As I write this, I'll be honest, I'm a bit annoyed. I purchased my first GoPro HD Hero2 towards the beginning of the year. It unfortunately got lost in the Tough Mudder run (My own fault!) and I re-purchased towards the end of June.
Why am I annoyed? After spending the best part of £750 on a new GoPro with a lot of the accessories, the replacement model was announced just yesterday, the GoPro 3. Twice as faster but more importantly smaller and lighter. I will however try not to let this shine through in this review!
I've had the GoPro for a few months now and have used it on training runs and mountain bike rides as well as all of the obstacle runs that I've been on. It has taken some getting used to, particularly finding the best settings. I made the investment after seeing footage online and wanting to document my first event Tough Mudder. We also didn't have a camcorder at home and having a young son I wanted to be able to catch some of his moments growing up as well.
For me, the super-wide aspect ratio running 60 frames per second on 1280x720px has been the best by far. Sure, it will do a full 1080 shot but only at 30 frames per second. This is fine for shooting slow moving stuff, but for anything at speed, super slow-mo editing or screen grabs, you can't beat the 720px with 60fps. You should also follow the guidelines from GoPro and make sure you have a class 10 SD card to keep up with the processing write speed. I used a class 4 whilst waiting for mine to turn up and the video was blotchy with parts missing. It's never worth missing the unique and awesome footage it for the $15 or so extra that it costs.
I bought the outdoor edition, but have since also purchase the chest mount, handlebar mount, tripod mount, etc and they have all been great allowing me to shoot anything that I've wanted to. For the obstacle runs, the head mount is the only way to go. The chest mount is ok, but with the natural body movement from running it makes you look like a dodgy first person shooter, and watching the footage can be quite nauseating.
Hmmmm, another long wait with no emails after my Spartan Race. I'm starting to feel like the Spartan email system doesn't like me!
Anyway I got the times through and there was a bit of a problem. As I did the Sprint straight after the Super race, I was told the get a temporary timing chip for the second race. Unfortunately as I crossed the line twice with my original chip, my Super time came out as the race time, plus wait time, plus Sprint time... 3 hours and 24 minutes, not exactly lightning quick.
After chatting to the nice chaps at Trumin who did the timing for the event, the managed to find my two times and untangle the mess leaving me with the following:
Super: 01:41:00, placing me 11th competitive
Sprint: 00:56:38, placing me 60th non-competitive
Pretty pleased with both to be honest, especially the Sprint as I was pretty tired from the Super. The Super time was a big improvement from the 28th that I got in Redhill for the Sprint and I'm now very excited about the Beast in November. I hope it lives up to the hype!
The Super Spartan in Birmingham was to be my 3rd obstacle race, and optimistically I wanted to do a Sprint on the same day. This was possible due to a last minute change in venue due to a double booking and both races being moved to the same date.
I entered the elite heat at 10am for the Super as I was keen to make sure that the time I spent queuing was minimal on the good run. I was therefore a little disappointed to find out that the Super was in fact 2 laps of the Sprint race, which meant on lap 2 we were running with some non-competitive runners. I know we were all in the same boat, but it still wasn't great.
The venue was very easy to find, but registration was a problem- There was a long, very slow moving queue for anyone who didn't have a timing chip allocated, which seemed to be most people. As this was the first race in my season pass, I had to queue which took 45 mins, leaving me with only 10 mins to drop my bag, set my camera, go to the loo and fuel up. Not great at all.
At least the sky was clear but there was a chill in the air. I was very hopeful that we would be able to get body temperature up enough by the time we hit the water :-)
This was the first time I've entered an elite heat so nerves were kicking in at the moment. unfortunately there isn't any entry criteria for the elite heat so in chatting to some guys on the start line, it became clear that it was a really mixed bunch. A few people were running off road for the first time, let alone doing an obstacle run. Don't get me wrong, everyone has to start somewhere and fair play to them for jumping in at the deep end with a Super distance straight away, but the though of more queues worried me.
