Friday, 25 September 2015

Mud and fun at IMPI Challenge

Yesterday I did my first Obstacle Course Race (OCR) at Pieter du Plessis' IMPI Challenge. I opted for the longest course with the most obstacles (approx 18km with 26 obstacles - Elite course) to get the full experience.

The event was held out at Van Gaalens, near Hartebeespoort, and even though there are loads of runs and bike rides and even mountain bike orienteering - mapped and hosted by my Adventure Racing Club! - I've never been there for an event.

I've been out of pole and circus school for almost two years so while my upper body strength is probably better than average, I'm definitely not as strong as I was. Two years ago I would have popped the wall like a dog on a trampoline. Yesterday it was substantially harder!

We only had about 25 women on the Elite course. I chatted to some of the others they also think that women are put off from entering not because of the distance, but because they don't think they're strong enough to get over the obstacles. Much of this impression comes from the Warrior events, which are more upper-body concentrated.

IMPI Challenge, on the other hand, is more running and natural-obstacle focused and while there are some obstacles that are really taxing, most are very, very doable.

AND, here's the thing... unless you're going for the prizes (not allowed any assistance at all, even from other competitors), you can get a leg-up from friends and participants and, if you are absolutely exhausted, you can walk around the obstacle. The first event will clearly show you where you need to put in more training.

Let's look at the course...

The route
The route made good use of the area and gave us a variety of terrain and scenery - interspersed with obstacles. The early part of the course had us in and out of muddy streams and pools sheltered by reeds and trees, then out into the open on trails - with a swim across a clean farm dam - and then back down to the streams and river.

The obstacles
Many of the obstacles use natural features - crawling through a reed tunnel, under something-or-other in a steam and through another tunnel. This is when I was really glad to be not-the-tallest-person. We also splashed through streams and muddy pools and climbed up slippery and muddy embankments. And jogged through dry gulleys. We swam in the river and a dam too.

That's me in the pink tee waiting to climb a muddy embankment - not far from the start.
A participant jumping into a muddy pool.
A river section
The IMPI crew also construct a host of obstacles. Too many to remember!

While I found the tyre pull easy, I did find 'Marble Peaty', where we had to carry a cement block, to be one of the hardest. It was too heavy for me to be able to lift up on to my shoulders and the metal-stake handles were hell on the hands, even with cycle gloves.

I found this one to be really tough on my hands, even with cycle gloves. Same size block for girls and guys.
I successfully climbed the rope (thank you circus school) without too much hassle and also scaled the vertical wall with the rope. There was a large angled yellow wall, which I also got first shot but I struggled with the shorter vertical wall, which followed. Arrrggghhh! I gave it a few attempts and then made it over with a good tug from a guy already on top (thank you!).

I didn't make the full length of the monkey bars - losing grip just before half way; but the monkey chains, with big tyres, was fun and smooth. I enjoyed the two rope swings to get over pits.

I think this was called Monkey Chains.
Sidewinder was really tough. We were required to go over and then under and then over successive poles. For the under you're hanging upside down clinging on like a sloth and your feet aren't allowed to touch the ground. Like the other girls on there with me I used the side bar for assistance. There must be a technique for this one?

Best technique for the five-metre jump is just to... run and jump! Easy to forget how high five metres is!

The bucket lift took my full body weight and hard pulling to get the cement block to the top.

Near the finish were a bunch of obstacles for the spectators to enjoy. One of these were the lilypads across a small dam. We had one set earlier across the river, which I enjoyed running over - my first time. This one at the end was a little more challenging but I made it across. At the earlier one I asked the marshal if there was a technique to this. She said, "Lift your knees", which I did. It worked for me.

Me, running the lilypad.
All in all, a lot of variety. Most of the hardest obstacles are reserved for the Elite course.

Although the Elite competitors received medals, an alternative memento was a post-race photo, which was taken at the finish and printed in less than a minute. Amazing!

The start timings seemed to work really well. The Elite women started five minutes after the men. Near the end I caught up with some competitors on the Challenge course. Being on the Elite course we got to go ahead on the obstacles. I really appreciated that there were not many people in my category so there was little congestion and as the field spread out I was often on my own, only seeing other competitors at the obstacles.

Total number of participants for the day was around 1,500 and with people set off in batches, I didn't feel the volume even near the end.

The event area was very colourful and festive with lots of gazebos and tables and benches. Sean Falconer, an old colleague from Runner's World (now editor of Modern Athlete), was doing commentary and keeping the vibe happening. There was a block of loos and also showers for post-race clean-off. And a bunch of catering and refreshment options.

Everything from registration to the start, the course, the obstacles, the post-race photo memento was smooth and efficient.

We've got so many strong and fit women who run distance trail races and ultras all the time. The run distance will be no issue. As for the obstacles, they're really no issue either. Some you'll find easy, other will test you and a few you may bomb out on. That's fine.

Women, don't be scared to enter these events! 

An excellent experience of my first OCR and I'll definitely do another. I'm partially tempted to do a Warrior if I can get up the courage to brave the crowds (and I really need to do some shoulder and grip training!) and I'd definitely do another IMPI Challenge Elite without hesitation.

A day after the event my legs are fine but my shoulders and upper arms are indeed speaking to me.

My thanks to Pieter and Nikki for inviting me to your event. I'm appreciative of the nudge to get my butt out there.

Photos of me and other competitors from the Impi Challenge Facebook page.

1 comment:

Conrad van den Berg said...

I enjoyed your informative two posts on OCR. You came through looking pretty clean still! Congratulations.