Did someone say 20 mile obstacle course? 20 miles you say? Yeah why not, 20, nice round number, sounds so simple. 200 obstacles, that’s only 10 per mile, piece of cake.
Flash forward 9 months. We’re 6 miles in to the gruelling course, starting to feel the burn, just spent the last 15 mins swimming, sliding, jumping and climbing through the water section, and someone says we’ve got 14 miles to go, more than a half marathon. It dawns on me that this is going to be one of the toughest challenges I’ve taken part in, and the toughest bit is yet to come. I’ll get to that in a bit….
This was my first Rat Race event. I love the authentic, raw, no frills OCR’s like Nuts and Brutal, the chaos and sheer f*ck-off-ness of Tough Guy, but do you know what, sometimes it’s nice to go to an event where absolutely everything has been thought about and everything runs like clockwork*. I’m not just talking in terms of the 20 mile route, which is incidentally the worlds longest obstacle course without any laps or repetition (that must take some serious planning to keep it interesting all the way around). But the event village, the camping facilities including posh toilets, the car parking**, the showers, and last but not least the after party, had all been meticulously planned, thought out and managed, the whole setup felt more like a small festival than an OCR. In a good way.
The event village reminded me of Tough Mudder, but without having the sponsors rammed down your throat. Both Rat Race and Tough Mudder are clearly well oiled commercial machines. I have no problem with that, it’s great for the growth of OCR in my opinion. The difference is in the participants – no one can wing a 20 mile course, you don’t have groups of newbies with the wrong kit who will walk 95% of it, everyone at the RRDW has to know a bit about what they’re doing. That’s not to say they have to take it too seriously though! One extremely noticeable feature of the event was the main stage and party tent, where a surprising amount of people were ‘going large’ on the Friday night before the race! I’m no Olympic athlete, but that’s off the menu for me the night before a race! Fair play to those guys though.
So in terms of the enormous 20 mile course The obstacles included challenges such as a 20ft water jump and the longest monkey bars in the world, as well as some less intimidating obstacles like the ‘Disco Caravan’ where runners can throw a few quick shapes before moving on, the Blair Witch woods with real life scary people waving chainsaws and boo-ing you from behind the undergrowth, the the adult sized ball pit and the laundrette (you literally climb into a massive washing machine, filled with huge plastic bouncey balls and soap suds). A few more reminders to smile and not to take yourself so seriously!
The real challenge was the sheer length of the course. It took over 6 hours and a lot of blood, sweat and almost tears for the team to get round, but the team stuck at it and crossed the finish line together. A great achievement, even if my knee’s disagreed with me.
…so, that toughest bit that I mentioned earlier, came at mile 15, nearly 4.5 hours in. Knowing there was another 5 miles to go at this point was tough, demoralising even. I could feel the onset of cramp, and my right knee was shot to pieces. But as I flagged others in the team picked up and helped me round, having a team with you over these kind of distances and time scales I think is so important.
As I mentioned this event was great reminder to me of what OCR is all about. Unless you’re in that top 1% of athletes who can smash their way around a course this demanding at full pace (mentioning no names Luke De-Benedictis!), then muddy laughs and camaraderie are just as important, if not more so, than the personal challenge.
After showering in warm showers with cubicles no less, filling up on food and a recovery shake, and a quick rinse down of the iRock’s, it was time to muster every remaining ounce of adrenaline and hit the main stage tent. An enormous bar and loads of bar staff meant booze was flowing steadily, to the sound track of The Hoosiers who were playing live. The party tent was rammed and had a great atmosphere, but the roof went off and everyone seemed to find their second wind when Judge Jules took to the stage and launched an onslaught of old school classics and party tunes. Did I say it felt like a festival? Did we do a run or something earlier?
*everything ran like clockwork, with the exception of the awesome slide just before the finish line. I think we were waiting around 40 minutes to go from the bottom to the top – hundreds of wet, exhausted, and absolutely freezing people were in the same boat. It seemed like there was a queue of people that could just climb a ladder to go down the slide that were merging with the people doing the obstacle properly. Surely you do the obstacle or you don’t? There must be a better way to manage this than making people wait so long at this stage of the race. Gripe no.1 over.
**£10 to park your car in a field when you’ve paid £160 for a ticket is ridiculous. Yes I know Tough Mudder charge £20, and that’s doubly ridiculous. It’s a field! Charge me more for my ticket if you need to cover parking attendant costs, don’t pull that on me at the entrance! Gripe no.2 over.