Before I go into walking you through this most epic of tales, I feel it is important to get something serious out of the way. It was an honour and a privilege to be a part of this first-of-its-kind initiative within the OCR community. I have never been immersed into an athletic environment of such professionalism, mutual respect, good humour and team spirit. Massive kudos to Under Armour for pioneering such an innovative program that promises to be hugely successful for years to come.
Now that’s out of the way, we can dive into the murky depths of the torturous, yet awesome monster that was O-School….this post is a bit on the lengthy side of epic, but such an event warrants detail and all due praise, yes?….
Daring to risk all….cancellations, hijackings, crappy food and no in-flight entertainment….our Tiger Airlines flight to Sydney was relatively uneventful. Shared in the good company of Deanna Blegg, Shaun Phelps and Darren Clarke we even arrived early before venturing north, taking the world’s longest 6km taxi ride to Central Station before we checked into our nice-but-no-frills accommodation. In no time flat, we had connected with plenty of other O-Schoolers…Brock, Luke, Mick and Mathias. With nerves to calm and stomachs to fill, it didn’t take us long to find a sweet Vietnamese joint for a good feed.
With not much left to do afterwards except a quiet natter about life in general, it was a relatively early night to bed before a collection of alarms went off at 0530 the next morning. Going through the usual rituals on waking…stir, sleep, stir, scratch nuts (not each others’…some had only just met), groan, get up…it wasn’t long before we were all wandering down the street in search of the bus and our fellow O-Schoolers.
It took us 2hrs 20mins to travel the 143km from Central Station, Sydney to the Berry Sport & Recreation Centre. This was a nice way to start the day and get to know each other a bit. I was a bit under-prepared for the trip food-wise, but Deanna looked after me with a kind donation of carbs :) (thanks, D). We had no idea where we were heading and to be honest, I liked that. It kind of allowed you to just switch off, enjoy the scenery and chat to new mates….oblivious however, to just how strong these bonds would become over the next 30hrs or so.
On arrival, our new home base looked awesome. Manicured grounds, good facilities and barely a cloud in the sky. It was a great vibe all round. I felt good about the thought of immersing myself into some hurt here.
After a bit of milling around we were assigned numbers (you may now refer to me as #31), rooms (for kit…NOT sleeping) and sweet Under Armour gear. We were also deprived of all electronic bling and essentially disconnected from the outside world…oblivious to time and now single minded on the job at hand. Once these formalities were out of the way it was down to business. Our two ring-leaders, Chief & Gunny Brabon, provided us with a lovely blend of reassurance and fear as they explained the various rules and regulations.
In support of Chief and Gunny was a small army of volunteers, affectionately referred to as “minions”. These guys were gold, with tasks ranging from medical care (EXTREMELY well managed…thanks Doc), nutrition/food prep, course marshalls, timing officials, photographers, rep counters and comedians. Apologies to anyone who doesn’t feature below…these were the only pics I could get hold of…we still love you.
It felt impossible to convey enough thanks to each and every one of them….I only hope they could see what a difference they made to us all…physically and mentally. Whether it was the hugs, shouts, singing (from tree-tops, Christian!) or laughs….or the tunes??….oh yeah, the tunes. I don’t know about anyone else, but that shit got me going… I think this pretty much sums it up…
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Ok, so now with us all settled in and ready to roll, we were only given short notice of each task, or “evolution” as they were referred to….allow me to make the introductions :)
WARM UP | 0.75 HOURS
A nice, light run in the sun…reconnaissance of the (≤) 5km cross-country course that we would call “home” for around 10hrs of our 25hr experience. This included 100m of mud flats, 150m of chest-deep river water (brrrrr in the evening and early morning, but ahhhhh during the first day’s sunshine) and grass-land tracks with a few fences and walls thrown in.
