Coach Tony Leary got straight to the point this week, “Fancying a hill based session on Sunday, maybe a bit of bridge action too – can only mean 1 place!! Aldenham- meet at the church at 7:20 for a 7:30 start” and that suited me just fine. My running has been coming along well over the last few weeks and adding in some hills will only help that. The bridge would also present an excellent challenge to measure progress in other areas over those last few weeks.
I was collected by Rebecca Cohen at 0645, we picked up Kirsten Whitehouse (on time) on our way over, and everything was going very well until we encountered our first obstacle – the police had closed off the road because of something serious just out of view. Tony had parked up just off the main road and we followed him on an alternative route. At one point he went past a junction we needed to take, so we ended up in front of him, which was good because it meant we could not be any later than him, and I was certainly prepared to use that as a defence and mitigation against any river burpees. Parking restrictions have come into force since I was last here, so instead of being able to park between 0730 and 0900 on a Sunday morning at the top of the track we run down, we now have to park outside of the village church. You can guess the potential complications with that one. We do ensure we park as close to each other as possible to take up as little space as we can. Daniel Spears was already parked up, Steven Lamb arrived shortly after us, and very soon we were all ready to go.
It was a cold, dry morning, with the wind certainly adding to the coldness, and I wisely wore a pair of gloves, as did everyone else. We would be carrying lengths of rope with us to use at the bridge, but after Tony had handed them all out, sadly there were none left for me to carry. We ran away from the church and down the road, getting onto a track as soon as it appeared, for the moment following our usual route down to the main area we train in here. We stopped at a gate for calf stretches and a totally natural, completely not even slightly posed photograph, and I took over the rope carrying duty from Kirsten. We headed off to the left, which was a different direction for me, and if I had thought the tracks we had run down were wet, it was nothing compared to the waterlogged ground we were soon running over. The group had naturally split into Tony, Dan and Steven; Rebecca and Kirsten; and me, and now, as Rebecca and Kirsten turned right into the woods, I heard Tony shouting that they had gone the other way, and I cut into a gap to see them on the other side of a bridge. We proceeded to cross it in a number of different ways, none of which were simply walking across it, and one of which, from Kirsten, is probably banned in a number of countries worldwide. Tony had had enough by now and we set off running again, across wet, muddy fields, before crossing the river, on a wooden bridge this time, which was more than a bit dodgy on the far side. It looked like it could have been one of the obstacles from Tough Guy.
Not that we actually needed it, because now Tony took us from one bank to the other, going through the knee-deep river, zigzagging there and back again, before we pushed on, and those at the front found another water obstacle to loop through as those at the back caught up, until finally we arrived at our usual bridge.
My legs had definitely felt tired and stiff getting here, but I was happy that my feet and toes did not feel too cold despite the river crossings – the Inov8 socks are working very well for me.
Kirsten was not able to do much running today, so she stayed behind to attach the ropes to the bridge, while the rest of us made a run to the hills. Tony explained something completely different to anything we had done on this section before, and maybe it was my fatigue but it simply did not compute with me at all. Everyone else seemed clued up, so off we went with Dan leading the way, as he carried straight on past the point where we should have turned to go down into a ditch… It was steep going down and so much steeper trying to come up and out of it. I got near the top after a big effort and slipped back to almost half way, wondering if I would ever actually get out. Forget hill repeats, it felt like I was going to be lucky to even see the hill at this rate. I moved further over to the left and found more branches and debris to help me, finally making it out and being able to get back to the main track to continue my stumble up the hill. The climb out of the ditch had been very energy sapping and I was pushing to get any sort of upward movement as the hill loomed ahead of me, and now my hands were cold through my gloves. I definitely need better gloves for winter OCR stuff. Coming down the hill presented its own set of problems as my foot grip was hardly worth mentioning and any sort of pace saw me rushing headlong towards a tree trunk or some bracken. I have worn my current running shoes into the ground (literally) and my kit wishlist just keeps growing. I got to the bottom, did 10 push-ups, climbed over the gate and did another set of 10, before heading off on the loop again. This time as I neared the bottom of the ditch and was looking for a way up, Tony shouted at me to go further to the left, to pre-rig the obstacle, and, of course, he was right. The next couple of times getting out of the ditch were still a hard effort for me, but much easier than the first time.
Everyone else was bombing up and down the hill, and Kirsten joined us as we were some way into it. The next time I passed Tony he told me to call this my last lap and begin the run round to the bridge. I followed the track, and as I approached the bridge everyone else appeared from other routes. Everyone was getting ready for the bridge crossings when suddenly Kirsten spotted blood.
I had not realised I had grazed my knee until she pointed it out. It was very much only a flesh wound (if that !), but that was not going to stop me hamming it up, wiping a streak of blood down my cheek as photographs were taken.
Getting back to serious matters, I had not got near the water yet and my fingers were already freezing.
I could see that Kirsten had attached the 4 ropes along the bridge, to allow a J-lock traverse on the ropes from one end of the bridge to the other. That sort of move is still beyond me for the moment, so instead I climbed along the outer edge of the bridge, which was hard enough, given the state of my fingers.
To keep us warm (as if) Tony added in a run from the far side of the bridge to the top of hill and back, and once everyone had had enough fun trying not to dip in the water while hanging from the ropes, we began the run back to the cars for bacon rolls and pancakes from Rebecca, before clearing the cars out of the way of the morning church congregation, and heading home to get ready for an afternoon bouldering session at The Arch in Burnt Oak, Edgware.
I had covered 8.5 kilometres, Dan had covered 9.6 kilometres, and everyone else had covered somewhere in between. It had been a tough session, and had given me a very good idea of where I am with my fitness and OCR ability right now.