Monday, 15 December 2014

PIEATHLON Review - yes, that is pie and running

What a cracking idea. Pie and a big of a jog. Though it turned out that the "bit of a jog" was actually pretty tough. Loads of elevation (both up and down) and plenty of the wind for which Yorkshire is known. Throw in some cobbles (wet of course) and the general inconvenience of the December temperatures and you begin to realise this wasn't quite the jog round I thought it would be.
Still, it was brilliant fun as always. Plus Rick and I hadn't run a race together for three months so it was nice to get back into the whole routine. I suspect we will definitely be doing this again next year - and in PROPER fancy dress this time.

There were loads of people who gave it a proper go and we definitely want to get more into the spirit next year, a couple of good wigs is something to build on. 

Next race up is Ram Run. It's the 10th of January - and it will be absolutely freezing. There are six of us in for this one though, so the post race cuddle will at least keep us warm!

Till next time,
DT

Monday, 8 December 2014

Riga - Still finding its identity

Starting to crack through the capital cities as we come to the end of the year. 

Following hard on the heels of Ljubljana and Zagreb we have the European Capital of Culture for 2014 - Latvia's capital, Riga. Accompanied by my brother-in-law and our friend we had this one planned from a good 10 months out!



Wedged in between the might of Russia to the East and the Baltic Sea to the West, Latvia has technically been an independent country since 1918. Like so many of the other former Soviet states however it was forcibly incorporated into the USSR and spent the vast majority of the second half of the 20th Century fighting for independence and freedom. 

Since achieving independence in mid-1990, Latvia has gradually been growing in influence in Europe, culminating in EU membership in 2004 and Eurozone membership at the turn of the year. 

Riga's history is certainly captured in its cosmopolitan style, particular its architecture. There is an imposing 13th Century Church (St. Peter's) which incorporates Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles as well as evidence of Russian influence in the orthodox cathedral situated just outside the Old Town. 

The Old Town itself is a UNESCO heritage site and it is your typical arrangement of tight cobbled streets, wide open meeting points and quaint little shops and stalls. I have to be honest though and say that it is missing the charm of Tallinn or the maturity of Budapest, other cities which have a similar feel to them. 

Riga feels exactly what it is, a city in transition. Only 11 months have elapsed since the Euro was adopted as the currency and the city still feels like it is feeling its way in. The days of 50p a pint are long gone and the additional influx of EU money is starting to bear fruit, certainly on the North side of the river. 

Construction is continuing apace, though the Old Town is careful to try and retain its charms against the onslaught of change. This is still essentially a poor country, with poor people - but gradually (very gradually) the money is starting to permeate down. 

As a tourist destination Riga is a strange one, certainly not what I was expecting. There is not really that much to do outside of look at nice architecture and have a few beers (which might be all you are after). Comparing again with Tallinn, Riga seems empty. There are few museums or sights to really grab your imagination and there isn't much to hold you in the Old Town past a day or so. We found ourselves exploring deeper into the "working city" than I think we expected.

One of these explorations did find us an excellent microbrewery (called, I think, Alus Muiza) located on Gertrudes Iela. Well worth a trip up there, shame I can't remember exactly where it is!! Closer to the centre of town you will not struggle for drinking establishments, though the proliferation of Irish and English "pubs" probably tells you the client base being aimed at. Kiwi Bar is well worth a trip if you are a sports fan, though the beer isn't great. 

However the 14 taster beers for €10 at the Australian Backpackers Pub (near the Wellton Centrum Hotel) is absolutely worth making the trip for, just be careful with the last few as they are a touch sweet! 

Outside of bars and pubs there are plenty of restaurants to take your fancy. The food is not cheap, but neither is it ridicuolously expensive - provided you pick your eating spots well. With the possible exception of Street Burger, I'd stay away from any "chain" type eateries, we had a pretty average pizza in Charlie's and didn't make the same mistsake twice. Try to keep an eye out for local restaurants and always go for the Latvia specialities, everyone is better at making their local food!

So overall Riga wasn't quite what I expected. It wasn't bad at all, the food and drink were still pretty good and there was enough to see. We were here for four days though and that was probably double the length of time we needed. Maybe if I was travelling on my own I would have sought out more of the cultural aspects but for the three of us, beer and food was the order of the day.

I'm not sure I'd return here again, there are plenty of places to get to first and while I enjoyed myseld immensely (the company was fantastic) it didn't inspire in the way other cities have done.

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5

Till next time, 
DT

Friday, 5 December 2014

REVIEW: Sixth of the Dusk and Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson (Novellas)

Back to the many worlds of Brandon Sanderson. I'm still trying to stay on top of everything Sanderson writes. But he seems to write quicker than I read which is jsut downright bizarre! I don't read that slowly do I?! Anyway, I'm currently ploughing through the huge pile of books on my shelves so Part 2 of Stormlight Archive is still a wee while away from being attacked.

In the meantime, I managed to crack through a few novellas and short stories. Sixth of the Dusk is a new short novella taking place somewhere undefined in the Cosmere.  Mitosis is a follow up to Book 1 of the Reckoners Series (Steelheart) whilst Defending Elysium is a short story from 2008 (Sanderson believes it is one of the best he has ever written).

