The Devil Mud Run

Jackpot’s Chris Brown ventures into the world of Obstacle Course Racing. Here is what he had to say…

“On Saturday 16th September, I succumbed to doing one of these obstacle race things.  You know, the type that always have “mud” in the title and/or various combinations of hard sounding words like Warrior, or Tough Warrior or Fucking Titanium Hard-core Warrior.  Anyway, it was for a friend’s Charity so I’d turn up, walk round with them and try not to get cold or bored.  This one was the Devil Mud Run.

The group warm-up led by the usual army-wannabee complete with battle fatigues (just to make sure you know he’s hard, but the closest he’s ever been to an Afghan is the local dog show) and forced banter, aka team-bonding, at the start didn’t raise expectations too much, neither did the overcast skies and intermittent drizzle.

Gun went and, of course, the first bit was running uphill as the sound system blasted out Chariots of Fire tunes (that was a 400m race, guys). The pumped-up teams in their matching tops sprinted away at 15minute/5k pace.  Not far into it, we were met by the first obstacle, three wooden barriers about 7 foot high.  I was also met by scores of panting, over-weight mud runners who had shot their bolt not two minutes into the event (I say event because it isn’t officially timed).  Then on top of the barrier, I look down at the fat shorties who are never going to get over this first wall.  “Going to be a long day” I thought to myself.

But what transpired was so far from those negative thoughts.  The shorties were lifted over the wall by other runners, not always in the same ‘team’ and, whilst they still fell behind, the mass pushed onwards.  My thoughts of it being a walk in the park were blown away.  Without a doubt the course was tough, all off-road, through some lovely countryside but taking in every metre of incline they could find.  The basic trail was muddy enough, but the organisers had added their own sloppy, grey clay, clinging mud to narrow sections as well as wooden and hay-bail obstacles to navigate. They all became quite good fun, laughing at how stuck some people could get and figuring out your own best way through the mess of terrain and mess of people.

The whole thing took a minute short of two hours and for a good 80% of that my HR was in race zone, so it was a bloody good work out.  Add in a few laughs and pleasure at helping somebody through a (sometimes literal) sticky patch instead of racing past them, the fact I was actually overtaking people whilst running, subtract the cuts and bruises, and you end up with a really good day out.”

The Triathlon relays 2017.

An in depth report from the inside of the mind of Charles Hickman.

“Come to the relays, they said. It’ll be fun. Long experience has taught me to be suspicious of any such statement but after putting it off for the last few years I thought my time had come. Little did I realise that it would take up more time than an Ironman day, require exposing myself multiple times, involve performance enhancing drugs and blowing my peak heart rate to new levels.

I arrived at the venue, Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham, before 9am, just as the male, female and open relay race started. I’d been warned it was chaotic and it didn’t disappoint. Before long, while there were still people swimming in the lake, there were cyclist whizzing around its circumference and even runners dodging the cyclists coming in the other direction. Meanwhile athletes were bustling in and out of the three transition areas in various states of dress. What the hell was going on?!?

Gradually it all became clear. Each team had four members, designated to go in a specific sequence through each leg. All members of the team complete the swim before moving onto the bike, and then finish with the run. The key was to be in the right place at the right time to hand over the wristband in order to continue the race. The distances per leg (and by each team member) were: swim 2(0.5) km, bike, 60(15) km, run 20(5) km.

‘Team Jackpot Racing Men’s 1’, put together by Mika Brown, navigated the race with deceptive ease, actually finishing the swim in first place and impressively holding onto third club position by the end of the run. So, when the morning’s race was over and Jackpot were awarded the bronze medal, mixed ‘Team Jackpot Racing’ had a lot to live up to.

The Jackpot mixed team, in order of the sequence we would race in, was made up of the big man himself, Chris ‘Dad’ Brown, Kathryn ‘Kool’ Dickinson, Helen ‘Kinetic’ Drew and myself in last position. Four athletes born in four different decades; two men, two women. But with one single focus: to swim, bike and run to the best of their abilities. And in my case not to balls it up (Charles ‘Balls-up’ Hickman).

