Spartan Race – Aston preview

Alot has happened over the last couple of years, with some big life changing events that left  little time for adventure & racing and sadly this blog!  However for the 4th time now its Spartan Race that has brought be back to thinking about what’s next, hence putting pen (keys) to paper (screen) once again.

First of all lets set the scene with a taster from Windsor 2017 –

Background– Why Spartan Race is for me?

I stopped racing motorbikes in 2009, and had a few years in the doldrums. Life was good, but without that bigger reason to train my physical fitness really slipped, and with that my mental attitude followed. But I needed that ‘carrot’ aheakarld to make big life changes.

It was actually Karl Allsop’s (current UK Race Director) fault that I discovered Spartan long before he worked for them. Via an image share on FaceBook i saw while he was packing for a ‘Death Race’ in America. He had all the standard endurance event gear for a race but also a massive log splitting axe. I wondered what on earth kind of event he was going to that needed an axe….. but it seriously grabbed my interest!

Spartan Race was formed off the back of the iconic Death Race, itself an organic event that grew as a brain child of Joe De Sena. Joe then wanted to expand the feeling these top 1% elite athletes got from the event so that everyone could get a taste. This was before OCR was even a thing, before Park Run had really taken a hold to motivate people to get off the couch. And he launched a number of races – the Sprint (5km), Super (8 mile) and iconic Beast (13+ Miles) Obstacle races – with a lifestyle brand wrapped around it that made it all mean something bigger than just a muddy run.

From inception these races were designed for all of us. The elite would have a competitive wave and be timed, rankings, podiums, trophies and everyone else would have the challenge to just finish (and of course enjoy themselves!) The sport currently draws 40% female entries – and I’ve personally seen racers of all ages, all abilities, from wounded veterans to people recovering from major surgery and illness.

For me personally, struggling to finish my first sprint, led to a complete lifestyle change. I lost 2 stone in weight, became fitter, faster, leaner, stronger than ever before, and mentally became my old confident and competent self. My wife came with me on my fitness journey and it became a huge part of our lives and still is.

I had a blip in late 2014/15 where I was diagnosed with COPD and poor (60%) lung function. My dreams of elite podiums slipped away me leaving me a little lost – but that year Spartan launched their World Championship race in Lake Tahoe, and top ten elite finishers around the world could qualify and earn a Spartan Coin. I had to have one, and spent the year adapting my training around diagnosis to gain a top ten finish & eventually earn one and go race in the US. Spartan gave me a new goal and that was awesome.

Skip forward to 2017 and a rough year again for my family, I was unsure what to focus on, and Spartan launched the Agoge and Hurricane Heats in the UK. A new focus was born for me that was just in grasp with the type of training I was able to fit in. (I’ll write more about these events in a separate blog) and the type of event that I felt I was strong at.

And now, after being a bit distant from the sport with other priorities I’ve just got off the phone with Karl I and have to say my blood is pumping for the 2018 UK season and the sport I love.  There are some VERY exciting things entering the sport this year.

I’d like to touch on one thing. Joe De Sena has set a goal to get Spartan Race at the Olympics. People have scoffed at this goal in the past, most companies are just after making a buck from getting people muddy. But Spartan Race is not, they have been on a continuous improvement cycle year on year to make the courses consistent, develop the sport and have an approved rule book to ensure it’s a respected as a sport. And on the Olympics aspiration, ill quote a military sniper school saying “aim small, miss small”. By setting his vision that high, Joe is moving the sport forward in a way that’s good for all of us.

I’ve crossed paths with Karl multiple times in the last 6 years, from his involvement in racing, to endurance events he ran (Primal Events – On Trial) and the recent years running a consistent UK team at Spartan. Speaking with him you can hear his passion for the sport, the balance of having an operationally smooth event, with the challenge of catering for elite Pro racers and fun runner alike. All the while maintaining Joe’s vision and global standards yet still listening to UK racers views.

Some say Spartan is this big multinational corporation that’s steamed into OCR, and I have to say that it’s not at all, it’s been integral to OCR’s growth from the offset, to making it more professional but more importantly the team running it are UK, home grown racers themselves. It’s a small community of staff with faces that are all known to us and are all very approachable. Speaking of which, this is how my call went :-

Spartan Race UK & Ireland Race Director Karl Allsop 6

So Karl, good to speak with you! Spartan Race UK is returning to Aston, I’ve heard the numbers are good 5000 runners??

Hi Luke, yes that’s right. Aston is in fact our fastest growing event, year 1 we had around 1000 entries, year 2 that doubled to 2-2.5K and introduced the first Hurricane Heat, and this year its doubled again to 5k expected over the two days!

What is it about the Aston venue that stands out?

Spartan is about the unexpected, and Aston’s approach is totally that. You drive onto an airfield, its flat! No obvious elevation. But it’s after that race start that everything changes. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing!! A real unknown as you enter the aptly named ‘death valley’ and realise the huge distance and elevation you are going to be covering in a really small footprint. We purposely have made that section obstacle dense, and as you leave the valley, heading up to bucket brigade you can look back and know that you really accomplished something down there. It’s neat, and it’s that feeling that drives the awesome feedback we get from racers. The accomplishment is what Spartan is all about.