I decided not to review Defending Elysium as my review would possibly be longer than the story - but I urge you to go to Brandon's website and enjoy it. It's a very good short story, deep, intriguing and engaging.

*SPOILER ALERT*

On to the novellas then, first up is our return to the city of Newcago.

Mitosis
Set in the aftermath of the climactic battle which brought about the end of Steelheart in the book of the same name. The residents of Newcago are still unsure. Has the threat of the Epics disappeared? Or is this merely a lull before another tries to take the place of the deposed dictator? One such Epic, Mitosis, comes looking for David, to find out what really happened in that final duel.

You can definitely tell that the Reckoners series is pitched at a Young Adult audience rather than your fully fledged fantasy fan. It's not that the stories are bad, they are just more simplistic. Even in Steelheart, solutions became apparent much more readily and the huge sweeping arcs that are present in Mistborn and Way of Kings simply don't exist. This isn't a bad story at all, and it whets the appetite nicely for the second full length Reckoners story in the new year.

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5

Following hot on the heels of Mitosis is a new novella. 

Sixth of the Dusk
Set somewhere in the Cosmere it tells the story of a young guide dealing with the changing face of his world through technology and expansion. The world is a harsh place, that can kill you at a moments notice. Birds called Aviar possess unique powers that shape the way the population lives. 

Sixth of the Dusk is intriguing. It is definitely merely a taster of something much bigger to come and it is very hard to get a proper handle on it. Some of the concepts are fascinating, the hints to the wider world made me crack through this in only a few minutes and I found myself slightly disappointed it had finished. I don't really want to review this standalone story, other than to say I really hope Sanderson is planning on expanding this world much much further.

Verdict: Reserved until later!

Still got a couple of books to review, plus my 19th European Capital (Riga). Could be a busy weekend for me. Time for a bit of Narnia then back onto it.

Till next time,
DT

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

REVIEW: The City by Stella Gemmell (Book)

So I’ve finally caught up with my event reviews, my city reviews and my book reviews – with one exception. Which I will now rectify!

I’ll confess I’ve never read any of David Gemmell’s books – not deliberately I might add, they just never jumped out at me when in the bookstores as a “must read”. With David now sadly departed, his wife Stella has branched out  into some storytelling of her own (having been David’s right hand person for so long).

This one was parked in Waterstone’s on a table of books with the general theme “Fantasy and Adventure”. The front picture looked good, the blurb sounded like my kind of tale and the price was nicely lower than it normally is (BOGOF offer). So off we go with Stella Gemmell’s debut novel The City.

The City is set in what I would describe as a “typical fantasy setting”, a medieval/non-technological version of our world where magic, exotic creatures and sword play are plentiful and widespread. Unsurprisingly the main setting is the eponymous City itself; vast, sprawling and utterly decrepit in more than one way.

For years the City has been engaged in countless battles, fighting enemies on many fronts while the inhabitants struggle to survive day-to-day. The City is broken, crumbling and on the verge of rebellion. The Emperor hasn’t been seen for years and a select few rule an unstable system plagued by the typical machinations of high-society families.

The plot weaves intricately through three or four narratives which appear at first to be unconnected but ultimately tie together, if not tightly then certainly well enough. Gemmell’s approach is slowly-softly and the story is allowed to breathe and grow, sometimes a touch too slow. The pacing however is generally pretty consistent and we are given plenty of time to get to know our protagonists.

Jumping between flashback and real-time narrative, we are given a glimpse into the histories and motivations of the main characters in a way that feels quite organic. Once you get used to the style. Gemmell keeps the number of critical characters down to a handful which helps; the old solider who isn’t all he appears (Bartellus), the famous general who is hiding a dark secret  (Fell Aaron Lee) and the daughter of a once well respected family who is trying to escape her past (Indaro) are the most prominent.

There is a nice little plot twist about halfway through when you become aware that several of the seemingly unconnected characters share a common goal which eventually becomes the driving force of the story. What starts out as seemingly a simple attempt at rebellion becomes more complicated as we progress.

Throw in a few “immortal” beings, some political shenanigans of the highest order and a healthy dose of blood and gore and it becomes apparent that The City is a bit more sophisticated than might have first appeared.

The denoument is unusual too, in that the story ends rather abruptly once the main goal of the rebellion has been achieved – and we are left with very little sense of what will happen in the future. This feels like Book 1 of a series but it isn’t and you are left quite deliberately to your own imagination to determine what the fate of the City and its inhabitants will be.

Overall thoughts

This is an intriguing and interesting debut into the genre from someone who has been around these kind of stories for a long time. It shows an intelligence and an appreciation of the subtleties required to tell the tale, but also enough experience to add her own twist and make it somewhat different from “normal” books of this ilk. Personally I found it enjoyable but not gripping, I never became enthralled by the tale or the characters in a way I do with the likes of Sanderson, Hobb, Pratchett and Adams.

Would I read another of her stories? Yes I think I probably would. Would I rush out and buy it on day one? No I suspect I’d probably wait for another BOGOF offer first. It wasn’t bad at all, just not at the very top level.

