Monday, 30 March 2015

Jemma Training for Dash of the Titan and Dirty Weekend

After last months exploits at the Mighty Deerstalker the events are starting to ramp up a level in terms of distance and potentially difficulty. The Deerstalker was a tough run but falls into the training plan of building distance with Jemma's next two big events ahead- Dash of the Titan and the Dirty Weekend at Burleigh House.

This weekend's upcoming Dash of the Titan is a local event that as racers we feel it's only right to support. Last year's running of this relatively new OCR event in the heart of Sherwood Forest was greeted with mixed reviews and there's a new team in place to hopefully put it firmly on the OCR map. It's also a qualifier for the National OCR Championships for which Jemma is hoping to qualify.

The qualification element of the Dash of the Titan is the first 5 mile lap, the hope is to finish within the top 10 of her age group to qualify for November's National Champs which will be a real achievement but one we're hopeful Jemma has the capability to do. This year might be a little early in her development but Dash will show the level she's now performing.

The plan for Jemma is to run through the finish line after lap 1 and continue for a further 5 mile lap. 10 miles seems a good step up after 14.5 or so racing kilometres at last months Deerstalker and will help in her build up towards the big one- Rat Race's Dirty Weekend in May where the full event distance is 20 miles so the training has to reflect that.

Last Saturday we headed out (Jemma running, myself on the cyclocross bike outside for the first time since breaking my leg so it was going to be a test for me too) for a long run as training for Dash of the Titan and with the view of taking steps towards the 20 mile race distance of the Dirty Weekend. The forecast wasn't brilliant but it looked from the news that we had a good window until around 10.30-11.00 before the rain was due. Armed with a Kalenji running hydration park and her Inov8 Terrafly 277's we tentatively headed out hoping to miss the rain
Jemma running through Bestwood Country Park in her Terrafly 277's

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Oh So Mighty Deerstalker 2015 Review

Our season started on March 14th this year with a long anticipated (and just plain long) drive up to the Scottish Borders for Rat Race's Mighty Deerstalker at Traquair House, Innerleithen. The long-running epic nighttime adventure run with a few obstacle sized surprises.

It's a bloody long drive from Nottingham so the idea was to stop somewhere 2/3rds of the way for a break. I'll often have a look at the map for ideas before we travel and on this occasion we thought it would be good to finally see some of Hadrian's Wall so trundled our way up to the former Roman Army Fort at Vindolanda which worked out as about a 3 hour drive and a good time to stop.

Jemma at Vindolanda, the former Roman army fort
We toured around the ruins and remains of the fort which is an impeccably well maintained and attractive site as we made our way down to the coffee shop and museum at the far end of the site. The museum housed a particular exhibit that caught Spartan Jemma's eye- The spears. (Aroo!)

You can take the girl to a Rat Race but she'll always be a 'Spartan' at heart
After a nice warming hot chocolate and having had a nice, relaxing couple of hours break from driving  we headed back up to the car and on our way up to Innerleithen for the Mighty Deerstalker.

Is Jemma the Mighty Deerstalker?
Arriving with a couple of hours before Jemma's race gave us plenty of time to get ourselves registered with Liam spending the evening helping out as a marshal on light duties as part of his rehab from his broken leg and Jemma due out on the course for Wave 2 at 18:00 hrs as the light would be fading.

Part of the appeal of the event is that you don't just get a race, you get the chance to let your hair down afterwards with a party in the beer tent and on-site camping so you can stagger the few yards back and fall into a sleeping bag. Being March it had better be a toasty, warm sleeping bag though!.

Tent up and ready to race in the green of Team Muddy Race with Liam's Alpkit Gamma

Jemma's Review of the Mighty Deerstalker 2015

This is my 1st event which has been done by Rat Race and from the GoPro videos I've seen on You Tube  looked to be a good, well run event. The videos showed there were hills and the downhills would be steep. In training the hills I've been doing haven't been much of a problem but it's getting down the hills when they are steep that's the real issue as I lack confidence with my footing so the Deerstalker was going to be a challenge that took me out of my comfort zone. 