(Luke – in 2017 Karl’s team used the tape to map out the letters of AROO (battle cry of the 300) as the course on the side of one hill. Many runners didn’t notice it until the drone footage came out. Geeky fact if you check the venue on Google Map now you can still see it!)

I’ve heard we are seeing some new hardware at Aston?

Yes indeed, we’ve seen a big refresh for this event. Something the build team and I are excited about, but it’s going to be great for the racers. We have a new Herc Hoist (Luke –  racers pull a rope to lift a weight via a pulley and then return it to earth slowly), new A frames, Multi-rig, Monkey bars which have seen an extension. There’s more branding, and the build quality you can expect at Spartan.

What about water? (as a swimmer I’ve always loved the open water swim sections to gain advantage!)

We have a water crossing at Aston, however full open swimming adds some logistical & safety challenges. It’s also actually quite a concern for people coming to enjoy the race who can’t swim. It’s off putting. Likewise the costs of safety with a deep water crossing would draw funds away from other options that improve the course overall for everyone.

That said If you REALLY want to get submerged in the water, come to the Hurricane Heat as you will certainly be getting wet there [Karl sniggers]

(Luke – I can testify to doing a round of PT with rucksack in the shallows for an age in 2017, as night fell….. brutal)

Speaking of the Hurricane Heat…? 

Aston is where we launched the UK’s first 4hr Hurricane Heat. These expand the portfolio of what we do. You can live the Spartan ethos via the Trifecta races, but the endurance events allow us to have more time with racers, and take it to something else. The have also changed the dynamic for race weekends as we have added camping, and it joins the weekend up really nicely for those that want a big challenge.

Ps – We have both Hurricane distances on at Aston, if you are curious come down on Friday night to see the 4hr get underway from festival. Or be in festival early Sunday to watch the 12hr team come in. It’s inspiring!

 (Luke – I’m going to cover Hurricane Heats in a second Blog up shortly, as it deserves its own report. However I will add that they are the type of event that underpin the Spartan values and give every racer something else to try)

 You mention the improved Festival area?

Yes, absolutely, and it’s something we are really focusing on for 2018. With Hurricanes we have started to include Camping and we are working on making the whole weekend an event for people. A real social / community scene with plenty going on.  In fact I’m always after ideas that racers want – if you see me over the weekend and have some ideas just shout! There will always be music, good food, drink – but we are looking at what else we can include.

Sounds like a busy weekend for the Spartan staff!

For sure, but we follow what we preach, the warrior ethos, the team spirit keeps us all on mission. It’s what we are about and have a great operational plan to deliver both distance Hurricanes, a Super and Sprint race over the weekend!

A topic I’ve been vocal about before, as has the community, is cheating especially with prize money and result tables to think about…

I’m pleased to say Spartan Race UK are taking the sport forward a step this season. We have cameras at each burpee station (Luke – at Spartan if you fail an obstacle you get a 30 chest to deck Burpee penalty) we ARE counting Burpees – and also form. Chest to deck, feet need to leave the ground, arms above the head.

This year we have a race official in charge of policing this for the competitive waves. We review footage on site, can check for any protests and in the days after the event our official will review every-single-burpee. That’s right, every one, from the competitive waves – and penalties will be retro applied where needed.

Cheating can sometimes be down to rule ambiguity, or at least that’s the excuse I hear a lot!

Agreed. Hence we have a rule book, and it’s in the timing tent at each race. The rules are revised as we watch the racers and what they get up to and evolve it over time. But this makes it simple, and we are ensuring the rule book is sent out to racers, and we will have signs repeating the basics of each obstacle as you approach them.

So no kicking the bells?

No, that’s a flat no now Luke, I know you like to do it! It’s a safety issue pure and simple.  As is the bucket brigade (Luke – brutal carry of a big bucket filled with gravel) they can no longer be put on a shoulder. Its carry only. This kind of thing we want to make clear to everyone. Of course we are reliant on integrity of racers in places, but we are making it less of a thing for racers to worry about.

 Technique / physical demo of right & wrong can help understanding I think?

Our Official will be in festival area, people can come see them and demo / practice their burpees. Ask the questions – again that’s all part of the community / festival vibe we are working on.

 Photo by Epic Action Imagery (www.epicactionimagery.com)

 You mentioned the competitive waves, how is that working in 2018?

We have two options this year. The Elite wave as it’s always been, full on racing. This is the overall podium. However for this year we have taken the step to split Male and Female races. So we have two starts for the first time.

We have been watching races over the years and many of the ladies battling for podium can get held up with the guys and that’s never seemed fair.

(Luke – I can contest to this, I used to run around top ten pace but often ran with the podium ladies and saw the frustrations they had at times battling for lanes / space at the sharp end of their race. It’s AWESOME that Spartan are making this change)

 Then we have the Age Category wave – also split male / female. And this wave is focused on ranking you with your age category only. So you are racing like for like. It means the racers who are older, like you Luke 😉 , don’t only have the option to keep up with the young spritely racing snakes in the Elite wave but you have a relative to age race going on also. And we have podium medals for these categories.

Speaking of Ladies – I heard Spartan is seeing 40% of entries are female, that’s amazing.

It is, and shows how inclusive the sport is. What we would like to see however is more Elite ladies. The split starts have really shown us the numbers are lower there than we thought.

