I’m a huge fan of Brutal 10 – Who wouldn’t be? Whilst not strictly an OCR, the “Tough Running” events put on by Colin, Dave and the team are simply superb and can rival many obstacle course races on the toughness of their hills, mud, sand and water alone. Set on and around military training grounds above and below the M3, competitors are tasked with completing some of the England’s most challenging gradients. Catering for Canicross runners and properly recognising male and female adults and veterans, you can always rely on a Brutal 10 event for a great atmosphere, first-class course marking and administration and seriously aching legs for at least 48 hours after!
I’ve run quite a few of the Brutal 10 events over the last 18 months, and last weekend gave me a chance to revisit my favourite course, Bagshot. Also known as the Army’s Alpine Training Course, the hills are simply staggering. You go up, and up, and up and just when you think you’ve hit the summit you turn 90 degrees to see a further 20m of elevation. The ground varies greatly too, from mud and sometimes chest-high water, to grass and compact sand/pebble trails.
The variation in terrain would normally send me straight to my trusty Icebug Zeal RBX9, but the advantage of Brutal 10 not having any man-made obstacles is that metal studs are allowed. This therefore allows me to break out the Icebug Zeal OLX boasting the same tread pattern as the RBX9, but with the added advantage of 16 carbide steel studs.
Thanks to Sussex Sport Photography for the awesome pic!
So what’s the big deal with metal studs? That’s quite a simple one: Wood. Not just wet wood, but all wood. As any obstacle course racer will tell you, even the latest grip pattern from any manufacturer using the softest or rock-climbing grade rubber will not produce much grip on wood. For the off-trail, cross country terrain of Brutal 10, you often find yourself hurtling down fast descents through heavy woodland, and the ability to jump on tree stumps, branches and bows with total confidence that you foot will not move from it’s planted position is a real game-changer. In the same way, knowing that your precious leg power will not be lost struggling to stabilise your foot on a sharp ascent when your foot hits a tree root is a serious advantage.
The Zeal OLX carbide steel studs…
With Bagshot having a good section of mud and water, it’s also nice to know that you can rely on the Zeal’s tread pattern and non-absorbing material. The pattern on the Zeal OLX, just like on the Zeal RBX9, actively pushes mud out sideways where the foot hits the ground. Unlike some competitors whose heavy stud patterns trap dirt and clog, the result is a clear surface of grip, every time your foot hits the ground.
Zeal RBX9 at the end of a muddy training run with near clear-grip
The non-absorbing material means that when properly sized for your foot, water is quickly “pumped” out around the ankle within a few steps of leaving water. No waiting for the water to exit through mesh uppers, just all of it out. Quickly.
They’ve now formed a solid part of my arsenal for off-trail racing and training. With rumours flying of metal studs being allowed state-side soon by Spartan Race, we may get chance to see them in use over here on OCR soon too (Though be careful if you take someone up on the offer of a bunk-up over a high wall ;-)). If you can’t wait for that, Brutal 10 have 5km+ races every month, with entry starting from just £12 for adults and £7 for children and regular FREE training sessions. Even if you consider yourself an OCR-only person, you need to get yourself to a Brutal 10 race for the leg-beasting alone! Check out their Facebook page or website for more detail.
We are really spoiling you with this blog as Team Brocket Gear’s legendary Jayne Raby combines two race and a shoe review into one!
The fan dance inaugural high moon & the Icebug / Craft Winterrun in Gothenburg by a total Icebug convert….,
Highmoon Fan Dance
On the night of January 16th , I took part with my friend Kramar, in the inaugural Highmoon Fan Dance hosted by avalanche endurance .
My main concern was the weather ; with the recent snowfall and the forecast of a very cold and foggy night. ( windchill of -14*). My Brocket Gear teammate Ross had run during the day, and had reported snow knee deep in places. I was so concerned about trainers in the deep snow that I even considered wearing my walking boots which have terrible grip. I chatted with John Ovenden , who advised me that the Icebug zeals would be the best choice of footwear, then Ross confirmed to me he had worn his Icebug accelerators on the day race , passing everybody and coming in first. So my decision was made , but I was still very nervous.
Great view of Pen y Fan in the snow
As we waited by the red telephone box in the dark , the temperature really dropped and the conditions on Pen y Fan with snow and ice looked very menacing. I admit thinking that what we were about to do was a little bit silly, but , sensibly we decided to treat it as a march and vowed stay together. Most of the competitors , especially those carrying full loads, seemed to have opted for walking boots , and others in various trail shoes/boots.
