After lumbering my way around the course of the Bristol Half Marathon last weekend, the next phase in “Operation Complete Not Compete” was the Men’s Health Survival Of The Fittest (SotF) in Cardiff on Sunday.
This one had been in the diary for a long time, in fact there had been a plan to really push on from the fitness gained for Pen-y-fan and work hard on some upper body strength and stamina so I could have a proper go at this course. Supposedly 10km (it was actually closer to 12km) around Cardiff Bay with 50 obstacles in 10 sections to overcome, this was much more than a foot race and after doing Mud Runner earlier in the year I knew I had work to do if I was going to swing across the monkey bars like any sort of athlete! I’d been running lots, but it’s come at the cost of any cross-training or weight lifting and that had started to become obvious.
Unfortunately the injury meant all plans went out the window and I actually got to Cardiff in worse shape than I was in 5 weeks ago, but at least I was on the start line and they do say that’s half the battle! The event itself was incredibly well organised, the event village in Roald Dahl Plas was busy with competitors registering, drinking free Red Bull and making the all important final toilet stops. I was there over 2 hours early as I had to register and pick up my number/t-shirt but with the first wave going of shortly after I arrived I had fun watching the warm ups and seeing runners hurl themselves in to the first obstacles…the giant hay bale blockades straight out of the starting gate! I also had plenty of time to eye up the “Wall Of Fame”. Historically the final obstacle on the course (but this year followed by a freezing cold plunge pool on the finish line) the wall is over 8 feet tall (which I most certainly am not, even on tip toes with my arms stretched above my head!) and completely smooth. I watched the first finishers from wave 1 get back and tackle it, they all scaled it like athletic lemurs, hardly breaking stride as they jumped, pulled and vaulted up, over and safely down the other side. I knew I could run through the distance but watching them launch from great heights and land light as feathers reminded me that my own trick ankle might not take that sort of punishment and to take all the obstacles very easy…how much longer can I cite my injury as an excuse?! (I think the answer is until the Aviator 10k in November. No reason by then I can’t start thinking about working harder and faster, all being well…)
So after psyching myself out, drinking enough “Toro Rojo” to fuel a locomotive and making use of the “facilities” at least 6 times (there were no doubts about being hydrated enough at least!) I joined the warm up for wave 9, did some star jumps, downed an energy gel (more psychosomatic than anything, I needed every boost I could think of) and hit the start line.
If you’ve never done one of these events before, be prepared to run. On school sports day they managed to fit all the obstacles in to 100 metres, but in S0tF you can easily go a kilometre without encountering anything more problematic than a zebra crossing (the race is run on open roads and paths so traffic was an issue but never a problem…thanks for your patience drivers of Cardiff!) When the obstacles do come though they are as challenging as anything I’ve encountered. The hay bales in the first few metres caused a bit of a bottleneck but I was soon up and over those (although I was very careful jumping down the other side, which became a bit of a theme for the day). Next up was a maze of fencing and bollards, swiftly followed by what seemed an unnecessarily high and unfeasably wobbly pair of scaffolding pyramids. I’m not great with heights, wobbly ones especially, and trying to get over them right leg first each time meant being an aerial contortionist! Onwards through slippery ramps, cargo nets, monkey bars (which I crossed through sheer will and determination and my arms are still complaining about now!)and just as my tired legs started aching they were treated to a refreshing dip in the baltic cold of the River Taff (complete with smug canoeist in waterproofs with a big splashy paddle. Bastard)
The parkour section was a tricky one, lots of jumping and climbing required and I took that very slow, then it was on to the home of Welsh rugby and a tour of the Millenium Stadium. Sounds nice huh? Not when it involves stairs all the way up and all the way down again! (was nice to be reminded that even with their lovely ground Twickers is still considered rugby HQ by the world though). A long run back to the bay, and finally I hit The Wall. I’m not ashamed to admit I only tried once before looking to a fellow competitor for assitance. I was tired, sore and hadn’t grown at all so I need the leg up he gave me, but that was the norm by this stage with competitors assisting, cheering and applauding each other as we all took a final brave leap in to the cold plunge pool and dragged our broken bodies over the finish line to collect medals, goody bags and the adulation of the crowd.
In a total of 1hr40m54seconds I had covered the ground, crawled along it, climbed off it, jumped back down to it, carried sandbags across it and loved every minute! I can’t remember all the obstacles, or all the highlights from the day, but I can remember smiling all the way round and I’m pretty sure that next year I’ll be back with a sub 1hr30m time in mind. I may not be the fittest, but I did survive!
Next weekend is my first duathlon…no rest for the wicked they say, I must be the devil himself!