Deerstalking Kit 
Upon arrival I decided on my 3/4 length New Balance bottoms which are now dubbed the 'racing bottoms' after using them for many events last year. I like them because if I'm wading in water skin dries quicker than when wearing full length bottoms. I opted for a compression long sleeve top and my trusty Muddy Race green tee (cant miss me in that tee especially for the event photos) and as the motto says for deerstalker "do it in tweed"  thought better add a Scottish touch so found a tartan wrap to wear round my neck on eBay thanks to Sarah's Cycling Snoods.

My last contemplation on my kit was what shoes to wear. My inov8 Mudclaws or Inov8 X-Talons. Having my mudclaws would have had extra grip in the boggy mud but I decided on my X Talons for  their drainage and how light they are which thought would be most ideal for this race. Looking at the start line at what people were wearing I've never seen so much Mudclaws or X Talons in one place so I was in good company.

Getting to Traquair House
The race pack on how to get to the venue was spot on and we easily picked the signs where to park after taking a rather remote access route from Moffat. The walk from car to registration and camping is barely 10 Min's so handy with all your camping gear. There was no issue getting my race chip, Mighty Deerstalker tee and a silicon wave band which allowed me to race and we arrived just as the last of the 5 km racers event was drawing to a close so we could hear the DJ person welcoming the last of the 5km events finish so it was getting on towards a rather muddy run up in the Scottish Borders. Our tent was very close to where would finish so decided to leave my clean kit bag there although there were no lengthy queues for that dreaded bag drop which was another big plus.

On the Start Line
I managed to bag a place near the front and we was told to put head torches on as were having pictures and filming done of us with added smoke and flares. A quick warm up and we was ready to go.  1st obstacle was the Rat Race standard starter of mini hay bales and we headed off out of the house grounds.
I knew the 1st Km needed to be quick so wouldn't get bottle-necked at the scree.  My 1st challenge was the bogs which have been issues for me at previous events like last years Spartan Beast but with fresh legs quick footed over them although there was a brief disaster when my right foot slightly slipped out my X Talons and due to adjusting my shoe i lost some ground to quiet a few people who I was alongside. 
 It Wasn't long till got my feet wet for the 1st rime and had to a stream crossing.  After coming out and running on the gravel we had caught up to the queue getting up a massive grass/mud hill to enter the forest. At this point we bid farewell to the last bit of light and we really needed our head torches.

The zigzag of hills was relentless and by this point i was walking a fast stride due to the gradient and unable to jog let alone run. Taking my 1st gel I was questioning my fitness and this is when you think 'my god i needed another weeks training'. After my recent bout of serve head flu i really felt my fitness was being tested. Although masochistic, the planning of the hills to climb up was excellent to test you but before got to top of the final hill inside this first forest we had balance beams to contend with in the dark hard when barley see in front of you.  With legs tiring from the steepness of the hills. What made the group round us laugh was the ambulance flashing its blues and twos at the top of the hill to advertise their available service. Next year free gas and air please!. A guy behind me even asked his mate if it was it for him.

Though what happens when you go up you must come down and that was something I wasn't confidant on at all. I was tested at the Spartan Beast with some steep descents which I wasn’t keen on and as the saying goes I Spartan'ed up and started getting down watching my step using every tree possible. I Even used my tried and tested slide on my bottom technique and with help of a unknown guy (Thank you if you're reading this) I got to the bottom to be greeted with a bit of flat surface again.  Though this was short lived as again we entered the forest via another hill which was a lot more rocky and with a good steady amount of young pines which I used to help me up. Everyone was in single file until we got to the top and were sent back down again. 

The marshals was all fantastically positive who I bumped into and one such marshal pointed out the lights from the other side of hills. We could see perfect lines of light which was from head torches as runners climbed and descended. This was an amazing sight to see.  Though I was disorientated where I was I wondered had I come from there or going to those lights. As I started moving again with plenty of rocks and rolling bumps I got to the bottom to then be told to go across the path and was pointed to a turnstile. "There's water ahead" I heard as we started to run by a river bank.  

At this point I was in need of a cup of water. I had just had another energy gel so was ready and my mouth was starting to dry up from the sugar. Well when they say water ahead that was a Water crossing not WATER station that possibly could be the best blonde moment to date for me. After going in and out of a stream run on a mud track to be greeted again with another short crossing I finally saw that glorious water station and after taking another gel with two cups of water I set off again.  

