Race Review: Paras’ 10

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:

Running race

P Coy Challenge

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/

Race Results

Race Photos

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


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Race Review: Spartan 5k Ripon

Who would have thought 12 months would go by so quickly and it would be Spartan race time again?

Well it’s actually 11 months but who’s counting?

“It’s Spartan race time again”

This year we where running at Deverell barracks in the 5k elite race.


We got there bright and early. In fact very early. So early most of the volunteers hadn’t even arrived. Now that’s enthusiasm for you. After last years efforts in the Midlands Spartan Sprint myself & Kieran were pretty much fired up for this one and looking to go beyond what we did previously.

The start line.

We mulled around for a while. Made the many customary trips to the toilets as our bodies seemed to understand the oncoming onslaught and wanted to be devoid of anything and everything that it was carrying. Once on the staring line you could sense the nervousness and hear its laughter from all around as people awaited the off. Me I decided once again to have an adrenaline dump with pre race anxiety and felt pretty much wiped out like I did early this year in the world coal carrying championships.

Not the best start I can tell you and one that needs fixing.

One highlight of the days events was to be during the elite event , which we were running in, with the field being lead of by an Olympic torch bearer. Nice touch we all thought.

Then we were off but I’ll save you all from a complete obstacle by obstacle breakdown like I did in last years review and concentrate more on the whole rather than the sum of its parts.

Kieran had already told me to not concentrate on where he was at during the race and to just leave him and concentrate on my own goal for the day which was to the make top 10% or even top 10 finish. So off I went.

The course as expected started off with the usual sprint from the start and then gradually lead into the obstacles themselves with the usual pushing and shoving as people jostled for places. The first major hiccup came after the wrist breakers as we went into log city. They were just too close to each other and created a bottleneck which everyone pointed out that was in my group as we waited to get through. Probably cost us around 15 seconds.

The sandbag and tyre carries were nothing short of torturous and being so close together left you blowing out of your rear end as you slogged it up the almost vertical inclines to complete each obstacle. these were so hard and slowed down. I could see Kieran on this section as I came up one run he was going down the other. Beautifully positioned for maximum effect.

On the rope climb dummy here thought he was close to the bottom so let go on the rope. A split second later he realised he wasn’t and had to grab the rope again which resulted in a very nice and sore rope burn to his finger. A few choice words were muttered as I ran on.

Unfortunately an injury was going to surface again as I came up to the hay tunnel. As I ran forwards I started to crouch down to enter the tunnel but as I did so I stepped into a puddle of water and a stone submerged there. As you would expect I rolled over on my ankle with the resulting sickening pain feeling washing over me. With a few well chosen words I hobbled around in a circle at the entrance trying to assess the damage and see if it would walk off. It felt better than I first feared so into the tunnel with smelly fly ridden water and all. Later on during the barbed wire section I entered quite a lot of deep cold water which brought some relief from the pain.

Even the very deep mud at times helped give a cooling effect as I waded through that. I have to say I hated the mud on those areas. Very heavy, sucked you down and took it out of already tired legs. You could see why this was a military course. It was beautifully brutal.


So with a sprained ankle I continued on for a further nine obstacles, nearly half the course, fuelled by adrenaline and my favourite pre race formula. I can assure you my mood hadn’t changed. A lot of choice words were used. I was hurting more than I can remember and at a couple of points I was close to throwing up with the lactic acid build up. Kieran I knew not were he was in his own battle with the course but I was confident he would be pushing through.

All the time I was running I had no idea were I was placed I just knew it was taking longer than anticipated. As things would have it we covered over the advertised 5km and did 6.3km. All I do know id that I had managed to pull a few other runners in, pass them but at the same time because of the tiredness that was now setting in I couldn’t pass the last few I saw up ahead. As I came up to the spear throw it all went terribly wrong. I missed and was subsequently penalised with a 20 burpee punishment. This cost me two places as I heard two more runners come in and complete the task. I was mightily ticked off with myself at this point.

Over the fire jump we went with some trepidation as I took off on the injured foot and knew that the height and momentum of the jump was going to cause discomfort on the other side.


Then in to the very thing I hate most…ICE!!!

Now nearing the end, mentally, physically and the course. With some more running on road and then through a wooded area we hit the dreaded slippery wall climb.

What a slippery mess that was. I took what I thought was a decent path and rope only to find the rope covered in slime and after a quick glance sideways noticed the next rope along was cleaner. Oh the joys of it all. Up and over we went to find on the other side they had put two rows of wood across to aid with getting down.

I found it didn’t.

Lets look at it this way, your covered in mud, soaked to the skin, exhausted, moving at considerable speed and your trainers now have a lovely coating of industrial washing up liquid. To say I went down with a bump is an under statement. I hit the bottom after my hip and glute banged off the wood with an almighty thump. Dead leg setting in and pain shooting all around my hip and pelvic. Whilst I can understand why they decided to add the wood I don’t think its the best idea. far too easy to cause damage to a runner than just sliding down into a mass of straw at the bottom of the other side.

Whilst excessive bruising never materialised the pain deep inside my gluteus and pelvic region has been pretty severe. The swelling was similar to having half a tennis ball strapped to the outside of your hip. There’s a lot of muscular trauma there that’s for sure and a lot of time needed for it to heal fully. With that in mind I do hope that the organisers consider taking the wood off as it can cause more injuries that it could save.

