Nuclear Races – The Big One

On Saturday 19th May, when most were sipping on mimosas and watching the Royal Wedding, others were preparing for epic muddy fun at the Nuclear Secret Bunker.

For the first time, on a morning of an OCR race I woke to bright blue skies and promises of soaring heat. A perfect day to run a obstacle race, without fear of freezing after the water obstacles and, due to the lack of rain in the lead up I thought there would be less mud.

Boy was i wrong.

After a quick warm up, we were on our way and straight into the boggiest, stinkiest trenches you can imagine. Whether they were this way naturally or the event organisers ensured they were extra muddy, either way most participants were covered with mud within the first 5 minutes and the theme continued throughout the course.

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This race was called the “Big One” and it certainly lived up to its name. With a choice of 7km or 12km participants were faced with numerous obstacles, from natural muddy trenches and fallen tree trunks, to adrenaline fuelled zip lines and monkey bars over undulating terrain, there were challenging obstacles galore.

I was particularly excited about the “Lake” section of the course. Here participants had numerous water obstacles including the famous Death Slide. With the weather being so delightful the lake provided a refreshing break from the heat and mud. Previous OCR races have seen me shy away from many of the water obstacles for fear of remaining cold. This time round I embraced them with gusto.

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The Zip Line and Death Slide in particular were exhilarating – two of the obstacles I would quite happily enjoy over and over again. I definitely need further practice on the Death Slide, as where other racers remained upright, I entered the lake with an almighty back slap and gave myself a bloody nose in the process.

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For the second time I completed the 7km course alone, finding my own company and the ability to run at my own pace quite refreshing. To not have the pressure to keep up with others, to skip obstacles I was just not that comfortable with and to overcome many on my own was rather invigorating. That said – as with all OCR races – should you find yourself struggling there is always a stranger who will give you a friendly shove. The only place were it is socially acceptable for a stranger to have their hands on your backside and you actually appreciating it.

As with all Nuclear Races there is no pressure to complete all obstacles. If there is something you are not comfortable with, you can simply skip it without judgement or ridicule. I attempted around 90% – skipping the cargo net (I still have issues with cargo nets after Rat Race Dirty Weekend), and a few of the final obstacles where the panic of having too many people around when attempting something at height brought me out in a sweat.

What makes Nuclear Races so great is the way that no matter how many times you have taken part, you can never get bored. The route is always planned down to the minute detail, the organisation is always first-rate and the finish is always epic. The Big One saw a new addition, with participants sliding face down on a water slide to the finish line. A great way to end a race on a hot day.

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Yet another thoroughly enjoyable race day at the Secret Bunker!

In the lead up to the day I stated that the Big One would be my last OCR race, that I would be hanging up my muddy trainers and sticking to road races.

However, less than 24 hours later, whilst admiring my OCR kisses, cuts and walking around the house on stiff achy limbs, I signed up for the Big One in 2019. Though next year, I will have to spend more time preparing for the race itself – after all hauling your own body weight over many obstacles takes strength, something I was definitely lacking after less time dedicated to training recently.

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It is clear to see why Nuclear Races are known for their award winning fun. The atmosphere, the adrenaline and the spirit from organisers and participants alike is second to none.

If there is one OCR race I would happily be addicted to it is certainly those you can find at the Secret Bunker.

Roll on to the “Big One” 2019!

 

 

Letting go of a bad race.

When you have trained for months on end, clocking up hundreds of miles to prepare for race day and ironed out numerous issues with kit en route – the last thing you want is for the race to not go as planned. There is no doubt in your mind, especially if you have trained for the event, that the number one goal is finishing.

That was my goal for the Isle of Wight challenge. Yes, it would have been nice to achieve a great time too. But the number one aim was to finish, to fight my way through the whole 106km course.

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I never imagined a scenario where it would not happen. I had trained, I had great company to keep me going, I was feeling great.

But as detailed in my Isle of Wight challenge write up, it went terribly wrong through no fault of my own. An unseasonal heat wave on the island saw us trek in 26 degree heat, that felt like 30 degrees plus! All day in the sun, with no shade and no breeze saw me suffer more than I ever have done before.

