Race report: Merrell Ambassador Jake Thompsett reports from Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest (MHSOTF) - Cardiff, September 28, 2014
In July 2014 we previewed the hugely successful Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest (HERE) and the series began this weekend in Cardiff. Jake Thompsett, Merrell Ambassador, keen trail runner and owner of JT Expeditions, stepped outside of his comfort zone to take part in an event with some man-made obstacles. With a new route in Cardiff and Jake having never faced the “Wall of Fame”, it was set to be a classic encounter:
I currently run my own outdoor company (www.jtexpeditions.co.uk) providing UK and overseas mountain activities, expeditions and rock climbing instruction including mountain running and adventure racing camps. I’m also lucky enough to have a huge amount of support from Merrell this year as one of their brand ambassadors, from equipment and clothing, to regular promotion of my company and support through races, they have provided a huge amount of support and help this year and I’m extremely grateful for it.
In my spare time I’m a keen climber, surfer, mountain runner and adventure racer, regularly competing in as many mountain races, trail run and mountain bike events as I can fit in. I recently began entering stand up paddle board events too, which is a huge amount of fun.
Much of my training for such events is based on getting out whenever I can, being self employed and a freelance outdoor instructor my work tends to be very random and often around the country. If I’m working in the Brecon Beacons for example, then I’ll squeeze in a long mountain run but when I’m at home, my running training consists of regular 10K plus size runs around the country lanes, hills and forests nearby. I also climb, surf, paddleboard and strength train regularly to ensure that my whole body is getting worked, but really it’s mainly because I love doing them more than anything!
The Mens Health Survival of the Fittest is something that I’ve never done before and isn't the type of event that I’ve ever focused my training on. Without a doubt though, my climbing, paddle boarding and surfing training made a huge difference for the MHSOTF. I’m a strong believer that core and upper body strength is an advantage to any form of running, but as soon as I approached the first obstacle it was apparent that for this event, it was vital!
After running several kilometres at a fast pace, fuelled by the epic psyched up atmosphere of the registration and race village, and a nice 'cool off' in the Cardiff International White Water Centre. I reached the first set of physical obstacles, a series of monkey bars, vertical overhead height walls and parallel bars. Arriving out of breath I committed to the monkey bars and instantly realised that upper body strength and fitness would put you ahead of super fast runners as several competitors were beginning to slow during the obstacles. The feeling of trying to shake off upper body muscle body pump whilst trying to get back up to a decent running pace is a weird one, I wasn't out of breath but instead had a slight ‘jelly’ like feeling, much different to the lung busting and leg burning feeling of a trail running race!
As a kid I had always loved assault course type games, crawling through pipes, swinging on monkey bars, and climbing around metal frames. It was like being a kid again but fuelled by much, much more testosterone! I think by far my favourite parts of the race had to be the White Water International Centre and the walls, having to catch your breath then climb over a large wall was a great challenge. On the downside, the obstacles did provide a lot of opportunity to get in a queue and lose valuable time. Due to not being able to get to Cardiff till midday, I was in one of the last waves so there were a lot of people in front of me, but the atmosphere was brilliant.
That’s what’s different about these races, the vibe is great, there’s a huge amount of people doing something that they normally wouldn't be doing and most of all everyone is just having a blast. Waiting your turn at “The Wall” you get to see a group of people helping each other, totally exhausted, climb up and over to the finish line, smiles all round and a huge crowd of spectators watching from all angles as they make their way around Cardiff Bay, awesome!
It’s hard to not be psyched at the MHSOTF, the way that the races are set within a city and no roads are closed really gets you excited. We couldn't have asked for a better day for the Cardiff event this year, 22 degrees and clear blue skies with people flooding the Bay, all watching and cheering the competitors on. I’d never experienced this sort of atmosphere before during a race. Most of the races I’ve taken part in have meant that you head out, just by yourself and sometimes with a partner, into the mountains or out on the trails, sometimes you bump into other competitors, but never before have I experienced being around 1000’s of competitors and spectators. It was great fun and I finished the race extremely excited.
One thing which I couldn't decide on was what to wear, do I wear trail shoes, what clothes do I wear, it was all pretty alien to me. After doing a bit of research on the weather and the race course I opted for my Merrell race vest and race shorts which have built in compression, essential if I didn't want to chafe from the wet and muddy swims! I also wore my Merrell Bare Access 3, a fantastic zero drop road running shoe with enough cushioning to protect my feet on the road sections, yet not too much to take away the feeling of the technical obstacles underneath my feet. They also have a small amount of tread to the soles which meant that when I hit the off road sections of the race, I wasn't slipping around and could still keep a good pace.
Jake finished a hugely impressive 29th out of 3380 competitors. His time was 1:07:33 - a mere 24 seconds off Rat Race’s own man to beat, “the Equaliser”. Clearly a rematch is needed here!
More information and entry to Mens Health Survival of the Fittest series events, taking place in Nottingham, Edinburgh, London and Manchester can be found here: www.mhsurvival.co.uk
Also check Jake out on his website (www.jtexpeditions.co.uk) ; Facebook www.facebook.com/jtexpeditions or through Twitter on @JTExpeditions.