There was an enormous amount of excitement in the Mudstacle camp on the run-up to this weekend’s Dirty Dozen Backyard Jam. With competitive obstacle racing only in its infancy, there have only been a handful of times when we’ve seen such a strong selection of our rising stars going head to head.
Many of the best UK obstacle racers are extremely strong runners, so we were really keen to see how they’d fare on a course rammed full of obstacles but with very little running. Could this be the event that turned everything on its head? We were about to find out. Check out the highlights video before I go on:
Backyard Jam was a time trial with only one person on the course at a time, which meant that organiser Doug “The Beard” Spence could cram in some difficult obstacles that just wouldn’t be practical at mass market event. In fact walls and monkey bars were the only things that were vaguely “normal” about the course. Upper body strength was key, as competitors shimmied up a scaffolding pipe set at 40 degrees, shuffled along a cliff hanger only with their fingers, flipped a tractor tyre and traversed a 70 foot rope crossing. In amongst that, they had to stay coordinated enough to cross a 6 foot high balance beam, summit an overhanging cargo net and face an intimidating final challenge - a 25 foot vertical caving ladder climb into the woodland canopy.
This may have been a short blast course but there was no denying it’s difficulty and, as Doug briefed the competitors, the atmosphere was filled with nervous anticipation, as they glanced at one another and at the obstacles above the woodland floor.
Tim Lovett, of Obstacle Kit fame
Names were drawn out of a hat to dictate the running order and first to the plate was none other than our pull up competition winner Jason Brunnock. Although Jason has had some amazing results at obstacle races (including 1st at Pain Barrier and 2nd at SOTF MAnchester), he was yet to face some of the top racers present today. There was a fire in his eyes as he stood preparing for the first obstacle (an intimidating 7’4” overhanging wall). He looked like a heavyweight boxer on fight night, in intensity as well as stature. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened next…
Straight off the bat Jason destroyed the course. He effortlessly flowed through every obstacle with speed and power. He was aware that if he failed any obstacles he would face a 20 burpee forfeit but that possibility never entered the equation with Jason, he was clinical and fast.
The clock stopped as he stepped off the caving ladder at 3:40. Everyone was staggered by Jason’s performance, but those of us who had attempted the course beforehand were completely open-jawed. Doug announced “I think we have ourselves a winner”... was the game going to be over after the first five minutes? Only time would tell.
As the first round continued, Jason’s effort became more and more respectable. Many of the competitors fell foul to the intimidating balance beam, which took the form of a 35 foot long telegraph pole 6 feet off the ground. It was damp with rain from the previous night, which really seemed to affect confidence. Several people fell and walked away as a “DNF” in the first round, including the UK’s most decorated obstacle racer Jon Albon. There was a lot of intrigue around how Jon would do in this competition, as he’s known for his ridiculous fast running speed:
“I wasn't confident, as my strength is running and this competition looked to level the playing field between crossfitters and the runners. I tried not to think about the racing and looked forward to meeting everyone and trying my hand at some class obstacles.
When I came of the beam I wasn't too worried but as time went on and the realisation set in that I probably would only get one more go. I did start to question whether I could complete the course burpeeless let alone in a quick time.”
The Cliff Hanger proved to be one of the hardest physical challenges and it took a lot of victims early on. In contrast to the balance beam though, if competitors made it that far, they chose to smash out the burpee forfeit instead, so that they could continue with the rest of the course - a well worn patch on the ground formed very quickly!
In the first round the only other people to make it around the course without forfeit were Chris Pile and Gavin O’Mally-Richardson (AKA Papa Sparta). Chris is a long-time obstacle racer and climbing fanatic, so made short work of the cliff hanger, walls and cargo net climb and put in a respectable time of 4:49. Gavin, representing the over 40s, flew around the course in an amazing 5:13.
The other staggering result in the first round came from Adam Teszke who managed a time of 3:47 (only 7 seconds off Jason’s time) even with a burpee forfeit under the cliff hanger! Finally that gave the rest of the field hope that Jason’s time might be beatable.
Going into the second round, the field of ladies were also looking to up their game. Like the men, our pull up competition winner seemed to be the dominant force. Fi Silk had set the bar high in the first round with a time of 11:10 and Katie Keeble did extremely well to complete the course despite a constant fight against cold hands and grip strength. With numb hands, the inverted cargo net climb became an intimidating obstacle and all of the ladies had to take some time out to get their hands ready to make the climb safely.
Having fallen from the rope traverse in the first round Faye Caley was likely to be snapping at Fi’s heals in the second round, so she knew she had to assert her dominance and, in an impressive display of power, Fi blasted out an incredible time of 8:01. Despite two heroic efforts from Faye, she couldn’t quite break the 10 minute mark but walked away with a very well deserved second place.
The situation was about to get real amongst the males though. Up stepped Jon Albon for his second run. Although Jon seemed chilled, you could tell on the inside he was burning with a fierce and frustrated competitive spirit.
What happened then was nothing more than a blur. Jon glided effortlessly over the inverted wall, monkey bars and pipe climb. He had a nervous wobble on the balance beam but just about managed to keep it together. From that point onwards he was in his element. It was simply breathtaking watching a master at work. A man at the top of his game asserting his authority. He attacked every obstacle like it was nothing. You could tell that he was executing a plan that he had been sitting stewing on for the last couple of hours.
As Jon dropped off the ladder at the end, the watch was stopped at 2:47. Being nearly a minute faster than Jason’s time, it was met with disbelief. First everyone questioned the stopwatch; was there an error? Then we had to retrace his route in our minds to make sure he hadn’t skipped an obstacle. Nope, Jon had done the whole thing. Having attempted to keep up with him holding a camera, I could vouch for how ridiculously fast Jon had been. Simply staggering. We’ll post a real-time video of his run shortly - it’s a sight to behold.
In one foul swoop, Jon had turned the competition on its head:
“I was happy that my run seemed to act as a catalyst, with a lot of people really going for it after that. They started throwing themselves over the cargo net etc. it was really great to see.”
A very VERY rare sign of fatigue from Jon Albon
Next up one of the favorites Sam Cherry stepped up to the plate and blasted out a faultless round in 3:33. Already the field had upped their game! Eye’s turned again to Jason though, who was now in the position where he had to get on course again to defend his position. He commented:
"I'd seen what Jon Albon was capable of the week before at the Fan Dance but I didn't expect him to be as quick as he was over those obstacles. He's an incredible athlete. I just thought RIGHT how can I beat him, how am I going to knock nearly a minute off my previous time, I took a few of his techniques on board and just went for it."
It was incredible to see him power around in 2:58!
So the day ended with Sam Cherry, Jason Brunnock and Jon Albon taking the top three slots amongst the guys and Fi Silk taking the crown for the ladies. Doug “The Beard” Spence also put on a ridiculous display at the end of the day by crushing the course in 3:42, snatching fourth place. See the full results table here.
It really was an amazing day and, although there was an underlying competitiveness, it was mostly a great opportunity to hang out, have fun and witness some super-human obstacle tackling abilities.
Already there’s talk of Backyard Jam’s return in the summer, so stay tuned for news on that! In the mean time thanks massively to Dirty Dozen Races for putting on a spectacular event. It’s this kind of evolution that is really helping to move UK obstacle racing forward. I’m sure there are even more exciting times ahead...
Find out more about Dirty Dozen Races here (they run awesome obstacle races throughout the country).