Obstacle Course Race Training : Verulamium Park (Cathedral Steps)

It was the weekend after the OCR UK Championships and I was about to take part in a training session with two of the age category champions, a training session which promised us the prospect of steps, among other things.  In the group for this morning, along with Tony Leary and Will Harbour, the age category champions, we had Nick Day, Rebecca Cohen, Kirsten Whitehouse, Robert Boarder, Jake Barber, and another new face for me, Lee Jackson.

We started off from the museum car park, going out into the park, along the path on the right until the main group forked off into the next field to the right, running round the outer perimeter of the park while myself and Rebecca continued straight up the hill.  We were joined by Nick, who was feeling a little worse for wear after a late night out.  We reached the top of the hill and cut across to the woods to join up as a group again as the others curled round.  Suddenly Nick’s energy levels changed and he and Will were racing off into the woods ahead of everyone else.  I hung to the side to allow the rest of the following group to rush past, and soon was back running with Rebecca, as we noted how obscured the path was since the leaves had fallen.  We came to the bottom of the woods and then we continued straight through, down to the path, and followed that up to the Cathedral, and more specifically to the steps which run along the side of the Abbot’s Kitchen, steps which go down, along and back up the other side.

The group had already started the steps repeats by the time I got there, and I joined the back of the queue as they pounded along.  It must have looked fascinating to an outsider, this chain of people rushing down the steps before going along the bottom, then up the other side, then turning around and repeating in the other direction.  I kept going as best I could while listening out for the footsteps coming up quickly behind me, so I could make sure I was out of the way and not holding up any of the others.  They must have been set at least 10 repeats, and I reckon I got through at least 5 sets.  Certainly enough that I could feel it.

Then we were off again, coming down the hill away from the Cathedral, reaching the weir at the entrance to the lake area, carrying along the top track until we reached a point where we had a choice – either keep going along the track and turn right at the crossroads,  or go through a gap in the hedge and down a muddy slope.  This is obstacle course race training, so, of course, we launched ourselves through the gap !  We reached a grassy bowl by the side of the lake which lead up to a tree line and a couple of benches, and began hill repeats from the bottom of the bowl, jumping over both benches as we looped back down to do 10 push-ups (and later 10 burpees) at the bottom of the bowl, before setting off again, and completing 10 repeats.  I was already tired by this point (and I simply cannot keep up with these guys at the very best of times, which is why the circuit format Tony follows is perfect for me) and Tony asked if I was all right.  I reminded him that I had done the parkrun 5k of death the day before, and smiled as I pushed on to the benches again.

We gathered at the bottom of the bowl and set up off the slope, following the direction of the lake, before stopping on a ridge at the top of a slope.  Tony got us into pairs for piggy backs, remarking that I was lucky this time as we had an odd number.  I said I felt my partner was the lucky one, not being here to have to try to carry my 95k weight.  I ran down and back as the pairs did their piggy backs, which felt tough enough.  I was more than happy with the odd numbers.  We moved from there to the nearest goalpost and the spidermonkeys went from one end of the crossbar to the other, hanging down and going hand by hand.  Rebecca could not take part because she had a shoulder problem; Tony could not take part because he had an elbow problem; I could not take part because I have a bodyweight problem.  I did try, jumping up to get both hands over the crossbar, and then gravity came into play.  I got a nice stretch out of the movement, and remain very well aware of what I need to work on.  Just in case I was not fully aware, Tony took us over to the swings in the playground, and the spidermonkeys began to hang upside down using the metal chains holding the swing seats in place.  I confined myself to some core work on the rocking elephant.

Artist’s impression ultra core workout machine

We left the playground and took a couple of different routes to get to the stream on the other side of the lake, and then it was time to get in for some cold water training, just moving along for a short distance this week, before getting out and continuing along the pathway.  We ran over to the cars to pick up two beer kegs and rope, two sandbags, and two jerry cans, doing some laps with each of the different pieces of equipment before Tony got us into three teams for a running, carrying, dragging team relay.  We had moved into the field to the right of the football pitches at the far end of the park, and would be in teams of 3, running the boundary up to the top and back, then carrying the two sandbags and the two jerry cans round a closer copse of trees and back, before finishing by dragging the tyre down the hill by facing it and pulling on the rope, repeating until the bottom of the hill was reached. I was in a team with Will and Jake, and we would be doing it in that run, carry, drag order.  Obviously, nobody was feeling even the slightest bit competitive about this.  No, sorry, that should have read EVERYBODY WAS FEELING HIGHLY COMPETITIVE ABOUT THIS RACE, AND LET THE CHALLENGE BEGIN !!!  Tony set the rule that all team members had to stay together, which immediately put pressure on me as I was facing the long run as the first part of our relay.  Will and Jake could not have been better.  Not only did they slow down to my pace, but they encouraged me on every step of the run up the hill in a positive way.  I did not want to let them down so I kept on pushing, and tried to open it up a bit as we came back down the hill.  That was the point when Will noticed that Nick’s ‘team’ did not appear to be running together, so he very helpfully shouted across to remind them of the rules.  By the time I reached the bottom, Will and Jake were off with the jerry cans and one of the sandbags, so I picked up the other sandbag and set off.  The sandbags are not really ‘heavy’ in the greater scheme of things, and I have certainly carried weights heavier than that in events, so I can definitely manage something more than a plod as I move along with one over this distance and this terrain, which meant I was not losing any ground on the rest of my team.  Despite my very obvious pace, Tony still shouted at me to run as I came in to the end of this loop.  Just the tyre drag to go, pulling in the rope until the tyre came to us, then running out the full length of the rope and repeating, and with a little help from Will I brought us home just ahead of the other teams, although, to be fair, all three teams were coming in pretty much at the same time.  Although, to be even fairer, WE WON !!!  It had been good fun, a great way to get in some more running and some strength work.  Excellent training for so many of the obstacle course races out there.

Beer not included

We went back to the cars and everyone got out their flasks of tea or coffee, Rebecca had brought bacon rolls and peanut protein balls, Kirsten had brought sponge cake, and Robert had brought flapjack, which all resulted in a great quote from Tony, “Another great session this morning – even managed a little bit of a competitive team ‘race’ – think we also probably put more calories in with bacon butties and peanut poo cake,” although it has to be said that the picnic was absolutely delicious.  We will definitely all be back for more of that.

A very well-fed group

Away from the picnic, it had also been a very good session for me, picking up Strava segment PRs on verulamium park cathedral hill descent, St Albans Abbey Climb, and Verulamium singletrack running.  I had covered 8.3 kilometres, while Robert had covered 13 kilometres, and everyone else had covered a distance in between.

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