From start to finish I could not fault this race. It was a last minute decision to enter on the Friday night and was one of the best all round races I’ve been to. Vision seemed to have thought of everything and had a smooth operation from start to finish, making the day look like it was running effortlessly. They had marked direction from the road leading up to the car park which those of you with a sense of direction like mine will appreciate this. The car park was well marshalled and located close to the start line. The registration process was straight forward with very little queuing and a simple, easy and safe system for a quick bag drop.
Vision Wild Run is set at Vision Motorsport’s venue, and you can tell that they are used to putting on petrol-powered events. Every racer had to go to a safety briefing and received a white tag to mark attendance. The attention to detail was superb and shone through not only at the safety briefing, but during every aspect of the day. I really liked the idea of not having this information given out on the start line, it was in a quiet side hanger.
The first wave was the elite wave with not only UK champs qualifying positions up for grabs but also a £200 prize money pot. Vision Wild Run have got the competition side of the race nailed in my opinion, not only thinking about how to make it a fair race and reducing the chance of any cheating but they also consider the rest of the runners abilities that would race after the elite wave. Every elite racer had to complete every obstacle apart from the notoriously hard hang tough where there was a penalty run.
Now, this was obviously only going to work if the marshals were on the ball. Their marshals were the happiest, most on the ball and most supportive marshals I’ve come across in a race the whole way round! They took down anyone’s bib number or name who did not complete an obstacle to ensure the security of those precious UK Championship qualifying positions.
It was a hot day but they had enough well-spaced water stations around the 10k course. There has been a bit of talk lately about where our sport is headed with races trying to compete against each other for title of the biggest and toughest. Vision Wild Run, while still being a relativity “young” race, has made excellent use of the terrain with a variety of mud, off road, trail and field stretches of running though out the course and some brilliant man made obstacles. They were imaginative with the hang tough having the twist of being made out of go kart tyres. This was challenging and made by a seemingly simple change to a well-known obstacle, and added greatly to the difficulty level and they really encouraged team work. The obstacles were well spaced out though out the course and Dave and the team kept an eye on all areas, whizzing around on their quad bikes between marshals.
After the first wave had gone though they made a few small modifications to some of the obstacles to make them more achievable for everyone while remaining challenging, which I thought was a brilliant idea and very well organised. They had photographers spaced around the course to capture your best mud shot and the course was so well marked that even our Binty wouldn’t have got lost on it.
At the finish you got a photo with your new bling, clean tee and a bottle of water. There was a snack van and even better a few showers: well worth the short queue. In addition to the showers there were changing rooms too. What more could you ask for from your Saturday afternoon race? They had even pre ordered the sun shine for the day.
For a spontaneous Saturday morning I couldn’t of asked for more. I’d run a fantastic fun and challenging race with one of the best team mates I could ask for, Jayne. Had a shower and was now lying in the sunshine with a full breakfast baguette and coffee surrounded by lovely friendly people. It wasn’t until then I realised we were surrounded by beautiful expensive fast cars, maybe more of a guy thing though dare I say.
For our sport to thrive there needs to be a balance, a mixture for all types of racers to enjoy, and for all groups to be considered. The elites, the fun loving runners and the challenge my mind body and souls limits no matter my ability. I think Vision Wild Run deliver a spot on race and I can’t wait to go back!
I’ve had a great relationship with Spartan Race over the years. This weekend I took on the toughest UK Spartan Race to date in the form of the Spartan Super in Scotland. To explain why it was particularly tough for me, I need to take you back three years to the 2012 London South Sprint, my second ever OCR and first ever competitive race (Even though I wasn’t in the Elite wave, I decided to go for it). On this fateful day, I got addicted to OCR. If this race had been as disappointingly easy as my first OCR, Tough Mudder Kettering, I may never have continued looking for more events and there would have been no Obstacle Trainer, Obstacle Kit, the race team or any of the other things that I’ve put my mind to in OCR since.
Towards the end of this Sprint was a tyre run, quite a long one. High on endorphins and atmosphere, I sprinted through the tyres and caught one just wrong. A small tyre meeting with my massive size 12 feet and laws of physics resulted in rolling my ankle for the first time ever and a legacy of having a weak left ankle moving forward. As that ankle had previously been broken badly, it never stopped feeling weak from this point onwards and until recently I’ve never been able to run on it without some serious strapping.
