Getting up early on a very cold frosty morning, one week after New Year, can only mean one thing... It was time for the MacTuff obstacle course race; a very popular OCR taking place at Knockhill Race Circuit in Scotland.
It was minus 6 degrees when I left my house to head to the race, and took about 15mins to defrost the car. It would stay like this for most of the day, making this possibly the coldest event I've participated in. Combined with the prospect of full body water submersion during the race, it made kit choice pretty difficult, and I would later regret my decisions slightly.
The start of the race felt pretty epic. There were hundreds of people, and a decent crowd watching as well. Many were there just to have fun and complete the course, though it was also a qualifier race for the OCR World Champs. As a result, there were loads of people there looking to race hard and secure a qualifying place early in the year, including myself.
Everyone assembled in the pit lane of the race track, and there was a face off against a row of bag pipers. After the smoke settled from a few smoke grenades, and a 10s countdown, we were under way.
Just as the front runners were leaving the pit lane, several explosions and fireworks were set off on the bank at the opposite side of the racetrack. Was a pretty cool sight, and definitely got the adrenaline pumping. (I used some artistic license for the cover image, the explosions were obviously safely nowhere near any runners!)
The first stint of the race featured quite a bit of running on the gravel traps around the side of the race track. However, since it was minus 6 degrees, the gravel was frozen solid, making it super awkward to run on. I saw a few people nearly turn their ankles, as well as myself.
A fun "obstacle" within the first few minutes was the Dunfermline Kings American Football team. Basically 10+ guys in their American Football gear trying to stop you getting past them. They were (understandably) fairly gentle with bumping people, but it was still quite fun trying to dodge past them.
1 Mile Sandbag Carry!
Through some icy trenches, and across some frozen fields, it was time for the 1 mile sandbag carry. The sandbags were frozen solid, making them really awkward to carry. Fortunately, I saw the guy next to me have the idea of slamming his sandbag into the ground in order to break up the frozen sand. I followed suit, and it worked really well. I could then rest the sandbag on the top of my shoulders, freeing up my hands, and saving my upper body strength for later.
The sandbag carry didn't actually feel too long, there were small obstacles, rivers, and really slippy sections to break things up. I was still relieved to put it down though!
At the end of the 1 mile sandbag carry loop, there was a big queue of people waiting patiently for a sandbag. Not sure I would've been too impressed if I was one of those people having to wait, but nobody seemed particularly bothered by it.
With a literal weight off my shoulders, it was up and over some cargo containers, a gentle dousing of water by a fireman, and a short run back into the race track area.
The next obstacle was a row of 7 small cars (sporty hatchbacks), and you had to pull one of them using a rope to the other side of a small area until the wheels crossed over a line. The car was actually a bit harder to get moving than I was expecting, but once the wheels were rolling it was fairly straight forward.
I wasn't aware of any difference between the cars, so assuming it was the exact same for men and women. So kudos to the smaller women and men who managed this.
There were 3 different race distances taking place at the same time, 7km, 15km, and 22km. I was doing the 15km, and it wasn't long until the 15/22km route diverged from the 7km. It was into the woods for some very marshy terrain at points, with the occasional straight forward obstacle like a wall or net.
After a couple km's we joined back up with the 7km route, which in terms of racing, made things a little confusing. I suddenly had no idea who I was racing against, and completely lost track of the few guys I was running close to. Fortunately those doing the 7km who were slower or just doing it for fun, were very accommodating in letting faster people past or go first on obstacles, so not too much time was lost in any queues.
The next stint of the race featured some pretty fun obstacles. The rolling monkey bars (similar to Kong Infinity from TM), followed immediately by a double ring slide/shimmy in particular was good fun.
By this point, even though it was minus 6 degrees, I was definitely overheating. I had went with a SubSports long sleeve compression top, with a neoprene rash vest on top, and it proved to be too much; especially with the full water submersion not being until right near the end. Having said that, there were people happily with shorty wetsuits on, so maybe I just run pretty hot.
I actually welcomed the section of crawling through the icy water, under the barbed wire and through the tunnels. Others were trying to avoid getting too wet, but I was right in there trying to cool down!
After a very muddy run through some trees, next up was the never ending switchbacks. This was brutal hill repeats that seemed to go on forever. It wasn't just a straight route up and down the hill, but instead you doubled back on yourself at least 2 or 3 times, making it almost impossible to see how many repeats you had left to do. Needless to say, there were plenty people walking at points during this.
