Having never been a drug addict, what I’m about to proclaim is only an assumption, but feel that it’s a pretty good comparison. I imagine people don’t start taking hardcore class A drugs on their first dabble. They start off small, over time needing a slightly bigger hit – and before you know it…..well you can imagine. I feel like I’m suffering from a similar addiction. I started the project last year with minimal experience in running, and two months ago completed my 3rd marathon in 5 months. Starting off small with a 10k here and there has manifested itself into a full blown addiction – each time I race wanting to push the limit of what I thought was achievable just a little more each time. So it is hardly surprising that my migration from road to multi-terrain running has brought me to the start line of challenge 18: the Royal Marines training camp in Lympstone. Opened once a year to the public for charity related purposes, the Commando Challenge is the same endurance course used by the Royal Marines to train one of the most elite fighting forces in the world.
Having taken a little break for a couple of months (and can you blame him) I’m very pleased to say that Rupert has jumped back on board the challenge band wagon. As luck would have it, we were joined by another fellow challenger, Katie Bevan (friend of my cousin), who we picked up in Bristol on the way down to the base.
It was weird as we arrived, knowing that my brother had been based down here his 32 weeks of crazed, hardcore, near impossible training. Even though I knew we were less than hour off being beasted by a course attempted only by the fit and the brave or stupid (still not sure which is more appropriate) I had a real sense of pride for my brother – it brought back all of the sacrifices that he had to make in order to get where he is today. And whilst I wouldn’t be completing the course with the aim to become a Royal Marine, nor would I be running it with webbing or a weapon, my aim was do him proud!
As we set off from the start line we didn’t really know what lay ahead. We’d read the race guide, and knew we’d have to face the infamous sheep dip, and Nick had warned us about the smartie tubes, but otherwise we were running into the unknown. As the route took us away from the training camp up to Woodbury common, the road, which was on an ever increasing incline, seemed to go on and on and on.
The route was dotted with recruits and more senior members of 40 Commando, and as we were on approach to the woodland area, Rupert & I were joined by one of the more senior staff at the training base (though we didn’t realise just how senior at the time). The guy was clearly double our respective ages, but gave us a serious run for our money as we went off road. The standard trail running which we’d got used to in prep for Hell Runner came to a sudden halt when we approached our first obstacle – the tunnels!
The tunnels were of such a height, that it meant we couldn’t just duck down, but going on all fours wasn’t an option speed wise either. So my Army Cadet training came in handy as I monkey ran through them with not too much difficulty (though this was a just a taste of things to come). The tricky part was that as you went round the first bend, you were submerged into darkness – not knowing what lay ahead. All you could do was crack on.
Peter’s pool (not sure who Peter is) lay not too far ahead – this is where the likes of Hell Runner gets left behind, as you’ve got a Marine stood to the side screaming at you to get under, so it’s one, two, three and submerge!
Out the water and up a cheeky little hill and we were very much in fell running territory. Weaving along the small trails was fine until I slipped and nearly went over on my ankle. It was one of those ‘on the fence’ moments. I mean, it hurt like hell, but this was the Royal Marines Commando Challenge. I wasn’t going to let some minor ankle pain get in my way. So on we went.
After a short while we hit the sheep dip. Very much was it says on the tin – fully submerged movement from one side of the dip to the other – luckily I work pretty well in water, so perversely was looking forward to it.
It was a bloody cold day, but running in combats would heat up the best of people, let alone me, someone with no clear temperature control, so the icy drip was pretty refreshing if truth be told.
As the course continued criss-crossing the woodland and moorland of the Common, we hit more tunnels and the smartie tubes. Now I’m hardly a heffer, but big enough to fill a large part of the tubes as we went in – god only knows how bigger lads, with webbing, weapon and all their kit managed to get through.
With the tubes finished, we had one final set of tunnels to attack, which seemed to be the hardest yet. With energy levels depleted, and our bodies sore, the tunnels were a final attack on our spirit before the end. Having to crawl part of them, knees got cut and elbows scrapped.
The exit hole was of such a size that leopard crawling was the only way out. As we emerged on the other side, I could see blood dripping down from Rupert’s uncovered knee (well I did tell him that trousers would be a better idea than shorts – too hardcore for his good sometimes!). The sympathy was short lived however, as we had a steep incline waiting for us, ready to zap all and any remaining energy we had in our legs.
We dug deep and continued, getting back up to the top of the Common where we first went off road. The distance between myself and Rupert inevitably greatened as he pulled away. The last mile and a bit I was running on my own – seeing others come towards me (we all set off at 3 minute intervals) gave me a boost knowing that I would soon be back at the finish, although I’m not sure what motivation I provided for them, seeing me battered, soaked and covered in mud.
Reaching the finish line was not as much a sense of achievement physically (although it was a tough course), but one of mental & emotional achievement. I’d just completed the same course that my little brother (not so little anymore) had completed 5 years previously. I’m very much not comparing the two, as he had to complete the Tarzan assault course, 9 mile speed march and a 30 mile YOMP across Dartmoor, on consecutive days, in order to pass out as a Royal Marine – but for me, the Commando Challenge was enough.
With Rupert hot on her heels, I know Katie was glad to get across that line before he could catch her! Having only met her about 4 hours prior to this being taken, I have to say that I was extremely impressed with her performance. That girl sure as hell can run!
Another stellar performance from Rupert – that guy is seriously fast! Glad to have him back on board for one of the best challenges to date.
Coming in at 1 hour, 41 mins challenge 18 was well and truly smashed. On top of this, due to the entry requirements, we’d also donated £200 towards the Royal Marines Charitable Trust. Not bad for a morning’s work if you ask me. The only problem remaining, if this was pushing the limit of my racing ability – where the hell do I go from here!?
Help for Heroes [21:21] Challenge