Tough Viking Stockholm Djurgården 2017 Review

An obstacle race in a beautiful country? Sounds like the perfect excuse for a holiday to me!

The race weekend started off in a familiar format with volunteering; I like to volunteer at races for a few reasons, you get to see what goes on behind the scenes as well as meeting the organisers, other volunteers and see a different side of the participants, get to try out the obstacles before the race and of course, get a free race pass! This may sound a bit thrifty, but if you do as many races as I do, they all add up!

At Tough Viking, it wasn’t possible to volunteer and race the same day, the friendly Hanna, who co-ordinates the volunteers (amongst many other things no doubt!) so instead I was asked to come to the venue the day before race day to help out. In my head I expected to be helping putting up obstacles or assembling tents, however, that was probably the engineer in me thinking of things I’d like to do, and luckily enough for the racers, the obstacle assembly was left to the professionals! Instead, all the volunteers were in the registration area so people could come and pick up their race packs in advance.

Initially, I was a bit apprehensive of being in a customer facing role in a country where I can’t speak the language, however, that soon subsided as every Swedish person who came up to our tent could speak better English than I! As the race location of Stockholm’s Djurgården is a little bit out of the city centre, this meant that most people wouldn’t make a trip purely to pick up the race pack, so therefore we weren’t that busy so us volunteers had plenty of time to chat amongst ourselves. Another unexpected bonus was Hanna provided a tasty vegan lunch which we ate in the sunny Maritime Museum grounds within eyeshot of the 80kg Altas Stones that confirmed the rumours were true! At the end of the shift, we quickly registered for the race and received the most badass Tough Viking black and gold T-shirts going!  

 Image courtesy of Tough Viking

Image courtesy of Tough Viking

The following morning, I met up with my new Spanish amigos who also volunteered the day before as we were all register so race the 11:30 wave. I felt the flu coming on for the last couple of days so wanted to get through the race reasonably quickly so I could get to my bed so I set off quite quickly and unfortunately left the other volunteers behind. That was until I came across what I thought was a little bit of mud…however, this must have been cryptonic mud as it stopped everyone dead in their tracks. Think quicksand, mixed with glue and liquid nitrogen from Terminator 2 (have a look at the people in the background in the picture below!). After scrabbling through this “mud” my shoes weighed at least 10kgs each and my hands were easily 2kg heavier than normal! I was happy to see the next obstacle was a water one as this would wash off the mud, even if it was an ice bath. The ice bath was a big container than you jumped into and then had to go under a wall causing you to be fully emerged in the nippy liquid, only to find some guy jumped over the wall you were meant to go under and landed on my head. Thankfully I don’t know how to say ‘bonehead’ in Swedish so I bit my lip, shook it off and soldiered on.

Blog 5 Mud.jpeg

After an eventful start to the race, I got into my stride didn’t have much difficulty with the other obstacles. It was good fun to try the Ninja Steps out and Irish Table out for the first time – the dry weather definitely made these a lot easier but I’m not complaining! As I’m not a strong swimmer, Aqua Royal was a bit daunting however even if I was pretty slow, I got through it without drowning which is a good thing! The only obstacle I failed was the Sternum Checker – I’ve done this one many times in other races but even after 3 attempts I ended up doing the penalty loops. After contemplating this afterwards, I think the fact that they had logs to stand on and jump across and up, instead of jumping straight up from the ground. Next time, I’ll try going straight up!

The final obstacle “10,000 volts” was a surprise – I’ve done electroshock therapy in Tough Mudder races many times so I thought I was well prepared and was expecting a little sharp pain at the point of contact but I was wrong… I expect the amperage to be much higher as the shock was a dull, paralysing thud that you could feel travelling down through your body to the foot that was in contact with the ground. Boom!   

Lessons learned:

·        Work on Sternum Checker technique

·        Don’t get the flu before a race!

Overall, a well organised, fun race with a good variety of obstacles (although a few more challenging ones would be a bonus) in beautiful surroundings – worth the trip and I’ll be back.

Hej dor Sverige!

Blog 5 Finisher.jpeg
Shadow boxing - moving meditation

This may appear to the untrained eye as exhausting, aggressive or even intimidating, but it’s really a form of meditation through movement. When properly done, shadowboxing requires both 100% focus with simultaneous relaxation. Having this (or any other) singular focus requires the energy used in producing the background noise in your brain to be redirected to the task in hand, resulting in a much clearer and happy mind.

Although it can look like a fully choreographed sequence, it’s really just one move flowing into the next plus occasionally fitting in a particular strike that you wish to work on.  It takes some time to get to a level where you don’t need to think about each move individually, then, once that stage has been mastered, the next stage will be short combinations and then finally, a pure, unplanned flow.

When you first start, this will be tiring. Your body will not be fully relaxed, your breath will not be adept at feeding the movement patterns but through time, your breathing will sync with the dynamics, allowing you to move much more efficiently.

Firstly, this isn’t a fully detailed instructional on how to shadow box and assumes you know basic strikes and defence, this is more aimed at having a clear mind and how to implement it in your daily life.

