I should give a little background information to lead into this blog – I am not a newcomer to Obstacle Course Races but to date in the true OCR sense I have only done Wolf Runs and a couple of Warrior Adrenaline Races. I have also done a number of Fan Dances and Point To Point with Avalanche Endurance Events, and a couple of Paras’ 10, but they are different matters. This year I want to try some different OCRs, and having been so impressed with the way they were run and the general feel behind Wolf Runs and WAR, I must admit to being a little choosy about what I am going to do. I am not just going to do Tough Mudder simply because it is Tough Mudder, for example. Having said that, I had also found myself becoming a member of Team Bright Hammer this year, so doing the Spartan Race (or I should really say Races) was an obvious one, and I thought this Workout would be an excellent way to get a better idea of the Spartan organisation.
While I got myself off to a bad start by missing the online registration deadline, I was very impressed by the quick response I received to the questions I put up on Facebook, on the Spartan Race page and in the UK.OCR group, including a reply from Richard Pringle, the UK Race Director, so I was already getting good feelings about the organisation. They confirmed I could pay on the day, which was great. This meant I could in turn confirm my attendance to the rest of Team Bright Hammer and I have to say we were all buzzing in anticipation of the day. It was being held at the Allianz Park, London, which will also host the Spartan Sprint on 16 May, and I had not previously realised how close that was to where I live, so it did not take me very long to drive there. Having free parking on site is always a bonus ! The registration process was very efficient and I got my free Spartan Training tshirt and wristband. I really like the look of the tshirt and know I will be wearing it a lot. While I was sitting there by myself I got chatting with Joel Hicks, who I had seen online before now and is the founder of the Always With A Smile charity foundation. He is larger than life online, and even larger than that in real life – he was a big, positive presence through the morning !
Very soon the rest of Team Bright Hammer arrived and we gathered around one of the tables, all of us in our own team-branded tops. Richard came over and said hello to our coach, Joseph Brigham, before jokingly asking us if we would not mind wearing the Spartan tops for the group photo. Of course we would be doing that, because for today we were all Spartans ! Aroo !
After a very welcoming introduction from Richard, the day continued with a presentation on nutrition, something which always interests me because mine can be absolutely dreadful at times. It was being given Boris Pineles and Barny O’Neill, who must be gutted that the days of light entertainment shows on television have passed because surely they would be a much in demand comedy double act ! Instead here they are having to present to us, and while most of the audience are listening attentively, one guy at the front has managed to fall asleep. The moment he wakes up they pounce and he gets a 10 burpees penalty. I think he thought they were joking, but clearly they were not, and eventually he did his first burpee, only to be brought to an instant halt. No, they were not going to let him off the penalty, but if he was going to be doing burpees then they needed to be Spartan burpees, and once Barney had demonstrated a Spartan burpee, we counted down his ten. I then got very worried because I have a tendancy to yawn through seminars regardless of whether they are holding my interest or not, and I am sure Boris noticed me as he said that yawning was not allowed either. A lucky escape ! The presentation itself was excellent, and I am sure contained something for everyone in the room, regardless of their existing level of knowledge, and given that the room appeared to contain everyone from novices up to elite athletes that is saying something. There was certainly some laughter when we got to the section entitled Sports Drinks, Caffeine And Alcohol and someone at the front appeared to be shocked by thinking it was an inclusive title. Just to confirm, alcohol is not a sports drink.
We went out on to the astroturf pitch and after they had taken the group photograph we were run into lines of 8 ready to go through some drills led by James Boardman. From that point on we had to remember which cone was ours so we knew where to position ourselves, and we did not stop moving. After a quick sprint over to the rugby posts and back we began running in our lines, with the odd-numbered lines running around the even-numbered lines first, before the even-numbered lines had their turn, and then we repeated the whole thing, this time weaving between the people in the lines. After some more dynamic movements we took another run over to the rugby posts and back before being told to do the running lines again, and this time at 100%. I am pretty sure everyone thought we were going at 100% before. Now we were not only running from the front of our lines, but also repeating the runs out of the back of the lines, doing them straight and then weaving, before taking another run to the rugby posts and back.
We moved on to exercises, doing 20 seconds of an exercise while facing the instructor, facing one side of the stadium, facing the rugby posts, and then facing the other side of the stadium. We started with press ups, before taking a run to the rugby posts and back, and then did squats, which were followed by a bear crawl to Richard at the half way line. Once we had got in some of us went back out to do some more alongside those who were still completing it, because it is always good to help the last person in. There was a bit of fun after that, crawling through the legs of those in the line next to us while they were punching, and the fun soon moved into 20 second sets of burpees, then squat jumps, and finally star jumps.
Next we were told to “get into the doggy position”, and it would appear that not quite everyone was clear on what that was as we all got on to our hands and knees. We then adopted another position on our hands and knees, holding our knees just off the ground for 5 sets, working our core with each set. Such a simple and effective exercise. Then we were running as directed, over to the rugby posts or to the high stand, or the low stand, or back to the instructor, everyone becoming jumbled as the directions changed, until it was brought to a close so we could have a short drinks break before a trail run.
We split into 3 groups for the trail run – elite, those who could run without stopping, and those who might need to stop – and we headed out of the stadium with a small gap between groups. I went with the middle group and managed to not fall off the pace, although I was near the back. We came out of the stadium and ran across some rugby pitches to get into woodland and a track running through it. We came to a stop at a junction of the track and while we waited for all of the group to arrive did 20 squats and 10 burpees. Then we were off up a slope to continue the run through the woodland as it brought us back in a loop to the stadium.
We were not finished yet, though, as we stopped outside the stadium at once side of a small stream of water at the bottom of a grass slope for some hill repeats with a difference. We did bear crawls up and crab crawls back down before sprinting up, doing 5 burpees, then running along the top to come back round, then finished off by going backwards up the slope, doing 10 squat jumps, then running along the top once more to come back round to finish with a jog into the stadium.
In the nicest possible way, Barny managed to photobomb a Team Bright Hammer team photograph, but somehow we had managed to blag our way to having a photograph taken by the official photographer from the excellent Epic Action Imagery, so all was not lost, and while we were waiting for that to happen I took the opportunity to chat with Thomas Blanc, who was here today along with Lucy Martlew and Sam Cherry, true Spartan royalty ! Thomas is carrying an injury so he had been one of the Mountain Safety Team at the Winter Fan Dance I had run a couple of weekends ago (which you can read about here) and I chatted with him about that, about the awful weather we had encountered over the two days, and found out the reason I had not seen him on the Saturday, why he had mostly stayed in the tent at his position, was because the wind and the rain and the cold just made it too miserable up there – I do not blame him at all because I was out there moving for 5 and a half hours and it was horrible, let alone standing in the same place for over 8 hours !
I thanked him for his assistance, and for running to catch up with me on the Sunday return leg to make sure I took the correct route after I had passed him while he was on the radio, and he was the most charming and humble man to chat with, which I am finding to be the mark of a true champion in the OCR world. I also spoke with Richard, thanking him for his very quick online response and for putting on such an excellent morning. He thought it had gone well and that everybody had enjoyed it, and I agreed. He was another very pleasant person to chat with, and along with being an excellent morning it had certainly convinced me that the Spartan Race was something for me.
So we had our official photograph and Michael Wilkins took the opportunity of a kick from the half way line, showing excellent form in his extended run up, and then we were off, still buzzing, and looking forward to our training the next morning as we prepare for a Spartan Race season.
You can see more of my photographs from the day here.