Running with the wolf pack
Article by Andy Barnham
I’ve never considered myself physically fit. I played rugby throughout my school and university careers and continued until my late 20s until I dislocated my shoulder. My coach didn’t believe me when it happened and only showed pity five minutes later when it occurred again. Funnily enough I rarely laced up my boots in anger again due to risk of repeat injury. However I’ve always regarded injury as an acceptable part of sports (and life); I’ve lost count the amount of times I ruptured various ligaments and pulled muscles. And it’s as a consequence of these regular stints, of watching from the sidelines, that I don’t think I was ever fit. For me, fitness was always the next session or overcoming whatever injury I was carrying. As I’ve grown older, team sports have fallen by the wayside and been replaced with personal fitness and herein is the issue. With the context of a team, I always sought to achieve and not letting the team down had been the drive to go that extra mile. With personal fitness I’ve lacked that target to aim for.
What’s the plan; carry on, slowly, plodding as normal and look back thinking my best days are behind me? Whilst I suspect they are, I’m loathe to admit it. So when the Wolf Run recently came across my desk, my interest was piqued. A cross country, 10kms, with obstacles. Hay bales, fallen trees and wooden climbing frames to contend with alongside water logged ditches, walls and lakes; to name a few of the challenges. To be sure, the Wolf Run isn’t the only mud run and obstacle race out there; I competed in Tough Guy back in 2009 which I believe at the time was one of the few of its kind (I was recently informed Tough Guy was considered ‘too’ tough by health and safety and has since been dialled back). Competing in their January edition I vowed never to compete in anything as mind numbingly cold ever again.
2003 England Rugby World Cup winner Will Greenwood sums the Wolf Run up nicely, “When I got the invite I thought it looks pretty tough, but when you get there you realise that’s the whole point – you stretch yourself, but have loads of fun while you’re at it. It’s a tough challenge of both natural and man-made obstacles, so I’m looking forward to testing it out.”
Anyone can run along a road, and when most of us do run I’m sure 99 per cent of us try to avoid inclines and running uphill. And as most organised runs are in towns and cities they don’t involve obstacles or anything requiring upper body strength. So why not go for something different and something outside the comfort zone? And in this instance I was going to run with not only Will Greenwood, but also Neil Back and Mike Tindall. Three for the price, and effort, of one! Added to this was the attraction of running as a wolf ‘pack’. “It’s non-competitive and it’s all about teamwork,’ says Neil Back, “Everyone’s in little groups helping each other out and looking after each other.”
I had a month lead in time to run 10kms, having not jogged more than 4kms in the last few years. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day and, in the spirit of optimism, a month to train seemed reasonable. Increase the distance straight away to 6kms for two weeks and then two weeks running 8kms. While shy of the actual race distance, I was anticipating adrenaline on the day would see my through. Throw in the odd press up and pull up and job’s a good ‘un! This was the plan at least. Of course life got in the way. The first two weeks at 6km went a treat, even if I found the extra 50 per cent far harder than expected. The problem were the planned work trips abroad in the two weeks prior to the run. Travel for work is far more glamorous on the outside; between the airport, hotel and the office there often isn’t much time to breathe or exercise, presupposing the hotel even has a gym.
However time was found in-between visiting Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow in consecutive weeks to slip into the trainers and add some kilometres to the old legs. The park in France, at 7am on a weekend, was perfect for hill sprints while the Spanish equivalent was suitable for some Fart- lek. However my third trip wasn’t as encouraging; going to sleep in Belgium at 1am and rising at 6am didn’t offer much in the way of motivation added to which the hotel lost my luggage, so I couldn’t run as I had no running kit.
So while, despite all the challenges, the training had gone better than expected, if only I could have predicted the perfect storm coming my way. Having assembled a wolf pack of four keen runners, things disintegrated the day before the run. One runner decided to play five- a- side football and twisted his knee and one went down with the office lurgy, halving the team of four. And the cars of the remainning two wolves, vital for transport to the event location of Pippingford Park (with no nearby train or public transport) turned out to be in the garage. Having trained for a month cancelling on the morning of the event was disappointing to say the least. While the unexpected lie- in was appreciated, looking at my watch at what should have been my start time, left a hollow feeling.
A week later and I’m trying to keep the motivation and the intensity up. Having trained, my fitness baseline has increased and should I not maintain this new level, it will drop quicker than I used to be able to sink a pint. Am I fit now? Crikey no. However I am fitter than what I was a month ago and I want to be fitter still. I’ll hand you over to Mike Tindall. “This is exactly the sort of thing that would be right up our street… about 20 years ago! We were just comparing injuries before we got here so hopefully we’ll all make it back in one piece.” I’ll see you next time Mike, next time.
Enquires: Wolf Run run events at Pippingford Park, Kent and Stanford Hall, Leicestershire through the year / https://thewolfrun.com/