Total Warrior always put on a well-organised fun event, and this year was no different. It was back again at Bramham Park near Leeds, with a very impressive 25,000 attendance over the weekend!
One difference this year was that the Saturday 12km race was part of the wider UKOSF UKOCR Series, meaning that a lot of the best UK OCR athletes were there competing, resulting in a very fast and competitive race!
Total Warrior (and the Bramham Park course in particular) is very much a runner's course. There aren't really any technical obstacles or things you can fail, and the terrain at Bramham is very runnable, with not much elevation over the 12km.
These ingredients make for a very fast-paced intense race, with only the water obstacles and a couple very muddy sections to slow you down and give you a chance to lower the heart rate a bit.
This has been the formula for TW for a while now, which I actually quite enjoy. It's refreshing to do more of an old-school OCR sometimes - just race hard, and not worry about obstacle failures, penalty loops, trying to preserve grip strength, etc.
Having said that, it does mean that this race definitely favours the better runners; and there were quite a few present this weekend!
UK OSF Wave
Similar to last year, within each main wave, runners were being set off in micro-waves of 6 people every 15s. Last year it was a Covid safety measure, whereas this year it was to reduce potential obstacle bottlenecks/queues after it was shown to work well in this regard.
However, the caveat to this was the smaller UK OSF wave that would set off first, everyone at the same time, ahead of the main waves. This was the competitive UK OCR series race wave, and is what I was running in.
(If you're are interested in joining UK OSF, check out their website here. I highly recommend joining if you like OCR or are already involved with the UK OCR scene)
As anticipated, the pace at the start of the race was fast! The course was pretty much the same as last year, and so started off with a decent stretch of downhill running until you got to the hill switchbacks ("Leg It").
These aren't particularly big hill switchbacks, but still enough to quickly spike your heart rate right at the start of the race. This is where early on I started to get my pacing all wrong.
A small group was forming of the top guys and I was fighting hard to try and keep up... maybe a little too hard.
By the time we had climbed over various walls, and gotten to about the 3km mark, I realised I had very much overcooked the start. The top group of guys promptly disappeared round the corner, while I had to dial it back and recover slightly.
Into the fire jump ("Human BBQ") and mud moguls, I was still struggling a bit from the rapid start and lost a couple further places. There was still a lot of the race to go, and I didn't want to keep going backwards, so I started fighting hard to keep up with the fella who had just passed me.
It wasn't really until another 1-2km later at "The Plunge" obstacle where I started to feel a bit better and was able to push again. The cold water was definitely a very welcome cool down on a fairly hot day!
From that point onwards, I felt I gained a bit of a second wind and was able to start properly challenging the guy who previously passed me. Another fella had caught up as well, and for the entire 2nd half of the race, it was basically the 3 of us constantly changing positions in a very closely fought fight.
It definitely got the adrenaline going and made things still feel exciting despite us losing touch with the top group.
I felt my racecraft was ok during this close fight, some good moments and some things I definitely could have done better in hindsight. For example, one good moment - in the barbed wire crawl ("Worm Muncher"), it was incredibly muddy and slippy, so I just dived under head first and slid most of the way, instantly opening a gap of a few seconds.
Whereas, a bad decision - for the epic giant slide into water, I picked the middle lane and so had further to swim out of the water at the bottom. (Should've picked the right-hand lane, so already at the side to get out when you hit the water).
There was one very minor change to the course at this point compared to last year. The obstacle "Pasadero" (the floating pontoon crossing) was now replaced with "Jail Break" (on your back in the water using the cage above to pull yourself along). A common obstacle often seen at other races like Tough Mudder, Rat Race, etc.
Back to the race, the 3 of us were still neck-and-neck through the waterfall obstacle, a short flat running section, and then the log carry ("Log It"). On the walls with climbing holds ("The Alps") - I tried to take it too fast, slipped slightly, and lost a few seconds to one of the guys, who capitalised and created a bit of a gap running down the hill towards the last section of the race.
Only two obstacles remaining at this point - the monkey bars over water, and the ramp ("Peaks of Pain"). Don't think I could've really done the monkey bars any quicker. I jumped straight to the 4th or 5th rung, two long arm swings to the rope at the end and that was it.
The fella next to me also did the monkey bars pretty quick, and we both took off together side by side towards Peaks of Pain. I'm quite happy with my decision making under pressure here, as I picked the side and rope farthest to the left since that's the way the course turned.
Then at the top of the ramp, you could actually go sharp down the left side of the haybales (instead of straight ahead first), again saving another few vital seconds.
So coming off Peaks of Pains I had managed to create a gap of a few seconds despite us getting there at the same time. One fella now behind me, I set my sights on the other guy about 100m up ahead.
Unlike some other OCRs, there was still a good 400m run from the last obstacle to the finish line. I was determined to catch the guy in front, so I emptied the tank treating it like the final 400m interval of a hard workout.
I passed him reasonably quickly, and he didn't put up much of a fight. I was a bit concerned I had kicked too early, but managed to hold things together until the line.
I think I probably started shutting things down and slowing down a bit prematurely at the line based on the photos and the timings haha. You should always of course continue running at full speed until you're definitely over the line! Whereas I seem to have the bad habit of slowing right down and almost walking across.
I ended up only beating the guys behind by less than 1s! Even though I had out sprinted them by much more than that.
I reckon more OCRs should have a sprint finish section like this. Many have slow or technical obstacles right at the end, which can almost be anti-climactic sometimes. This potential head-to-head sprint is much more exciting.
Overall, another fantastic Total Warrior event. The weather was good, the course was well marked, there seemed to be plenty volunteers/marshals about, and it was a fun competitive race. No complaints at all with my experience.
I ended up finishing 12th in a time of 54m 56s, which I'm reasonably happy with given how stacked the field was. Last year, with pretty much the same course and same conditions, I was 4th in a time of 59m 11s. So I was 4-5mins quicker, but 8 places worse!
I was never going to be near the guys at the front (which I found later included the two time British fell running champ!). However, I was quicker than my own time last year by almost 5mins, and that's with terrible pacing as well lol.
So heading in the right direction.
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 - There are long stretches of hard packed trail running combined with some short very muddy sections. The versality of the XTRMs are ideal for this. Comfortable enough for the hard packed trails but plenty grip for the mud. (Amazon link)
- 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.
- Gore R7 shorts - Very lightweight, quick drying shorts. (Amazon link)
- ObstacleMan tech vest - One of a kind ;)
- Race buff/rag - Great for protecting and keeping my watch clean-ish and readable, as well as giving me something to quickly wipe mud off my hands or face.
- Garmin Fenix 5 - Love this watch, never leaves my wrist. Perfect for OCR - durable, long battery, reasonably accurate GPS.