Total Warrior: Clare Smith’s endurance battle

Kieron Ross puts Clare Smith through her paces on the slopes of Arthur's Seat as she prepares for three months of training ahead of the Total Warrior event in North Berwick. Picture: Scott Taylor
Kieron Ross puts Clare Smith through her paces on the slopes of Arthur's Seat as she prepares for three months of training ahead of the Total Warrior event in North Berwick. Picture: Scott Taylor
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Clare Smith is venturing where other 40-somethings might fear to tread – a gruelling Total Warrior endurance race – and the News will be with her every burpee, lunge and plank of the way

Twenty-something. The age when your body does what it’s told, work is demanding but not all-consuming and the quest for new experiences (shared on social media) defines you.

And Total Warrior fits the bill perfectly. The website is an advert for six-packs of muscle, white teeth and sweatbands – health, youth and vitality. These guys, and they are mostly guys, have shunned conventional 10k road runs or half marathons and are seeking out mud, water, fire and ice to make them feel truly alive.

Some reportedly do these challenges to face their fears – water, confined spaces – and to push themselves to new limits. Others because there’s beer and the promise of meeting new, like-minded people at the after-show party.

This sort of stuff has never appealed to me. Well, I’m not unfamiliar with after-show parties. But I am definitely more high heels and Chablis than headbands and pints.

Like many of us, I’ve run the odd 5k/10k for charity along the way, but never further than that and never in any sort of “time”. Friends run ultra-marathons and evangelise about the euphoria running gives them. I watched my husband train for and run the New York marathon – it looked painful and was another pressure on a time-poor life stage. Rewarding and amazing on the day, raising thousands pounds, but enjoyable? Nope. I don’t get it. I jog only in an attempt to get fitter, to shed a few pounds. And every time it’s a slog.

So how did I get from ‘As if! This is so not for me . . .’ to the pictures on these pages?

Honestly, I’m still not quite sure. Sometimes its best not to over-think things.

I’m 41. I’m slightly chubby, have a demanding job I love and two years ago was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the amazing team at the Western I’m completely cancer-free. I’m still suffering from the effects of the incredible miracle-working surgery and the long tail of the chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Plus there are new challenges thrown up almost daily as I manage the strange and various side-effects of Tamoxifen. So plenty of reason just to bumble along, continuing with my bi-weekly 5k meander and sociable tennis games.

Equally, there’s plenty of reason to celebrate life, to take my wobbly bits by the handles and make the best of this re-boot of health. Perhaps I might inspire others to join in and reclaim some of this warrior territory for 40-somethings everywhere.

If I can do Total Warrior, anyone can.

So here I am. Half-way up Arthur’s Seat. It’s day one of Warrior in Training. Kieron Ross, trainer at Race Fitness, is putting me through my initial paces. David Gaffney, Total Warrior’s Edinburgh event director, has been roped in for moral support.

If my positive “how hard can it be” attitude was ever going to be shaken, it was at the start, when even the photographer smiled sympathetically and asked if I’d done this kind of thing before. As I (attempt) to sprint up steps, do press-ups and use a bench to “tricep dip”, I manage to pant a searching question: “Kieron, seriously, will I be able to do this?” His reply? An emphatic yes.

Buoyed by his confidence in me, however misplaced, I continue to burpee, lunge and plank whilst the city looks world-class below.

But you know what? I almost enjoyed it. It was so much better than being in the gym. Fresh air, great views and yes, the pitying looks from tourists made me all the more determined to keep going.

“How hard can it be?” is an over-used phrase in my vocabulary. Roughly translated it means: “Let’s just get stuck in, we’ll figure it out on the hoof.” Anything from fitting a sink in the downstairs loo to delivering a marketing campaign in a nail-bitingly short timescale.

A positive attitude focused on a deadline has served me well so far in life. I remember crossing off the chemotherapy sessions on my calendar, with my eye on the prize of having eye-lashes grow back. Getting out of bed every day and going to work through that year taught me a lot about myself, my determination and what motivates me. People said I was brave. I think I just didn’t want to stop and think about the enormity of what was happening to me.

But this will be different. I can’t simply google “how to run 12 kilometres, peppered with army-style obstacles” and become competent at this overnight. It’s going to take hard graft. Blood, sweat, tears are all on the menu, chips are not.

The plan is to use the city and surrounding Lothians as our gym. No need for expensive memberships – in fact , Kieron is an advocate of training outdoors on uneven terrain, using steps, street furniture and Edinburgh’s under appreciated seven hills as our playground. Whatever the weather, I hasten to add.

Total Warrior bills itself as ‘the pinnacle of obstacle racing – the ultimate test of strength, stamina, mental determination and team work’.

Nervous? Understatement. Determined? Hell yeah.

I’m going to train at least once a week under the watchful eye of Kieron. His boot camp-style approach should suit my gnat’s attention span well. I’ll have my own homework to do too, so if you see me slog-jogging around town, give me a wave.

