Facing the Firehills

Today I was invited to join some of my fellow RPCCers for a run around the East Hill and Firehills. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty, with brutal hills, steps, ups, downs and mud. Its an ideal OCR and off road training ground, and it’s right on our doorstep.

One of the many stunning views over the Firehills
One of the many stunning views over the Firehills

We met up at the ungodly hour of 7.30am on A Sunday morning, and without any time to ease into the situation it was straight up the East Hill steps – these are steep, and long, and a pretty brutal way to warm up. My legs were screaming before I had even got half way, but a bit of a rest at the top to make sure we were all together, to catch our breath and take in the morning views over Hastings and we were off again, over the East Hill and heading for the Firehills.

Firehills Elevation Graph
Firehills Elevation Graph

This run takes you through some stunning countryside, but is definitely not for the faint hearted.  A downhill stint down some uneven paths, a bit of off-road fence climbing to get round some fallen trees, over and under yet more fallen trees then up what feels like a never ending set of steep, huge steps. Don’t think you are done once you reach the top though, a difficult section where you (try to) run up steep steps, only to come down a section and then head up yet another set.

Another stunning vista over the Firehills
Another stunning vista over the Firehills

Once you are finished with the stairs come the hills, up up up steep hills that feel like they go on forever, but my goodness the views up there are breathtaking (or maybe that was just the running).

Another of the picturesque views on the way round
Another of the picturesque views on the way round

Once you have finally made it to the top of all these hills, you end up near the coastguard cottages and you have amazing views both back towards Hastings and over towards Rye. When you stop to look back it makes you marvel at how far you have come – Not a huge distance according to the run-keepers but its all up and down some steep hills (I think I might have mentioned the hills?!)

Me trying to keep running up yet another hill
Me trying to keep running up yet another hill

At this point I was starting to have a bit of a falling out with my shoes – up until today I was having a bit of a love affair with my Inov-8 Mudclaw 300s, but today for some reason they started to rub a bit on my left foot, which unfortunately got steadily worse on the home stretch, infact for the final part of the run, once we got back on to the East Hill I decided to do it in my socks, I didn’t want to risk a massive blister before the Beast in the East race next weekend.

The final part of this run was much easier than the first leg, it is mainly down hill, partially on tarmac before heading back onto the East Hill, and it was here that I found I could get some good pace going (would have been even better without the aforementioned rubbing shoes).

Back to the top of the East Hill steps where we caught up with some of the faster runners in our group, a bit of a rest before heading back home for a shower and a protein shake. What an epic way to start a Sunday!

Panoramic view over Hastings from the top of the  East Hill steps
Panoramic view over Hastings from the top of the East Hill steps

For those people not so into their running this is also a fantastic place to go walking, take a camera and a picnic and spend the day (although fair warning, it can be steep, and I’m not sure if I have mentioned it, but there are a few steps!)

Our route over the Firehills
Our route over the Firehills

Dirty Dozen

Barley a week after my last race in March and it was time to take on my one and only challenge for April – The Dirty Dozen. A 12km obstacle race that would be my longest distance to date.

Race Description

This race was set at The Hop Farm in Kent, and I’m sure I’ve read somewhere it being promoted as “the home of large obstacles” or something similar – it did not disappoint!

There was quite a bit of build up for this on Facebook, with a few of the obstacles given a preview, this was enough to stoke the nerves!

We arrived to a really well organised race, free parking a short walk from the registration tents, which were split into queues based on your surname. Here you were given your race pack which included your (named) number, wrist band, timing chip and band for your bag to enable you to use the bag drop.

The event village was buzzing with a great atmosphere and some good stalls around to take a look at, as well as the bag drop, bar, food and toilets.

This was another race where RPCC was out in force, which made the atmosphere, for me, even better.

The RPCC crew ready for the race
The RPCC crew ready for the race

This race also had a cracking warm-up, which included press ups and burpees to really get you going. We arrived in plenty of time and watched the elite athletes set off at 10am, then it was our turn.

The Race

We were all raring to go at the start line, laughing, joking and posing for a few pictures, a short speech from the organiser Doug “The Beard” Spence and then it was time to go.

Posing at the start line with some of the RPCC crew (Photograph by Epic Action Imagery)
Posing at the start line with some of the RPCC crew
(Photograph by Epic Action Imagery)

This race had fair stretches of running between obstacles which meant that you didn’t get held up, as people naturally spread out and found their own pace. The terrain was pretty flat, with lots of running through fields and areas of woodland, this didn’t stop them building in muddy banks though.

There was a sheep dip obstacle which involved you getting yourself fully submerged in cold water to get under not one but three walls in quick succession – this was more a mental battle than a physical one, but it certainly took the air from my lungs as we went through.

A high cargo net only secured at the top tested my nerves as I have mentioned in other blog posts how I am somewhat scared of heights, but I managed to get over it without too much panic at the top.

There were plenty of high obstacles in this race to test my nerve as we went round, Dirty Dozen doesn’t do things by half’s!

There was a pretty long tire carry, through thick mud and just when you thought you were safe, they gave you a log to lug through the woods!

The tire carry
The tire carry
The log carry
The log carry

After a water station there was a fire jump that was much bigger than the one at Warrior Run the weekend before – as with heights, i’m not a big fan of fire, so I just ran, jumped and hoped for the best… and made it to the otherside without any drama.

Jumping fire - I can Fly! (Photo by Epic Action Imagery)
Jumping fire – I can Fly!
(Photo by Epic Action Imagery)

As with many races of this type, there were ditches to clamber in and out of, monkey bars to try and get over (I failed and had a nice refreshing swim), walls to climb and streams to wade through.

Wading through a stream with some of the other RPCC crew
Wading through a stream with some of the other RPCC crew

By far the worst obstacle (by this I mean most painful!) was the one aptly named “barbed belly” which saw us crawling low under barbed wire. Now this is not un-typical at obstacle races, but what made this so hard was the ploughed up, rock hard, mud that was under the barbed wire. This is where I think I picked up most of my bruises from the day. Just when you thought it was over you ran a few feet and then there was a second one. Right at the end of that one was some soft mud which felt like rolling into silk once you got there!

The barbed belly
The barbed belly

The end of this race saw us trying to get over some huge walls, the first had a rope to help, the second required some teamwork, then it was a sprint to the finish.

Sprinting to the end with Alex Tribe
Sprinting to the end with Alex Tribe
Crossing the line
Crossing the line

Crossing the line I was exhausted, but exhilarated, I had made it around the brutal 12km course. You then typed in your race number to a computer to get a personalised print out of your race time (1h50mins) and I picked up my dirty dozen t-shirt, hat and free beer.

Finished!
Finished!

Final results showed I came 152nd overall and 21st woman. Coming in the top 30 also means I have now qualified for the OCR world championships in the US – something I would dearly love to do and will see if I can actually get there, as that would be an awesome challenge to add into this year!