My ears pricked up as soon as I heard about Rat Race's upcoming Dirty Weekend - when the organisers of the UK's most popular obstacle course series announce that they're building the "World biggest obstacle course" it's safe to say that there are special times ahead!

Mud at Rat Race Dirty Weekend

Rat Race are the organisers of the Survival of the Fittest series, as well as a stack of other adventure races. They are true innovators in this fast-growing industry and they have proved that they can keep a MASSIVE amount of participants satisfied with a slicker than slick operation.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rat Race's Marketing Manager (pictured above) at the London Survival of the Fittest. As well as being hotter than the sun, what she had to say got me even more excited about Rat Race's new development. The more I hear, the more I think this could be the stand out event of 2013! Like most other mud and obstacle fans, I'm thirsty for more info, so I've been lucky enough to interview the man behind the magic, Rat Race MD Jim Mee.

How long have you been organising events at Rat Race and at what point did you start incorporating obstacles?
The company was founded in 2004 with an urban adventure race event called “The Rat Race.” It was held in Edinburgh for 300 people and was filmed for Channel 4. Since then we have grown into the UK’s largest provider of adventure events and this year will cater to some 60 000 participants. We got into obstacle-based races with the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest events which started in Nottingham in 2008 and remain unique in that they are urban-based obstacle propositions.

Crowd at Survival of the fittest battersea
Survival of the Fittest London

I’m a big fan of Survival of the Fittest, mostly for its innovation. As you know, I run a lot of races and see a lot of the same kinds of obstacles, so it’s refreshing to see what you come up with. How do you guys develop your ideas and bring the obstacles to life?
We use different construction techniques to many event providers and our method is slightly different too, due to our urban event heritage. The evolution of our Survival obstacles has come about from deploying highly complex courses very quickly and pulling them in even quicker, in city centre environments. (As there is only so long you can leave apparatus standing in cities before items become impromptu kids’ playgrounds/ hazards/ toilets). Survival courses are deployed over 48 hours and de-rigged within 12, as compared to most major obstacle races which take many days and often weeks. This speed of deployment has led us to incorporate many different types of equipment and construction styles. If we can build what we build for Survival in 48 hours, just imagine what we will build for Dirty Weekend in the month we will be on-site at Burghley House.

How did you come to the decision that you wanted to build the World’s Biggest Obstacle course?
Because no-one has built it yet. There are many races that focus on mud, and of course ours will have plenty of that. But we wanted the obstacles to be the stars of the show here so we have gone for the presentation of this event as more assault course than mud run.

Rat race start line

There are a lot of obstacle events out there claiming to be “The Toughest”, are you aiming to take the crown with Dirty Weekend?
Probably. But these things are subjective of course and we aren’t going to get into the onions on saying “our Dad is better than your Dad.” We’re just going to build the World’s biggest assault course for people to test themselves on. And they can judge.

Do you ever worry that this is going to be too tough? Do you think it would be a problem if a lot of people don’t make it around? 
The event should definitely not be underestimated. In our planning, we looked closely at distance as well as content and the 20 mile distance was settled upon to ensure there was a degree of attainability as well as a serious badge of honour. It’s still 20 miles, which is a good long run in its own right. But we have designed it to be attainable and even if folk take all day to get around, that’s okay. We want a high rate of achievement and Rat Race prides itself in its events delivering on that. Our recent Wall Ultra Run (69 miles across Hadrian’s Wall) had 700 participants (making it the UK’s largest Ultra in its first year) and 97% of those who partook completed it, including at least 50% of the field who had never done over marathon distance. We have also put the half-marathon “Half Mucker” in the mix at Dirty Weekend for those who want something with considerable punch, but who aren’t quite up for the Full Mucker.

Rat Race horse jumps

There are 20 zones planned for the course. Will people notice a big difference as they go from one zone to the next?
Yes absolutely. The areas will be amazingly varied. We like to have a bit of fun with these themes and there will be moments of humour (!) thrown in with the punishment. The themes also give people the opportunity to feel like they are progressing through the course by “ticking off” the zones, so it’s a little psychological too. Roughly speaking, we have 20 zones and 20 miles of course so there are some nice round numbers there for participants to deal with mentally as they tackle the course. Although having said that, when they’ve done 3 zones and want to throw in the towel, knowing there are 17 left might not be the best medicine!

