6.7 miles – 49:30 I woke on Monday morning feeling surprisingly fresh from Sunday’s long run but tired after a long week at work and noticing the affect of only having one day off. I wanted to start the week as I meant to go on so I met Jamie at the gym in the morning for some cardio and ab work. Monday is Grange Farm training night at the running track in Braintree. This is easily one of my favourite sessions of the week, however whenever I’m marathon training or racing frequently I struggle to attend the sessions due to fatigue from the bigger mileage weeks. Feeling good I planned to attend the session for the first time in weeks and decided to try to motivate Dan to join me for the evening. In typical Mr Reynolds behaviour he took a little persuasion, but I was armed with the perfect ammo to get him out and off his backside….. a simple but effective screenshot of his weekly Strava activity.
Truthfully it’s not down to laziness, Dan is a great runner but is incredibly committed to his busy job which tends to scupper some of his training and the time he is able to commit. Unlike me, Dan also has a much busier social life so running isn’t always a priority in his life like its seems to have become an addiction in mine. Once again Dan working in London saw him struggling to make it to track in time, that with both usual coaches Chris Hayhow and Steve Read missing I decided to not let him off that easy and meet him at his for an easyish run before watching a bit of football. The weather was horrible, thunder and lightning greeted us for the entirety and I don’t think either of us would have run if we hadn’t the company of the other.
8.1 miles – 54:42 Tuesday was another incredibly busy day at work and although we managed to get a good lunch gym workout in, I ended up working until past 6 o’clock. On the drive home I really was contemplating not running at all as the daylight faded and the wind seemed to pick up with each passing minute. I diverted my journey past Hatfield Forest on the way home, hoping that passing so close to the the entrance would entice me in. Thankfully it did and I made myself run, planning to at the very least just log some more miles. As I started the run I felt lethargic and unmotivated but I bargained with myself to try just one rep if it didn’t feel good or too diffucult then I would stop and just make the evening run a slower more pleasurable one. Thankfully once I got going my legs felt pretty good and I was able to perform the full session of 4 x 4 minute reps with active recovery covering around 1.2 km each rep.
14.6 miles – 1:44:13 A 6 am alarm and back in the gym for an early morning fasted interval session on the treadmill. Joined by Jamie we ran 2 min intervals with 2 minute active recoveries. Running with the treadmill on .5% gradient (I always do, just because I heard it’s better for my knees a few years ago plus making a little harder can only be good for me right?) The intervals alternating from 20kph to 13.5kph during the intervals. 5 x each (22 minutes)
Another incredibly busy morning at work meant I could have done with a lunch break of relaxing but having a training partner in Jamie we were heading back to the gym for an hour workout on the weights. I have always enjoyed weight lifting but I do get a little frustrated not being able to lift anywhere near what I could a few years back when I wouldn’t run much more than 10 miles a week. However once again I worked reasonably hard alongside Jay and as always the hour flew past and I was back at work on the tools before I knew it. The evening threw up another mid week medium long run with the plan saying 15 but another long day seeing me finish at gone 6. I decided I would just run until it got dark or I had enough. After 8 miles I had a decision to make to turn away from home and run down the river ending up running at the very least 15 miles but with light fading, wind picking up and clouds drawing in I decided I wasn’t enjoying the run all that much so turned back for home. The light faded fast and the final miles were completed in what I would come to expect from a winters evening, cool temperatures, driving wind and darkness. I completed 11.3 miles in 1 hour 22, the run was once again aimed at having time on my feet so although a little disappointed in myself not completing the distance, I run because I enjoy it and I wasn’t enjoying the run. The positive is I felt fine at the end and my confidence in my knee continues to grow.
5.7 miles – 40:27 It was late night at work once again. Wanting to have two easy days of running but still wanting to get out on my feet. I got my run in before work knowing that once I finished my shift I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything but get home to bed. I ran 5.7 miles averaging just over 7 minutes per mile getting in a solid and enjoyable 40 minutes. At lunch it was back to the gym with Jamie for another workout in our break before eating a KFC for dinner that my stomach didn’t seem to enjoy as much as my taste buds.
