Bing Blazer is often touted as one of the stand out Scottish obstacle course races (OCRs). It has won or been nominated in several categories in both the Mudstacle and OCR Scotland awards, including "Best Obstacle" and "Best Value Event".
So I was keen to get along and experience this event for myself. It was also one of the races I missed last year due to injury, so it was time to make amends.
The race took place at Harburn Estate, near Livingston and West Calder in Scotland. I understand this was a new venue for the race compared to previous years. However, it was the first year I was taking part so I can't speak to how this compares with the old venue.
The event village was small but functional, with a registration tent, baguette/coffee tent, bag drop, and massage tent. Registration seemed a little chaotic, though there were many volunteers helping to get through all the participants as quickly as possible.
The one small gripe I had was the number of toilets. There was only 2 portaloos, which for 300-400 people is not great. The queues for these two toilets were pretty lengthy, and many people were almost late for their wave due to the wait.
There were 3 different distances, 16km+ (2 laps), 8km+, and 5km+. I had opted for the 8km+, which I think turned out to be the more competitive wave based on the number of participants and the lap times.
I was treating this as a "B" race, so I hadn't tapered at all and my calves were still feeling a bit tight from hill repeats a couple days before. Then due to the toilet queue, I never had much time to properly warm-up. However, fortunately the instructor led pre-race warm up did a good job of doing so.
The race was quickly underway, and everyone shot off down the gravel path and into the woods. The path narrowed into a short single file section, and it was difficult to get past people. A good way to funnel the field a bit at the start, but a bit frustrating if you were one of the people trying get past someone.
A waist-high river crossing was the first main obstacle. They had life jackets on hand if anyone wanted one, but the water level was fairly low, making it easy to wade across.
The Lion Rampant
Out of the water, and another short stint through the woods, we arrived at the "Lion Rampant" obstacle. A reasonably unique obstacle with a short ramp up to an overhanging wall. It was definitely a fun obstacle, and would be fairly challenging if you are vertically challenged.
Though it proved to be a bit of a bottleneck. Only 1 or 2 people could safely attempt it any time, so even though I was near the front of the wave, a queue was quickly starting to form.
I wasn't held up long at all, but still by the time I was over the other side the race leaders were nowhere to be seen.
Ninja Time, or maybe not
After some more running through the woods, we headed back into the event village. I was looking forward to the ninja rings, and had been going through the technique in my head for the previous 1km leading up to it. Unbeknown to me, about 10 mins beforehand (in the 16km+ wave that set off 30mins earlier), a girl had awkwardly fallen off the ninja rings and broken her leg.
So when I got there, they had temporarily closed the obstacle in order to lower it down to a safer height; and I was given 10 burpees to do instead :(
I understand they managed to lower the height and re-open it fairly quickly, was just unfortunate timing for when I was going past.
After a small wall to hop over, and a fairly lightweight kettle bell hoist, it was back into the woods. This section in particular was pretty technical trail running, with a lot of fallen branches, tree trunks, and muddy ditches to run over. Challenging but fun to run through.
Going the Distance-ish
The kilometre course markers started to get a bit questionable at this point. I'm sure I ran past the 6km marker, even though my watch said it had only been about 4km. Overall, it all evened out and the 8km+ race ended up being about 10km, but still a bit confusing during the race.
With the longer 16km+ wave setting off first, and then the 8km+ 30mins later, I was concerned a little about the potential for getting stuck in queues later in the race. Indeed, it wasn't long before I caught up with the tail end of the 16km wave.
However, all of the runners I caught up with from the earlier wave were more than happy to let me go past them on the obstacles. The marshals also did a great job of letting everyone know that someone from the 8km wave was coming through.
Some of the stand out obstacles in the 2nd half of the race included some monkey bars over a stream, a 9ft wall, a very steep muddy slope, and a unique rig traverse called "Tyred Monkey".
The latter was a collection of different sized tyres hanging from chains, and you had to get to the other side in any manner possible without touching the ground. Definitely a fun and challenging obstacle, forcing you to adapt more standard techniques and skills in order to find a way to get to the other side.
Another fun and unique obstacle (though a lot less technical) was "Lava Sharks". This essentially consisted of various balance beams, ladders, and platforms that you had to traverse without touching the ground. Basically an adult version of the classic kids game "the ground is lava". The wooden beams and platforms were pretty slippy due to the rain, but overall was still fairly straight forward.
The rain got a lot heavier during the final few kilometres, making the running and last few obstacles a bit tougher.
Right before the finishing straight, there was a wooden weaver obstacle. A reasonably standard OCR obstacle where you must alternate going over then under the horizontal bars without touching the ground. I took way too long on this, partly due to the slippy wood, and partly due to me getting a slight cramp in my hamstring.
Then standing in the way of the finish line, was a reasonably long length of monkey bars followed by a 10ft ramp.
With the rain lashing down, the metal scaffolding of the monkey bars was incredibly slippy. Those I could see in front of me from the 16km wave all slipped off. So instead of the traditional straight arm swing technique, I went for the 90 degree arms, one bar at a time approach. This puts a lot more strain on your biceps and forearms, but your hands are static meaning the potential for slipping is far less.
It worked brilliantly, and I made it comfortably to the end of the monkey bars. Definitely shows that it's good to have a few different techniques in the bag, just in case the conditions change.
As I turned the corner to face the 10ft ramp, I heard my wife shout from the sidelines to be careful on the ramp as it was super wet and slick. Then indeed, the runner in front of me slipped and flew back down the ramp at quite a speed.
It was now my turn. I jogged towards the ramp with no real conviction, almost expecting to fail and slide back down, and that is exactly what happened. I jumped for the top way too early, ignoring all technique for running up ramps.
I was a bit annoyed with myself, as I'm sure I could have made it up that ramp easily. Just the heavy rain and anticipation of the wood being incredibly slippy messed with my head.
So instead of making it up the ramp, it was over the climbing wall next to it, down the other side, a quick dusting of paint/flour from one of the marshals, and across the line.
At the time of writing, the results are yet to be confirmed. Based on the preliminary results, I came 11th overall (2nd in age group) out of about 280, with a time of 1h 1m. Pretty happy with that. One of my best results in a while, despite not tapering for the race, as well as purposely holding back a little during it.
However, the main thing is that I had fun, my legs felt good, and there were no dramas or injuries.
If you live in Scotland, Bing Blazer is definitely worth signing up for. It's by no means the best OCR I've ever done, but I think you would be hard pushed to find one that is better value for money. When you properly think about it, it's pretty remarkable what you get for your money compared to other events. Definitely worthy of it's "Best Value" award from last year.
With some of the smaller events down south recently going out of business, I encourage everyone to get along and help support the lower budget but still awesome events like this one.