Fast forward to 2015, and that same injury caused me all sorts of problems on the Spartan Sprint in Scotland. After flying to Edinburgh on the Friday night and settling into my B&B, a convenient 500m from the start line, I was all set for an exciting race which promised stunning terrain and some old skool Spartan-tough obstacles. For many of us from the original few Spartan Races in the UK, some of the previous years have seen some of the obstacles we loved get replace, weights get lighter and all in all feeling a little watered down. This would be my first race under the new management of Karl, Ben, Rich, Fay, Jordan and co and I was pretty excited to see what they had in store.
Arriving in a very wet and windy event village, it was clear that the high windows had caused a lot of issues. The rope climb was shut due to 40mph+ winds and a lot of the event village tents had been lost overnight. The spirit soldiered on and despite the race being delay a little to let the storm pass, spirits were high as we lined up on the start line for the off. A very last minute wardrobe change meant I missed the yell of “Go” and found myself changing my top while storming forward trying to get a place somewhere in the top 20 before hills, obstacles and possible queues. We set off and after a short slalom we began our ascent of what turned out to be the mother of all hills. A wall of silage bales to hurdle and a fence in the way and we were on our way to the start on the hill climbs. I started making up palaces on the hill- I love hills and keeping a steady pace allowed me to catch and pass many runners that had shot off at the beginning. We approached an a-frame cargo net and then back to a barbed wire crawl up hill through long grass, stinging nettles and thistles. The wire was very low at this point, tearing a huge hole in my shorts and giving my head a few scratches to boot. Coming out of the crawl we started the main ascent and I was sitting somewhere in the top 10 and feeling good.
The hill went on forever and ever. Running turned to jogging, which in turn turned into hiking. The only solace was that we could just see Connor and James doing the same up ahead, so at least I didn’t feel too bad for slowing so much. As we approached the top, in unfortunately slipped and twisted that left ankle. It hurt like hell, but powered on, not wanting to stop after working so hard to get up the hill and maintain my position. Disaster stuck as I took the final left turn to the summit, after 300m of ascent and 550m above sea-level: I rolled my ankle outwards and it ended my race. I hobbled up to the marshals at the closed rope climb and they quickly got me the attention I needed. Unfortunately that was my Sprint over with, but fortunately Brocket Gear teammates Alex and Faye did use proud with 7th and joint 4th respectively. I took the rest of the day to rest and refuel with Faye and try to make a plan of action for Sunday.
Sunday was soon here and with clearer weather and my ankle taking weight ok, I decided to give the Super a go but as a run, not a race. Look after the ankle and take in the scenery without pushing it. With this more relaxed pace and the weather being far less windy, I enjoyed finally reach said summit in the Super and smashing the now opened rope climb as usual.
We took a sharp descent across open fields with undulating terrain, proper fell running stuff. I was reminded on the descent that my ankle was not ok, so slowed up as it began to get painful again. A big shout out to Joda and John from Muddy Kit / Tartan Warrior for making sure I was ok as the passing me hobbling on the descent, the true spirit of OCR shining through.
I made an effort to move to the side as people overtook through the long descent, not wanting to slow anyone down. Passed by a few familiar faces who would stay with me for most of the race like Kevin form Team Raw, Ollie Beany and OCR/Spartan legend Luke Lawrence (A UK Spartan Race isn’t a Spartan Race without Luke on the start line as far as I’m concerned). We soon hit a small wade/ swim to an island with a very cool rig setup and a swim over the other side. By this point I was probably top 50 but there were a lot of people burpeeing having failed the rig. The rig had monkey bars, rope swings, more bars and hang tough hoops. It was hard to keep momentum but priding myself on these sort of obstacles I made short work of it and suddenly found myself about another 20 places up!
A few more Km’s of fell running including some barbed wire crawls upstream (which was tough as the current was working against you) we came to the Hercules Hoist. In a very welcome treat, the team had upgraded from the usual 10/20kg weights for ladies/men to 20/40kg! This was perfect for me as once I found some footing the kettle bell shot up and I was on my way leaving another batch of runners burpeeing.