1.      Find an open and tidy space with as few distractions as possible. Personally, I prefer to be outside in the open air but work with what you have.

2.      Take a deep inhale through the nose all the way into the belly and focus on the task in-hand.

3.      Set your stance up correctly and check it in a mirror if you have one.

4.      Start very slow and get the neck, shoulders and arms loosened up.

5.      Ensuring good, crisp form; throw some 25% pace single strikes.

6.      Piece these into combinations.

7.      Move your feet - Don’t just stand in the same place; side-step, pivot off from strikes, shuffle etc.

8.      Don’t neglect defence – imagine there is someone trying to throw strikes at you.

9.      As you feel your body warming up, pick up the pace.

10.   Keep your mind in the moment and focus on becoming totally relaxed.

11.   After a few minutes, you should begin to feel a lot smoother. Keep this up and when you feel like that is enough or if you begin to get sloppy, either bring your focus back and continue on or begin to slow your practice down.

12.   Once you have finished, take a deep inhale and you are now ready for what the world has in store for you.

More often than not, I will shadowbox without a timer and just go by what my body tells me, whether that be first thing in the morning or as a warmup before a training session, however, if you want to turn this into more of a workout, here are some examples I use myself.  

·        Setup a timer to mimic a Muay Thai, boxing or MMA fight.

E.g. 3 x 3-minute rounds with 1-minute rest, 5 x 1 min rounds with 30 seconds rest, or 12 x 3-minute rounds if you like! Whatever suits your current training level but mix it up, remembering that longer is not necessarily better. Will you keep the same intensity up for 12 x 3 minutes as you would for 5 x 1 minute? You might say yes because you will try, but in the real world, no, you will not.

 

Tabata!

This works for almost all forms of exercise. It is simply, 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest. A full tabata is 16mins, but adjust to suit what you wish to achieve, so this can be 4 minutes, 32 minutes etc.

 

Fast and slow – one of my favourites.

45 seconds of super-slow and 15 seconds of full pace, hard-hitting, non-stop strikes. The super-slow part causes you to think inventively about every portion of the movement as well as allowing you to see any mistakes you may miss when going faster, plus, after 15 seconds of 100% pace, it gives you time to get your breath under control.

I hope these tips help give you some direction on how to integrate the beloved shadow boxing into your daily life.

Follow me on Instagram @movelitefitness for more.

Oss!

Spartan Beast Edinburgh 2017 Review

The weekend before last saw the Reebok Spartan Race come back to their regular stomping ground of Spittal Farm, in the Pentlands just outside Edinburgh. It was a similar format to last year with the Beast race on the Saturday and the Sprint on Sunday, but with one major addition – the Ultra Beast! This was the first time the Ultra took place in Scotland however, as I had a volunteer pass for the Beast, I didn’t feel like forking out the ~£180 for the Ultra. I knew a few people that took part in it, but as I didn’t do it myself, I won’t discuss it any further here – one for next year!

Upon arrival at Spittal farm, it was a familiar setup in the main staging area, but with a few significant changes, one of which was the relocation of the Atlas Stones and as well the addition of a brand new obstacle called “Twister” close to the finish line.

It all started well as registration was very efficient with hardly any time spent queuing when collecting timing chips or at bag-drop and after the obligatory group photo, we proceeded to make our way to the start area. Usually this is the time at which a motivating speech by some muscly fella dressed as a Spartan riles up the troops, however this time, much to the disappointment of one of my female friends, he was replaced by a very bored sounding, quiet voice from a speaker on top of a stand, trying to get us to respond to “Who I am (????)” with “Aroo”.  Instead of the usual bloodthirsty shouts of “I am a Spartan, Aroo, Aroo, Aroo!”, the response was puzzled faces and mutterings of “worst speech ever”. I always do a warm up myself so it didn’t bother me, but after the strange remote voice from someone sitting in a distant toilet stopped, the race started out of the blue and off we went. Luckily enough it was mainly running for the first stretch of the race which acted as a warm up, however, I think most people would agree that a mini-warm-up and some inspiring words would be a big improvement – thankfully though, it was all uphill (pun intended) from that point onwards!

Without going into the details of every obstacle, the main points are as follows:

·        The bucket carry was, of course, tough, but easier compared to epic bucket brigade of 2016 which I will never forget. The easier bucket carry was evened out by what appeared to be even more “carry awkward shit for ages”.

·        The weather: it is Scotland, no further comment…

·        Loads of people were choosing burpees instead of the carries – this was really annoying because there were people I easily passed earlier on the course and judging by their speed, I was approx 20 – 30mins ahead of one group, then after finishing the bucket carry, I ended up passing them again…what kind of sorcery is this? The penalty for failing or skipping an obstacle should be equal to, or harder than the obstacle, not the easy option! It’s all or nothing in this game folks, if you skip obstacles when the going gets tough, this sport isn’t for you – do a running only race instead, it’s cheaper. You know who you are non-Spartans!