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5

Till next time,
DT

EVENT REVIEW: Yorkshire Warrior

The final catch up of my OCR reviews, Part 9 of Team MUBU’s "Seriously, How Good Was That?!" Obstacle Course Race Review. The scoring criteria and categories are covered in a previous post which is somewhere on this blog (see bottom left in the Archive).

YORKSHIRE WARRIOR
16km Mud/Obstacle Run
April 2014
Harrogate

After the brutality of Mighty Deerstalker I’ll happily confess that another 16km OCR wasn’t exactly top of my list of things to do next. Still, Rick and I were getting somewhat into our groove by this point so we thought we’d have enough to get through this unscathed.

General Event Organisation
A nicely organised event with plenty of pre-race information and details provided. Nice small waves which I thought added to the enjoyment of it, sometimes you don't want to be in a huge mass of people.
7 – Good

Event Facilities
Plenty of parking and toilets and a couple of food/drink stalls. No merchandise that I can remember but an easy-to-access secure drop zone meant your towel and car keys were nearby once the race was done.
6 – Above Average

Registration
Big registration tent with loads of volunteers and ample cable ties / safety pins for affixing various paraphernalia to you ahead of the race. No queue, dead simple.
8 – Very Good

Location
Not too bad of a location to get to with reasonably sign-posting and access routes in/out. Nice big open field to set the running sections in with a bit of forest thrown in to give it a trail element too.
7 – Good

On Course Facilities
I think I remember two water stations and plenty of marshals. Distance markers at semi-regular intervals kept us on track and the course was nicely laid out and detailed for you to easily follow.
7 – Good

Warm-Up
My thighs were burning before we started. The Yorkshire Warrior himself leads a cracking warm-up (and psyche-up) just before you go so your body is primed and ready when that gun fires. Physically I felt as good as I have in any race going round this one, and the pre-race warm-up contributed massively to that.
8 – Very Good

Variety of obstacles
My memory is a touch hazy now but I remember there being plenty of different things to keep you entertained over the 16km. A nice mix of upper and lower body exercises complete with a couple of great water sections, a cold bath and a bit of electricity. Huge final obstacle that I stacked off sideways too!
8 – Very Good

Obstacle/Run mix
Considering this was 16km I thought they got the balance spot-on. Running sections early on and in the middle to (a) stretch the field early and (b) split up the obstacle zones worked perfectly for me. Didn’t feel the extra distance and certainly didn’t get bored.
7 – Good

Terrain
Just the right amount of up-and-down coupled with a nice balance of open spaces and forest work. I thought the land was used very well and some interesting natural obstacles were thrown at us as we pottered round.
8 – Very Good

Post-Race
A very snazzy t-shirt and (I think) a can of alcoholic beverage – though I could be mistaken. Bit of a disappointment that no medal was provided for the not-insubstantial entry fee.
5 - Average

Difficulty
The extra distance added an extra point to the difficulty on this one; but it certainly wasn’t difficult terrain or overly gruelling. The obstacles got tough towards the end, partially due to fatigue but also due to a nice bit of planning that left a couple of crackers for the end of the course.
Course: 7 out of 10
Obstacles: 7 out of 10

Overall Thoughts
We loved this one, and have already booked back on for this coming year. Smaller than your Tough Mudder and Total Warrior events but it didn’t suffer as a result. Hope next year is just as good.

Overall Score
7.5 – A nice challenging course in a good location with great company. That is basically what OCR is all about. Throw in a medal and we might have even had our first 8 out of 10 score!

A reminder of the new scoring system
10.0 Nothing will ever get 10.0, you should always strive for better
9.5 Sell organs AND children. And everything you own. About as good as it gets
9.0 Sell organs and/or children to do this event every single time
8.5 Highly recommended indeed, this gets booked as soon as it is released
8.0 A very good event, only money or illness would stop this being a yearly thing
7.5 Definitely one to recommend. Not much would keep me away
7.0 On the list for another go, though not necessarily an automatic selection
6.5 Would do this one again if the stars aligned, but wouldn’t break the bank for it
6.0 Was fun but only a very cheap deal and a free weekend would tempt me again
below 6.0 Not found one of these yet. Hope I don’t

EVENT REVIEWS SO FAR
7.5 Reaper Day Race
7.5 Yorkshire Warrior
7.0 Spartan Sprint Yorkshire
7.0 Survival of the Fittest Manchester
7.0 Total Warrior Lake District
7.0 Tough Mudder North West
6.5 Mighty Deerstalker
6.5 Pandemonium Iced
6.5 Stockton River Rat Race

Till next time,

DT 

EVENT REVIEW: Mighty Deerstalker

Continuing the “back-fill” of reviews, we now have Part 8 of Team MUBU’s "Seriously, How Good Was That?!" Obstacle Course Race Review. The scoring criteria and categories are covered in a previous post which is somewhere on this blog (see bottom left in the Archive).

MIGHTY DEERSTALKER
10km (plus a little) Trail/Obstacle Run
March 2014
Tranquair House, Scotland

This was our first “away-day” event with four of us tackling Rat Race’s Mighty Deerstalker. Billed as 10km (plus a little) we got much more than we bargained for here. It was dark (head torches provided the only light) and it was brutal. Over 16km in the end of some of the roughest terrain we have ever covered. This was quite simply the toughest mental challenge I have ever faced – the physical side of it wasn’t much more pleasant.