It was explained at the start line that the second lap of the Super race would involve doing twice as many reps on lap two- Carrying two sandbags on the sandbag run, 2 reps of the sandbag twist, etc. In addition, on lap 2 we would also have to carry a house brick around for the whole lap and have it with us across the line to get an official time and medal. This was great news- I was hoping it was going to be a real challenge and it sounded like it would be.
My brick, which I named Phil. He wasn't much of a swimmer...
The race was superb- Only two criticisms in that a lot of it was running through water which for me showed a lack of creativity. It was draining on the legs for sure, but got a bit dull after a while. This can be forgiven though due to the last minute nature of the change of venue. The other problem was the lack of marshalls on the course. At one point, the lead pack ran into a field with no indication as to where we were supposed to go. The course should and could have been marked out much more clearly.
This was really tough- The fact that you did two laps I thought made it even harder as having to run past the finish line and in effect start all over again was psychologically quite damaging. Also, carrying that brick around on lap two sucked. A house brick doesn't sounds like much, they're not even heavy. But at the end of 4 miles of running holding one whilst also trying to carry 2 sandbags or two car tyres, trust me, it got heavy!
Top work to the Spartan organisers, if only the marshalling and administration at the beginning would have been better, this would have been faultless. As with the other races, the only indication I have of my time was from the GoPro footage, which unfortunately ran out of battery before the end of the second lap, so I was once again in a waiting game for my time :-/
The full video taken on my GoPro HD Hero2 can be seen here:
I finished the Super just before 12pm and decided that I had enough in the tank to do the Sprint at 1230 as well. I would have gone for the 1200 heat but I had to get a new timing chip for the second run. I took the Sprint far less seriously- Helping others out and not fussing too much about the queues. It was nice to not carry the brick, or do twice the exercises and I could really enjoy the course.
The thing which I noticed most this time around was the long running sections between obstacles. I hadn't noticed earlier, but particularly after the large wooded section the run was very long and open (And boring!). I don't mind running, but prefer to do it over challenging terrain rather than a field.
It was nice- Much flatter than the previous Sprint race and therefore not as challenging, but a great way to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon :-)
The full video taken on my GoPro HD Hero2 can be seen here:
I purchased these Inov-8s as my Asics died on me and I've taken the decision to get into minimalist running. I was sold on the fact that these were a "transition" shoe for on-road running, having transitioned already to Inov-8 X-Talon 212s for trail running. I wouldn't consider any other make at the moment due to how fantastic my X-Talons and Mudsocks have been from Inov-8.
As my main sport is obstacle running (Tough Mudder, Spartan, Tough Guy, etc) I wanted a shoe that I could use on the road which would be a similar makeup and to the X-Talon, whilst giving a little more support whilst I get used to hitting harder surfaces in "minimalist".
I've been using them for about 2 months and so far they have been amazing. Very lightweight for a non-race everyday running shoe and considering these are the heaviest Inov-8s for the road that is saying something. My old Asics feel like running with bricks and now, particularly on short-distance runs of 1-3 miles, my times have improved dramatically since using these. I hope to eventually move to a more hardcore of the Inov-8s but for the foreseeable future, these are perfect for me.
Even on my road runs I regularly run through water (fords and rivers)- The Road-X 255s have shown no sign of wear, they dry out extremely quickly and the laces stay tight even through the longer runs.
These are minimalist shoes, so if you're not used to running in a minimalist shoe you should take precautions to both bed them and your feet in correctly. Using a traditional running technique that you would use with cushioned trainers can result in some pretty nasty injuries. There is loads of advice about this on the Internet and through your doctor- I found this link particularly useful. As with everything on this blog I'm no expert, I'm just listing what I did. Take professional advice if you feel you need it!
Cannot recommend them highly enough for anyone wanting to start out in minimalist running.
