“I stopped racing when I couldn’t hold back the tears…”
The 2020 version of Red Bull Conquer the Castle didn’t end the way I wanted. I stuck to my plan all the way through and did well, staying in control all of the time – the initial race, the 1/8, 1/4 and the semi finals was great though! Let me take you through one of the toughest weekends of the year.
It was no surprise that Red Bull Denmark would bring the big guns out for this epic battle. The Saturday course was a neat and muddy 4k course with an interestingly narrated story on conquering Rosenholm Castle. Nearly 150 athletes would battle in the ELITE qualifications and more than a 1000 fun-runners were there as well to conquer the historic scene!
The fastest 64 male athletes and 32 female athletes would progress to the Sunday ELITE knock-out race. With competition on world-class level from Belgium, South Africa, Norway, Germany and Denmark we had a line up for an epic battle!
The ELITE race
8 athletes in each heat, 4 people would advance in a solid knock-out format. The first lap went alright and I easily made it through to the next round. The story is the same in the quarter-finals – except this time everybody is of course a little more tired. I knew the proper battle was just a few races away, as the semi-finals would consist of at least 5 pretty damn fast guys: Jonas Drescher, Thomas Buyle, Andreas Olsen and Michael Schjøtt. Nikolaj Dam, my main OCR man, would be sorely missed until the finals as he was racing Thibault, Thomas van Tonder and a bunch of other guys! So let’s dig right into the dirty stuff and talk about the semi-finals!
My warm-up changed from a 15 minute routine to a 25-30 minute routine. In the break from the last race I had plenty of easy carbs and my first Red Bull of the weekend. My legs were sore from the mudrunning, but my mind was ready to race!
Ready – Set – FIRE! We shoot out of the starting box as the fire from the cannons surround us. I try to get an early lead and find myself next to Thomas Buyle. We make a turn, clear the hurdles and I’m 3rd with Buyle in front and Drescher hot on his heels. I focus on a good running style and breathing as I normally don’t go hard in the start, but I wanted to get to the carry first! It had been adjusted from the earlier heats, so we had to carry 4 heavy logs a good 30m, stack them in a fixed structure and build the barricades. I put 2 on my shoulder and wobbled along, dropped 1 as planned and put the other in place, ran back and did the same with 2 new logs. I felt strong and came out of the carry in 2nd place with a 15 second lead on 3rd place and Buyle just up ahead.
I had a choice to make here. Catch up with Buyle and hold tight or slow down just a nudge and conserve energy for the finals. I slowed down a bit, knowing it’s still just a question of finishing top-4. Having cleared 8 massive mud pits it’s into the fores, through the only rig on the route (Torture Chamber), over the poles and straight towards the Yoke Carry! A pillory yoke!
Dropping the yoke I rush into the forest to the muddiest trail! My poor orange Inov8’s do their best to keep me on course and I run hard, but controlled through the forest. The run has plenty of natural obstacles, water crossing, trees, roots and also normal obstacle like wooden barricades and walls! We breach the castle walls by almost getting the entire body into the nastiest and stickiest mud, only to find a bunch of slippery 69kg atlas stones, which needs to be lifted on a (for me) high plateau. I’m thinking about Mike from Mike’s Gym yelling “DO IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT” and that’s what I do. Boom, the stone’s up and I’m off – surprised to see skinny Buyle having no problem here at all.
The next obstacle is a tough rope climb on muddy ropes grapping an arrow at the top. With an arrow in my mouth I rush towards the archery obstacle, ready to kill! I plant the arrow in the circle and run off towards the graveyard, another damn muddy pit. It’s just, I hear footsteps and people cheering. Andreas, Jonas and Michael had all almost caught up with me!
On the body-carry Michael overtakes me with determination. I find that my legs got heavy and the chasing gets tough. Luckily neither Jonas or Andreas pushes past as we all stumble into another trench with water and mud. I stay close to Michael and the guys stay close to me as we get out of the water – the cheering is going crazy as the battle is REAL!