General Event Organisation
This was Rat Race. We have come to know what to expect with them.  Easy to sign-up, all the details sent in plenty of time and any problems solved as-and-when they needed to. As far as I’m concerned, this is as good as it needs to be.
8 – Very Good

Event Facilities
Decent merchandise stall selling discounted RR t-shirts from other events (I picked up a couple of great tech shirts for £5 each) as well as a massive bar and a couple of food/drink stalls. We camped overnight and the campsite was clean, well located and secure. A touch noisy but only due to one drunken Glaswegian who won’t be getting invited back I’m guessing.
8 – Very Good

Registration
Again, this is Rat Race so it is easy. We picked up our race packs, camping tickets and after-party tickets in no time at all. Simples.
7 – Good

Location
Bit of a trek to get to and slightly in the middle of nowhere. But the views after the sun had set were breath-taking. A single file row of head-torches snaking along like ants. Set in the grounds of a stately home too, this combined natural beauty with difficult terrain.
8 – Very Good

On Course Facilities
One water station, cunningly placed so you passed it after 4 and 13km (ish). The course was marked out very sparsely with orange tape but to be fair I never got lost despite spending over 2 hours on my own. Got to say a word for the medics who patched me up and the guy on the scree slope who got me up after I fell down it twice. No distance markers made the challenge very tough as you had no sense of how far you had to go.
7 – Good

Warm-Up
A few star jumps and a semi-inspirational speech before the sun went down. Nothing to write home about but better than no warm-up and in all fairness nothing could have prepared me for what was to come!
6 – Above Average

Variety of obstacles
Mighty Deerstalker was a strange one. It was brutally tough but, to me, it wasn’t really an obstacle course race. It felt much more like a trail run with the odd obstacle thrown in. Yes there were river crossings and the odd thing in the way but generally the terrain provided the obstacles. And the variety wasn’t particularly strong.
4 – Below Average

Obstacle/Run mix
In a similar vein to above (variety of obstacles) the mix wasn’t particularly good for an OCR. VERY run heavy with lots of climbing, descending and then climbing up again. But not much to get the OCR muscles working really.
4 – Below Average 

Terrain
I was going to give this 10 simply because the terrain is insane. But in fairness it’s not about how much terrain but how an event uses what is available to it. There was plenty of scope here and, although Deerstalker did a pretty decent job, I felt it might have benefited from losing a few of the trickier sections in the dark. Some of them just tipped into the red in terms of danger as far as I was concerned. There needs to be a challenge, but this was dangerous in places.
8 – Very Good

Post-Race
A nice tech shirt (as always from Rat Race) as well as a decent goodie bag and medal. Half a pint of local ale was thrown in and I have it on decent authority that the after party is pretty good, but we didn’t make it out for long due to being pretty spent.
7 – Good

Difficulty
The course was brutal, partially due to the dark, partially due to the elevation changes and partially due to it being a heck of a lot longer than advertised. It was mentally exhausting, physically draining and psychologically tough to get through. The few (non-natural) obstacles weren’t overly tricky, this isn’t Total Warrior or Spartan level of difficultly from an obstacle perspective.
Course: 9 out of 10
Obstacles: 6 out of 10

Overall Thoughts
This was tough. Beyond tough at times. It was probably the one race I have really not enjoyed during the actual running. The dark closing in, my busted ankle and a real sense of futility made this exhausting. Plus I never knew whether I was anywhere near home! But now I know what is involved I think I would handle it better. And by the time we were on our way home, the sense of achievement had really kicked in.

Overall Score
6.5 – Completely not what we were expecting from an OCR, but probably the most demanding physical experience I’ve been through in a long while. Going to try the shorter version next year I think!

A reminder of the new scoring system
10.0 Nothing will ever get 10.0, you should always strive for better
9.5 Sell organs AND children. And everything you own. About as good as it gets
9.0 Sell organs and/or children to do this event every single time
8.5 Highly recommended indeed, this gets booked as soon as it is released
8.0 A very good event, only money or illness would stop this being  a yearly thing
7.5 Definitely one to recommend. Not much would keep me away
7.0 On the list for another go, though not necessarily an automatic selection
6.5 Would do this one again if the stars aligned, but wouldn’t break the bank for it
6.0 Was fun but only a very cheap deal and a free weekend would tempt me again
below 6.0 Not found one of these yet. Hope I don’t

EVENT REVIEWS SO FAR
7.5 Reaper Day Race
7.0 Tough Mudder North West
7.0 Survival of the Fittest Manchester
7.0 Spartan Sprint Yorkshire
7.0 Total Warrior Lake District
6.5 Mighty Deerstalker
6.5 Pandemonium Iced
6.5 Stockton River Rat Race

Till next time,

DT 

EVENT REVIEW: Pandemonium ICED

Bit of a “back-fill” here, I’ve decided to review the remaining OCRs I did at the start of the year and add them to the list so that I’ve got a full list of what has been done. Survival of the Fittest has been done twice so I’ve only reviewed the latest one. When I redo a race I’ll revisit the original review and see if it still looks about right.

