Jonathan Albon is an athlete first known for his success within the ever growing UK obstacle course racing (OCR) scene. Here he tells us about his participation in the daunting 'Toughest' obstacle race series in Scandinavia.
My first Toughest event of the year finally arrived and I couldn't wait! Toughest are the biggest obstacle race series in Scandinavia and are known for holding exceptionally intense 8km races. Each race is different and this one in Malmø was meant to be exceptionally flat but feature plenty of water as the course dived in and out of the sea.
The well put together races and considerable prize money not only attracts some exceptional obstacle racers like Krister Sellman (overall winner of the 2014 Toughest series) and Cimmie Wignell (4th at OCR world Championships) but also athletes from a variety of backgrounds all the way from running through to army pentathlon and cross country skiing.
To make things more interesting Toughest are also pioneering a harder (but quicker) lane option on a few obstacles. For this race the rig was chosen to have a more difficult route and the 'flying monkey' was installed next to the classic sloped monkey bars where competitors would have to leap over a meter between bars! If you managed to complete the harder lane you were rewarded with the ability to skip the following crawling obstacle.
I was pretty excited lining up at the start...there was a big unknown as to what my new competitors would be like and how I would fare on an extremely flat course and with so many obstacles that I have never seen before. The race was also broadcast live on Swedish tv which was a first for me.
On studying the course map it was clear the majority of the obstacles requiring a lot of grip strength were grouped towards the end of the race. These included the net monkey bars, rings, rig, traverse wall, swinging monkey bars and the flying monkey - all within the last 2km.
I got off to a flying start feeling comfortable setting a fast pace but didn't let myself relax too much knowing so many harder obstacles lay towards the end. The first of these was the net monkey bars: jumping out over water to grab a suspended net you then had to swing underneath ringing a bell at the end. Surprisingly this was by far the hardest obstacle and having the net so loose made it exceptionally hard to climb along. After what felt like a while I made it through to the end and started the long wade back to shore to complete the intense last 2km of the course. Looking back at the tv coverage it was clear that if I had simply used my feet together with my hands I could have saved something in the region of 40 seconds...live and learn!
Coming up to the rig I looked back to see I had over a minute lead. Based on this I made the decision to do the easier lane, if I were to fail the harder lane I would risk my lead having to complete a long tyre carry as a forfeit. My decision paid of as I sped through the rig and the following crawl. I later found out my competitors struggled with the harder lane, many of them failing to complete it first time as required.
I took the same tactic with the flying monkey, choosing the easier monkey bar option instead. With these and the subsequent crawl done I was soon over the dragons back and up the final ramp dropping down the other side to the finish.
This was one of the most fun and well run obstacle races I have taken part in. It is clear that with the live coverage, the harder lane concept and well thought out penalty loops Toughest really are setting a president with how to organise a properly competitive race that is still exceptionally fun.
My next Toughest race will be Umeå in two weeks time where I shall be wearing the yellow jersey as points leader in the 'Toughest Mini Tour'. Before that, however, I have the Rat Race Dirty Weekend. This will be the third year I have taken on the 20mile course and am as ever looking forward to the challenge!