Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

Glenmore 24 | 12 Hour Trail Race – Race Report 2017

Glenmore 24 – 12 Hour Race
2nd September 2017

glenmore 24

Miles Ran: 45.984

8th of 16 Females
17th of 34 Runners

The Glenmore 24 event is one of the Scottish running scene’s hidden gems. Once a year, usually on the first weekend in September, a hayfield near the shores of Loch Morlich near Aviemore is transformed into a festival of ultra-running madness. Since it was launched in 2011 with 27 runners, BAM Racing have grown this event into a three-day spectacle with a Friday night themed party, 24 hours of beautiful trail running, and then a prize giving where every runners achievements are acknowledged.

You can choose to participate in the 12 hour event, which takes place from Noon until Midnight on the Saturday, the 24 hour run which starts at Noon on the Saturday, or you can find three friends and enter a team of four into the 24 hour relay.  Camping in the Hayfield is free, and organised with military precision by Cat, Mike, Bill and their team of marshalls, and you’re allowed a friend to come and support/bully you at basecamp in the Hayfield throughout the event.

Glenmore 24 Campsite

I ran the 12 hour event in 2014 and found the looped format a big challenge mentally. I distinctly remember getting very bored as soon as it got dark, and I really struggled with motivation to keep going towards a finish-line which didn’t exist. In the awful wet conditions of 2014 I managed 51.8 miles, and was quite happy to make that my one and only appearance on a looped ultra starting line. Time is the greatest healer, however, and for some reason last December when the events opened for entry, I decided that in 2017 I would give it another shot. For all the challenges of the run, the event itself is so enjoyable that I didn’t want to miss out on all the fun.

Glenmore 24 2017

Glenmore 24 2017

As it happened, I didn’t have the greatest day. I’m simply not trained for this length of running at the moment, and there’s only so far you can rely on base fitness and muscle memory. Predictably, I happily trotted the 4 mile loop hitting marathon distance in about 5 hours, was able to keep on pushing until 50k where things started to unravel, and then accepted that the wheels had truly come off my wagon and I was looking at walking for the rest of the event.

Glenmore 24 2017

That was ok – I truly didn’t mind. I enjoyed a social lap with my Stonehaven friend Vikki who I hadn’t seen in months, I walked a lap with the Race Medics, one of whom was brand new to ultramarathon medicine and learned a lot from this weekend of madness, and I walked a final lap by myself in the darkness which gave me some time to reflect on what was going on.

“If you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it”

It wasn’t a case of my body failing me, but to a certain extent it’s me failing my body. On the other hand, life in 2017 has been a tremendous challenge; dealing with bereavement, living apart from my husband, the associated constant weekend travel to see each other, moving house, selling a house,  a new job, and an increase in work travel too. Those are just the big things. There are a plethora of other micro-stresses which have been wearing me down and as a result I just haven’t been looking after myself in the same way that I used to. Recently my self-care strategy has been: “If you don’t want to do it, then don’t do it. If you are not going to enjoy this thing, go and do something you will enjoy instead”, which has been beneficial to my mental health, but not so much to my physical health. I really enjoy beer and burritos with friends. I don’t enjoy isolating myself from my new friends to go and train in the rain. Do you see where this is going?

A combination of putting on a noticeable bit of weight and not training for long distance carrying that extra weight (i.e 6hrs plus of running) meant that my core simply collapsed on me, making running absolute agony after a point. My legs felt reasonable, but my stomach muscles felt like they were splitting apart. The extra Rhona which I am carrying around on my tummy area at the moment had bounced around for too long, and my poor under-trained core muscles simply gave up. Let this be a lesson to all of us about remembering that building a strong ultra-runner starts with building a strong core – it’s the central system that literally ties us together and should never be neglected.

So with one more race this year on my calendar, the Chicago Marathon, I know what I need to do to enjoy this race as much as I can.  A little bit of core work every day and perhaps a little less beer, and then when I get back from America, I can (once again) start thinking about how I get back to being the strong ultra-runner I was a couple of years ago.