We had entered the clean fatigue race , but still carried quite heavy bags , with strict instructions that we needed to carry enough spare warm clothes , to survive for at least one hour alone in the -14 wind chill on the mountains. Last minute I also packed an un-matching pair of trekking sticks . he ascent up Pen y Fan started quite slowly, with little chance of overtaking on the path.
As we got higher , and the path became steeper, those with heavy loads started to really struggle with lack of grip , which was slowing everyone down. It was at this point I started to feel a bit guilty as I was one of the very few who seemed to be not slipping at all! My racing companion started to get a groin strain from all the slipping, so I gave him one of my sticks and lent the other to a man who seem to be falling further down than he was going up. The conditions just got worse – the infamous Jacob’s ladder was like one big sheet of ice, but we soon found ourselves on the Roman Road moving faster. Amazingly my feet were still totally dry , even though I’d been knee deep in snow a few times. My favourite part was the big ascent after the pumphouse, many found this the hardest part . We were literally climbing up very steep stream , losing our feet in calf deep mud and water.
Snow in the dark, Zeals needed!
I felt absolutely great on this climb , again I wasn’t slipping like others were , so I wasn’t wasting energy.I passed quite a few and then waited at the top and was surprised how far ahead I had got!The next section seemed to go on for ever, the visibility on the ridge was really low, with high freezing winds battering us. It was very hard to make out the path , and we helped out a fellow racer who called out after falling over the edge of the ridge! My feet despite getting so wet on the last climb still felt great. We had a very slippery last descent , but I had enough confidence in my grip to jog this, then there we were – back at the Storey Arms for hot pasta and red wine (plus some cans of Guinness ). We camped the night in the snow ,something I definitely recommend!
I was really hoping for a very hard night with severe weather and survival style conditions , and that’s exactly what we got. A fantastic night – I can’t wait for the summer edition now. Amazingly I didn’t suffer with any DOMS at all .
The Icebug zeals were the absolutely perfect choice for this race – why I was ever surprised that they’d stick to snow and ice so well , is a bit dumb , as the clue is in the name!!!
Winter run – Gothenburg
So , the following weekend I was given the opportunity to join the John Ovenden and Icebug UK team , for the Winterrun around the theme park and streets of Gothenburg, again a evening race. We were thrilled to arrive and see such deep snow everywhere. The paths we were running on were hardpacked snow and ice, but the temperature rose to zero as we started the 10K race , and on the second lap much of this had melted.
It was an Icebug race , so everyone had their chosen version of Icebugs on. Again I went for my favourites, the Zeals , and loved that everyone was running with confidence in such snowy and slippery conditions. It was a great race in a beautiful city, followed by goulash and beer. I’m now hoping we get a load of snow dumped on us in the UK in my area, so I can carry on running on the paths that nobody dare even walk on!
Avalanche events runs a series of events based very closely on UK Special Forces Selection. One of their events is the notorious “Fan Dance” which is a 15 mile traverse across a little corner of the Brecon Beacons in Wales taking in southern Britain’s highest hill – Pen y Fan, not once but twice! Meaning that the route takes in over 900m of ascent and over some very difficult terrain. There is a summer and winter Fan Dance but as it is growing in popularity they have put 3 races on this winter an additional night time event race (yet to come). I had done the inaugural Fan Dance race in 2013 which was infamous due to the amount it had snowed and I had also completed the route several times in the army so knew what I was letting myself in for all said and done I was really looking forward to a good run out on the hills and my body certainly needed work out after too much booze and food over Christmas!
I arrived early in order to register and get my kit ready for the start, going clean fatigue meant that I did not have a minimum weight to carry but I still had to carry a minimum kit list to ensure safety on the hills. So with food, water, warm kit and a few other extras I had a decent bit of weight to run with but was glad once the saw the incoming weather system and snow on the high ground. In terms of kit I went with the Inov8 X-talons as I wanted enough grip in the mud and snowy patches, especially when descending quickly downhill. Under my legs I had a pair of Zeropoint compression socks to give my lower leg muscles some additional support and assistance on the long up hills. upper body I wore a pair of light weight Inov8 gloves and a Zeropoint long sleeve compression top under my goretex jacket. A buff helped in many ways to keep both and head, ears and neck out of the wind at various pints during the race as well.