I’ve got three months. Who’s with me?

• Total Warrior takes place in North Berwick on September 12/13. For more information go to totalwarrior.co.uk/edinburgh

‘All you need is a comfortable pair of trainers and the willpower to get started’

By Kieron Ross

I HAVE been involved in the fitness and adventure sports industry for the past 20 years. That experience has helped shape my own fitness philosophy. I am a firm believer that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential but also very achievable for people. However, with so many products and opinions out there it can be confusing to know what works and what doesn’t.

My personal belief is that getting fit doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. By choosing the simplest method, there is far more chance you will be able to develop and sustain a routine for the long term. Here are my top four tips for getting fit:

1. Pick a goal. It can be anything from a personal weight loss target to a running race. By choosing to work towards a specific target with a specific time frame you are focusing your mind to the task. The sense of achievement you’ll get from completing what you set out to do is huge and will spur you on to set new goals.

2. Exercise outdoors. The benefits of training outdoors in the fresh air is immense. Forget about the weather. As long as you are wearing the right clothing you can do everything whether it’s chucking it down or baking hot. Edinburgh is an amazing city for outdoor fitness. The sheer variety of parks, trails and hills is fantastic, and it’s all free!

3. Keep it simple. You don’t need to join a gym or buy expensive equipment to get fit. Most of my classes use only bodyweight exercise combined with jogging/running to keep the heart rate in the training zone. Certain equipment is helpful to add variety but really all you need is a comfortable pair of trainers and the willpower to get started.

4. Train with others. Exercising with a friend or in small groups is far more enjoyable than exercising by yourself and having fun is essential if you’re going to stick to our goals. Physical exercise can easily become an integral part of your lifestyle, but the trick is to do it gradually and most importantly, to start now.

• Kieron Ross is former army physical training instructor in the Paras. He founded Race Fitness Limited last month

Accept the challenge

By David Gaffney

THIS summer, 20,000 people will grimace and grin their way through the extreme physical and mental challenges posed by a Total Warrior event. For the uninitiated, Total Warrior is a 12km obstacle race featuring water, monkey bars, ropes, walls, cargo nets, climbs, crawls, tunnels, fire, ice, a huge waterslide, and copious amounts of thick, energy-sapping mud. You may be surprised to hear that it’s also a lot of people’s idea of fun.

For the first time this year, Scots won’t need to cross the border in search of a Total Warrior experience because the event is coming to East Lothian this September. Thousands of thrill-seekers will descend upon North Berwick to test themselves against 30 punishing obstacles on the rugged farmland of Balgone Estate.

“Bampots”, I hear you say. Maybe so, but the bampots are increasing in number each year, with obstacle course racing thought to be one of the fastest growing participation sports in the world. It’s estimated that around 250,000 people entered an obstacle race of some description in the UK last year. That’s despite most events requiring entrants to sign “death waivers” confirming they understand the dangers involved and want to do it anyway, thank you very much.

It seems 5km fun runs just aren’t cutting the mustard for some people any more. But this phenomenon isn’t limited to the male 20-somethings you might expect would be the typical audience. In fact, the profile of our participants has changed considerably since 2011, when three-quarters of entrants were men. Last year, of the 13,000 people who took part in Total Warrior events, more than 45 per cent were female and 40 per cent were over 35 years old.

In many ways, the beauty of Total Warrior is that people with varying abilities and fitness levels can set their own personal challenge within the event. Timing chips are provided, so participants can target a specific finishing time or simply set out to record a faster time than a friend or rival.

For some people, the challenge will be to make it across the monkey bars without falling in the water. For others, it is to take home our coveted Best Fancy Dress prize.

For some, the challenge is to lose weight while doing something way out of their comfort zone. For others, it’s to bulk up and increase upper-body strength.

For many, the motivation is to raise money for a cause close to their hearts and we are proud to work in partnership with several charities – including Prostate Cancer UK and Wooden Spoon – and prouder still of our participants who raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities each year.

For most people, however, the personal challenge is quite simply to cross the finishing line and earn their free beer.

Regardless of which category they fall into, all Total Warrior participants have one motivation in common – to have fun. Which makes for a brilliant atmosphere before, during, and after the race.

Around 80 per cent of our participants enter as part of a team, but regardless of whether you choose to run alone or with friends, you’ll find the camaraderie between fellow Warriors out on the course one of the most uplifting and rewarding elements of the whole experience. Indeed, many competitors stick around long after the final person crosses the finishing line to share their experiences over a drink at the post-event party.

And what a place to drink in the atmosphere. The locations we choose to host our events are every bit as important as the obstacle courses we build and Balgone is a hidden gem – an amazing location with stunning views of North Berwick Law and the Firth of Forth beyond. The site combines rugged, open farmland, a 20m-high crag (Balgone Heughs), two lakes, and hundreds of acres of mixed woodland. So what are you waiting for? Join Clare in accepting the Total Warrior challenge today.