There are a lot of obstacle events out there branded as "London", most of which are out in the home counties. Rat Race's Survival of the Fittest however couldn't be more London if it tried - based at the gritty Battersea Power Station site.
This weekend had to be one of the biggest ever in the UK obstacle race market with the three of the major players going head to head. We had Survival of the Fittest and Spartan Beast in "London", as well as Tough Mudder up north. As tempted as I was to take part in all three, I decided to stick to the two London events. With the way my legs are feeling right now, I think I made the right decision!
I booked the 10k Survival of the Fittest a long time ago (back when Mudstacle was still just a twinkle in my imagination). I wanted to make sure I got into one of the early waves, as I was intent on smashing the hell out of it. I wouldn't have said I was as prepared as I'd intended all of those months ago, and the addition of Spartan Beast to my weekend had certain thrown a spanner in the works in terms of my dedication to breaking myself. That being said, I was going to go at this whole hog.
Arriving at Survival is a completely unique experience. Generally the obstacle course market has a very rural feel to it. In virtually every other event you'll park up in a field and prepare yourself for runs through woodland, rivers, hills and bogs. Although Survival shares many similarities with those events, parts of it are the polar opposite. After rocking up on a train you walk through the back streets of Battersea and make your way to the gritty, stylistic ruins of the iconic power station. The course is marked out around the main building with crowd barriers and many of the visible obstacles are formed of scaffolding. There's no effort made to disguise the urban waste land - and I love Survival for that. Don't get me wrong, my real passion is trail running and natural terrain, but this is different and refreshing.
Apart from the obvious appearance, the next thing that strikes you when you arrive on sight is the sheer scale of this operation. There's a large events village, with changing areas, registration tents and bag drops, as well as shops, plenty of food wagons and a stage area. I was on site for most of the day and it was always buzzing with people milling around. Every 15 minutes from 9am onwards an MC woulld call in the next wave of Survivors to get warmed up and head towards the start line. A staggering 12,000 people took on the course that day! That is an insane amount of people.
I managed to see the first wave set off. The front pack jostled at the start line like ravenous dogs, you could tell there were some serious competitors here. Their eyes were fixed 50 yards ahead of them at a series of hay bail stacks. As the "GO" was announced they burst into action and hurtled full-on towards the hay bails. It really reminded me of the battle scene in Braveheart, when Mel's army went smashing into the English -these front runners weren't taking any prisoners and they swarmed furiously over the obstacles in a matter of seconds. As the remaining pack made their way less urgently towards the bails, smiling and having fun as they helped each other over, it was apparent that this is another event that suits everyone. Whether you're competitive or not this is a challenge you're going to enjoy. I know what I am though, I'm the super competitive type and in 15 mins time, I was going to launch over myself over those hay bails as fast as my body would allow!
...and that's just what I did! I think I was pretty quick getting over the bails but there were still a fair few people who got out ahead. There were some serious athletes in every wave, it seemed. After a short high paced jog I was faced with two of my biggest obstacle nemeses - monkey bars and a wall. I just about struggled through the monkey bars and the wall was fairly manageable I felt pretty good about getting them out of the way and was happy to face a fair jog on tarmac to start getting myself into a comfortable stride.
Having taken part last year, I knew that Survival of the Fittest was a basically a 10k road runner's race, inter-dispersed with obstacles that completely throw you off of your rhythm and push you towards exhaustion a lot quicker than you expect. So, no matter how good the running felt, I knew I had to conserve a certain amount of energy, as there were some tough times ahead.
The next series of obstacles included running over tyres, climbing over a cargo net, running through a large water filled paddling pool and clambering through a series of over-under walls. Now only a couple of minutes into the race, my heart rate was pumping and I was soaking wet. I may well be running on gravel, but I was fully into my standard race-day zone - with an internal battle between determination and pain in full swing.
After a little more clambering through skips and scaffolding sculptures, the River Thames crossed the path in front of us. Thankfully the race organisers aren't quite crazy enough to send us wading into that, so we took a sharp left into Battersea Park. I knew this is where a good distance of the running would take place and that last year it hosted a few of the most exhausting obstacles - the dreaded inflatables! You might think that inflatables sound fun, but clambering over them is more exhausting than running through sand. However, the course had changed and the park section was actually just a straight run without any obstacles, apart from a steeplechase circuit around a running track (which was awesome).
At the end of the park run we ran along the pavement of a busy road and were stopped by a marshal, who instructed us to wait for a green man before crossing and making our way back into the grounds of the power station.
Continuing Survival's urban feel, our next few obstacles involved crawling through gutted cars and over the top of flat-bed trucks. They weren't particularly challenging but, like many of the other obstacles, they were different and fun, and were great for photo opportunities!