(Luke – personally I find that an exciting place to be for female racers. Now’s the time to push yourself up to Elite and give it a crack! I’ll be sharing this news with all the fast ladies I know!)

 And you still have the global rankings?

We do – and our age categories are aligned globally so you see the same groupings wherever you run a Spartan.

What’s going to be pushing the Elites as Aston?

Totally depends on how people have trained, but the new hardware changes may catch people out. Also the weights will. The Herc hoist is going up a gear, and without proper technique that can be a burpee maker (Luke I saw this in Scotland 2015, many of the front Elites got burpees – the indignation! I’ll confess to not getting it done at the World Champs in 2015 also)

People ARE getting stronger though so we need to keep pushing them. We’ve had feedback about the weights, yet as the years pass people adapt and get used to them – so they need to increase. Its adds something to peoples training back home too to get used to weight.

And then, away from the competitive waves we have the Open Waves?

Yes, now I’ll be clear on this – Age Cat and Elite – they follow the same rules this year. To the letter. Hence the officials and cameras. However we are an inclusive sport as I’ve said. The Marshals are also instructed to ensure the Open waves have fun, and have empathy with were the runners are at. Spartan is not about humiliation it’s about encouragement – that’s our driving force.

Yes the Burpee penalty is set for ALL racers – 30 chest to deck, but the marshals have the ability to split that up for groups or improvise – and really keep the racers enjoying their experience whilst keeping it meaningful and true.

 This must be a challenge for Spartan – keeping the Elites racing hard but keep everyone else smiling?

It is in part yes, however like anything competition drives operations forward. The gain we see from optimizing the course route everyone benefits from.

Our obstacles aren’t just put out randomly, we have a plan. We think about what tests runners, but also calculate the throughput on each obstacle, every one gains from that.

So is Spartan Race still a race for everyone?

Absolutely. Spartan are a life package – wellness and mindfulness. With the right approach anyone can finish a Sprint if they focus on it (Luke – average Open sprint pace is around 1.5hrs). And that accomplishment, the question is – how do you then carry that from race day into day to day life into work, into private life take forward a Spartan mindset.

A big tradition of ours is to get the whole team to the finish line to support the last runners over the line and get a cheer. It’s a great feeling, – warrior ethos – no one gets left behind.

(Luke – I’ve witnessed this many times and it’s so cool. I’ve finished a different endurance event before near the end of the day and there was literally no one at the finish. No medals left, no drink – they had started to pack up – it was an anti-climax for me. I respect the UK team for doing this.)

What about queues – can you ever fully remove them?

Being realistic – no. We do our very best with the course, however we can’t determine wave behaviour, that’s the big variable.  Unknown to us a whole wave could decide to run together as a big herd, and that would completely throw out the flow on the course. But we have a good handle on getting things close over the years.

The planning that goes into the course, the obstacles sequence takes a huge amount of planning.  To manage capacity on the course, volumes, the throughput is really thought about.

 And a quick word on your awesome volunteers

Where would we be without these guys, they are brilliant. And what’s great is with the program we have mainly racers taking these roles. People that are enthusiastic and help motivate people to finish the course – it’s just what you need when the going is tough, to see 2-3 people cheering you on to get it done and best of all – enjoy it!

And the element Spartan is renowned for – the finisher rewards!

Everyone that finishes the race will get a quality 2018 Medal, and our new Black Technical Tee Shirt. And for the first time in the UK we will issue male and female cuts – something the ladies have really been keen for in the past!

Finisher tee’s are a marmite conversation to get perfect as everyone loves something different, this year we have gone for Tech following racer feedAston teeback.

New for this year however we have also launched our exclusive event limited edition event shirts too. These are really cool, and they will never repeat, so you can have the free Tech Tee then pick up a coloured one off casual shirt to have also.

And the other goodies?

As ever we will have post-race fitness snacks – Vita Coca are coming on board this year and there will be beer at the finish line for those that want it!

Thanks for your time Karl, and I guess ….AROO!

See you at Aston!!


I wanted to close this blog by saying I’m very excited about the direction the sport is taking. Policing burpees has been a hot topic for years and Spartan are onto it. They are removing ambiguity with the rule book and launching split sex races which means the Ladies scene is really going to see a boost I think. They have reinvested in refreshing their hardware and numbers of entries have really grown – Its exciting times.

I’ll be at Aston, and hopefully the other remaining rounds so hopefully I’ll see you there.

If you are thinking about booking and have questions feel free to ask on this Blog or shout a DM via Twitter / Instagram both are @LukeLawrenceOCR, please don’t be shy. Spartan Race has much to offer all of us.

To see more, and book an event please visit www.spartanrace.uk

**25% off Discount Code**

If you fancy booking a race please use this code – SPARTANLUKE – to get yourself 25% off any race!

Remaining Spartan Race UK Races –

Spartan South-west – 23/24 June:

  • Aston Down, Aston Down Airfield, Gloucestershire GL6 8HR

Spartan Midlands – 14/15 July:

  • Marston Lodge, Marston Trussell, Market Harborough, Northamptonshire LE16 9TT

Spartan Scotland – 15/16 September:

  • Kinnoull Hill & Deuchny Woods, South Inch, Perth PH2 8AX

Spartan Windsor – 6/7 October:

  • Rapley Farm, Bracknell Road, Bagshot, Berkshire GU19 5PN

For all races and endurance events over the last two decades I focus my nutrition in the buildup and through the event. My long tern supplement choice for all events is Bio Synergy. I fully trust their range of athlete approved, quality products to support hydration, recovery, focus, and energy in both training and racing. I’ve covered supplement choices in a previous Blog.

