Date - 4th & 5th June 2016
Course Length - 20 Ninja Warrior Style Obstacles
Approximate cost - Solo tickets starting from £30
Location - Kennington Park, London
Website - http://urbanninja.co.uk/
Urban Ninja Obstacle Course
From the rise of Tough Mudder, there's a whole host of obstacle courses which are popping up all around the world, whether it's a Spartan, Rat Race or "Tough (word of choice here)".
When you sign up for an event like this, the most common question you'll be asked is "So, is is like Tough Mudder?".
Typically, an obstacle race has a number of common features you'd bet money you'd see on the day:
- 15-40 obstacles of varying difficulty
Usually, they aren't particularly close by. Whether it's Toughest hosting an event in "London", which is so far away from Central London I wasn't sure my oyster card would work. Or if you go to an event like Toughest Ice, which is right up in the Arctic Circle.
With any of these types of events, when asked the question "So, is it like Tough Mudder?", you're obliged to say yes. Afterwards you might explain that the event you're doing is a bit tougher, or maybe it has specific penalty rounds to increase the challenge, but having done a few, most obstacle races follow the set formula.
The Urban Ninja Obstacle Course is different. It's the kind of event where, when people ask you that same question that comes up time and time again, you're free to answer "No".
With the urban ninja obstacle course, there isn't mud. There isn't really any running either.
Taking inspiration from the popular Ninja Warrior TV show aired both in the UK and USA, the course is a park ready version and is accessible for all.
Designed to be something different, the team behind urban ninja have really found a way to branch away from the typical expectations of an obstacle race into more of an "obstacle course".
The course was set in Kennington Park in London, with a total course area of no more than 1 kilometer in circumference at most.
As I entered the park, on a glorious sunny Sunday afternoon in London, I was met by a range of friendly urban ninja staff. The team was all dressed in official urban ninja staff t-shirts, making them easy to find and speak to around the course if needed.
For anyone reading not from London, for it to be sunny for an entire day is pretty rare...
After I'd signed up for the event originally, a friend planned a birthday during the time I was due to race. A simple message to the race organizers and my race time was moved easily and without question.
Bag in hand and t-shirt off (gotta make the most of the sunshine right?), I arrived having missed the whole briefing about the obstacles and requirements for a medal.
Although I'd arrived just as the organizer had finished giving the initial briefing, he was more than happy to run me through the course alone and was friendly and helpful throughout.
Note - this is not an excuse to turn up late, the team probably does enough introductory briefings as it is!
There were 2 courses available on the day, with very different levels of ability. The first course, regarded as "tame" was a mixture of around 9 obstacles which are fairly accessible to anyone who has ever done some exercise.
The second course, rightly named "insane", was a mixture of roughly 10-12 obstacles which were much, much, harder.
As with any type of fitness, the best way to get better at something specific, is to do that thing as the foundation of your exercise routine.
- If you're going to run a marathon - you should focus your training around long distance running.
- If you're aiming to compete in a strongman - you should focus your training on moving really heavy objects.
- If you're looking to compete in an OCR - you should focus your training on overcoming physical obstacles.
Sounds easy right? If you've got a nearby obstacle course training center then there's not much else which can give you a full body workout and so much fun at the same time.
Although for those of us who don't have those kind of facilities nearby, i.e. 99% of the global population, you can still get yourself OCR ready with other exercises and training plans.
Lots of obstacle course racing, including urban ninja, required a significant amount of upper body strength. Whether you're swinging across monkey bars or pulling yourself up and over a wall, having good upper body strength is a definite bonus.
To build good upper body strength, working with calisthenics or gymnastics is a great way to train. Make the most of compound exercises too.
Focusing lots of your strength training towards body-weight movements such as pull ups and chin ups can give you the strength to complete a rope climb, pull yourself over a bar or swing across a trapeze with significantly less trouble.
Over time, these exercises can also help your grip strength, which is equally important for many obstacles. If you're looking to boost your grip strength even more, climbing is a great way to develop grip and arm strength to help you over lots of obstacles.
Being generally athletic is also very important to successfully complete a range of obstacles. Rather than simply completing solely body-weight exercises as part of your training plan, it's important to develop good cardio-vascular capacity and endurance (particularly for races that are longer).
To achieve both, HIIT is a proven highly effective way to both boost your lung-power and make you faster. A mix of sprints and burpees are always a great choice. The fat stripping effects are naturally a bonus too!
If you're looking to support fat loss, whilst also helping to keep yourself injury free whilst doing intense training, a good yoga session can help keep your physique balanced.
No Mud, No Running - Just Obstacles. Round 1.
The two main courses on the day were very different in terms of difficulty. This helped provide a challenge for both the OCR newbie and even a parkour or climbing veteran.
Course 1 or "tame", contained a range of obstacles which are accessible for anyone who'd ever set foot in a gym or completed some sort of exercise. (Accessible - not necessarily complete-able for the average Joe / Joanne).
A summary of the obstacles to complete are as follows:
- Net climb
- "Leap of faith" (a jump from height onto a crash mat)
- Rope swing
- Rope traverse (with plastic disks to jump between)
- Monkey bars
- Halfpipe climb
- Quintuple step (5 angled platforms to bounce off)
- Balance platform walk
- Ramp sprint
All fairly doable obstalces for someone with sufficient training, the only catch was:
To get a medal you need to complete the course in less than 3 minutes whilst completing all obstacles on your first try.
I hadn't actually timed myself whilst practicing the above obstacles. I was a bit unsure as to how long it might take me. Not wanting to tire myself out, I decided to leave it to fate as to whether I'd complete the course fast enough - and with no errors of course.
Before I knew it, it was time to race.
