Judgement Day 020717 – A Marshall’s View

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.

Copehill Down 2015

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. 

Ready to go

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.

In the village

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. 

From the Incline Walls into the Pond…and note the Kegs in plain sight

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.

Dean checks in

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. 

A steady stream of runners down below 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.

Just a couple of the members from Team Nuclear Phoenix OCR out on the course today

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. 

I can see you…

Our job was very enjoyable on a day like this and could not have been easier !

And so it begins…

Flying over !

Jumping down !

Everyone gave it everything

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.

All the people

So many people

And they all go hand-in-hand

Hand-in-hand through their pondlife

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.

The tailrunners come through

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.

Ready and waiting

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. 

In position, directing the Keg Carry

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. 

The hard work is going on in the background

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 ! 

Strategically placed Haribo

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. 

Some carried the keg on their shoulder…

Some tried levitation…

Some carried it flat…

Some tried a waddle move…

Some rolled it…

And some helped each other

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.

Oops !!!

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. 

George making it look easy !

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.

No way was I leaving without this selfie

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…

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | 1 Comment

The Road To Nuclear Oblivion 2018 : Training – Week 1

I have decided to take on Nuclear Oblivion in 2018.  You can read more about that decision here.

Nuclear Oblivion 2018

Monday 19 June 2017

If you are a friend of mine on Facebook then you know that I go along with every challenge Stuart Amory PT puts out there.  His latest is #StuIsAPlank – 4 weeks of plank, and I will be starting at 1 minute and gradually building it up.  This one was late at night to fit it in !

  1. #StuIsAPlank – plank – 1 minute

Tuesday 20 June 2017

I began the morning with some more plank, moving up to 1 minute 15 seconds.

I had joined the St Albans Striders running club and signed up to their Run With Striders introductory course, which had been running on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 9 May.  It had proved to be an excellent way to get me back into running on a regular basis.  Our first session had seen us run the St Albans parkrun course, and now we were back again, looking to beat our previous times.  I was not feeling confident after my nearly 37 minutes effort from Saturday.  I decided to go off at a steady pace, but managed to complete the first kilometre in 5 minutes 30 seconds, which was far too fast for me at the moment, so I was not surprised to find myself having to walk during the fourth kilometre.  Well, it was a march rather than a stroll, so it kept me going, allowed me to recover, and I was able to get running again and keep it going up the finishing straight, putting in a final sprint to overtake another runner near the line (oops !!!) and bring it in at 32 minutes 09 seconds, not only knocking 4 minutes 38 seconds off my Saturday time, but also beating my initial Run With Striders time by 43 seconds.  I was happy with that right now, and it sets a baseline, although I am still some way from my PB of 25 minutes 36 seconds.

We all got a medal for completing the course 🙂

  1. #StuIsAPlank – plank – 1 minute 15 seconds
  2. St Albans Striders (St Albans) – 0.8 kilometres – 6 minutes 18 seconds
  3. St Albans Striders (St Albans) – 5 kilometres – 32 minutes 09 seconds

Wednesday 21 June 2017

My early morning plank of 1 minute 30 seconds was all I managed today.

  1. #StuIsAPlank – plank – 1 minute 30 seconds

Thursday 22 June 2017

My very late night plank of 1 minute 45 seconds was all I managed today.  I did not go out for a run because I was saving myself for tomorrow.

  1. #StuIsAPlank – plank – 1 minute 45 seconds

Friday 23 June 2017

I walked over to Highfield Park for the St Albans Striders’ Summer Solstice 10K, which was the official end of the Run With Striders course, so there were many of us present among the very good turnout.  I really liked the route, running through Highfield Park to join The Alban Way, coming off that to run round a little residential estate, circling back to The Alban Way, and retracing our steps to finish off.  I started off at a steady pace, and got gradually slower until I had to switch to a walk/run.  I finished with a bit of a sprint to bring me in at 1 hour 14 minutes.  I am still some way from my PB of 55 minutes 54 seconds, so I do find it very frustrating at the moment.