So anyway, it is now time for Part 7 of Team MUBU’s "Seriously, How Good Was That?!" Obstacle Course Race Review. The scoring criteria and categories are covered in a previous post which is somewhere on this blog (see bottom left in the Archive).

PANDEMONIUM ICED
5km Urban Obstacle/Mud Run
February  2014
Warwickshire

The very first obstacle race that Rick and I ever did together. Seems a very long time ago now! It was cold, windy and one of the funniest days we’ve had doing these races. If this had been a bad experience then I don’t know if I’d still be doing these, thankfully it wasn’t.

General Event Organisation
A very small, almost community-run event. The sign up was pretty decent and everything we needed was delivered comfortably in time for us. Pretty standard and what we would expect from the professional OCR companies so no complaints.
7 – Good

Event Facilities
Only a couple of stalls (one of the food ones closed before we were finished!) but it was a tiny event so we shouldn’t expect huge marquees, burger vans and merchandise stalls. Decent amount of toilets and a bag drop. A nice little touch was the free minibus to shuttle you from the car park to the start line.
6 – Above Average

Registration
Quick and easy. Not too many people running but they had enough folks there to manage it and the process was painless.
7 – Good

Location
A bit in the middle of nowhere but the directions got us there OK and it turned out to be a pretty decent place for a race.
7 – Good

On Course Facilities
Can’t remember a water station so may be doing them a disservice if there was one. No distance markers and the marshals didn’t quite know what the route was in all cases. Some of them were dressed as zombies though so you can forgive them for staying in character.
6 – Above Average

Warm-Up
Can’t remember if there was one so I’m going to award 5 points.
5 –Average

Variety of obstacles
Vaguely remember there being a decent mix of obstacles, though nothing that stands out as being a “signature” one. Tough to mark them down based on my poor memory.
7 - Good

Obstacle/Run mix
Despite only being 5/6km I distinctly remember running for large periods of this. I know I do OCRs as a hobby but I don’t actually like to run too much, it makes me legs hurt for the obstacles.
6 – Above Average 

Terrain
Plenty of ups and downs and decent use of the available land and natural resources, including the ice-lake-of-death.
7 – Good

Post-Race
Nice technical t-shirt and one of the best medals we’ve had so far (though it didn’t come for a week or so as their supplier let them down). Also had some funky Pandemonium mugs for sale (£5 I think) so picked one of those up afterwards.
7 – Good

Difficulty
Only short so never likely to be too tough. Don’t remember having any great difficulties with the obstacles, certainly the running was the major cause of my pain the next day.
Course: 6 out of 10
Obstacles: 6 out of 10

Overall Thoughts
We had a lot of fun doing this one, especially considering it was our first one together. I think there are more impressive ones on the calendar though and it has certainly been supplanted by later events (though that might be a bit harsh  on Pandemonium as it is never easy to go first!)

Overall Score
6.5 – A fun “small” event that may be very different the next time it comes around on the calendar. This was actually a pretty decent event for a couple of newer OCR runners and I’d have no trouble having another go if the price was right.

A reminder of the new system
10.0 Nothing will ever get 10.0, you should always strive for better
9.5 Sell organs AND children. And everything you own. About as good as it gets
9.0 Sell organs and/or children to do this event every single time
8.5 Highly recommended indeed, this gets booked as soon as it is released
8.0 A very good event, only money or illness would stop this being  a yearly thing
7.5 Definitely one to recommend. Not much would keep me away
7.0 On the list for another go, though not necessarily an automatic selection
6.5 Would do this one again if the stars aligned, but wouldn’t break the bank for it
6.0 Was fun but only a very cheap deal and a free weekend would tempt me again
below 6.0 Not found one of these yet. Hope I don’t

EVENT REVIEWS SO FAR
7.5 Reaper Day Race
7.0 Tough Mudder North West
7.0 Survival of the Fittest Manchester
7.0 Spartan Sprint Yorkshire
7.0 Total Warrior Lake District
6.5 Pandemonium Iced
6.5 Stockton River Rat Race

Till next time,

DT 

EVENT REVIEW: Survival of the Fittest Manchester

Wow. Challenge #20 has now been completed. Who would have thought I’d have got that far. And this week’s challenge turned out to be my 10th OCR – almost exactly a year to the day since I did my first. It is a fantastic hobby and I have failed to meet anyone who has done one and not caught the bug. Go do one people!

So anyway, it is now time for Part 6 of Team MUBU’s "Seriously, How Good Was That?!" Obstacle Course Race Review. The scoring criteria and categories are covered in a previous post which is somewhere on this blog (see bottom left in the Archive).

MEN’S HEALTH SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
10km Urban Obstacle/Mud Run
8th November 2014
Manchester

A bunch of us did this in 2013 and decided immediately to sign up for this year at the bargain price of about £25. There have been various ailments and illnesses along the way but we got pretty much everyone to the start line. I ended up running with my sister and a few friends who had a combined 2 obstacle races and 1 marathon (I think) between them. And it was SO much fun – thanks Team “Kinda Competitive”!

