We turned left at the roundabout and Rebecca began looking for an alternative route, because we were clearly stuck in a traffic jam filled with cars all going to Tough Guy.  Kirsten pulled to another halt just ahead of a junction which Rebecca identified gave us a possible escape route, so Tony signalled that Kirsten should follow us and we turned right up a hill, with Kirsten reversing and then following behind us.  It was definitely a stroke of luck, and we reckoned this detour saved us at least 40 minutes.  We came out at a junction where we turned right, before turning left into the final road leading to the Tough Guy car parks.  We had tickets for the red car park, so were able to turn off ahead of the main queue of cars, and just had a short delay while waiting for the cadets to push their minibus out of the mud.  That should have rung some warning bells…  We parked on some flat grass at the bottom of a slope, and there was much more discussion of clothing choices from the runners.  Personally, I got my gloves from my bag and stowed them in my jacket pocket.  The air temperature was not freezing cold, but it was cold enough.

Discussing clothing options

We walked up to the top of the hill through the gloomy mist and the runners followed the signs to registration.  The rest of us stood in an increasingly busy open space, which was becoming less open by the second, and especially so when a horse drawn cart pulling a cannon came up the hill.  

The famous Mr Mouse

This was carrying Mr Mouse and it was the first time I had seen him.  He truly is a colourful character.  Tony had set Rebecca the challenge of taking a selfie with Mr Mouse, and the cart being stopped here provided an ideal opportunity for Kirsten to take that photo for her.  I took one of my own, of course.  The crowds were heaving at this point, and you certainly got a flavour of the international aspect to this event, as I very easily spotted runners from Germany, Finland, Sweden, Croatia by what they were wearing.  There was a rumour going round that the start time was delayed, although this was hard to verify, but in any event, we made our way down from the village to the slopes by the side of the start, and Tony went off for a little warm up. 

The very much larger than life Coach Tony Campbell

We spotted Tony Campbell, although he was not hard to spot, dressed as he was as part of the Ghost Squad, and then Tony (Leary) was back in his Team Phoenix vest (although he appeared to have changed his name to Alan…). 

First race in Team Phoenix colours for…Alan

Tony, Glenn and Daniel left whatever kit they had finally decided they did not need with us, and went off to their starting points, while we took up a position on the hill, side on to the mass of runners at the bottom of the slopes.  I could see Tony was chatting with Lee Jackson (and it turns out they ran together to start with). 

Tony and Lee discussing tactics, probably

Kirsten and Rebecca decided we would get a better view of the start from a different location, so we moved from the top of the slope to a gap further down towards the car parking area, where I was able to gain some height by standing on a pile of tyres.  I have to be honest, I could not hear what was going on and could not really see very clearly, either, but this was as good as it was going to get.  Matt had been stuck in the traffic but now he arrived and found us just before they sent off the guys carrying crosses. 

As if just doing Tough Guy was not hard enough already

I heard them being told to get a move on because the runners would soon be chasing them down.  There were suddenly smoke flares of different colours being let off, completely obscuring my view of the start, although now I could hear the Ghost Squad really getting into it.  Peering through the smoke, there now seemed to be a mass of people at the bottom of the slope, and some of them were holding more smoke flares, then there was a cannon blast, a bugle sounded, and then they were off, a stampede of around 4000 runners charging down the opening straight. 

And they’re off !!!

I could not see who was at the front in the mass of people running through the clouds of smoke, but as the crowd of people slowed to a walk it was easier to see individuals, and I spotted Graham Grover from TTE. 

Graham…smiling…

This went on for a good few minutes, the stream of people seemed to be never ending, and there were still pockets of runners coming through as I went up the starting slope to take some photos of the Ghost Squad.

The Ghost Squad

You can see more of my photographs from the start here.

Myself, Kirsten, Rebecca and Matt walked up to the village to use the toilets before heading off on to the course, and got chatting with Tony Campbell, who advised us to get going now if we wanted to get to the Tiger before the runners arrived.  This was the point where we had agreed to meet Tony so he could get his neoprene hat, and in case he needed extra energy gels. 

The Killing Fields

It was an easy walk across to start with, going through the top of the village, past the donkeys, and following the track along the top, being able to look down on a lot of the Killing Fields, and across to the slalom hill repeats, the weather remaining fine with the rain holding off. 

