The Paras` 10 The Ultimate in 10 Mile Endurance Races.
After entering this years P Coy Challenge at Catterick I can wholeheartedly agree. It is the ultimate in 10 mile endurance races. To say it handed me by rear end on a plate was an understatement.
The race is split into two categories:
As mentioned above I entered the P Coy challenge whilst my three buddies, Kieran, Matt & Thomas, entered the running race.
The day was hot, very hot. The announcer continually mentioned prior to the start of the races that people needed to keep applying sunblock & get fluids in as it would be a minimum of 4 degrees hotter out on the course as it was at the starting /finishing area. He wasn’t joking. At times out on the course I felt like Beau Geste trudging through the desert head pounding from the constant heat beating down on it and throat parched as all the water was getting sucked out of me elsewhere.
When the time came everyone gathered in the starting area with races on one side and those tabbing in the other. A few safety rules and regulations were given then a delightful but slightly crazy Para put us through a quite humorous and enjoyable warm up.
Then it was time for the off for the races. As they filtered out there was a loud cheer and spontaneous clapping from all those in the tabbing area. Kieran mentioned afterwards that as they ran down from the start along the grassy area the noise from those tabbing and spectators lining the starting/finishing area was very loud and helped to fire the runners up.
About 5 minutes later it was our turn. Considering the issues I’ve recently been having with adrenalin dumps affecting me terribly at the start line today was different. The nerves, butterflies and slight nausea were still present but I was some what more relaxed than previous races. Oh how that was going to change as the miles ticked by one by painful one in my boots with a 35lb backpack.
As with previous race reports I’ve always been able to give a blow by blow account of nearly everything that was going on around me. This one is different. Because of the very physical nature of the P Coy challenge there comes a point were you’re in your very own cave. Your pain cave. A solitary place were the chimp in your head is the only voice you can hear or converse with.
Those running in the P Coy challenge are given a pacer to help them finish the race in less than 1 hour 50 minutes which is required for those training to be Paras`. This works out at an 11 minute mile. At the 3 mile mark I was on target with a time of just over 31 minutes. Even at this early stage I was feeling it. The terrain constantly changes from a dusty road surface to solid concrete to rutted road. Nothing is flat. It is always undulating. Testing your muscles every step of the way. Sapping every ounce of energy from your body yet you know you’ve still got a lot of miles to go.
The game plan was to go for the sub 1:50 and to keep running. I knew if I kept my heart rate within my anaerobic threshold ranges, like I had done in training, I would be close to hitting my goal. The “keep running” part would eventually be my own undoing. I’d notice even from the fist couple of inclines people suddenly start walking up them then sprint once they got to the top. I thought they were bonkers. Wrong! They were the sensible ones as the further I got into the race the slower my running became to the point were those “walking” would be matching me up the inclines. Inevitably the penny dropped at around mile 5 when I started to walk up and run down any hill or incline.
It was around the 5 mile mark that things started to go horribly wrong. I was hurting. Head was pounding from the heat and I could feel my legs starting to tire from the unfamiliar, energy sapping terrain. At mile 4 I was still on target but only just. By mile 5 I couldn’t see the pacer. All that was going through my head, apart from the thoughts questioning my sanity, was to get to the end of the race and no matter how bad it felt, make sure I finished.
Mile 5 is what they call the turn around as you go up and around the lake but it doesn’t get any easier. You know you’re halfway but the pain cave is calling ever more. You and your chimp just keep chuntering to each other to keep going. Another bend. Another hill. Keep going. Keep sipping your water. Take in an energy gel and keep going.
By mile 6 I was 3 minutes off the pace. So in the space of 2 miles I’d lost nearly 4 minutes. Not a good feeling. By this point it was just a battle of wills. Mine and the chimps. The terrain continued to slowly beat your body to death. Constantly changing. Constantly testing you. I was hating it and hating the race. Why oh why do I do these things to myself?
As we went up another hill I say some signs ahead. All along the course there were mile markers and motivational signs to help spur the racers on. Eager to try and get myself back into the real world and out of the one in my head I was keen to know how many miles I was now up to. The signs read ” On the 8TH day God created the Paratroopers and the Devil stood the ATTENTION. 8TH was that the 8TH mile? Nice way to put it to the racers. Head playing tricks again. About 5 or so minutes later I came across another sign that read 7 Miles. NOOOOO!!! still 3 more pain inducing miles to go.
There comes a point when you hit rock bottom and that was it. I was hurting. Hurting like I’d never felt before. My legs wouldn’t speed up whenever I tried to make up ground. My backpack had slipped and now I could feel the skin being slowly but surely rubbed off my lower back. My stomach was rejecting any water I tried to put into it. And my head felt like Thor was using it to test out his latest hammer. Not to mention that I knew what was still to come as we came up to mile 9. The hill of all hills. Lick hill, tank hill, Governor hill. I’d heard it called a few things but one thing I did know was that it was a man beater.