Time for the race and it was straight into a very steep ascent and quickly we were starting to spread out as the hill took it’s toll. Towards the top of Pen y Fan after what seemed like an eternity and we were treated to some stunning views of the valley below us and the route ahead. By this point the snow was all over, which was thresh from the night before. Coming off Pen Y Fan I started coming across the load carrying racers who had started an hour before us. Slipped a few time coming down but was ok fortunately. Then cam a long drawn out descent to the turn around point at which point I ate as much food a drank as much as I could before turning around and re-treading the route. The clag was starting to come in again so had a nice blizzard to keep me going!
The climb back up to Pen y Fan from this side was even worse because of “Jacob’s ladder” a horrible ascent which gets steadily steeper the higher you go to a point where you need 3 points of contact on the ground as you climb. My lungs were fit to burst by the time I got to the top so with some relief a started the descent back to the start/finish point. Not sure if it was the prospect of a cup of tea and pork roll at the finish but I managed to throw myself down the hill quick enough to overtake a few runners ahead of me. Finally into the finish after 2hrs and 43 minutes for 7th place which I was very pleased with considering my ever growing gut!
Great challenge and thoroughly recommend it as something different to do whether you normally do OCR, road running or what ever, the weather conditions and terrain make it much tougher than the 15 miles or so it is on paper. I was really pleased with how my kit stood up to the challenges’ especially after seeing people slip over a few times. After a long hot bath I stuck on my 2XU compression shorts for the evening and a day later my legs feel surprisingly good which is proof enough for me they work in same way!
The Marathon des Sables is a gruelling, multi-stage adventure through the Sahara desert. Over 1000 participants from across the globe cover 150 miles of running, walking and trekking over 6 days in the Sahara desert of Morocco. That’s the same as five and a half marathons! It is an experience of extreme conditions in 120 degrees Fahrenheit while carrying everything you need to be self-sufficient including food, clothing and medical supplies. It is an unforgettable experience.
I completed the Marathon Des Sables in 2015 and what a fantastic event it is. I had an amazing time and it made all of the long hours of preparation worthwhile. Here is a quick review of my time in the desert.
Struggling over yet another dune in the heat of the Sahara
Each day had its own challenges, be them dunes, jebels, blisters, the ground or heat. I pushed it as hard as I could over the obstacles that each day brought though and was happy with the what I put in. My training schedule worked as well as it could I think, and I struck a good balance between endurance and cross training. It is easy to over do it, no matter what your fitness levels are going into it and I made sure that I worked hard in training but got plenty of rest. I didn’t just run long distances, but mixed my training with pilates, OCRs, cycling and walking.
A very common sight!
I had aimed to carry as little as possible and achieved this without ever going hungry or being overly uncomfortable, although the cold meals and cold sleeping bag got a bit boring after a few days. Saying that there is little I would change in terms of kit selection and everything I took had a purpose and was used. A lot of people were throwing kit and food out from day one, but it is a learning process. I did improve my running strategy from the first day however and became more effective as the week progressed, mainly by carrying less water between checkpoints (I was even overhydrated at some points) and also by maintaining a steadier, more consistent pace rather than going fast, slow, fast, slow. The compression gear I wore on my calves and quads really did seem to helo during the day and I also slept in the same kit to recover during the night (yes – I did stink!)
Home for the 8 of us over the coming week….
I benefitted from being in a brilliant tent for the race as well. Chris, Martin, Kate, Barry, Brett, Stuart and David were all fantastic company, easy to live with and we all worked for each other. This made the week easier as down time was more fun and there was less to worry about. I was very impressed with the robustness of people in general on the race – some people had an horrendous time with feet, bad backs, injuries or just the heat. Hats off to those who had to spend a lot longer out on the course each day as well. We were a real team and bonded over the shared challenges that such an event brings.
The terrain we ran over was varied and beautiful (despite the discomfort and often pain being endured at the time). Like any race this made the whole thing more bearable, especially given the amount of time running each day. It varied from sand dunes, to dirt tracks, rocky outcrops and the long day (+50 miles) even had a small mountain in the middle (thank you organisers for that….)
I won’t give you a day by day account of the race because it’s been a while since I finished and I can’t actually remember each day in detail! I finished 55th overall and was the 9th fastest Brit, which made me very happy indeed! I spent about a week after in a very fatigued condition and was glad I’d taken another week off work.
Me at the finish with my best bit of bling to date
I’d recommend it to anybody whether they be a seasoned ultra runner, OCR die hard or anybody in between. My race followed a long period of training as I was very content with how it went, enjoyed it immensely and would love to do it again. More importantly I raised over £6,200 for Walking With The Wounded which is a charity very close to mine and Brocket Gear’s hearts.