The Red Bull obstacle Wings (wall) is our next obstacle and to my luck Michael is struggling and I make it right off the bat. But so does Andreas and Jonas – Andreas now takes 2nd place. I’m feeling strong again and we clear the 50m water crossing, pulling the rope to move forward and to keep my tiny body moving and my head above the water. Now it’s just 4 obstacles left and we’re close as pearls on a necklace! We load the catapults and attack the castle, climb the long ropes commando-style to reach the castle walls and now it’s a question of luck and skill. We all arrive somewhat close to the ‘Grappling Hook’. Last year this obstacle cost me a 3rd place finish, but now I cleared it in my first throw! You have to throw a rope with a knot up a slippery inverse wall, aiming (that’s praying) that it’ll fit and you can climb the wall. Andreas and Jonas also gets it and Michael doesn’t. I feel confident top-4 is safe and count myself out of a finishing sprint, grapping my flag comfortably and putting it on the podium as 4th guy. On to the finals!
The Finals was the real deal. Nikolaj Dam, Thomas van Tonder, Thibault Debusschere and Jonas Brøndsel would join the battle. Also, now it’s not building the barricades with 4 heavy logs, it’s 8! I start my warm-up 30 minutes before with a light jog. 200m into the jog I feel the first shooting pain from my achilles. It confuses me. I have had no pain whilst racing, so what’s up? I decide it’s a coincidence and jog along. It’s not, I feel it again. And again. I’m getting seriously worried and have a chat with Thibault and a good friend of mine, both telling me not to risk anything and that it’s a bad situation – to which I agree. But the pain subsided and I made a call. If it’s not there in the strides, it’s OK.
That was a shitty call. But let’s back to that soon. I’m toeing the startline after my painfree strides, ready-set-FIRE and we’re off, sprinting to get a good position on the hurdles. On my very last jump (now 3rd place-ish) I feel the pain again and my legs goes stiff for a split-second. I lose speed and end up in the back, which is shit because I’m not the only one who checked out which piles of logs were fat and heavy and which were slim and light. I get the muddy, heavy and bad pile to the right and begin the most embarrassing carry I’ve ever done. Failing to carry 2 logs at the same time I grab just one fat one and carry it to the bars. I run back, put 2 on my shoulders and clear those. I try to do the same, failing. Damn! I misplace my logs dropping them, letting the frustration take over. I’m not just the last person to finish the carry, I’m so far behind I feel bad for everyone cheering me on.
The pain was gone now though and I tell myself that it’s not over until it’s over! I crank it up after the mudpits and rush towards the rig. 100m before the rig I get the pain one more time – fuck! Praying it’s just a one-time thing (well, you know..) I clear the rig and run along. The pain comes back, not once – but twice. It has me slowing down hard and in my mind there’s 5 people arguing loudly; the smart, the dumb, the nervous, the carefree and the experienced athlete. They’re yelling at each other, not agreeing on anything. I try to increase the pace and immediately the pain comes back. This time worse than before so I have to slow down to a jog.. Pausing the Garmin I’m boiling inside, then unpausing it wanting to push through! My body immediately tells me NO and I’m down walking again. At this point the pain in my achilles is only matched by the knot forming in my throat. Trying to just jog had the knot move further up and the tears started – and then I crashed.
I walked towards the yoke carry, wanting to walk the course and not stop. Luckily the official (Michael Tranekær) had enough life experience and power to tell me some words of truth. I sit down and cry it out as he calls the medics for a pick-up.
Acceptance is not easy. The race is over and all I can do is hope this will not affect the OCRWC and that Nikolaj kicks ass and hits the podium, just like teammate Ida Mathilde (2nd) did. In the medics tent I was more focused on hearing the results than anything, as I was getting wrapped up with ice and so on. The results weren’t bad:
1st Thomas Buyle
2nd Nikolaj Dam
3rd Thomas van Tonder
1st Julie Wahr
2nd Ida Mathilde
3rd Maria Lund
Thanks for the cheering, guys. I plan to be more than ready at World’s in 11 days time!
Photos by Jesper Grønnemark and Nikolaj Frits Nielsen