London River Rat Race – July 2015

Trek and Run were supported during this event by;

Salba Chia 

Columbia Sportswear

&

Helly Hansen

Part 1 by Dave Sherman – As event day drew closer I’ll admit I was getting excited as despite completing some great events in 2014, this was one of the events which had really stood out above the others. Although Rat Race mainly offer obstacle races they also host a few ‘slightly different’ events – a bit of a break from the norm. These include an Ultra-Marathon called ‘The Wall’ which travels 69 miles along Hadrian’s Wall, and ‘Man vs Mountain’ which involves a 20 mile trek over Mount Snowdon. Today we’d be tackling their London offering and one which definitely falls into the ‘slightly odd’ category – this was the London River Rat Race!

One of the things which had really made this event stand out the previous year had been the sheer scale of some of the obstacles we’d tackled throughout the 10km course and while scanning the pre-event information online I was pleased to see those same elements still featured this year including giant inflatable trampolines, a huge water slide, and the mother of all obstacles – a 20ft water jump straight into the Thames!

Event day arrived and Vijay and I made our way to the Excel Centre – a great venue which is nice and easy to reach using the Docklands light Railway. We’d decided to join the elites in Wave 1 so we arrived nice and early and although the building is absolutely HUGE the pre-event instructions were nice and clear so we found the event space being used for the race village without any problems.

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After signing the waiver we breezed through registration in minutes – these guys really do know their stuff – and picked up our kit. This year instead of a race number we were handed a piece of paper with our participant details (possibly because most people had lost their numbers during the event last year) along with a timing chip to attach to our shoelaces, however I was annoyed to see this year’s event t-shirt was exactly the same as last years – possibly the leftovers from last year where someone had over-ordered? – and although the website promised a free Rat Rag (buff), on the day we were offered pink, pink or pink – like it or lump it. Really disappointing when most of my race kit is blue so given the choice I would’ve chosen a blue one, plus the fact I never wear pink!

Registration complete, we went for a walk round the race village and it wasn’t long until I bumped into a few familiar faces – one of the joys of completing an event pretty local to where I live! First I bumped into Chris – one of my old school friends, and although Tough Mudder events are Chris’ usual scene, his partner was busy completing an Ultra-Marathon so he’d decided to give River Rat Race a try. Not long afterwards I bumped into Becky and her partner Bobby who are both huge fans of Cross-Fit and obstacle races and were aiming to complete the course in under an hour. After dropping our bags into the bag drop we joined the warm up and it wasn’t long until we filtered through to the start area ready to be released into the docks…

The race course itself was similar to the previous year but with a few slight twists…

11805941_10153410252326648_2132398621_nThe inflatable trampolines had been joined by a couple of inflatable boats which you had to jump between (a badly timed jump could result in a face-plant straight into the boat or the water!) and Vijay’s favourite section, ‘Sausage Fest’, involved jumping over giant inflatable sausages – really tough for a short-arse like me so of course I went face-first into the water at this bit!

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The Kayak section which we tackled in 2-person Kayaks wasn’t as well signed this year so Vijay and I ended up heading towards City Airport’s runway before realising we were seriously off-track (we later learnt Becky and Bobby had done the same so it wasn’t just my bad navigational skills!).

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And of course there was the jump… that bloody 20ft jump which only actually lasts 2 seconds, yet seems to elongate time to the degree you feel you’re falling in slow motion with plenty of time to imagine how much hitting the water is going to hurt! The previous year I’d enjoyed the jump and managed a perfect pencil dive with the minimum of fuss, however this year I somehow managed to tilt forward as I jumped and although I didn’t quite hit the water face-first, my face was stinging for a while afterwards and even the marshall remarked ‘Wow, that must’ve hurt your face!’

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Another feature of the route repeated from the previous year involved climbing 10 flights of stairs to cross the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge – a wobbly suspension bridge (which gets even wobblier when loads of people are running over it) hanging 50ft over the river connecting the banks between a luxury housing estate at one end and the Sunborn Luxury Yacht Hotel at the other. The stairs at either end really took it out of you, however the second bridge crossing signalled that we’d reached the 9km mark and pretty soon after we were back into the Excel Centre… Then we just had one last jog round the arena and two final obstacles – a 7ft wall and one of those bloody inverse walls which I seriously despise, then through the finish line – London River Rat Race DONE!