Chris had knowingly given himself the short straw for the swim by volunteering to go first – when the most number of swimmers would be racing at the same time. Chris, of course, likes a good fight so handled the fracas with ease and was soon smoothly handing over to Kathryn. It was not long before she too was exiting the water and passed the band over to Helen, leaving me to take her place in the waiting pen.

While I stood there waiting it occurred to me that, having just met Helen for the first time, I really didn’t know what she looked like – replete with swim cap and tinted goggles, nor her me. I worriedly started to asses each swimmer as they ran up the exit ramp over to us. So it was with crushing disappointment that I spotted Helen on her second pass of the waiting pen looking for me. I’d missed her! I’ve ruined the race!

Fortunately I think it had only cost us a few seconds but it certainly urged me on into the water. There was plenty of room by now on the swim course but there were also lots of slower swimmers to navigate around, which meant quite a lot of sighting. On exiting the swim, Chris was easy to spot in the adjoining bike transition area – no doubt he’d made good use of his elbows to get to the front of those waiting. I passed him the band and he was gone. It felt weird exiting the water after only 500 meters and then just standing there. No bike to desperately find and mount.

The results show we had done well. Our team was the fourth fastest club and 12th overall out of the water. Helen and I got back to the main spectator spot just in time to see Chris begin his second of three laps on the bike, and to pass some encouragements onto Kathryn who headed off to the bike transition ready for Chris finishing. Chris was riding well, deploying the skills and fearlessness learnt from his car racing to gain ground around the four sharp corners of the course. Meanwhile, as last relayer, I could put my feet up and soaked up the sun’s rays – bizarre in the middle of a race.

Some time later, Mika told me to head down to transition – we had just seen Helen complete her second bike lap. Mika was being a great team supporter, keeping us in line and telling us where to go. As I fussed over my bike in transition I suddenly thought I had miscounted Helen’s laps and missed her coming in – yikes! Thankfully moments later I saw her fly in on her ‘radar-avoiding’ TT bike and so was ready for the handover by the time she dismounted and passed the band on to me. Phew!

I’d thought the bike course too short, narrow and busy to be able to get up any real speed but not so. It was quite exhilarating zooming past slower cyclists as I tried to target those with yellow race numbers – signifying they were the last relayer of their teams like me. I’d been warned about the sharp bend on one of the corners of the course around the lake. Haha, I’d said when I’d been told the anecdotes of athletes going too fast, narrowly avoiding crashing or flying off into the grass out of control. Nod, nod, smile, smile. So what did I do? Took the corner too fast, narrowly avoiding crashing. Plonka.

On my last two laps I suddenly started to hit runners coming in the opposite direction. These were the top relay teams who were already out on the run. Although there were teams of all abilities, there really were some top class athletes competing on the day (including current and ex pros). I tried counting the runners to gauge our position; I didn’t count many, and in actual fact we were still in a competitive fifth club position, 16th overall.

The run was the leg that most members of the team were concerned about. Chris had long said it was his least favourite discipline and Helen had crashed in a race a few weeks before, leaving her with a shoulder and ankle injury. Thus far, Helen had raced much more competitively than her injuries and subsequent lack of recent training would suggest. Could she carry it through on the run?

I was in the transition area to see Chris come in, looking spent and sweating heavily – it was a hot afternoon – but he had given his all, and I think even he was pleasantly surprised by his split. There is a tendency, particularly if you are a longer distance runner, to consider five kilometres a sprint. Such an expectation is bound to end in disaster, even at half the distance.

It is perhaps with this in mind that Kathryn began the second relay of the run, looking as cool as a cucumber. As Mika remarked, it was perhaps a little too cool! Afterwards Kathryn said she had realised as much and had quickened her pace, putting in another quality performance for the team. Helen followed, ankle adorned with kinetic straps. She looked pensive, having the weight of performing well on her (injured) shoulders, regardless of the assurances from her team mates that it did not matter. So it was with relief when I saw her complete her run and enter transition. She had done well to retain our position in the club ranking – 7th.