No matter which sport you are training for it is always easy to let your guard down in the winter. It is important to maintain a steady state of fitness throughout the winter season so that come Spring time you will not find it too much of a struggle to bring your fitness levels up to race pace. Whether you are a rookie or a pro, it is worth understanding the importance of winter training and how best to prepare.
There are a number of important considerations for winter training, these are broken down into the following categories:
Weather – Always check the weather forecast to ensure you dress suitably for the conditions. If it is icy, consider waiting until it thaws or ensure footwear is right for the conditions under foot.
Ensure your footwear has decent grip for the conditions
Route -It’s very important to plan your route and/or training session. The sun is generally low in the sky in the winter so consider running routes where you will not be running face into the sun in dangerous areas such as next to busy roads. If you live in an area where outside training is impossible, consider looking around for an OCR or Cross Fit style gym. Parks are also great for winter training. Go on routes where you know there will be street lighting.
Time – Set a side more time for your winter training sessions. You will need to consider extra time for warming up and cooling down.
Visibility – The short winter days mean we often end up training before or after work in the dark. It is essential to remain visible at all times.
Clothing – Upper Body
The key to winter running especially for your upper body is layering. Firstly, you will need to keep your hands warm with a good pair of gloves. You can lose a great deal of you body heat through your extremities so it is important to cover those hands. Next, you want a fitted or compression base layer. This layer is the closest to your body and should have contact with your skin, this layer should only consist of wicking fabrics such as wool or synthetic materials and not cotton.
A 2nd layer is needed for colder runs and is made of an insulation fabric such as fleece. This layer has the perfect balance of trapping air to keep you warm while
releasing enough vapour to avoid overheating and chills. As a final layer, you will want to protect yourself against the wind, rain and snow but at the same time allow both heat and moisture to escape to prevent both overheating and chilling.
Your legs generate a lot more heat than the rest of the body while running and therefore you will not need as many layers on your lower body. Shorts are generally fine, however if the temperature is cold, you may wish to consider a pair of running leggings or tights. Your feet also have the tendency to keep warm and there shoes with breathable waterproof membranes to help protect your feet from the natural elements. Choose shoes with an aggressive sole for the best grip, for added traction there are shoes with metal studs, remember however that these type of shoes are not permitted for most OCR events in the UK but do offer superior grip when running snow and ice. Do not use cotton socks when running because they will not wick away the moisture, leaving your feet wet and prone to blisters. Instead use socks with wicking fabrics such as wool and synthetic fibre.
Accessories: Dryrobes: One accessory that has become a ‘must have’ in the OCR world and we
see a lot of at events are the Dryrobes. These jackets are roomy, fleece lined
and exceptionally warm. With all the space inside them, they allow the user to get
changed under them in warm conditions.
These are a water proof, modular type bag, enabling you to zip together to
use on race day in whatever configuration suits you. Essential for any athlete,
family or sports team, KitBrix is the most functional and most effective of all the
sports organisers. Big easy pull zippers, military inspired design, well thought out
shape for open access and a hardwearing tarpaulin as well as a moulded base
which makes this durable bag set outstanding.
While training through the winter you may not sweat or feel as thirsty as you
typically would in the summer, but it is important to be aware of this and
remember to keep drinking and eating before, during and after your training
We at Brocket Gear want to help you to enjoy Adventure Running and Obstacle Course Running as we do. If you have any questions or queries about what gear you should be using particularly as wecome into the winter, do not hesitate to ask us. www.brocketgear.co.uk | firstname.lastname@example.org
Brocket Gear Race Team’s Ross Brackley and Jason Brunnock took on the UK OCR champs recently and here we have Ross describing the day….
Potentially the biggest race in the UK this year was about to unfold and right on schedule, the rain came as we stood tentatively on the start line. This race would be defined by two things, the planning behind the course and the number of competitive racers who showed up on the day. Thankfully, the best guys on UK shores at the time were littering the event village and I knew some of OCR’s most passionate organisers were behind this one. Game on. Focusing mostly on the OCRWC a month earlier, I hadn’t thought too much about preparation for this but some time off hard training left my legs feeling pretty good, so I had everything to run for.
The starting pace was typically fast and with numerous quick guys on course we snaked fairly tightly for the first kilometre or so…we were racing. Heading into Wild Forest Gym a small group broke away, at this point Conor effortlessly leapt from a cruising pace alongside me, straight to the front group. Awesome! Tristan had set the starting pace and together with James Appleton and Conor, pulled out quite a gap as we headed into another running section.