Hill repeats

However, once we got down there the ground became a muddy mess, with very deep, sticky mud in places, and the going was much harder.  I was glad I was wearing my Aku Pilgrim tabbing boots !  We crossed over the bridge and took up a position below the Tiger, until I heard someone on top of the obstacle shouting down “Is there a Kirsten down there ?”  I pointed to…Kirsten.  We were told that someone wanted to see her, so we crossed over the part of the course that ran from the end of the Tiger and carried on to the other side of the obstacle.  

I think he spotted me…

It had been Tony Campbell calling for Kirsten, because he had set himself up at the foot of the obstacle, to encourage the runners as they came towards it (although he must have climbed it with his flag at some point because I have seen a photograph of him at the top as Jonathan Albon is going over).  I carried on from there to the far end of the barrier tape, which turned out to be a great vantage point for this part of the course.  I saw the runners coming past me to Tiger, then coming back again through the water, and then finally coming back over the slope behind me before they continued round and headed off in the opposite direction.  Tony had told us he wanted to know his position in the field, and as I had been able to get into position before Jonathan Albon flew past (and you can read about his race here), I was able to count all the runners as they came through. 

Jonathan Albon looking comfortable

Jonathan went on to win by some margin, and it was interesting to see that James Appleton made up a couple of places in the Killing Fields to come second, getting ahead of what had looked like a very good race between the guys who eventually came third and fourth.  I kept a count until I saw Tony appear at the end of the field.  As he came towards me I shouted that he was in 30th and he continued on his way.  Not unlike most of the 29 who had passed me before him, he looked like he was feeling it but was still pushing on. 

Looking strong !

I kept a look out at everything going on around me through this section, which meant I then saw Tony come back towards me through the water before heading off again,

Through the water

and then come back towards me again, going over the wooden hurdle at the top of the slope alongside Markus Ertelt (who eventually finished in 23rd place).  I waited to see if I could spot any of the other runners I knew, but when nobody else came through I decided to move on to a different part of the course to spot Tony again.

Real racing going on

I walked back through the mud, checked in with Kirsten at the bottom of the Tiger (who agreed with my count that Tony had been in 30th position as he passed us), then crossed the course between waves of runners, went over the bridge, and positioned myself on the top of a muddy slope where I could see the rope traverse over a lake.  I got there in time to see Jonathan Albon come across, and then saw that James Appleton was in second.  He chose the line nearest to us, so we all got a very good view of his technique. 

James Appleton showing them how to do it

One of the marshalls had gone into the water, which certainly gave us a good indication of just how deep it was, and I am sure the one person we saw fall in with a splash probably wished that he had not !  I had been joined by Rebecca and we saw Tony arrive at the obstacle and climb up on to the platform, before moving out on to the rope.  He was wobbling as he moved away from the platform, and I have to say his movements looked tired.  

He’s not going to recover from that position…

He did not get very far before he was leaning back and trying to pull himself upright again, going horizontal and struggling against the ropes until he finally lost his footing and lowered down into the water while continuing to hold on to the top rope.  He began to pull himself along that rope with his hands while doing backstroke in the water, eventually reaching the other side, where he climbed up the bank, went over the barrier and was off again.  We crossed over to the other side of track, climbing up another muddy bank so that we could see the next part of the course.

Out of the tunnel

From here we could see the runners as they came down the slope and into the water with wooden barriers, before they then went through concrete tunnels half-filled with water.  We saw Tony come through this section and he definitely looked like he was feeling it.  My concern at this time was that a number of people had been shouting his name (and it was a number of people, and loud shouting, to the extent that I wondered out loud how many Tonys were in the race) but he did not show any response to that.  Clearly, he was in the zone, he was wearing a neoprene hat over his ears, but even so I would have expected some response.  He walked through the stretch of water the other side of the tunnels, and from there climbed up on to a scaffolding platform with wooden planks and rope netting to walk along.  He was taking it very carefully, and especially as he came back down off the other side of the platform, which then took him up another slope and away from us. 

Careful now

Rebecca and I decided to follow him up the next stretch and from there to the finish.  We caught up with him at a turning in the course where it came back over the track, and Rebecca asked if he wanted an energy gel.  There was no real response from Tony, and I was not convinced he recognised us as he pushed on, but he was still in control of his body and moving well enough considering what he had been through to get to here.  

