Running in the Inflatable 5k probably falls into the category of “inevitable” given that I had, perhaps harshly, labelled it as “entry level” compared to some of the other, beastlier courses out there but I think it’s only fair that I sample the full spectrum of events in the OCR catalogue.
I even skipped Friday’s Leg Day (cue the universal bemoaning cry from Personal Trainers) to ensure that I was fresh and ready for my run – not that I was particularly upset about this, of course…
My housemate, who very kindly had agreed to join me on this venture, had also suggested we play some golf following our event so I was awake nice and early to get prepared. Granola, porridge oats and Bran Flakes littered my breakfast menu (not at the same time, before you hark) before we hit the open road; a backdrop of beautiful sunshine guiding our journey.
The only problem with this is that we had an 11:30 start time and it was absolutely roasting hot – whoops. Alas, not to worry. We arrived, we found a lovely parking spot in the shade and we tootled off down the road to the event itself.
We strolled up just in time to catch the end of the warm-up for our wave and agreed upon today’s mantra being, “warm-ups are overrated.” (NB: I totally regret this…)
I also managed to convince my housemate to be right at the front of the pack, exclaiming, word for word, “I ain’t getting stuck behind walkers early doors. Big sprint, open the gap, suffer later.” If that’s not an inspiring pre-run ramble, I don’t know what is. That was some inspired foreshadowing because that’s exactly what happened – well, to me at least.
Despite the distinct lack of fanfare for the countdown, I did find myself sprinting towards the first obstacle (as expected – pride always comes before a fall) which wasn’t overly difficult. As a side note, my memory of the order of these obstacles is hazy (and it didn’t match up to the map they sent me prior, but I’ll do my best to remember the order:
Obstacle 1: Start Mountain
Less than 50m ahead was the Start Mountain which was just a simple run up and slide down (ladders optional) so nothing too difficult. Over and under and then time to pull away. My housemate set a good pace for me and I kept up, keen to overtake anybody who looked slow. We put ourselves in the 3rd/4th positions as two mavericks hastily disappeared up ahead.
Obstacle 2: The Hurdles
This was particularly fun just to see the various techniques people employed to throw themselves over. I personally employed the “fling myself over in a rolling fashion” technique which I thought had a strong degree of success about it.
I think the idea of this run was to create the longer running sections in the early parts of the course to a) challenge the runners more and b) weed out the strugglers early so there weren’t too many queues at future obstacles. Good logic, if in deed they implemented it. Free advice for the future if they got lucky. Nevertheless, my housemate and I continued the strong pace.
Obstacle 3: The Ripple Runner
I think this was made slightly harder by the fact that the ripples had clearly had a little bit of air deflated out of them during the day so they were much less bouncy than I anticipated they’d be. Nevertheless, it was easy enough to charge over and then onto a rope-assisted ladder climb and staple slide down. I started to get the feeling that friction burn would come into play sooner rather than later. Alas, I managed to bounce up from the bottom of the slide, sideways flip and bound off the inflatable onto the grass into the full running flow. “Great technique,” exclaimed one of the Marshalls. I know, pal. I know.
By this point my housemate had decided that he wanted to pull away from one guy who had joined our lofty pace. Unfortunately, I was not prepared to match my housemate’s pace and so rather than burst away from this gent, I slowly pulled away and watched as my housemate edged further into the distance.
Obstacle 4: Bish Bash
By this point, the heat was starting to play a fundamental part in my declining pace. The sun was adamantly refusing to let me have an easy ride, instigating a wave of karma by virtue of crippling fatigue. I basically walked through Bish Bash, stumbling around trying to recuperate as much of my depleted energy as mentally possible. Bish Bash was just full of random, inflated, well… obstacles, obviously. It was just a case of saying “get the hell out of my way” in the clumsiest fashion.
Jumping out the other side, I made another token effort at a pacey jog as I saw my housemate a good twenty seconds ahead of me turn the corner and wave. Thankfully, what I also saw was our first backlogged queue for an obstacle. Terrific! To the established OCR runner this is vexing inconvenience but to the amateur trundler this was very much a welcome respite. The reason for the delay was because we had to set off in groups of three abreast and wait until there was space to manoeuvre ahead of us.
Obstacle 5: The Gauntlet
Under, under, through, through, through, over, up, down (I think?) The gauntlet was highly amusing as much as anything. It was around this point of the course I started wondering how silly people actually looked whilst trying to race through these as fast as they could. I imagine it must be borderline hysterical to an outsider observing the gaggle of flailing limbs flinging themselves upon inflatable objects in the name of fun. The Gauntlet consisted of barriers to dive under, holes to crawl through, something else which I can’t remember (things to knock out of the way?) and then, you guessed it, rope-assisted ladder climb and slide down.
Finally, the promised land. The Hydration Station. Free water and energy bars. Exactly what I needed as the rays of light attacked my vulnerable skin. I decided to walk and eat to the next obstacle in a bid to recover a bit more energy.