Arriving at the slippery monkey bars a little behind, I made sure I just safely got across, knowing we had a lot still to come and risky gibbon like behaviour was unnecessary at this point. Next came the leg sapping ditches, complimented by the endless cargo crawl, such a pleasure. It’s often these simple obstacles, which almost everyone can complete, where an efficient technique will put you in good stead for the rest of the race. However, stuck at this point in a battle for fourth, and with Tristan, Conor and James all pulling away, chances of a podium finish weren’t looking good.
We were on our feet again now, with a chance to open up a run and it was evident I had plenty left in my legs compared to my opponent battling for fourth, so I quickly put a gap between us. Now I was in danger of being subject to a lonely OCR slog, which many races often become. Luckily, as I reached the apex of the hill I could see the gap they had opened wasn’t unachievable to respond to. This was almost disappointing…it meant I was going to have to try, rather than settle for fourth…but that’s what you want from the UK Champs, right?
We entered the stream with a log in hand, as you do, it was at this point Tristan was close enough to make contact. We exited the stream together, entering some good running sections, where I managed to stumble my way into a small lead, we were back in business. Some technical obstacles followed, the rig being one of them and after what I’m calling ‘knotted rope bounce ball thing’, which is trickier than it looks, most the grip intensive obstacles were over, until the final few kilometres. I safely got through these again, still employing the ‘safety sloth’ technique, not wanting to lose any time from a big mistake.
James and Conor were gone now, I watched James disappear after the first water heavy section, and the battle for me now was going to be with the elements. Water obstacles were deep, swimming not wading, once your chest is in you’re going to lose heat fast and I was feeling this. I know I can suffer through the cold but it can have an effect on your ability to manage the more technical obstacles and needless to say, my hands were numb.
Scott was flying around with the GoPro and lifted me through many of the running sections, forcing a quick pace to get me warm and competitive again, thanks dude! Arriving at ‘Cliff Hanger’ I was lucky to find my grip was solid, which gave me confidence heading into the Ninja Rings, where many peoples’ races slipped away from them. A quick look over my shoulder following this and I knew 3rd was probably mine.
However, dropping off the penultimate obstacle and looking to the Weaver, I caught a glimpse of a runner coming through. I knew I had get across fairly swiftly and that a mistake now would cost me a podium finish. I went for the ‘safety gibbon’, the perfect hybrid, crossing the line in 3rd. Nice.
It’s been mentioned all week but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be said again. This race was challenging but in my opinion achievable, with enough variation to allow most the different strengths of an obstacle racer to show through. Mark and James smashed it and although weather kicked our butts, which we couldn’t control, measures were taken to help keep the obstacle safe when slippery. Great work guys and well done to Jason on his 6th place as well!
The Bog & Bryn race is part of the Welsh Fell Runners Association calendar and a +13 mile loop in the valleys of Cwmbran Wales. Stuck for an event at the weekend I thought I’d give it a go as it promised to be a tough hilly course with plenty of mud thrown in.
I was not disappointed and set off on one of the hottest November days on record into the beautiful Welsh countryside – a little apprehensive as it seemed the majority of my fellow runners were in club vests which told me there were some seriously keen runners taking part!
We set off at s quick pace and within a few minutes we started our first ascent up a vey steep muddy hill. It was hands on knees stuff and as I was not fully warmed up yet I certainly felt it in my heart and lungs! From the website I knew roughly to expect and the fact that this first hill was a small one didn’t bode well. We were then into a stage of fields which were pretty tough under foot owing to the herd of cows occupying them but my trusty Inov8 X-talons held up pretty well and stopped me from falling on my arse or turning on my ankles.
Once warmed up I really started to enjoy the race and managed to stay with a fairly quick pack of runners, the weather was beautiful and the Welsh country side equally lovely – a great way to spend a Sunday.
After about 9/10 miles (felt longer) we hit the biggest hill which seemed to drag on and on and at that moment I was conscious of my baby inspired lack of training and sleep! But no better way to brush the cobwebs off than with a tough race. I reached the final ascent and it was a fast decent back into the town. My legs had been begging me for this following the long ascent but I think the Zero point compression socks helped ease the pain on my calves going up and my 2XU compression shorts helped my quads on the fast descent. Once into the town is was a fast dash down the canal and back to the start where I was very pleased to be finally finished and in 24th overall.
I’d recommend the race and at £14 it was great value; with a good bit of food and a very nice mug to keep at the end. This type of event is fantastic training as it really works the cardiovascular system whilst working and strengthening feet and legs.