Almost there now

We caught up with him again as he pulled his way up the final slope with little problem, and from there it was downhill to the finish line, crossing it in a time of 2 hours 6 minutes and 34 seconds, in 27th place, to the announcer’s words, “looking very tired” and “finishing well there”.  He had picked up 3 places over the Killing Fields.  He looked in trouble as he paused with the timekeepers, and we headed round the side to meet him on the other side of the medal collection area.  As he moved through the timekeepers I heard the announcer immediately calling for a blanket for him, which was reassuring, and as he came out into the village with a blanket round his shoulders someone was trying to persuade him to go into the warm room they had set aside.  Tony explained that he was in the VIP changing area anyway, and that he had a towel and change of clothing there, and we finally convinced the guy that taking Tony to the VIP changing area was the best bet.  We quickly got him inside and put a dryrobe around him.  What a brilliant piece of kit they are.  While Rebecca was going through Tony’s bag to find his towel and clothing, I asked him if he was ok with peppermint tea, and when he nodded his approval I poured him a cup from my flask.  I had to hold the cup and feed it to him because he could not hold the cup himself.  He was shaking and shivering, getting the occasional cramp in his legs, unable to use his hands, but on the plus side, he clearly recognised us and was able to communicate with us.  He dried off and got changed into compression pants, a variety of layers on top, a hat, and was gradually warming up as I continued to feed him the peppermint tea.  As it turned out, Tony does not like peppermint tea, but he said this was the best peppermint tea he had ever tasted.  Slowly but surely the recovery was taking place, and through the process, while our attention was very much on him, we were very careful to keep his medal somewhere safe.

All done and fully recovered…until the pain hits the next day, of course

You can see more of my photographs from the course here.

By the time I first saw Glenn Coleman after his race he looked in a better state than Tony had after his race.  He had finished in the top 100, in 2 hours 29 minutes and 41 seconds, and was quite happy with that.  He did not fancy any peppermint tea, but did ask if anyone had any spare clothing because Kirsten had his bag and we had not found her yet.  I told him I had a fleece he could use and Tony and I got him into the VIP changing area so he could use the showers, dry off with Tony’s towel and get some coffee inside him.  However, once he heard that the showers were cold he decided he did not need to go through that again, and just dried off with the towel !  Kirsten soon arrived with his bag and he was able to get himself sorted in quick time.

Very well earned medals

We went into the shed next to the finish line to wait for Daniel to come in, and the next thing I knew Richard East was saying hello.  I knew Richard from Regiment Fitness bootcamps originally, and knew that he was here with Tactical Training Events.  He looked in a bad way and explained that he had been looking for the rest of TTE for about an hour and did not have any warm clothes or money because they were locked in a car which he could not access until he found the others.  He wondered if I would be able to phone TTE to see if they could then phone someone who was here.  I know how tough Richard is, so I knew if he was in this state it must be serious.  I immediately got some peppermint tea into him, and Kirsten got a dryrobe around him, and then I phoned Natalie Welch through Facebook, which is a brilliant innovation.  It turned out they had been looking for him as long as he had been looking for them, and in no time at all they found us in the shed and were able to get him to his dry kit.  To be honest, the peppermint tea and the dryrobe had had an instant good effect, which was good to see !

Daniel Spears came in at 3 hours 18 minutes and 20 seconds, and I have to say looked as fresh as when he had set off ! 

Barely looking like he’s even been in a race…

Now everyone was getting some hot food inside them, feeling like it was time to make a move to get home, and as we were getting ready to walk down to the car parking Matt’s friend also finished.  Everyone said goodbye to everyone else, and packed up everything into the cars.  I got a plastic bag to stick my feet in so that my muddy boots were kept out of contact with Tony’s car, and then he reversed out of his parking space.  Unfortunately, the car would not travel forward after that, with the wheels spinning on the ground, so Rebecca and I got out to give it a push, and with some help from Daniel and Glenn [Edit : turns out it was Kirsten and Glenn, while Daniel was “lazing” in the car] we got to the firmer ground of the track and were able to drive up the hill to the track leading us out of Tough Guy, and from there to the M6, a quick stop at services, the M1 and home, with big thanks to Tony for doing all that driving.  It had been a great day out.  I hope this is not the last Tough Guy, because I would like to experience it as a competitor, but if it is then it had certainly been an excellent experience anyway !

Posted in Days Out, Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | 2 Comments

Obstacle Course Race Training : Waterford (Trail Running)

This week we were going to a location which was new to me, but one which Nick Day had mentioned to me before, so I was very much looking forward to it.  Tony Leary painted the picture, “We are heading over to Hertford on Sunday – to the quarry, this is an awesome place to train if you have not been there.  I’m planning on doing a last set of tough hills to get the legs ready for Tough Guy – there is also a river nearby for those who want/need a dip – we won’t spend long in/near the river – just some last minute acclimatisation, again for Tough Guy, so as usual the river is totally optional.”  He must have a strange definition of “totally optional” because we always all end up in the nearest river to where we are training.  I brought a towel and a change of clothing, just in case.