More fells and a long uphill barbed wire crawl led into a descent which again hurt my foot. I was gagging for more water as it was doing a great job of controlling the swelling, and after being passed again by Kevin (who was very surprised to see me ahead of him again!) I was pleased to run with Ollie Beany through a section of stream, cooling my ankle down before another killer ascent which had us down to hiking pace.
What followed was huge hills and more obstacles including a tyre carry with walls to negotiate, a double-brick carry with tractor tyre flip, a double sandbag carry, an A-Frame, a cinder-block drag, an angled climbing wall and a very heavy log carry. I soon found myself running back into the event village for the final three obstacles. This was my first attempt at the spear throw since the rope was introduced to the back of the spear. I let it fly and it stabbed into the lower left side of the bale, then slowly, very slowly, it slid out again… 30 burpees for me for only the second time ever!
After smashing out the 30 I hit the last two high walls and vaulted them with ease then over the fire jump to a very welcome cup of water and my first of the new medals. The atmosphere at the finish was great and I had chance to catch up with Conor and Connor and hear about their epic completion times.
As the adrenaline started to wear off, the pain in my ankle started to increase and confirmed in my mind that a week or so of rest is needed after pushing so hard over the last 3 months to start getting back to fitness. As I popped back to the cars to grab my teammate Faye’s Dryrobe ready for her crossing the finish line, I had time to reflect on what had been a really tough run. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so broken at the end of an event that I wasn’t going 100% at.
I’d have to think really hard to bring up faults with the two days: If I was being competitive then I may have been annoyed that so many runners around me were using the stepped sections of the last two walls rather than being given burpee penalties. In days gone by these were designated as “male” and “female” side and while I’m all for equality, the first of the two walls looked really rather easy when using the steps. It would also have been nice to have seen a water station halfway through, as when the sun did eventually show itself it was pretty warm in those hills!
But that’s it, with that exception the event was great. Considering all of the administrative changes that have been made at Spartan Race in the UK in the last 12 months, this was a cracking event. If the momentum of starting to make the obstacles themselves tough again continues then it looks like the 2015 revival of is well under-way.
Thanks to Karl, Ben, Rich and the Spartan Race UK team for a great event and my team mates Alex and Faye who joined me up there and smashed their respective races. Bring on the Beast!
Whether you are an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) virgin or developing a serious penchant for OCR, here are a few tips we put together for kit and clothing choices for a summer OCR.
1. You will get wet; water will add weight, conduct body heat away and slow your progress, therefore choose clothing and footwear that is close fitting, non-absorbent and fast drying. That way you can reduce the effects of water in the first place and also dry out faster. Choose whether to have vest/short sleeves/long sleeves according to the temperature on the day OR even ditch the shirt altogether if you’re that way inclined.
2. Conditions underfoot: generally you’re looking for grip over cushioning when it comes to trail running. Summer will mean harder ground than winter (disclaimer: British summertime may vary!) and so you may not need your most aggressive treads but a good trail shoe that will support you and prevent slips and trips on inclines and a variety of surfaces from grass to hard packed trails and muddy riverbanks.
3. Obstacles: you will have to crawl, climb, swing, balance and jump your way around a variety of challenging obstacles made of dirt/rope/timber/concrete etc. Choose close-fitting clothing that won’t snag easily. If you want to reduce the chances of getting abrasions, bruises or blisters then we would recommend protecting your key contact points; your hands, knees and elbows.
4. Nutrition: for races of over about 5k it will be especially important to keep on top of your hydration! Make sure you drink plenty and your urine is clear in the run up to the start, then take on water according to your needs during the race itself. Prevention is better than cure and by the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Also, depending on your pace and experience you may want to pack some nutrition to ensure your glucose and electrolyte levels are topped up during the race. Its safe to assume that you will be on your feet for far longer than your normal 10km time in a 10km OCR and for all the weight of a Gu gel etc, you’d rather be looking at it than looking for it!
5. Afterwards: Pack a bag with a complete change of clothes and a towel/wash kit or body wipes to get you cleaned up afterwards-some races have showers and hoses whereas others don’t. Bring a waterproof bag for all your used kit, consider beforehand how you’ll change to hang out/go home after the race.