A familiar thought came to mind as i drove towards the start line of the Brecon 10 Peaks Ultra… ‘i am getting too old for this’ swiftly followed by lamentations for the warmth of the bed I had left behind. I promised myself this will be the last endurance running event that I will do before retiring to take up more sedentary pursuits.
It was 5am and as I approached the Race HQ a procession of head torches was moving in the other direction. These were runners on the Long Course, the understated title given to a 90km journey through the Brecon Beacons to the Black Mountain and back again (it almost sounds like a passage from JRR Tolkein novel). My challenge for the day was the less onerous task of completing the Short Course, a 58km loop with 3000m of ascent which bags 10 peaks including the iconic Pen-y-Fan (see below).
The Race HQ set the tone for the rest of the day with a well organised and friendly community of runners and race stewards making sure everyone set off with a spring in their step.
The route starts with a steady trot for a mile before the first climb starts towards the first checkpoint at Carn Pica. My weapon, or rather shoe, of choice with the Inov8 X-talon 212 which has a tread that ideally suited to the mixture of mud and rock that characterises the going around the Brecon Beacons. This turned out to be an inspired choice and I felt confident to ‘open up’ on the descents as the trainers offered plenty of stability. The X-Talons also drain quickly after being plunged in to bogs and rivers, transitioning the feet from being saturated to comfortably damp! A battle winning bonus when you are on your feet for a number of hours. To assist with the climbing I wore compression calf socks to help stave off fatigue in the powerhouse climbing muscles.
The other noteworthy piece of apparel was the bright orange t-shirt that was kindly provided by Brocket Gear. The weather conditions can change from benign to inhospitable in a matter of moments in the Brecon Beacons, so it was comforting for me (and those around) to be wearing what equates to a heli-marking panel throughout the race 😉 (whilst looking awesome the editor notes)
Two hours in to the race the morning cloud cleared, leaving the runners to take in the most stunning of settings. The route is well designed to take in the most spectacular parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park. My buddy and I made steady progress fueled by a pouch full of Chia Charge flapjacks. Nutrition is key to success in endurance events, however, I often find the usual offerings of energy bars a little too sickly. These flap jacks provided a high energy yield and were pretty moorish (I have a guilty confession that I actually ate my spare one on the drive home that evening); perfect those moments when you can’t face the thought of another gel or decapitating another jelly baby!
The Storey Arms car park at the foot of the climb to the Corn Du peak represented the half-way point and a great point to ‘fuel-up’ on a cheeseburger from the local burger van. Although over halfway in terms of distance, we had still only bagged 5 / 10 Peaks. The next 5 would follow in swifter succession but only after a good deal more climbing as this section of the route contains 4 out of the highest peaks on the route. The route now runs along some of the more popular walking routes and the encouragement of the weekend rambling brigade was much appreciated. After Pen-y-Fan (peak 6) the route becomes a series of short sharp climbs and descents before the final long descent back down to where it all began over 9 hours before. As the Race HQ came back in to view, with the sun shining upon ‘God’s country’, I began to reconsider my earlier earlier promise to make this the last ultra; may be there are a few more events in the legs yet…and the Long Course does sound like a good one to get in to the CV…
The Icebug Xperience is a 3-day event on the West Coast of Sweden, there are options to run or hike the 3 days. I was invited to take part as part of Team IcebugUK.
Travelling out on Thursday to Gothenburg it was an early start to the day arriving at Heathrow for 6:15 ready for the 7:40 flight. Arriving in Gothenburg I met up with the rest of Team Icebug UK members and we headed into Gothenburg for the day where we visited Icebug HQ to drop off bags before heading into town for a spot of lunch to get to know the 2 competition winners Martin and Craig along with Jim who travelled with the team, after some sight seeing we all met up again ready for the coach transfer up to Ramsvik where we would be based for the next 3 days.
Arriving in the Ramsvik holiday village we were allocated rooms, this was very efficient with envelopes being ready with keys and all the details we would need. Registration and race pack pick up was completed quick and easy, the race pack received containing race number, dibber, race t shirt (high quality merino wool) and a head over.
As part of the race package everyone receives breakfast, lunch after each stage and an evening meal along with accommodation, this was in the form of chalet’s with a living area downstairs and beds on the 1st floor accessed by a small ladder which was pretty cool.
The first evenings food consisted of a buffet of pulled pork, salad and potato wedges, all food for the event is locally produced and organic giving a great chance to sample Swedish food. After a look around the holiday village it was off to bed for an early night.