By the time I reached the hill of hills I was wondering how the hell I kept going. Then I looked up and my heart sank. It was near vertical. Not very long but of such an incline you wondered how you would stand on it without falling backwards. So up we went with every step causing pain in leg muscles that just wanted to curl up and die never mind go up this. The only way I could keep going was to turn my feet outwards as far as they would go so I could dig my feet/heels into it and hurl profanities at myself rather loudly to get my sorry backside up to the top.
The relief at the top was immense but by now as we reached mile 9 it was 1 hour 42 minutes. 8 minutes to do the final mile and with the legs I was currently left with it didn’t seem possible. But to hell with it, in for a penny in for a pound. I was going to try even if I only managed to run for the next couple of minutes at least I would know I’d given it my all. So off we went and the first bit of down hill was tricky but once we hit some grass for the first time there was a sense of relief in my legs. Through the mud and water I pushed myself. Still can’t understand those running/tabbing that ran around the sides rather than through the water. And kept going as fast as I could till we hit a road surface again when my legs started to go again. I glanced at my stopwatch and it was 1 hour 49 minutes and 50 seconds. My heart and head sank. I’d failed.
Well not long to go now. The pain would soon start to subside. Then I hit another incline as it lead upwards to where a load of spectators were cheering people on and I heard some one shout out that we had only to get around the corner and it would all be over. At that point I heard my name called, looked across and saw Kieran, Matt and Thomas all stood there clapping and cheering. I mouthed to Kieran I was dying and kept on. Round the corner and onto grass and I remember what Paul Joseph always says to me when I race. “Never finish a race without sprinting to the finish line”.
So sprint I do. It wasn’t easy but it was pleasurable in its own sick way as I ran and spurred on a fellow tabber who looked like they wanted a hole to open up and swallow them to ease the pain. Over the line I go and its done. Again all I could think of was that I’d failed. At that point I saw my Dad who had to come over to help hold me up and get me out of the way of other runners. My legs were struggling to hold me up. My head felt like it was on the verge of exploding and my stomach just wanted to empty its contents all over the place as it had felt like doing for the final 3 miles.
We made our way over to the weighing scales to double check the weight of my backpack. 36.5lb. An increase of 1lb. Only one place that could have come from and that was the sweat off my back. A pound of sweat just off my back I was dreading to think what had leaked out of me from the rest of my body. By that point the rest of the lads had made their way over and yet again I was close to collapse as I fell onto Kieran at which point everything that had just been done hit me. I was close to tears. The pain I had gone through, the pain I was currently feeling. The fact that it was all over and the feeling of being utterly gutted that I’d failed to hit the sub 1:50 cut off mark.
They’d suffered nearly as much as me. All three were carrying slight injuries so it wasn’t going to be easy. The terrain had pushed them to their limits and asked for some more. Yet they were glad they’d done it and were wanting to come back for more next year fully fit. It was only 12 months previously that Kieran had been nervous about running his first every 5k obstacle race yet here he was having completed 10 of the most gruelling miles imaginable. Now that’s some progress. Kieran later informed me that on the way back to their car the Matt and Thomas were close to collapsing because of what had been taken out of them and everybody ended up holding onto each other just to stay upright.
For me the next few hours were just awful. All I can say is that my body had gone into some sort of shock and I didn’t know if I would even manage to stay concious. There literally was nothing left in me. I was glad I didn’t have to think to breath and it was an automatic response because even thinking hurt.
3 days later as I write this all I can say is that as a whole it was the best race to date I’ve ever entered. The organisation, the polite, friendly, efficient and extremely helpful Paras` that were helping at the event. A credit to the armed forces.
Am I still in pain? Yes. Bits of me still hurt.The blisters on the bridges of my feet and blood blisters under my toes nails were worth it.
Would I do it again? Yes. If I could get to the Colchester race I would. But I will definitely be at next years event at Catterick.
Have I learnt anything from it? Oh yes. Too much to mention. Its not only a race that tests your physical abilities it tests your whole character right to its very core.
Would I recommend it? Can’t recommend it enough. I know its not for everyone but you have to remember you don’t have to do the P Coy challenge you can enter the running race. Forget expensive corporate “character building” weekends away. Pay your £30 and do this race. You’ll learn a lot more about yourself and contribute to a very worthy cause. http://paracharity.org/
A nice video posted by a fellow runner which will give people a bit more of an insight into what the race entails.
One suggestion I would offer if its at all possible is to have a different finishers medal and t-shirt for those doing the race or tab. I’m extremely proud of what I have earned. I haven’t had the t-shirt off since yet it would make it even more special if it mentioned I’d completed the P Coy challenge and not just the Paras`10.
Don’t forget to load up on all your pre race caffeine products at Candy Hero and use our reusable 5% discount code SPARTAN-F3HA at the checkout.
Steven A Barlow, Co founder www.spartan-warriors.co.uk and founder of Spartan Runners “because we don’t just run” © 2012