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MHSOTF shows off London from a different side!

by Paul Hayward
Friday 28th November 2014

Race report: Obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward reports from Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest - Wembley Stadium, London, November 22, 2014

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest - Wembley Stadium, London, November 22, 2014

When Rat Race Adventure Sports (Rat Race) told us that the London leg of their highly successful Men's Health Survival of the Fittest was to be held at Wembley (HERE), I joined many Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) journalists and competitors in raising an eyebrow of surprise.

Although Rat Race pride themselves on delivering OCR through the middle of some of our country's biggest cities I wondered whether they could really put on their biggest OCR to the same standard as the iconic Battersea Power Station (lat year’s review HERE) at the prestigious home of the England Football Team and adjacent to a massive shopping centre.

As a signal of their intent that they were pulling out all of the stops, Rat Race flooded social media with the news that the 'triple wall' from Rat Race's Dirty Weekend would feature in the race. Confirmation that their biggest obstacle was coming to their biggest Men's Health Survival of the Fittest race, made it clear that Rat Race were not scared by their new surroundings or location.

On arriving at Wembley and the race village you could not help but be impressed by the scale of the event. Adjacent to the football stadium were two huge obstacles, multiple walls and the finish line was blocked by the famous 'wall of fame'. With Mike Smith's infectious, and by now traditional voice, echoing around the arena – Rat Race were attempting to finish their season on a high.

As I joined the second wave, after a quick hello and shake of the hand of the OCR World Champion Jon Albon, who had come back to defend his win, I saw the infamous hay bales that are located just past the start line. This obstacle catches a lot of people out and you have to be quick to get to there and get over them, or you will be caught in the congestion that follows!

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest - Wembley Stadium, London, November 22, 2014

Upon negating the hay bales, the race then hit you with a number of short obstacles in quick succession to destroy any real chance you had of building any rhythm or comfort up. Ranging from a crawl under wire fences, with a water cannon drenching you, to the traditional hurdles and a climb through a lorry’s container - I was gasping for breath immediately.

Sadly there was not much of a chance of grabbing my breath after these obstacles as my fellow competitors and I were forced to climb numerous stairs to make our way to the stadium! I found myself suddenly wishing I were back in the countryside with a steep hill, as these steps decimated my legs and made me feel lethargic. To add insult to misery these steps included a section where you were required to carry a traffic cone up and down a section (in a play to the current theme of carries up hills in OCR).

Luckily my legs were spared as there was a slide to the bottom of the stadium at the end of this section and I was released into the outskirts of London.

The loop out away from Wembley and back took us through parks, filled with small walls to navigate and inflatable obstacles to a river running adjacent to the stadium, that provided an unique experience of running through pitch black tunnels to areas with some of the best graffiti that I have seen. You just would not get to see these sections of London normally and it was impressive that Rat Race were squeezing every ounce out of the terrain so early on.

In addition Rat Race showed that they still had some humour and provided competitors with an obstacle in the form of a basketball Court; competitors were required to get the basketball through a hoop within three attempts.
This obstacle flummoxed a number of competitors, who lost all of their advantage over their rivals by failing to land a hoop and were forced to try again and again, much to the locals amusement. On returning back towards Wembley, after negating some walls and monkey bars, we were asked to go under a warehouse shutter door with smoke pumping out.

I was slightly concerned, if I am honest, by this obstacle but I should not have feared it, as competitors were asked to run through a warehouse rave complete with smoke, glow sticks and pounding house music. You had to smile at this and laugh at the thought process; but any momentary joy was replaced with some apprehension as we went up the final stairs and faced a succession of obstacles to the finish.

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest - Wembley Stadium, London, November 22, 2014

Ranging from huge climbing towers to cargo net climbs, Rat Race were determined to push competitors to their limits before the end.

As I reached the huge walls from Dirty Weekend, I remembered just how much effort was needed to get over them. Three steps, each around 10ft high, make up this plainly evil obstacle. I looked around for a lift up - the easy option - but there was no-one to help me up the first step, so it was literally now or never for me to climb up. Having failed at Dirty Weekend, I thought it was going to be never.

However on using Doug Spence's classic technique - I was up and over the first step followed by the second quite easily and I was a little shocked that I had done it. Clearly startled by this,; I joined a number of others who were helping each other over the wall and gladly accepted the help from a fellow competitor, before seeing the top. After a small run and a dip in freezing cold water, I was back in front of the Wall of Fame.

I do not know how this obstacle does it but it seems to stop everyone that faces it. It is merely, I say 'merely' based on what competitors had conquered already, an 8ft wall. But for some reason it may as well be a 10ft wall as it takes every inch of effort to get over.

On reaching the top I stood on it, as I have done so before, and I looked at the finish line as competitors flew by me. I took a moment to think how I was feeling when I saw the line and what this race was; my smile said it all and I believe that it had achieved the impossible – it was still the reason that so many of people fall in love with OCR and want to do more.

Men's Health Survival of the Fittest was pitched brilliantly. Rat Race had seemed to get every ounce out of the surrounding territory, from rivers to parks, and delivered a well balanced and challenging OCR. The Dirty Weekend wall would have beaten many and required team work; but for a lot of people this would have added to the occasion and been the talking point for many days to come.

If I am honest; I do not think that it eclipses the Battersea efforts, there was something magical about running through parks with inflatable obstacles, while the public walked their dog, or by the steeple chases they used to have, however this came pretty close. Although we did not get the familiar stadium entry; this was barely missed as the course offered so much more and a real insight to our capital city.

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest - Wembley Stadium, London, November 22, 2014

There were negatives though; the medals were possibly some of the poorest medals I have seen and were a stark contrast to the goodie bag which was better than anything I have seen all year. In addition supporters would have struggled to get round the course as large sections were in accessible.

Rat Race have responded to the medal criticism with the promise of proper medals next year however and overall this was an absolute belter of an OCR and was hugely enjoyable, challenging and fun.

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest reaffirmed their position as one of the best OCRs there is in our season and with this Rat Race continues to deliver a belting experience for everyone from seasoned competitors to those seeking a challenge.

All of Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest’s races are now on sale for 2015 and with an all new half marathon distance in Manchester (as well as Nottingham); 2015 is going to be an exciting year.

More details can be found at: www.mhsurvival.co.uk


About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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