That said, these are our top picks for a summer OCR to get you kitted out:
The Underground Ultra is a small event run by Melissa and Kirsty (Of Lake Fear Events fame). Mel and Kirsty wanted to put on an event rather than a race where people could introduce themselves to ultra-marathon distance running without any pressure and had the option of 20k, 40k or 50k. I was up for a jog around the Jurassic Coastline but had absolutely no intentions of running 50k! With no training for that kind of distance and a slight worry that it may cause me an injury, I went out with the plan of listen to no-one but my own body to tell me when it was time to stop. As it turns out it’s true what they say, once you stop listening to your head you can be amazed at what your body is capable of.
Best Team Mates Ever
Best Teammates Ever!
Jayne who was always out for the full slog joined me; she didn’t tell me to stay with her, as she knew it had to be a decision my own decision. Being an experienced distance runner, she had also always known she was capable of finishing the full 50km. Jayne and I did have a secret weapon though for this challenge; each other! The perfect running partner is gold dust. When you are out for that amount of time, putting your body though all sorts of physical and emotional stress, the support you have next to you can really make or break a race. Being able to not only put up with each other but keep each others spirits up, camaraderie, pacing, motivation, goals, knowing when to push and when to rest, sharing fuel and caring for each other is essential. Ultras are just as much a head game as a physical one.
We had camped the night before right next to the start line at Steeple Leaze Farm. The run took us out to the gorgeous Jurassic coast line with its magnificent views where we took a left followed the path along until John Burnes bench, where we then took a left inland past a fuel station and looped around Corfe Castle, heading back to the campsite to refuel again and complete our first 20k. We ran this first leg with a guy called Pip who had a few Ultra stories under his belt that he shared on the way, including a 100miler just a few weeks before. He also managed to catch a few airplane shots of them on the way down to Corfe Castle. I’m sure me and Jayne can repay the favour and take him on a few mud runs soon. Pip had made a promise to his two little girls to take them to the beach that afternoon though so only had time for the first leg of the run.
On top of the world!
It was a beautiful and very hot day with clear blue sky and crystal turquoise sea! Mel and the team had picked one of them most breath-taking parts of the country and it was hard not to feel on top of the world even at the bottom of the monster cliffs.
The next leg of the journey, had us running back to the coast line and turning right this time to head to Durdles Door Cove
On top of the world!
which was 15k out to turn around and run back making it the full 50k. I was given a lifeline in OCR regular Foz who was driving round supporting Fran who was also taking part. He said he would pick me up so I could run the coast line and not have to worry about the long run home if she couldn’t make it. Foz was one of the most welcome sights around the course for me and Jayne, and we think very dearly of him for all his help and support. You have a good one there Fran! There was a refuelling station by the turning point for the 40 where a lovely guy greeted us with a big smile and lots of treats. After a quick chit chat he promised to wait for us to come back though before he left so they could refuel again before the last stint of the run.
The run took us down onto Lulworth Beach where we had a very welcome paddle along the shore line, a mini icing session for our feet and calves! Jayne also stopped off for a slush puppy which she now swears by! We then carried on up over and down into the beautiful Durdle Door Cove.
When we got to the beach at Durdle Door, our packs were on the floor and it was straight into the sea, fully clothed and with trainers on! Total bliss. We did not want to leave. This was the 35k point and Foz was waiting in the car park. I still felt really good though so agreed with him that I would call him to collect me if needed at certain points along the way. We ran back along Lulworth, beach paddling as we went, and bumped into some of the others who said there may not be another water station. This was bad news as we hadn’t rationed our water.
We carried on regardless and as we rounded the hill of the fuel station, a familiar happy face popped up again with an Underground Ultra t-shirt on! He had said he would wait and he had. Legend. Up until now, I had loved the run not minding taking little detours to explore cool little extras (like a random arch way to climb and take in all the beautiful views) but it was starting to get to that point when there was just one thing on my mind; that finish line! Pressing on, we dug deep, enjoyed the down hills and encouraged each other up the up hills. I still felt confident I could finish especially as I had Jayne with me.
Don’t look down!
Don’t look down!
As the finish line got close enough to think about, we managed to get lost! This was not the time to get lost!! Tired, sore and needing to know we wouldn’t be spending the night on a cliff edge, we looked to each other to push through the last few km. Just thinking about putting one foot in front of the other and repeat! After zig zaging back and forth, up and down, we made it back to a familiar corn field, it was the only golden corn field in a place full of green, so we knew we were in the right place… but where to next? Then we spotted the most amazing sight ever… FOZ! He had walked from the campsite to the top to find us and wave us into the finish, what a hero!
