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Get ready for the Red Bull Steeple Chase

by Paul Hayward
Monday 3rd October 2016
Two years ago we asked Ross Macdonald to give us some tips for taking on the Red Bull Steeplechase (here). Next weekend sees the return of this infamous race and we decided to track Ross down, as he is the only man to have tackled the infamous Red Bull Steeplechase every year, to give us some “inside” knowledge on tactics for the event and more importantly what we can expect to see now the event has moved away from the Peak District and is now on Exmoor. 

Red Bull Ross

So, Ross, when you hear the words “Red Bull Steeplechase” what springs to mind?
RM: Ha ha, it would have to be “pain”, “difficult”, “hard terrain”, “brutal climbing” and “tactical”. In particular it has to be “pain”;  it hurts every year and it is a battle to make it through to the first checkpoint, let alone every check point after that through the knockout system (each checkpoint only allows a certain number of runners through). It basically becomes progressively harder and harder, thus more painful, to make the cut at each checkpoint.  
Being a local boy to Exmoor, can you talk us through what to expect terrain wise?
RM: I used to love training and racing on Exmoor as it is a beautiful part of the country, but do not be under any false impression that the change of venue has changed the event or it has lost any of its bite. Whilst it may have moved away from the Peak District - Red Bull has found a perfect substitute in Exmoor with its stunning coastal views but horrendous technical climbs and steep ascents. 
You cannot underestimate this, although there is one section up through Watersmeet which is really stunning and you should be sure to take this in and enjoy it as it is the only real flat section of the whole course. The rest of the terrain is steep up / down gradients, with a lot of technical climbs, some of which will be up steps. In this respect it is very similar to the Peak District. There is also a really tough section called “Valley of the Rocks” which is bound to cause a fair few people some pain, although this section is also pretty stunning. 

Red Bull 1

So what tactics should someone who is taking on the Red Bull Steeple Chase employ?
RM: This really depends on your aim? If your aim is to make it through to the first checkpoint then you can take it hard and go for it. This will mean you will struggle after this point though as the course gets harder. If you are trying to make the finish then you need to make sure you pace it but be mindful of those people around you to ensure that you are not caught out on the wrong side of the checkpoint. 
One good way of keeping abreast of everything is the scoreboards dotted around the course. If you are in 23rd and it is the final 20 through to the last checkpoint, then make sure you are positioned correctly to progress and if need be make that push.  
What are your nutrition tips for the event? 
RM: This is a long 20+ mile race and although there are checkpoints, you need to make sure that you are taking your nutrition on from an early stage and get it in “early doors”. I will be using a combination of Clif Bars and Clif Shot Blocs, so my advice would be “little and often”. I would not risk starting your nutrition later as this race is bound to push you and take a lot of your energy! I have tried a hydration pack before but this can be a nuisance on the ascents and there are aid stations on the course so I won't be running with one this year.
Any thoughts on clothing at all? 
RM: We are in September / October now so given that you will be on the coast there could be some cold, wet and windy weather on the day. A jacket should therefore be in your kit list. The Peak District has had a ground frost when we have raced there but this is really unlikely on Exmoor, especially being so close to the coast, so there shouldn't be a need for gloves. The climbs will warm you up quickly and, if the weather stays as warm as it has been recently, you will not need anything more than a  vest and shorts combo. 
The main point would be to stay warm though and don’t rule out wearing tights or long sleeve tops. I would pack some options and then see on the morning what the weather is like.
We are in the last week of training, any last moment hints or tips?
RM: If I was being sensible I would say bring your mileage right down and start to taper 4 - 5 days before. Look to maybe do some faster runs in the build up but by this stage you should have done your hill training, your strength training and some earlier races to give you an idea of your fitness levels and ability. As I have been injured, I am going for the stupid approach as I attempt to increase my endurance right up to the event.
Finally- tell us what it is like to wear the elusive “last stage hoodies” and is this your last event for the year?
The last stage hoodie (the award for the last 20 or 30 competitors to make the checkpoint to the finish line) is a different colour to everyone else and is a really prestigious thing to have. It is a real achievement and I always aim to finish in the top 20 to have a chance of getting one! 
After this event, I have the World Obstacle Racing Championships in Canada to race at and then we will have to see! Maybe that will be the end of the season for me but I will most likely find several more races to do.
More information about the Red Bull Steeplechase can be found here 

You can keep up with Ross Macdonald through his twitter: @sportyross  and the Facebook British Military Fitness page

Red Bull course


About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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