I was then greeted with yet another water crossing and this one was being instructed to get to the right it’s the quickest way to getting out. An eternity later (750 ish yards I think) and with water up to waist height I got out of the stream.That was a challenge as there was a strong enough current to make it hard and dodging the stones was I thankful to get one not slipping into the water or bashing my shins on the rocks.  

We exited into what it seemed was a housing estate. Children held out their hands out for high fives and a woman with the biggest bowl of Haribo and jelly bean sweets imaginable to a runner. That was a great boost after the water situation.

Turning round corner I saw a guy in a Total Fitness high viz jacket looking a bit worse for wear. I asked if he was ok and he said he was suffering from cramp and hadn't had any gels so I offered my last one as after the amount of sweets I had just eaten I knew would keep me going well past the finish line and I knew could intake anything else sweet.  

Going past the second water station I was sent on the other side of the water bank to where we had two more river and under bridge crossing which resembled what we did earlier in the race so I knew was almost there. It wasnt long until I got to that bog again where almost lost my X Talon I groaned to myself knowing I had to be quick on my very tired feet to not sink into the fields. Thankfully I got through that pretty quick and got up a small slope to the road which had led us out at start of the race so I knew that I would be in the grounds of Traquair House shortly.  

The sound of music and been told your almost there lightened me as gave that last push under a cargo net and up a short slip ramp that I had no worries getting up in as done much bigger previously.But getting down there wasn’t a usualy step or cargo net to lower yourself and not wanting to jump as my legs was only starting to warm through after the last water crossing I started to panic. I have hurt my shins and ankles because of cold before but thankfully I was helped down and got to the end.

I was greeted by Liam I was so happy to see him and asked to cut my timing chip off. I told him I'd had what I felt to be a pretty shit race and that my time was way off. Liam had been working on the finish line and keeping a track on timings so  to be told I'd done the Deerstalker in around 2 hour 20 to 2 hour 30 Min's I was shocked.  

Later I was even more shocked when it was confirmed that I had done the race in 2 hours 15 Min's and was the 39th female to cross the finishing line which amazed me a lot and shows I clearly must be doing something right.

I'm glad I borrowed Liam's head torch for the event. His Alpkit Gamma gave me just the amount of light I needed. I would have certainly struggled with my much weaker version and now know I definitely need to make an investment although the £15 for another Gamma is pretty good really and they're a local company to us too.

Liam's Mighty Deerstalker- Working for Rat Race

When I broke my leg back in January I'd thought that I wouldn't even be able to make it up to the Mighty Deerstalker but 3 weeks out of plaster and rehab and I've been starting to get around much better. It even seems I can walk around properly at times and am now starting to get back into the gym and on the spin bike relatively without difficulty.

When the realisation set in that I should be able to head up to the Mighty Deerstalker with Jemma I decided to ping an email off to the people at Rat Race and see if they would like anyone to assist them at the event. I advised I'd only be able to do light duties but would love to be involved as I would be up at the event anyway so saw it as an opportunity to do something positive instead of loitering around the beer tent and getting fat on burgers.

Rat Race came back and offered me the opportunity to work for them at the finish line. I assumed this might be giving out water, snacks, medals or something along those lines which would at least give me a chance to share in some of the participants story and keep my enthusiasm high as part of my recovery.

In the end I offered to assist with the timing chips. With runners having to race with a timing chip on their shoe they're usually fastened together with zip ties so need someone to cut them off post-race. I was more than happy to do this as it would give me a chance to strike up a good rapport with some of the racers and get their feedback on the course, conditions and the age old OCR debate- Mudclaws versus X Talons.

Whilst the night was positive weather wise for the racers (cool but not freezing and no rain or snow) it was still a challenge for me stood down at the finish line. I'd put on my trusty old waterproof trousers over another pair of trousers up on top opted for a thermal long sleeve base layer, my much loved Redbull Steeplechase hoodie, my new best friend in the form of my Rab Strata Polartec Alpha insulated jacket and topped it off with an old Berghaus waterproof jacket and ski gloves so should have been warm enough for a cold night in the Scottish borders though as the evening wore on my core temperature lowered. Next year I'd recommend similar with a thick down jacket.