It looks like you’re building some permanent / semi permanent structures into the site. That gets me more excited than anything else! Can you leak any details any of the new structures you’ve got in mind?
This is another unique selling point of Dirty Weekend. There are very few events that build in semi-permanent rigs and of course, this does give us the ability to “build ‘em big and build ‘em to last.” We can say that some of the permanent infrastructure will be woodland-based and will ensure people get high up into the trees.

River Rat Race pic

Do you intend to include nasty surprises, like electric shocks?
No. This is built to be the World’s biggest obstacle course; not the nastiest. The test will be physical and mental and as such, we are not featuring electricity or burning straw. There might be the odd water-cannon to contend with; but we aren’t big fans of the electric shocks some events provide and therefore we are steering well clear of them.
Big thumbs up from Mudstacle right there!

The world record zone looks awesome. Are you getting Guinness World Records involved? 
Yes we are talking to Guinness World Records about some specifically record-breaking obstacles. They are enormous!

Massive hay bail tower
You ain't kidding!

There’s a lot of mud in the promotional pics. Is that available naturally on the site, or are you going to be stirring some up yourselves?
A bit of both. One zone in particular will feel like you’re wading through chocolate, but in general, it will have a lot of mud on account of the terrain. This is an arable farming area predominantly, so there might be the odd ploughed field to contend with and a number of marshy and boggy interludes too. There are also 2 distinct water sections, so the opportunity for a quick dip to wash off all that gloop will be available to racers!

So, it looks like the after party might be as epic as the main event. What have you got in mind? 
This is another calling card of a Rat Race event – a monster party. We even have our own beer (Rat Race Blonde – a nice quaffable little four percenter from the Ossett Brewery in Yorkshire). You can expect a large camping village, a main arena with outdoor stage and an enormous beer tent. For us, these events are as much about taking part as they are about enjoying the afterglow with your mates. The Dirty Weekend concept is designed to be a weekend of sport and good times; not just the run itself.

Burghley Estate

How did you decide on Burghley Estate as your venue? 
Burghley approached Rat Race having seen one of our events on TV (the aquatic-themed River Rat Race in Teesside). It was love at first site for Rat Race as the venue is beautiful and the team at Burghley are really on-board with this concept. Burghley is also gifted with having a stack of horse jumps built into the site from its world-famous horse trials, so we even have a bit of a head-start in terms of obstacles!

You must have a massive following from the highly successful Survival Series, as well as your many other adventure and endurance races. Can we expect to see participants from each of the events meeting in a monumental mash-up? Are we looking at the most popular obstacle course in the world, as well as the biggest, or are you limiting attendance this time around? 
It’s certainly true that this event has captured the imagination of Rat Fans from across the spectrum of our events and is very much being seen as a pinnacle event in the genre in terms of the challenge itself. The early sign-up rate has been phenomenal and in year 1, we are planning to restrict numbers, yes. We are currently 50% full. We want to ensure we deliver the best event we can for those who support us and this means ensuring the course is designed with good flow rates and good capacity on the obstacles. The wave system will of course help us with this (Rat Race pioneered this on the Survival events) but there is only so much daylight in May, so numbers will be limited to ensure those who take part have the maximum possible window available to them for finishing.

running on inflatables
The energy-sapping inflatables of doom!

Have you got any tips or advice for anyone looking to take this on? 
Get plenty of running under your belt of course and if you want to practise your Rat Racing (and drinking) there is an ideal series of events in March to whet your whistle (the Notorious Night Runs) which occur nationwide and feature a few obstacles, are held at night and of course feature the obligatory post-event mash up and camping. Above all though, look at your nutrition and drinking on long runs and make sure you have enough in the tank across core body strength as well as in the legs, as this beast will challenge your full frame.

I for one am literally bursting with excitement! Is there anything else you can tell us at this stage to make the prospect even better? 
Check out this fly-through of the Construction Zone – this might get you in the mood. (This is 1 of the 20 zones). Or it might put you off for life!

Thank you so much for your time Jim. I really can't wait to take on the course!

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