There was one particularly tricky obstacle at this point - a wooden frame with four wooden beams about 6 foot off the ground. When I went through there were marshals instructing us to climb over every beam. There were a lot of people struggling with the challenge - unlike with a wall, your legs don't offer any support as you lift yourself up and over - it was a real upper body and core workout. I really enjoyed the challenge. For a modest looking structure, it was one of the hardest obstacles at the event. When I went back to take pictures of it later on, I was a little disappointed to see that the organisers had given up on the obstacle and had just stuck an arrow on it instructing people to run underneath it.
|After the beam obstacle was sadly abandoned.|
Maybe for the last time ever, the event then detoured into the bowels of the power station. two of the three halls are literally in ruin, so you have to put on a safety helmet before heading in. Being very large of head, that was pretty uncomfortable for me as the chinstrap cut into my neck and made it harder to take on much needed oxygen! The entrance to the first hall, we had to grab a sandbag and carry it the length of the building, over several obstacles. It's always hard to keep up a decent pace when you're carrying something, but I forced myself to continue trotting on rather than breaking into a walk.
The second hall included a few more walls to climb over and a spiders web of string to clamber through, but it's the third hall that really came as the nastiest shock - it housed one of the dreaded inflatables! My stomach sunk as soon as I clocked it. It stretched out in front of me for a good 50 yards. A sprightly marshal encouraged me just to dive straight in through the entrance, so without hesitation I did just that! To be honest, it wasn't as bad as I remembered it. It seemed really well blown up and quite solid, so I quickly scampering through the various holes and inflatable barriers and made my way out the other side only slightly exhausted. That was the first and last inflatable, so although there were more obstacles overall, a couple of inflatables must have made way for the greater good.
From then onwards there was barely 50 yards that went by without facing another obstacle and all of the biggest features were crammed into an exhausting end section. There were a few large scaffold constructions that you would clamber over, before looping back around and squeezing through large tractor tyres underneath them. Most people seemed to step through them relatively easily, but at 6'6", my torso was a little too lengthy and I felt myself making far more of a meal of it!
There were the standard sections of crawling through ice, then mud, then jumping into a freezing pool of water. All good fun! As the day went on, the amount of ice and mud in the pits seemed to deplete. In fact, the mud pic turned more into a water pit, as there was a guy spraying a fire hose over it for most of the day (which in itself was pretty fun!) But, with 12,000 people rolling through over the course of the day, they probably should have topped them up a little more often to ensure that they still stayed a challenge.
Amusingly, at one point you had to pick up a keg and carry it through a section of the beer tent. I passed through long before 10am, so the bar wasn't quite in full swing, but I can imagine that it got pretty funny as the day rolled on!
Another welcome addition were a series of skate ramps to run up and slide down. At first I thought they'd be pretty tricky to get traction on with wet feet, but they weren't too bad at all, as long as you got a decent run-up.
Throughout the whole course I was a little apprehensive about getting to the final obstacle - The Wall of Fame. It's a massive wall, maybe 10ft, and a real challenge to get over. Somehow I found myself confronted with it sooner than I expected. I had just been crawling over and through a cool little vertical wooden maze and, as I popped my head out, there it was.
I really wanted to get over it on my own steam, but I knew that walls are one of my weaknesses... which is kind of odd, considering my height! I ran straight at it, in an attempt to get up it in one swift movement. What I had envisaged and what actually happened couldn't be further from each other... unfortunately I must have looked like a bird flying into a window! My arms connected and my chin reached the top of the wall but at that point I was stuck. In hindsight, I should have planted my feet on the wall to allow myself to pull up with my arms. However, a nice guy pushed one of my legs up and I was away. Although I didn't get the satisfaction of making it up there single-handed, I was really tired and very grateful for the help.
After jumping off the wall, the finish line was only a couple of steps away, and there were a lot of tired faces and collapsed bodies on the other side.
When walking back through to the events village, we were handed a medal and a bag of bits and bods from the sponsors, including Men's Health magazine, a bag of Alpen, some flax seed, a mini Soreen, Bulldog Moisturiser and a bunch of other stuff. On top of the t-shirt you get at the start, you walk away with a fair stack of goodies!
At around 5pm the 10k day-time event turned into the 5k night-time event, which basically included all of the obstacles from the daytime but just didn't detour into Battersea Park. Apparently visibility was poor in places, but it still looked like a lot of fun running the course by floodlight.
All in all Rat Race had put on another cracking day at Survival of the Fittest London. Even with the amount of other events on the market this year, it's amazing to see Survival pulling in larger crowds than ever. These guys clearly have some marketing clout, advertising on the underground and what-not, but there is substance behind their popularity. They have crammed a hell of a lot of obstacles into the course, and as well as having a lot of the classics a lot of effort is made to be innovative with loads of obstacles that you won't see anywhere else.
For me, this is a must attend event and I'm interested to see how it develops in the next few years. With the proposed developments at Battersea Power Station, it's unlikely that the event will take the same shape again. Word on the street is that the event will be moving to the Olympic Village in a couple of years (you heard it heref first!) but it seems that the interim period is hanging in the balance. I'll be sure to keep my ear to the ground and will let y'all know if I hear anything interesting!
Anyways, for more info check out the Men's Health Survival of the Fittest website. If you fancy an all together bigger challenge, I'm super excited to see Rat Race's new addition to the events callendar: Dirty Weekend. More on that soon...