Total Warrior Lakes was one of my favourite race weekends of 2018, so my expectations were high for another great weekend at the Leeds event this year. The weekend definitely did not disappoint.
This time I was taking on the Ultra - as many 12km laps as you could do within 5hrs, with each lap featuring 26 obstacles and some properly muddy sections. I had trained for months specifically for this race, with the sole goal of doing 3 laps (which would then qualify me for the OCR World Champs). Unusually my training block had actually went well; no injuries, no illnesses, and I was feeling good.
I was up at the crack of dawn on the Saturday to drive down to Leeds. The Ultra wasn't until the Sunday, but I was heading down to support and cheer on my fellow Race Fitness team members in Saturday's race.
Since I wasn't racing Saturday, I was the designated photographer for the team. Was actually good fun, chasing everyone round the course and trying to get ahead of them to get in a good position to take photos. Also gave me a great chance to familiarise myself a bit with the course and obstacles prior to the Sunday.
Was a pretty chilled affair for the rest of the day, just relaxing in the event village and getting a bit sunburnt. Plenty of time to contemplate my strategy for the next day, work through my pre-race nerves, and worry about it being way too hot!
After a good night's sleep, I was ready and raring to go. There was one wave for everyone doing the Ultra, and it was the first wave of the day before any of the 1 lap waves started. So we would start off with free run of the course for at least the first lap.
I prepped my kit and food in the transition tent, did a very quick warm-up, and before I knew it was time to head to the start line. After a 10s countdown, and some smoke grenades being set off, we were underway.
I was buzzing with adrenaline as we ran down the initial straight (I had spent the last 24hrs waiting to race after all). Many other people seemed to be getting a bit carried away as well, because when we hit the first obstacle (hill switchbacks), many people ran pretty hard up and down these first hills.
Lap 1 - Easy does it
Had to keep telling myself that this was a 5hr race, run at my own planned pace, and not get caught up in all these people setting off way too fast. My plan had always been to do 3 laps, in order to secure qualification for the OCR World Champs (after I missed some previous qualification races due to injury or illness).
I had trained specifically with the 3 lap distance in mind, and had been doing a lot of long runs at my target race effort of zone 2/3 heart rate. The idea being a fairly decent pace that I could maintain for a very long time without going anywhere near my lactic threshold.
So when it came to the race, I had a good idea of what it felt like to be in this target effort zone. My race plan was simply run the first lap in this zone, see what kind of time that took, then adjust my pace accordingly (faster or slower) for the subsequent laps.
The first lap flew past. I was feeling great, my running felt easy but still a decent pace, and I was enjoying all the obstacles. Even had time to try a kung fu kick over the fire jump haha.
Obstacles in Total Warrior are generally geared to being fun and accessible for everyone, rather than anything particularly technical or grip strength related. (Which to be honest, makes it a bit of a strange qualifier for the OCR World Champs, but not going to open that can of worms here!)
In any case, it was an enjoyable course, which was great as I was going to be spending 5 hours on it!
Before long, I was heading up the hill towards to the event village to finish the first lap. The last stint of the lap was pretty fun, a giant slide, a prolonged uphill run past the start line, then Hang Tough (monkey bars) and Peaks of Pain in the event village to finish things off.
End of the lap
Running past the start line was pretty cool, as the MC would shout out there was an ultra runner going past and ask everyone waiting in the next wave to cheer them on.
The Hang Tough obstacle was the only semi-technical obstacle, and was pretty straight forward. Some monkey bars followed by 3 or 4 loops of rope. A lot of people seemed to have issues with the transition to the ropes, but with a little momentum you could grab the second rope and then reach with your foot to the end platform, basically missing them out.
Up and over Peaks of Pain, and I was across the line to finish my first lap and just over 1 hr. I was a little concerned that it was a lot faster than I had intended (or expected), but at the same time I felt good and had consciously tried to hold back and stay in my target zone.
My one small complaint about the ultra race set up, was that the transition tent was nowhere near either the start or finish lines. When you finished a lap, you had to run to the opposite side of the event village, dodging everyone as you went. Checking my watch after the race, I ran almost an extra 0.5km in between each lap haha.
I had already prepared everything for my first transition, so I felt it was pretty speedy. Quick gulp down of diarolyte, a salt tab, some active root, a fruit bar, and grab another gel to take with me for halfway round the next lap. The transition definitely takes longer than you think it will. I'm not sure I could've done that first transition any quicker, and it was still well over 5mins between ending my first lap and starting my second. (Obviously not helped by the location of the transition tent).
Lap 2 - Steady now
Into the 2nd lap, I started trying to preserve my energy a bit more, as was well under target pace for 3 laps. I power-hiked up the hill switch backs instead of running, and was pretty deliberate climbing over the 8ft walls. It was a very runnable course, and there were several prolonged sections of paths or hard trails where you could get a good rhythm going, especially in that first section.
Once I reached the mud moguls and fire jump on the 2nd lap, I was met with the first of the big queues of people from the 1 lap waves. I wasn't quite sure how the queues on subsequent laps would work, thinking a lot of people wouldn't care you were doing the ultra and wouldn't want to let you past. However, to my surprise, as I approached the back of the queue a marshal shouted "Ultra runner coming through".
The crowd of people then parted to the sides like the Red Sea, and gave me a round of applause and cheered as I ran through. Was a bit surreal, but a fantastic feeling, giving you quite a boost as you ran through.