For now, please enjoy some pictures I took on my sunset lap of the course. The sun shone all day and the weather was truly gorgeous – what a difference from 2014!

Edinburgh Spartan Race | Spartan Beast Race Report

Edinburgh Spartan Race 2017
Spartan Beast – 15 miles

Edinburgh Spartan Race Medal

5 hours 40 minutes 25 seconds
‘Open’ Category
346th of 869
51st of 196 Females
14th of in 38 in Age Category

This time a couple of weeks ago, I was seriously considering my life choices. By 11am, I had been up since 6am and had been running up, down, and around the Pentland Hills in lashing rain and wind for nearly two and a half hours. Two months prior, I had been challenged by the race to take on the event of my choice from the Edinburgh Spartan Beast, UltraBeast, and Sprint weekend. This event was two days of obstacle course races which promised to challenge mental strength, endurance, grit, and perseverance as we tackled challenging obstacles in addition to running over punishing Pentland hills and terrain. I’m usually up for a challenge, so I decided to give it a go…

Spartan Race Edinburgh Route Map

From the events on offer, I selected the Beast distance which was stated to be between 12-14 miles. I was tempted by the UltraBeast until I saw it was a double loop of the Beast course, and thought that doing the course once would probably be enough. Spartan kindly offered me a place for a friend as well, so, being the generous wife I am, I signed Kynon up so that we could share the experience together.

spartan race logo

If you are a regular reader of RedWineRunner, you will know that I have never ran an obstacle course race before, but that I am a regular competitor in Scotland’s toughest and longest off-road ultramarathons. Distance, climbing, and endurance are my bread and butter, but I rarely step foot in a gym. Functional training looks like fun, but I never have time to go to the outdoor boot camp classes I see happening around Edinburgh. As a result, I can run for (actual) days but I don’t have a great deal of upper body strength beyond being able to bust out some push ups on command, and flex a mediocre gun show on occasion. My right arm is stronger than my left, as that’s the one I lift my pints with.

Earlier this year I shared my thoughts on tackling my first obstacle course race, and why I had decided to take part in a type of event which I have been known to be quite disparaging about. You can read the post HERE, but to re-cap; I always strive to provide evidence-based argument, and I was keen to see what all the fuss was about regarding obstacle course racing. It’s one of the fastest growing and most lucrative sports markets in the world, and a lot of people seem to be quite intimidated by it. To be a ‘Spartan’ is to allegedly have bragging rights, to have proven yourself against something (the thing is not actually defined – but it is said “You’ll know at the finish line”) and to have a selection of Spartan-branded ‘bad-ass’ pictures to share on your social media accounts (defined as a finisher benefit in race communications).

None of these factors hold any real draw for me at all, but I certainly was not intimidated by the concept of throwing myself around an obstacle course, even if some of it is was fire.  So, I accepted the challenge and went undercover to try and understand the mentality of the Spartans and their sub-culture. What makes people spend all their money to come back to these races around the country? What would being part of the Spartan Family feel like? And what on earth was I going to find out at the finish line?!

Edinburgh Spartan Beast

The awful weather was never going to be in doubt. The forecast all week had been for rain and wind all Saturday, but given how wet I knew I would get anyway, I didn’t really care. We arrived at the Spittal Farm site about 7.30am and got parked up before heading to the Race Festival. Spartan Race offers camping; useful since it’s in the middle of nowhere, so many people had elected to stay over the night before. This meant there were food trucks, coffee trucks, plenty of toilets, and a fairly genial festival atmosphere despite the rain. It’s worth noting that I obviously didn’t take my phone with me on the course, but I also didn’t take any pictures at the start because of the weather, so all photos from now on are used with kind permission of Spartan Race.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The race crew provided fantastic service and we were able to check in and get rid of our bags quickly and easily. We then sat down on some hay bales, ate some bananas, and took in the atmosphere. Edinburgh Spartan Race is a huge event, with waves of competitors starting from 6am to well into the afternoon. This meant there were 100s of people wandering around, upon whom I made the following observations:

