By Vijay Algoo
I was lucky enough to be invited to try out the course for the first ever Commando Series OCR at Hever Castle, a new obstacle race from the organisers of the Castle Triathlon Series. Hereâ€™s what I discovered about the raceâ€¦
Why Choose This OCR?Â
If you want to take part in an Obstacle race these days there are a few to choose from as OCR has been coined as the fastest growing sport and every year more events are popping up. In a market like this itâ€™s important to stand out with unique selling points separating you from the competition â€“ here a few reasons why I believe the Commando Series has achieved this:
The first event will be held at Hever Castle and if youâ€™ve ever visited the venue youâ€™ll know itâ€™s a fantastic place. As soon as you arrive the first thing that hits you is how stunning it is, the grounds, facilities, the lake – everything is picturesque. Next year they plan to hold the race at 5 different castle grounds around the UK.
A very British affair
Other obstacle races may have a few elements that theyâ€™ve pinched from Navy Seal techniques or Special Ops drills, but the Commando Series focuses fully on the British Armed Forces and their training exercises.
They know their stuff
The emphasis is on the word â€œCommandoâ€ throughout this event. The founder, Brian Adcock, is an ex-Marine Officer and knows exactly what it takes to be a Commando plus the history of the Commandos from the Boer War through both World Wars to present. They also emphasise the importance of Commando characteristics including â€œCourageâ€, â€œUnselfishnessâ€ and â€œCheerfulnessâ€.
Authentic Marine Feel
Every obstacle will be manned by a member of the Commando team, and every one of these are genuine Royal Marines still serving in the armed forces to give that extra realistic touch (and push you that bit harder!)
A few obstacle races offer separate courses for children to take part which is great, but this is the first event Iâ€™ve attended where your children can complete the course alongside you, tackling the same obstacles and running the same course as the adults!
Genuine Royal Marine experience
Many of the obstacles replicate the challenges Royal Marines encounter on the assault courses used in their training so youâ€™ll experience what itâ€™s like to train for the Royal Marine Commandos
How hard do you want it
Easy now – this isnâ€™t an invitation for single ladies to take advantage of the marines! Different levels of intensity are on offer so you can get what you want from it. These include â€œTreat me like a Commandoâ€ the hardest level to push to your max, â€œJust get me roundâ€ which like it says will just get you round the whole course without risk of cardiac arrest, and â€œFamily Friendlyâ€ – pulling the foot off the accelerator and just ensuring you get round safely with maximum enjoyment forÂ your kids or even your whole family.
Make it an experience
In addition to the race, participants are invited to camp on the grounds the day before or after the race (or both). This isnâ€™t uncommon with events, but what does sounds fun are camping options including the Authentic Royal Marines Commando Bivouac Experience where you can camp like this Marines, or the Authentic Royal Marines Commando Survival Experience where you can take a crash course in survival training methods taught by the marines.
Whatâ€™s the course like?
All sounds pretty good so far right? Well all of the above might not mean much unless itâ€™s an enjoyable obstacle course to run, and fortunately the team at Commando Series had the course set up for us so we could experience the obstacles. Before I go into the details of the course Iâ€™d like to point out that as the race is on the castle grounds it canâ€™t be left set up the whole time, which means the team were up late the night before our visit assembling the course and they then had to start taking it back down once weâ€™d left so a massive thank you and well done to the Commando Series team for that.
Now, letâ€™s talk about the race!
A group of us with varying levels of fitness, ability and experience with obstacle courses were signed up to take part, and we were even joined by 9 year old Esther, daughter of the Commando Series founder Brian, who put the rest of us to shame as she completed every obstacle without any problems. After a warm-up routine led by one of the Marines we jogged across the castle grounds to the briefing area offering a great chance to see some of the gardens and castle grounds, and the briefing area was by the lake and looked amazing. After a quick briefing of the course we were ready to go…
The course began with a fantastic short run around the lake and into the forest on grass and trails, and we werenâ€™t going for long before we reached the obstacles which included the â€œSmarty Tubesâ€ involving a short crawl and a good chance to get wet and a bit muddy, and â€œThe Wiresâ€ an awesome smoke filled wooded glade dissected with elastic cord were you had to find a path through with limited visibility, smoke bombs going off next to you and sound effects of bombs dropping and gun fire. Now, I knew I was perfectly safe but I wonâ€™t lie, this got the heart going a little bit! Iâ€™ve done a few obstacle courses now and to be honest I donâ€™t think I scare easy, but for a moment this got me. And as I would later find out, it wasnâ€™t the only part that would affect me like this…
Further obstacles included a rope climb up a muddy slope, scaling cargo nets to escape trenches, wading chest high freezing cold water, crawling under netting, using floating platforms to cross a river and a couple old favourites of mine with the monkey bars and a 30m slide down a hill with a good bit of through rivers and streams in between.
A few obstacles from the day really stand out on the day as unique to this race including the â€œCatacombs of Doomâ€ which involved a small tunnel system carved in the rocks on the grounds. If youâ€™re afraid of the dark you may want to pass on this because as soon as you enter the cave visibility drops to zero! Not being able to see a thing and having to rely purely on touch to navigate your way through really disorientates you and can cause quite a scare if you get stuck or confused, but it offers a truly unique part of the course.
Another obstacle which stood out was â€œThe Chasmâ€. This had a Tyrollean Traverse above a clay marlpit with a fair drop which Iâ€™ve experienced before, but also a single rope in the middle where we were encouraged to try a Commando Crawl. This is a bit of a tricky technique and quite physically draining, but again felt unique to this race.
Lastly, nearer the end of the course was something many people associate with Royal Marine training: the â€œSheep Dipâ€. This is a mental obstacle rather than physical as marines assist you through the submerged tunnel of water, but itâ€™s definitely one youâ€™ll talk about after the event!
After all these obstacles you run out of the forest back towards the event village to tackle the â€œ12 foot Wallâ€ (on the day this was actually over 13 feet high but hey, whoâ€™s counting) involving climbing a cargo net over the wall and back down to the event village for the finish.
Overall thoughts of the Commando Series course
This is a really enjoyable course! At 6km it isnâ€™t as physically gruelling as some of the longer distance OCRs, but youâ€™ll still feel youâ€™ve worked hard and youâ€™ll definitely enjoy it. The â€œCatacombs of Doomâ€ and â€œThe Wiresâ€ really are quite unique, and on top of this the extras like the survival training camping seem like a great experience. Plus I think the fact itâ€™s open to children from 8 yrs old offers a chance for people to run the route as a family which I think will be an added bonus for many. A great course in a fantastic location thatâ€™s suitable for a wide variety of participants!
Check outÂ http://commandoseries.co.uk/ for more info!
Now youâ€™ve heard Vijayâ€™s preview of the Commando Series event, do you fancy taking part? Weâ€™ve got two entries to give away for free â€“ just visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TrekandRun and you could win a chance to take part in Commando Seriesâ€™ inaugural event at Hever Castle on the 14th November!