We ran down the hill to the finish line hand in hand and waiting for us were a few beers, Guinness, cake and a BBQ!! What else could we want? (maybe a shower ?;-))
After changing into some comfy clothes and Zero point compression to help delay the DOMS the next morning would bring, we sat down to look though the awesome finishers’ goodies; a flask and t-shirt.
We then found out that we had been the only two to complete the full 50k and managed to add an extra 5k on too. It was a pretty satisfying feeling for the end of the day. With about 6000ft of elevation. Me and Jayne drank and ate and were very merry to end an amazing day.
Jayne and I are now planning something far bigger and challenging… watch this space for their announcement and maybe join us in the next part of the big adventure.
The Bob Graham Round is a fell running challenge in the English Lake District. It is named after Bob Graham (1889–1966), a Keswick guest-house owner, who in June 1932 broke the Lakeland Fell record by traversing 42 fells within a 24-hour period. It covers approximately 66-72 miles and 27,000 ft (8,000m) of ascent. Since then only about 1900 individuals have completed the Round. Along with the Paddy Buckley Round and Ramsay Round, the Bob Graham Round is one of the classic big three mountain challenges in the UK. Only thirty individuals have completed all three.
The route is split into 5 legs and is an individual attempt rather than a race. Each leg must have a support runner on it to verify the person attempting the challenge has indeed covered the peaks involved. I had a support team of 6 runners split over the 5 legs and another support team at the checkpoints who provided me with much needed food and drink.
I have wanted to do the Bob Graham for well over a decade and as I personnel challenge it was right up there. I ran support legs for friends in the past and have spent many an hour up on the hills learning as much of the route and getting as hill fit as possible. As such, I knew the challenges and tried to do as much preparation as possible – which also meant getting a support team together, booking a cottage, buying a tonne of food and persuading my pregnant wife to spend all day driving around the Lake District, manning the checkpoints and preparing food! After a restless day of driving up North, preparing kit and confirming the plan with my support team I got ready to go….
Leg 1 – Keswick to Threlkeld
I started at 11pm at from Moot Hall in Keswick on a fairly pleasant evening but as me and my support runner (Mark) got higher up Skiddaw the weather started to deteriorate and visibility was poor. We’d made good time but had to do a few nav checks to make 100% sure we were happy on where we were. I’ve learnt the hard way that it’s better to do this than take a risk as you’ll end up losing much more time. We made decent time again on the bleak ground over to Great Calva but I was feeling ok and staying warm despite the wind and drizzle. Coming off Blencathra however was a different story and the steep rocky spur was quite nasty and after a few falls and near misses we knew to take it steady. As we finally broke out the cloud it was good to see the headlights at the checkpoint knowing that I was only a few minutes from a quick rest and a hot coffee. I got into the check point 12 minutes over my anticipated schedule but took a full 10 mins rest to get some all important food and drink onboard. It was a decent leg and I had a lot to thank Mark for (who I’d supported on the same leg about 10 years ago when I’d nearly fell off the same bad ridge coming off Blencathra!)
Supporters handing over to each other
Refuelling and changing socks after the river crossing
CP1 – Threlkeld, a welcome site in the darkness!
Leg 2 – Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise
So I said goodbye to Mark for now as he handing me over to Dave, another very strong runner and good navigator. We set off at a good pace and up Clough head, a big old hill. At this point I started feeling a little tired, I think Dave was just full of beans and I was beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. Leg 2 is a good leg to make up time though so once we were up on the ridge line we were able to start ticking off the peaks; the Dods, dollywagon Pike, Hellvellyn…… by the time we got to Fairfield I was very tired but dug in deeper as I knew we weren’t too far from the next check point, we got to Seat Sandal quickly and had a good quick descent down a well recced route and into the next Checkpoint where my wife and mates were waiting. It’s such a morale boost to get some hot drink extra food and smile! Dave had done a grand job of getting us around another poor visibility leg and I was now 10 minutes under schedule and had been on my feet for 8 hours.
