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Obstacle Course Race (OCR) Training

Jenny Obstacle Course Race Training

Standing submerged up to my neck in brown, muddy, cold water I was trying to remind myself why I was only wearing some thermals rather than my usual drysuit with the thickest undersuit I could find. I was relieved to hear the physical trainer say “That’s one minute ladies, only two to go”.

No, I haven’t taken up some strange new form of zero visibility scuba diving, I was taking part in a training day for my first winter OCR or Obstacle Course Race. Since getting back to the UK I’ve been trying to find ways I can keep my plan to break the womens depth record. It’s been an uphill battle so to keep myself sane I’ve been trying out new things and obstacle course racing is something I’d always wanted to attempt. The basic premise is to complete a course of anything from around 5-30km. The obstacles range from natural ones such as muddy pools, streams and fallen trees to artificial ones such as walls, cargo nets and monkey bars.

I completed my first course this summer, the Tough Guy “Nettle Warrior” race. Although aiming to finish two laps of the 15km course by the end of the first my legs were feeling like jelly and when asked if I wished to carry on after my first lap I confess to simply laughing and shaking my head. But that was it, I was hooked. I’ve now signed up for four more races this winter, one ‘fun’ 5km (wearing a santa suit whilst tackling inflatable obstacles) and three 14 or 15km ones.

Those three were the reason why this weekend I found myself stood gasping for breath in what felt like ice water. I had joined a group of lovely ladies known as the Mudd Queens who were doing a day of training and kit testing on the Nuts Challenge course. We were led by Michael Midgley, a personal trainer who specialises in OCR training. When I heard he was ex-army I was slightly nervous but I had no reason to be, he was gentle enough with those who were nervous while pushing everyone to get their best. As a newbie, I’d decided I would have a go at everything. Our first obstacle was the rope climb. I remember doing some of this at school and not being too bad and of course being a climber should help, so I thought.

As we walked over I had chance to chat to some of the other ladies and found out most were veterans of many races, including a few who had completed this course before. I realised I was in a group of probably some of the most hardcore women I know and yet they were all incredibly humble. When we reached the ropes I looked up….and up. No one had mentioned they’d be six metres tall! While I have no problems with height when I’m attached to a climbing rope, I’m terrified of falling and the idea of reaching the top and losing my grip was rather scary. Michael talked us through a few techniques and then it was our turn. After watching a few of the ladies successfully shimmy their way to the top I figured I should probably jump in. The technique he’d taught us was new to me but after a couple of tries I got the hang of it and managed to reach the top. The adrenaline kicked in when I realised I still had to climb back down but staying focused on the movements we’d been taught I was back down in seconds, albeit with tired arms from having relied on them a bit much in my haste to get down.

From there we went on to try out various other obstacles from the “sternum checker” (a log at chest height to jump over), to cargo nets, monkey bars and a firemans pole.

All was fine until we got to the rope swing. I’ve done plenty of these before, including some over water, but this was the most intimidating one I’ve seen. The gap we would be traversing was about twelve feet but looked like fifty. It was full of cold, brown, muddy water. The worst part was the landing; over the years the course has been used it had been worn away by countless feet and was an incredibly smooth muddy bank. All I could visulise in my head was my feet landing on the other side and my body falling backwards into the cold water. Nope, not for me. As I watched a few of the girls have a go and land neatly in the mud I decided this would be the one I’d skip. Until Michael called me forward, pointing out I’d done everything else. Damnit, don’t you just hate it when people remember your name?! Ok, deep breath. I walked forwards and took the rope. The mental video of me falling in the water was playing in my head. I shook my head. Not today. Shouts of encouragement from the girls. “Go on! You can do it”. Deep breath. And swing!

With the picture of me failing in my head I didn’t commit anywhere near enough and my feet promptly splashed in the water. I stayed upright (phew) but hadn’t made the other side. A helping hand pulled me out and on we went.

To the main reason most of the ladies were there: the thermal testing. Michael has a thermal imaging camera and would use it to check our surface temperature both before and after our dip to see how effective our clothing was. It also showed any warm spots where heat was escaping our bodies. After a quick scan of us we climbed in the water. Once in, Michael gave a count down and we ducked down until just our heads were protruding.

I can honestly say I’ve never felt cold shock like it. I thought having done years of water sports (including through the winter) I’d felt it all but this time took me over a minute to get my breathing back under control. Three minutes later we were up and out, and stood for two minutes to simulate continuing on during a race. We cheated slightly at this point and huddled together like penguins. I must have looked colder than the others as the ladies took pity on me and pulled me into the middle of the huddle. After another temperature check Michael took us on a quick warm up run. I thought that was it but he then announced we’d be going back in for another two minutes! Judging by the look on some people’s faces they’d thought the same as me! After the longest two minutes of my life we were back out and checked a final time. My temperature hadn’t dropped as far as I’d felt it had, good news for my thermals, although I was looking enviously at the warmest of the women who mostly seemed to be wearing merino wool (Dear Santa…!).

We finished the day off with a quick trip around a bit more of the course so we could see some of what we were in for before heading back for very welcome warm showers and hot soup.

Overall it was a great day and has given me an idea of what I’m letting myself in for this winter. It’s going to be tougher than I’d realised and I’ll have to increase my training, both in terms of running and upper body strength. Going from diving where I’m doing the least amount of work possible to this seems one extreme to the other but the mental game is the same. I’m somewhere fairly inhospitable and must keep going. An assault course isn’t life or death, so keeping going is somehow harder. Planning my dive from this country won’t be easy but I’m determined not to let a bit of cold water stop me.


Michael is the physical trainer for 6tsix fitness and health: www.6tsix.co.uk

6TSIX fitness & health

The Mudd Queens can be found on facebook or at www.ukmuddqueens.com

UK Mudd Queens

For anyone interested in joining me at any of next years races, the links are in the calendar section.

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