Commando Series Obstacle Race – Hever Castle, Kent – 14th Nov

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

Saucony

Columbia Sportswear

&

Helly Hansen

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Photos by Dave Sherman and Peachy Snaps

Words by Steve Kimberley

After one of our writers attended an exciting PR event earlier in 2015, Team Trek and Run had been eagerly awaiting the very first opportunity to experience a Commando race. The event took place at the picturesque and historical Hever castle, the former residence of English Queen Anne Boleyn, on a wet and chilly Saturday morning in November and the venue was easy to find after leaving the M25. Upon arriving we were greeted by some very friendly parking attendants and pointed towards the car park which was offered free to runners and spectators – something which is sadly becoming increasingly uncommon these days.

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Upon registering, and receiving our cotton Commando T-shirts we were given a coloured wristband in accordance to a choice that we’d all made as we signed up to the race online. The wristband that you wore would determine some of the obstacles that you completed, the number of burpees that you would have to do at checkpoints, and most significantly how sympathetic the marshals would be as you passed them and struggled through the obstacles – one of our team members had a blue band which meant “just get me round” but the rest of us immediately regretted choosing the “treat me like a commando” option!

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The baggage drop, which was also free to use, was manned entirely by one person in a military style tent yet was still quick and efficient. We made our last preparations, feeling increasingly nervous about the colour of our wristbands, and headed off to the warm up area…

The MC had announced, with five-minute intervals, a countdown to the start of the first wave warm up, so we had plenty of forewarning that you would miss your wave should you not be present at the start of the warm-up. While this seemed odd at first, the style and intensity of the warm-up quickly showed us that this was an important part of the Commando experience. For a full 15 minutes we were subjected to a brutal military style warm up with instructions yelled out by a pair of genuine former commandos.

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At the end of what was most certainly the longest and toughest warm up I’ve ever done at a race event, we jogged down to the muddy banks of the lake and the starting line of the first ever wave of the Commando series. Keeping to the whole military theme we huddled around a map of the route labelled with the numbers of obstacles, and were given what felt like a proper mission briefing by the race organiser who pointed at the map using a stick and reassured us to maintain “endurance, determination and a good sense of humour at all times.”

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While the weather was cold and cloudy and the rainfall intensified over the course of the race, we found we were really enjoying the route. The obstacles seemed to be perfect distances apart, and even the obstacles you’re used to seeing at OCR events had some elements that made them interesting and exciting. Barely a kilometre into the race a Marshall was screaming at me to “get through my tunnel” as I crawled into a tunnel, submerged almost up to the neck freezing cold water. I emerged from the other-side soaking wet and short of breath from the coldness of the water, yet with an adrenaline rush that I wasn’t used to from an obstacle as simple as a tunnel crawl. Further along the trail we heard the echoing raps of machine-gun fire through the woods, giving us the impression we really were headed towards enemy combatants who were firing at us from among the trees.

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As we entered a wide clearing, we were forced to climb and crawl through a maze of bungee ropes that formed a series of thick webs all across the clearing. Positioned at either side of the clearing were sets of giant speakers, blaring out the recordings of machine gun fire at what sounded like a very realistic volume. The remainder of the race saw us plunging into lakes, crawling through pitch-black caves, walking across wires suspended over streams, and finally being fully submerged under cold water by frogmen, in order to crawl through a short tunnel – the (soon-to-be) famous ‘Commando Sheep-Dip’!

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With the recent popularity of obstacle course races, at first glance ‘Commando Series’ may appear to be just one of many new races emerging from obscurity and attempting to make a name for itself, yet with other new races boasting advantages such as huge advertising budgets or endorsements from celebrities, ‘Commando’ sadly seemed to be a David amongst the Goliaths. The whole notion of the race having this ‘commando’ or military-oriented theme at first seemed as if it ran the risk of being just another tacky gimmick, that many other races would use to make themselves seem more extreme than the others. However Commando Series completely surpassed all expectations and the whole military theme ended up being one of the event’s biggest strengths. The warm up, the dedicated marshals and little differences like the fact that some of the runners could choose to be kitted out in full uniform and boots with 21lbs worth of gear to carry around the route all contributed to the atmosphere and overall success of the event. These little differences really do set the Commando Series apart from many of the other OCR available at the moment and deliver a truly enjoyable race and a genuinely authentic commando experience.

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To find out how Team Trek and Run found the event we asked them a few questions about their experience:

What was your favourite part of the race?

Steve: I loved the whole military theme, which I had originally worried may become a bit tedious but ended up being one of its biggest strengths. I have a rather vivid imagination, and really found that I was picturing myself away in the setting of some Hollywood war movie. I think that the atmosphere created by the organisers, and the extremely dedicated marshals (many of whom are ex-military) really contributed to the success of this.

Vijay: The race I loved, I found the whole thing really fun and enjoyed all the obstacles. Ones that stand out for me are the sheep dip, as I remember this from adverts for commandos from years ago and I always associate this with Commando! I also really liked the caves that were pretty much pitch black except for a couple of glow sticks, as I managed to jump out on a couple of the guys in the darkness. That may sound a bit creepy, but it’s how I like to spend my weekends!