  • Nearly everyone wears branded kit to participate – you enter the race through the Merchandise tent, and you can buy everything from Spartan shoes, to leggings, to iron-on patches.
  • OCR teams and clubs are a thing – lots of people were wearing custom team kit, which looks a lot slicker than your average running club vest.
  • It was a really international event! There were dozens of different languages being spoken, in addition to large numbers of Americans and Canadians, and over 30 countries were represented.
  • OCR racing has a very diverse participant profile and puts the Scottish Ultra scene to shame.
  • There were a number of people walking around on crutches or in orthopedic moon boots. This seemed to be a badge of honour.
  • Even though they were about to trek around an obstacle course, some people still wear costumes. There was a man in an actual Spartan outfit.
  • OCR racers don’t know how to use bins. The amount of litter being thrown around was atrocious.

We didn’t have too long to wait until our start at 8:40am, but in the meantime we chatted to Abby and her husband Jamie. It was nice to meet Abby in real life and they shared some last tips for survival with us. We had both elected to wear finger-less mountain bike glove-mitt things to protect our hands – apparently this is quite controversial in the scene, and you are either in Team Glove or definitely not. Maybe this is like the minimal/maximal footwear debate in ultras? Who knows.

At the start, there was a lot of shouting. A lady had a microphone and people were responding with vigour to her shouts, and jumping and cheering a lot. It was all a bit enthusiastic for first thing in the morning for me, and I also couldn’t hear what she was saying. However, off we went, and our big adventure had begun! I felt quite excited until I had to stop running after 50 meters to queue to traverse a small stream, and I hoped that this would not be a theme for the day.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Over the whole course there were over 30 obstacles. I’m not going to describe each one as I don’t have all day and neither do you. The first ones were mainly climbing over things and going through mud pits which was all fun and games, until we got the the first significant water obstacle. This was constructed using the natural environment and utilised a huge pond full of reeds, upon which was floating a large, wooden ladder-shaped construction, where the ‘steps’ of the ladder shape were actually about 3 feet wide. The challenge was to get into the water and then swim under the three wide wooden planks. This didn’t seem too bad from a distance, but when you were actually submerged in the freezing water, with your muscles paralysed with cold, getting underneath a flat, floating structure and out the other side safely, provoked a genuine ‘fight or flight’ fear reaction in me. For a second I wasn’t sure if I could do it, and nearly ducked out to do the 30 burpee penalty for skipping the obstacle, but my brain kicked in and took control – I’m in charge of what scares me, nothing else – and I took a deep breath and swum under.

HORRIFIC BRAIN FREEZE. I can’t describe the shock of the cold – I’ve never felt anything like it before other than being hit directly on the head with a blunt object. I emerged on the other side gasping and hyperventilating, before taking a few seconds to calm down and then swimming under the second, and the third. Getting out of the water, I jumped up and down and jogged around to try and regain full control over my body, and waited for Kynon to complete his burpee penalty after he decided he couldn’t do the obstacle. We went on together, and that was the last time I was dry until I finished five and a half hours later…

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The next few hours were a Tour de Force of physical challenges – not just climbing over and under things, but dragging breeze blocks on chains, balancing on posts, memory tests, carrying sandbags, tyres, buckets of stones, swimming across a loch, and huge leg sapping climbs to the summits of the hills. I can’t deny that this event was TOUGH, and challenged me in ways which I’ve never experienced. To that end, I also found I could do things that I didn’t know I could – apparently I’m actually a pretty solid contender in carrying a 20kg sandbag on my shoulders up and down a hill on  uneven, wet and treacherous terrain. I passed dozens of people collapsed around the carrying course, some just lying on the ground crying next to their sandbags. Guys, cheer up – you are PAYING to do this.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Mentally, the course was designed to mess with your head. You could see what was coming ahead in some places, and the carrying challenges were especially cruel as you could see how far your had to carry your bucket of rocks up ahead and how far you had to climb, only to come right back down the the start. There were some running sections between obstacles which were simply a hill rep – down half a mile over wet tussocky reeds and grass, around a cone, and back up again, just to be particularly cruel.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Don’t forget  the weather of course – the rain continued to lash down and the wind made the conditions on the tops of the hills very, very harsh. There was thick clag (fog) on the tops which at times extended all the way down to the Race Festival. Visibility was very poor and sometimes down to only a few feet in front of you. I’ve said this before, but, welcome to Scotland in July…

