I headed off to London for the final race of the Men's Health Survival of the Fittest 2015 season. Known as "the big one", with thousands more participants, more obstacles and generally a higher level of competition, everything was set for an exciting race.
Set in the impressive shadow of Wembley stadium, and with some daunting looking new obstacles on display, I was buzzing with excitement before the race. However the weather conditions were tough, with gale force winds and even snow at points, making it definitely the coldest race I've done so far.
Despite the weather, the usual cuts and bruises, and possibly a cracked rib, I finished in my best time of the season and overall enjoyed the race.
As we all lined up on the start line in wave 1, it was immediately apparent that the level of competitors was way higher than in the previous SOTF races. The usual faces from the previous races were still there, but there was now also a number of very athletic looking runners tricked out in sponsored gear.
The usual pre-race banter and warm-up from the announcers Keith and Mike was a bit different than normal as well. Despite some pleas from Keith to go to the front of the stage for the warm-up, everyone was much more focused on getting to the front of the pack at the start line in order to avoid the initial race congestion. In a blink of an eye, I went from near the front of the group at the start line to about 5 people back, just with everyone pushing to get to the front. Then when the actual warm-up started, I was too squashed in to do anything apart from jump up and down.
With the pre-race briefing finished, the race quickly set off with the usual countdown being barely audible over the wind and rain. As usual the first obstacle was the haybales, and this was by far the most congestion I've seen on them, possibly in part because I was starting 5 people back off the start line. It was a bit frustrating to get hyped up on the start line, sprint when the claxton goes off, and then immediately get stuck behind several people struggling to get over the initial haybales.
After the chaos of the haybales, there was a short technical section in Wembley car park packed with obstacles. The traffic hurdles, 6ft parkour walls, monkey bars, sand bag carry, metal fence hurdles, and sloped wall all followed in quick succession. It was a fun section, but since it was right at the start the congestion on all the obstacles was pretty bad. There was one obstacle in particular, 3 or 4 giant tyres that only one person could fit through at a time.
Small queues quickly formed at each of these, and seemed to be a bit of a bad idea to have these so early on in the race. It was also raining and extremely windy at this point, which made these initial obstacles a bit tougher than normal. The monkey bars were definitely interesting, since I couldn't actually feel my hands!
Round the Stadium
We left the car park and the spectators behind, and headed up some steps to the long path round the stadium. The next few km were fairly uneventful, long-ish running sections on and under the various pedestration walkways around the stadium; occassionally broken up by one of the more straight forward obstacles like crawling through a low tunnel or the traffic cone carry up and down some steps.
I think the initial adrenaline and grander occasion got the better of me slightly, and after only 3-4km my legs started to feel a bit sluggish and I began regretting the early pace I had set off at. However I soldered on, picking out a few familiar faces to try and keep up with.
The stadium section was quickly over with and we headed out into an industrial estate for another longer running stint. After not too long we were faced with a river/storm drain, and were instructed to head into it and upstream. Cannot stress enough how unbelievably the cold the water was, and with the current flowing against you, the water level up to your knees, and the river bed incredibly slippy, it was difficult to maintain much speed through this section.
I got a nice rhythm going of high knees (a warm-up exercise I often do for basketball), which seemed to work well and I passed a few other runners at this point. The storm drain seemed to go on for an eternity, though in reality it was probably only about 1km. Due to the weather and temperature, I'm not sure if I would call this section "fun", but it was certainly one of the most talked about parts after the race.
Out of the water and back on the road, we headed back towards the stadium. From my knees down was completely numb due to the cold water, and trying to run without any feedback of where I was placing my feet was a very strange sensation indeed. There were a few straight forward obstacles en route to the stadium, the balance beams (impossible with numb feet! haha), an "A" frame, and the tyre squeeze.
Myself and one other runner almost went the wrong way at one point here, as the wind had picked up and the stewards directing the runners were busy trying to retrieve some of the barriers that had blown away!
The Big One
Next up was the rather daunting pyramid of cargo containers known as "The Big One". The containers were about 9ft tall which would be a challenge to climb in itself. However the top of the containers were completely flat and slick with the rain, with nothing to grab on to, making it nigh on impossible to climb by yourself. I ended up helping another runner up the first container, and then he returned the favour by holding my arms in place so that I could pull myself up.
The subsequent two containers were fortunately a bit easier, with a small platform you could use for the 2nd one, and then some horizontal poles to stand on for the 3rd. After quickly descending the other side of the pyramid, a couple quick more familiar SOTF obstacles lay in wait, the monkey barrels followed by water jug carry, and the stunt jump (15ft drop into a giant inflatable mat).
The next obstacle was the "big rig", a succession of 4 obstacles grouped together (hang tough, parallel bars, not-so parallel bars and the vertical poles) featured in every SOTF race this year. This was the 5th time I had faced this so was fairly confident I could quickly fly through it, though things quickly went downhill fast.
On the first part of it, the hang tough, I thought I could miCss out the final couple rings by swinging far enough to step on the inflatable edge of the pool of water and hop to the next platform. Everything was going to plan until I stepped on the inflatable edge of the pool. Turned out the inflatable wasn’t really inflated very much (possibly partly due to the cold weather), so my foot when right through it and I fell hard smashing my rubs into the edge of the next platform.
I was completely winded, possibly a cracked rib and badly bruised and cut arm, but my pride had taken a hit as well, so quickly shook it off and more or less immediately gone on with the parallel bars obstacle up next.
The last 1km was a bit of a blur, but could not have been pretty haha. I felt like a broken man, was freezing cold, my ribs hurting, running on adrenaline and the fact I could see the finish line ahead. Before I could get there though, I still had to do the rope climb, box maze, the Wall of Fame, Mt Kadjar and the giant slide down to the finish line.
The Wall of Fame definitely felt tougher than normal, and I just hung there for several seconds on my forearms before willing myself over it. Surprisingly Mt Kadjar (the travellator) was fairly uneventful, and I made it up first time no problem despite not feeling particularly fast. The giant slide should’ve been extremely fun, but I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time, as I just wanted to get over the finish line and the freezing cold water of the slide was the last thing I wanted at that point haha.
Then just before the finish line, I still had time for a last clumsy exit out of the slippy soap covered inflatable, brilliantly caught on camera:
Despite the weather and the injuries, I still managed to finish in my best time of 59mins, and overall was pretty happy with my race. My wife Harriet also ran a great race, finishing 15mins after me, and came 32nd female; very impressive considering the high level of competition and number of participants. A fitting end to the SOTF season, and I look forward to doing these races again next year.