General Event Organisation
It is a Rat Race event so you know exactly what you are getting. The online sign up was dead easy, my brother-in-law was able to add everyone’s details in no problem and we had everything we needed sent to us via email the week before. We become so used to how good it is that we forget sometimes that not all races are this well run.
8 – Very Good

Event Facilities
Your typical merchandise stall with the usual T-shirts, hoodies and other assorted branded goodies. There wasn’t quite the big selection of food and drink establishments as I’d like at these events but there was a bar, somewhere to have a wee and get changed. The only concern was the bag drop, which was unmanned and uncovered. You could put your valuables in a valuables tent (which had great security) but I like to have a towel in my bag for after and it would have got soaked if I’d left it there this time.
6 – Above Average

Registration
Quick and easy. Bring your ID, get your race pack and t-shirt and you are good to go. We were early but it looked like they had plenty of people on hand so I don’t think the queues ever got too long or too chaotic. I’d prefer them to open up the Friday evening registration like they did last year but in truth it didn’t really matter too much.
7 – Good

Location
Based at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester (Manchester City FC’s ground for those who don’t know) you would struggle to find an easier location to find. Plenty of parking a short walk from registration and easy to get away from afterwards.
9 – Excellent

On Course Facilities
Only one water station at about 5km. There were plenty of marshals who braved the terrible weather and they were all very friendly and encouraging. Distance markers kept you on track and the route was well marked out.
7 – Good

Warm-Up
Slightly disappointing in all truthfulness. Didn’t last very long and it was a good two or three minutes after we were “warm” before the gun went off. So I was cold again!
6 – Above Average

Variety of obstacles
Easy to get carried away by the 100m or so “river drift” obstacle which was definitely a first for me. The rest of them were pretty standard fare with a reasonable mix of arm/leg/over/under/through.
7 - Good

Obstacle/Run mix
Plenty of running early doors to try and stretch the field out. The first 4km of the race are essentially a road run with the odd obstacle chucked in to break things up. It gets a bit more obstacle heavy in the later stages and once you get off the roads and into the park.
7 – Good 

Terrain
Being an urban race you would expect the terrain to play a key part. It is used pretty well here although sometimes it feels as if a few tricks have been missed. But overall there is enough up and down to keep me happy (though readers of these reviews will know that I’m not a hill man so that means it’s pretty flat).
7 – Good

Post-Race
Rat Race can always be relied upon for a half decent medal and a good quality technical t-shirt in the goodie bag. Black was the colour this year which felt a bit lazy it is all personal preference I guess. The medal is a bottle-opener aswell and the “adult” surprise provided by Durex was a bit unexpected!
7 – Good

Difficulty
Not the toughest course out there, though measurably harder than last year. If you have the will, you will finish this and you will get through most if not all of the obstacles. It is still a challenge though and the typically friendly Manchester weather always adds an extra element that has to be considered
Course: 6 out of 10
Obstacles: 6 out of 10

Overall Thoughts
This was all about the team though. Great banter, some priceless moments and a massive sense of achievement felt by all at the finish line. For me, that is what these events are about. I’m never going to tear the place up, but I’m going to have a lot of fun doing it.

Overall Score
7.0 – A good event, an excellent price (<£30) and a well-run event all adds up to another 7 out of 10 on the Team Mubu scorecard.

The overall scoring has had a slight overhaul though only in the way it has been represented. I think the scores are still the same in most if not all cases. It is still a combination of the 10 criteria scores plus a little bit of “fine-tuning” based on gut feel and general enjoyment.

It is now in increments of 0.5 as below:
10.0 Nothing will ever get 10.0, you should always strive for better
9.5 Sell organs AND children. And everything you own. About as good as it gets
9.0 Sell organs and/or children to do this event every single time
8.5 Highly recommended indeed, this gets booked as soon as it is released
8.0 A very good event, only money or illness would stop this being a yearly thing
7.5 Definitely one to recommend. Not much would keep me away
7.0 On the list for another go, though not necessarily an automatic selection
6.5 Would do this one again if the stars aligned, but wouldn’t break the bank for it
6.0 Was fun but only a very cheap deal and a free weekend would tempt me again
below 6.0 Not found one of these yet. Hope I don’t

EVENT REVIEWS SO FAR
7.5 Reaper Day Race
7.0 Tough Mudder North West
7.0 Survival of the Fittest Manchester
7.0 Spartan Sprint Yorkshire
7.0 Total Warrior Lake District
6.5 Stockton River Rat Race

Next OCR is the Ram Run on 10th January next year. It’s not all sherry and mince pies till then though, there are still a couple of non-OCR challenges on 30th November and 14th December to fit in.

I am however going to do post-race reviews for the other 3 OCRs that I’ve completed prior to introducing this rating system (Pandemonium, Mighty Deerstalker and Yorkshire Warrior). So the next three or four posts will be “mud-heavy” to say the least!!

Till next time,

DT 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Ljubljana - Living up to Expectations

I'm rubbish at this whole blogging thing recently. 
I'll get better, probably. 

Anyway, for now here is the second part of my Mid-European Capital Trip (only about 1 month after I actually went!). Full review will follow on my TravelPod blog when I get my backside into gear and do it.