I did pick up a couple of Strava segments : 2nd fastest time on Alban way, fresh tarmac section, and 2nd fastest time on Alban way 3 mins east bound!  I also got an Epic Suffer Score of 329.

I also got another medal 🙂

I walked home afterwards and did my plank of 1 minute 30 seconds.

  1. Walk (St Albans) – 2.9 kilometres – 31 minutes 12 seconds
  2. St Albans Striders’ Summer Solstice 10K (St Albans) – 10 kilometres – 1 hour 14 minutes 00 seconds
  3. Walk (St Albans) – 3.1 kilometres – 37 minutes 47 seconds
  4. #StuIsAPlank – plank – 1 minute 30 seconds

Saturday 24 June 2017

I walked down to parkrun.  It was another hot morning and another not very good parkrun, coming in at 35 minutes 03 seconds.  It is what it is, for now.

No medal…

I did another late night plank, of 1 minute 15 seconds

  1. parkrun (St Albans) – 5km – 35 minutes 03 seconds
  2. #StuIsAPlank – plank – 1 minute 15 seconds

Sunday 25 June 2017

I woke up later than planned, so had to run down to the OCR training at Verulamium Park.  You can read more about that training here.

OCR training pretty much killed me

I had some time available in the evening so I went to the Adizone in Verulamium Park to do the exercises from the Para , and also play around on the other equipment for a while.  The hour I spent there included 4 x 25 press ups, 4 x 25 dips, 4 x 25 sit ups, 4 x 25 squats, 4 x 70 second plank and 4 x 15 eccentric pull-ups.  I need to take advantage of this excellent, free facility a lot more.

The Adizone

  1. Morning Run (St Albans) – 2.5 kilometres – 19 minutes 41 seconds
  2. OCR Training (Verulamium Park) – 5.2 kilometres – 1 hour 39 minutes 37 seconds
  3. Adizone (St Albans) – 1 hour

Positives from this week : I ran a much better 5k, and also ran a 10k, which gives me a couple of baselines to work from.

Baselines :

  1. 5 kilometres : 32 minutes 09 seconds
  2. 10 kilometres : 1 hour 14 minutes 00 seconds
Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races, The 100 Peaks Challenge | Leave a comment

Obstacle Course Race Training : Verulamium Park (Team Relay)

Coach Tony Leary made the training session for this Sunday morning sound so simple, “Sorry for delay guys but yes planning a session at Verulamium Park 7:30 start – nothing too heavy – maybe some run loops and some team relay pulls carries – that kind of thing – who is in???”  The answer was that quite a few of the regulars were in, and by the time I arrived (having had to run the 2.5k to get there because I could not drag myself out of bed…), there was a good crowd of Kirsten Whitehouse, Rebecca Cohen, Ray Fletcher, Robert Boarder, Matt Stewart, Daniel Spears and a returning from injury Neil Rainbow joining Tony for this session.

We carried the kit up to the line of hedges on the ridge, which sadly was not the line of trees I had got to doing a farmer’s walk with both of the sandbags from the car park.  Ray took one of them the rest of the way.  We ran a warm up loop up the field.  Obviously, I was already warmed up from my run down, but I was also already knackered.  My stamina is rock bottom at the moment and something I am working on.  I got most of the way up the hill and then cut through to the track taking us down again, joining up with the others to Tony’s comment, “James knows all the short cuts.”  I really do – I have a very good running knowledge of Verulamium Park now !  We continued running to the bottom and then came back up to the ridge.

Tony decided we would split into two teams and Neil and Daniel were chosen as team captains.  We all know how this goes – Tony, Robert and Ray are the first choices, followed by the girls, with Matt being selected just before me to close out the process.  This point was made by Matt and it clearly caused such considerable guilt in the minds of the captains that Tony found himself being selected last, and reluctantly at that.  We had our teams : Neil, Kirsten, Matt, Tony and myself, and Daniel, Rebecca, Robert and Ray.  Someone from Daniel’s team would have to go twice with each piece of kit.