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Teamwork is a major part of many people’s Spartan Race. Operating as a pair we weren’t very efficient at climbing over the huge things, but just having someone there to encourage you was good. Sometimes other Spartans would help out too, but I didn’t see too much of the collegiate atmosphere which so many websites write about. On one occasion I helped a girl over a barrier and then she just ran off instead of helping me too – cheers mate, much appreciated. So I was glad that I had Kynon to keep my spirits up; that is, until he was done at about 10 miles/3h 30m in. The less said about this the better, probably, but the weather, lack of food and water, and water submersions took their toll and he was definitely done for the day when he was visibly blue, talking nonsense, and with numb hands and pins and needles in both arms. It’s not very nice to use your recently acquired Outdoor Emergency First Aid training on your own husband, nor to have him carted away with a body temperature of 35C and for you to keep going on the course, but I wasn’t going to let the Beast get both of us.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

You might understand that I had a bit of a sense of humour failure at this point. I was royally fed up of being wet and cold, I had no idea how far I had to go to the finish or how long it would take, and this daft event with its stupid testosterone-fuelled, all-or-nothing culture had hurt my husband. Amusingly, it was just after this that the event photographers popped up.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Edinburgh Spartan Race

So I charged on, sprinting past dozens of people who were just walking between the obstacles at this point, and just tried to get done as quickly as possible. I noticed that I was passing people from the elite and competitive waves which started before us, and there were no other women around (and actually, few other competitors in general). I wondered for a bit if I was going to inadvertently show up and accidentally place in my age category, which I found hilarious especially since I’d spent ages hanging around with Kynon when he was sick, and had done several time-consuming burpee penalties for failing obstacles.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The route took you cruelly close the the finish before fucking off up another hill for another mile to carry some logs, and then you came back down to the finish area. “Well done lady! You are putting all the men to shame!” said a marshal. Cool, but I just want to get this event done so I can make sure my husband isn’t dead.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

The last obstacles were right next to the finish festival. I gave them my best shot but I just couldn’t do the ‘Twister’ hanging traverse thing, and found myself doing more burpees in front of a handful of fed-up looking bedraggled spectators.  The final obstacle was two 8 foot walls which, by myself, I tried to get over and failed. No cheering, no encouragement, more burpees whilst people just stared at me throwing myself repeatedly into the muddy ground. This is what I found out at the finish line.

Edinburgh Spartan Race

Five hours and forty minutes later I took the ‘Fire Jump’ in my stride, declining the opportunity for the bad-ass social media photograph, and finally finished the race.  Having consumed 200 calories of gels in since my previously consumed banana at 8am, I was delirious with hunger and consumed the finish-line offerings like a rabid dog – I’ve never been so excited to drink a bottled bro-tein shake in my life.

I can imagine that if it had been a lovely hot July day it would have been great to dry out in the sunshine and enjoy a burger and a beer, but I was just so cold and done that I wanted to get home as quickly as possible. I got my kit bag and headed for the showers, only to find that they were just water bowsers with hoses. I couldn’t handle any more cold water, so I peeled off my wet clothes and struggled into some dry ones, and it was finally time to go home.