Naturally I ignored my own advice and tried to run too fast. I’d already been warned that the flat, arrow straight run course around the lake was deceptively long on the return leg. You can see the finish but it just doesn’t seem to get any closer. I was blowing hard and knew I was seconds from melt down but I just made it.

Team Jackpot finished the run in 6th place by club, 21st overall. I’m proud to say this gave us a final position in the mixed relay of 21st overall, 6th by club. Total time 03:33:44.

I can see now why people recommend the relays. There’s a party atmosphere and it really gives you a sense of being part of a wider triathlon community, and racing in a team is a refreshing change from the usual lone pursuit of selfish goals. Per athlete, the distances are not very long but it gives you an opportunity to go hell for leather without having to worry too much about pacing. I certainly had that satisfied glow at the end of the day that only a good, hard day of racing brings. Big thanks to my teammates, particularly Chris for putting our team together; and congratulations to the men’s Jackpot team for their bronze. Oh, and thanks to Mika for the pill to make me run faster.”

Welldone to the Jackpotters at the relays and thanks Charles.

Jackpot’s Gaffer in his element.

Last weekend saw Chris Brown finding his feet in the Aqua Bike Event.  Here is what Chris had to say.

“The first thing you notice when looking round an Aquabike transition zone before the race isn’t the lack of running shoes in everyone’s set-up. Nor is it the ubiquitous top-end TT bike. More it is the size of the opposition. After years on the BTF’s money-making extravaganza, I’ve become used to racking next to those of a scrawnier nature. Not many of my regular opposition come in over 75kg and my usual next-door neighbour, Mr Blunt, is just 68kg with the accompanying height restrictions that go with the stature of a Mo Farah wannabe.

At this event, it’s very different. All the guys are 6-foot or taller and most appear to be closer to or above my own 82kg. I’ll not be suggesting a top-10 fight-off at this race!
Back to the event. It went pretty much along the lines of any other event we all do and know so well. Three things probably stick out.

First, from the klaxon, two guys swam full speed right across the front of us all, almost at a 45-degree angle, heading straight for the bank. My thought pattern went something like this “What have I missed? Is there strong current over there? No, it’s a lake aresehole. Is there a buoy I didn’t see? No, they’re all eight-foot-high and orange. Must be beginners. But can’t be with them swimming at that speed. Must be Tossers then.”

Second, there’s a foot-down-and-stop point on the course where two roads cross. We are specifically warned about it in the briefing. Someone even asks the question as to if it is a complete stop, which is affirmed. How then, does some daft bugger get DQ’d for not putting his foot down? Maybe the same tosser.

Third one only occurred to me about a week later. I came in sixth overall, just four seconds behind fifth. Looking at the swim and transition, I made up 90 seconds on him in the first five kilometres of the bike. When I passed him, he was behind another athlete but I assumed didn’t have space to overtake with me coming up the outside and the road being a bit ropey. However, over the next 15km with him behind me and increasing effort, I didn’t put a single second into him. Might explain why, when I patted him on the back and said, “Well done, just couldn’t match you in the last 500m”, he didn’t look me in the eye. Hmmmm. Maybe I should take to looking over my shoulder every now and then.

Onwards and upwards.”

Welldone Chris.

Willkommen in Deutschland

Guten Abend, drei menüs bitte, ich gehe unter zehn, wir sind sie?

Yes folks, a trio of Jackpotters were out on the continent visiting Bavaria, and practising their German for the Ironman distance event Challenge Roth.  The event is celebrating its 30th year and renowned as the most spectated of all ironman events with around 250,000 spectators lining the course.  The region was experiencing unusually high temperatures for this time of year which resulted in the organisers airing caution to all competitors at the race briefing ahead of race day. However Mark Kilner, Eddie Howarth and myself remained calm.

On race day the temperature did not feel as hot as first expected, however tan lines were still pristine by the afternoon and temperatures in excess of 30 degrees.

