Winter Nuts Challenge 2015 – My 4 Lap Battle

Last year I did 1 lap of the  winter Nuts Challenge and I loved it, it was one of my favourite courses all year, a 7km lap with over 100 obstacles. This year I really wanted to go back, and after some discussion with my significant other, got the go ahead to sign up. I spoke to my good friend and frequent race buddy Dom, asking if he was planning 1 or 2 laps. He replied that since a race he was supposed to be doing the day after had been cancelled, we should go for the full 4 laps. This was a little more than I had bargained for, but I figured if I signed up for 4, I would have the option to do as many laps as I felt able to on the day, but I never really entertained the idea that I would complete all 4. I had in my head 3 at the most.

Race Description

The weather was surprisingly mild leading up to the race, with this in mind, and so that the course wasn’t “too easy” an extra section was added for the people doing three or four laps. We were starting at 8am, which meant a very early start, with a box of extra layers, food, gels and drink to dump in the transition area as well as the usual kit bag we were off at 4.30am. Sadly Dom had to drop out of the race with an injury, coming along instead to marshal, but a fortunate Twitter conversation the Friday before secured me a new running partner Syz Goss, and this turned out to be a god send.

With an awful lot going on in the world of me lately I’d barely had time to think about this race, it kind of crept up on me, and before I’d begun to think about what I would need to wear It was too late to get anything new anyway, so I just had to trust my merino wool base layers would be OK, despite seeing all the posts about people wearing neoprene or wetsuits, and hope that I wouldn’t get hypothermia.

Me before the race with Syz Goss and eventual winner of 4 laps Conor Hancock
Me before the race with Syz Goss and eventual winner of 4 laps Conor Hancock

We were setting off at 8am and had 6 hours to get round the first three laps, our forth having to be started before 2pm. This seemed like quite an easy ask, I’d done 1 lap last year in a little over 1h40 and I’m fitter and faster now… oh how wrong I was!

The Race

Lap 1

Syz and I set off, somewhere near the middle of the pack, having already discussed that we were more concerned with finishing than racing for any kind of time, and we happily set off at a comfortable pace, up and over some hay bails and on under a cargo net, before running round to a set of muddy ditches, they were full of not water but thick, squelching mud, some you could haul yourself out of with the use of netting, others required you to pull yourself out on your own. These were inter-spaced with a crawl and some low wooden fences to climb over and finished off with a pile of loose and very muddy tyres to pick your way over.

After this you were directed to the left to take on the extra section of the course, which incorporated a short sandbag carry, no problem, a few low mud banks that were easy to run over, then a hang tough – which I failed and had to do an extra loop with a log, a 10ft wall, which I got over with a lot of help from Syz, a set of monkey bars (more log carrying for me) and then under a cargo net before meeting “The Nutcracker” which involves you climbing up the inside of a set of tyres and then down a steep cargo net on the other side. Here we met a bit of a bottle neck. The pack hadn’t split enough and we got caught up in quite a long queue. Once we had finally cleared this obstacle there was a drinks stop and then up a climbing wall then a couple of jumps back down to the ground, over some logs and back onto the course.

We soon hit the next section of obstacles, some rivers to wade, up a pipe in a bank with a rope that I failed last year but by shoving my knees in and pushing my bum against the side then pulling with my arms, I got most of the way up, then Syz was there again at the top giving me a final pull. We got round to the firemans poles, and this year I barley hesitated, onto the rope swing, tyre wall, which still gave me a bit of a wobble, into some muddy pits and over a wall, some more trenches and off again for a bit more of a run, through very deep mud.

As we made our way round the lap, we were laughing and enjoying ourselves, the sun was out, we were in and out of water without too much trouble, over cargo nets and up steep muddy banks. As we came round towards the event village again you are cruelly directed away, through some more water, crawling through some pipes, over muddy banks, followed by a tyre carry up and down some precariously slippery muddy hills, up and down a few more and then we crawled up a cargo net going up hill, cheered on here by Dom, then off down the slide, which was brilliant fun.

Coming up to the top of the hill on my first lap
Coming up to the top of the hill on my first lap

Finally it was the last few lake crossings, over some rafts, then some inflatables, and I was delighted to get over these without a dunking as I failed them last year and took a swim, Then into the water for the final lake crossing. A short, but slippery run then took us back into the starting area.

We had a drink, I grabbed a few bites of a Chia Charge bar, and had a little mid race interview with Mark Leinster who was MCing the race, and we were off for lap two.

Lap 2

As you would expect, second lap, same as the first but a little bit louder and a little bit worse, as I think the song goes. We set off a little slower maybe but still jogging along nicely. Unfortunately for me though, despite my legs being held together for the most part by KT tape, the niggles that had started in the previous week at the Eastbourne half marathon were starting to make themselves felt, particularly in my right knee and hip. Suddenly the obstacles were seeming somewhat more difficult than they had the first time round, and my ability to complete them was diminished, I was slipping about all over the place, and being my usual elegant self, making both me, Syz and some of the marshals laugh as I muddled on through. Things did improve a bit, and the second lap was managed, although a little slower than the first.