Additionally LL10 is a 10% discount off the https://www.bio-synergy.uk  website for all readers.

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EIB (exercise-induced bronchoconstriction)

One of my lung complications is EIB (or EIA as sometimes called) and I know a few of my friends have mentioned similar symptoms even though they do not have Asthma. According to this link up to 15% of athletes who do not have Asthma can suffer from EIB.

My main technique to try to battle EIB is a decent CV warm up before a race. In fact I warm up the longest for the shorter races, as the sudden impact of a near sprint start brings on the tightening in a more intense way.

Anyway rather than put it in my own words I think this articule gives a good explanation

http://vitals.lifehacker.com/why-you-wheeze-when-you-exercise-in-the-cold-1753746217

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Into 2016

It’s been a while since my last update and a lot has happened that’s kept me away from the blog. There are some big changes coming up in my life that I’m excited about, some real adventures which I will be writing about as the time comes.

Our Toyota Sprint Series ended with a wild event at Cadwell Park. Huge rain and some major 5th gear aquaplaning made it an exciting event – it also included my first full double spin, I lost the back end of the car pushing on a drying track, it was quite a wild ride – but fortunately i’d scrubbed alot of speed before just kissing the Armco. We ended up the year in runner up spot despite some great victories and missing two rounds meant we dropped out of contention for the overall series podium – a shame but there will be other years.

I have to give a special mention to Peter Foster, car owner & build designer who also earnt his own trophy at the year end awards for a solid effort all year 🙂

On a fitness front I have a few ideas in the pipeline for later in the year, really looking to diversify how I train and also what I’m training for – and hopefully generate some cool content for this blog!

Part of the reason for changing how I change is that COPD has raised its ugly head further this winter, I normally thrive on cold dry air but its having quite a severe effect to my high end performance / CV effort. I have some training changes that I am making, more on that in future blogs and I’ve been back for further testing my FEV is now just over 50% which is something I’m not happy about and hoping to improve, but it’s a long road.

Lastly I had my COPD journey published in the Journal of Medicines Optimisation which is published out to pharmacists and doctors – I hope that it helps others get the correct / timely diagnosis.

I’ll be back on here as plans for the year unfold

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Updates : Spartan Races & Sprint testing

It’s been a while since my last update as things have been very busy, so wrapping a few things into one here!

Time has flown, with back to back Spartan Races wrapping up the UK series and I have to say – what an amazing end to the year! The new race directors really know how to give the racers what they want. A well planned, hard athletic challenge, with elements to make even the fastest racers think. Sadly some course adaption had to happen at the series finale (due to pheasant movements and an forthcoming high profile shoot!) but the organisers adapted and still made for a good challenge. The biggest news for me was that I finally scored my top 10 finish. An adapted season goal after diagnosis with COPD to regaining the top ten, and earning the fabled Spartan coin which means qualification into the Spartan World Championships.

The meant (with some persuasion from the wife) that we booked a last minute trip the Lake Tahoe in America to compete. I will be writing a separate blog about this as after the year I’ve had and the journey from diagnosis to toeing a line with the fastest racers in the world was a physical and emotional ride and one I’m proud to have completed.

On a car front, we did not have the best result at Croft at our last outing and could not follow up on our class victories and overall podiums from prior rounds. To take steps to rectify that the team took the car on a test day at Blyton Park and we had a very successful day – making small changes and learning the impact to the cars handling. Performance on a test day and a full attack sprint lap with cold tyres can be quite different – but we did our best to simulate what we could. The car at its best is utterly awesome 🙂

So now we look forward to the final round of the series at Cadwell Park November 7th. Sadly we missed the penultimate round due to a clash with the Spartan Race beast, however we’ll do our best to finish the series strong!

More updates to follow soon, thanks for reading.

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Supplement’s 1st step – Do you need a Pre-Workout drink, recovery aide or both?

I’ve been asked by a couple people recently who were new to ‘workout supplements’ about the ‘best’ pre-workout drinks to ‘provide a boost’ for their training and I wanted to share my personal view of them & approach.
Pre-Workout’s absolutely DO have a place to support training (in certain conditions) & races. From the Bio Synergy range I use Active Man Energy Charge for some race events, and also occasionally if there is a training session I really need to ramp up my energy levels for. Next there is the Super 7 Super Charge drink it’s quite high caffeine and so I use this as a fuel for 24hr+ events, it’s an awesome boost (physically and mentally) when you need it the most and also contains Creatine, AAKG, B Vitamins and quality Carbohydrates.
However….
I find people ask about pre-workouts as one of their first steps of a nutrition supplementation plan. So potentially they are at the start of working out regularly & to a higher intensity than before, and maybe have been cutting calories leading into this phase to lose some weight. (Both my wife and I found ourselves in this exact position)
You can then feel a degree of lethargy in your training particularly on hard back to back days. And I guess it’s natural to look towards getting a boost to overcome that feeling. However I have a different view on this, and I believe that nutritional supplementation should always start with good recovery first, in turn creating sustainable energy for back to back sessions.
For me the entry step is 1. A balanced diet that is going to fuel you correctly to enable you to work out as hard as you want to 2. A recovery drink as soon as possible after training (High Protein)
As I have blogged before Protein is not all about weight gain and becoming huge. Body Builders lift a huge amounts of weight for that to happen. Protein helps your body repair what you have just put it through and so after a hard workout the first supplement that I suggest is a protein shake (best consumed within 15-20 minutes of finishing the workout if you can) of course you can eat a Protein rich food however our bodies can absorb liquids quicker.
Bio Synergy have a Whey Better shake, it’s very low KCAL so great for weight management, but it’s stacked full of good quality Protein & BCAA (Branch Chain Amino Acids) to help your body repair muscle (there are also loads of amazing flavours now) Additionally they have a product called Essential Sports Fuel which is just that, a high protein recovery shake that also has levels of carb to help restore glycogen levels following a mixed work out, its higher calorie but your body needs to replace the correct calories to enable it to recover & train as hard the next day.  It also contains Glutamine to aide recovery.

