So how bad can Scotland possibly be compared to England in January? I mistakenly thought only a few degrees above zero…..how wrong I was.
Well I guess by the very name it kind of gives it away what kind of race this is! Add to that the typical Scottish weather and suddenly you have a monster winter race.
The forecast predicted freezing temperatures for the weekend - after a relatively mild 6 or 7 degrees the previous week. The pictures that Alex Potter (Race Director) nicely posted on Facebook told me to prepare for the worse – this was going to be like an expedition to the North Pole!
Armed with every piece of neoprene and merino wool base layer I own, we got to the race at 9am to register Sunday morning. The race location was really easy to find and well sign posted from all major roads. There was ample car parking, which was free and pack collection was in the clubhouse which was nicely heated. There were no huge queues; however ‘race pack pick-up’ was available the day before too. The staff were very helpful and also showed me where to collect my ROCS tag which is to scan yourself once you have completed the mandatory obstacles. (Mandatory obstacles were only for people wishing to qualify for either the European or World OCR championships).
I got changed into my Frogskins (Probe wetsuits new design of thin neoprene water wear with a fleece lining) along with neoprene socks, a cheap windcheater and a pair of neoprene gloves shoved into the top of my bottoms ‘for the quarry swim’. I then headed to the pit lane area which was the start line of the race, but also had a covered area with stalls, food outlets and hot drinks available.
The atmosphere was buzzing – probably with a mixture of excitement and sheer terror of what we were about to face out on course. There were lots of people smiling and no doubt swearing under their breath obscenities of what they had signed themselves up to. Some people were also clearly making overwhelming gratitude thankful noises at close friends who had signed them up to this race too.
Everyone was squeezing into the pit lane, anxiously waiting for the race brief and warm up. Shortly after this was the famous bagpipe start – this is what I truly loved about this race - a start line with an amazing send off. As the bagpipes finished playing there were smoke bombs going off, a countdown from 10 and as we all set off running, to my left there was an amazing display of fireworks going off. What a way to start a race.
We started off running around the actual race track for approx. 1km before coming to a sandbag carry – the sandbag/gravel bag had frozen so we had to bang them on the ground to break the ice so they would sit on our shoulders. The sand bag carry took us through streams with slippery stones, up and down muddy banks, over a scaffold framework to climb and back up a few more hills. This went on forever; think it was nearly a mile long!
There were a few other obstacles such as a container to climb, a few walls. The main obstacles I remember from needing to tag for completion were the Mactuff version of stairway to heaven – 3 Scaffold pipes and ring a bell at the top. The distance between the bars was actually quite far (about 18 inches) a really tough pull-up to reach the next one. I sensibly used my arm hooked over the bar to avoid falling before hitting the bell. There was also the dreaded hamster wheel, shimmy rings, a weaver which was more like a sternum checker getting higher and higher as you progressed over the poles. A sloped wall with a muscle up wall at the top, funky style monkey bars, a 15ft Jump into ice cold water at the quarry and a rope climb.
There was one area of the course quite early on which was a mixture of tubes to crawl through, ice pits mixed in with barbed wire crawls and crawls through tunnels full of ice and water. At this point I was ecstatic that I had dressed appropriately for the course because not only had I nearly slipped over on the sand bag carry and dropped my sandbag in the water several times (leaving me soaked as the water drained from bag down my shoulders) I now had to jump into chunks of ice and get down to chest level in the icy water to get up the tubes.
The course all in all was absolutely amazing. I was a little concerned that there would be too much road style running with it being at Knockhill Raceway but apart from the 1st 1km on the race track - the majority was a great mix of terrain running up and down ditches, through streams, across water pits and into wooded boggy areas where you could quite easily have lost a shoe or 2! There were some fantastic obstacles which were well placed so you could complete them – for example the stairway to heaven; when I arrived at the obstacle I was clean and dry enough for my hands to grip and the obstacle wasn’t caked in water or mud. The whole set up of the race was really good from collecting your race number, the start line, location of obstacles (including the mandatory obstacles) to actually completing the race and finishing with a nice hot chocolate and plenty of staff on hand with thermal blankets ‘if needed’ when you passed the finish line. It was well staffed, Marshalls and spectators offering great support but also plenty of medical staff around the course should you need them. It was also great to see the rugby lot (after the 1st initial obstacle of getting past them) out on course shouting support at everyone. I came across them on the sandbag carry and again at the rope climb right at the end.
All in all I think this really is a must do race to put on that list of things to tick off. You won’t be disappointed even if you did have to trek a fair few hundred miles to do it. If you’re not very confident, bear in mind there’s a 7km option along with the standard 15km or the brutal 22km.