Stuart: This has to be the slide, I am a big kid and this slide had me smiling and laughing all the way down.

Dave: It’s hard to choose one particular obstacle as I really enjoyed all of them! None of the challenges were unachievable, but at the same time they weren’t easy so they still tested your ability. The caves were great as they made use of the natural terrain and really were disorientating, and although it was harsh, the ‘Sheep-dip’ was a strange experience and one which seemed to affect some of the team more than others!

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Is there anything you think Commando Series could do better next time?

Steve: Not so much ‘better’, but I think I personally would have enjoyed the race if it were a bit longer. They do give you the option of running the route for a second time, however I have never really been a fan of simply ‘doing it all over again’ so perhaps a longer and shorter route could be something to consider for next year.

Vijay: Dave and I nearly missed our wave as we were told if we missed the warm up we’d have to wait for the next wave, which we didn’t realise. I don’t have a problem with this, but I think it could have been made clearer, particularly before the event, so we could take this into account as the warm up started quite a bit before the wave set off.

Stuart: This event will grow without a doubt, I just hope this doesn’t cause long queues and chaos during the race or in the event village like I have experienced at other events.

Dave: Although I liked the fact we received a dog-tag rather than a medal as this kept with the Commando theme, dog-tags tend to come in pairs so it would’ve been nice to receive a pair of tags at the finish line – maybe with both showing the event logo on one side, but with the event location on the reverse of one, and the event date on the reverse of the other?

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Was there anything you liked or disliked about the event overall?

Steve: I loved the showers! The military style showers, with buckets of water heated over a bonfire, were all a brilliant part of the commando experience as you took your bucket and climbed into your little tarpaulin while completely out in the open and pulled your bucket up on a rope so that you could get clean. By far the best and most refreshing post-race shower I have ever had.

Vijay: There were a couple things about the event that I liked, that weren’t directly linked to the race itself. Such as; I really like the showers there, the best race shower I’ve ever had – It was a touch of genius! Barrels of water were heated over a log fire, then suspended in buckets for a nice warm shower – they even gave us some shower gel! Also, the marshals were great and helped a couple of us out when we nearly messed up early on.

Stuart: The warm up seemed to be a little excessive but actually fitted into the whole experience, I loved the course and it felt like I could have been on the famous “Bottom Field” assault course.

Dave: The theming and style of the race was great throughout and it was clear a lot of thought has gone into the design and styling throughout including the pre-race information (commando style instructions) to the awesome website – the event videos embedded into the background of the homepage sets it miles apart from other event websites! It was also an amazing venue in which to hold an event like this, and being careful not to reveal any secrets; I know some of the planned 2016 venues will make for some amazing races!

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What makes this event different from other obstacle races?

Steve: The small differences like the warm up, the fact that some of the runners chose to run in military gear, with weighted kit belts and wooden rifles all helped to set Commando aside from other races. It all really helped to create a sense of atmosphere that really made the race as enjoyable as it was.

Vijay: I’ve got to say the theme and the ethos of Commando Series really stands out to me. The fact they have actual royal marines on the course and replica obstacles from the commando training really made it for me. That and the way they differ the intensity for participants. Instead of just having a longer course for people that want more like other races, you can choose how you want the Commandos on the course to treat you. If you chose the option “Just get me round” the marines would help you on the obstacles and support you round the course, but if you chose “Treat Me Like a Commando” they made you do a lot of extra exercises and shouted at you a lot, making it a fair bit harder for you!

Stuart: This event has been thought through very well and having obstacles that could be on an army assault course helped make this stand out. Each obstacle had a option for all abilities which meant that everyone would feel they had achieved a lot after finishing.

Dave: I love the fact Commando Series haven’t relied on the usual OCR staples such as barbed wire, 6/8/10ft walls and multiple carries as this really sets it apart from the competition. You can also increase the Commando experience by adding additional Commando elements including a survival experience (an intensive three-hour course to learn the rudiments of survival) and a Bivouac experience where you can camp in the castle grounds on a roll mat, in a sleeping bag in a goretex bivy bag underneath a camouflaged tarpaulin – something we definitely plan to take part in at the next event!

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Which Commando themed obstacles would you like to see at Commando Series’ next event?

Steve: I would love to see some kind of shooting or combat themed obstacles integrated somehow next year so that I can pretend I’m in call of duty. Maybe some kind of paintball section or maybe even to avoid being shot by the marshals?

Vijay: Jumping out of a plane or Helicopter would be fun! With a large Austrian fella ordering us to “GET TO DA CHOPPA!!” But I guess this could be pricey?? Maybe some kind of abseiling or high jump would be fun and I think they are commando themed?

Stuart: I would love to see a Zip wire but I understand that this may result in queues which are not ideal during an OCR.

Dave: Although I said earlier it was great Commando Series had chosen not to feature multiple carries, I think some form of teamwork activity would be great in an event like this – For example; working together as a team of 4 to carry a heavy object such as a large log, or working together to solve a mental challenge – something which requires straining your brain as well as your brawn!

Commando Series will be back next year with a number of events across the country – visit commandoseries.co.uk for more information and to pre-register for 2016!

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