I have a real soft spot for Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest. It’s one of the events that really cemented my love of obstacle course racing and although the 10km runs are in very urban environments and have very little in the way of mud, they are renowned for having one hell of an obstacle course.
This year there are five Survivals running in the city centres of Cardiff, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Machester and London. Being a seasoned vet of their London course, I thought it was high time I sampled one of their other locations, so this weekend I took a short hop across the Severn to take place in the Cardiff opener. Before I go any further, have a watch of this highlights video (link to youtube if you want to watch in HD):
As you can see from the video, Survival is a busy and vibrant event and has a real buzz from the moment you arrive on site. The organisers, Rat Race, really do have the event village down to a fine art. In excess of 3,500 people appeared to breeze through registration, changing areas, bag drops, toilets, warm up and on to the start line without a hitch.
The start line of Survival always draws a big crowd and with very good reason. Although I would always recommend that organisers put in a fairly long run before the first obstacle to disperse the pack and avoid congestion, Survival’s opening haybale scramble within 100 yards is an awesome start to the race. The fact that it can cause congestion makes the front runners in each wave go at it even harder and it becomes a mad blur of bodies and hay. I was as eager as anyone to blast over them and, although I got over the first two single-stack bales with ease, I fell backwards when I was halfway up the double-stacked. It felt like I had wasted an eternity, as the other runners swarmed around me but, as you can see in the POV footage in the video above, it all happened in a split second.
Unlike most other obstacle races out there, Survival is run almost entirely on roads, paths and pavements. So for this event I dusted off my old pair of road running shoes, which I don’t think I’ve used since last year’s Survival. It felt a little like I was wearing high heels, in comparison to my minimal trail shoes! Running around the streets was fun and, being a lovely sunny Sunday, the streets were filled with happy and supportive passers-by.
Down in the docks.
10km is a funny distance and I often forget how easy it is to come unstuck. It’s relatively short in comparison to a lot of races so I often think that I can blast through it quite hard. But, on the flip side, if you hit it as hard as a 5-7km course, life is going to get very uncomfortable, especially as Survival seem to have a knack of mixing in an energy-draining selection of obstacles. Many times I’ve come to a horrible realisation after 4-5km that I’ve pushed it too hard, meaning that the second half of the race is going to be hell on earth. Yesterday was definitely one of those occasions!
Due to the nature of this Cardiff course and the way that it toured around the city centre, there were fair stretches of running between several obstacle zones, which were mostly situated in greens, parks and open areas and had several challenges closely packed in. Of course there were the classic obstacles - walls, cargo nets, monkey bars, sandbag carries and spiders webs - but it’s the unique urban obstacles that really gives Survival its edge, with tonnes of structures made of scaffolding, plywood and crowd barriers. They’re the kind of thing that Rat Race events do particularly well. It’s often not that comfortable squeezing through tight tunnels or climbing over metal frames, but it’s always challenging and, most importantly, fun!
A real highlight of this Cardiff course was a detour into the Millenium Stadium. I could see it from about a mile away and, being in the second half of the course, I was dreading it. I knew that it would involve running up and down lots of steps and that’s something that I had very little energy left for. When the moment came, it was such a visual treat that I didn’t even think about my tiredness. Running up and down the stands in such an epic stadium was incredible and the excitement actually seemed to recharge my batteries a little.
Something that I always bang on about at Rat Race events are what I like to call the “Inflatables of Doom”. They are basically big long bouncy castles that are like something out of Fun House. They may look like fun but after an exhausting 8km, they will use up every last bit of energy. When I spotted them across the other side of the park, I tried to mentally prepare myself for them. There were two options and the marshal advised that I should go for the one on the right. As I struggled through and looked over to the inflatable on the left, it definitely seemed like I’d taken the wrong path… or maybe the grass is always greener on the other side.
The final stretch of the course fed back through the docks towards the event village. The crowds had built up and there was loads of clapping and shouts of encouragement. As I turned the final corner, the infamous “Wall of Fame” was in site. I had unfinished business with that wall. My wall-climbing skills have improved massively over the last few months and I was determined to make it up the 8ft face alone. I would say it is one of the biggest walls out there without foot-holds and is definitely not to be sniffed at. After helping a companion with a leg-up, I leapt at the wall with everything I had. The guy who I had helped up very kindly grabbed my shoulder… but I like to think I’d have made it up anyway 😀
The only thing that then stood between us and the finish was another classic scaffolding structure and water dip. As usual I stumbled over the line and, just about, managed to stay on my feet. I was very tired but the excitement of finishing kept me standing. As well as walking away with a medal and quality tech t-shirt, I was really surprised and happy to find a whole pack of Lavazza coffee in my goodie bag, in amongst the usual fine selection of energy drinks, protein samples and, of course, a copy of Men’s Health.
I find it hard to find fault in the course. As long as you’re accepting that there will be a lot of tarmac and very little mud, there is a massive amount of fun to be had. In contrast to London, most of the Cardiff course winds on and through public areas and I can see that being a nightmare from a course marking and marshalling point of view. Considering I was early in the first wave I have to say they had done a fine job of keeping us on track. I did face a couple of minor detours, firstly because I followed another runner instead of the course markings (oops) and later because I stupidly took a turn into a blatant dead-end, leading another runner along with me (double-oops!). It wasn’t a biggie though and no real harm was done.
After another great experience I’m still very much a Survival fan and there are still four more events around the country to hit up between now and November. Check out all of the details on www.mhsurvival.co.uk and don’t forget Mudstacle Members get a 15% discount!