The two teams

By now Tony had worked out what we would actually be doing with all the kit we had carried up to this part of the park.  We had a log carry, a barrel carry, a sandbag carry with a double underhand grip on the scaffolding handle attached to the sandbag, a tyre pull with the sandbag inside the tyre, and a tyre drag with the sandbag still inside the tyre.  In between each run we would do 20 push-ups and 50 crunchies, and at the end of each full relay we would run the warm up loop.  Think back to the description for this session, and the words “nothing too heavy”.  We had been lied to.  One of the barrels was too heavy, as was one of the sandbags, so we swapped over for the second relay.

Push-ups, crunchies, and one very low plank…

I much preferred the heavy barrel to the heavy sandbag.  The heavy barrel was not really an issue for me.  My running was still letting me down, and I was using my full knowledge of the various short cuts to either cut through on the way up the hill or cut back on the way down, to ensure I stayed up with everyone else.  The various relays were hard because you were running out and back and then doing the push-ups and crunchies in between, and there was an obvious difference between the tyre pulls and drags depending on whether you had the heavy or the not so heavy sandbag.  

Going to guess that’s the light sandbag

However, nothing had prepared us for the final, double-run relay.  We had the heavy sandbag for this one.  The run out with the sandbag was bad enough, and when I finally managed to get back and passed it over to Neil my arms felt like they would explode.  Worse was to follow.  The first tyre pull was as hard as usual, but suddenly the second one felt almost impossible !  I got some assistance from Matt to finish off my second attempt, but by that point we were already a visibly long way behind the other team.  Even worse was to follow.  

Looks like Bigfoot Challenge got revenge over Nuclear Phoenix after the Dany Grade transfer

It was hardly encouraging to see Tony come through from his second tyre drag to collapse on the ground looking thoroughly wasted !  Once again, the first attempt was no worse than we had encountered during the session, but the second attempt suddenly took it to a completely different level of difficulty, effort, pain, despair, exhaustion.  I followed Tony’s example and collapsed to the ground as I finished.  

Neil demonstrating just how very hard that second drag with the heavy sandbag is

I dragged myself up off the ground to take the final loop with Rebecca, who is restricted to walking as she recovers from a stress fracture, and we cut across on one of her short cuts, through the nettles, then missed a cut through which would have allowed us to walk down to the start point, and instead cut back at a point which meant we had a short way back up the slope to join up with everyone else.

Everyone is knackered

We carried the kit back to the car park.  Daniel began with the two sandbags, and when he stopped Tony said he would take over because he needed some grip strength training.  Tony’s intention was to get back to the car park, and we wondered aloud whether he would make it past the trees which were half way between us and the car park.  Of course, we gave him our full encouragement.  He did say he was going to have to go faster to make it all the way…and then dropped them at the trees.  To be fair, he did pick them up again and continued with his farmer’s half walk, or milkmaid’s walk, as Robert called it.  Everyone else enjoyed the coffee back at the car park, while I was rehydrating with my bottle of water.  It had been a brilliant session in the sun.  I had covered 5.2km and Matt had covered 6.7km, with everyone else somewhere in between.  Next weekend sees a lot of the group taking on the OCR European Championships, so good luck to them all with that.

Another brilliant session with a great bunch of people

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | Leave a comment

The Road To Nuclear Oblivion 2018

I will be perfectly honest – I was gutted.  This had been months of frustration for me, culminating in a concentrated 25 days of that frustration, and a definite feeling that I had let down a great group of people.  I could not just dwell on it, I had to do something about it.


The 100 Peaks Challenge

An awesome team

The 100 Peaks Challenge had been an awesome success by Karl Rushen, Scott Wealthall, Paul Southernwood, Caria Ammerlaan and James Nicholson, who had been very ably supported by Theresa Whatling, Lesley Kemp, Gadge Grocott, Laura McLellan, Kim Treece and Kevin Burke, and a cast of individuals who had taken on parts of the overall Challenge.  At one point I had been striving to be part of the full Challenge team but had not been able to achieve the very high level of fitness required.  In the run up to Christmas 2016 and the 4 months following I had been able to do practically no physical exercise thanks to the demands of my work life, and now I was the elephant in the room eating the £1 Belgian buns from Iceland, watching the Challenge unfold on Facebook.  I did think I would manage to get along to some of the partial stages of the full Challenge, but work meetings and conference calls kept getting in the way of that.  And finally, all thoughts of making that final day at Pen-y-Fan went out the window when various people organised three conference calls for me for that morning despite me having flagged it as a day I was not available.  Sometimes the demands of our customers dictate our availability.  That final opportunity disappearing did not leave me feeling good about the way things had turned out for me, even though I remained delighted that the team had triumphed.