Capital #18 - LJUBLJANA



Fresh from my trip to Zagreb I bordered a very quiet looking and clean train to head over into one of the other capitals re-established following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s – Ljubljana.

The train journey itself is very picturesque, following the River Sava all the way from leaving Zagreb to pulling into the Slovenian capital. It was very peaceful and relaxing, and not a bad way at all to enter one of the cities that I have been really looking forward to seeing.

And it didn’t disappoint one bit. I thought Zagreb was nice but I’m glad I didn’t give it 5 stars as Ljubljana blew it out of the water. From the cobbled streets of the Old Town, the imposing figure of the Castle perched on the hillside and the numerous caf├ęs, bars and restaurants which blanket the riverside – this was stunning.

You can cover most of the “things to do” in Ljubljana in a day with relative ease. Ljubljana Castle is well worth a look (though more for the views than anything else) and there are a few very good museums such as the City Museum which will hold your attention for a good few hours if you are that way inclined. But this is no Lisbon, Budapest or Copenhagen in terms of things to do, it is more the setting and the ambience of the place which is the charm.

I’ve never been to Paris but elements of this sound positively Parisian. I think I could spend a month here and never run out of places to eat, drink, enjoy a book or just watch the world go by. The river meanders its way through the centre of the city and the gentle flowing of the water brings a sense of serenity and peace which is rare in cities these days, never mind capitals.

Most of the cities I love have many things to bring me back; the baths of Budapest, the museums of London, the cafes of Lisbon etc.. Ljubljana is different but still magical. I can see myself returning time and time again – simply to do nothing and watch the world go by.

Verdict: 5 stars out of 5

Next on the Capital Tour is the (apparently delightful) Riga in a few weeks. This will be a slightly different trip as I’m joined by my brother-in-law (who I ticked Dublin off with many, many years ago) and our friend (who was my Oslo companion). Expect plenty of drinks, some good food and a wee bit of banter.

Till next time,
DT 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

REVIEW: Full Circle by Michael Palin (Book)

I always like a good travel book when I am travelling myself. There is something soothing and relaxing about reading about other people's exploits when I'm away.

Back in the day I remember watching Michael Palin's BBC TV programmes, “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Pole to Pole”, with fascination. Being born abroad and travelling so extensively when I was younger has fuelled my enjoyment of travel and I love reading about and hearing about other people's adventures.

I've read a lot of Bill Bryson's travel-based books but will confess to not having read any of Michael Palin's previous offerings. Until now!

Full Circle

The Pacific Ocean is the biggest ocean on the planet. It covers some 30% of the surface area of the globe and approximately 40 countries (across 4 continents) have some kind of Pacific Coastline. Everything from fully developed countries such as the USA through islands nations, deserts, developing economies and even uninhabited jungle is represented as you circumnavigate its borders. Which is precisely what Palin did over the course of 250-odd days back in the late 1990s, primarily for the TV series which this book is the accompaniment to.

Starting in the Bering Strait between Russia and the USA, Palin and his intrepid team navigated across to Russia, down through China and Vietnam, across to the Philippines and Borneo. They then took in Australia and New Zealand before starting the long drag up the East Coast of South America before cutting over to Mexico and the USA and returning to the start of it all.

It is the sheer diversity of these places that makes the journey fascinating. They all share a common body of water but that is where the similarity ends in most cases. For some the Ocean is the lifeblood, whereas for others it is a leisure activity or even a nuisance.

Palin conveys this fantastically throughout. His style and approach to travel is one that manages to get into the heart of everywhere he passes through, and it draws you into a place in a way which is beyond the simple physical geography or location. The interactions and encounters with the locals and the culture of each and every stop paint a vivid picture, which is in essence the real trick to travel writing. It all feels very natural too; there are times when the whole expedition seems moments from disaster or when a cultural taboo is magnificently broken – exactly like your average person may do.

I think it is very easy to simply list places/activities and string something together into a kind of “travel itinerary/diary” but it takes a level of skill to get into the heart of a place and really begin to understand the people and the lifestyle.

Lonely Planet and Rough Guide do a fantastic line in Travel Guides; Full Circle gets more into the intangibles of travel – the feel, the atmosphere and the more obscure nuances. And it does this really well; short, snappy sections manage to provide enough insight without becoming tedious or too “dry”.

Palin’s writing style (based on diary entries and recollections) works too. You are invited to follow in his footsteps and almost follow the journey yourself, using your imagination to fill in the gaps. Most of the wonder of travel for me is the discovery element of things; and the way the book is written allows you to experience those moments in a very similar way to the way Palin himself would have.

Overall I thought this was a very enjoyable read, and one which certainly conveys the wonders and the excitement of travelling around this fantastic planet of ours. It has also provided me with food for thought in the way I have been recording my travels, so hopefully I’ll be able to take some of the elements from Full Circle and incorporate them into my travel blogs.

The way I feel when I read this book is how I want people to feel when I tell them about my adventures; excited, intrigued and inspired to do something similar. I have plenty to work on obviously!