·        The memory test was a cool addition: there was a big board with a collection of a word, plus 7 digits to remember based on the last 2 numbers of your bib number. I was expecting to be asked to recall these at the next obstacle but ended up needing to memorise them for approx.  1 hour.  During the first 5 minutes of repeating the code over and over in my head, I was prepared to head-kick the next person who talked to me, but luckily enough, my grumpy face put them off until my code was ingrained in my brain. Result: PAPA-293-2073 and no burpees (or head-kicks).

·        By far the hardest thing about this year’s course was the never ending hills of sogginess…

·        The twister obstacle was a very welcome new addition…it’s basically a series of 3 horizontal bars that can rotate, with small handles spiralled around each bar to grab onto. There’s definitely skill required for this one and I got stuck halfway across and ended up with a set of 30 burpees. That evening I saw a video of Tristan Steed successfully doing it backwards so that’s definitely worth a try. I was later told not to treat it like monkey bars, because if you swing too much you will move away from (instead of towards) the next handle. High level bent arm strength is the key for this one.

My stats:

·        25.5 km (15.9 miles) distance

·        A whopping 2 km (1.25 miles) Elevation gain

·        4:42:18 official time

·        70th place

·        2 sets of burpees (spear throw and Twister)

 

Overall, other than the few hiccups at the start, it was a well organised and fun race, with the right amount of difficulty and suffering. As I hadn’t run in over 5 weeks due to injury, I did hold back a little so I’m pretty happy with my own performance and areas I could improve on for next time are:

-        Improve my carrying strength and endurance as I was passing people running, and then they would pass me on the carries.

-        As obvious as it sounds, do some actual trail running training!

A review of the following day’s Spartan Sprint race is coming soon so watch this space!

European Toughest Mudder 2017 recap (My first ever blog post!)

A little bit about me before I get down to the nitty-gritty. I’m an ex-Muay Thai fighter and current Muay Thai, Movement/strength/conditioning and OCR coach (as well as being a Mechanical Engineer by day but I won’t bore you with that!) After a Muay Thai career ending injury, I really missed the life-altering and mind focusing buzz of pre-fight training and just working out for fun didn’t really cut it…and then I found Obstacle Course Racing (OCR).

I will cover more background detail in future posts, but for now, here are some takeaways from last weekend’s first ever European Toughest Mudder which was an 8 hour, night-time (00:00 - 08:00) obstacle race that took place in the grounds of Belvoir Castle, England. The Toughest races are a new, and very welcome addition to the Tough Mudder series, as previously there was a massive gap between the non-competitive standard Tough Mudder, to the flagship, 24 hour World’s Toughest Mudder.

This was my first Toughest or night-time event and these are some things I would have done differently that may help people preparing for their first Toughest.

1.      Have a time schedule in mind on when you need to be starting each lap for various mileage goals – don’t just run and hope for the best like I did!

I achieved my minimum goal of 25miles (official miles, GPS said 34!), but with very little extra effort and better planning I could have reached 30miles. The only thing I set in my head beforehand was that I needed to be out on my last lap by 07:30 but I didn’t finish my 5th lap until 07:37. I now regret not keeping going but at the time didn’t I didn’t see the point of starting a lap by the 07:45 cut-off as it wouldn’t of counted towards mileage (plus nature called for the first time which trumped all logic and reason!)

2.      Increase finger strength in realistic wet/muddy conditions.

In previous Tough Mudder and Spartan races I rarely had any problems with dynamic swinging obstacles such as monkey bars or rings, and would say I have decent “gym” grip strength, however…I failed the Funky Monkey and Kong every single time in ETM! Certainly the cold affected the feel/sensitivity of the hands but didn’t expect that which resulted in a lot of penalty miles.

3.      Wear a wetsuit-type hat for Artic Enema and from the start.

I didn’t wear it for the first 2 or 3 laps, but it certainly resisted the brain freeze during the last 2 laps.

4.      A fast walk is quicker than a slow jog!

On my last lap I was jogging slowly up a slight incline and to my surprise, 2 ladies walked past me! I immediately started walking and had a nice chat with them and from that point forth, I ran when I could and walked quickly when I couldn’t therefore saving a lot of energy.

 

Some things that I did do right that may be beneficial to others:

1.      Have a variety of naturals food to eat (I don’t use gels etc.).

2.      Drink coconut water with added salt to resist against cramping.

3.      Have fun and help others out. Especially on Everest as I saw a few people being assisted then running off without helping the next person below - don’t be that guy/girl!

4.      Have a brilliant pit crew that wants to be there like ours was. For example, don’t just rope in your partner and expect it to work!

Overall, a very well organised event by TM with only one minor improvement suggestion of posting the race information with kit requirements a lot earlier than they did.

A massive thanks to Sara, Dean and Jake for being a fantastic pit crew, my teammates Nicola who almost battled out 30 miles and Sarah for sticking at it without a care in world after a bad spill on Everest – Warriors! Scottish and Irish spirit at its best.