Leg 3 – Dunmail Raise to Wasdale Head
I now had Hugo and Phil supporting me, both had successfully done the BG in the past and as Leg 3 is renowed for being the toughest I was very glad to have them! It didn’t disappoint, the navigation was very difficult due to the weather and the tracks are pretty spartan, it felt like most of the terrain was rocky as well and very little was truly runnable. We did ok though and ticked off a few more peaks. At Esk Hause we were joined by Mark and his dog Ted who brought us some more water and Roy who’d answered the call for assistance off the Fell Runners Association (thanks again Roy). We now had a good gang but the going was getting tough with plenty of rain, cloud and rocks. I was starting to lose time as the poor terrain and fatigue combined to slow me down. Gentle words of encouragement meant I knew that this par for the course but when I got into the third checkpoint at Honister I was over an hour behind schedule and doomed for failure as well as being extremely tired. I’d not been this mentally and physically tired for a very long time and I’m glad I didn’t have a view of my next climb as I forced as much food and drink into my body as possible. I also took another 5 minutes rest on top of the 10 minutes I planned.
There were promising signs in the sky though and it was time to get moving….
Coming into Wasdale – knackered!
Mark and Ted coming in early to warn the road crew off
Contemplating life and wishing I was a dog
Leg 4 – Wasdale Head to Honister
The start of the leg is a long and steep climb up Yewbarrow, which is not what you need after 15 hours on the move! By the time I made it to the top I’d managed to shave a couple of minutes off my time, the sun was shining and I had a another strong set of support runners. Leg-4 was my most recent recce as well, so although the recce was in terrible weather I had a good idea of where I was going and the peaks I’d be hitting. With the extra food I’d consumed and the sun out I started to make good progress. As I bagged the peaks I was making time back; Red Pike, Steeple, Pillar, Kirk Fell all dropped off and I was running well again and by the time I came off Green Gable I dropped back under the 24 hr predicted time and felt far more confident.
I probably felt as good as I did at any point during the attempt as I came off Grey Knotts into Honister Slate mine and I could see my road team from a long way out. At this point they’d been bolstered by babies and wives of my supporters who were enjoying the sunshine. There was also another road team set up to receive another runner.
Yewbarrow – look closely and you’ll find a tiny orange dot (me)
Coming into Honister feeling a bit better
The backbone of any attempt and best looking road crew ever!
Leg 5 – Honister to Keswick
The final leg and I knew that if I stayed on schedule I would be ok as I’d made a lot of time up on Leg-4. With a fresh support runner (Martin) who’d very recently recced the route I knew I was in safe hands. We flew up Dale Head after another filling of hot soup and jelly babies and made good time across to Hindscarth and Robinson, it was a nice feeling coming off the final Peak knowing I just had to keep jogging and stay upright. At High Snab Farm I changed out of my off road shoes and into a road running pair for the final road stretch. I was also joined by Phil and Mark to run me back in.
I must admit I hated the final stretch of road after being up the hill for so long, I think my body was also beginning to protest as I couldn’t even face an energy gel without heaving. Anyway, after a few more miles we approached Keswick and it was a final run up to Moot Hall where I started the Bob Graham 23 hours and 35 minutes previously. I’d done it. Relief was probably my greatest feeling followed closely by overwhelming tiredness and fatigue! This had been such a big goal of mine for so many years and I has happy to have done it and with a great group of mates – without whom I’d not been able to complete.
Finally at the finish
The amazing road team!
The support runners
Kit and final thoughts
The Bob Graham deserves it’s hard reputation and I count it as my hardest running achievement. I did the Marathon des Sables last year and people asked how it compared. I think most fit people could compete and finish the MdS, it is an amazing race and full of its own challenges, and although it is theory against the clock the time allowed is generous. There is no generosity in the hills though and every slip, rest or nav error counts against you. I finished the MdS in the top 3% of competitors but finished the Bob Graham with 25 minutes to spare.
As for kit, it was all the more important given the conditions. I ran in Inov-8 X-Talon 200s (apart from the final road section) and these were fantastic, the grip superb across a variety of terrain including; bog, river beds, scree, rocky paths….. I did not get any blisters but did bang oth big toe nails on rocks at various points (which subsequently got infected, which always seems to happen to me on long runs!) I changed socks regularly and wore the inov-8 mudsocs for early legs then changed into Zero-point intense compression later on. I’ve been using the latter quite a bit recently and I’m sure they helped by calves cope with the fatigue in the later stages. Either way, no blisters and no cramp from either. I kept a pair of Inov-8 race gloves on during the night and stages 2 and 3 when it was raining a bit, as it was not too cold they did the job well and gave me a bit of protection when scrambling across rocks or falling down. An Inov-8 wrag kept the bald head dry and protected it from the sun at various times as well. This was all finished off with a bright orange Brocket Gear t-shot of course!
