As Co-owner of the OCR community’s favourite hangout, The Camp at Mike’s Gym in Marbella, training and racing with Europe’s leading OCR athletes is all in a day’s work for Sorrel Lewis. When she’s not putting athletes through their paces or racing them through the notoriously tough course, she’s flipping tyres and raising atlas stones in the dedicated combat area. Phew!
For an insider peek behind the scenes, I persuaded the OCR athlete and trainer (who has competed in everything from Europe’s Toughest Mudder to the OCR World Championship) to share a typical day in her life.
I went to the White Hall Outdoor Education Centre in the Peak District as a kid and decided there and then that our guide had the best job in the world, and that’s what I wanted to do. However, life got in the way, I had a baby at 18, married at 21 and then we moved to Spain when I got pregnant again. When we divorced eight years later, I set up a little rentals business to keep trouble from the door and I worked out three times a week at the local athletics club with the girls, as well as being a part of a capoeira club in Fuengirola.
I used to send my rental clients up to Mike’s Gym all the time, but I didn’t really know what it what it was all about until I met Garth. He was bugging me to come up here, and said I’d love it. He wasn’t wrong. From the first session I was hooked. I also thought I was in pretty good shape until I came to one of Mike’s classes!
My first OCR race outside of Mike’s Gym was exactly two years ago – Tarifa Warrior race 2016. It was 14km and we entered as a bit of fun – I got 9th place or something like that and it nearly killed me. I’d been going to Mike’s for about six months. The following year I entered and won… and had a smile on my face the whole way around!
Then, in 2017, Mike was looking to steer the gym towards OCR and asked me and to race under Mike’s Gym as a sponsored OCR athlete, representing him and the brand at races. It didn’t take much thinking about! It all started from there, really.
Morning: School drop-off and breakfast
We live in El faro – A 10 minute drive from the gym. I have three daughters, two are mine from a previous marriage, and one step-daughter with Garth who we split the time with her mother 50%. Two of my daughters, Ellie (18) and Ashley (13), have qualified for the OCRWC (the OCR World Championship) and it won’t be long before Lily May (7) joins them on the podium.
I hope to race this year’s OCR World Champs team event with both my daughters, but I’m still awaiting permission from the big man as he wants me in the Mike’s Gym OCR squad team. Still trying to get around him in this one, so watch this space!
Generally, the first thing I do in a morning is get Ash and Lil ready and out of the door for school. I drop off Ashes at 8:15 and I’m at the gym for 8:30am. Garth takes the 7am class, so he´ll finish the class, then take Lil into school for 9am.
During the winter when I’m allowed to take part in the classes, we both go in at 7am to train and the kids get ready and showered at the gym. Mike makes my breakfast – the same every day: porridge pot with overnight oats, coconut milk and fresh berries. If he’s in a good mood, we get a bit of his homemade peanut butter in there too!
Weights, flipping tyres and the strongman zone
When the OCR season kicks in (like now!) my training gets more specific – mainly running, rig work and climbing. I love rig work and climbing… not so much the running! For me, my favourite time of the year is winter because I get to work on strength and train how I like; this tends to involve all the classes, including boxing, CrossFit and circuits, with a large percentage spent down in the combat zone. That’s where I’m most at home – flipping tyres and lifting stones! During training I’ll lift the men’s RX so that when it comes to race day, I fly through the women’s weights with ease.
Mike and Garth basically tell me what to do with my training – the only time I do as I’m told! I need that; I‘m always so busy with work and training other people that I like not to have to think about what to do with my own training.
In season, I train a minimum of 6 days a week at different intensities and step it up to twice a day a couple of times a week during my peak weeks. Every fourth week I have an ‘easy’ week.
Obviously my job is super active, too. As well as my regular PT clients, I take the OCR classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as the kids’ classes twice a week. Mike, Garth and I share the course inductions, which can take anything from 1.5 to 3.5 hours out on the course. Sometimes, I can have 3 inductions a day. Those days I find it super-hard to get my own training in. The same goes for when we run a training Camp – we’ll be in the gym at 7am and sometimes won’t leave until 9-10pm.
