adrift on a cosmic ocean

Writings on various topics (mostly technical) from Oliver Hookins and Angela Collins. We have lived in Berlin since 2009, have two kids, and have far too little time to really justify having a blog.

Getting Tough - The Race (Rudolstadt, 06.12.14)

Posted by Oliver on the 7th of December, 2014 in category Health
Tagged with: getting toughOCRrudolstadtrunningtrail running

As I mentioned in my last post, I did Getting Tough - The Race in Rudolstadt yesterday. Check out that post for a link to a first-person-style video shot at last year's event. Having watched that video, and obsessively scoured the internet for photos and any other tidbits of information, I expected that I knew what I was getting myself into. I have to say first up, whoever "Iron Mike" (poster of the video) is, he's quite an athlete! There were a few obstacles in this year's race that weren't in last year's, but still his time of about 02:15 compared with mine of about 03:51 is dramatically faster!

Leading up to the race, I was primarily concerned about two things - the temperature and prospect of complete submersion in ice-cold water, and the fact that this year they snuck in the "electro-shock therapy" obstacle that many would be familiar with from Tough Mudder - basically wires hanging down from a frame that you have to run through, and suffer multiple significant shocks along the way. Ironically even though the longest distance I've run this far has been a half-marathon, the fact that Getting Tough is 24km didn't bother me so much.

First up, my gear selection. Over the last few weeks my training runs were the test ground for combinations of clothing and I arrived at the following:

  • Nike dri-fit combat pro underwear
  • Nike dri-fit running pants that end just below the knee
  • ASICS Gel-FujiRacer 2 Trail shoes and the socks I got from the TrailBerlin race
  • Under Armour Cold Gear Compression EVO Mock long-sleeved top as the base layer
  • Some Helly-Hansen poly-propylene long-sleeved top I had from maybe 10 years ago over that
  • Another synthetic long-sleeved top from O'Neill which I got originally for kayaking, over that
  • A short-sleeved synthetic running top from the race itself as the top layer - mostly for blocking the wind and for looks :)
  • Under Armour ArmourVent Cold Gear running beanie
  • Under Armour Core Cold Gear Infrared gloves

I figured with all of the layers I was wearing I would be covered for the cold weather, and for the most part I was (more on that later). I was expecting the temperature to be a few degrees below zero, and some of the pre-race organisers' photos actually showed snow on the starting grounds, but in the end it might have been hovering around 0ºC and any snow that was there before had melted. In the morning after registering, people started warming up in the "Walk of Fame" area (the final concentrated obstacle field) before the call was made to move to the starting field.

Everyone marched the 1km through town to the starting field where the warm-ups continued and some starting announcements were made. There were fireworks and amazingly a three-plane formation fly-by just before the start! I started at the very left-hand side of the starting field which worked to my advantage as they also had a fire engine spraying everyone with cold water as we crawled under a very long section of barbed wire - my side of the field was too close to the fire engine for them to aim down to, so I escaped the cold water for the moment. After exiting the barbed-wire crawling obstacle there was a short jog across the field until we hit the ditches. These are pretty deep and climbing out is difficult by yourself, but fortunately plenty of people were willing to pull you out on the other side. The water was pretty damn cold, but we were only in it briefly. A quick scramble over a dirt hill, and then another ditch, then out again.

Incidentally I was amazed at the pace at which everyone set off - considering that there were 24km to cover, I thought people would take the start a bit easier (I certainly was) but I guess adrenaline does that to people. After a few events where I used too much energy too early on and ran out of steam towards the end, I'm quite cautious about starting out too fast, and let myself warm up properly in the first 5km, also for the sake of my muscles. I assume the front-runners would have been galloping along at the start, which is no surprise.

If you check out any of the videos of last year's event taken on drones, you'll see that the next real obstacle is a river crossing. This is really the first time the coldness of the water hits home. The river is relatively fast-flowing although perhaps only knee-height at that point. Because the crowd hasn't thinned out significantly at that point, there's only so fast you can go, and by the time you hit the other side your legs are really starting to hurt. But at this point you aren't too worried - you made it across and it's more a refreshing dip in the river than anything significantly problematic.

From there, the first 15-20km was actually pretty uneventful. There were probably just a handful of obstacles along the way, with the large part of the difficulty just coming from running that distance through the mountains. I saw running, but actually when the terrain became very steep most people slowed down to a walk until it flattened out again. Given we still had a long way to go, I don't think this is unreasonable to keep your energy up for the last couple of brutal kilometres. There were plenty of water and tea stops along the way, some cut-up pieces of banana and I also had a couple of gels with me to keep up energy levels.

I think if the temperature had been a few degrees lower, we would have seen some decent snow coverage, but as it was there were just a few patches of it once we got up into the highest part of the mountains. The scenery was beautiful though and I'd recommend running around these parts just for that sake. There are some parts that go through little villages just outside of Rudolstadt which are quite charming and a lot of the locals turn out to wave, clap and cheer on the runners. I actually found it generally warm enough during the mountain running that I took my beanie off for the whole time.

Where things start to get serious is when you hit the ditches again - this time going along them length-ways. The water is by now up to about waist-height in some parts and you have to wade the whole length of the three-sided ditch that has been excavated. It probably took 2-3 minutes but it felt like an eternity. The water is so cold at this point that it stops feeling cold anymore, leaving just raw pain in your legs. I was about half-way along the first side when I started thinking I wouldn't make it - the pain was just too great and I was sure my legs would just collapse and leave me sinking into the mud. The second side was marginally shallower which provided some relief for the upper legs, but by the third side I think some of the pain had subsided into throbbing numbness. Crawling out at the end of the ditch was a challenge, and my legs and feet felt like numb concrete stilts extending from my hips. I could jog but not with much dexterity.

