On social media in the days following the race, it appeared to have been a fairly polarising event. Some people declaring it was amazing, and one of the best OCRs they have ever done; and others saying that they were highly disappointed and expected a lot more.
Personally I really enjoyed it, but the event was certainly not without some flaws. So I will try my best to give a reasonably balanced review.
The race took place in Pippingford Park, a common venue for OCRs, and indeed the location for the upcoming UK OCR Championships in November. Pippingford offers everything you need for a typical UK OCR: mud, hills, water, more mud; and it was utilised well for Toughest.
The event village was simply brilliant. A fantastic atmosphere with the thousands of participants, the many OCR team tents, a seating area with benches and tables, and a large screen TV counting down the time until the next wave started.
The event village (as well as changing area) would later become a bit of a marshy bog underfoot, but was not too much of an issue. Just meant that I kept my Irocks on the whole time until I got back to the car.
I saw some complaints that the bag drop was uncovered and exposed to the elements, which could have be an issue if it started raining. However, this is no different to what I've seen at many other races, and the car parks were not that far away if there were things you wanted to keep dry.
One of my favourite things about the event, wasn't actually anything to do with the race. It was watching some of the best OCR athletes in the world take on the course. The course was laid out in a clover shape, and so every couple kms it would come back into the event village for one of the signature obstacles. It was an intelligent lay out, and meant that you could easily follow Jon Albon and the other elites tackling certain parts of the race.
Significant crowds formed at each obstacle to watch and cheer on the frontrunners. It felt like a proper sporting event, and the atmosphere was brilliant. I would've paid money just to watch that!
I captured some footage of Jon Albon and the elite wave on my Go Pro. Forgive some of the shaky or far away angles, he is a difficult man to keep up with!
After a brief warm up, it was now my turn to take on the course. I was initially a bit miffed that I was in a later non-competitive wave (wave C09), as I could already see queues forming on some of the later obstacles. I knew that I was going to get held up and my time would be pretty irrelevant, so decided to just have fun, enjoy the obstacles, and not take it too seriously.
The race didn't get off to the best of starts. The very first obstacle, a giant webbed A-frame had already been put out of action, as the netting had ripped and the structure had became unstable by the first few waves. It didn't bother me too much at the time if I'm being honest, as it was immediately after the start line, and watching the runners in the first couple waves literally clamber on and over each other didn't look like much fun.
So instead my wave started with a gentle run down the trail adjacent to the A-frame. I heard some people complain that there was no structured or group warm-up before the start. It's a fair point, and can add to the build up and anticipation at the start. Though the waves were setting off only 5mins apart, and if you are racing competitively I would assume that you would be doing your own warm-up prior to these 5mins anyway.
Fast and Slow Lanes
One feature of the Toughest races that works really well is the fast lane, slow lane and penalty loop system. Basically you have a fast lane option which is more difficult, though you get to skip the next small minor obstacle if you complete it. If you fail either the fast or slow lane, then you have to do a penalty loop as well as the next minor obstacle.
It worked brilliantly, added a tactical risk-reward aspect to the obstacles, and I imagine it is a lot fairer and easier to marshall than mandatory obstacles or an arbitrary number of burpees.
The first main obstacle with a fast lane option was the swing walk. The fast lane looked pretty tough, and I was still settling into the race, so went with the normal option: A series of gently swinging horizontal bars. Was fairly straight forward, so far so good.
After a little bit of running, some small queues on some minor obstacles like the high wall, sternum checker and wall traverse, it was back towards the event village for the Dragon's Back.
The Dragon's Back
The Dragon's Back was definitely one of the stand out obstacles. A real mental challenge, as you stood on the precipice imagining what might go wrong if you don't jump far enough or miss the pole with your hands. The next platform feels mile away, the photos and videos really don't do it justice. The queues were unfortunately a bit annoying at this point, but it was no doubt down to many people frozen with fear trying to convince their brain it was safe to jump to the next platform.
When it was finally my turn, I fixated on the horizontal pole of the next platform and just went for it. My feet slid on the wall, so it wasn't entirely gracefully, but I had made it. The subsequent jumps felt much easier, think it's just the mental challenge of that first one. Definitely an exciting and interesting obstacle though.