Day 1 – Woods and Islands
Up for breakfast at 7:00 which was a great mix of traditional Swedish food including smoked elk!!! As the first day didn’t start until 12:00 we were able to spend some time taking in the amazing scenery around the Ramsvik area. Coach pickup was at 9:50 to travel to the ferry to take us to the start lane
Stage 1 started at 12:00 on the island of Bohus-Malmön, after a run along the harbour area, along pontoons we headed up into the rocky area where fun really started, this was around 6k of very technical running across rocks and boulders, having never ran on this terrain before found this hard going. The ferries run every half an hour back to the main land where stage 2 would start, I soon realised it was going to be tight to make the 13:00 ferry back due to the terrain being run over, turning the last corner could see the ferry was being loaded up ready to go, finished the 6.5 miles of stage 1 in 59:23, so just making the ferry, quick grab of a cinnamon roll which was heavenly along with a sports drink from the fuel station after dibbing in, it was on to the ferry.
On landing back on the main land we had a short wait before all the runners started off on the next 18k, straight up a hill!!! The 2nd stage was a mix of more rocks, woodland and along the coast. Again the scenery was incredible, with the next 2 days in mind I was trying to keep a fairly steady pace but with the heat of the day and the tough terrain this caught up with me at around 9 miles, turning off a short road section to run up a trail both inner quads cramped which made the climb up the hill an interesting walk/hobble. From here on in it was a case of run then walk/ hobble and try and stretch off the cramp. Between miles 10 and 11 I started feeling very dehydrated despite taking on a lot of water and sports drink at the water stations, found myself having to dig deep to keep going and the run/walk swayed more towards walk with small bits of running. Another runner came past me and shouted out come on keep going there’s around 250 meters left to go, not sure I have been so glad to here how far there is left in a race before and kicked on to run the final section onto the harbour area at Kungshamn.
The evenings meal was locally sourced fish, not being a great lover of fish I’ll admit to not being overly keen but enjoyed trying different fish I’d never heard of let alone eaten. Rounded off the evening with a massage, clean bill of health given just some tightness which he worked away.
Summary of day 1, far harder than I had anticipated with the added heat which was not expected made this a challenging but great days running (and walking in places). Beautiful scenery and great atmosphere. Finished the day in 46th/118 runners with a time of 3:16:08 and 3rd Brit out of 13
Day 2 – Ramsvik Rocks
How different a start to the day today was, we woke up to heavy rain and thunder storms which were forecast for the day. Breakfast slightly later than Friday so as to be fuelled nearer to race start, added in some of the smoked elk for extra fuel, very tasty.
Today’s race started in Ramsvik holiday village, luckily the rain had moved out and we were presented with perfect conditions for running. A last minute decision not to run in a rain jacket was made which was a great decision. The race started off by heading off to the reddish granite rocks around the Ramsvik area which after the mornings rain were quite slippery so a steady pace was needed, a few people were slipping but no such problems thanks to the IceBug Anima3’s. As the race progressed we moved through wooded areas with the type of trail running I love and very Brutal10 like, narrow wet and muddy trails, more rocky areas and some road with a climb up and over a bridge before heading down into the harbour area and to the finish. Finished the race feeling a lot fresher than the previous day and with a big smile on my face after a great mornings run seeing yet more amazing scenery.
Lunch was served in the harbour area which was some locally sourced chicken and vegetables, tasted really good, after seeing in the rest of the Team IcebugUK runners we headed back to Ramsvik by coach. Tonight’s meal was a meat feast consisting of neck of pork, sirloin steak and slow cooked lamb with locally produced vegetables, like the previous night the food was very good. Ending a great day with a well needed massage it was off to bed for some rest before the last day.
Summary of Day 2, a great trail run, although tough not as tough as the previous day, amazing scenery yet again. Finished in 18th place on the day and first Brit home, overall standings moved up 16 places into 30th and clawed back 11 minutes on the top Brit from day 1, 7 minutes 30 seconds to make up on day 3…..
Day 3 – Hunnebo Haut Route
A very windy start to day 3 and feeling a lot colder than the previous day’. Not having had a great nights sleep due to achy legs, I walked around and used a roller stick and Tiger Balm to ease the legs ready for the start at 11:30.