Some Closing Thoughts

  • Spartan Race is an extremely well-organised event, and it’s easy to see why it costs as much as it does to participate. The course was very well designed, and decorated with some very high quality obstacles. I would have liked to see some fuel on the course though – there was one water stop with bananas, but other than that the only thing which was on offer was water.
  • The litter situation was completely unacceptable. Participants were throwing litter away all over the course – in Scottish Hill and Ultra races, this is an offence which will result in disqualification. Hopefully Spartan Race collected it all, but they need to do more to change participants’ attitude.
  • The medal is amazing; very heavy duty and good quality, strung on thick, satin ribbon. Attached to it is a segment which you can use to complete a memento of completing a ‘trifecta’ of Spartan events. The Finisher TShirt is also great quality and very soft technical fabric.
  • Unfortunately, the ‘Fast Pass’ is a complete rip-off. I purchased two £12.50 ‘Fast Passes’ which give the user the benefit of ‘free’ parking and bag-check (usually £5 and £2), the ability to skip queues, and 10% off merchandise. Firstly, there were no queues and even if there were any later on, there was no dedicated FastPass lane. Secondly, in order to get any value from the 10% discount, you would need to spend over £55 in merchandise before you would see any benefit. So, I paid £24 to park one car and check two bags – things which could be purchased on the day for a total of £9.
  • I requested a breakdown of results from Spartan Race for the Beast, since it was clear that the race had taken its toll on a lot of entrants. Allegedly across all waves in the Beast, there were 1135 starters, and 1134 finishers, so only one DNF. Given that there was a guy who was literally unconscious in the ambulance with Kynon when he was being taken off the course, I’m reasonably convinced there were at least two… and that’s without going into detail about the dozens of other people in the medical tent. Kynon also received a ‘Congratulations on Finishing’ email the next day despite not being included in the race results, so I am not convinced about the accuracy of the race result processing. I’ve requested further updated results or comment from Spartan, but they are satisfied that these statistics are accurate.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have experienced this type of event for the first time. OCR racing is a different world from normal running, and is clearly developing a thriving community with their own standards and traditions. There’s no denying that the weather impacted my enjoyment of the event, but in general, I’m in no hurry to return to the Spartan or wider OCR scene. Kynon was fine once he got warmed up and fed, but I don’t think he’ll be back either…

Once again I’ve found that smaller, low-key events are what I enjoy the most. Thankfully there’s a wide selection of events out there to suit all tastes, so I’ll leave the Spartans to do their thing and I’ll go back to ultramarathons.

Did you take part in the Edinburgh Spartan Race?
Have you ever taken part in an event like this?

 

 

How To Sweep An Ultramarathon

Last month I returned to the West Highland Way Race for the seventh consecutive year. I have been involved in this race in three different ways – I ran it myself in 2015, I was support crew for runners in 2011, 2012, and 2016, and in 2013, 2014, and 2017 I have been part of the squad of race crew volunteers who make this amazing event happen. Specifically in these years, I have been part of the Sweep Team, who are a small but important group of runners outsourced by race control to look after the back end of the race. I’ve written ‘Race Reports’ of my sweeping experiences in the past (2013, 2014), but this year I’ve decided to take a more informational approach to my write-up of the 2017 West Highland Way Race. What does a sweep team actually do? How do we do it, and do we really need to be there? Read on for my thoughts on how to sweep an ultramarathon successfully, and how to avoid some common errors when planning for a task which can be surprisingly complicated…

West Highland Way Race 2013

What is a race sweeper?

A sweeper is a person, or team of persons, who stay at the very back of a race with the slowest participants to ensure their safety. Every organised race will have a sweeper or sweepers, but the longer the race, the more important they become. The reason they are there is to make sure the runners who are out the longest are given the support they need, to keep Race Control in touch with what is happening at the back of the race, and to provide additional support to marshals along the route. In the case of the West Highland Way Race, several of the team are also trained in Outdoor Emergency First Aid, and thus are able to respond professionally in a range of emergency circumstances on a route which in places can be very remote and exposed.

race sweeper

Sweepers are part of the Race Crew

The role of the individual sweeper when out on the course is very specific, but even when we’re not ‘running’ we are often required to be useful. Once the two sweepers have left each checkpoint behind the last runner, the remaining team members can help marshals to close the checkpoint, tidy up litter,  and pack up race vans before moving on up the course to the next checkpoint.  The nature of the West Highland Way Race means that sometimes there are several hours of dead time as the runners make their way up the route – occasionally we might be called upon to run back down the route to meet an injured runner or to provide other checkpoint assistance, but more often than not it’s a good opportunity for a cuppa or a snooze.

