Was it as cold as Iceland?

Fun runners take on first time in Spartan World Ultra Championship in Iceland.

There are quite a few holy grails for anyone who does OCR, what first time gets booked as once a lifetime thing? – World Toughest Mudder, World OCR Championships, One of three Spartan World Championships. 

The Hype.

Every year there is massive hype about the WTM and its brutality, how it destroys and pushes everyone involved. But this year it has been overtaken by Spartan World Ultra Championship in Iceland with the possible 1 million dollar payout. It was an insane amount for the insane challenge, but many in the OCR community believed that we had the very man for the job – Jonathan Albon.
 
In short, the Spartan race put down the ultimate Trifecta with a payout of 1 million dollars – paid to any one person winning all 3 its World Championships. Jonathan Albon was two down and only Iceland to go. SO close, just 100 miles. If you haven’t heard about the story, like The Telegraph calling him the unknown runner
 
Most of us laughed calling multiple World Champion unknown? But in the age of Kardashians and breaking internet with selfies, what did you expect? Obstacle racing is still obscure and an unknown sport for the majority of people. Maybe your Facebook consist of thousands of friends and acquaintances you found through OCR but how many people you met in everyday life where they first time heard about it from you? 
 
A lot of people dismissed the 1 million Spartan as just PR stunt, but it isn’t any different from Tough Mudder giving the 100 mile World Toughest Mudder challenge years before. It moved our beloved sport on to TV and more out there!  Its been long going and besides the hype and spotlight on Jonathan Albon, there was the age-old accountability question what still makes OCR not a real sport like triathlon or park runs.

Accountability and OCR.

Spartans have worked hard on accountability and to show the world that OCR is a real sport, adding referees, filming and analysing burpees for the elites and age groups. It gives the sport a real future to be taken seriously, not just be weekend warriors with a very expensive hobby.
 
In Iceland Ultra this accountability was taken a step further by adding age group and giving it the same standards as elites. What did it mean apart from a lot of people dropping out of the age group? 
 
You get a burpee passport – 6 obstacles have burpee penalties (Olympus, Tyro, Multi-rig, Twister, Spear Throw, Herc Hoist) you get a punch for each complete obstacle and at the end of the lap you hand in the passport and do your burpees in front of the camera. You could get up to 180 burpees per lap if you get unlucky enough. Thankfully, they were halved to 15 burpees per obstacle after midnight.
 
Straightforward, but for every missed burpee you get a minute. It also could mean DQ if the added time to the course time took you over the dreaded 24 hours. I’m still not sure if I did 90 burpees first time around, you make mistakes you learn. Tip of the day – use stones to keep a track where you are.
 
The main thing what made it true 24-hour race is you not only needed to do 4 laps but also needed to be out on course for 15 hours to claim your 24-hour medal. 15 hours was average time what racers spent last year on course, what no doubt will change. Also spending more than an hour in the pit would mean you need to go out complete another lap. Simple, accountable and you get an extra medal. The best and worst thing about pit – it was heated dome, what even had beds if you wanted to have a nap.

Black ice and pits of sadness.

The race itself was brutal. Ryan Atkins said it and I won’t disagree on that. When you are there you understand why Iceland has been chosen, it literally will take your breath away. With each lap it feels like the race is growing, the carries feel longer and heavier, the mountain steeper and the black ice slicker. 
 
If you haven’t experienced breathing in such wind and cold, it takes you by surprise and ruins your best laid out plans. You could have the best training, the best gear but after racing in sunshine all year nothing can prepare the airways and lungs. One of the most common problems for most racers that night. Did I mention the being ping-pong ball between trees on black ice? Or black ice and sandbags? Or sandbags and the knee-deep pit of sadness?
 
As every race is different the expectations are different but without experiencing them we can’t learn. Failing to prepare for the unknown is a lesson, not a failure.  I could go on about the black ice and how cold it was but at the end of the day, I am grateful to be part of all this. 
 
The same can be said for any of the big races, you need to be there to understand it as it doesn’t compare to anything else. The only negative side is that the only Northern Light I saw didn’t look like Northern light at all. It would have been the cherry on top of the painful and suffering cake that was the race. Was it colder than Atlanta? I don’t care, we all ran our own races and for different reasons. 

The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful – Europe’s Toughest Mudder 2017

Europe-Toughest-Mudder-start

Tough Mudder has done it again.  Europe’s Toughest Mudder was a phenomenal event and brought everything we’d come to expect – camaraderie, superb organization, teamwork, an amazing course, massive obstacles, endurance and an insane amount of mud. As with every TM, I doubt anyone went away disappointed (except maybe with themselves if they felt they didn’t push hard enough or came ill prepared).

THE GOOD
The course layout was superb, making really good use of the terrain to make it challenging whilst at the same time allowing a relatively fast pace and for people to push themselves.  Despite being briefed that obstacles would be opened and closed at various times to allow only 15 or 16 to be open at any one time, the only time I found any obstacles closed over my 5 laps was during the sprint lap.  The fact that we therefore had 19 obstacles open pretty much the whole time (unlike 11 or 12 at the first two America’s Toughest Mudder events), combined with pouring rain, freezing water and Tough Mudder’s love for placing any obstacle where you needed grip after another where you got covered in mud, provided for an extremely tough course and 8 hours of suffering.  As someone who has done Wold’s Toughest Mudder, you could almost call this an endurance sprint. It was an impressively well-rounded event and a good introduction for everyone who is considering doing World’s Toughest Mudder – a glimpse into what it’s like during WTM night ops but without the hassle of the gear change and the fatigue from already having been on course for 8 to 12 hours.

Europe-Toughest-Mudder-Kong

THE BAD
There wasn’t really any – apart from way too many people who showed up unprepared or not realizing how cold they would get and, as result, having to quit or getting disqualified due to hypothermia.  I would have preferred a little bit less mud right before Funky Monkey and Kong as they were covered in mud and us mere mortals had minimal chance to make it across successfully.

However, it’s all training and reflects the frustration at WTM when your hands get tired, cold, swollen and with every hour passing it gets harder and harder to get a good grip on your favorite obstacle. The biggest thing, if I had to moan, would be ‘why the hell do we only get one?’ My wallet says a massive thank you, but it does seem a bit unfair having only 1 chance with the other 5 over the pond being just too bloody far. We definitely need a few more next year, especially with a number of people it has made consider to join the madness of WTM.

THE BEAUTIFUL
Throughout the race, the Tough Mudder core values where upheld – teamwork and camaraderie. That is the major difference between TM and most other race’s, the leaders of the race will turn around and help people.

Having Jonathan Albon lapping you and giving a cheer while passing you or boost you over the bloody walls at 0400 makes a world of difference. The best and most memorable example though was when I arrived at Blockness Monster just as the only other person in sight was getting out on the other side and the guy came all the way back to help me (if you’re reading this, thanks so much!!! You are a legend!).

It was an amazing experience meeting all the incredible people from around the world who came to do ETM; and sharing the course with all the legends like Da Goat, Chris James, Sharkbait and of course Jonathan Albon, was an honour.

Europe-Toughest-Mudder Da-Goat-Albon

It didn’t matter if you’ve done WTM before or not.  ETM was a good test for kit, nutrition and to see where your training’s at for everyone considering WTM, newbie or veteran. Hopefully, we’ll see a few more events like it next year.  See you in the mud!

Photo Credit: the author