The chance to compete here came out of the blue via my neighbour Pini: One of his friends had run it the previous year and enjoyed it so much he block-booked 10 tickets for a team entry in the first wave of the race… And as the day of the race drew near, places were needing to be filled so I leapt at the chance when I was asked if I was up for it and there was a window in my diary.
In previous years the race has been held in the grounds of Battersea Power Station, but with that site now finally being developed after 40 odd years of waiting, the venue had been changed to that of Wembley Stadium.
With the woman’s international fixture of England v Germany being played there the following day, the stadium itself was not part of the course, but the event was based in the car-park and surrounding land of the stadium with the iconic Wembley Way also forming part of the course as well.
Leaving from Hook stupidly early in the morning Pini drove four of us there, parking in the stadium’s car park. Enjoying a walk around the stadium - the last time that most of us had been there was the previous May to watch the mighty Shrimpers, Southend United, in the Johnstone Paint Trophy final against Crewe (which they unfortunately lost).
|Competition for parking space was fierce!|
|The star of the day: the stadium backdrop.|
All changed we gathered amongst a sea of almost entirely red shirts and took advantage of the largest number of portaloos I have ever seen gathered in one spot (more than at the Reading Festival when I once went on the Sunday in 1998 just after finishing uni - damn I feel old writing that!)
|The merry band of motley fools :)|
|On your marks.|
|On the hoof!|
|Tyred of hanging around waiting.|
|Scrambling on all fours.|
We ran down a waterslide, which was not slippery, so you only slid the last few metres to the end - most likely because as the first wave the water and soaping agent had not really had much of a chance to take effect and grease up the slide but this was a bit of a disappointment.
So far so underwhelmed… The standard of the obstacles so far were not really anything tricky or taxing in either strength, balance or agility. It seemed like this was shaping-up to be a 10k run with stops for breathers as you encountered the ‘obstacles’ that just seemed to slow your progress more than anything else.
I was running with my neighbour Guy, the two of us going at a pace that was faster than we would have run solo and the result was we were steadily passing people who had gone out far too fast and were now really feeling it.
Through the back-streets of Brent we soon came to the local park and crossed the wet muddy grass until we came to the nadir of the race so far… A basketball court where we had to shoot some hoops successfully before continuing across the park. Really?.. you pay your money to enter, (and it was not cheap), and this is what we have had so far: some scaffolding, a couple of hay bales and now the local park with some basketballs, erm, this is hardly an obstacle by any stretch of the imagination. The thought went through my mind that we had chosen to run the OCR version of the ‘Craggy Island Fair’ in the first episode of Father Ted which made me chuckle as we rounded a hedge and found ourselves confronted by an inflatable that looked like something out of the TV series ’Gladiators’… At least this was a proper obstacle.
|Just like gladiators but minus the cotton-buds.|
|A gentle paddle.|
For the most part it was solid concrete under foot although there was a deeper channel in the middle, and the unwary amongst us occasionally trod in it expecting it to be the same level to stumble for a few steps, the lucky recovering balance, the unlucky having a splash-down.
Fortunately the stretch had been dredged of shopping trollies, road cones and other detritus you would expect to find so at least the way for us was clear and there were some really good graffiti murals that had been painted on to the walls as we ran past.
The open drain was punctuated around half way with a tunnel section that was lit in the water with glow-sticks to mark where the walls were, the bed of the river here being a slick layer of algae on top of the concrete base so you were continually careful to keep your balance as your foot skated a little way with each step.
Out the other end of the tunnel and dodging some fallen trees we made our way to the end of the section and back up some ladders and on to terra firma once more and the return back to the stadium via the industrial estates, even detouring through the ‘rave zone’ an industrial unit filled with dry ice, disco lights flashing and pumping dance music that you had to make your way through without taking wrong turns and falling over the barriers, which was great fun.
|The visibility in the 'rave zone' you can just make out a crash-barrier!|
This huge construction dominated the arena around the start/ finish. Seeing it you knew you would have to conquer it as it stretched about 50ft up in to the air and you tried not to think about it… Until you were confronted by it and had to scale the 10ft walls. Fortunately running with Guy we were able to help each other along with a total stranger who hit the bottom of it at the same time as we did. After plenty of grunting and straining the three of us were on the summit, and the easy drops down to the ground.
A couple of smaller climbs over walls remained, a final soaking and the up and down of the ‘wall of fame’ and you stumbled over the finish line to be greeted with a big smile and your finishers medal.
|Pini crossing the line.|
|A well earned post-race pint.|
Filled with a delicious helping of freshly tortured meat in a bun we all dispersed in different directions for our various homes, whereupon arrival I was able to examine the goody bag in more detail… Aside from the food that we had all polished-off in the beer tent the organisers seemed to know their audience: In there was a packet of kleenex for the singletons and a set of Durex stimulation gels for those in relationships!
|All relationship status' accounted for ;)|
|Perfect end to the day!|
The run through the river whilst good fun was hardly taxing and again cost nothing beyond clearing any rubbish in the way, with entrance and exit at points being ladders from the local plant-hire lashed together to the railings. Back in the stadium all the main obstacles were in a very tight space so they could run the day and night races. Don’t get me wrong, these were challenging and enjoyable things to conquer, its just the whole combined effect was something that for the price was a bit on the ‘cheap’ side of things. The hire of this iconic location would not have been cheap and the equipment would have to be bumped in and out fairly quickly so logistically it would have been a challenge on that front but I was left feeling that you were paying double what you really should be. It seems that in choosing to have the event here they have had to skimp on the budget for the obstacles... Perhaps somewhere else would be a better location if the obstacles could be improved?
I was fortunate to benefit through the lower ticket cost via the early block booking. The registration, changing and flow of the competitors was both efficient and well organised, so credit to the organisers where it is due on that front, I just felt that the ‘added value’ of the event and the experience was low to non-existent, you felt like you were being milked as a cash-cow and just making the organisers, Rat Race, a lot of money, although from all accounts this pales into insignificance to the events run by Tough Mudder.
As an aside, I got around the course in 882/5908 place, so just in the top 15% of runners - not too shabby for my first ever OCR, will I be back - I’m not sure. I’m glad to have experienced one of these races, but for what it is I feel you get more out of running a 10k Brutal; you get just as wet, its just the only obstacles you encounter there are what nature throws at you: hills and fallen tree trunks etc. rather than bespoke constructions. I suppose you could describe the London Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest as a 10k urban run and 1k of climbing up and down some walls.