Lastly Bio Synergy have a great new addition to the range if you dont want to carry /  clean out a shaker afterwards or just want something in your bag / car ready to go – the Whey Better RTD (Ready to Drink).

In addition to the above for recovery I also ensure that I keep hydrated during & around training sessions & races with a good Isotonic / Electrolyte option such as Pure Energy.
So in my opinion, before you reach for the high caffeine doses, look to see if you are eating enough of the right foods, and if you are recovering properly. People worry about consuming more calories with supplements but put it this way. If you consume 200kcal more but it enables you to train harder and therefore burn 400kcal’s later that day – then you are at a net gain overall right?
I race a number of back to back events, and sure I use a pre-workout to power me off the line at some of the epic ones – BUT my core focus on endurance events is recovery. Recover well, and go hard in back to back sessions to maximise your training & racing potential.

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Citrus & Cocoa – Takeout Breakfast Bag review

Nutrition is an area of my life that I’m very passionate about. It safe to say that most people who know me know that I love my food, that’s for certain! From a young age I’ve had to watch what I eat due to allergies, so from early on I’ve been made more aware of what I’m consuming.

Food is our fuel, and in order to push myself hard in both training and adventures getting the nutrition right is pretty critical. Our first goal prior to Obstacle Racing was losing weight, and we wanted to do it in a controlled way. Modern life is filled with the latest and greatest fad diet, which despite great results early on tend to just lead to yo-yoing weight and disappointment. People need to learn that the quick fix is not the way, things take time. ‘Fixing’ our human diet needs to be a long term lifestyle change, the slow approach – with education, which will always lead to better results.

Moving on from weight loss we quickly learnt that we also need to fuel ourselves to recover properly to train repeatedly at a high intensity. And this took us through a period of change in how we eat, and the biggest part of that change was preparation. If you put up barriers to healthy living it’s easy to slip, however a small amount of organisation means that you can stick to your goals. We always leave the house armed with Tupperware to survive the day!

There are times however when prep is not possible and you need to grab something on the go. Generally this can lead to bad choices or just limitations on what’s available, so I’m very excited to say I’ve had a sneak preview of a great concept developed by a friend, Personal Trainer, Ironman athlete and healthy eating genius who has recently opened a very exciting Restaurant called Citrus & Cocoa in Crouch End, London.

The restaurant ethos is right up my street, clean foods, created with thought and conscience designed around great tasting dishes that are good for you. And now the owners are looking at the next step, a concept of a take-out brown bag to fuel you through the next day part.

The bag that I’ve tried was the breakfast option, taking me from waking through the morning to lunch (and actually provided a further afternoon snack too)

First I’m greeted by a welcome letter that talks me through what’s included, and not just sales speech but a breakdown of the ingredients and what those ingredients are doing for me. Not everyone is as interested as me in this topic, people buy products that are ‘healthy’ due to a sticker on the product in a supermarket or supplement magic ‘sachet’, but I like to know what’s inside, and why I need it – and the intro letter does just that. Additionally the nutritional breakdown of each item is included – this is vital to understanding the macronutrients you are consuming.

As this is a breakfast pack my first step was the boil the kettle and make my Brew Tea co. green tea ready for my drive to work, which I have to say was delicious. I find some green teas to have a bitter taste, but this was smooth and comes with a take away cup ready to go!

Next up from the bag I have a protein smoothie, with a very decent 20g of protein included. I love starting my day with protein, keeping me fuller for longer and helps that all important recovery from the previous night’s or early morning workout – So in all a great start to the day! The smoothie is not too thick, very fruity and you can’t really tell it has added protein, it’s mixed very well!

We then have our commute to work, supping on the tea during the drive and feeling good. Arriving at work I take out the item I’m most excited about the C&C Overnight Oats as my main breakfast item. I’ve been looking forward to trying one of their breakfast options for a while, and I wasn’t disappointed. The oats are really tasty (oaty / nutty) and work well with the addition of fruit on the top. The portion size was pretty good, the pot looks small but it’s very filling. I’m impressed!

So far so good! Next up on my list is a mid-morning snack. I’m very tempted by the Chia Pod however I’m actually feeling nicely full from the previous items so I opt for the super fruit salad instead which is very densely packed. A really great array of fruits with some nuts and chia seeds added make a great combination. Again I think the portion size is great.

