Last weekend, we attended the inaugural Quicksand event on Margate Beach, and, well, it may have been a beautiful day, but that race wasn’t pretty. It was to be ‘The hardest mile you’ll ever run,’ said Red Bull. ‘Truer words were never spoken,’ said Mudstacle.
I think it’s safe to say that Red Bull Adventure Sports have a handle on quirky twists in otherwise fairly standard race concepts, but this time, they’ve outdone themselves.
When that reassuringly heavy pack of Red Bull thuds through your letterbox, it often signals an exciting jaunt to the countryside to try your hand at orienteering or steeplechasing. This time, it was an invitation to expend 1.6x more energy than normal, ploughing through man-made sandcastles on Margate Beach. I felt a lot of things all at the same time; intrigue, curiosity, excitement, interest, but the feeling that had the edge was fear. Plain old fear. Then I promptly forgot about it until about three days before the race.
I’d been asked to film a promotional video for Red Bull while I was there; perhaps they were under the illusion that I have some kind of running talent. ‘I really don’t,’ I protested. ‘No matter.’ They replied. My lack of sporting prowess left them unperturbed. There was no chance of slinking away quietly.
Arriving in Margate at 7.45, I was greeted by a monster of a set up; JCBs loomed in the distance, having created enormous, steep dunes on the shore. The athlete village was tucked into the centre of a very compact, yet wickedly technical half-mile lap course comprising 10000 tonnes of sand. Ditches and undulating trenches had been dug, and majestic, traditional sandcastles stood atop the ominous dunes, topped with Red Bull flags. It was beautiful. It was terrible. It was awesome.Red Bull is famously a very slick operation, with everyone from production, to crew, to volunteers being unfailingly pleasant. I think there were a few tailbacks with registration in the morning, perhaps creating a little delay in the heats, but I can honestly say that the overwhelming majority of people were in great spirits – the weather also put on a spectacular show, giving this an authentic summer seaside feel.
And so, to the race: I watched the first few heats go out, naturally supporting the mighty Mudstacle Machines contingent, who bounded through to the finals with ease. I tried to swallow my fear as my heat drew near, and my absolute dread when I heard that I would have to run at least once more to get the footage required by Red Bull’s production company for the event. There was a time limit of 20 minutes for each mile-long heat, though few needed it, despite some struggles. I cheered and clapped with the rest of the crowds as they welcomed every single runner (and walker and crawler) over the finish line. That’s the beauty of these events – they are incredibly supportive of all abilities while still celebrating the extraordinary types that go on to win.
Each participant had to run at least twice, as heats were thus: first heat, last chance qualifier, semi-finals and finals. As with many RB events, a percentage qualified for the next round each time, further narrowing the field until only the strongest end up competing for trophies and glory. Some of the runners looked completely unfazed by the gruelling task at hand – others not so, as they crumpled on the finish line, opting to flump onto beanbags and deckchairs rather than continue.
I, Go-Pro strapped to my chest like a pair of reigns for a flighty child, was not about to leap around the course like a startled gazelle; I galumphed around it like a wounded hippo. All I could see was sand. All I could feel was sand. All I could breathe was sand. All I could sand was sand. But still, for all of my sand-based nightmares, I could not hate this event. It was beautiful in its simplicity: taking a modest concept (running), a fun place (the beach) and combining them to create this cruel and competitive spectacle.
I think what makes the undoubtedly brutal events that Red Bull stage so good is the atmosphere that they never fail to create. The festival vibes, the on-point branding and the Red Bull on tap make for a real buzz. Despite having to run that bastard course at LEAST twice, people were still enjoying themselves. I don’t know how they pull it off, but they do – every time.
Quicksand is certainly an event that forces you to feel things – doom, as you nurse your crisped lungs over the finish, and elation when you realise that you got to spend the day with your likeminded friends doing something completely out of the box. As always, Red Bull, you were completely ridiculous and genius at the same time.
The good/bad news is that Quicksand will return. I probably won’t run.
Except I probably will.
[Photos all courtesy of Red Bull]