Unfortunately, I didn't seem to get the email through like everyone else did to get the time for my Spartan Sprint in Redhill, so I've had to wait a little longer than normal some others. However, for my first obstacle run out there on my own, I was pleasantly surprised.
00:28:39. 25th out of 2,076 non-competitive entries, 40th out of 2,314 in total. All in all, I'm pretty pleased with that! Sure I had queues, but so did a lot of people. It come with doing a non-competitive heat I suppose. Whilst I might have been able to drop a bit of time off of the time without having to queue, the experience of doing the first one without a team to help me was well worth it. Plus, it was nice not to have a stupidly early start for the run.
Another huge plus- I met some really nice people and had a bloody good laugh. It was a great day out with the wife and boy. That said, Elite heat next time :-D
The Spartan Sprint in Redhill was to be my second obstacle race and the first one which I would be doing solo to see what sort of pace I could keep up. I was in no-way looking to be competitive but really to try to gauge where I was fitness wise. I therefore signed up for a non-competitive heat, the 12pm heat.
The Wife and my son came with me in support and we arrived in good time. The entrance to the event was tricky to find, but once we got close it was very well signposted. The facilities were good, but the event was much, much smaller than Tough Mudder, my only previous experience of one of these.
Whilst I'm comparing to TM, there was another clear difference. Looking around at the other competitors it was clear that some people here were doing this for fun or as a real test. However the percentage of teams and individuals that looked organised and really ready to attack the course seemed much higher. Notably there were a lot of CrossFit and MMA clubs- People doing proper warm ups, organised and ripped teams looking like they were ready to eat nails and ask for seconds. This seemed much more hardcore.
Organisation was good and despite queues I was registered within 10 minutes of getting to the registration queues. Not too shabby at all considering this included allocating a timing chip.
The race began promptly at 12, with a 5 minute motivation speech from a guy dressed as a Spartan. He was good and funny, but unfortunately hard to hear as he didn't have a proper PA system.
I'll be honest, at only 5k I was not expecting this to be tough at all, especially as I have been running 10-15k trail runs regularly. I was wrong! At pace and with the types of obstacles, it was tough! We immediately started on several hill climbs and descents, a few of which had some small Berlin Walls in place. Thankfully I am pretty good at hill sprints so this wasn't too much of a problem. The problem was that it was a scorching day and dehydration became a problem for me within a mile. This was partly due to waiting at the start line for too long with no water- Lesson learned for next time.
We then moved into several different small obstacles including a run with a 10kg sandbag and an stick with a sandbag attached which you had to ravel up at arms length until the sandbag reached the stick. It became clear very quickly that these were not the "adventure playground" style obstacles as seen in Tough Mudder, but much more fitness based. The origins of Spartan and synergies with CrossFit became clear as we moved on, with rope climbs, overhead log presses and sandbag hoists coming up next.
There wasn't much in the way of water obstacles, which are normally pretty draining, but a spear throw, balance beams and high Berlin Walls made up for this. I cam unstuck on the balance beams as they were very thin and had to perform burpees as punishment. I misheard the marshall and unfortunately found out later (Through a YouTube comment) that I didn't do enough. Therefore my time should be +20-30 seconds. This then moved to a run holding a tyre. Not to difficult, but the marshall was not paying attention and had to wait for him to tell me what to do. This was a bit of a pain.
Next came a fire jump, with nice high flames lead through to a rope climb and tyre run. I unfortunately twisted my ankle quite badly on one of the tyres as you can see in the video. Thankfully the next obstacle was an electrocuted ice bath and the ice did wonders for the pain.
A small tunnel run and a few Spartans later and I was at the final obstacle, a peak to climb over. It was covered in plastic and very wet. Although ropes were provided to assist, they were soaking. This obstacle looked very easy when I watched before starting the race, but it turned out to be incredibly difficult.
With that done, I crossed the line, grabbed my t-shirt and headed to the lake to clean up. I was now a Spartan Sprinter. Now just to wait and see what time I got!
