In the time waiting for delivery of suitable imagery for this post to embellish my blog I have had the opportunity to compose my thoughts on the weekend’s challenge, and I am still struggling to find the words that do full justice to the experience. Perhaps those words simply do not exist yet!
I left for work an hour earlier than usual to make up the time for a half day before heading across London town to get my little orange easybus. I have to admit – I am not sure exactly how I got any work done all morning, I was just too excited. Luckily I also managed to sneak onto the earlier bus than booked which meant I go to the airport in plenty of time – not the first though, Dan had been even more cautious and was there super early. It was great to meet everyone as we turned up in our ones-and-twos, and it really still hadn’t sunk in as we checked in, collected boarding passes and headed through to the departure gates.
Even as we boarded the tiny plane, never heard of germanwings before – but it was a pleasant flight with comfy seats and plenty of leg-room so I’d use them again, I was kind of waiting for Jeremy Beadle to pop up from beyond the grave as a “got’cha” moment.
But, almost before it could sink in, the plane was coming in to land in Cologne, and a speedy (when he arrived) driver made full use of the autobahn’s de-restricted zones to get us to the hotel. Sincerest thanks at this point have to go to Fisherman’s Friends for putting us up in such fantastic style, and in particular to Nikki & Nicole who managed admirably to control and organise a bunch of excited lads all weekend! As a photographer I also want to give a shout to Stephanie who came out with us and did everything she had to (I think she got muddier and wetter than we did) to get the shots that covered the race.
The Strongman Run is fast becoming ‘The Race’ to do in adventure/offroad/obstacle course races, and with very good reason. The build up to the event on the website has been great, but also kind of vague with distances anywhere between 11 – 13 miles being bandied about – in the end it was more like 14 – it is rightly advertised as the longest obstacle course in the world. Walking to the track on Saturday morning the atmosphere was simply electric as German heavy metal bands played on the stage – even if we couldn’t see them through the thick fog and drizzly rain that had engulfed the circuit. In fact the weather had drawn in so much that with not long to go, the start was pushed back 30 minutes, and apparently very nearly cancelled all together. The saving grace was that although the place where all the spectators would be – the main grandstand/pitlane area – was almost invisible, the wooded areas and open fields were OK. Had they been shrouded in fog too it is likely the organisers would have to pull the plug.
At the startline, the German commentator was getting the crowd going, and the excitement was buzzing. To top it all off a stirring rendition of ‘You’ll never walk alone’ in particular by the Liverpool fans Stuart & Lee was a real heart in throat moment as we prepared for the off.
And didn’t go anywhere….
I know it’s the same in any of these big races, but 10000 entrants trying to get going held us back by about 12-13 minutes before we started snaking our way around the circuit. Just 2km down the course, having already negotiated a gravel trap and a set of stairs, the first proper muddy obstacle loomed into view. And there it stayed for a good 30minutes as 10000 people tried to squeeze through a gated opening at the bottom of a slippery mud slope which only really accommodated 2-3 people abreast at any time. At this point, slipping around in the mud I just felt on top of the world, I was a little unnerved at having been split from TeamGB, with a union jack on my vest and one painted on my face amongst a horde of Germans, but we were all in it to have fun!
The course was basically all mud, and on a continual camber as we ran around the side of a hill, my hip flexor started to give way pretty early on. Obstacle 4 was a real low point for me though, at this point I managed to make up 20 minutes over my teammates as evidently I cut a queue here somehow before dropping into the tunnel of mud. When they said it was a meter deep they weren’t lying. I was fearful of losing shoes even though they were tied up nice and tight, and at times it was almost impossible to move. I finally emerged from the tunnel, my shins bleeding from the gravelly stuff in the mud, and my legs and feet about 5kg heavier from all the mud that was attached. I was feeling miserable at this point – only obstacle four, how was I meant to get to the end (twice). Luckily, a tiny stream ran along the side of the path here and I was able to at least lose a little of the mud from my shoes and hands.