The winter months prepared me for the long distance, for all kinds of weather. But for a heat wave – there was no way we could have prepared for that in our unpredictable winter months.

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To say that I have given myself a hard time since would be an understatement. It has been constant – believing that I had failed, that I had not prepared enough and complete devastation.

I’m sure many of us have experienced this. The bad race. The one that you had prepared for but the one where your body just would not co-operate.

It has taken weeks and weeks to let it go. And despite many people telling me achieving just half of the distance is simply amazing – you just don’t quite believe it. Your worst critic is yourself and I have certainly been that

So how do you get over that bad race?

  1. Wallow! Allow yourself to have time to mope, cry and vent about your performance. After all – there has been a serious investment into training. So if it does go wrong disappointment is natural. You should be allowed have a little vent. I’m sure many have done so at some point or another.
  2. Look at the positive aspects. Think about what you have achieved and the lead up to getting there. Despite crying from 40-53km I managed to find the strength to get to the half way point. Many times during this distance all I wanted to do is quit – but I didn’t. And I had to think about all the training miles. The Sunday mornings hiking through Epping Forest and the Hertfordshire countryside, with my team mates, and developing a stronger faster stride in the process.
  3. Analyse your performance. Once the emotions have subsided you will be able to think about what went wrong on a rational level. As weeks have passed I know the main factor that was detrimental to my performance was the heat – something I have no control over. What I did have control over was my intake of fuel. I drank litres and litres of water, so my fluid was not a problem. However, due to the heat the thought of food was making me nauseous. So I did not take on much fuel and became weak as a result. Next time round I need to tweak this to ensure I have enough energy to aid performance.
  4. Set new goals. After allowing myself some time off to relax and reflect I am now in the right head space to look at my goals, adjust them and prepare for them. The week after the Isle of Wight I had a 10 mile race scheduled, but knew I was not in the right mind to take part – so I didn’t. Instead I focused beyond that, to Nuclear Races on the 19th May, and decided that would be the event where I would get my focus back. Bar some cuts, bruises and an extremely achy body the next day, it did the trick. And this weekend (now my body is healed from Nuclear), I am ready to get back into a training schedule.
  5. Manage your expectations. It is all well and good training for months and months, but if something happens that is beyond your control: if there is a heat wave, if you pick up a cold; you have to be realistic – on those days you will not be at your best. You will most likely not be looking at a PB. So manage that, prepare for that and enjoy the race anyway. See it as another training opportunity.

Despite many weeks passing, going through a long process of analysis and generally moping about, I now know what I achieved was more than the average person could achieve.

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Yes, I am still disappointed. But the challenge was extreme, the conditions were on the same level and at the end of the day I made the right decision for how I was feeling on the day.

So if you are feeling that post race disappointment. Shake it off, re-focus your energy on the next challenge and get moving again.

A day trip to Brussels

With the wonders of Eurostar one can jump on the train and within a couple of hours be in one of many cities in Europe.

A few years back I decided to catch the first train to the picturesque city of Brussels for a day of exploring, culture and waffles.

The day started early, picking up the first train out of London St. Pancras and travelling through the English, French and Belgian countryside. Within a couple of hours I was stepping off the train in the centre of Brussels.

With only a few fours to spend exploring the city I had the sights I wanted to see planned out ready on foot.

The first stop was the Grand Palace – the central square in Brussels. Surrounded by the city’s Town Hall and the King’s House containing the Museum of the City of Brussels. Considered one of the most beautiful places in the world, the square is well known for it’s decorative buildings and it did not disappoint. With the bright blue skies in early May the UNESCO world heritage site was something to be seen. Surrounded by chocolate shops and cafes – the square was simply bustling with activity and certainly the centre of the city.

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A very short walk away from the square you will stumble across St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, rather impressive with its Gothic architecture inside and out. Free to enter, visitors can wonder inside taking in the beauty of the stain glass windows, organise a guided tour or join one of the Holy masses.

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Just a few minutes away from the cathedral you can wonder into the beautiful parks of Parc de Bruxelles – the largest urban park in the centre of Brussels. The 32 acre rectangular park offers a tranquil space away from the main hub of the city. Here I spent some time soaking up the sun whilst enjoying an ice cream and taking in the various surroundings within.