In conclusion, I won't beat around the bush- This was tough! Cuts, bruises and scrapes all over me. I was out of breath, dehydrated and physically exhausted and all of this from just 3.1 miles of running. It was far more "real" that the Tough Mudder- There was no safety wire stopping you from touching the barbed wire. the electrocution shocks were more powerful and combined with the ice bath to really make you hurt. Painful. Exhausting. Fun. I LOVED IT!
This run cemented in me that I had to complete the Spartan Trifecta (Sprint, Super and Beast in one calendar year) and immediately started planning the next one.
The full video taken on my GoPro HD Hero2 can be seen here:
Well here it is- My first ever obstacle run. Tough Mudder had been thrashed around the media a lot in the run up to the event, and I was really pleased to be taking part. Our team was six strong from our MMA club through to a triathlon and Ironman veteran. About half of the runners in our team were weight lifters and hadn't completed a run before. We committed to the spirit of Tough Mudder and placed camaraderie above a good race completion time. We all helped each other throughout the run however was needed.
The event took place in Kettering, in the grounds of a stately home. It was in beautiful surroundings and it was a lovely day for it- a decent bit of sun and not too hot.
The registration was very well organised with multiple stations based on surnames to register. Despite there being thousands of people running, the queue was minimal.
The run started with a 15 minute warm-up and very American-style motivational speech. Very cheesy but it did the job of getting everyone very hyped up for the run ahead. The run began with about 1k of open running with a few river crossings, before starting a belly crawl up hill. It soon became very clear that the original map we were given of obstacles would be nothing like the actual race.
The marshalling was very good and there were no points where the course wasn't 100% clear. There were also toilets, water and bananas at 4 points throughout the race, so there was no need to carry your own provisions. Top marks for organisation!
The Arctic Enema obstacle was next and at first I was disappointed. When at chest level, it didn't feel any colder than a dip in a normal tub of cold water. Then I dipped my head under- it was bloody freezing! Next came some pretty simple Berlin Walls and quite a bit of running.
Following that was a lumberjack run and several slogs through thick mud through wooded areas. These were OK, but the logs were pretty much all rotten and weighed virtually nothing. It look very cool, but wasn't exactly what I had in mind especially as I had been training with large heavy logs :-/
What I would call the "main" obstacles came in two bursts, the first being about 4/5ths of the way through with the mile of mud, tyre runs, fire walking and tunnels. These were great- the mile of mud was super thick clay mud and quite knackering. It was heavy as well, and once covered it added quite a bit of weight.
The firewalk wasn't particularly hot and you didn't really get close to the flames, but the smoke from the diesel induced burning hay bales did get into your lungs quite badly.
There was then another section of running with some minor obstacles before the Electric Eel. This was a crawl under electric cables whist being sprayed with water. This sucked quite badly, as you had to use your own momentum to keep you going. It was often the case that you would pass past a cable only for it to hit your ankle, which was a real pain in the leg!
The last section of obstacles- walk the plank, monkey bars, the deep river jump, Everest and finally the electroshock therapy were bunched very close together. They were all fine, nothing to write home about. The biggest pain in the arse was that I lost my GoPro in the river after the deep jump. I will need to invest in a flotation device in the future! Lucky Phil from the team missed this, and his survived, so we did get some quite good footage.
So how was it? It was great, such a good laugh and genuinely one of the most fun days I have ever had. Was it tough? Unfortunately not. "Probably the toughest event on the planet"- Not really! Don't get me wrong, it was massive fun, but I'd liken it more to a day in an amazing adventure playground than a really gruelling event. There were little things that gave me this impression: The best example is the barbed wire. In all of the marketing photos and videos, the participants are centimetres away from the barbed wire. In reality we had plain wire 6 inches before that- It looked like we were close to the barbed wire but there was very little risk of touching it. In addition, the "Nettles to nipples" obstacle was completely missing. I know people who sponsored me to see me in as much pain as possible, and without this it just wasn't going to happen. This annoyed me a little. I signed up for "Probably to toughest event on the planet". Safety nets aren't tough! Toughness for me is being able to endure and come out the other side still wanting more, not risk assessments and mitigation.