After the super fun water slide came the ‘hill of horror’ as I have decided to name it (not an ‘official’ obstacle but the worst part of the race for me) just an almost vertical slope that had been reduced to mud and we had to go straight up. If you lost your footing you’d be straight down taking dozens of others with you (see 1:40 on video below). Just over the top of this, fellow TeamGB member Rob caught up with me and we made it through the remaining obstacles of the lap together including the hay bales, the swimming pool, the electrocution and the cargo nets. This really helped me get my mind back into the task from the misery of the 4th obstacle so I am very thankful to Rob for this.
Heading off for the second lap I was having a blast again, though a little apprehensive about the queues. Thankfully though the field had eased up a lot by then and it was on the whole pretty plain sailing. I had joked previously about the thousands of others pulling all the mud and water out of the obstacles, and by the second lap – all the mud in the first obstacle was gone. The moans of despair and disappointment as people jumped into an empty basin was rather amusing!!
Dan and Logan came past me between obstacles 3 & 4, and were looking strong. I took the ‘pussy lane’ at 4, but looking up so had the others – even if they walked it whilst I caught Rob up again as we crawled along on hands and knees. The next stretch was the 11% hill with added hay bales which aggravated Robs calf issues, and I headed downhill to the water slide. For Health & Safety(?!?) reasons the slide was closed and we had to take the stairs, I’d hoped that perhaps this meant that the hill of hell would be closed too, but as it reared its ugly head through the fog, it became apparent I was going to be going up and over again!!
The fog appeared to have really pulled in around the race track now, and I could barely see the final obstacle in front of me until I was almost upon the first run of tires. With my cat-like agility I bounded along the tires, up the first container, across the cargo net, and as I clambered onto the double height container all I could suddenly hear was ‘The Offspring’ coming from the finish line speakers. As I’ve mentioned before these guys are my ultimate interval workout playlist, and I just beamed from ear-to-ear, scrambled down the last hay bales, charged across the 15-20meters of tyres and ran my little heart out for the finish line. It might not have looked like that in real life – you can see my finisher video here – but it sure felt like it, and when Steph was at the finish to take my picture I just couldn’t stop smiling.
I headed back to the VIP area, exhausted and exhilarated and was so happy to share this moment with all the guys that had made it back, and those following me in. Handshakes and congratulations all round, and a celebratory beer as I got some good hot food from the buffet to begin the process of refuelling my tired limbs. We were all cold, tired and hungry but you could see looking around our small group just what we’d been through and how much we had all taken from the experience.
I was a strongman, and finally I felt a little like I deserved to be there with a bunch of truly inspirational guys – ultra-runners, world-record holders, personal trainers, iron-men, and now here I was, a Strongman among Strongmen, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face – or evidently, the face paint :-)
What happened in the following 15 hours are details possibly best left in Germany, but the VIP support from Fisherman’s Friends was unwavering until I left the party at 2am. And I had a good laugh at others expense when they rolled in to breakfast a little bleary-eyed to say the least. Sunday was definitely a day of rest and relaxation as we had a little wander around the complex and filled the time before our ride back to the airport (it was either 6am or 7pm, I am glad they went for the latter option). A quick flight home and it was time to say goodbye to everyone, I felt like I’d left the group a better person – certainly a more inspired person!
And the time? Well, my official finishing time was 4:03:05, just 18minutes and 9seconds faster than 26.2 miles took me last Sunday – but at the end of the day, time is not really what this was all about, it was the journey that I took to the finish line that was most important.
So, 1700 words later I am still not sure I’ve expressed exactly what I’ve taken away from the experience – I am not convinced I have the word skill to express it perhaps. The other guys have summed it up well, I particularly like Dan Cartwright’s blog (written to his kids) which cover many of the emotions of the event for me too!
But I used the bank holiday to dig out my weights from the garage, set up a little ‘gym’ space in the spare room, and looked at how I can use all this inspiration and motivation to push me forwards and make me fully deserving of the ‘strongman’ title!!!