The last MacTuff OCR was in Jan 2020, with the 2021 event being cancelled due to the Covid restrictions at the time. It was also looking doubtful this year when the surges in Omicron cases resulted in the re-introduction of some Covid measures only a few weeks before MacTuff was scheduled to go ahead.
The MacTuff team persevered, working hard to still put on the event in line with all the restrictions. Unfortunately they weren't allowed to have the usual epic mass start, and there would be no chip timing, but massive kudos to them for managing to get the event to go ahead at all.
With the restrictions in mind, and there being no mass start or chip timing, it wasn't really a "race". Instead, more of an opportunity to still run and experience the great course and obstacles. Which was a little disappointing for those more competitively minded, but understandable none the less.
In a normal year (whatever that means nowadays), MacTuff starts with an epic mass start and face off against a marching pipe band. There are loads of pyrotechnics, smoke bombs, music, and the first obstacle is trying to get past the local American Football team.
Sadly this year, it was socially-distanced registration, followed by being set off in small waves when you were ready, any time between 9:30am and 11am. Damn you Covid!
I got to the venue at 9:25am (as understood registration didn't open till 9:30am), but in hindsight I should've maybe aimed for a bit earlier. There was already a decent queue for registration, and I think people were already about setting off to run.
As a result, I didn't end up starting until a later wave, which unfortunately led to some small queues and bottlenecks at some obstacles later round the course. (My own fault really, should've gotten there earlier and in one of the first waves if I was wanting to run fast/race).
Round the track
Once underway, the first stint was a run around the outside of the Knockhill race circuit, followed by a heavy carry up and down a short hill. The metal container wasn't that heavy, but the water inside sloshed about quite a bit making it a little awkward.
Onwards over some short walls, and into the first water based obstacle - in and out a skip with a full submerge in the middle. I actually quite welcomed it; I was just starting to overheat slightly in my neoprene shorts, so the timing of the cold water was perfect. Though I maybe don't look grateful in the photo haha.
In previous years, the race route would've taken you back round to the top end of the track at this point (to the 4x4 course as far as I am aware). From what I heard from others the race organisers never had access to the area this year (I don't know if was related to the Covid restrictions or not).
This meant that the race ended up being substantially shorter than previous years. In 2020, it was 16.8km, this year it ended up being only 11.2km.
I didn't mind the race being shorter at all, but it would've been good to have known this in advance since there can be a reasonable difference in pacing and nutrition for 11km vs 17km. (Having said that, I'm aware that this is a small niggle that I imagine most people wouldn't have been bothered about at all).
The infamous hill repeats
Back to the race, it wasn't long before getting to the infamous MacTuff hill repeats. A series of maze like hill repeats that seem never-ending and double back on themselves multiple times.
In previous years this section has felt like an Escher drawing - it made no sense where you were running and was utterly confusing how far you had ran versus how far you had left. I didn't quite get that feeling this year for some reason, not sure whether it was shorter and simplified a little or I'm just used to it and knew what to expect.
After the hill repeats, it was off into the woods for a few more wooden climbing obstacles and the impressively deep and sticky mud pits. This section is always pretty fun. Each step you never know how deep or sticky the mud is, and occasionally you suddenly sink in it straight up to your knee! Definitely easy to understand why many people lose trainers in there.
The next section is where I started to run into the odd small queue and bottleneck. I had a few delays at the barbed wire crawl, tunnels, pipes etc, since only 2-3 people can go at a time, and then later on throughout the obstacle section as well.
Didn't feel I could really squeeze past or anything, as it wasn't really a race, but I would be lying if I said it wasn't a wee bit annoying standing getting cold waiting. (Again, nobody to blame but myself for not going in an earlier wave, and ultimately it didn't detract much from my overall enjoyment of it).
Despite some of the small queues, the obstacle gauntlet section was great fun. Some fun and quirky obstacles including a rig with a giant barrel keg as the main grip, and another with a rolling wheel you hung from and cycled your arms to make it traverse to the other side. Good fun, and a bit different from the usual monkey bars and rings.
The final section was where the really cold water came in. I had a neoprene hat tucked down my top the entire race purely to get out and use at this point haha. I'm glad I did.
First up was the lollipops - 3 metal beams half-submerged in the cold water, and you have to go underneath each one. You get proper brain freeze after each one, and is difficult to think straight for a good few seconds after. Fortunately the neoprene hat takes the edge off a little.
There wasn't much time to warm up from the lollipops as the quarry jump was straight after. This is a small jump into a quarry full of equally freezing cold water, and then a short swim to the shore to get out. (There are optional life jackets to put on if you are not a confident swimmer).
At this point, you are properly cold! There is a fire pit to warm up a bit if you want, but the best thing is just to get running fast again. This is always near the end of the race, so you know if you just run fast for another 1-2kms then you don't need to be really cold for that long.
Another short stint of running, up the hill back on to the race circuit, and then the final bend back into the pit lane and the finish line. (From memory there was usually a rope climb before the end, but not this year. Not sure why it wasn't there, maybe Covid restrictions and it was deemed too much of a contact point).
Overall, fantastic and fun event as always, and remains one of Scotland's best OCRs. It was a shame it couldn't be run as an actual race and have the usual full start line experience, but not anything anyone could do about it.
Again kudos to the organisers for dealing with the Covid restriction changes at such short notice, and still managing to put on a great event.
Definitely looking forward to next year where hopefully MacTuff returns with the full blown experience.
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 XTRM - Great all-round OCR shoes, with a good grip on most surfaces. There are some incredibly muddy sections in MacTuff, but also some prolonged sections on runnable grass or tarmac, so the XTRMs are a good choice.
- Injinji trail socks - My usual merino wool socks, perfect for preventing blisters in any conditions. (see blog post here)
- SubSports compression shorts - For keeping the vital bits warm and in place.
- Gul Response 2mm Neoprene shorts - A new experiment for this year's MacTuff. Worked well, kept my bits warm and prevented my quads/hamstrings from cramping due to the cold. Would probably wear again for very cold and wet OCRs. (Amazon link)
- ObstacleMan tech vest - One of a kind ;)
- Bleggmits 2.0 - The updated version of Bleggmits. Basically neoprene mittens specifically designed for winter OCR and sports requiring hand/finger dexterity in the cold. Keeps your hands warm, but they have a horizontal slit you can slide your hands out easily.
- O'Neill 2mm Neoprene beanie - Had stuffed down my top for most of the race, but brilliant for taking the edge off the brain freeze in the really cold, fully submerged, water obstacles towards the end. (Amazon link)
- Garmin Fenix 5 - Love this watch, never leaves my wrist. Perfect for OCR - durable, long battery, reasonably accurate GPS.