Our camps have three training sessions a day, varying from combat zone sessions to trail running, beach and kayak sessions, technique workshops and gym mash-ups. I then edit all the photos and videos and get them posted on social media for the athletes to share.
I do all the social media for both Mike’s Gym and The Camp. I love this part of my job. I love what we do here, so it’s easy when you’re in amongst it to capture all the cool things that go on. Sometimes this can be very time consuming but the feedback we get from it amazing so it makes the hard work worthwhile!
Elite OCR athletes and The Camp
What separates Mike’s Gym from other races is the combat zone – the strongman section of the course. Our whole course is less than 5km yet only a handful of the top boys have broken the hour mark. My fastest lap of the new course is 105.52, which I just set at The Assault Race April 2018. I had a bit of pressure this year as the Spanish national OCR champion, Lorena Gonzales, was racing. I thought she would be faster than me on the first two sections but that if I didn’t let her get too far in front, I’d be able to catch her on the combat zone. Most people tend to go out too quick in the top section then burn out by the time they hit it, but as it turned out I took first place pretty early on and got there in front. She kept the pressure on though. It was a close call, but during the strength section I got further and further away, eventually finishing 5-minutes in front.
I had the home advantage this time. Our next race is the Summer Slaughter with an additional 5km of trail, so it will be interesting to see if that evens the playing field.
The Camps we run here are open all year around. We do three annual ‘special offer’ Camps that are directly linked to (and include entry into) our own OCR World Championship qualifying races. These are by far the best Camps we run, with elite OCR athletes as guest trainers and a big BBQ and after-party finale after the race itself.
The course is always changing so we’re forever having to set new lap times. It keeps us on our toes though! You never know what’s coming next. This is a labour of love for Mike and for all of us here at Mike’s Gym, and it shows, not only in the set-up, but in the classes, the kids’ clubs, the Camps and in the team. It’s a way of life and we love it!
Last year, elite OCR athlete Karin Karlsson (my absolute girl crush) took the record for the girls on the lap. She beat me by 20 seconds! I wouldn’t come close to her on a Toughest™ race though! I love training with Karin, she is one of many phenomenal athletes that I get the privilege of training with. Fanny Josefine is another of my favourites – when she’s around we’re always up to some mischief, usually for one of her crazy videos.
Eating and socialising
Garth is super-organised and does a lot of the food prep for our weekly meals when there are no camps in. I’m very lucky that way. During training camps, we’ll eat the same as the rest of the camp as meals are cooked on site by Adri’s Kitchen, which makes life very easy. My favourite is her chicken paella – the best on the coast!
The Mike’s Gym family, AKA myself, Garth, Mike, Keely and the kids, try to get out for a meal once a week for our cheat meal where I’ll share a bottle of red with Mike. I look forward to that every week.
Epic races – and more to come
Mike’s 24-hour Race was one of my favourite ever races. The first year, it was a team event and was easily the hardest thing I’d ever done. Myself, Garth and Gary were up against a team of Marines! Every lap was race pace and we completed 28 laps, 11 of those I did myself. We won with a lap in hand. I have never been so broken at the end of any race as I was then! The following year there was an individual category. It started at 12 noon, and from 6pm to midnight every lap finished with the pool rig.
The lane you took across the pool rig was determined by the number you threw on a dice. From midnight to 6am the pool rig was closed and Mike’s Night Games commenced. Each lap finished with a new game, from chopping a log in half to basketball hoops and archery. All with evil penalties for failure. It really spiced things up and kept the brain busy. On the final lap, all of the OCR kids from Kids’ Club came down and ran with us… it really lifted moral and brings a tear to my eye even now when I think about it. 24 hours is a long time and you go into some very dark places but the sense of camaraderie and achievement is overwhelming. Such an amazing atmosphere.
I can’t wait to see what new evils Mike dreams up for us this year!