Verdict: 4.5 stars out of 5

Till next time,
DT

Monday, 20 October 2014

EVENT REVIEW: The Reaper Day Race

So here we are again, another one in the books. Challenge #19 has been conquered, and a lot of fun it was too. The Reaper was the event, a 10km obstacle race mainly through woods and a lake. There was a day version and a night version. I signed up to do both but unfortunately Rick couldn’t make it in the end so I ended up just doing the day one as I didn’t want my “fans” waiting around too long!

I now therefore present Part 5 of Team MUBU’s "Seriously, How Good Was That?!" Obstacle Course Race ReviewThe scoring criteria and categories are covered in a previous post which is somewhere on this blog (see bottom left in the Archive).

THE REAPER
10km Obstacle/Mud Run
18th October 2014
Nr Corley, Warwickshire

Just me this time, my first ever solo obstacle race - if you don’t count Men’s Health or Deerstalker which weren’t supposed to be solo but ended up that way due to my various ailments. I did have a fan club with me though which helped me battle on through.

General Event Organisation
Dead easy to sign up for, plus I actually got both races for the single price so if I had actually done the night one too it would have been excellent value for money. No pre-race pack but plenty of emails with details came through and everything you needed was provided.
8 – Very Good

Event Facilities
No merchandise stall until registration was complete and nowhere to buy any OCR gear. This was a small event though so that was no surprise. OCR Magazine had a stall where you could sign up for their packages and there seemed to be plenty of toilets, free parking and a burger stall for after.
6 – Above Average

Registration
Probably the only poor thing about the event. There simply wasn’t enough room in the tent nor enough people to run the desks. Plus there was a strange “double queue” system where you registered and got your number at one desk and then had to queue at another desk to get your wave start time. The problem was that no-one seemed to know who was in which queue and it was all a bit cramped. Add a few more people onto the registration desks and re-jig the layout and most of the problems go away.
4 – Below Average

Location
Right off the M6 at the Heart of England Conference Centre. Couldn’t get much more central and it was very accessible. No signposts to the event but because it was a recognisable venue (rather than a field) I don’t really think it needed them.
8 – Very Good

On Course Facilities
Only one water station at about 5km. There were plenty of marshals where needed and the course was marked out very well. No distance markers but every obstacle had a number on it so you could gauge where approximately where you were on the course.
6 – Above Average

Warm-Up
One of the features of the race. A continuous “rolling” warm-up where you could join in whenever you wanted and do as much or as little as you like. Very thorough and well organised with a couple of people from a local bootcamp running it. This sets the standard for warm-ups.
9 – Excellent

Variety of obstacles
Plenty of obstacles but not the greatest variety. Lots of climbing over things and crawling through things. It did however have a water slide into the lake and it never felt repetitive or unimaginative.
7 - Good

Obstacle/Run mix
My kind of race, no hills. Loads of obstacles (25) in the first 5km with no real long running sections. The running sections that were there came in the middle of the race and you felt like it was nice to get your legs stretched for a bit. A couple of the later obstacles had 15-20 minute queues which might have been fixed with a slight re-route but sometimes these things can’t be helped
8 – Very Good 

Terrain
Really good use of the woods and the lake. Plus the big “feature” obstacle (the water slide) was two minutes wander from the main event village. The terrain was well used to create natural obstacles and this was supplemented well with man-made ones where needed. Also, NO HILLS!!
8 – Very Good

Post-Race
Another very nice medal and a very distinctive technical T-Shirt (which you actually got at registration). There was a decent goody bag with recovery drinks and sweets and a good photo opportunity with the Reaper himself.
7 – Good

Difficulty
Probably one of the easiest races for me, mainly due to the lack of hills and the minimal long running sections. Took me about 1h45m to do the race but a good 30m of that was additional waiting on top of what you would normally factor in. None of these races are easy but I didn’t really struggle at any point on this one so it won’t tax the hardcore racers. Though the night version might!
Course: 5 out of 10
Obstacles: 6 out of 10

Overall Thoughts
Really enjoyed this race, the only thing missing was a buddy to race round with. But my fan club cheered me on and the banter with folks on the way around was enjoyable and friendly. I would definitely like to attack the night version of this one sometime and I’d happily do it again with a group. This is a pretty good “first” mud race for someone as it is a decent length, has plenty of obstacles and you get a nice post-race pack when you finish.

Overall Score
75% - Tough to put my finger on why this one is rating the best so far but I just got a really good vibe from it. The early bird prices for next year come in at around £30

A reminder that the scoring goes like this:
90+%                Sell organs and/or children to do this event every single time
80+%                A very good event indeed, try to do this every year
70+%                Will definitely do this again if the timing/cost is right
60+%                Very enjoyable but would probably won’t do again unless cost/time work out and there is nothing else on the calendar

EVENT REVIEWS SO FAR
75%                  Reaper Day Race
70%                  Tough Mudder North West
70%                  Spartan Sprint Yorkshire
65%                  Total Warrior Lake District
60%                  Stockton River Rat Race

Next one up is Manchester Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest on 8th November. I did this one last year (in fact it was my first ever OCR) and managed to injure myself after 2 of the 10km! Really looking forward to attacking this again, will be running with my sister and her friend too which will be fun – a couple of new Mubus for the team!

Till next time,
DT