To get to the start line today there was a short ferry trip across to Hunnebostrand, assembling at the start line I was still in 2 minds as to whether to try and claw back the 7 minutes 30 seconds needed to finish top Brit, looking at the course for today pretty soon after the start we would be presented with a steep climb, decided to give it my all and see how much time I could pull back, legs were still feeling pretty tired at the start but after the first 1km started to loosen up and was able to run at a steady pace, as we climbed the rocks out of the harbour area I was just behind the leading pack and around runners who I had been near the previous day so felt comfortable tucking in with these guys, once over the top of the rocks the wind dropped and left a pleasant temperature to run in, today’s run was another great mix of rocks, trails and small road sections, after around 10k I was feeling strong so moved ahead of the 2 guys I was running near, we swapped positions again for around 5k until going across the bridge which left around 4 to 5k left, decided to give it one last push and moved ahead and away from the 2 guys, a final section across rocks and trail lead to the road leading in to the Ramsvik holiday village, being aware every second could count today I pushed hard right to the end and finished feeling I really had given every I could which is always a great feeling.
After seeing in the rest of the team I headed off for a shower and to pack final items ready for coach pick up at 16:00. Lunch today was grilled chicken with roast veg and potato, enjoyed with a beer with the team before watching the prize giving and closing of the event.
During the coach journey back to the airport, the final results were published and found I had made up 8 minutes 7 seconds to finish 37 seconds ahead of the 2nd placed Brit and 25th out of 118 starters, this was a real bonus given the 46th place finish on day one, 16th on day 3. Met up for a farewell beer at the airport before heading off for our flights.
The Icebug Xperience really lived up to being a one of a kind event, amazing scenery, tough yet great running, lovely food, great people and a very friendly atmosphere all mixed together to make this a must do event for all trail runners with the bonus of a few days away thrown in. Packages for next year are due to be released soon which are great value with race entry, accommodation, food, transfers to each stage and coaches from and back to Gothenburg included. I’ll be booking up to go back next year as soon as I can.
Thanks to John Ovenden of Icebug UK and Jonas Fernström of Icebug for making it possible for me to attend and have such a great time.
I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on the upcoming 36+ hour mental and physical endurance event ‘The Unknown’ bought to us by one of our favourite OCR organisations, Judgement Day. It’s 2128 on Sunday evening, and while I watch friends Martlew, Miller, Lacey and Hellard on BBC 2’s Hell Week, my mind is focused on the fact that by this time next week, my personal weekend of hell will be out of the way.
Judgement Day: The Unknown promises to test us mentally and physically over a period of 36+ hours, starting next weekend. We have been given a kit list to take alongside food and water, including 20 empty water bottles, a teaspoon, a space hopper and various other weird and wonderful objects. From the moment the list arrived, the mind has been racing: What will they be used for? Are some of them red herrings? There’s been a lot of theories on the Facebook group setup to help the competitors chat. I1ve got my own theories, but keeping them to myself for now.
There’s about 30 of us doing it, and I’m glad to be joined by fellow Brocket Gear Race Team members Jason and Phill, along with a host of good friends from the OCR community. While I’ve no doubt at this point that this will be a very personal journey, I’m sure there will be an abundance of team spirit throughout.
I’m currently starting to panic about the kit. The pre-event mind games have begun already, as the mandatory kit list can be a little open to interpretation. There’s also things to consider like fuel: What should I take to eat? How many calories should I be looking at? How can I get maximum energy with minimum weight? And what about water? It’s enough to drive you mad before you begin!
My home has been overcome with kit now. Everything has arrived, lists have been written and there is barely a floor or work surface that hasn’t be claimed by The Unknown. I think it¹s safe to say that my wife will be happy once it¹s out of the way. I’ve gone with merino and neoprene clothing, with two spare sets in dry fold bags inside the rucksack. I’ve also gone with an emergency hypothermia dry fold bag with full fresh baselayer, neoprene, wraps and my Dirty Dozen bobble hat. My plan is to only use this if I get too cold and feel like hypothermia is getting the better of me. I’ve got a new version of my favourite Smartwool beanie for my head with Darken neoprene gloves for my hands, Inov-8 Stormshell Jacket for outer layer water/wind proofing and some waterproof trousers. In essence, I know that the waterproof outer layers won¹t stop the wet when I’m burpee’ing in the sea at 2am, but hopefully they will stop the wind when I’m trying to warm up again.
For food, I have a selection of the amazing Chia Charge bars, Mountain Fuel and a few thousand calories worth of sweet and savoury sticky rice cakes from the Feed Zone Portables book (Lovingly created by my ever-suffering wife and amazing cook/baker, Ali). I’m also going to take a regular water bottle and my Water-To-Go bottle, which will allow me to purify water on the go.
Finally, in addition to the required kit, I¹ve got a small selection of survival items that I feel may come in handy at one point or another. Only time will tell! I’m now killing time, waiting for the big day, and trying to remember that I’m doing this for fun