On arrival to T1 and the swim start athletes were greeted with a very reserved atmosphere where last minute adjustments were made to bikes and equipment as a collaboration of songs from Hans Zimmer and John Williams from War Films were played over the sound system. The tension was mounting and at one point it became a little too much until i saw Mark Kilner in his wetsuit!

The calm before the storm

The start of the race and departure of the Pro field was singled by canons and hot air balloons rising above the waters, following some more (thankfully)  motivating songs such as eye of the tiger….I was getting pumped and ready to go.

The swim was held in the warm waters of the shipping canal running through the Bavarian forest. The conditions were calm and athletes given 5 minutes between more cannons signalling the next wave.

the infamous Solar Hill

Eddie Howarth led the Jackpotters out the of the water first in 55 minutes chasing down Mark Kilner (swam in 1:09) who had set off 20 minutes earlier behind the pro field and chasing a potential sub 10 time. I later followed in a slower than expected time of 1:18 and the garmin reading over 4100 metres covered.

 

Yorkshire’s Bruno Tonioli

With plenty of assistance from the superb volunteers in transition the trio exited,  organised and then acclimatised themselves to the smooth German roads. Early into the bike leg Eddie Howarth hounded down the fox Mark Kilner as he howled  past… no literally. The bike course was a spectacle with undulations and  the passing of villages and towns saw locals turned out to cheer and enjoy the festival atmosphere. By the end of the first lap the athletes approached the famous Solar Berg hill where spectators crammed the roads with riders only able to pass single file with the crowd cheering and screaming only inches away.

 

Unable to see how Mark and Eddie were doing I stuck to my race plan with a clear strategy  of pushing a little on the hill and getting up to speed on the flats and descents while keep as much speed in Valentino Rossi riding style! The temperature was starting to heat up and the wind becoming more evident on the tiring legs. Four hours into the bike and I was beginning to get saddle sore and a little lethargic I continued to eat and drink religiously to the 5km splits on my Garmin and took some caffeine to raise my alertness. At each aide station I took on some water having carried my well honed rice cakes and blended isotonic recipe drink from T1. After the two loops there was a 5km service road to T2 where the riders where stretching out and looking forward to leaving the bike leg poised for their run.

Eddie was off the bike first with a solid time of 5:07 followed by Mark with back and hip problems flaring and a below par ride of 5:49, and then myself catching up Mark in a well executed bike time of 5:30.

This year challenge Roth had changed the run course to incorperate effectively two out and back loops providing spectators with at least four occasions to see each athlete pass.  In turn this brought a challenging marathon run through forests and trails in the 30+ degrees temperatures and over 650 metres of elevation.

Fortunately,  locals, family and friends cheered the athletes through the final stages sitting on German garden tables drinking Steins of beer and again fantastic volunteers provided a buffet of refreshments and nutrition along the route with the multiple aide stations.

Out on the run and the heat was evident straight away, with aide stations first offering water sponges then water. On leaving and climbing the trails of the forest section and heading out on the canal paths the sun was beating hotter and hotter and each aide section became about reducing temperature, maintaining hydration and nutrition.  The first 5km was a shock whilst my body got into the running and my mind was telling my legs to shut up.  In the second 5k lethargy crept in and the race became a struggle.  With no Greggs in sight I turned to other nutrition taking on caffeine gels and more coke becoming alert and finding rhythm over the next 20k.

I continued taking on gels and fuel regularly and towards the last 15k, the Redbull and salts kept me moving. On calculating that I was well within the sub 12 hour mark I began to pace myself home with achilles, knee and shoulder pain contributing to the crowd of messages I was getting from my body to stop. I pressed on. With the out and back course I constantly kept a look out for Eddie who was progressing well on the run and Mark who was still having a bad day in the office especially when I caught him with less than 10k to go.  Andy Jackson (jackpot newbie), Colin McNeil, Phil Berry and Kev Heath from Raceskin were all exchanging encouragement as we passed, and on seeing the trio of home support (Georgina, Julie and Jo) proving to be more emotional on each passing.  Well before i approached the last 10k Eddie had finished with a 4:03 marathon and overall in a time of 10:14:57.  Chapeau.