West Highland Way Race 2014

Organisation is key

Planning the execution of a sweep of a 95 mile trail race over a period of 35 hours is a real challenge, especially when the race is ‘point to point’ and your team of six sweepers are arriving by car from five different locations. Which cars do you use? Are people insured to drive other vehicles? How do you get people back to their vehicles at the end? How many miles are people capable of covering? What’s Plan B for every possible situation?

At the West Highland Way Race, experience has taught us that six is the magic number for the size of the race crew, and each member needs to be able to cover around 30-35 miles each, in two or three shifts. This means that we only need two cars for the duration of the race, and as long as most of the crew can drive vehicles that are not their own, we can share driving and running without the need for a dedicated driver. Any more than six people makes the car accommodations cramped and the logistics become more challenging. Sometimes the secret is just to keep it simple!

The final point on organisation, is that once you’ve agreed to a plan – stick to it once the race has started. Unless there’s a genuinely good reason to change plans on the hoof, the checkpoint teams and Race HQ will be relying on you being where you say you will be, and when. The sweep team race support plan is submitted to the Race Safety Officer in advance of the race, and it is generally assumed that this will not change on the day. We need to be a reliable asset to Race Management for the full 35 hours.

Make sure you’re fit

It goes without saying that if you’re going to cover 30-40 miles over the course of a weekend, then you need to be in reasonable shape. One of the unique challenges of sweeping, however, is the fact that you will very rarely be running or covering ground at your own pace. Due to being at the back of the race, much of your time on course will be spent walking, and walking very slowly in the latter half of the race. If you’re a fit road marathon runner, then you might need to do some hill walking to prepare your legs for the slog – walking for eight hours fatigues you in different ways than running for four hours does!

You’ll need to be mentally tough, too; do you know what 30 minute miles feels like when it’s 4am, you’re somewhere in the dark in the pouring rain, and you’ve been awake for 40 hours? It doesn’t feel good, but you’re not allowed to complain, ESPECIALLY within earshot of a runner. Your job is to provide support, not require it, so get ready to push through those mental barriers to do your job well.

with Marc and Scott

Take the right kit

You’ll need to be prepared for anything, especially in a race which lasts 35 hours and covers a variety of terrains in a climate which is notorious for change. Last year at the West Highland Way Race the temperature hit 25C, but this year saw a ‘feels like’ temperature of 1C and 40mph winds for much of the second half of the race. Oh, and it also rained solidly for the last 24 hours of the race, so there was that too. In June. Welcome to summer in the Highlands.

Also bear in mind that you will be covering your miles in two or maybe three shifts – if it rains as much as it did this year, that’s three entirely separate sets of kit. Waterproof jackets work well to a point, but even the best ones start to fail after being subject to hours of heavy precipitation, and there will be no way to dry anything until you’re home again on the Monday. Pack ALL your winter weather gear, and then go to your friend’s house to borrow theirs as well. Don’t forget to pack some binbags too – multiple sets of wet and sweaty kit in a car boot for a couple of days smells just as bad as you might imagine it does…

You’ll also need some peripheral equipment – a head torch, a spare head torch, spare batteries, spare batteries for your spare batteries, a midgy net, anti-midge spray, torch, first aid kit, and a backpack big enough for the emergency equipment we have to carry (bivvy bags, emergency shelter, radio, emergency flares). What are you going to eat? Are you sure you’re going to want to eat that at 4am in Kinlochleven? Preparing to be on a sweep team is a mammoth effort, but worth doing well for your own comfort and sanity.

west highland way race 2017

The runner always comes first

Sweeping a race, especially a huge challenge like the West Highland Way Race, is a very rewarding and enjoyable experience. But it’s not about you. Your number one priority at all times has to be the runners – from cheering them off on their way at 1am on Saturday morning, to coaxing the last one over the line 34 and a half hours later, your sole focus needs to be on their well-being and safety at all times.  It’s not an opportunity for a free race entry, it’s not about time on feet training, and it’s not about the opportunity to recce a route or just have a nice day out on the trails. As a member of the Race Team, you are there to do a job.

