On a cold, windy, wintry day on December 1st I entered the inaugural The Pain Barrier 10k race. Held at the Parkwood Off-Road Centre. The setting had stunning views of the surrounding area and was very open and exposed to the elements. It was cold. The wind chill factor driving down the temperature even more. Little did we know it was going to get much colder.
Unlike a number of other off road races I’d done this year this race only had natural obstacles to overcome. No crawling under barb-wire or climbing up walls. Its was simply following the lay of the land. And I can say there wasn’t much that was laid flat. With this being a 4×4 off road centre the ground was churned up really bad in places and this kept you on your toes as you attempted to keep speed up whilst not turning an ankle. I turned both mine.
The start was as usual a mad dash made a little harder because the organisers had created a bit of a funnel. To be honest given that we we shooting down a great big field I think they could have opened up the start much more or even had staggered starts to minimise congestion. From there it was round and down to the trail. This was where things got rather silly and started to spoil it for me. We couldn’t have been more than 5-10 minutes in and there were some dangerous running taking place by people too impatient when it came to overtaking other runners. We know the starts are always fast and furious with some people getting above their capabilities but this was getting stupid. The ground is rutted badly yet you have some people charging right across in front of you causing you to dramatically alter your speed and stride so that you didn’t end up clattering into them whilst they are oblivious to your safety and canter on down the trail as if nothing has happened. At on particularly bad area I had one woman smack into the side of me as she tried to get past whilst her mate ( I’m guessing its her mate with them being so close ) cracked my legs from behind causing me to trip over myself. How the hell I managed to stay upright is anyone’s guess but I’m glad I did because if I’d gone down at that speed it would have been messy. And this type of overtaking seemed to continue throughout the whole of the race by some unfortunately.
I’m well aware of the competitive nature of these events but having run earlier in the year in an off road night race through similar terrain were people, because of the terrain, only overtook when it was safe to do so it was a major downer for me to have some runners like we did on The Pain Barrier.
The nature of the area threw up some very challenging features. When they said we would have to crawl up some hills they were right. The severity of the inclines was fantastic. I was left clawing at the ground in an effort to get up them. At one particularly bad hill I grabbed hold of a broken branch and was driving that into the ground to get some purchase so I could get to the top. At the top it was all the way back down again on your backside’s with heels biting into the ground so that you didn’t go down too fast.
As for the water obstacles. Oh dear they quite literary took your breath away they were that cold. I’d noticed with some of the less deep water that I’d started to suffer with calf’s tightening up because of the cold. When we hit the deeper water your whole body starts to shut down. The cold you feel in the ice pits at the Spartan Race Series is minimal compared to what we went through at The Pain Barrier. It was just something else wading through chest deep water that had only just had the inch thick ice covering its surface cracked. The ice was an issue itself because as you pulled yourself along with the climbing rope through the water there were large plates of it banging into your legs and when you hit one you felt it. The water features were made much more hazardous not only because of the cold but because of the deep mud under your feet which just sucked you down. At one section I ended up having to swim because walking was near on impossible and the sides were full of people clinging onto them for stability and dear life. Some even hauled themselves out of the water midway through because they couldn’t move any further in the water. This brings me onto to another point. Safety. I wasn’t aware of there being marshals at all of the deep water sections or any means of getting anyone out who went into difficulty because of the cold or mud. During my own struggle through the ice filled water it became a joke that, yet again, certain individuals seemed to throw other people’s safety to one side in their own need to knock a few seconds off their own time. We had people so impatient to get ahead that they were going round other runners who were holding onto the rope provided which put the safety of both parties into question. Your holding onto a rope then suddenly you have someone banging into or grabbing hold of you as they try to get past. Not a bright idea. I know its cold, its hurting and its frustrating when someone else is in front of you. We are all stuck in the same boat and staying in the water longer because right at the front someone is slower than you want them to be. As was the case when I was in the water and we had numerous shouts from behind for people to get a move on. Don’t be a numpty and put other peoples safety at risk. There was an issue recently at the Spartan Race in Cambridge were the water section got shut down because someone got into trouble and a fellow racer I know went to help, then started to get pulled down themselves. That was not freezing water covered in ice like we had at The Pain Barrier with deep mud which would have made rescue a lot more difficult.
As you may have already noticed I have had an issue with how other people conducted themselves at Saturday’s race. To be honest I’ve very few issues with the race itself. It was extremely challenging. In a great location. It wasn’t overly crowded as can get at other events. It was its inaugural event and there are bound to be some teething problems and I came away with a sense of achievement once I’d had chance to rest, eat and sleep on it. The actions of others though have left me pondering whether I’ll be doing another obstacle type race again. I have to think of the long term and if Saturday is anything to go by the risk of injury dramatically increased because of other peoples actions and the last thing I need is to be laid up injured because of someone else when I
I’ll be very interested to hear other peoples views and to see whether this was just something isolated to the front groups of runners.
Things for the organisers to consider would be a greater number of marshals along the course. Any one seen to be running/acting dangerously to be removed from the race. Staggered starts. A better PA system, so hard to understand what was being said at the start. And what I’m seeing from other areas is better course marking as a number of people getting lost. I didn’t have any issues myself but bad course marking does not seem to be confined to just this race I’ve run into it before at the Spartan races. From my own perspective its so easy to solve. Apart from more markers out there just simply using two different colours in an alternating fashion would show people that they go from a white marker to a red marker and so on through the course .
Overall if you want a challenge then this course is extremely challenging, from its hills, dips, ponds and rocky climbing up through the stream. You will hit the pain barrier. I did. Not only from the freezing cold and shaking so much I couldn’t hold my coffee at the finishing line but also from nearly hurling chunks at some points because of the physical effort I’d given trying to navigate the course and terrain at speed. Some have said that the course was far tougher than the Tough Mudder races. Can’t compare myself having not done a TM race but it is food for thought.
The Pain Barrier is definitely a race series well worth watching to see how it develops from its inaugural event.
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Steven A Barlow, Co founder www.spartan-warriors.co.uk and founder of Spartan Runners “because we don’t just run” © 2012