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Paul gets close to breaking point in South London

by Paul Hayward
Friday 25th September 2015
Tags  Spartan Race UK   |   Paul Hayward   |   OCR   |   South London Super

Race report: “Horrendous” and “brutal” - the latest offering from Spartan Race UK gets the thumbs up from our obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward


Photos: The author in action © Epic Action Imagery. A great selection of challenging obstacles

I have covered a number of Spartan Races for Run247 and so far they have ranged from terrible to quite good (HERE and HERE). They have never really excelled or made me think “wow”. They have just seemed to fall flat when you consider their reputation as the second biggest OCR race series outside of Tough Mudder and have often lived in the shadow of their American counterparts.

Although I enjoyed the Stadium Sprint (HERE); I commented that I felt that the purists should judge Spartan Race by their “traditional” races, in venues covered in mud; and it seems that their Manchester and Cambridge Sprints (5k races) have over-delivered. Sunday, September 20, 2015 marked the “South London” Super in, the aptly named, Battle near Hastings.

If I am honest, I was unsure what to think as I registered and dropped my bag off. Twinges of excitement filled me as Spartan Race had a new venue, a new race director and had, according to others, really delivered a challenging but fun OCR series in the recent months. However I still had some reservations that it would be the same obstacles and same format, with a little more icing on top.

2 hours and 57 minutes later I pretty much fell across the finish line, broken, bruised and smiling, knowing this to be far from the case. 

The race began with a short jaunt to a freezing cold stream, which competitors were asked to navigate through. Sadly due to being within minutes of the start, the whole wave pretty much hit this narrow section at once and were bottle necked in cold water. It was not the best start and could have been avoided with a 1k loop to it or some hay bales before. This being said, on making it out of the stream (and through another one), the field was split up through a section of undulating terrain through Ashburnham Place’s forest and trails.


Pippingford Park had long been Spartan Race’s jewel in their crown and thought by many as “the perfect OCR playground”. The loss of this venue to Spartan Race was seen as a major obstacle, but in Ashburnham Place (in Battle) they found its evil little brother, as the terrain was brutal, with constant climbs. The introduction to how hard the Sprint would be was gradual, with some cargo net climbs up a hill and a number of ascents through the forest trails that tested even the fittest competitors. 

On breaking out of the forest we were met with a lake swim back to the race village, with a few walls and a set of monkey bars to navigate, before swimming back away from the village. The lake swim took its toll on a number of competitors, myself included, and by the time I was asked to swing across the bars, I flew off wildly into the ground. The forfeit? 30 burpees.

I made it across the lake, despite blowing quite hard due to the burpees, and back to the race and the double sandbag carry. Fortunately the sandbags were only 20kg each and I was able to run at decent pace with these around a fairly small track. Spartan Race are renowned for their “carries”, obstacles that require you to carry weight across a path, but I was not ready for what followed and had not seen it before.

In a play to last year’s Spartan Race World Championship and their American cousins, the next carry required competitors to fill up a bucket with stones and then carry the bucket around a course littered with hills and mud. Should your bucket not be filled high enough then you would be required to go round again.

On filling the bucket, really a gardening carry bag with the worst grip holds ever, with stones I thought to myself "How bad can this be?" Almost instantly I was met with a testing muddy descent and a vertical ascent that guaranteed to make you lose your stones repeatedly. We were in a narrow valley with some unforgiving terrain. Despite a number of competitors rolling around me, collecting their stones and almost crying, shaking their heads, I managed to make it back to the marshal to have my stones checked.

Make no mistake this obstacle broke me and I had nothing left. I do not think I have ever written that in a review, but my complete exhaustion was shown in the next few obstacles that ranging from the first spear throw, which I failed, and the atlas stone carry, where I had no strength at all and my arms failed me. Begrudgingly I took the further 60 burpees penalty (30 per obstacle) as I simply had nothing left.

Although I was pleased to make the second spear throw before making it over one final wall and to the finish line, I was exhausted. I have raced a number of Spartan Races, and OCRs, over the last three years but it has never taken nearly three hours to do 16km, and I had not finished feeling as broken as I had done last Sunday.

I was asked my thoughts of how the race had been by Mark Leinster, the MC for Spartan Race, and I stated “horrendous” and “brutal”. Looking back I still feel that the course was brilliant yet horrendous. The terrain was simply fantastic, offering a mixture of sharp ascents and technical descents, and the obstacles were well thought out, with a pleasing selection of new obstacles, and positioned to ensure that you were challenged to the edges if not past your comfort zone.


The Spartan Race UK team have managed to do something I thought would never happen. They have climbed out of the shadow of their previous efforts stronger and better than ever before to show they can deliver and with some style. The Sprint was fantastic and provided one of the toughest challenges I have had this year, over some of the best terrain.

The Spartan Race Beast which will take place this Sunday (September 27, 2015), has for a long time been regarded as "the" race in the United Kingdom, but in recent years it has had the shine taken off it. On this showing I think a lot of people should be rightly worried about just how tough the Beast will be. Spartan Race may yet return to the top of the OCR tree if they can deliver on their biggest race.

More information on Spartan Race UK can be found here: spartanraceuk.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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