Me coming down the cargo net near the end of my second lap. Photo courtesy of Tony Jarvis Photography
Me coming down the cargo net near the end of my second lap.
Photo courtesy of Tony Jarvis Photography

Lap 3

At the refuelling station this time I enlisted the help of my friend Morag Logan, who was also marshalling,  to help me switch base layer and top, shovelled some more chia charge into my mouth, and we set off quickly as a later wave was about to start and we wanted to be in front of them.

Each obstacle was feeling harder and harder, a small wooden bridge at the beginning which we jumped up the first time, felt difficult to climb, and when we hit the mud banks hauling myself out was feeling more and more taxing. Thankfully after the first lap there were no more hold-ups on the nutcracker section, although the sandbags were now feeling very heavy, but I managed to grab one off someone else rather than have to pick it up from the floor. More log carries, at the hang tough and monkey bars, and a beautiful moment at the end of the section with the firemans pole and tyre wall where I jumped off a mound into some mud and my feet got a bit stuck, I fell backwards onto the bank and just laid there for a moment and laughed, at least we were still smiling.

We pushed on, but both of us were tiring and feeling injuries forming. The marshals out on the course were simply amazing, encouraging us and feeding us endless jelly babies. They also kept mentioning how we were still smiling each time they saw us.

I was really starting to struggle towards the end of this lap, as I crawled once more up the hill towards where Dom was marshalling for my third go down the slide,  it was with more grim determination than enjoyment this time round.

Coming up under the Net on lap 3
Coming up under the Net on lap 3

As we made our way over the lakes and back towards the start I was feeling in quite a bit of pain in my leg, and there is no way I would have continued if not for Syz and his constant encouragement.

We had made it with only 15mins to spare before the 6 hour cut off, I choked down another few bites of food, but I was so exhausted I couldn’t even be bothered to eat, or change into my final base layer, which in hindsight I should have done as we were to slow down a lot on our last lap and for the first time I felt really cold. I gulped down some hot tea and then we set out for our final lap.

Lap 4

We staggered back out onto the course, and by now neither of us could even run, we were power walking at best. The little wooden bridge seemed insurmountable and I almost turned around, but we got over it, and I just stopped and looked at the cargo net before managing to sink to my knees and crawl painfully underneath. We pushed on, managing a smile for the people we saw around us, but every step was painful and even the smallest mound of mud felt difficult to navigate.

Syz had to put the sandbag on my shoulder this lap as I could no longer lift it, then I staggered round with my log as I had no hope by now of completing a set of monkey bars.

We were offered a hot drink by the marshal after coming down the nutcracker for the last time, but I couldn’t accept, I was now in what could only be described as sever bladder distress. It was making it hurt to walk, and we were going so slowly. My final decent down the firemans poles was frankly dangerous, the pole was slick with mud and I had no strength left in my thighs to hold on, and I shot to the ground. The marshal at the rope swing asked if I was OK and I just grimaced and said I needed the toilet – and to my utter delight he pointed one out in a shed at the side of the course, I could have kissed him, in fact, had I not been running for it (fastest I moved all lap) I may well have given him a full on smack on the lips, tongue and all, I was that pleased!

After the blessed relief of the toilet, we were able to pick up the pace a tiny bit, back to power walking rather than a slow crawl, but we were both struggling, and I know I would never have had the strength to continue on my own.

In the river where there was another climb over some tyres I just held onto them with my hands but couldn’t even work out how to pull myself up. All my strength had gone. I have never wanted to quit so badly in my life, but I’m far to stubborn!

We staggered around, finally getting back to the hills, Dom gave me a quick hug, I needed it, and then headed off to meet me at the finish. We somehow made it round the last bit. I found it nearly impossible to pull myself over the logs that came after the big cargo nets, and on the final crawl over the inflatables on the lake my strength gave out and I fell in – but 3 out of 4 wasn’t bad. Finally the last lake crossing was done and it was just the muddy trek round to the finish. We thought we might try to run it in, but we just couldn’t do it. The final lap had taken us nearly two and a half hours, but we had done it, we had completed 4 brutal laps of the superbly tough Nuts course.

Syz and I finally finished and about to get our medals
Syz and I finally finished and about to get our medals

We were cheered in by Dom, the amazing Lucy Martlew (who came 2nd lady in the 4 laps) Morag, who gave me a massive hug, some of the wonderful marshals that had encouraged us along then come to see us finish, and Mark Leinster, still going as a fantastic MC.

I have never been so pleased or proud to finish a race, overall we were on the course for just over 8 hours, and I was damn well near beaten, but I completed 4 laps, something I had never really believed possible. Exhausted, elated, and horrifically broken, my first words were “I’m never doing that again” although a little voice at the back of my head is whispering “Summer Nuts – collect the set” Then again, maybe not! If I had ever wanted to know what my physical and mental limits are, this may well have been it. Nuts.4 laps.Done!