Tony was giving myself, Rebecca Cohen and Neil Rainbow a lift over in the morning, and being my usual disorganised self, I found myself running from my house to the meeting point, and arriving before the others.  At least I was starting the day not holding anyone back ! 

The frozen pond shows how cold it was

It was not a long drive to get over to the duck pond by The Woodman pub, our starting point, where we met up with Robert Boarder, Ray Fletcher and Coach Tony Campbell.  It was somewhere between minus 5 and minus 7 degrees, cold enough that I decided to keep my fleece on over my base layer and The 100 Peaks Challenge vest, and I was also wearing gloves and a fleece hat.  The hat is good, the gloves are pretty pointless when it comes to OCR, and need to be upgraded.  Robert’s famous last words were that the air temperature was not too cold, and the seven of us set off at 0740, running past The Woodman pub before turning right up a lane which soon led us to a track.  We followed that until we got to a gate into a field, where we took the opportunity to regroup, stretch off and remark on just how very cold it was !  We went into the field and ran alongside the left boundary on the frozen ground. 

The trailing group on the trail run

It was a good footing this morning, with the ground frozen but not slippery, and that saw the group split into two as the faster ones were able to pull away as we ran along an extended ridge, stopping at the top of the slope to get a quick sunrise selfie ! 

Enjoying the sunrise

We turned right at the end of the track, leaving some mountain bikers to follow the route we had taken along the ridge, and continued until a gap in the hedgerow brought us out on to Sacombe Road.  We crossed over and made our way into Great Mole Wood, following a route which was heading downwards and gradually became steeper.  I was feeling comfortable with the descent, and then, just as we were coming to the end of the slope, I lost concentration, took a tumble, turned it into a commando roll, but sadly there was nobody there to witness it, not even a bear doing its business in the woods.  We emerged from the wood, went through a gate into a field called Waterford Marshes, which was frozen, so did not resemble a marsh, then ran across to the other side of the field and turned left to follow the River Beane.  This took us along a narrow track, past a weir, and up some steps to a road crossing an impressive looking bridge. 

View from a bridge

We stopped for a while to survey the scene, this morning’s session being as much a recce for future sessions as anything else, and then went back down the steps, retracing our way along the river before continuing on to a footpath junction which brought us back in the direction we had come to where we had exited the woods in the first place.  I was feeling the cold, and I was feeling all this running.  We went back into the woods, ran up the slope we had come down, and turned left before curling round to come back to where we had entered these woods in the first place.  We ran down from there, along a long track that eventually took us into a wood where we came back on ourselves to the top of some wooden steps which curled their way down to the open heath.  We ran up and down them a few times, with 10 push-ups each time we got to the bottom.  Tony had noticed a man out walking his dogs and asked him for directions to the quarry.  That set us off across the heath before we turned right to follow a footpath…which Tony quickly realised was not taking us in the correct direction, so we came back on ourselves and continued running up the length of the heath, until we reached Vicarage Lane. 

The view down the heath

We crossed over and ran into the woods alongside the north heath, until we reached a set of steps which we could have used to take us down on to the heath.  Instead, we ran down the steep slope to the side of them, and hopped back up the steps, the first time with two feet together, then just the left foot, then just the right foot, and repeating the process until we were done.  Ray picked up a forfeit for being the first one to use the handrail, but only because I had not made it down the initial slope yet !  As it turned out, this was just a warm up for a couple of more serious slopes, as Tony took us into the section of woods next to us, where we found a bowl of hard mud ridges, which looked as though they were used by BMX/mountain bikers.  We set off to run two laps, with the frozen undulating ground very firm underfoot, the course twisting round on itself and having a wonderful flow to it, a flow which finally brought us to a very steep slope out of the bowl, a slope so steep that I had to take advantage of the support of a couple of tree trunks to get up it to the point where a bear crawl finally brought me to the top.  I managed one lap while the others did two, and Ray put in a third.  We came out of the wood, crossed Sacombe Road on to another track, and this brought us to the top of an open trail which lead down to the quarry.  It looked like a wonderful OCR playground, a wide open space, mountains of sand and stones, pipes, walls, and almost certainly some water lurking somewhere. 

Down wiv da kidz

We were running out of time so we could only take a very quick run through the middle this morning, stopping for a photo opportunity at one of the walls, and for some ice break dancing from Coach Tony Campbell, before heading down a steep slope into a long, winding canyon which we ran through, avoiding the icy puddles, before running up the other side. 