So then at work I grab my regular chicken salad for lunch and head into the afternoon’s work with my mid-pm snack always aimed around 3-3:30pm and at last I get to sample the C&C Chia Pod, bursting with Omega 3 and I have to say this is a genius treat. Think of a very naughty chocolate pudding in a gastro pub, except its good for you! Well complimented with some raspberries on the top.

So to conclude – I am really impressed with this pack, I do like to eat & I would say the portions are perfect plus the combination of ingredients meant that I felt fuller for longer, well fuelled through the day with tasty food that’s good for me!

I’m very intrigued to see what other products Citrus & Cocoa think up for future packs however this breakfast brown bag to go, is certainly a product that I will come back to again! I thoroughly recommend popping in to grab one as they launch, and in the meantime booking a table for a super tasty & nutritious lunch!

Thanks Dylan & Co – www.citrusandcocoa.com

Twitter : @citrusandcocoa

Facebook : citrusandcocoa

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Pack light – (emotionally & physically)

Coming into this year I stripped down the things I wanted to achieve. My race goal for the year was to Podium at a Spartan Race (amended to gaining a World Championship Spartan coin in the light of my lung problems). My focus for the year was to unlock my potential. And my method to help me through was intended to be ‘Pack Light’

Packing Light is both in the physical / practical sense but also a metaphor. I over think. Over the years I’ve battled people telling me this, as I always just feel I’m preparing myself for every possible outcome, making it easier in the moment to make a decision as you have already thought things through.

I like to be prepared and that will remain a constant. The mantra’s of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ and ‘better to have and not need, than to need and not have’ ring very true for me. However I am aware that in some circumstances over thinking or over packing is not the right way to go. There is a cost to that baggage, (mentally & airlines!!!) and so I started this year with the idea to pack light.

What I have found is that actually stripping down things can be a real effort, and in fact takes more planning than to pack heavy. You need to really work hard to pack light, and think further ahead in order to focus and strip out the dross. You also need to add some risk that things won’t be perfect, but also let go that whatever happens it will not be the end of the world.

I’m not an Apple fan at all, but this quote from Steve Jobs I think sums up what I have been thinking :-

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” – Steve Jobs

There have been times when I’ve sworn about my attempt to pack light, and rebelled against it, however I think I’m learning that’s it’s a tailored approach for me. I must not let the thinking become my master, and where I can reduce and remove the things that are not important. If you can pack light, and confidently face the challenge you can come away feeling very empowered.

After years of racing motorbikes & organising logistics, spares, complex machines – Obstacle Racing holds quite an appeal for me. It’s simple. I need shoes, shorts and that’s it – somewhere to run. It’s easy to get dragged into the commercialism of technology in sport, but in OR it’s something I want to resist.

I’ll keep you posted how packing light goes…!

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Artificial limitations

I think through life we all hit our limits at times. I’m a realist and of course there are things that one can’t do in this world. However for me the single most important aspect to furthering yourself is to understand if you really are at your limit, and understanding if that’s a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ limit – and is it temporary or a constant? As a species we are capable of greatness, so much more than we often realise in day to day life. We often impose artificial limitations on why we cannot do something. I hear “I can’t / couldn’t” a lot, and to me all I hear that person saying is “I won’t/don’t want to”

A well-established quote that sums this up is from Henry Ford – “If you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right” and I think it speaks volumes.

There have been times in my life when I have thought I was at my 100%. However that marker was then moved, redefined, to a new level. And I’ve been astounded countless times at what is possible.

I used to talk about 100% effort a lot when I raced motorcycles. I’d say “I gave 100% on that lap/race”, however then I’d race again or at a higher level under more pressure and found I really had more. In all honesty in my whole motorcycle racing career I can probably only put my finger on a handful of laps that I feel now were truly at my 100%. I personally believe that the top class athletes just know how to tap into this 100% time and time again. Sure they are prepped physically, but I think it’s the mental ability to release that potential on demand that stands them apart.

I think the best fuel for me to test if I am at my limit is when someone tells me that I will not be able to do something. “It can’t be done / be realistic” those words seem to light a fire inside me to commit even more to the task.

I’m writing this post on reflection of a 40 hr Endurance event several weeks ago – Primal Events On Trial. We started 7pm Friday and finished 11am Sunday, with no sleep in between (the finish line was 53 hours from waking Friday) with constant challenges from high end PT, weight/load bearing, navigation exercises, running with packs, mental challenges/problems to solve, Tree felling – you name it. Now in normal life if I get less than 6 hours sleep I’m pretty rubbish at work, grumpy. And yet I can then go up to 53 hours over a weekend with no sleep and still operate / compete. There were times when I felt close to quitting, repeatedly saying to myself and others “I’m at my limit / I can’t run anymore” however then within minutes reaching deep to find a jog, or a TAB (run 6 walk 6 paces) which then always led to a run, and if the Race Directors upped the ante maybe into a sprint. My legs were the same, my lungs too – but all that changed was that decision to move faster. The decision to not give in. I was here, doing it, already suffering so why not find out what I really had left. Each time I was amazed.

