Champion by name, Champion by nature



So, here’s my first write-up of an event. I’m not sure how it will turn out and it will be possibly be a little biased as I took part, I was the referee and I’m doing the write up. In hindsight, I should have just gone with the headline “Beard crushes Ninja Warrior entrants”, just for a laugh. Anyway, I’ll do my best to be neutral…

Yesterday saw the inaugural ‘Back Yard Jam: Ninja Edition’. January 2014 saw the first actual Back Yard Jam where Jon Albon won in spectacular fashion beating a very powerful Jason Brunnock and July 2014 saw Jon defend his title by beating and impressive Thomas Blanc, again in spectacular fashion. The ‘Ninja Edition’ was not aimed at the obstacle race community; this was for free runners and Ninja Warrior athletes. If you’ve never heard of either, make yourself a cup of tea and check out and and prepare to watch endless hours of incredible feats of athleticism, talent and out and out bravery.

For those of you that don’t know, the Back Yard Jam is the name of the course in my garden. It’s where I coach people obstacle techniques and once in a while hold a mini race. I say mini race because it’s only about 150m long and is only wide enough for one person to go at a time on a time trial basis.

The competitors
Looking through the entries, I doubt you’ll know any of the names, but as we see Ninja Warrior hit the UK this year, we may well be looking at not only some of the more successful entrants but potentially the winner (Steve Jehu was in the line-up and he won silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in gymnastics). Yesterday was not only a great opportunity for me to understand how these guys tackled obstacles but for them to put all their training into practice in competition conditions before they got there chance to compete at Warrior UK. ITV is bringing the epic Ninja Warrior show to the UK and I for one am hugely excited. As much as I wanted to win yesterday, I also wanted to give these guys a chance to prepare themselves for the show.

The rules were simple, 3 attempts, an 8 minute time limit and failing an obstacle would result in a DNF. If you read about the previous Jams, you’ll know that the score board usually has more DNFs than completed runs, it’s a pretty demoralising place to come and race (I hasten to add that none of my master classes are timed, they are about learning techniques so please don’t let that put you off if you’re thinking of coming to one of them). My gut feel was that these guys would all post times in round 1 and then steadily get faster and take more risks as the day went on but would nerves get the better of them? Would the cold affect them? Obstacle racers are a tough breed who are used to the cold but how would these guys fair?

Round 1
Round one saw all DNFs with Cliff Hanger claiming 4 scalps, Hang Tough took 1 and the clock running out for 2 of them on the caving ladder at the end; Tim Champion saw the clock run over the 8 minute time limit just one second before he rang the finish bell. What did this mean? Was the course that tough? Was the cold affecting them that much? If you look at where these guys were ejected from the course, the majority were at Cliff Hanger, some struggled with the shear physicality of it whilst others made mistakes and slipped off but 2 coming up short on the last obstacle could have been highlighting the difference in the very different types of fitness between what these guys do and what we do. The Back Yard Jam sits in a very unique place in terms of fitness, it’s very hard on those that focus just on running and very hard on those that focus on maximum output of a couple of reps/minutes. Working really hard for 4 – 8 minutes is probably on the anaerobic threshold which is a hard place to hang out. Being able to carry on when your body is screaming is admirable but to be able to be accurate and perform is a whole other level. Inner strength is tested at this point; it’s this is where you really find out who you are.

Round 2
Round 2 saw a real turning point in the day; the temperature had risen, familiarity of the course had been and establish and this lead to 4 successful times being posted. Round 1 was and usually is a baptism of fire. Familiarity of the obstacles goes a long way, one of the reasons Jon Albon is the best in the world (on top of him training harder and more than everyone else) is his familiarity with the obstacles. He’s done so many races and done so many obstacles that he’s able to tackle them with confidence because he’s seen most of them all before and this goes such a long way. Aslan Steel (street gym athlete and Ninja Warrior course tester Sweden and Turkey) put in a solid 6m49s, Steve Jehu (free runner and winner of the silver in gymnastic at the 2010 Commonwealth games) took off over a minute with 5m44s and Tim Champion (gymnast and free runner) was the first to go sub 5minutes by a second.