All ready to complete The 100 Peaks Challenge

Regardless of anything else, I wanted to help towards the fundraising target of £100,000, which will be split between ABF The Soldiers Charity and Support Our Paras, so I decided to come up with something else which would allow me to do that, but it had to be something big, to fit in with the epic nature of The 100 Peaks Challenge itself.  Which made me think of Nuclear Oblivion. 

Nuclear Races

The event is hard enough in itself, and here is what they said about it for 2017 :


12k – 60k+


How many 12k Nuclear Rush laps can you take on?

The Event starts at 8.30 am

Finishes 5.30pm

Oblivion 2017 has the potential to be a 60k+/37+mile/450+ obstacle challenge. It’s Nuclear Oblivion EXTREME. Designed to challenge the fastest and fittest obstacle race athletes out there; it’s our most brutal & unforgiving event in the Nuclear calendar. There’s 8.5 hours to complete as many 12k laps on the Nuclear Rush course tackling 90+ man-made & natural obstacles per lap. This event requires hardcore training as it’s the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance and strength. Entrants are Oblivion Extreme Legends. This is not a team event. Pit Crew welcome.

Complete 4 laps  to qualify for the 2017 OCR World Championships in Canada.

As I said, the event is hard enough in itself, and in taking it on I will want to hit the qualification requirement, and take The 100 Peaks Challenge to the OCR World Championships.

So the training starts here.  I do not have a gym membership at the moment so, at least for now, I will be concentrating on running, the body weight exercises from The Para Fitness Guide, the kettlebell workout sessions from the Bear Grylls book Your Life – Train For It, and the Sunday morning training sessions with the St Albans OCR Training Group (with Coffee & Cake).  Looking forward, I have joined the St Albans Striders running club and will be attending their Tuesday and Thursday evening sessions, I will be taking on as many obstacle course races and trail running events as possible, just to get in the practice, and booking in some time with Coach Tony Leary, Coach Tony Campbell of The Bigfoot Challenge, and Scotty PT at The PT Barn, and hopefully getting in some time down at Nuclear Events itself.  I have a lot of work to do in less than a year.

Friday 16 June 2017

The triumphant culmination of The 100 Peaks Challenge.

The Pen-y-Fan summit finish

Saturday 17 June 2017

I ran my slowest parkrun ever.  I appreciate it was very hot, but I just ran my slowest parkrun ever.

A very sunny parkrun

We walked over to The Prae Wood Arms for lunch.

  1.  parkrun (St Albans) – 5 kilometres – 36 minutes 47 seconds
  2. Walk (St Albans) – 8.7 kilometres – 1 hour 43 minutes 24 seconds

Sunday 18 June 2017

I walked to the early morning OCR training session.  I struggled to cope with the running involved in the training session itself.  You can read more about the session here.

Fun and games in the obligatory post-training selfie

  1. Walk (St Albans) – 4.4 kilometres – 45 minutes 01 seconds
  2. OCR Training (Heartwood Forest) – 6.6 kilometres – 1 hour 04 minutes 13 seconds

 Positives from this week : I have a target to aim for – going from an almost 37 minute parkrun to 4 laps of Nuclear Oblivion in about 11 months.

Nuclear Oblivion 2018

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races, The 100 Peaks Challenge | 6 Comments

Obstacle Course Race Training : Heartwood Forest

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.

Fun and games in the obligatory post-training selfie

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | 1 Comment

Obstacle Course Race Training : Mardley Heath Woods (Upper Body Circuit)

We were going back to Mardley Heath Woods (you can read about the previous time here) for a session which was introduced to us by Coach Tony Leary in a quite familiar tone, “I’m resting a butt strain at the minute so will probably set up a few upper body obstacles in Mardley woods, there will of course be a run loop included but I wont be doing it.”  He soon added, “Gonna put up a longish rope traverse tomorrow so wear long socks/calf guards to protect your ankles.”

