Date - 13th August 2016
Course Length - 10km + 35 obstacles
Approximate cost - Solo tickets starting from £40 (+ £10 donation to Shelter)
Location - Victoria Dock, London
Website - http://ratrace.com/londonratrace2016/
What is the London Rat Race?
So what is the London Rat Race? For many it's the constant drive chasing greater wealth. For obstacle course fans - it's a 10km race filled with 35 obstacles.
If there's one guarantee I can make after completing this event .... you will get wet.
With lots of obstacle races these days, explaining it to your friends usually bring up the "Tough Mudder test" where they typically ask - "oh, so it it like Tough Mudder?"
If you're doing the London Rat Race, you would probably answer:
"Yeah kinda..", but instead of mud, hills and running through fields, you'll have water, steps and running along the riverside (being August means it's got a 50% chance of being a lovely day too!).
Take a look at the video below to give yourself a flavor of what to expect on the day:
There was a real focus on fun for the day, with obstacles such as "walk the plank" and some mid-race kayaking, there was something for everyone (as long as you're not afraid of the water of course!).
With the obstacles along the course often offering a short period of time to catch your breath, doing some sort of running intervals would be great preparation (whether HIIT or otherwise!).
Unsurprisingly, any obstacle race will also require an element of upper body strength. In terms of my strength routine, I've switched my weekly workouts up significantly over the past 6 months from the Gauntlet workout I used to do (still spending no more than 1 hour in the gym at a time of course ;) ).
It goes without saying that when completing any serious strength routine - you need to have compound exercises at the core of your plan.
I've personally started to fall in love with calisthenics (i.e. lots of body weight exercises like pull ups, dips etc). This style of training is perfect strength work for obstacle course racing more so than your traditional free weight workout at the gym.
It's effective as your command on your body is significantly better when you're lifting and pushing your own body weight on a weekly basis. This is really handy when there's a 2 meter wall standing in front of to to climb over!
For the past 18 months, I've also built in a weekly session of yoga into my weekly routine - I find this particularly effective for not only relaxing after a busy day at work, but having the full body control and flexibility to maneuver my body over walls and other obstacles fairly easily.
Finally - it wouldn't be the London River Rat Race if there wasn't a bit of water involved! There's about 10-15% of the course which is water based - so can't hurt to throw some swimming in to your training plan if you're looking to fly past the other participants on the day.
An ideal training plan might look something like the following:
- Sunday - Bodyweight exercises / calisthenics
- Monday - Yoga
- Tuesday - 5k run
- Wednesday - Rest
- Thursday - Bodyweight exercises / calisthenics
- Friday - HIIT
- Saturday - Swim
Tried the event yourself? What did you find really effective in training...?
Each lap started at the back door to the Excel, around the river before climbing a flight of stairs up and down over the Connaught Bridge. Depending on which lap you were on, the obstacles you'd face on each lap were different.
For example, at one stage there might be a wall traverse, 2m wall or a balance beam, to be completed on laps 1, 2 and 3 respectively.
In terms of some of the obstacles - many of the typical obstacle race staples were there. Of course, there was a set of monkey bars, and a couple of 2m walls to climb over. One of the things which made the London River Rat Race a bit more special though was it's use of water!
Many obstacle courses are typically based in a large grassy or field-like area, with hills and mud to travel through as you go from obstacle to obstacle. The London River Rat Race was different and quite unique how it made full use of the water to add more exciting obstacles.
A few of my favorite obstacles on the day included the plank, the rubber rings and kayaking (even if me and my friend managed to capsize the kayak moments after getting in!).
Basing the whole course around what seemed to be a relatively small area for an obstacle race, was fairly clever. The lap system worked well in terms of ensuring it was interesting in a small amount of space. The lap system did however present a number of road jams along the way too!
With a British Military Fitness trainer recruited to get everyone fired up, roaring, cheering and energy was raised ready for the race countdown.
We were herded into the starting area fairly tightly, like sheep being moved to a smaller field. As the countdown was played - we were more than ready to go!
We'd anticipated the potential queue and the build up of people that was likely to happen having seen previous waves starting. Due to this we decided to wait around for a few minutes whilst the pack broke down slightly.
2 men then started running several hundred metres behind the main pack of participants, it wasn't long before we'd caught up and were now trying to dance through the crowd.
Unfortunately, even by starting slowly, we found ourselves in a hefty queue for the very first obstacle. It was quite ironic that the London Rat Race made me feel I was queuing for a tube on the London underground during rush hour...
We waited and waited, before eventually hopping the fence to restart the race at the start line. By the time we re-ran the first 600m or so, the queue had eventually died down somewhat - allowing us to weave through the barriers and jump over the next obstacle before we made it outside.
One of the first "obstacles" was a maze - though because of the volume of people on the course, it wasn't much of a maze at all as everyone had someone a couple of meters in front of them to follow at all times!
After the maze, there was the first cluster of obstacles, with lap 1 being a simple balance beam (or not so simply if your balance was a bit off on the day!), a set of vertical walls to climb across on lap 2 and finally a couple of 2m walls to climb over on lap 3.
The next significant obstacle required participants to climb about two or three flights of stairs to reach the top of the bridge. At this stage the course became pretty congested again with myself and my friend trying to squeeze past several sets of people taking a leisurely walk up and down the stairs.
Once we'd apologies our way through the staircase crowds - we were back in the open air, running forwards along the river to our next obstacle. The obstacles in this part of the race were by far the most fun.