Obstacle 6: The Crawler
I like easy obstacles. This definitely falls into that category. It was just a tunnel to crawl through. I can always get on board with elementary obstacles. Plus, some kids wanted to race me through it. I think they had an advantage with their size but I totally crushed them (because systematically killing children’s dreams begins in an inflatable tunnel)
More running here. We’d had quite a lot of transition between running on a road/gravel surface to running on grass and believe me the grass was extremely uneven. I did begin to get a little bit concerned that I was twist my ankle. To be fair, there were an abundance of signs around advising of the surface so it’s not like I could sue even if I wanted to. It just made it incredibly uncomfortable for my feet and my ankles which took a battering from the ever-changing demands of the earth.
Also, it’s around about here again that my memory gets a little bit hazy but I’m pretty sure this is the correct order of obstacles.
Obstacle 7: Storm The Walls
One of the most frustrating obstacles on the course. You had to climb up and over the wall using the holes provided but, and maybe I picked a dodgy/difficult section, the holes were quite difficult in their positioning and there was a distinct lack of grip pertaining to the lack of places to grab onto to thrust yourself skyward. Two walls to negotiate, the second one a little easier than the first (momentum baby, my saviour).
I should take a moment to mention that situated around the course at various points are some heroic photographers taking some glorious snaps of our sweaty selves. I say heroes; I sincerely hope they had a good supply of suncream and a packed lunch to keep them going. At first I just ignored them and did the classic “I’m in the zone. Get a picture of me looking cool, running – full steam ahead. I am a champion” pose. But when I saw there was another photographer at the end of the straight I was walking down (hey, flat feet have been my Achilles’ heel recently) I decided to limber into a decent paced trot and give the camera the old “two thumbs up, life is great, I am a totally photogenic runner” pose. A classic, I know. I look forward to seeing that picture when it surfaces.
Obstacle 8: Under and Over / The Holes
I’ve seen this obstacle referred to by two different names so it’s only fair I put both here. Not that it deserves it. It’s awful. And I think this is maybe the most dangerous obstacle (if such a thing exists with inflatable obstacles). The idea is that you have to go (funnily enough) under and over some barriers and there are a myriad of holes to avoid, or climb into, I can’t remember. Either way, the drop if you lose you footing is a couple of feet and there’s a strong potential to roll your ankle if that happens. That and, in general, it was just a rubbish obstacle. If I ever did this race again, I wouldn’t be sad if it got cut
Obstacle 9: Mega Mountain
I think this is obstacle 9. It would make sense as I seem to recall the Marshall at the previous obstacle telling me there was only 1km to go and I definitely didn’t run the majority of that before the final obstacle. Mega Mountain was just three slightly different sized rope-assisted ladder climbs followed by the slide. The most annoying thing about the slides is that I was wearing my best running shorts and therein lay two issues:
- They are short. As such, they don’t have very far to “ride up” when sliding down and friction burn becomes my buddy for the rest of the weekend
- The material of my running shorts means that once they hit a certain point they ensure that my slide just… well… stops. It jars my to a sudden halt and threatens to rip my lovely new shorts.
Basically, sliding is rubbish and I was pretty fed up with it by this point. Thankfully, not long left to go. I assumed my housemate had probably finished by now, or at least be very close as I had laboured significantly by now.
A very short run led me to the final obstacle, or rather obstacles. At this stage we were presented with a choice of either the Leap of Faith or The Plummet.
Leap of Faith consisted of climbing a rope-assisted ladder and jumping vertically down onto a pad below. The Plummet consisted of climbing an even higher rope-assisted ladder and sliding down to the bottom. Sliding. NO THANKS. That made the choice plainly obvious to me. Leap of Faith also had four ladders and thus two lanes to branch into as opposed to The Plummet whose queue only split into two or three slides.
Amusingly, I picked the left hand lane, looked ahead and found my housemate half way down the right lane. I later found out he’d employed the same logic about the obstacles as I had: fiction burn is bad, avoid at all costs. My lane seemed to clear faster than my housemate’s lane as well owing to the amount of people terrified of leaping on his side. I soon caught him up but he managed to get onto the obstacle first.
Obstacle 10: Leap of Faith
Finally, I managed to get up and, once the mat below had cleared, didn’t hesitate in launching myself down. Fear is a belligerent mindset and the more time you give it, the more you allow it to eat away at you and create doubt.
I looked up and found my housemate up ahead, not catchable, but only jogging gently to the finish. The amount of time we’d had to wait for the final obstacle meant I was fully rested and ready for a big finish. I came flying down the final stretch and over the finish line to a multitude of photographers snapping my visage, which hopefully looked joyous rather than exhausted.
A medal, a photo, and then another photo with my housemate and onto the free bottle of water and t-shirt. Amusingly, the organisers have given us an Inflatable 10k medal each, something we didn’t notice until we were leaving the venue but nevermind!
All in all, an entertaining and hot day out. I probably won’t ever do that again though, especially given the cost, but I imagine it’s a nice day out for families, provided the weather holds up like it did this weekend. Yes, I was tired, yes, I struggled, but not because of the physical demands of the course. Mostly because my body is a dilapidated outpost that is yet to ever have once been considered a temple.
But time will tell and I will get better and fitter. Until then, I followed this up by beating my housemate in a round of golf for the first time ever.
Small victories, people. Small victories.