I was told to be at the pick-up point for 0640, and actually managed to get myself out of the house on time for a change, so that I could enjoy an easy-paced walk to get there just ahead of anyone else, all the while wondering if the light rain was going to get better or worse.  I had not been there long before I was joined by Kirsten Whitehouse and Rebecca Cohen, and we did not have to wait long after that for Tony to arrive, and then we were off, driving over to the location near Knebworth.  Ray Fletcher was already waiting for us in the car park and we were soon joined by Matt Stewart, Jake Barber, Will Harbour, Coach Tony Campbell and Robert Boarder, who had run over 50k at Runstock the day before, and built up quite a red covering running under the sun, by the looks of it.  And while we were getting set up Neil Robinson arrived with a couple of new faces, Siobhan McGoldrick and her friend.

The rig

We got all the equipment out of Tony’s car and carried it across the road to the edge of the wood.  We set up a rig along the branch of one tree, a tyre drag along the track, a short rope climb on a tree branch on one side of the track, and a rope traverse between two trees on the other side of the track, with a longer rope climb at the far end of that.  We went for a run around the lap we would be following so that everyone knew the route, taking some time to stop about half way round at some logs and select a few to give options for a log flip. 

Natural obstacles

At the end of the run, just before we got back to the rig, we had a farmer’s carry using two sandbags with short scaffold poles as handles.  This was a shorter lap than the last time we were here, and again we would run as many laps as possible in an hour.

Working the rig

We started in different places along the equipment part of the circuit to spread everyone out, although just running the first lap was sure to do that anyway.  The rig remains beyond my capability for the moment, and it was made harder this morning by starting above a holly bush.  It was made up of straps, rings, ropes, a bar, and a ball to finish. 

Will finishes off the tyre drag

The tyre drag was a tyre attached to a long rope, and we would pull the rope into us until we had dragged the tyre to our feet.  The tyre for the tyre drag also had two 5kg weights and a barrel in it, and this was the station where I started.  I can do the tyre drag, and it felt pretty smooth this morning as I pulled it along the dry, dusty track.  From there I moved on to the short rope climb, but that remains another aspect which is currently beyond me, so I just hung there for a while.  The rope traverse is something I can do, although this morning my weight on the rope took it very close to the ground. 

Rope traverse

The longer rope climb was just hanging on the rope again for me, before setting off on the run.  The run loop started off going parallel with the road before turning left at the corner of the woods, and it was along that straight down through the woods that we got to the log flip.  I flipped the largest log each time.  The route turned left not too much further down, following a more muddy track until a final left turn on to a more stoney part of the loop brought us to the farmer’s carry.  This would either be up by the gate next to the road, or part way down the track, and the carry would be to take it to the other location from the one where you picked it up.

Ray does the farmer’s walk

I think I did 5 laps in total, although it might have been 6.  It was always fun to encounter one of the others while running the loop, and at different times I enjoyed good chats with Will, Ray and Matt.  Will was running a different loop because he wanted to ensure he covered 10k to meet his weekly target.  On my final lap I moved the three logs we had been using for the log flip back into the pile we had got them from. 

I have no idea what Coach Tony Campbell is doing up there

I got back to the rig, where the biggest groups of people had always accumulated through the morning, and it was good to watch the experts at work.  I am truly privileged to be able to train with such a group.  Rebecca is injured at the moment so her participation had been limited up to this point, with no running included, but once we had taken down the kit and returned it to Tony’s car she came into her own with delicious bacon rolls.  Hot dogs the last time, bacon rolls this time, we are definitely spoiled by Rebecca, but we should also come back here more often !

Tony said I needed a different selfie face

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | Leave a comment

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


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 ?

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races | Leave a comment

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 !!!

Posted in Fitness Training, Obstacle Course Races, The 100 Peaks Challenge | 1 Comment

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.

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