Rest: 30 minutes
EVOLUTION 1 | 5 HOURS
The next 5 hours were spent running this course. I felt ok…never a front runner but had a pace I could hold, bearing in mind the knowledge of more work ahead. To give you some perspective of how sharp the leaders were, the trio I was pacing with were lapped 3 times by the leader….(nice work, Locky mate). I was about 400m short of my 10th lap.
Post evolution rest: 1 hour…allowing us time to shower (oh, yeah), change and feed. They even took our shitty, dirty gear away for laundering at this stage. Nice touch, guys.
EVOLUTION 2 | 2 HOURS
A 20kg sand bag and rope carry with a partner on a 500m-ish loop (I counted around 320 short paces each way ≈ 500m). I was paired up with Luke A…we found this to be pretty funny, knowing each other well from our share of hurt at WTM12 where we crossed the line together, bonded by pain. I felt bad for Luke here as the post Evo-1 rest had allowed an ITB inflammation on my left knee to flare up. Really painful to run on and forced me to hold an interval pace I knew was too slow for him. In his usual style, this was not an issue…it was a team-mate exercise and we worked as a team. I think we knocked over around 20 laps but that’s just a loose guess.
Post evolution rest: 45 minutes. I went straight to “Doc” for him to work his voodoo magic with a combination of anti-inflammatories, pain killers and RockTape. Outcome: PAIN FREE. Legend status granted.
EVOLUTION 3 | 2 HOURS
‘Suicide psychosis’. This time partnered up with the gritty Paul T, the routine was essentially suicide shuttle runs with 5 cones lined up at ∼3m intervals. The objective was to run to each cone complete an 8-point push-up and return, alternating with your partner. A 1 rep score was a full cycle of 9 shuttle. Repeat for 2 hours. I think we punched out around 35 reps. I actually quite enjoyed this one…you could just tune in and be robotic, while it wasn’t aggravating the knee at all either. Paul and I held a really consistent pace, having plenty of laughs with Ryan/Shaun and Luke/Andrew on either side of us.
Special mention must also go to a few…firstly, Heath was so loud with his random yet frequent banter he may have well been standing next to everyone…it was like a surround sound comedy channel. The remaining accolades go to those that managed to side step a rampant attack of angry ducks and barking spiders…there was more methane than oxygen there for a while. Poor minions.
Post evolution rest: 45 minutes.
EVOLUTION 4 | 3 HOURS
With the well-measured intention of giving our lower bodies a rest, the ever-so-kind coaching team pushed us into a series of routines/circuits that obliterated our upper bodies instead. Why, thank you. May I have some more please? While still spiking heart rates, this was really quite a lot of fun with plenty of laughs had…more often at the expense of others :) The first component was all about high ropes/ladders and a rock climbing wall. It was 4-person team vs team against the clock with every participant knocking out 3-reps of every obstacle.
Post evolution rest: 45 minutes.
EVOLUTION 5 | 1 HOUR
Assigned to different teams of 4, we were presented with an array of hurdle bars, sandbags and boxes. Allowed to swap over and allocate reps in any way, the goal was to accumulate 250 reps at each station, in order:
Under hand pull up ⊗ Shoulder press 20kg bag ⊗ Tricep dips ⊗ Over hand pull ups ⊗ Push ups
This “taster” was immediately followed by repeating the same sequence, except with each team member required to complete 2x sets of 25 reps. That shit hurt. So much so that push-ups and I are still not speaking and I believe they may have even filed for a restraining order on account of my very loud and very public torrent of verbal abuse. Fuck you, push-ups.
Post evolution rest: 30 minutes.