Whilst I was giving something back by marshaling the good people at Rat Race are very thankful of your time and will subsequently reward you for your efforts. This is usually in event credit for future events or in credit for their online store. I took the online store option and whilst recovering from the issues with my leg have the opportunity to refresh my wardrobe by helping out at some of the events I would be at with Jemma anyway. If you're interested in doing similar drop an email to  

There was a great atmosphere amongst the finish line team and before the first of the racers made their way to us we managed to get in a nice group photograph.

The finish line team at the Might Deerstalker, Traquair House, Innerleithen 2015
I really enjoyed working for Rat Race although in honesty after spending January and March house-bound it didn't feel like work at all. I should be next on the team for the Dirty Weekend and hope to have as much fun there too.

And on to the Beer Tent

One of the big draws of the Mighty Deerstalker to us was that for an additional £10 on top of your race entry (or for race spectators) you could let your hair down afterwards in the hated beer tent and camp afterwards. After our racing and marshaling it was great to have a sit down over a beer (or three) and reflect on our experiences. Jemma in the hills and Liam at the finish line.
Ending the Beerstalker with a nice pint of cider. Not sure who the elf is who's photobombing. 

Roll on 2016

We enjoyed the Deerstalker so much it's already pencilled in for 2016 in our calendar and Jemma's aim is to go under 2 hours so lets see what happens.

How did you find it? We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Jemma's Objectives for 2015

Setting Targets for 2015 (Jemma's take)

After my achievements of last year it got me thinking what do I want out of 2015?

Smiling for the camera at the 2015 UK Spartan Race Beast- Aroo!

There always should be a main goal for the year that I will take time to train for it and focus upon,

Halfway through my Spartan season last year I saw the The RatRace Coast to Coast event. I've always been just a casual summer bike rider and I've never done anything too challenging other than short rides to Uni all those years ago. So the 106 mile distance between two Scottish coasts trail running, cycling and something new I've  never done in kayaking will be a big challenge for 2015.

The RatRace Coast 2 Coast 

Day 1
Start Nairn. 
Run 7 Miles to Cawdor Castle.
Bike 48 miles (road) to Fort Augustus.
Short Run and 1.5 miles Kayak in Loch Ness
Day 2
Start Fort Augustus
Bike 34 miles (20.5 miles off road)
Run 14 miles (Off road along part of the West Highland Way)
Kayak 1 mile
Finish Glencoe

That's my main objective sorted but to get there I need to be run further so I have targeted couple half marathons at Bedgebury and Sherwood Forest- This year I want to build up my trail running further as this type interests me more than pounding the tarmac whilst road running and I'll get some cracking scenery too.

To help with my cycling this year to get ready for the Coast to coast event eyed up a few cycling
sportives near home though not decided on the distance will do as want to test my limits closer to
the time.

I'm still going to keep with the OCR's

March- Mighty Deerstalker at Traquair House in the Scottish Borders
April- Dash of the Titan at Thoresby
May- Dirty Weekend at Burleigh
September/ October/November- Men's Health Survival of the Fittest UK Series including 2x Elite 13 mile events

Having done the Spartan Race series last year it will be interesting to see what Rat Race have to offer in comparison. The Dirty Weekend is arguably one of the best OCR's on the UK calendar but what will the others have in store. We'll be planning to post some reviews of the events so hopefully those poeple looking to the future will be able to utilise our feedback.

Things I need to Target for OCR's

• Downhill running at speed on trails

• Upper body intensive obstacles (Monkey bars, rope climbs and hanging walls)

• Faster step action in thick mud which at present find a challenge and kept getting


An Additional Target- The Fan Dance

The last challenge I want to add this year is The Fan­dance/ I didn't even know about this race until was tweeted by the race company to have a crack at it and so I am............ with a loaded weight of 25 lbs over 16 miles of hard Brecon Beacon terrain. The event doesn't seem to see many female competitors but I'm hopeful I can put in a good performance on the slopes of Pen-Y-Fan and having some distant cousins who have been in the army doing this course will be a nice homage to their heritage,

And Remaining a Spartan

After last years exploits being a Spartan is in my blood. I'm also pleased we have UK events the other side of the Peak District in Manchester including a Sprint and a Super, A 5 km race is a little on the short side for me now so I'm hoping to target the Super and drag my niece Shanai along and introduce her to the Spartan Kids race. Aroo!