5 miles – 33:19 A much needed day off before yet another busy weekend both physically and socially. With no alarm set, I still woke pretty early but it was nice to get ready for the day ahead at my own pace for a change. The reason for the day off was to spend some time with my other love in life, my wife Clare. The main focus of the day off was for the same reason I had a Friday off 8 weeks previously, to check up on baby Bosh that will be joining us in February next year. Everything was fine and to say we are both excited is an understatement. As everyone keeps informing me, my running may have to take a back seat in the near future but this has turned into a lifestyle as well as a hobby so although sacrifices will be made in order to prioritise and try to be as good a parent as I was lucky enough to have growing up, don’t think I’m going anywhere and it may just kick me into gear to make the most of future sessions.
Nuclear obstacle races are not new to me, having participated on many previous occasions but this event format however was completely alien. As if OCR’s aren’t difficult or dangerous enough Nuclear Races annually host the Blast and Blackout events. Both events follow the same format of having the opportunity to complete as many 5k laps as you can in 2 hours. Both events are held on the same day following almost identical courses, except the night run enters the Secret Nuclear Bunker before rejoining the original course.
My plan was to try and complete around 4 laps in the time allocation, using it as a decent training run as well as trying to learn how to master obstacles while fatigued and practising different techniques at speed. The race was also only my third OCR of the year and my second while being a part of Team Muddy Kit so I wanted, and intended, to do well. As with almost all obstacle races that I do I was attending the event alongside Dan. We arrived at Nuclear in good time mainly thanks to the convenient and local location of the event. The race village, located on the opposite side of the road to the normal Nuclear events, was well thought out and had plenty to offer. As with all events I have participated in at Nuclear the car parking, registration and bag drop were all effortless and brilliantly organised. Something that sounds so simple but can be so easily messed up and detract from the entire experience if its not planned. Bag check was free, easy and queues were minimal allowing us to get rid of our stuff and have time for a quick warm up.
We entered our wave pen before the warm up commenced and as always I felt slightly awkward joining in so just did my normal jogging on the spot and stretched a little! I didn’t really recognise too many faces which kind of made me aware that the event was more a fun run than a competive event. A face I did recognise was that of Keith Windard, a fellow OCR competitor who had beaten me at the Nuclear Rush event earlier in the year. Unfortunately he wasn’t competing today as he continues to make a great recovery from a big setback and is someone who I’m sure I will be trailing again in future races.
The race start took me a bit by surprise as the warm up was still ongoing before someone just shouted go! I found myself deep in the pack but wasn’t at all worried as I knew 2 hours plus was a hell of a long time to be out on course. The start was surprisingly quick considering this was more of an endurance race than a sprint but I soon found a bit of rhythm and worked my way through the crowds.
The course was very muddy throughout which added to the fun but also increased the risk and with the marathon on my mind as well as a few half marathons in the pipeline I was a little cautious at times. When it comes to obstacle and cross country races caution is probably the easiest way to get hurt, in my opinion the quicker you attack obstacles or tough terrain the more likely you are to pass without predicament.
There were plenty of great obstacles on offer around the course which required a variety of strength, speed, technique and a bit of bravery. I really enjoyed the first lap, switching from 3rd to 1st and back again as each runner showed different strengths at different parts of the course. No surprise where I excelled and took the lead every time was when a slightly longer running section was sprung upon us but I would soon be passed again as we hit something that took a bit of skill. I ran alongside Scott Barker who is going to be representing Great Britain at the Spartan Team world championship and Sam Farrington of Nuclear Phoenix and although battling for position it didn’t seem tense between us as we all shared friendly conversation. Being a stronger runner during OCR’s doesn’t surprise me however I was pleased that I didn’t fail any obstacles for the entirety of the race.
As the second lap drew to a close I was still sitting in a great position in the race however traffic on course had increased dramatically due to later waves starting. As we reached the penultimate obstacle on the second lap I found myself having to queue for the obstacle which when combined with the marathon, it provided me with the perfect excuse to stop. Realising to myself that this is certainly aimed as a fun event rather than a competitive race I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of proceeding on a third lap with the half marathon the following day, Blackout in the evening and Chicago marathon just weeks away. I finished the lap a little disappointed as I felt like I was quitting the race rather than making the sensible decision which I now know it was. I stayed on course to cheer Dan on as he made his way to a brilliant 3rd place finish in the wave completing a total of 4 laps.
