And just like that, 2pm Saturday 06th March 2021, we start running.
Let's just try and put this into perspective for a moment, because I do have a hard time explaining this event to workmates and non running friends (yeah, I do have some non running friends, they keep me balanced)!
The questions I get asked:
Q: How long does it go for?
A: 24 hours
Q: How far do you run?
A: As far as you can, It's an 11km loop. Keep going until you can't or don't want to or time's up.
A: It's non stop. You set up your gazebo or tent ect in an athletes area where you have crew to help you refuel, change clothes and stop you being a wimp. You can sleep if you want as some people do. I'll be resisting that urge though.
A: High walls, low barbed wire crawls, torsion bar crawls, rope climbs, car tyre drags, swimming, sandbag carry, ammo box carry, rocky terrain climbs, rope traverse, cargo nets, up and over shipping containers, slippery timber ramps. You know - military style stuff that's designed to break you.
Q: You must be crazy?
A: Yeah, I guess so? Join me next year?
Hell no is usually the response :)
Here I'll give a race recap, take a look at what worked, what didn't, what could be improved. Some of the mental and physical challenges faced at the event. Nutrition strategy, Also my preparation and lead up to be race ready.
Ok let's get into the race. I set a couple of pretty quick laps just to create a buffer for later that night, traditionally the pace slows a bit through the early hours of the next day so didn't want too much pressure trying to make up time if the body started to fail or the race was tight. I also used these laps to check out all the obstacles and observe other racers. Am I as efficient as I can be or is there a better way on each obstacle? Changing technique on the fly can really help with conserving energy on an endurance race.
What I really like about the True Grit crew is they make use of the valley and surrounding hills. Some obstacles blend in to nature. A rope climb will be anchored into a vertical rock wall with a bell approx 15ft above the ground, they'll bolt a series of timber foot and hand holds in an enormous rock on the trail which you need to climb up and over. It can be a physically taxing course especially if you fail an obstacle whereby you need to pump out 10 burpees.
I get through the first couple laps with confidence, all obstacles were within my capabilities. Just had to watch the strength wouldn't fail on the high wall and rope climb later in the race. The short hill climbs into the forest and trails were where I really made up time as this was my base training. The trails are my home!
Coming into our pit area, I'm not sure who was more race focused, Phill from Beartrap Therapy my crew or me. He had everything I needed ready. Tailwind, Edge Electrolytes, food, gels. He had me in and out like a race car, there was no mucking about. He gave me insights into other racers and lap times so I could just focus on lap by lap.
I'd use the Beartrap occasionally to loosen up the calves and quads, giving them a bit of love between laps.
By the third lap we had to watch the time and sunset as the temp can drop quickly out here. Looking around, some people were starting to layer up, I was feeling ok so stayed with a t-shirt for now. My core temp was sitting well and I'd taken on a bit of food to keep calories up. Good to go as night set in.
I actually don't remember much of the night. The course was pretty quiet. I found it enjoyable to greet the army boys and volunteers who were based at the obstacles each lap. They set up their camp with a small fire which I'd feel it's warmth as I pass by.
The temp was comfortable and I used the swim across the dam as a refresh for the legs and to wake me up. It worked a treat. I just focused on ticking off each obstacle and each lap.
I had a slightly longer pit stop late into the night as I took on some solid food and a cup of tea to warm from the inside out. Sitting still for a few minutes I started to shiver slightly so figured I'd wear my 0.5mm insulated probe vest for this lap. I felt warm as I put it on but after 1km of running I was getting too hot so ripped it off and carried it for the lap. Much easier to cool down than warm up in this situation.
I weened myself off caffeine for over a week before this race and held out taking caffeine on as long as possible. I hadn't touched caffeine throughout the night and it was starting to show around 4am. At times I jolted myself awake on the trails and found my running line was a bit sketchy through the early morning hours just before the sun. A risky situation for rolled ankles and falls. A decision had to be made, do I fight the tiredness or accept it?
After around 16 hours of racing I came into the pit around 6am after the 10th lap and put all my trust and faith in Phill.
'Mate I need a micro sleep, can you set your alarm for 10 minutes?'
He wrapped me in a doona and within 5 seconds I was asleep. He woke me a few moments later with a hot cup of coffee, I reckon he cut short my 10 minute sleep btw!
It was all that was needed. A few minutes of zzz's and a hot coffee at dawn. The temp had dropped considerably now, so I threw on a lavacore long sleeve insulated top to keep on top of the core temp. This was a pretty slow lap compared to others but I was still moving well.
My lead on the pack had increased considerably now. Phill had updated me throughout the night of a few racers behind me leapfrogging each other in position, but I'd created a decent gap to hold on and claim the win. Just don't do anything stupid! Was what I kept telling myself.
The forecast for the Sunday ahead was full sun and hot! The course was open until 2pm with a lot of exposed sections. I was conscious of this and loaded as much in fluids as I could throughout the night to prepare for the heat.
I felt energised coming into daybreak and transitioned to caffeinated tailwind. I'd down 500ml of Edge Electrolytes each lap to keep cramps at bay and stay hydrated as the sun was pinching the skin. Sips of red bull started to make an appearance in the morning as well.
The course came alive on Sunday, racers started to fill the trails and it was inspiring to see so many people breaking down their own barriers achieving more than what they thought possible.
By 10am Sunday morning, I'd clocked 12 laps in just under 20 hours. One more easy lap would seal the victory. I sat a few minutes to gather my thoughts and that's where the Pit Crew really showed their worth. Josh had come over to support Phill and I for the final push. Thoughts are very hard to rationalise in this state. Being awake since the morning before and rushing around goat tracks with obstacles continuously makes for a very foggy head.
What was I here for? Why am I doing this? Phill and Josh helped bring clarity to those questions and pushed me for the 13th lap. Coming in with over two hours spare, was there ever a question I was stopping at 22 hours? Maybe, I'm not really sure. But with Phill in my ear yelling.
'You came here for a 24 hour race, not 22!'
A combination of his pleasantries and a red bull had me back on track clocking a 1:45 hr lap to claim the victory with 14 x 11km laps.
And just like that, 2pm Sunday 07th March 2021, we stop the clock.
I've learnt a great deal over the years running endurance sports. This year I kept it clean and simple and aimed for a minimum of 300 calories per lap in any form.
Ginger beer, ginger lollies and red bull was on hand too.
Approaching the water station mid way on course I'd suck down a SIS gel (100 calories) then drink at least three cups of water.
Training for an event like this to get this distance is consuming. It requires patience and commitment and definitely not something that will come overnight. Trail running is my base. with speed work, hill work, HIIT, heavy weight low reps and low weight high reps all making an appearance. Fatigue runs, pre dawn empty stomach runs and after dinner just ate a buffet go out and train runs are all in there.
Giving my work and family commitments I don't get out to other OCR events as much as I'd like. So my technique and skills on obstacles can definitely be improved. I tried to replicate the obstacles in strength and circuit sessions as much as possible. Spending more time training on obstacles to refine technique would certainly help.
Follow the five principles of training and you're on the right track:
Specificity, Progression, Individuality, Variation and Reversibility.
It was truly an epic experience to be there on the weekend amongst everything that is going on right now with Covid and travel restrictions. A massive thank you to True Grit Australia and all of their major sponsors including Dingo Sandbags 2XU Tactical Strength Equipment and the NSW Government. This event wouldn't be what it is without the OCR community. Special thanks to Phill for taking so much time away from your family to be pit boss and Vanessa, Maya and Emily for all your support.
Next year? Maybe, just maybe...better start training!
See you on the trails!