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If I was visiting for longer than a few hours I would have simply picked a spot with a good book and a bottle of wine and spent the whole day soaking up the sun without a care in the world.

13164316_10156996567775604_6471930074454933876_nFurther afield I stumbled across yet another beautiful space – Parc du Cinquantenaire, a national landmark in Brussels. The impressive arches of Cinquantenaire, home to an art and army museum, can be found outside the inner circle of the park. If time is on your side you can climb to the top of the arch for free to see a great view of Brussels and the European Quarter. For those who are just interested simply wonder around the park itself, take pictures of the beautiful surroundings, run, walk or simply sit on one of the many benches with a good book.

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The Royal Palace of Brussels situated at the front of Brussels Park, the official palace of the King and Queen of Belgians. Open to the public for free in the summer visitors will have access to certain rooms of the palace, like the Mirror Room with the artwork “Heaven of Delight” – artwork consisting of a thousand beetles stuck to the ceiling. Sadly, I visited on a Monday when the palace was closed to visitors. So I only got to admire it from the outside.

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The smallest sight I saw on my day trip to Brussels was the Mannequin de Pis – the small bronze statue depicting a naked boy urinating in the fountains basin. Of all the sights to see not only was this the smallest but also the one that seemed to be attracting most visitors.

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No trip to the Belgian city would be complete without a visit to one of the many chocolate shops or a pit stop for a waffle or two before jumping on the train back to London.

Despite being in the city for a short few hours I managed to clock a good few miles and many impressive sites.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a day trip on the Eurostar I would thoroughly recommend considering Brussels as your destination. With its beautiful architecture and culture it makes for a wonderful day trip.

 

The Isle Of Wight Challenge

When I signed up for the Isle of Wight Challenge with Ultra Challenges I never imagined anything but reaching the finish line.

From the minute I committed to the challenge, the training began. Pre Christmas saw me racking up the mileage alone, then as the New Year rolled in I started training with my team mates and old boot camp friends.

Every weekend would see us increasingly mileage, meeting in carparks in an un-godly hour of Sunday morning and building up our endurance for the challenge ahead. Training in wet, windy and, on numerous occasions, bitterly cold, snowy conditions.

We racked up hundreds of miles over the months in the lead up to the Isle of Wight. I felt that my fitness had taken a turn for the better. I was training with many others who were faster and taller than me – so my walking speed and endurance had improved. I have overcome many issues with footwear, socks and blisters. And although I was extremely nervous about the day itself – I was more prepared than I have ever been for any challenge.

I never imagined I would feel how I felt on race day.

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The morning saw us wake to a beautiful sunny morning. Not a cloud in the sky. And at 7am there was already no need for any more layers other than a t-shirt. We knew it was going to be warm, so we had to ensure we take precautions.

The excitement and nerves were evident at the start line. As a group in one of the last waves, we saw many participants head out before us. I felt good, I felt strong and I felt capable.

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Soon enough we were on our way from Chale, with stunning views along the south coast of the Island in front of us. Everyone in our group was in high spirits, chatting away and enjoying the scenery whilst tackling the task at hand.

We breezed our way through to the first rest stop, quickly taking in supplies and using the facilities, before continuing our way along the coastal path.

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The views along the route were simply to die for. With the sea sparkling below us and the sun shining so brightly you would have thought we were somewhere in the Mediterranean rather than a little island off the south coast of England.

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As the heat of the day continued to climb, so did our ascent. The terrain provided a number of up hill climbs towards the west coast of the island and the Needles. One particular climb was somewhat of a beast after Fresh Water Bay, just as you thought you were at the top you see the hill goes on and on – providing you fantastic views once at the top.

It was just after this climb that our second rest stop approached. Time to take a seat, change into a fresh pair of socks and refuel.

Here I discovered a couple of blisters on my baby toes that needed dressing before doing so. They were quickly seen to and with a change of footwear too – we were quickly on our way.

Needles to West Cowes was the second leg of the route. Still in high spirits we trundled on along the waterfront – extremely envious of those paddling, sitting down to an afternoon drink or just having an ice cream by the sea. With the heat now soaring – I would have given anything to kick off my shoes and go for a paddle myself.