Trying to enjoy a celebratory champagne but feeling rough as!
I thought I’d start off this review by giving you some background on my OCR shoe history, which can be summarised easily as follows: Inov-8. I purchased the original X-Talon 212’s for my first ever OCR and have owned 4 pairs just of that style, without counting my MudClaws, 200’s, Roclites, Tri-X-Tremes and multiple pairs of F-Lites and Road-X. It’s fair to say, I’m a bit of a fan. So, when I was asked to try the Icebugs, I was skeptical to say the least. I’m so used to the cleat length and various rubber compounds used on the Inov-8’s, how would I get along with such a change?
I met with John from Icebug UK and tried on a pair of the beautiful Zeals. He advised to go for a size lower than normal which for the first time since I was a teenager put me in an 11.5. The fit was very comfy, with a wide toe-box accommodating my huge feet very nicely. John also explained various aspects of the show and how it is engineered, the two main points that I took away being the non-absorbent material that they are made from, and the “zig-zag” grip design. The non-absorbent material was made with swimming in mind, the idea being that they don’t gain weight when submerged and effectively “pumps” the water out of the shoe within a few steps of starting to run again. The “zig-zag” grips design is meant to push mud out sideways meaning that the grip won’t get clogged up in the really thick stuff. Time would tell if this was the case.
I had a bit of a break in races before getting to test them in anger, but it did give me plenty of time to use them on my test course. Those of you family with my Obstacle Kit days will know of my testing course comprising of rivers, steep and flat trails covering multiple surface types along with walls and bridges for all sorts of OCR environmental testing. I was incredibly pleased with the results of my initial tests: The shoes were very lightweight and gripped in all surfaces that I threw at them. Climbing, swimming and general trail running were all handled with ease, which I was very happy with when realising my next race would be Judgement Day Copehill Down. Having lived so close to Copehill for so many years and having a pretty good understanding of the sadistic minds of Race Directors Mark and Dean, I could then go into the first time of using them with anger with the upmost confidence.
Judgement Day came around pretty quickly and I launched into the first live test. This was not only my first time running in Icebugs, but my first time running for the Brocket Gear Race Team. To further up the pressure, I’d be running once again alongside RPCC Elite superstar Katie Keeble, meaning I’d need to be on my game. The shoes did not disappoint. While Copehill Down isn’t the muddiest course in the race calendar, the beautiful rolling hills of Salisbury Plain gave a good combination of mud, grass, forest floor, concrete, wood metal and of course the famous confidence course to test them out on. While there was no swimming as such, I did notice that the grip worked exactly as advertised: When I inspected my shoe at the end of the race, the heel which had only hit the ground towards the lift of my running stride (And not had any weight loading) had some mud in it, but the grip on the front of the shoe was almost clean, allowing it to grip as if it was fresh out of the box. Amazing!
After some more training runs and bootcamp session in the beautiful Zeals, it was time for a big test at Rat Race Dirty Weekend: 20 miles of tough off-road running and 200 obstacles would be a great test. Running once again alongside Katie, we were tested across every type of terrain imaginable (Bar snow!) and the Zeals once again performed superbly. Not once struggling for grip, the harder compound treads once again were advantageous on the harder surfaces like asphalt that we encountered.
The big test that I was looking forward to was the Water Zone, with plenty of swimming to test the drainage system on the shoes. The non-absorbent material on the Zeals means that when you start running on them after being submerged, the water will “pump” out from the side around the ankle. I’m very pleased to report that it did exactly what it said on the tin. Within a few steps, the shoes were completely empty, no need to wait for “drainage” at all. Very impressed.
Another few months on and the shoes are still serving me perfectly with no signs of wear. If my training was as good as the Zeals then maybe I could have achieved more at my last event, Dirty Dozen Races’ Backyard Jam. Next up are 10km of killer hills at Brutal 10 Frith Hill. Looking forward to it already!
You can view the Icebug range at www.brocketgear.co.uk, available for men and women, in stock now!