There are so many obstacle races in the UK to choose from. From big name, big budget events to the many affordable local races. The experience at both ends of the spectrum can be surprisingly similar in some respects - running around the countryside with a bunch of happy like-minded folk is bound to be fun, whatever the budget. That being said, when organisers do go all-out and invest in some hefty obstacle constructions, it can take that experience to a whole other level.
Nuclear Races have a history in the more affordable/local end of the spectrum. They've always had a good following, partly due to the excellent terrain that they have on their permanent racing site in Essex. However a few months ago the vibe of the Nuclear camp changed. They talked a lot about upping their game, creating new permanent obstacles that would transform their site into an obstacle racing Mecca. Although I'm definitely one to get excited by "talk", it's always nice to see it backed up with "action". Sure enough pictures and videos started to leak their way onto Facebook and, for me, there was no doubt that Nuclear Races were making something very special. Before I ramble on too much, check out our highlights video from this weekend's Nuclear Rush (Onslaught Wave):
There are two hash tags that get peddled around by Nuclear Races, #LOVEMUD and #NUCLEARFAMILLY. The second of which was apparent from very early on in the day. The organisers had set up a great little event village that was soon buzzing with familiar faces from the obstacle racing community, chatting and catching up. Although the first "Onslaught" wave was pitched as competitive, with prize money up for grabs, I was quite happy to take things steady, as were a couple of other people who had also run Dirty Weekend the day before.
Within 100 yards of the start line there was a statement of intent from Nuclear in the form of a huge muddy-banked ditch, filled with knee-deep water. As I clumsily scrambled out the other side I took note of the mud... this may sound very geeky but it was one of my favourite kinds - slippery clay type mud. You don't often see it and I certainly wasn't expecting it here. In the first 100 yards of the course I began to understand why they're so into the #LOVEMUD tag. However, throughout the next 12km, my appreciation went through the roof. Although Nuclear have created a lot of hype about their obstacles, the course had been built on the kind of terrain that would be fun enough without them. This was a classic mud run course, with tonnes of ditches, rivers and banks. Amazingly it seemed to span between mud types - as well as slippery clay mud, there was glupey porridge mud and even stinky sludgy mud. Amazing stuff! Anyway... mud rant over.
Aside from the large-scale obstacle builds, it was really good to see that Nuclear hadn't neglected the smaller stuff. Some organisers forget that obstacles don't always have to be huge. Having a bunch of little fences to jump over and tunnels to climb through can really start to whittle down your energy levels and add to the value of the course.
I chuckled when I saw the first of the most talked-about obstacles coming into view - The Gorilla Bars - which were 120 meters of monkey bars. I'm not very good at monkey bars at the best of times but it was a bit of a non-starter for me with such tired arms from Dirty Weekend the day before. I enjoyed watching RPCC's Richard Pringle and inov-8 OCR's James Appleton power through them though... I felt incredibly jealous and pledge to conquer the monkey bars before the year is out! I'm not the biggest fan of the burpee forfeit concept, so I was very pleased to see that the forfeit for failing the monkey bars was a series of ditches and netting crawls, which were incredibly tiring to get through. They were a truly exhausting punishment and Nuclear should be applauded for putting so much effort into the "alternative" option; I'd love to see more of that.
The next "big news" obstacle was the zip wire. There was a lot of talk before the race about how a zip wire would, or could, work in an obstacle race. You'll have to excuse my low-tech language here, but a lot of us were wondering how you'd get the "slidey thing" back up to the top of the rope in time for the next person. Well, it turns out the slidey things detached from the rope - they just had a huge pile of them ready to go, so that everyone could slide down in procession. There were around 10 wires stretched out across the lake, so they were certainly out to beat the potential congestion. They had by the time I reached the obstacle, but I heard word that there was a fairly large wait later in the day. However, there wasn't a single complaint along with that. I think most people agreed that zipping across a lake was well worth queuing for!
Just when adrenalin levels were at their highest we went straight into the "Death Slide". Unlike most water slides at obstacle races, this had a raised lip at the end of the slope that sent you flying into the air before crashing down into the lake. As I perched on the edge of the slide I was a little intimidated by how steep it was - it felt a bit like sitting on the edge of an Olympic super-pipe (for anyone who's skied or snowboarded). The best thing to do in situations like that is to just go for it before you have the chance to think/worry too much, so the next thing I knew I was floating through the air for what seemed like an eternity as I waited to feel the harsh slap of water on the back of my thighs. I can honestly say it was one of the most fun experiences I've had at an obstacle race... and that really is saying something. I could have easily just gone round and round on that all day, but there was still plenty more fun to be had!
So, those were the three largest obstacles but there were still plenty of significant builds that oddly blended into the rest of the course. I say oddly because at many events, those obstacles would be the main features. Here, they made up the framework of a course that just kept on giving. There was a small section of "Hanging Tough" style rings, a quarter pipe (similar to Tough Mudder's Everest), a pole slide, as well as all of the usual netting, walls and crawls.
As you can tell from what I've written so far, it's hard to fault Nuclear Rush. I always like to give constructive criticism, which can be easier for some events more than others. Nuclear Races are very keen to get feedback and improve going forward, so I'm going to have to scrape down to the depths of nit-picking to find anything vaguely negative to say. After a lot of head-scratching, this is about all I could come up with: 1) There was a rope swing that didn't really work very well, I think it would need to span a larger gap (easily fixable). 2) The ice dunk didn't seem to have much ice in it and you didn't have to dunk your head under (which would make it far more unpleasant, mwah-ha-haaa!). 3) I feel like the course would benefit from a more difficult wall. There were a few walls on course but I'd quite like to see something a little higher, or inverted, or without a foot hold. These points are so unbelievably minor though and even if they were fully ignored by the organisers, this would still be a top-draw event.
Last but by no means least, I come back to a very important element of the #NUCLEARFAMILLY. I always love and respect marshals, as most of them are volunteers and 99.99% of the time they're super friendly. However marshals are only as good as the event company that's briefed them. Mostly, on the rare occasions when you hear people complain about marshals, the fault lies in how the marshals have been briefed by the event organisers. On this occasion, like so many others, the marshals were incredibly friendly, supportive and, most of all, they knew what they were doing. Good job team!
I can't believe I haven't mentioned until this point that Nucear Rush was the first event in the Summer Mudstacle League season. Don't worry though, we'll have loads more news and coverage of that in the coming days... one step at a time, ey!
Find out more about Nuclear Races upcoming events here: www.nuclear-races.co.uk