Overall the event was as, always with Nuclear Races, very good and it’s easy to see why they have been chosen to host the 2018 OCR world championships. Unfortunately the format of the race wasn’t for me but that doesn’t mean I won’t be returning nor not recommending it to others. In fact if you have never done an obstacle race then Blast should be at the top of your list!
After a nice afternoon in a warm pub and drinking our body weights in soft drinks we found ourselves back at Nuclear HQ. The village was even muddier before but once again registration was quick and easy, the only minor issue was bag drop. Unlike the morning and any event I have previously participated in, the queue was relatively long and probably wouldn’t have left us enough time to get in our pen for the start. Thankfully Muddy Kit had a stool in the race village so a quick flash of my top and a flutter of my eyelashes, David, who was working on the shop, kindly allowed us to store our bags in his van.
All afternoon I had reasoned with myself that I would just take the lap slow and enjoy a leisurely run. This was the plan that I stuck to right before the start of the event when I saw a few other racers looking far too confident before a race. To be honest they probably were better than me and self belief is a major positive when it comes to solo racing but as a competitive person myself I couldn’t help but tell myself to make sure I was fastest around the first lap.
The start to the race was even faster than the first lap of the Blast earlier in the day. James Ruckley led the field at sub 5 minute mile pace for the first 400m which quickly spread the chasing pack out. The early section of the lap included plenty of running through wooded sections before heading out onto an open field uphill for a chain drag. By this stage I had hit the front and only planning on doing one lap thats where I intended to stay. The next section of the course included pretty deep water, I was unsure if this would be included in the night race but it sure was, and the darkness adding to the tense ambience that larger water obstacles create. The atmosphere of running through wooded trails at night is rather eerie but something that I thoroughly enjoyed. Blackout unlike Blast takes in the secret Nuclear Bunker and in true Obstacle racing fashion just because a marshall or an arrow points in a direction I forget all my morals and instincts and just oblige. Would I enter dirty water or the secret nuclear bunker on my own at any other time? No chance. The bunker was uncanny, leading the race and heading into a cottage in the middle of the woods and then running down a series of dark corridors was like something from a horror film and I would be lying if I said my pace didn’t pick up a little during this section. The course then climbed up a series of draining stairs back out to the elements before rejoining the Blast course. The course was draining due to a great mixture of water, muddy terrain and a few hills to complement some of the signature obstacles.
I finished my lap and was thankfully first person home, as it may have been a bit disheartening not being first back when I was aware I was only doing a single lap. I had my finishers photo taken from both cameramen who were setting up their lenses ready for the onslaught on finishers to come before having a nice warm, yes warm, shower. Another fantastic thing about Nuclear is the post race facilities from warm showers and drink to the changing tent. Once I had cleaned off a bit I headed straight to the Muddy Kit stand to retrieve our stuff and allow David to end his long day and head off home, although he was still working when I got my stuff I didn’t want to make him stay any longer than he needed to. I headed back to the showers with both bags standing in the cold waiting for Dan, little did I know, A) he was in the warm heated tent and B) that there was a warm tent with heating, yes you know what I am going to say. Nuclear really do know how to host a race. We got changed and spoke to obstacle master James Ruckley before picking up our nice Beastmode medal racks which were given to all participants completing both Blast and Blackout events. We didn’t hang around too long before heading home to end a fun but long day.
Hatfield Forest Half Marathon
The inaugural Hatfield Forest Half Marathon, hosted by Blitz Run events was a race I couldn’t miss.
The course was a two lapped off road route around the relatively flat but muddy forest. Having family commitments in the afternoon we took the lazy option to drive the two miles to the start, hitching a lift with my parents. Parking was a reasonable £2 donation to the National Trust or free for members, annoyingly I had forgotten my card so we had to pay our way. Knowing the Forest very well I knew that trail shoes were the only option for the race but anyone unsure or who hadn’t read the race briefing email, would have been aware just from the car park that it was going to be a muddy one.
We made our way up to the start and I spoke to some friendly and familiar faces including Keith once again who today was competing and Craig Segal of Harlow running club who was aiming for a pb on this off road course in trainers. Peter Beatty was also in attendance and it was great to talk to him before that race as I always feed off of his positivity and general running knowledge. I decided to have a quick warm up before the start. Quick being the right word, about a quarter of a mile, I was panting a bit and both my legs felt tight. It was evident my warm up hadn’t been sufficient as feeling cold on a reasonably mild day I left my t-shirt on underneath my vest. This was going to be a tough day I could feel it, I just hoped as always adrenaline would help carry me through.