First of all we faced the rubber rings. I donned a safety jacket (which was far too small for a 6'1 man) and threw myself across a series of large black rubber rings floating on the water.
Having ran for a couple of miles by this point, being able to jump in the water was a great way to cool off!
Once we'd done another lap and reached the same spot, it was time to walk the plank. A quick climb followed by walking off a plank into the water. As with any jump from height, the distance felt alot higher once we were about to jump!
With a countdown to ensure we all jumped together, before I knew it I was breathless and plummeting towards the water.
The quick burst of adrenaline surged us forward towards the kayaks. With the enthusiasm of two children when the school bell rings to signal summer, we threw on our safety jackets, picked up an oar and rushed towards the kayaks.
My friend went first, jumped onto the kayak and then flew straight off the other side in the water! Moments later we paddles a couple of strokes before we completely capsized and both ended up taking a premature dunk in the river!
With a couple more short queues for obstacles, we had finally finished lap 3 and were back in the ExCel stadium to complete the race.
Back inside, it was a short clamber through some metal platforms, a swing of the body over a 2m wall and across the finish line!
Even though it's been quite a few years since I've graduated university now, I've still got a little student living inside me. To see free stuff on offer and any sort of goody bag makes me very happy indeed.
Fortunately, the London River Rat Race did not disappoint here!
Straight after our bodies crossed the finish line we were greeted with the option of chocolate, fizzy cola and water. Typically, not the sort of nutrition I'd typically consume but as a way to top up the glycogen stores after 1.5 hours of exercise - this was a pretty good option.
We were also given our medal, which is always a nice addition to the home collection.
We were also given a t-shirt which most people wore for the entire race. Personally, I opted for the more natural look thinking I'd quick much drier than my clothes would (of course, it's always important to top up the tan when you can if you live in the UK!).
The goodies didn't end there either - we were also given an official rat race head rag. Part of me thinks maybe there were giving as much clothing away as possible either because I looked slightly naked or they wanted the free promotion!
Before I let you all know what my personal highlight was regarding the goodies, I want to let you know about an area where some organisers get it so right, and other's sometimes get it so very wrong.
The baggage area.
When you're travelling across London, or further, as many people did to come to the London River Rat Race, you're going to be carrying some valuables. Whether it's your mobile phone, keys to your home or car, wallet or even train tickets to get back where you've come from.
With any of these possessions - losing them would be a bit of a nightmare! Unless you're lucky enough to have a friend or loved one cheering you on from the sidelines who can look after your valuables, you're going to have to rely on whatever bag storage facility is made available.
The facilities were not only fairly secure (requiring the "guards" to check you've piicked up the bag that matches your race number) but also had a nice charity angle where a £2 donation was suggested for Shelter. Keep your bag safe and give a bit to charity - winner.
On the subject of charity donations, the organisers also had another idea up their sleeve...
Finishing any race where you try and push yourself towards your limits and you'll likely feel a little big achy the day afterwards. One of the best ways to combat this is to have a massage to loosen up those tired muscles.
The London River Rat Race fortunately had this on offer. With a relatively small donation sum of £10 going to Shelter you get to boost your karma and feel considerably less achy the next day.
I'm a man who gets excited by a couple of things most of all, food, and free stuff. Combine the two and I'm like a child being set loose in the toy store after the parent just got a huge bonus.
Within the small "finishers-village" style set up that comprised of the baggage area, massage area and photo wall, there was the tasting stall.
Set up by a protein and recovery bar company (I feel somewhat guilty that I can't remember the name) was a selection of maybe 15 different snacks to try. 5 gummy snacks, 5 recovery energy bars and 5 protein recovery bars.
I stuck around the last section and ate more bites of protein bars that my jaws started to ache as I left.
Feeling somewhat satiated having tried a great sample of protein bars, myself and my buddy left the area to journey home.
To be able to wake up, eat food and complete an obstacle race all before lunchtime is awesome.
It's such a great way to start the day and always sparks up your conversations for the rest of the day! The organizers of the London River Rat Race also need quite a bit of recognition for the way they made the most of the space available in terms of making the course interesting to run.
The whole morning was a lot of fun, the water based obstacles really added a new dynamic to your typical obstacle race of mud and fields. Getting into the water after a couple of km was a great way to cool off too!
One area where the organisers did fall down (fairly heavily in my opinion) is because of their general planning and organisation of participants. When completing an obstacle race, you want to go at your own pace.
If you want to take it easy, or if you're slightly less fit than the average person, you should have the opportunity to go a bit slower. On the flipside, if you're keen to push yourself and you're feeling pretty athletic, you should be able to run and fly through obstacles without too much delay.
Sadly on the day this was not possible, with some obstacles only being able to be completed by 1 person at a time - the queues built up heavily at some points. For myself and my friend who were keen to see how fast we could go - this was a little dissappointing.
A few examples included; directly at the start, around any obstacle that needed a life jacket and when climbing through metal platforms. Simply because it's called a Rat Race, shouldn't make you have to wait in a crowd to get somewhere!
That being said, if you're looking for a really fun morning in London - there isn't much else you can do that's more fun than an obstacle race around the water. Just don't expect to get through the course without waiting in line for a portion of the race!
In summary - for a reasonable price, you get to try some great obstacles, have a little swim in the river and even have a portion of your entry donated to a worthy cause.
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