It was cold, it was raining, it was incredibly windy and I hadn't gotten much sleep. It certainly doesn't sound like the recipe for an enjoyable race and a good performance.
However, once things got under way the weather and lack of sleep was quickly forgotten about, and it turned out to be a fun race in which I finished with one my best results so far.
The race took place in and around the Etihad stadium in Manchester, and so I had chosen to stay in a nearby hotel the night before. Unfortunately it was a Friday night, and there was a party going on in the hotel room next to mine...
It was also the 6th of November, the first Friday after Guy Fawkes night, meaning there was a constant stream of fireworks going off outside. Then to make things worse, the hotel bed was tiny (I'm 6ft 2in) and my legs were hanging off the bottom.
I never had the greatest night's sleep to say the least.
I was eager to get out of the hotel and so turned up to the race way too early, resulting in me standing around in the cold and rain for quite a while. However it did mean I had plenty time to leisurely warm up and the pre-race banter with the announcers (Mike and Keith) was pretty funny.
When it was finally time for the start, I felt more than ready due to the lengthy warm-up, and my grumpiness due to lack of sleep was quickly replaced with excitement and adrenaline.
I had gotten to the front of the pack at the start line, and so when the horn went I took off towards the hay bales. I shot over them fairly quickly, and it was good to not get caught up in all the congestion that normally happens when you're a few rows back on the start line.
I did get slightly held up on the second set of hay bales, as I caught my hand down between two of them briefly and had nothing to push off of.
With the start behind us, it was round the corner, over some small traffic hurdles, the parkour walls and the metal fences all in quick succession. The impressive sight of the Etihad stadium then lay in wait...
The stadium section was long and tough, and maybe a bit cruel to put right at the start of the race. Having said that, I'm not sure I would've wanted to do it at the end of the race haha. It started with ascending one of the steep spiral ramps up to the top level of the stadium, followed by a brief run around a section of the inside top level (with a spectacular view of the pitch).
Down another spiral ramp, a brief outside section, then back up a spiral ramp at the other side of the stadium. Back inside, the next section was purely stair running, up and down for an entire side of the stadium.
It was tiring, and I could feel the lactic acid building up in my quads already, even though it was only about 2km into the race.
Out of the Etihad, and round the corner straight into the athletics track. A quick lap round the track including a rather fun jump over the steeplechase hurdle. The weather started to take a turn for the worse at this point, and the rain got heavier; which made a few of the subsequent obstacles a bit more difficult.
I actually slipped off the monkey bars for the first time ever, just purely because it was heavy rain and for some reason I went for the long one-arm swing method instead of short and safe bent elbows, one-at-a-time approach.
Some of the SOTF staple obstacles then followed: the tyre squeeze, an A frame, this year's new "Big Rig", and a traffic cone carry. There was also a quick dip in the Manchester canal, which was pretty fun though incredibly cold.
A slight change of scenery was then next, as we left the Etihad car park and grounds and headed into a muddy park area north of the stadium.
The periods of running were never too great without being broken up with some obstacles, and the park area included a few staples such as the balance beams, cargo net crawl, sandbag carry and parallel bars.
Heavy Block Drag
A little bit of running later, and another dip in the canal, it was probably my least favourite obstacle of the race up next: a heavy block drag under fairly low metal fences. The block wasn't that heavy, it was the terrain which was the horrible part of it.
The ground was full of large pointy stones as well as gravel, and you had no choice but to crawl or go on your knees due to the height of the fences. I knelt directly on to several large stones a couple times, which, not going to lie, was a bit painful.
These would later turn into nasty looking bruises (or marks of honour depending on how you look at it).
On to the home straight, and the monkey barrels and wall of fame passed without any drama. The final obstacle, the "Mt Kadjar" travellator was up next, and I may have embarrassed myself slightly on it haha.
I had already completed it 3 times before at other races, so was maybe a bit over confident, and attempted it while running way too fast. I quickly lost my balance, leaned forward too much and went almost into a crawl. The marshal at the top stretched out her hand to grab me, and so I grabbed it just as I fell forward on to the ramp.
Unfortunately, the marshall was just a small girl about half my size, and so I very nearly ended up pulling her down the travellator with me! Everyone watching obviously laughed, as did I. This quickly became shouts of encouragement from the crowd, as is always the camaraderie at these events.
Composing myself, and taking the travellator more seriously (and slower) this time, I made it up on the second attempt no problem. Then apologised and gave the marshal a quick hug for nearly pulling her down the travellator haha.
Despite the few mishaps, I finished in my best time so far of 1hr 5mins, coming in 51st overall out of 2112 people.
Overall it was a very enjoyable race, which is definitely saying something considering the mood I was in before the start due to little sleep. Men's Health seemed to strike a brilliant balance between the running and the obstacles, with the obstacles being fairly evenly spaced throughout.
The location in general was pretty good, set in the impressive grounds of the Etihad but still with some varied running in the nearby park and trail.
Probably one of the more balanced SOTF races, that I'll be looking to do again in 2016.