Immediately following the Dragon's Back, was another slow lane / fast lane choice: normal monkey bars or the Flying Monkey. In my head I was going to run and leap straight to the second flying monkey bar, just as I watched Jon Albon do earlier. However, as I approached the small ramp and was about to jump, the second bar looked miles away! So I hate to say it, I chickened out and went for the normal monkey bars slow lane :(
(I did see a few nasty looking falls on the Flying Monkey, from people going "all in" with their approach, so maybe I did the right thing in choosing the safer option.)
Not So Super Slide
After another short running section and some minor obstacles, it was time for one of the most disappointing aspects of the day: the super slide was closed. There was a lot of hype about the slide before the race, and Toughest were using an image of it in a lot of their marketing material for the London race. So to finally get up to the obstacle only to be told that it was closed, was disappointing to say the least.
I was a bit nervous about doing the slide due to the size of it, but I was still looking forward to it. There were many others on social media afterwards who felt a lot stronger about it! There were all kinds of rants about it, with some people wanting their money back and declaring how "rubbish" Toughest was. Possibly a bit extreme, though many people were very hyped up about doing this slide.
Why was it closed? There were all kinds of rumours and stories circulating, ranging from vandals sabotaging it, an early racer ripping the tarpaulin, and Jon Albon went so fast down it that he took off and hit the bottom of the lake haha. The truth seems to be that only half of the slide was being used to begin with, then one of the elite racers in the first wave tore the tarpaulin rendering both sides of the slide unusable/unsafe.
Once the slide (or absence thereof) was behind us, it was a steep ascent broken up with some lengthy queues for the sternum checker. At the top of the hill, another obstacle had been closed for health and safety reasons: the hoist.
Apparently vandals had sabotaged it by removing bolts, resulting in the support beam starting to buckle in the middle. If there were vandals, then I can certainly sympathise and appreciate that health and safety must come first.
However, the build quality of the hoist didn't look entirely steady anyway (regardless if any bolts had been removed), and someone should have probably run the course and thoroughly tested the obstacles prior to the start of the race.
A few minor obstacles like a wall climb and tyre carry, and a muddy downhill section finished off this loop back to the event village. Next up was the Rig.
The fast lane of the rig was pretty busy as well, so I opted for the normal lane. The normal lane was fun, and fairly straight forward. The guy in front of me was taking ages though, and I got stuck hanging on one of the monkeys bars waiting on him releasing the rings he was using. In any case it was still fun, and I reckon there was a good balance between the normal lane being achievable by most people and the fast lane being fairly tough.
Another short loop of running, then it was time for the salmon ladder (fast lane) or rope climb (normal lane). Again there was a queue at the salmon ladder (and only one of them was in action), so I opted for the rope climb. It was a pretty high rope climb, though I made short work of it with liberal use of the J-Hook technique.
In the final couple km there were quite a few fun grip strength related obstacles. The spinning wheels, hang tough rings, ninja rings, and peg board climb. Great obstacles and was very pleased to successfully complete them all with no penalties.
The daunting enormous ramp was then all that stood in the way in front of the finish line. I understood the principle of how to do it: continue running up the ramp as high as possible and then reach for the lip, instead of running so far and trying to jump.
However, I could see that the ramp was pretty muddy and slippy by this point, so my first attempt was fairly tame. I was paranoid about slipping and face planting, and wasn't focusing at all about actually making up the ramp. So inevitably I was a few inches short and slid back down.
I moved back in the queue again, and prepared for my next attempt. The announcer said that there was a penalty loop you could do instead, but there was no way that I wasn't going to make it up the ramp, regardless of how long I had to wait in the queue again.
My second attempt came, and I sprinted towards the ramp. My eyes fixated on the lip at the top, I now knew from my first attempt that the ramp wasn't as slippy as it looked so didn't hold back at all. I grabbed the top fairly easily and then it was just a case of swinging my leg up for the heel hook and clambering over.
A quick slide down a fireman's pole on the other side and across the line.
It was definitely an eventful day! The apparent acts of sabotage (vandalism to the obstacles and moving of some course markings) are pretty disheartening if this indeed happened. However, the build quality of things like the giant A-frame at the start of the race must still be questioned since this only survived the first few waves.
The slide being closed seemed to be what a lot of people were focusing on during the aftermath of the race. Yes, it was certainly disappointing, but by no means a deal breaker for me. In my opinion, the amazing atmosphere and the rest of the brilliant obstacles far out weighed any of the negatives.
I hope Toughest weren't put off by any of the issues or complaints, and they choose to return to the UK in the future. I certainly would be keen to do it again!