It has been a long off season with only a few different races to keep me occupied. This was about to change though, with the start of my season proper and the first Toughest race of the year.
This year my calendar is mainly structured around the Toughest season for obstacle racing and the “Skyracing Extreme” series for mountain running. These will be joined by a wide variety of other races which of course will include the World Championships towards the end of the year.
The reason I’m concentrating on Toughest for obstacle racing is because these events attract the best competition the sport has to offer. Unless I am racing the best, victories would only seem hollow. I truly believe the reason I did so well in last years World Championships is because how the Toughest courses prepared me and the intense competition I faced in them.
I was excited to start the season as I am at last being looked after by a professional sports team in the form of Team Santander. Together with continued support from Clif Bar for nutrition and VJ Sport for trainers I was feeling confident I had the best support possible, the only thing left was to discover if I still had the same form.
Being the first Toughest race of the year, the state of my fitness and my competitors was untested. I knew old threats from last year that would be present but had also heard rumours of the likes of Charles Franzke the Tough Guy winner from Germany mixing in with the field.
Photo – James appleton
As the race started it actually turned out to be two familiar faces leading the overly quick charge to the first obstacle: Ludvig Werkmäster and Cimmie Wignell. Before long we descended upon the first obstacle with a fast land and I found myself momentarily waiting for them to get through before I could start. Now flustered and trying to grab onto swinging nunchucks – I almost fell. Recovering but rattled, I was now on a mission.
They had gained 50m and I was out for blood. Hammering to catch them Ludvig fell over allowing me to take him, flying over the next wall at a reckless speed I was on Cimmie’s heels. A sharp left turn on a muddy track and I managed to get by. I could feel the slipperier conditions were playing to my advantage and my VJ’s were giving me far more grip than what my competitors had.
Approaching the 1km mark was a river crossing, automatically assuming I couldn’t jump it I aimed short using one bounce in the waste deep water to hop out the other side. No splash sounded behind me and I smiled as I figured Cimmie had jumped it like some sort of flying ninja.
Some technical running and a sandbag carry saw me gain a lead before the traverse wall and jeep dunk carry. Finishing the carry as the others were picking theirs up, I must have had over half a minute lead just 2km into the race. It was now time to calm down and start concentrating on completing the obstacles penalty free and in a smooth manner.
Back into the event centre I hit the dragons back, the jumps seemed further than usual but I didn’t waste any time hopping between the structures – the real test of an obstacle was up next. Flying monkeys are becoming a standard manoeuvre in training but in a race it is a different story. With a high heart rate, muddy hands and the pressure of people chasing you down all becomes apparent as you make the approach.
Photo – Mateusz Szulakowski
Leaping for the second bar I stuck it but didn’t fly straight through to the third. This means I had two lots of swinging and jumping before ringing the bell. Focusing on my breathing and generation of power I managed to stick both, ring the bell and continue back out onto the second loop of the course. This started with a technical downhill with a few minor obstacles but the thing sticking in my mind was that the slide was approaching.
Although smaller than Stockholm, the slide had an almighty kick at the bottom. Flying through the air with my eyes closed I think I counted to two before hitting the water. Entering perfectly feet first I felt my feet touch the ground. Thank God. The depth was perfect to my neck so it was a safe entry but I could stand and keep my head out allowing me to catch my breath in the chilly water.
Exiting the water, I asked Mudstacle Pete what my lead was. Knowing his guesstimates are anything but accurate, he told me the chasers were just getting on the slide. So I had over a minute but still wasn’t “safe”.
Having run the entire course to scout it the day before, I knew the course markings were initially perfect. Coming around the corner I now saw markings continuing around the lake and heading left up the hill! Shouting back that “the course marking is f***ed” I heard Pete shouting back “Go left”. Away from both course markings? Could they both be tampered with to be wrong? Thoroughly confused I started to head left. Approaching the penalty for the slide I was now a bit worried knowing the next obstacle, the sternum checker, was to the right. I started to head right and popped out on the course just below the obstacle. Only running and extra couple of hundred meters I was back on course and still leading.
Photo – Jacques Holst
Completing the rest of this long loop I knew there was one more obstacle that may cause me slight issues: the rig. Choosing the fast lane there was a combination of rings, a flying monkey, hanging poles and balls. Taking my time but getting through without issues I was off for a shorter third loop, before coming back into the arena for the salmon ladder or rope climb. Choosing the rope climb I completed the extra obstacle for doing the easy lane and was off.
Photo – Mateusz Szulakowski
This last loop had four obstacles with fast lanes but I had decided the day before all were manageable. I chose the normal pegboard over the hanging ones as by now my lead was nearing 3 minutes allowing me to relax a little and enjoy the experience.
Just the ramp left which I managed to nail first time, I was down the other side and over the line in first.
It was a tight fight for the following places but fellow brit Conor Hancock beat Ludvig into second just over two minutes behind.
The females race was even more exciting with Yoie having a small lead before injuring herself on the under overs after the rig. Fellow team member and wife, Henriette Albon, then capitalised, nailing the final fast lanes to come in first.
A very happy husband I was now ready for a coffee and later a beer, thoroughly content with the start of the season.
Photo – Jacques Holst
I was upset to hear that course marking wasn’t the only thing to be tampered with but will leave it to Toughest to explain the troubles they had in what was their debut event in the UK.
The next race is in Malmo in two weeks time and I can’t wait! I have managed to squeeze in Bergen marathon between now and then let’s see how my legs hold up but am looking forward to the challenge.