Our first challenge was the Iceman in Frimley, Surrey, a 16km off-road trail race through the Deepcut army barracks. Read about how we got on below, enjoy the pics here and in the gallery… and check out the video on our Challenge blog.
1. The Iceman – January 26, 2013
“After all our worries about heavy snowfall overnight, this morning was perfect – bright, crisp and clear blue skies, with not a snowflake in sight. We were up at about 6.45am and had a massive bowl of porridge for a last bit of carb-loading, before jumping in the car and heading out to Frimley, about half an hour south west of London. The traffic was kind, Cozzie’s map reading held true, and we were there in plenty of time.
“Human Race had done a brilliant job in organising things, and we managed to park about 50m from the start line. When we arrived it was pretty obvious we were among a fairly serious group of athletes – lots of tall, rangy-looking runners in proper off-road gear who looked like they could do races like this in their sleep.
“The Iceman actually had three parts to it – an 11km race, a 16km race, both of which could be entered by runners with dogs, and then a 33km off-road run and bike duathlon – and we were lining up for the 16k race.
“It was a quick scramble for our race numbers and then over to the start. At 9.55am it was still very cold, and everyone was bouncing around on the start line, and then we were off.
“The route was one lap of the 6km bike course, then two laps of the 5km running circuit. As soon as it began it was pretty clear we had no choice about the terrain – it was straight through the puddles and mud, no going round it. Feet were wet within minutes, and we were constantly having to choose the safest running line while avoiding tree roots, patches of broken ice and the odd branch.
“But everyone was absolutely loving it – lots of smiling faces and people chatting away. It was so good to be out in the countryside, fresh, cold air filling your lungs, running on loamy, muddy paths through snowy woodland.
“Human Race pulled no punches with the route – there were a few long flat sections, but my God there were a lot of hills. The 6km bike route had some longer slopes in, with a few technical downhills for good measure. Cozzie and I ran together throughout this section, keeping the pace fairly steady and not busting a gut early on, but trying to make sure we weren’t stuck at the back! We also had the cani-cross to contend with – a brilliant idea where people run in a harness and are pulled along by one or two dogs. They started after us but some of the lead runners were brilliant, and in no time they were passing us, trying hard not to trip people up with the leads as they went past.
“We emerged back into the car park to change on to the running route at about 33 minutes, which I thought was respectable, and then things got interesting. About 1km in, after a long flat section, they decided to throw in some hills. A lot of hills. Up one side, down the other, run through trees for 100m and then back up – narrow, windy trails where we had to push through trees and clamber over roots. Again and again and again.
“It started to hit people, and runners were slowing to a crawl as the “traffic” backed up along the route. Stronger runners managed to pant up the hills but lots walked up, conserving their energy for the flats and the downhills. I wasn’t feeling too bad, so managed to push on and stretch ahead of Cozzie a little (but certainly not much!).
“When I finally got back out to the car park it was 11km down after about 1hr 10mins. But there was a long way to go, and we had to dig deep to find the energy for the final circuit. That last 5km was pretty hard, and after slipping on a slope I walked my one and only hill before gritting my teeth and pushing on to the end.
“There’s always an amazing camaraderie during these races, and people are always offering a word of encouragement or sharing a quiet moan – with a smile – about how tough it is. One thing that never fails to get you through is following somebody ahead of you. I spotted a backside in the distance with about 2km to go and swore to myself I would beat them… despite my best efforts, whoever it was just pipped me to the line, but without them it would have been a much harder slog.
“I finally emerged into the car park for the end, and as always, there’s only one thing for it – the sprint to the finish. Well, it didn’t end up as much of a sprint, more the stagger of a dying spider, but I got there, crossing the line in what I thought was a respectable 1:41:55. Cozzie arrived a few minutes later in 1:45:37 and we both dived in to the free Jelly Babies and bananas on offer, puffing our lungs out.
“We were both pretty pleased with our times, and thought we might have come somewhere mid-table. But we didn’t quite realise how good the field was. The results put us about three quarters down the list, and we later found out the first man crossed the line in an incredible 1:03:55, and the top woman in 1:17:55 – pretty hardcore. The race director told me that a lot of GB athletes use it as a winter training race, so we didn’t feel too bad in the end!
“So, that’s it – first one in the bag, and now onwards and upwards. The Iceman was fantastic, perfect for getting the HelpingHearts Challenge under way. It was a brilliant day, and many thanks to Human Race for putting on such a great event, and to the medics who looked after everyone – especially a poor girl who twisted her ankle just 34 seconds into the race!
“At the end of the day, though, it’s all about one thing. As I was running I couldn’t help but think about all the times dad has been in hospital, lying there in that bed, wired up to a heart monitor, mum and I wondering whether he was going to pull through. Living with heart problems and going through that every day is a hard slog, not running around in the snow in a wood in Surrey.” Dom