After crossing the finish line we were handed a nice chunky medal (a massive improvement on last year’s small offering), a can of lemon, lime and mint fizzy drink (imagine if Colgate made a non-alcoholic Mojito…) and a few mini packets of Haribo. The results appeared online later that same day where we learnt we’d finished 517th out of 1298 competitors – not bad considering we’d taken it easy and managed to get ourselves lost on the kayak section – however more importantly than that we’d both had a great time, finished reasonably injury free (my face was still a bit sore!) and as with all Rat Race events we’d really enjoyed the experience throughout and had a such a great time that I’m contemplating ‘doing the double’ and tackling the Stockton River Rat Race on the 29th August! Thanks for having us Rat Race, and we can’t wait until your next event!

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Part 2 by Vijay Algoo - I have done a couple obstacle races now but none quite like this. I’m used to the getting muddy, running through fields and up as many hills as they can throw at you. So before the River Rat Race I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I must admit I was looking forward to this race as the idea of an obstacle course in the middle of London was all new to me.

Firstly, getting to the race was easy as it was based at the excel centre with transport links through TFL right next door. When we got to the event start point it wasn’t that busy and got our race pack pretty sharpish, once I had signed the mandatory waiver and found the correct desk to go to. A quick check of my ID and handing over of the waiver and I had everything I needed for the race. Facilities were pretty minimal but everything that you needed they had. Bag drop, changing facilities, water station and unlike most races, were your toilet facilities is a portable toilet in the middle of a field, here you could use the toilets located throughout the excel centre which is a touch of luxury from the norm.

The first part of the race was inside the warehouse in which the “event village” was also based. A track winding side to side in the warehouse with a couple of obstacles, just some scaffolding to climb over and bits to crawl under. Nothing major at this point but still fun and good for getting warmed up.

After this we ran outside and straight away we were by the Thames. Part of the course looped back on itself so you had to keep an eye on the signs telling you which way to go depending on which you lap you were on. But this was pretty clear with event staff dotted around to help and as we were on the first wave of the day we simply had to follow the crowd.

The first few obstacles were easy going and in terms of the river usage, there was only one part of the first couple kilometres that you entered the water, jumping over a couple of inflatable tubes (elegantly named “Sausage Fest”) where unless you were unlucky only got you wet to around knee height. Then you were running on the path by the Thames again. At this point you had run round to the other side of the Thames so we crossed a bridge to get back, this was a great bit, high above the river with amazing views down the river only hampered by the fact we had to run up a couple hundred steps to get onto the bridge.

Once over the bridge we were back at the exit from the excel where the race had started and ran past this along the river in the opposite direction than the first part of the route. This is where the fun really began. From here we had the purpose built obstacles that took us in and out of the river and they came thick and fast. Firstly we were jumping between row boats and rubber rings and then floating trampolines along with the usual suspects like walls to scale, platforms to climb, monkey bars and crawling under anything they could find to make you get down on all 4s.

I personally had a few highlights with the obstacles. In my opinion, as an adult, there are just not enough opportunities that it is acceptable to go down a slide and thankfully this is downright encouraged at River Rat Race. A simple idea but always fun in my eyes and straight into the Thames it was from there. The scariest without a doubt was the ‘The Jump’. If I remember correctly this was a 20ft high platform from which you jumped straight into the River but I was up there it might as well have been a 200ft jump. After the briefest moment of hesitation I jumped off (admittedly with my eyes closed) and fell for what seemed an eternity before hitting the water. Another highlight for me (possibly not for Dave as he did most of the work at this point) was the kayaking. This was a first at an obstacle race for me but as well as something a bit different the location was key. This part was based directly across the river from the runway of city airport. So while doing a little lap of the river you could watch planes taking off just a stone’s throw away.

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All in all I think this was a great event and a lot of fun. I would recommend the London River Rat race to anyone and especially to anyone who is wanting to try out an obstacle race but is feeling a bit unsure. Unlike a lot of the others this isn’t trying to scare you with barbed wire or electric shocks. It’s just a good bit of fun and at a distance of 10K it’s a challenge but not going to kill you trying to reach the end. The only issue that stick in my mind is constantly getting in and out of a life jacket every time you get to an obstacle involving the river. I’m not saying I’d want to run the whole of the race in one go by any means, this just became a bit tedious. I’m sure this will be down to a health and safety issue and the up side if you’re not comfortable in the water or can’t swim, I suppose this is great so everyone can enjoy the obstacles. I’m quite happy in the water so would have preferred to go without the life jacket if possible but hay ho!

Anyway, as I said, I still thoroughly enjoyed this race and it’s the best obstacle course for an “entry level” runner I’ve been to as well as much more accessible to travel to than most others.

To find out more about Rat Race’s events including the London and Stockton River Rat Races, visit: http://ratrace.com/events/

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