For the most part, this would be the case at any queues or bottlenecks throughout the race. There was a couple exceptions where the marshal couldn't see me coming through, and I had to excuse myself past individual people, but no great amount of time was really lost at any point.
I finished the 2nd lap only 4mins slower than the 1st, and was still feeling alright. My feet had started to hurt a little, and there been a couple twinges of cramp towards the end of the 2nd lap. However, the 2nd transition took a lot longer. I took another diarolyte, some more food, and then taking my friend Tim's advice, I decided to change my shoes and socks. Unfortunately this involved taking the timing chip of the old shoes, and re-attaching to the new shoes, so wasn't a quick process.
However, once I started running again, it was a big mental boost to have a nice clean pair of socks and shoes on. So overall, might not have lost any time.
Lap 3 - Last one?
My intention at this point was still to do just 3 laps, which I now had plenty time for, so was just happily running along enjoying the course and trying my best to maintain the same pace I had been going at. The weather was getting a bit hotter, so obstacles like the ice plunge were a nice refreshing break.
My legs were starting to get pretty sore, and cramping quite a lot, by the time I got to about halfway through that 3rd lap. A few Race Fitness team mates were volunteering at various points round the course, so provided a good mental boost whenever I passed them.
Some of the obstacles were becoming a bit of a slog. The mud pits, tube crawls, wire crawl were all pretty miserable. With the volume of people going through them, they were all significantly muddier and more churned up than the first 2 laps, meaning it took a lot more effort to get through. Combined with my body cramping more and more, it wasn't the most enjoyable experience.
I told myself this was the final lap I had to do, tried to pick up pace during the running sections, and just get it done. I broke up the remainder of the lap in my head: log carry, the two bouldering walls ("The Alps"), down the hill to the slide, up the hill, monkey bars, Peaks of Pain, and I was finished.
Almost on auto-pilot by this point, I crossed the line for my 3rd lap, and jogged over to the transition tent to get it recorded. My 3rd lap was about 70mins, again only about 4mins slower than the previous one.
While I took another diarolyte and some more food, I stared at the clock on the wall working out how much time I had left. I had completed my goal of 3 laps, had started to cramp a bit, so could happily have stopped. Though the competitiveness and drive to do the best I could seemed to take over. I quickly worked out in my head that I had about 76mins left until the 5hr cut off, the last lap took me about 70mins, I had been slowing down at roughly 4mins per lap, so if I left straight away then I might just make it!
Lap 4 - Oh well, let's do another one!
I quickly grabbed another gel to take with me, and set off towards the start line, the adrenaline flowing knowing that it was going to be tight to get round in time.
The first quarter of that final lap was pretty painful. Felt like every muscle fibre in my legs was cramping, and it was pretty lonely running with hardly any other runners still out on course. Even relatively simple things like getting over the 8ft walls felt quite difficult.
Didn't really look too much at my watch during the first stint, just tried to power through the cramping, and keep moving as fast I could manage.
Approaching the tilted overhang walls about halfway through, I started overtaking a lot of people that I recognised where also doing the ultra. I had no idea my placement at point, but it was definitely a little boost overtaking people who looked like they were struggling a lot more than you were. Everyone was super friendly and wished you well as you went past them which was nice, as opposed to be annoyed at being overtaken.
I was starting to hurt quite a bit going into the second half of the lap, but knew I had to keep my pace up. Just at the right point, some support and cheers from fellow Race Fitness teammates Foxy and Kaye (who were volunteering at the obstacle where you jump out to hit the bell above the water), spurred me on a lot.
Coming into the final stint, every marshal would shout out the time I had left before the 5hr cut off. "20mins left, get moving!", "15mins left!", ... It was both helpful and incredibly stressful haha.
I ran as hard as I could for the final couple kms. Just ignoring the cramp, and telling myself that nothing was going to stop me finishing in time. I could see another ultra runner in the distance up ahead, who I was closing in on, but had no idea at the time that would've been for 2nd place. My sole goal at that point was to finish the lap before the cut off (and couldn't have run any faster than I was going anyway).
In the home straight after the monkey bars, I wasn't really sure how long I had left, but knew it was only minutes. I was semi-aware of some other Race Fitness members cheering me on, but literally my only thought at that point was to get over that finish line.
Up and over Peaks of Pain, sprinted frantically to the line, and I was done. The relief of having made it in time was immense, and I collapsed in a heap on the floor, the effort for that final lap suddenly having caught up with me.
It turned out I had finished in 3rd place, with 2nd place only about 15s in front. I had no expectation of a podium at all, and had no idea my placement during the race, so was a bit of a surprise bonus!
Overall, another awesome Total Warrior weekend. I loved both days, the course was good fun, the weather was great, and I spent it in good company. Then to top it off, my actual race had went to plan for a change and I had finished on the podium. Good times.
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) Inov-8 X Talon 212 for first two laps, and then X-Talon 210s for the second 2 laps - Mixed terrain in this race, some very muddy sections and water obstacles, but also plenty running on hard packed trails or grass. Any trail shoes that are reasonably comfortable for several hours of running, but will also drain easily and not hold on to the mud and water. Changing shoes after a couple laps definitely gave me a mental boost, although did cost some time in transition. My 210s are also a half size bigger, that allowed for my feet swelling slightly after the first 2 laps.
- 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.
- Inov-8 trail elite shorts - My usual shorts, durable and light, perfect for OCR. (Amazon link)
- ObstacleMan tech vest - One of a kind ;)
- Race buff/rag - Changed to a new one each lap. Great for 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.