The previous week I stood on the start line of the inaugural UK Spartan Stadium Race, 3 days earlier I was diagnosed with small airways disease (COPD) and told I had around 60% of Lung Function. This wasn’t really new news for me, I’ve been fighting what I thought was just Asthma for over a year, so actually it was just the explanation. However I let that news affect my race mentality. I decided that I would still race, still push – but on the start line I was different. I let a few people meander ahead of me on the line. I actually ended up starting about 50th this lead to congestion at the early obstacles and combined with my overtake instinct being turned down a notch led to the worst result of all my Spartan Races. My lungs were bad, but my mind-set lost me the places. Wind forward two weeks, following the mental awaking at On Trial and I started all 3 races at the Suffering aggressively, pushing from the front. Really over a course that wasn’t my forte, big distances, less obstacles, hills – however my mind-set was found over that On Trial weekend and kept engaged. My lungs and legs were the same, but my mind was focused.  I took the overall Suffering Legends podium, aggregate time over 3 races – 27 miles.

Remember – “If you think you can, or think you can’t – you’re right

I think to summarise I have a few views. The first is when you think you can’t, analyse why. If you truly want to do it, you will find a way. If you find you are just putting up barriers as to why you can’t do something – then odds are you don’t really want to do it. The second is however big the challenge ahead if you want it, take some small steps forward. When you can’t sprint, at least run, if you can’t run then at least jog / walk / crawl – just keep moving forward (and this is a life metaphor not just about running) I think we are all capable of more than we will ever realise, we just need to reach out and grab it. And the select few that truly do that in all areas of their lives must be very happy & accomplished people.

Make It Happen

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Injury & seeking the right treatment

With over a decade of racing Motorbikes and 3 years on the Obstacle Race scene I have had my fair share of injuries (broken bones / ligaments / tendons etc!) and something that I have learnt & wanted to share is that it’s vital in getting the right treatment & fast.

When I broke my collarbone for the first time in ‘99, other Motorbike racers told me to go and see ‘the bone welder’ in Ipswich (Brian Simpson – at the http://www.physioclinic.net/) Brian earned the nickname from racers who were keen to get back out on track competing and needed to heal fast. It also references the laser that Brian famously uses to help the healing process (Harry Potters magic wand as far as I’m concerned)

Now obviously you can’t weld bones, however what you can do is assist the healing process if treated in the right way. Likewise you can also help someone understand their limitations, and the reverse – what’s still possible. With a huge % of sports performance being in the head, these understandings are just as important as the physical resolutions.

The NHS are ok at what they do, however it’s a blanket approach, intended to get you on your way and in my experience seeking private advice immediately after injury is the best way to heal fast, and properly. Obviously this appeals to athletes, however it’s also important in other walks of life – children, self-employed people, people with an important date in the calendar (wedding / holiday) even older generations who don’t need to impose limitations into their life.

I have been lucky enough to have been treated by Brian & team multiple times and generally when I’ve had a tight deadline to work with. He has helped me race a motorbike with a broken collarbone, get back on a bike after breaking my wrist, solved back problems and most recently helped fix my ankle.

I tore two ligaments in my right ankle two weeks ago. And I was distraught. After my recent endurance events I felt really positive about the forth coming races, Spartan Season was starting and I had the 24hr Xtreme Toughest race in Sweden lined up. Additionally 6 days after the fall I was to drive the Toyota.

NHS told me 2 weeks total isolation, foot up, it would be 2-4 to weight bear, and 6-8 to manage a jog. Jumping and running was a long way off indeed, and was told that rest was all I needed and keep off it. I went straight into treatment and after 3 sessions was walking well & managed to get my race boot on and race the Toyota to a class victory and 2nd Overall. Then a week later after more treatment I raced in Sweden. We covered 163km in 24hrs, (ultra-marathon distance personally) with jumps, landings, mixed surfaces, impacts and my ankle was just awesome. I was mindful not to risk it unnecessarily but I put it through a heck of a lot!

People think Physio’s cost a huge amount or it’s an effort to drive to one, but the difference it can make on recovery times is close to a miracle. My advice is if you get hurt, go and see a specialist ASAP (ideally within 24hours) the early hours / days are where the biggest gain is – get your treatment started so the body can heal properly. Rest is not always the right answer, using it in the correct way can actually help. Get proper injury advice!

Edit : Joanne Wraight used to work with Brian and has now setup on her own in Stowmarket, following similar principles, also an option.

 

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3 Races – 27 miles of Suffering

This weekend’s race (races!) was my first of the ‘Suffering’ series following a linkup between them & my sponsor Bio Synergy. I’d also heard great things in the past about their Legends race. Suffering put on 3 race distances over a weekend 5km, 10km & 10 mile although they are notorious at under-estimating the distances as part of the challenge!

I’d not entered one of their events before so took the plunge with their biggest challenge ‘The Suffering Legend’ which is to complete all 3 races over one weekend – 5km, 10km and 10 mile. A recovery & overall fitness test!

I went into the weekend unsure how strong I would be after 65 miles last weekend with zero sleep at Primal Events On Trial (Separate blog / thoughts on this event coming soon) with the plan to go hard in the 5km for time then just finish the 10km and 10 mile races to get the ‘Legend’ status. On the 5km I felt great, I set off near the front, and when we hit the first wood with the heavy PT sections (Suffering have people called Reapers that force you to do various PT exercises when you get to them, a nice element to reward fitness over pure run fitness) and a rope climb we started to see a group of 6 of us break away from the rest. I was really surprised as normally around this stage of a race I would suffer with my breathing but I felt ok & very headstrong. I gave it everything I had and finished in 4th place not too far behind 3rd. The 5km worked out 5 miles, with some big hills and overall a good athletic challenge.