With that said, I can highly recommended as a great team event for a good laugh with good mates. I'll give a comparison to the other main events once I've done them!
After a decent brake since Tough Guy, I'm nearing my next two events on two consecutive weekends in March.
Back 2 The Trenches in Redhill Surrey, is run by Priory Events and held on the same site as the Spartan Sprint that I did last July. There are 5km and 10km options, and I'm signed up with a team of 10 runners for different experience levels, most taking on their first mud/obstacle runs. We're going to have a great day, good laughs and finish the race as a team.
The Rock Solid Race near Exeter takes place on the following weekend, which again has 5km and 10km options. The Wife was signed up for this as her first run by our son as a Christmas present, with a place for me to run with her to help out. Again, we're not going for time but to enjoy it and to help the Wife get some experience before she tackles Tough Mudder in May.
Both runs are the first outing for these organisations, both the same distances and both claiming to be tough. The big difference between the two- Cost! When signed up, the Rock Solid Race was £57 whereas Back 2 The Trenches was only £25. Rock Solid justify the cost with live acts/bands and the Rugby being shown live. Whilst that's lovely for some, for those of us that obstacle run as their main sport, keeping the cost of each event down is a big priority. It would have been nice to have the access to the entertainment as an optional extra so that those of us there to run can do so.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to both runs especially the first event with The Wife. Will they be any good? Well as far as the "local" runs go, they have to live up to the mighty Grimm Challenge run which used only natural obstacles.
Well here it is, the picture that is the source of my motivation to get in shape which I saw in Oct 2009. I won't lie to you, it's not pretty....
OK sure, I wasn't 25 stone, not even 15, but at 14 1/2 stone this was the heaviest I had ever been. During my youth I was very sporty and mid-to-late teens saw me taking part in multiple forms of martial arts for which I trained 5-6 nights a week. I was never huge and muscly but didn't (and still don't!) want to be. I was lean and toned however, and had a 6-pack to be proud of.
Then came a new, high profile job. Gradually over the space of 2 years the amount of time I could dedicate to training diminished, and the amount of convenience food increased.
The worst thing is that I didn't even notice this coming- it was only on return from honeymoon that I saw this picture and thought to myself, WTF happened?!? Moobs, keg and general chubbiness. This was not the person that my wife met, it certainly isn't the body that I was once so proud of.
It had to go.
At the time I was living in Swindon and commuting approx 3 hours a day to and from work which left little time for family life let alone training. I began to sort my diet as a priority, only from a fat reduction point of view and did very little about organising anything to do with muscle building. I took up very short bursts of running, reignited a long lost love for mountain biking and did as much of the martial arts based training as I could in whatever time I could.
The move back to my hometown of Salisbury meant that after a few years of working on our new home, I found the time to study in MMA. From my standup fighting background it seemed like the best choice; partly because of its popularity at the time, partly because of the intensity of the training and partly because I felt too old to start learning a new martial art.
From starting in MMA at Strike and Submit in Salisbury, I gained a new sense of purpose with both health and fitness and the excitement around my first ever cage fight in May 2010. I started to look into my diet and with the help of my fellow fighters, the expert instructors and a friend in the supplements industry, I started to change my body for the better.
In April 2011 my first child was born and I decided it was time to give up the MMA. I continued to train and exercise at home with no end goal or purpose, other than the motivation of never looking like that bloody picture again. A few months later (August 2011) I received a Facebook invite from one of the MMA coaches about Tough Mudder 2012. Not really knowing anything about it other than it was a 12 mile run with some obstacles, I signed up. How hard could it be?