That led to the first part of obstacle runs at the end, mostly made up of climbing over obstacles, crawling through or under concrete pipes, monkey bars (which I'm glad to say my training helped me with immensely) and a section where we all had to carry a heavy bag of rocks or something. Naturally there was jumping over fire and a few more ditches - all actually fun and a good chance to loosen up and warm up after the coldness of wading through the extended ditch.

But that warming up was short-lived - after a short run further, we came to the swimming pools. There are two of them - the first one with about seven logs that you have to dive underneath, and the second with a giant scaffolding erected on top of it, providing plenty of opportunities for climbing and potentially falling into the water below if you lose your grip. Being up to chest-height in the freezing water, and fully submerging yourself to get under the logs was definitely one of my fears coming into this race and I have to say it was warranted. The cold was unbelievable. The additional layers I had on did absolutely nothing to keep my body warm; the beanie got completely soaked as did my gloves, and in moments I was chilled to the bone. In this situation you just have to get through it as quickly as possible, which is exactly what I did. Between logs I only came up for air and then dived down again immediately. On getting out of the water I wrung out my gloves and beanie which made some difference, and fortunately my clothing selection did ensure that most of the water drained off.

The second pool's scaffolding was a new obstacle for this year. Last year they had some kind of balancing-run over shipping pallets that were tied together and floating on top of the water, which actually would have been quite fun. This time around it was two sets of monkey bars, some balancing-beams and some length-ways pipes where you had to move along hand-over-hand. I can't really describe them very well... basically just a single pipe aligned in the direction you are travelling in that you are suspended from, and have to climb along using only your hands. Again, thanks to all the monkey bar training I've been doing recently, I managed to get through this obstacle the whole way without falling off - and I was very glad!

That was followed by a few other simple but enjoyable obstacles - running over discarded car tyres, crawling under fences in sand, but then we hit a road block. There's a sort of fake house that they build, fill with stage smoke and dance music and some small obstacles, but getting into it involves climbing over a garbage skip filled with water and jumping back down to the ground on the other side. The funnel into the house slowed people down enough that a huge crowd gathered waiting to get in. Since we were all still quite wet and cold, and now not moving, most started shivering - some quite violently. Fortunately there were so many people and the crush of newcomers behind us meant that we were all packed in quite tightly - sharing what body heat there was to go around. I probably lost about 15 minutes just sitting in this traffic jam, which definitely shows that it helps being among the faster runners through the first 20km of the race.

Most of the rest of the obstacles you can watch the videos for, but there was another new addition to this year as I mentioned before - the electric shock run. From the photos the organisers had put up I had assumed there was only going to be one, but there were actually three! I really not sure what their intention was, as the final result from their construction was a bunch of quite widely-spaced wires hanging down. A few runners ahead of me approached slowly and then weaved quite easily between the wires at walking pace - which I did myself - and escaped being shocked at all. The second of these was exactly the same. The third electric shock run, reasonably close to the end of the race, had wires that ended so far off the ground that it was possible to quite comfortably crawl underneath them entirely. So, much to my relief, I was able to avoid being shocked (with electricity at least) at all during this race.

Another obstacle I had not entirely understood from the pre-race photos

  • there is another brief river crossing of sorts as you approach the Walk of Fame obstacle section. Last year they just had people descend to the river from the bank, walk along the river under the bridge for a bit and then climb the bank again up to the field. This year, they had strung up two rows of tractor tyres that you had to climb over. Quite similar to chest-height wall climbs, but easier due to the knobbly bits on the tyres giving quite ample grip (again, to my relief). After getting out of the river, I was expecting the cold water treatments to be really over - but it was not to be. A scaffolding rigged up so you had to duck under one beam and then climb onto a platform before jumping out the other side had a bunch of fire hoses rigged up at the top shooting out water from the river. It was basically a freezing cold river water showing, while you were also trying to climb onto a chest-height platform - not pleasant, but at least not too difficult to climb.

After this, again you can check the videos for the remaining obstacles as it was practically identical to last year's layout. The wall climbs still got the better of me and I needed assistance in getting up despite the wall climbing training I've been doing. The extended crawling sections on gravel were quite painful on the knees and legs and you soon give up the idea of getting any kind of speed in these sections. All the other obstacles are actually quite fun, but at this point I was really reaching my physical limits which makes them all the more challenging. Around about this time I was thinking "why the hell did I do this" - the last 1km section of obstacles is just relentless and brutal torture after already subjecting yourself to a very active and punishing trail run and obstacles.

There was a minor traffic jam again as people slowed down to climb over the last few concrete barricades and crawl through the (very low) final tunnels, but at this point I doubt anybody was too concerned with speed and more had thoughts on finally finishing. The RFID reader was right after the exit of the last tunnel so I think I got my wrist-tag over it well before I crossed the finish line, but there were only a few seconds in it. After getting my medal and being wrapped up in a space-blanket, I was given a cup of some kind of hot lemon recovery drink and retreated back to the changing tent to collect my bag, towel off and get into some warmer clothes. I was feeling noticeably nauseous (hopefully not because of the recovery drink) and physically and mentally devastated. Even after completely changing into my dry, warm clothes I was also still shivering for about an hour afterwards.

So, there it is. It's only a day and a bit after finishing but I know it's too soon to ask myself if I'd like to do it again (and I've got other races coming up which I have to focus on instead). However I will say that the vast majority of it was truly enjoyable; it was an immense physical challenge and if you have done plenty of OCR-style events already and feel like you need to push the challenge to the next level then Getting Tough will certainly fit your requirements! I do wonder if next year might be a little colder, and the electro-shock wires a little closer together and if that might make it just that little bit more punishing (which I wouldn't find that appealing)!

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