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The previous day we were pre warned about a particularly bad stretch of path between 30-50km. We were advised that it was boggy, wet and we had to take extra caution. With the heat of the day I believed that this would not be the case when we reached the 30km mark. I was wrong. You knew when you reached it, there were queues of participants waiting to tackle the area.

Boggy does not cover it. It was the most soul destroying part of the route. Not only did you have to try and tackle the path as quickly as possible, but you also had to try to remain upright without loosing a shoe. It was relentless, it felt like it went on for miles and with the amount of people taking part it took forever. It slowed us down, draining precious energy and also led to aches we did not account for. No where in our training did we encounter a terrain as this – and we had trained over farmers fields in the winter.

Soon enough we were back on road and woodland paths, with another rest stop approaching.

I could no longer feel the ache of the blisters on my baby toes, but instead my ankles just throbbed. The boggy terrain and consequential uneven footing had taken its toll. Refuelling again (at this point I had got through 6 litres of fluid), taking some painkillers and rubbing in some Voltarol, and then it was time to head off. Next stop 52km break point, dinner and the switch to the night gear ready for the dark hours.

A shift happened between the two rest stops. The team broke away slightly, with a couple walking faster ahead and the majority slowing down slightly. The heat of the day was still intense, I was taking on more and more fluids – with little effect. I felt severely dehydrated, despite high volumes of water, I suddenly felt incredibly weak and nauseous.

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This section of the route saw us having to navigate numerous styes as we trekked through farm lands, and I found myself having less and less energy to lift my legs to get over.

Out of no where, around the 40km mark I started to cry. I had no idea why, but it kept coming. With the crying, came panic. I had not yet reached the half way point, we were a good few hours away from that, and I had no energy. I needed to eat, to get that much needed fuel to carry on, but I felt sick at the thought. I was in utter despair, going through a cycle of balling my eyes out, panicking and swearing profusely.

Then came another boggy section, with styes too. Shortly followed by a number of ambulances, attending to other participants suffering from heat exhaustion and even a rumoured broken leg. It seems the days heat and course had started to take its toll – we passed many others who were treating blisters on the curb, being rescued by loved ones and some just looking defeated. Those who were still walking in groups barely uttered a word to one another.

I don’t understand how I managed to find the energy; but spotting one of my team mates slightly ahead I picked up the pace. I knew I needed to keep up to get through to the half way point.

I had made a very difficult and upsetting decision to end my journey at 52km.

There was no energy left within me. The heat of the day and the terrain had taken everything from me, and as the sun began to set on our approach to the half way rest stop – I felt my temperature beginning to drop to the point that I was shivering uncontrollably.

I knew I could not make it through the night hours in my current state.

On seeing my face, the tears and the distress, my team mates knew it was not something they could talk me out of. The island had completely broken me. I had nothing left to give.

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And after waving them all off into the night, promising to be waiting for them on the other side, I felt a sense of relief and disappointment. Relief, knowing that I did not have to attempt to keep up with everyone else when I was feeling so drained, but so utterly disappointed and frustrated with my body for failing me.

I had trained hard for this one, walking further in training that I actually did on the day. But on race day itself my body bucked against the conditions.

Making the decision to finish at the 52km mark was soul destroying. It was not what I trained for, it was not in the plan. I never enter a race to say at the end “let’s just do half.” That’s not who I am. The finish line is always my goal. But after feeling wretched for miles and miles, I was genuinely concerned I would be putting my health at risk continuing into the night hours. So I made that call.

On crossing the 106km finish line the following morning, my team mates assured me I had made the right decision for me. I had finished the half distance in 11 hours 44 minutes, the 106km distance saw them on their feet for 27 hours with very little rest.

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And now, 5 days later I am still questioning my decision. I keep trying to think back and remember if it really was that bad. Was I really feeling so awful that the only choice was to give up? Not only do I still feel that I failed, I feel that perhaps I don’t have the determination I thought I had and that I am now just a quitter.

When so many people managed to fight through to the end, why could I not push myself on?

The Isle of Wight challenge will be one of those that will haunt me.

A race where I will always think “what if”?

In the wake of the event will I ever be able to stop questioning the decision I made and my overall ability?

Will I ever be able to lay it to rest?