The race started at the same central forest location and an almost identical spot that the Stort 10 had a few months previously. At the very last moment prior to the start I had an urge to remove the t-shirt I had under my vest questioning why I ever thought I would need it? I think it was a common case of dressing for the 1st miles rather than the entire race. We were soon underway and I tried to get my legs moving quickly but comfortably. As with most races a few runners set off very quickly but this didn’t worry me as I knew we were going to be out there for a long enough period that the first 5 minutes or so wouldn’t make much difference.
For the first two miles I sat in second allowing the Woodford Green runner to dictate the pace and lead the way. There were a few questionable turns that were very sharp and I had to communicate with him so that he didn’t go wrong. This section of the course that would make up miles 1 and 7 of the race were my least favourite and the only part that was a bit disappointing. That said it was evident that this was the section that was making up the distance for the late course route change so I think organisers can definitely be forgiven for that fiddly and slightly confusing segment.
After 2 miles, without changing my pace at all, I began to pull away and take the lead in the race. The course was more like a cross country race and although hard work, reminded me of how much I enjoy off road racing. The forest however didn’t seem to be enjoying it as much as me with the combination of rain and runners really cut up the boggier sections of ground.
I tried to maintain a 6 minute mile pace throughout the run where possible although in certain sections I just couldn’t manage it but I wasn’t too concerned as I could feel I was working reasonably hard and that I was benefitting from the run. The route worked its way through the forest, passing my family that had come to support as well as some running friends in the form of Peter Beatty, Kate, Chris Pitts and Heydon Mizon to name a few. At around 3 and a half miles we exited the forest past a water station onto the Flitch Way. The water station was well manned however nobody was ready to hand out drinks so not wanting to waste time I had to pass without acquiring any fluids. I did however stick to my race strategy of an SiS energy gel at 4 and 8 miles, seizing the opportunity of a break in difficult surface I took the first of my SiS Go isotonic energy gels. The Flitch provided the easiest section of the entire race with its firm gravel surface it was the only part that moderately resembled a road. The mile section was well received and was one of my quickest of the entire race, however the more leisurely bit didn’t last long as we were soon pointed back into the forest and on to the grass. The route then followed a familiar course that once featured in Parkrun over huge variety of terrain, from a quick downhill grassed section followed by a ditch, wooded area and then an uneven gravel path. The ever changing and challenging surfaces kept things interesting even if it did make settling into a comfortable pace difficult.
Half Way – 40:11
Passing the Start/Finish marked the half way point of the race and without looking behind I could sense I had a bit of lead however this said I didn’t alter my pace at all as I passed some spectators and my family. The half way mark also marked the second water station on course, which again from a distance was evident it was well manned. Much to my surprise it was my Mum and Wife manning the station and eager to hand out refreshments.
The second lap was similar to the first mainly because, well it was the same as the first, just this time no rush at the start and everything was that little bit muddier. I took my second gel bang on the 8 mile mark prior to the tough boggy section that was now in parts resembling a sty more than the usual lush greenery that I have become accustomed to at the forest. As the end of the race drew closer I started to catch up with the back markers who were close to completing their first laps and I found it motivating to pass others who offered encouragement. My final mile was the quickest of the race which included some difficult rutted terrain and the uphill section which again I had become so familiar with at the Hatfield Forest Parkrun. I crossed the finish line in an incredibly pleasing 1:20 mainly because that was the time I had called prior to the race and when Dad had mentioned that was the time he was expecting me to finish 5 minutes before the end he had received a remark of “looks like his prediction was a bit optimistic” Hitting my target time to the second was a nothing but a fluke but it was nice to back up my prediction.
1st Place – 1:20:00 – A tough course especially in the conditions but a thoroughly enjoyable run around the special place that is Hatfield Forest. I received a £50 Sweatshop voucher for winning, along with the Finisher’s top and medal.
I would thoroughly recommend the Hatfield Half to runners of all abilities and I will certainly be returning to the local event should it resurface next year.