The icy puddles were good for one thing

From there it was simply a matter of running back through the fields to the village and the parked cars, by which point we were so pushed for time that we ate the bacon sandwiches during the drive back to St Albans.  We had managed to avoid getting cold in some freezing cold water, but we had spent the whole time running in freezing conditions instead.  Not including my little jogs to and from the meeting point, I had covered 11.2 kilometres, Ray had covered 12.7 kilometres, and everyone else had covered somewhere in between.  It had been a good, long morning run for me.

Lots more fun to be had at the quarry next time

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Obstacle Course Race Training : Aldenham (Hill Repeats)

We were heading back to Aldenham, with the promise from Tony Leary of “hills, cold water, bridge climbing etc.” and the passing comment, “think it might actually be cold this week.”  We had another good turn out this morning with myself, Ray Fletcher, Robert Boarder, Neil Rainbow, Peter Williams, Daniel Spears and Rebecca Cohen joining Tony for a session which was absolutely bound to include some cold water stuff with only 2 weeks to go until Tough Guy.

It was a very cold morning as we set off down a wet and muddy track, continuing all the way down until we turned right at the crossroads, and by the time I got to the junction Tony had taken the group up some steps to the side of the main track, keeping that going for a few repeats.  I have still not got round to getting my Garmin Fenix 2 back up and running since it died over Christmas, and my borrowed Garmin finally started working some couple of kilometres into the session, and now Tony took us across to the other side of a ditch, down through a very low brick tunnel, which we had to at least crouch down to get through, before we started to zigzag across the ditch and back to take us along the main track to the start of the hill repeats.  It had been a more than effective warm up.  We were going to run A (the longest route) in reverse a few times, and after the first lap I cut that down to a B so as not to keep the others waiting for me for quite so long a period of time, and then continued with three Cs.  At the end of each lap we did a press-up before going over the gate at the bottom, doing another press-up and coming back, keeping that going until everyone had got back, which was why I decided I needed to run the shorter laps.  I have to say the laps also definitely felt harder in reverse !  We had finished the hill repeats, but had certainly not finished the session.

We continued running along the track to the gingerbread house, turned left and I added in an extra gate climb because I could not find the latch to open the gate.  My training has really suffered this January because of my workload eating into far too much time, and my running has taken a knock as a result, so I was some way behind the others at this stage, to the extent that Ray and Robert added some extra distance to their morning distance by doubling back to me so we could run in together to where the others had stopped by a bridge over the river.  Tony told me I had to run through the river as everyone else had done, so, of course, I went in.  Once I was in he told me I had to do a burpee (and I knew doing burpees in rivers was certainly a ‘thing’, because it had happened at the bridge further up the river the last time we were here), so I fell down into a plank position to almost universal cries of “no !!!!” so did not actually complete the burpee.  Despite my gloves, my hands were now as cold and wet as my feet.  

Monkey crawling

We followed a track on the other side of the river up to the gate, and I passed the others as they were coming back down that track to repeat it, before we turned left and ran to another field, crossing half of it before falling to the ground to do a monkey crawl.  

There is some seriously bad form going on here…

Continuing across the field brought us round to the bridge we usually came to during these Aldenham sessions, and that meant more river work.  This morning that had us running to the other side of the field (Tony had said to run to halfway, but his definition of halfway is obviously different to mine…) and back to warm up (I did not warm up, not even slightly), then we would go through the river, climb up and over the bridge before climbing down into the river again, coming out the other side and running to the other side of the field again, repeating that a few times.  After all that, Tony, Ray, Robert, Peter and Daniel also did double burpees in the freezing cold water.  Absolutely mad.  Totally awesome.  Tony and Ray were also doing it with their tops off.  Nutters !  The run back was definitely needed to keep some element of warmth before a change of clothes could take place.  In fact, the whole morning had been so cold that the moment I got back online I was asking for recommendations for gloves and socks suitable for OCRs featuring cold water.

Everyone looking suitably warmed up !

We noticed parking restriction signs when we got back to the starting point, which could cause some issues in the future, even though everyone parks off the road and we are there before most other people have woken up on a Sunday morning, so that is a pity.  We are a resourceful lot, so I am sure we will find a way around any issues.  We enjoyed our morning picnic of bacon sandwiches from Rebecca and hard boiled eggs from Peter, and then were on our way after a very cold and wet, excellent Sunday morning session.  I had covered 5.9 kilometres from the time my Garmin finally decided to locate a satellite, and Robert had covered 10.4 kilometres, so everybody else had covered a distance somewhere in between.

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