Then it was a nice smack in the face with a pugil  stick from a Spartan gladiator and over the finishing line we went. Practically bent over double I managed to get my finishers medal, cup of water and t-shirt. Then it was off to get hosed down and get the rope burn treated. All the time continually look back towards the finish line to see if Kieran was finished.

After being treated by the first aiders I started to wonder down to the finish and say Kieran perched on top of the slippery wall helping a female runner up and over the top. What a gentleman.

As you can imagine there was a lot of jubilation as we met back up and quickly blurted out what we ‘d just been through. Once more the sense of achievement was overwhelming even though we’d come into this race with some knowledge of what we were about to do.

With the customary swapping of tales we made our way back to the car the dry off and get changed. Then back to the start line to cheer on fellow runners and get our provisional finishing times.

The sense of achievement and camaraderie is second to none at these races and it was clearly evident as we talked to many a finisher after the race.

As Spartan Race says “You’ll know at the finish”

“You’ll know at the finish that you can do more than you ever thought possible”

“You’ll know at the finish that you’ve just given it your all”

“You’ll know at the finish that you’ll be back for more”.

“You’ll know at the finish you can go on to do greater things”

On the flip side I would like to point out a few things that I think could go to improve the whole experience even more.

Stop the quad bike riders from tearing around the place as if its Brands Hatch. We not there till November and there were a couple of instances that we saw when the riders were flying into the registration area far too fast and at one point went whizzing past a couple with their kids. Not clever but very dangerous.

No finishing times for the season pass holders. This seems to be an issue that’s plagued other races and you would have thought that with all the data coming straight off the timing chips as we pass the finish it shouldn’t be an issue. Nothing worse than not knowing how well you’ve done after putting in a Herculean effort. I’m surprised they don’t have a second computer hooked up to the program they use so that all this data can be collated and finishers can get their times practically right off the bat.

As mentioned above remove the wood off the slippery wall. With races being so close together the last thing you need is an unavoidable injury like the one I sustained. Cuts and the odd bruise or three are expected but not smashing yourself up like I did on that wall.

How about giving people black t-shirts instead of white? We had white last year. Loads of people use them to race in and white is a bitch of a colour to get clean after going through these types of courses. They just end up ruined when a lot of people are proud to have earnt them and wear them.

How about a bit more after race entertainment? You see all the time people will finish, get cleaned up and nearly always come back in to see other racers finish or generally mull around and swap stories with other runners. Everyone is that high on adrenaline and endorphins it seems a shame not to take advantage of such a big feel good factor that everyone has and for people to be able to spend more time together.

But with all that said and done a thoroughly enjoyable day and both I and Kieran are looking forwards to the Midlands Super Spartan.

All photographs of the day can be found here and can be downloaded free of charge which I thought was a superb idea by the organisers.

Steven A Barlow, Co founder www.spartan-warriors.co.uk and founder of Spartan Runners “because we don’t just run” © 2012




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The Metamorphosis of Bodybuilding Part 3

In parts 1 and 2 I put forward a number of observations on why I felt that bodybuilding ( and general fitness) today just wasn’t progressing and staying stuck in a rut with so  many failing to make the gains they had expected. The inevitable outcome usually being a turning to drugs or extreme training and dieting principles.

For me a lot of that could quite easily be rectified by doing the thing that so many shun with a fear that it will cause them to overnight loose everything they’ve worked to gain.

Steady state cardiovascular training.

Routinely we see on forums advice given that to do SSCT will lead to muscle loss and that high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.)  or tabata protocols  are much better. My first observation is that those answers are driven more by the bodybuilders ( and the short attention spans of today’s societies)  programming of always needing to do things harder than anyone else and is necessary. Unfortunately people are not seeing the wood for the trees.

When training the cardiovascular system we need to look at the heart as having two functions. Eccentric cardiac hypertrophy and concentric cardiac hypertrophy.

Concentric cardiac hypertrophy is what you get when doing higher intensity type training when your heart rates are pushed up into their maximum zones. Things like tabata, interval sprints and H.I.I.T. All these work by making the heart contract more forcefully. Were as eccentric cardiac hypertrophy works by increasing the stroke volume of the heart through helping to stretch the left ventricular cavity and helping you to pump a much larger volume of blood per heart beat.

If you are continually strength training heavily and relying on H.I.I.T type protocols for your cardiovascular training all you are doing is training the heart and cardiovascular system to work on one singular pathway. To pump harder. You are not teaching it to be able to expand, take in a greater volume of blood per stroke and thus deliver a larger volume of oxygen and nutrient rich blood. And with that comes a system that is more able to repair the body after strenuous exercise.

Now we are not talking about going out and doing excessive mileage in the realms of those done by marathon runners. No, we are looking at at least 30 minutes of movement which raises your heart rate and breathing patterns to the point that you can still comfortably hold a conversation without feeling or sounding breathless. But don’t do this type of training on a weights day. Its better served for days of active recovery or those that are designated as your pure conditioning workouts.

Try the above for the next 4-6 weeks 1-2 days per week and see what a difference it makes.

Steven A Barlow, Co founder www.spartan-warriors.co.uk and founder of Spartan Runners “because we don’t just run” © 2012


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