Route Diversion - take 2
The 7km and 15/22km races branched paths again, and it was off into the woods for another muddy couple km's. After emerging from the forest, the next obstacle was the dragon's back. I quite like the dragon's back, though if you've never done it before then it can be pretty daunting.
I think this one in particular might've been tough for your first attempt, as the platforms appeared to be a decent distance apart, and it was only the cold frosty ground below. (If you struggle with the dragon's back obstacle, then check out my obstacle tips and techniques post about it)
In the final stretch of the race there were several slaloms back and forth across a deep trench, which zapped any remaining energy, and were difficult to navigate at any kind of speed. Then after quickly getting a life jacket on, it was a 10ft high jump into the freezing cold water.
I can see why this was left until the end of the race, as the water was baltic, and really took your breath away. I certainly wasn't overheating after this!
Whilst feeling a little discombobulated from the full submersion in the ice cold water, it was a short run back up to the race track. The final obstacle before the end was a short rope climb. Love a good rope climb, though this one was maybe a little too short. Think I probably could've just jumped and almost touched the bell. (Again if you have trouble with rope climb obstacles, then check out my obstacle tips and techniques post)
With the rope climb done, it was a short sprint uphill to the finish line back in the pit lane of the race track; and thus ending a very enjoyable event. (Those who were doing the 22km race would then continue on and do the 7km route)
Generally speaking, it was an awesome event, but it was not without a few issues, particularly with the race format and logistics. For chip timing, the KitST (Keep it Simple Timing) system was being used, and the ROCS system for tracking obstacle completion. I've seen the ROCS system at a few obstacle races now, and to be honest I'm not really a fan.
The premise is that you have an additional token on your wrist, and after successful obstacle completion you must swipe your token on a scanner held by the marshal. If you don't scan the token, then after the race you'll get a time penalty added on. The idea of it is fine, but the reality of it is not great.
Every race I've seen this being used, there has been some controversy with scanners not working, or people saying they scanned at a specific obstacle but it not being registered. (Both scanners at the Dragon's Back obstacle never worked in this race, so the marshal had to take down peoples' numbers instead).
Even if it all worked fine, mid-race, with the adrenaline pumping after completing an obstacle, last thing you want to do is stand for 5-10s trying to make sure your token has scanned. With it being an OCR, the token quickly gets caked in mud, so can be pretty difficult trying to see if a tiny red light on it flashed or not.
The confusion of the 3 different distances running at the same time, combined with the obtuse nature of any obstacle penalties being added on post race, meant that after finishing you had no idea whether you came 5th or 55th.
The other minor nuisance was the car parking. Since it was at Knockhill Race Circuit, there was plenty of parking. However, it was a bit of a chaotic free for all. I (as well as numerous others) ended up getting totally parked in, and had to hang about getting cold for about an hour until I could get out. Definitely could've done with a marshal or two directing people where to park.
Reading the last part back, I sound a bit negative. So just want to reiterate that the event is general was awesome, and I highly recommend it. If you stay in Scotland, and like OCR, then book this race for next year!
At the time of writing, the results have just been published, and I came 7th in the under 35 age group (16th overall). So delighted to say that I've qualified for the age group race at the OCR World Champs later in the year!
If you're planning to do this event (or similar), here is the gear I used with some notes on what I might change:
- (Shoes) VJ Sport IRocks 2 - My go-to footwear for when I need maximum grip for muddy OCRs. Had to take the insoles out in order to fit neoprene socks. (Amazon link)
- Injinji trail socks - My usual merino wool socks, perfect for preventing blisters in any conditions. (see blog post here)
- Neoprene Gul Powersocks - Worn over my Injinji socks, and kept my feet warm throughout. They did fill up with water though, so might cut some small drainage holes in the bottom of them for next time. (Amazon link)
- SubSports "cold" compression shorts - Perfect for keeping the vital bits warm in cold dry conditions.
- Inov-8 trail elite shorts - My usual shorts, perfect for OCR
- Long sleeve SubSports "fitted cold" compression top - Perfect for keeping you warm in cold dry conditions. Wicks away sweat brilliantly, but might need additional layers if loads of water.
- Neoprene Gul rash vest - Was perfect for the water submersion at the end of the race, but was overheating up until that point. If similar next year, and no full submersion until end of the race, then probably wouldn't wear this. (Amazon link)
- ObstacleMan lightweight tech vest
- O'Neill neoprene gloves - I normally try to avoid wearing gloves so that my grip isn't affected. However, it was minus 6 degrees so gloves were definitely required in this race. These gloves worked really well, even when wet and muddy, and my grip wasn't affected too much at all. (Amazon link)