It’s about making sure the back of the field are moving quickly enough to meet the cut offs in the early stages. It’s about keeping the appropriate distance from them so you’ve got them in sight, but they don’t feel pressure about being last. It’s about making sure you leave no-one behind. It’s about providing stern encouragement to keep going when the first doubts start to come in at half way. It’s about staying close behind them climbing the Devil’s Staircase in the darkness in order to provide them extra light with your head torch.  It’s about making sure they’re eating enough in the latter stages when even their support runner is struggling to think straight. It’s about pushing them on relentlessly, yet kindly, in the last miles, when the tears are flowing and it hurts so much, but they still want it so badly. It’s about jogging into the Leisure Centre carpark a few steps behind and then subtly peeling off into the crowds to be invisible, so that nothing detracts from their moment of victory.

The final West Highland Way Race finisher of 2017. Photo by Christopher Burns.

Be flexible, and be ready for anything

There was that time one of our sweepers fell and twisted his ankle 12 miles in, and suddenly the careful mileage plan for everyone went in to the bin. Then there was that time when a car accident blocked the A82 and none of the support crews could get into Beinglas to fuel their runners. Or, what about that time someone got so angry at being timed out at Auchtertyre, that they threw a strop at the marshals and kept on running anyway? Or the one time that a runner was hallucinating so badly on Rannoch Moor that we had to carry them in to the next checkpoint, because he was so determined that the Mini Cooper blocking the path ahead was there to drive him home…

I have a lot of fond memories from my years as a West Highland Way Race sweeper, and I look forward to many more in future. It’s one of the most challenging things I’ve done outside of running the race myself, in fact, I’m sure I’ve been quoted as saying that I took a break from organising the sweep team in 2015 in order to run the race for a rest!

I firmly believe that everyone who runs ultramarathons needs to take a step off the trails to volunteer a few times a year. The satisfaction of giving back to your sport is huge, and the alternative perspective of seeing others execute their races is fascinating. It really builds the sense of community as well; ultramarathon communities are known for their family feel which keeps people coming back for more, and there’s nothing like volunteering at an event to whet your thirst to get back on a starting line yourself!

Have you ever swept a race before?
What’s your favourite way to give back to the running community?

Spartan Race – My First Obstacle Course Race

Ten years ago if  someone asked me what an obstacle course race was, in the first instance I would probably have described the Health and Safety nightmare of my Primary School sports days in the early 1990s. Being a proper country girl who grew up covered in mud and climbing trees, the obstacle course race was always my favourite and I relished the opportunity to climb over and under things, get covered in mud, and do my best to beat all the other children to the finish line.

Later in life when I returned to running, after growing tired of the roads, the countryside became my obstacle course once more. A long run would not seem complete unless I got the chance to cross rivers, hurdle fences and fallen trees, and return home muddy and bloodied, with a big smile on my face. To that end, as the stratospheric rise in popularity of the commercial obstacle course race became unstoppable, I have never felt drawn to participating in an official ‘OCR’ as they are now commonly known. Cost, location, and my perceptions of the dude bro jock culture which surrounds the sport are all elements which have made participation a low priority for me, despite regular pleas from friends to join their event teams.

spartan race logo

When an email arrived from the PR team at Spartan Race, challenging me to participate in one of their Edinburgh events, I was initially a bit skeptical. This was sooooo not my scene;  I’ve written in detail in the past about how I prefer small, low key events, and I wasn’t quite sure if this was the way I would want to spend a Saturday morning in the Pentlands. Also, having been the sole voice of dissent amongst obstacle course race converts, would I be ready to eat my words and take on the challenge? However, the opportunity arrived not long after I had decided not to run the Cateran Trail 55 mile race last month, and there was a small voice inside saying that perhaps a complete change might be fun. Doing something totally different might really shake up my training and they do say that…