EVOLUTION 6 | 0.5 HOURS
Gunny’s “quiet time”. Hmmm *suspicious* . This was not nice…especially on the back of the drumming we just walked away from. Using the width of the outdoor basketball court, our rules of engagement were as follows:
Bear crawl across court ⊗ 50 push-ups ⊗ Bear crawl backwards across court ⊗ 49 push-ups ⊗ Bear crawl across court ⊗ 48 push-ups…. are you detecting a pattern here??? We did. Every person was mentally processing the concept of taking this pyramid all the way down to 1 push-up. Again, ever-so-thoughtfully, Gunny provided us with the best opportunity to think about it by forbidding us from speaking anything other than “I love this”, which could only be uttered when you broke between reps. If you allowed any “unapproved” words to pass your lips, Gunny kindly re-set your count back to 50. Thank you, Gunny.
Variety being the spice of life and all that shit, we were occasionally instructed to change this phrase to things like “I am strong”…I can’t remember the other phrases because I was still too busy “thinking”.
EVOLUTION 7 | 5 HOURS
Getting our running legs back on, specified teams hit the cross-country course for 2.5 hours before switching to an ‘individual runner’ format for the final 2.5 hours of the day. With all the toil of Evos 1-6 behind us, it was no surprise to see a few of the teams forced to adopt a run/walk interval to manage injuries. Our crew of myself, Pam, Shaun, Rino and Mathias bowled over 3 laps….not that Rino, Mathias and myself aren’t all funny as fuck, but the fast-paced wit from Shaun and Pam provided some great entertainment around the tracks.
Now, when I say people were managing injuries, it is probably important to better define these as “conditioning gaps” as there was no mechanism involved here (fall, twist etc)….just connective tissue and muscle simply not accustomed to the high volume of load and repetition. I was suffering from one of these “gaps” myself….in the guise of the ITB inflammation on my left side, picked up after Evo 1. Not surprising really when I think the weekend’s mileage surpassed my entire mileage for the year so far. Having focused far more on mountain biking and paddling, I was due to pick the running up this month…ready to peak for the 100km Surf Coast Century trail ultra in September, for which I am proud to be an official race ambassador. If you don’t know the race, have a read and jump on board!
With their intention hell bent on trimming down the eligible candidate list, the coaching crew threw us a curve ball. Anyone who was forced to walk between the river exit > hill start and mud-flat exit > river entry would be pulled out. This was a horror call for me as I just wasn’t sure if my ITB could cope. Assuring the coaches that I would give it my best crack, I was thinking they were going to have to chloroform and black-bag me off that course. Thankfully the combination of sharing pain with Mathias and finding a running style that kept the pain at bay, I was able to last the distance and knocked out another three laps…even managing a “sprint” finish :)
The finish line itself was awash with emotion, relief, exhaustion and well-wishes. The journey was over. Hugs were plentiful and beers were available….nice.
With a quick BBQ and beer to finish up, it was a team effort (of course) to pack ‘n stack all the operational kit before filling the waiting bus with bags and bodies…weary, but all riding a massive high which I found lasted for days before I started to feel the effects of going 36hrs without sleep.
NOTE: A quick apology to the poor bastard who had the misfortune to be assigned a seat next to mine for the flight home. I was asleep in about 5 nanoseconds and began twitching around like I was being randomly electrocuted. This good humoured guy copped a couple of random slaps across the chest and face while my body subconsciously sorted its shit out….I think I even yelled out at one point. So not cool. Sorry, bud.
One week out and we are all still waiting patiently for the team to be announced. From 36 starters, 18 are eligible to fill the 5 positions available. BUT what remains absolute is that every single person did as they were asked…they left it on the track….they emptied the tank. No matter who pulled out when and why, these were 35 people I would happily race alongside anytime. Unquestionably, there were those that were in a league of their own (machines!), but every athlete demonstrated absolute heart, grit, humour and a never-die attitude. It was an honour to be in the mix with them.
My team pick would be Darren, Deanna, Mick and Locky….for a good dose of battlefield experience and all with massive engines. That being said though, the fact it is taking so long to announce the team suggests there are plenty of selection criteria to address. I think I’d rather run the 25hrs again than be the one making that call :)
Whatever the outcome, O-School 2015…sign me up.
Peace out, bitches.