Eddie coming home for the Erdinger

With less than 1km left the turn was made for home stretch into the Roth Expo and the 10,000 seat finishing shoot which was shaped like a horse shoe. Trying to find some composure and technique in those tired legs while thousands were watching me take my last strides became even more difficult with the ruffled red carpet,  on what felt like a motocross course under my blistering feet.

Minutes earlier Mark had salvaged his race, from 5 km away from finish he was meandering in front and swaying from side to side through the forest. On refusing an ambulance (Golf Buggy assistance) Mark claimed he was Yorkshire’s Bruno Tonioli. On doing this and refuelling with salt and Redbull he sidestepped and found some rhythm with those hips to finish the marathon in a time of 5:04 and overall with 12:07.

On me entering the stadium Eddie had already finished and had consumed two Steins of Erdinger and cheered myself and Mark home with the Jackpot Support crew. I was delighted and emotional at the end to finish in 11:42:23.

Well what a fantastic event and a definite “bucket list” experience with nostalgia, excellent organisation, amazing support and humbling volunteering. If you have not done Challenge Roth make sure you added to your list.

Thanks to Mark, Eddie, Andy and everyone who made Roth 2017 a fantastic day.

 

Mr & Mrs Jackpot

The last weekend of June saw the Mr and Mrs of the Jackpot Team, Martin and Emma Stoney competing in the Llandudno half and sprint triathlon.  Here’s Emma’s race report.

“I have never visited Llandudno before. One of the first things I noted was that parking is a total nightmare, which is why people only generally choose to visit once they are old enough to travel by mobility scooter.

We checked into our hotel, right on the sea front and where race registration was taking place, so things couldn’t have been more straight forward.

The sea looked relatively calm and inviting in the sunshine the day before race day which was good news, as I have never done a sea swim before and was feeling the nerves.

We ate dinner in the hotel (along with Edna, Dorris, Frank and Norman – presumably not triathletes) and then settled down in our already cosy room with two bikes and all the paraphernalia that comes with racing.

Next morning we literally crossed the road to rack our bikes. The weather had turned over night. The sea was now grey and decidedly rough looking and there was drizzle. Nice.

The Middle Distance race was the first to start at 10.30am. My sprint wave was not due to begin until 12.30, which was how I justified the full cooked English breakfast I wolfed down.

The name’s Martin, Martin Stoney

I saw Martin come back into transition after his swim and was unnerved by his report of it being ‘quite choppy in there’. He seemed happy enough though as he set off on the bike leg – one loop of the Great Orme before heading out into the Conwy hills.

I set off for the pen on the beach and waited to be counted into the water with the other 50 female athletes in my wave. It is a deep water start, so having swum out from the beach, we were held treading water for around 10 minutes before the start gun finally went.

They were a fairly competitive crowd with it being a Championship qualifier, so I kept out of mischief towards the back of the pack and concentrated on what mainly felt like drinking plenty of salt water and being smacked in the face by waves.

I was relieved to finish the swim of 750m and to get on the bike. The Great Orme was a closed road section and the Sprint took you twice round, up what was quite a drag and then a fantastic descent which I loved.The run for the Sprint was mainly on the flat – an out and back along the promenade. The Middle Distance was more challenging and involved a run route with several hills in it.

Emma Stoney in the Sprint.

In between the Middle Distance and the Sprint is an Olympic distance race – so something for everyone. Charles Hickman was also racing the Middle Distance and had a great result, taking 4th Male and first in his age category.  Martin really enjoyed the race and was pleased to finish the run feeling strong. He finished 18th male and 3rd in his age group (he’s not sure where all the other 40-44 year olds were racing that day) whilst I finished 6th in mine.

Having survived my first sea swim I would definitely return to Llandudno for this race again.”

Thanks and well done Emma, Martin and Charles.

Continue reading Mr & Mrs Jackpot