“A change is as good as a rest…”

So on the 22nd of July, Kynon and I will be taking part in the Edinburgh Spartan Race, and will be participating in the ‘Beast’ event. This is between 12 and 14 miles in length, and features 30-35 Spartan obstacles around the stunning yet brutal Pentlands. Preparing physically for this event will require some extra work for both of us, as well as thinking about how to approach the race as a whole. I genuinely had no idea where to even start, so I asked a couple of blogger friends for their top tips…

Abby from Abbyadventures.co.uk

how to prepare for an obstacle course race

  • Get the right shoes. Your standard running shoes are not going to cut it in all the mud. You want to try and limit the amount of falling on your ass you do (it will happen at some point) so grippy trail running shoes are a must. I use Inov-8’s and swear by them. 
  • Make sure you wear quick drying, light weight running gear. There is a high likelihood you’re going to get wet. Wet clothes plus running can cause some rather unwanted chafing (in ALL the unwanted places). The quicker you dry, the warmer you will stay and the less chafed you’ll hopefully end up. 
  • Lastly, but most importantly HAVE FUN. Completing an obstacle course race is all about the mindset. Things are specifically built to challenge you to push through mental barriers; dark tunnels, heights, water, you name it, the race will probably have it. Yes, they can be scary, but if you approach them with a positive mind set you are far more likely to succeed. Plus your race photos will look a lot more awesome if you’re having fun! 

Stephen from Howmanymiles.co.uk

obstacle course racing

  • My two words of advice are “Monkey Bars”. Find a set and make them your home. So many of the obstacles involve pulling your body up and perfecting a pull up will help you. If you can’t find Monkey bars, then invest in a cheap door frame pull up bar and get hanging. 30 days of hanging will help with your grip, pull ups and general strength. 
  • You are going to get mucky and there is sometimes barbed wire, so keep your expensive kit at home.  The weather can make a huge difference, although once you are muddy and wet, it doesn’t really matter, apart from on the obstacles, so invest in a good pair of gloves. I’ve found that MTB cycling gloves are quite good but gripper gloves are better

Corey from Learning Patience

  • When participating in an obstacle course race it’s helpful to wear full-length leggings or capris, as they can protect your legs from rope burns or other injuries from the obstacles.
  • A good pair of gloves are essential – I use old sailing gloves.  You can usual buy gloves at the races, but these ones are never usually as good as those you can bring from home.  If you forget to bring your gloves or don’t have any on race day, definitely purchase some at the race as you will definitely need them, trust me.
  • Take your time and make sure you enjoy yourself.  These events are all about FUN! Relax and take your time – injuries happen when you rush so be careful and enjoy your day!

So – pull ups, gloves, have fun. This seems pretty straight forward, right? Spartan Race also provide a wealth of training guides and descriptions of their obstacles online which I’ve been examining carefully. I used to be quite good at Monkey Bars as a child, but since growing into a woman with thighs of steel yet the upper body strength of a gnat, a lot has changed. I also used to be quite good at climbing ropes in gym class, but 30 years later, looking at the 16ft rope climb out of a water pit has me doubting myself somewhat. As for getting over 8ft walls, I’m from a school of sporting thought where I believe that The Wall does not exist, but I’m not sure how efficient this will be in this race…

I have exactly a month until the race. I’m not sure how much I can do to strengthen myself within four weeks, especially without access to a gym, but I’ve looked out my kettle bell and I’ve been eyeing up the monkey bars in the play park across the street. This really is a journey into a different world for me and I’d be lying if I’m not a little bit excited to take on this new challenge!

Have you ever done an Obstacle Course Race?
If not, would you?
What are your top Obstacle Course Race tips?

Disclosure: Big thanks to Spartan Race who have given complimentary places at the Edinburgh Spartan Race for Kynon and I, and were also kind enough to send over some merchanise too. 

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