We stopped to warm up by the fire and take on some liquids. You could feel the confidence surging and everyone was now more a lot more relaxed. This meant round 3 was going to be really exciting and although I didn’t see a new course record happening today, I did feel we were going to see some much faster times. Part of me questioned how their fitness would hold up but there was a bigger part of me thinking a win was in the offing for The Beard. I took myself off to the exercise bike and warmed up. As I turned the pedal and started to visualise the course I caught myself thinking about taking the title and had to work hard at focusing on the present. If you’ve read my recent blog articles you’ll know that I believe that being in the present and giving 100% are fundamental to success. These guys were clearly fitter than me and very good at what they do but this is my course and I genuinely believe I’m much more efficient on the obstacles – I’m not saying better, just more efficient. As my job as an obstacle technique coach, I need to teach people to use what they’ve got, there is no value in me telling people to go away and get stronger, I need to be able to teach them how to get over with the strength/ability they have there and then so I teach them every trick in the book to and number one is efficiency. Whilst on the course I use a lot of psychological techniques and do as little as possible to get over the obstacles – it may sound lazy but look at the best hurdlers in the world; they clear the hurdle with as little distance between them and the hurdle as possible because it’s quicker. There is no point clearing them by miles.

The Beard’s run
The clock starts and I make and absolute meal of the rope climb, I missed the rope with my legs twice but I manage to keep focused and put it behind me straight away. Hangover wall – done, parallel bars – done, monkey bars – done, scaff pipe – not great, I spat too much into my hands and slipped at first but kept calm and pushed on, balance beam – I took a couple of moments to get the mud off the bottom of my Talons and then moved reasonably well across it, cliff hanger – no mistakes but felt heavy, rope traverse – tidy and used the time to suck in some air (I sound like a steam train but I’m feeding an oxygen starved body and brain so I don’t care how I sound), k-snake – clean with a good leap onto the scramble net, screwball scramble – good climb and slightly ragged jump but didn’t get snagged, ring flip – done, hang tough – two swings and across cleanly, pikes peak – done; 4ft wall, 5ft wall, 6ft wall and 10ft wall – blowing hard again but all done well, ccaving ladder – got into rhythm quickly and accelerated to the bell. I felt it wasn’t my fastest run by a long shot but thought – no hoped, it was fast enough. 5m 10s. Drat. Second place…

Aslan on hang tough Beard on rope climb beard on screwball Ben leaping Shane leaping Steve on cliff hanger Steve on monkey bars Tim hand stand Tim on 10ft wall Tim on parallel bars

Round 3
Hang Tough claimed another 2 scalps and Cliff Hanger it’s 7th of the day really proving to be Tom Taylor’s nemesis. Steve Jehu was up next and he was his same relaxed, jokey self that we had gotten to know during the day but when he questioned if he could take off over a minute and three quarters off his time to win, I wasn’t expecting what happened next. He absolutely blasted his way round, flowing and looking very positive. Everyone could feel we had a race on our hands and that Tim’s 4m59 was seriously under threat but to see him beat it by almost three quarters of a minute and post a 4m16s was epic.

So, would Tim Champion live up to his name? Would Champion be the Champion? He too had taken himself off the warm up bike, I suspect more to sort his head than anything else and yet he too seemed pretty relaxed before his run and all we could do was wait. The clock started and off he went, like a greyhound out of the trap. The obstacles passed as did the seconds on the clock, I don’t think anybody knew how fast his time was till he rang the bell and as Tim looked down we all looked to the time keeper who simply look up smiled. What did this wry smile mean? What was the time? Was it faster? He answered with 4m14. Was this faster? Yes, by 2 seconds!

So another Jam and another fantastic battle. We’ll hopefully see Tim take on Jon and Thomas in the summer as we have another Jam (for the obstacle racers). There is already talk about doing another Ninja Edition but with a different set of rules. Why? Because what these guys can do when there are no rules will blow your mind! Post-race we spent about an hour watching them ‘play’ on the obstacles and I can’t wait to share the footage. To give you a flavour, during the playing around, instead of climbing up and over each of the walls as per the race rules, they simply jumped from one the other. Doesn’t sound that hard? Try balancing on a 4 foot wall what is only 2 inches thick and then leaping to a 5 foot wall then to a 6 foot wall and then a 10 foot wall, all of which are a least 7 foot apart and one of them managing to incorporate a black flip off the 10ft wall.

Great result, great bunch of guys and a great day.

We’ll get the highlights video over to you as soon as we can.

Attempt 1 Attempt 2 Attempt 3 Best time
Name Specialist area Time (mins) Time (mins) Time (mins) Time (mins)
Tim Champion Free runner and gymnast DNF 4.59 4.14 4.14
Steve Jehu Free runner and gymnast DNF 5.44 4.16 4.16
The Beard Obstacle coach - 5.10 - 5.10
Aslan Steel Ninja Warrior course tester DNF 6.49 - 6.49
Shane Griffin Free runner DNF DNF DNF DNF
Ben Silva-Jones Ninja Warrior course tester DNF DNF DNF DNF
James Voaden Obstacle racer and camera man DNF - DNF DNF
Tom Taylor Free runner DNF DNF DNF DNF

chilling by the fire Team attempt on the slack line Team on beam Tim through the ring

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