We then had a very limited window to get fuel on board, I hit a Bio Synergy ESF (Essential Sports Fuel – Protein recovery drink) with added Creatine and an Active Man Energy charge and was ready to go. We set off from the line and I felt really good, talking to two others from the podium in the first race we decided to push and we started to break away. Sadly Sam Cleveland dropped away with a knee issue but James & I kept up the pace and took the early lead. I felt strong, and we pulled out a great lead. Sadly in the woods about third distance we lost the trial, it was the only badly marked section of course all weekend and we were head down so partly our fault, but after a few minutes we found the route. We hit the first section of hill repeats (a series of up & downs on a steep incline) and James looked strong, I also could see the 2 guys behind us catching me. My legs felt great but my knees were screaming with the punishment on the big inclines

I held on as long as I could as I knew I had good pace at the obstacle heavy finish area, however the organisers had added another mile loop of running that I really suffered on, I got caught but finished the race a strong 4th place. The race had been 14.5km not 10km! Knee burning I went straight to the Physio for a massage (awesome!) and advice on my patella pain, which Amy seconded the opinion of my normal Physio that is related to my VMO muscle. I also made sure I had another ESF and took my Active Man Free Motion supplements to help the inflammation overnight.

Waking Sunday I knew I was sat around equal 3rd place overall due to the sequence the others finished. My energy levels felt great, and my head was in race mode – However I could barely walk without a limp. My legs felt strong & recovered but my right knee was particularly painful and inflamed. A 2nd trip to the physio for some heavy strapping and I came out of the tent feeling bionic!!

I knew my knee would only take so much so decided to push hard from the off, and try to have a gap that if I dropped off I could manage. I took the lead early on and I went as hard as I could. Half a mile in we had a tyre carry and friends Laura Try / Karina Grimes where there cheering me on which helped me keep the race mind-set no end! Through the wooded section I found myself running with a Marine, and James from the 10km not far behind. I knew the pace was fast for a 10 miler (suspected to be half marathon distance) but I just wanted to do what I could, when I could. To my delight mountain buddy Simon Small was also not far off and we both gave encouraging shouts on the switch backs when we saw each other which was awesome for us both.

By 1/3rd distance I was sitting in 3rd place overall and was suddenly passed by another Racer, Ross Brackley. I couldn’t understand how he was so fast but after a chat realised he was only in for the 10 miler, and hadn’t raced on the Saturday (to be fair Ross always has amazing pace regardless!) The fresh racers catching us actually made it hard to judge our pace as really we were only racing the other legends not the people here just for one day. It made a great mind battle!! As I thought the hills took their toll on me and James started to draw closer, which was great as we kept pushing each other for the greater good!

OCR is a sport like no other, sure it’s competitive but we also all cheer on each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m not sure you get that in other sports. At the 3rd set of hill repeats (dubbed Bio Synergy hill due to logs painted like Active Man tins, a nice touch) James was hot on my heels but we both passed a Legend ahead of us. Now we were confused on position but we think that sat James and I first and second in the Legends race at that stage.

We pushed as hard as we could but got passed by several runners, a couple of legends but guys we’d not seen in the 5km / 10km so were not too stressed due to aggregate time (and besides we were putting in our 100% anyway!) at this stage friends LT & Karina where back alongside me cheering which helped picked the energy levels up no end!

The last stretch got very intense as the course overlapped with the kids race, the marshals managed it well but it made it quite intense! James was directed around one crowded area and he actually waited for me as a true sportsman. We were neck and neck into the finish straight walls powering over them together. I managed to pull a slight advantage at the last section of PT – 20 plyometric push up kick outs. I crossed the line a mere 30 seconds ahead of him but I think he has done enough to take overall Legend victory which is very well deserved. I’m waiting on final results to understand my overall position.

All three races totalled 27 miles – over a marathons worth of racing & I was very glad of the Bio Synergy ‘RTD’ (Ready To Drink) Protein shake at the finish line.

I am very impressed with the Suffering. It’s a true athletic event that rewards fitness over pure running. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of running, and they don’t have the huge salesy obstacles other races have but as an athletic event it was brutal, and when I compete that’s that I’m after. The terrain really makes this event, the hills are evil, as is the route the organisers set through them.

At this point I have to say a huge well done to Daniel Herman from Bio Synergy. He did the 10km (which worked out 14.5!) as his first OCR and I have to say it was a brutal race. The hills were so hard, without much rest, a 3 mile OCR on the flat would have been way easier undertaking, so maximum respect. Daniel & his friend finished so strong too muscling over the finish walls.

My wife Becky was supporting all weekend, offering drinks to all those racing around me to keep us all going in the heat. I use Active Man Energy Charge as a late race boost and also an isotonic / electrolyte mix. Amazing products – 3 races in one weekend and feeling fresh (knee aside) the Monday afterwards speaks volumes.

Lastly I have to comment on the amazing cheering from Wife Becky!!! She has the loudest cheer in OCR and it helps no end when your feet are heavy and knees are burning to hear her cries across the hills. Bex – you are the best x

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