For those who are not keen on OCR (obstacle course races), don’t switch off just yet; there’s more to this event than monkey bars (of which there were thankfully none).
The Iron Run Cranford (nr Kettering) is a relative newcomer to the OCR scene, having had it’s inaugural race in 2014. Following in the footsteps of Tough Mudder, Wolf Run, X Runner, et al, it stacks up pretty well in my opinion (as a course – more on the organisation later). There is a 12k or 6k option and two of the waves are chip timed so add a bit of competitiveness.
I went in the second of the chipped waves, the last one of the day. The first chipped wave was billed as the Elite Wave, so I thought I’d steer clear of that one, being a middle of the pack runner. I’d entered the event as a bit of light relief to be honest; the early part of 2015 being dominated by long distances and the current focus being on getting ready for my first olympic distance triathlon in June. I’ve done a few of these OCRs over the years and I do enjoy the physical challenge and not worrying about a time.
What I particularly liked about this course was that, bacause of the distance, there were some good stretches of pure trail running (handy for an upper body weed like me), and the obstacles in the main were created using the landscape, rather than constructing them out of wood or metal.
I arrived about 45 mins before my wave start; entry wasn’t cheap and the extra £3 for parking did irk a bit, but I guess these events are quite expensive to put on. The registration process was “relaxed”, rather than efficient, but everyone was very friendly. I did worry slightly when after having been given my number pack, I only got my foot chip because I went back to get it, having realised I was the only competitor without one!
There were about 40-50 people in my wave, which was quite nice as some of the more well-known events can be dominated by big packs of muscle boys. I did notice that nearly everyone was in a pair or a group – I think only me and one other bloke were single runners. There was the obligatory group warm up that you get at these things (two burly, highly toned military fitness types). They mistakenly thought they could get me to do pressups – the fools.
As soon as the warm up was over, we were off. Slightly underwhelming start, but nevertheless we were let loose. I was pretty near the front at the start and noticed straight away that the pace of the running was well within my capabilities. After about a quarter of a kilometre I was running behind the lead guy – somewhat predictably the other singleton. What I began to realise was that many of the groups would be running together to support each other round and the others were very much on the ‘muscle body, there for the big obstacles’ end of the spectrum. Although I wouldn’t be the fastest on the obstacles I more than enough had the legs to outrun most of them, especially given the type of offroad training I tend to do for events like the Grizzly. Indeed I’d recommend this event to any of my fellow Bedford Harriers who enjoy cross county – think of it as XC extreme!
Anyway after about a kilometre of fields and forest running I was running in third. Both guys in front of me clearly had much more upper body strength than me and so had been able to haul themselves quicker from the ditches we’d had to negotiate. We came out of a tricky technical forest section and ahead was about half a kilometre of muddy track. I could see the guy in second place was not a particularly strong runner (and weirdly was wearing what looked like football boots), so I figured if I was to get around him, now was the moment. So I put a spurt on and was soon about 10 metres behind the lead runner. I settled in there as to be honest I didn’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have someone to chase – I have never been this high up a field in an event!!
About 3k in we had to wade through a swamp about 2 feet deep, which went on for quite some time. The guy in first place was about half a foot shorter than me so I made some ground on him at this point! However that soon ended as the next obstacle was a steep 20 foot bank that required you to haul up a rope – damn my weedy biceps!
This went on for the next couple of kilometres as I got closer on the runs and then left behind at obstacles, expecially those requiring me to haul myself over. Just after some fun fire pits and multiple bogs we hit a water station together at 5k. We both stopped for a drink but for some reason the other guy lingered. So off I went in the lead, kind of without trying. I wasn’t happy as the idea of him snapping at my heels was a bit too much pressure. So I decided my only tactic would be to try and get some distance between us and see if I could break the invisible elastic band. The next half a kilometre was typical “Grizzly” terrain – up and down, up and down, interspersed by flat, bumpy trails. Mentally I thought that given I know I could do this for 20 miles, then a few kilometres wouldn’t hurt, so I pushed on.
The tactic worked, I looked back at a section where we doubled back a lot on ourselves up and down a hillside and I couldn’t see my pursuer. So – new experience for me, leading a race! Mind my heart sank a little as this was the point where the rear of the pack competitors from the previous wave started to be overtaken. And as we got to one of the big obstacles of the day – 30 feet slide into a bog – there was a huge queue. I can be a bit competitive though (even if I’m a bit of an average runner), so I asked the marshal if I had to wait given I was leading the next wave (there were easily 20 people in the queue). To my big surprise he said – no of course not mate, just go to the front! I felt a bit bad, but off I went and wooshed down the slide (loads of fun, can I do it again please?)
The next big section was a choice – a long run round a lake, or swim right across? Well, my triathlon training must count for something right?! In I plunged. Bloody hell it was freezing! I started doing breast stroke like those ahead of me, but I decided to switch to freestyle, which was much quicker and out I climbed a minute or so later.
This was about half way round the course and to be honest much of the rest of the course was just more of the same really. Loads of bogs, streams, inclines and the odd wooden obstacle to navigate. Whoever designed this course must be a sadist – one memorable section involved going up and down the sides of a gully about 8 times, so steep it needed ropes. Knackering.
I had no idea how far in the lead I was so I kept the pace up when I could. I was really enjoying it. The final kilometre involved a lot of time in a stream as we came back into the Cranford Hall grounds. In fact we had to wade down the stream at thigh height for most of it.
I threw myself over the 6 foot wall at the finish line at about 1hr23m (time TBC), with a massive grin on my face. I couldn’t believe I had won something (OK it wasn’t the strongest field of runners, but hey give me this one!)
Bit of an anticlimax at the end as I collected a “goody” bag that consisted of the obligatory tech t-shirt and a can of energy drink (note to organisers, a goody bag needs a few goodies in it), and had to ask what happens next. The woman taking my chip was a bit unsure and said she “thought” they would announce the winners in a bit and there “probably” was a trophy. As I said before – it’s not that the organisation was poor, it just seemed a bit laissez-faire. Anyway I hung about for about 30 mins, had a cup of tea and put some warm clothes on, but there was no sign of any announcement or awards. I did pop my head round the timing tent and they said the results would be posted later in the day (I am writing this 24 hours later, still no news). They did say that they thought I was 33rd overall (including the previous Elite Wave).
So, a bit cold and a little let down, I went back to my car to drive home. I’m still hopeful of finding out my time and maybe even get the trophy for my wave; I have emailed the organisers. I know it doesn’t sound much, but I never win anything at events as I tend to be competing against much faster runners than me, so it was quite a novel experience for me – I just wish it hadn’t been a bit of a fizzle out.
My summary? Fantastic course, loads of running in between obstacles, great for trail / XC runners looking for something a bit different. I am very battered and bruised today, but I do smile when I think back to yesterday. Just tinged with a bit of annoyance at the poor organisation in the end. I hope they sort that out, as it’s a great event and I’d certainly think about doing it again.