There has been much discussion about the events at Monster Race at Escot Park this last Saturday, which resulted in the closure of the event, liquidation of the company and subsequent fallout online. I have had some time to think over the day and this is my take on how it unfolded…
An alarm blaring at 5am is not my favourite way to start the day but it does usually mean I’m off to do something fun. This day was no different, half zombified and grabbing coffee as I herded Amie along with a cold and grumpy boy to the car. Just as we set off on the 3-hour trip to Monster Race Devon, snow began to fall - fortunately the journey was easy and the conditions did not worsen on the roads.
Approaching the venue I started to recognise parts of the scenery, only when turning in to the park did it finally click: Escot Park is where the once excellent Rock Solid used put on their great events. It’s a fantastic site with some really great terrain for a savvy RD to make use of, so despite the cold I was excited to see what Monster had in store.
Registration and parking were painless and smooth as you would expect, but while I was getting ready, the already challenging conditions took on a more extreme nature; snow started to fall more heavily and the wind was whipping it into your face adding to the biting nature of the chill. People in the start pen were already discussing whether they should avoid water on the course for safety. Having been warmed up by Stu Amory before entering the Monster start area (by crawling under a tyre mangle) we were then left waiting for a bit longer than expected. Runners were beginning to shiver as we waited for our entire wave to file into the pen, I can’t say for sure, but I think this was caused by people trying to run an earlier wave than they were registered for. This inevitably led to overcrowding and bottlenecks on course.
Once the race was underway we were treated to the fantastic trails that Escot is known for and the classic wooden obstacles that are Monster’s speciality. The weather wouldn’t relent though; the temperature had dropped by more than 6 degrees from my initial arrival. This, coupled with strong winds and an abundance of water on course, was causing issues as early as 2 miles into the race, with Natasha Mansell deciding that discretion is the better part of valour and bowing out of the race. She has suffered with hypothermia before, and could no longer feel her hands.
My hands were in the same place; I could see my fingers moving but couldn’t tell that I was the one doing it. Other runners, some possibly enjoying their first OCR, were not faring well. Some poor kit choices (I saw a lot of cotton shirts out there) increased the effects of the water and wind and left people at risk of hypothermia. On lap 2, the overcrowded first wave combined with those set off in subsequent waves, creating bottlenecks at a number of obstacles and in water. I made it round 2 laps of the course and did enjoy the event, which I thought made good use of the terrain and obstacles at hand, but bypassing some of the water might have been a wise choice in hindsight.
I see that some have questioned whether the event should have gone ahead at all. But, given the forecast and predicted temperatures I think Monster was right to press ahead - they could not have predicted the combination of circumstances that were coming.
When I finished, the first thing on my mind was getting into my Dryrobe and out of my wet clothes. I tracked down a shivering Dan Eyre who had taken his first win for the Mudstacle Machines, now being looked after by Natasha and Amie in the medical tent along with a few other poor souls. The medics were looking after people suffering with the cold superbly but were becoming overwhelmed with the number of people teetering on the edge of hypothermia. They were short-handed due to a severe medical emergency involving a spectator out on the course, which led to the air ambulance being called in. Thankfully the quick actions of the marshal nearby and the medical crew saved his life and he is recovering well.
With conditions not improving, a medical emergency and a stretched medical team, the race director made the difficult call to cancel the rest of the planned waves and get all runners on course back to the event village as soon as possible. This must have been an agonising decision to make; but they put the safety and wellbeing of their runners and marshals first - which should be applauded. Had this combination of circumstances not occurred it might have been possible to delay waves to see if the weather improved, but all things considered, you cannot fault Monster for their decision.
It was a difficult situation, but one handled quickly and efficiently once the choice had been made. Runners were shown the quickest route to the event village and the available medics looked after those suffering the effects of the cold superbly. Staff also helped to get everyone out of the car park smoothly despite the unplanned mass exodus, which could have been a long and frustrating experience.
I have always been a fan of Monster Race, they have been a solid, reliable race organiser providing well thought out courses with sturdy obstacles, an inclusive welcoming atmosphere and lively event village. The first time I met Pete was at Monster Malmesbury 2014 (look where that got me). I have returned many times since and am sad I won’t be able to do so again.
I am sure you have now heard that Monster Race is no more and is entering liquidation. The fact that it was such a good race brand makes this all the more saddening. I know many online are angry and frustrated with Monster because they have potentially lost their entry fee, and while I understand that losing money is annoying, the accusations of dishonesty and lack of due diligence being levelled at Monster are unfair. Most races operate on fine margins that fund subsequent events, so a cancellation can have a devastating effect on the future of a brand. With over 1000 runners not able to start or unable to finish, Monster was left in a position where they did not have the money available to issue that number of refunds. That many deferrals (usually offered as a goodwill gesture) would also have left them without the required revenue to stage another event.
If we do hear anything on how this issue is progressing, we will keep you updated. But for now, it seems we have lost another great race that was a huge part of the UK calendar. But for the 5 years of mud, fun and awesome medals, Monster, I thank you.Photographs all courtesy of Epic Action Imagery.