Although I've completed a wide range of obstacle course races before, the stakes had never been this high...
With the previous obstacle course races I'd taken part in, the worst case scenario was that my time might not be as fast as I'd like it to be, or I'd have to take a 400m penalty run up a hill.
Now 3 minutes stood between me, my medal and potentially a whole heap of frustration and telling friends "Nah, I didn't get a medal on the weekend". That was not a reality I was going to let happen.
With a heavy hitting drum and bass playlist pulsing through my body I set off. My adrenaline pumped and the clock ticked, second by second, as I sprawled up the initial netting before throwing myself off the platform and onto the crash mat.
Before I knew it my hands were rough and clutching to rope as I swung my lower body onto the next plastic disk and then gripping cold metal bars one by one as I propelled myself forward.
Standing before me next was a large sheet of metal and before I'd caught my breath I was sprinting towards it and clutching the half-pipe edge, swinging my feet and the rest of my body over the top.
With the sound of drum and bass still pumping through my body I wasn't sure of how long it had taken to get to this point. I knew I was on the same song I started with so knew it couldn't be longer than 3 minutes yet so surged forward, grabbing the trapeze and swinging to the floor.
Surging forward, with the end in sight, my feet bounced off the 5 angled platforms before I found myself almost dancing across the rotating balance platform.
Leaping to safety, I was faced with the last obstacle. Barely taking breath I started pumping my arms and legs forward, propelling me up the final black slope to victory.
Eagerly clambering down I instantly asked for my time: 2:05.
Feeling both relieved and elated I happily accepted my medal and continued to bask the in the sun for a while, catching up with lots of the other competitors who had completed the course.
No Mud, No Running - Just Obstacles. Round 2.
Wearing my medal proudly I looked behind me to see the "insane course" beckoning.
I'd not practiced any of the insane course for fear of tiring myself out and making a silly mistake on the first course. I later realized this was a very wise move, especially considering how difficult the second obstacle course actually was.
For a typical obstacle course, any fit individual can usually have a decent attempt at any obstacle on standing in front of them. The insane course however, was on another level of difficulty.
Aimed to challenge even those with significant experience in climbing, parkour, gymnastics or other similar bodyweight disciplines, it was easy to see the "ninja warrior" influence over the course design.
Not for the faint of heart, the challenge was laid out in the following order:
- Body prop or "core cruncher" (suspend your body horizontally, pushing your hands and feet against a platform and shimmying along)
- Rope climb
- Rolling log (cling onto a large cylinder and it rolls down a ramp!)
- Ascending and descending monkey bars
- Spider flip (cling underneath wooden sheets, up vertically, then jump across and cling to another vertical wooden platform before climbing underneath again)
- Flying monkey
- Jumping / walking spider
- Warped wall (run up a 15ft halfpipe where the top of the obstacle curves slightly over the ramp itself)
Many of these obstacles may be unfamiliar, if that's the case, simply give them a google by searching "ninja warrior spider flip" or "ninja warrior body prop" and you can see the level of skill required to complete it.
The actual obstacles on the day differed slightly but were based on the ninja warrior obstacles above.
To give some context, I was there for around 3 hours in total. I arrived about 12:45, did 30 minutes of practicing and then raced at 1:30. I stuck around till about 4 O'clock, so a good 3 hours or so (it was a gloriously sunny day afterall!).
In all the time I spent at the course, with a range of highly trained individuals from other obstacle racers to gymnasts, not a single person I saw was able to complete the entire course.
The level of difficulty was nothing like I'd seen before in terms of a "typical" obstacle course, requiring a phenomenal amount of grip strength and athleticism to complete.
Whether you're a parkour veteran or simply haven't found an obstacle course that you can't complete with ease, come along to one of Urban Ninja's obstacle courses - I can almost guarantee it will challenge you.
Considering the cost of the event was a mere £30, I didn't expect much at all.
Despite the very reasonable entry fee (which is pretty phenomenal when compared to the £100+ which can be spent on other races quite easily) - I was really pleased with what I took home from the day.
First of all, all participants were given a urban ninja t-shirt, just for turning up. As I was keen to top up my tan, I naturally didn't wear this at all however!
Secondly - and this is where I feel Urban Ninja did something different - you got a medal.
"So? You get a medal whichever race you do normally, even if it's a simple 10k..."
Indeed, with roughly 90% of races you do get a medal, though usually they are simply for "completing" the event in question. If it's a 10k, you get a medal whether you ran it in 40 minutes, or 80.
With other obstacle races, you simply get a medal for passing the finishing line, even if you walked the whole thing and skipped all the obstacles.
In this way, Urban Ninja made the medal you (hopefully) achieved after completing a course much more significant. If you didn't complete any of the courses flawlessly and within 3 minutes (8.5 minutes for the intense course) - you didn't get a medal.
This really made the medal feel like a badge of honor, representing that you'd not simply come to a race and had a go, but that you've completed the course without a single error and within the given time-frame.
The risk of not achieving the medal also added a big surge of adrenaline to the race - from the second you hear the words "go", all you focus on is overcoming each obstacle as quickly and efficiently as possible till you reach the finish line.
Although not a typical souvenir from the day, one thing I really liked about the day was the sense of community.
I arrived alone, having been unable to convince any of my friends to come along for the day! Despite this, I was welcomed by friendly staff and both before and after the event I met a series of great people.
There wasn't a competitive atmosphere on the day really - it was much more encouraging, with individuals offering tips and techniques to help others overcome specific obstacles.
On the "insane" course, there was even a crowd, at least 20 strong, cheering each individual on as they attempted the crazy obstacles.
It was a truly enjoyable day and one which I wouldn't hesitate to do again - though knowing how difficult the insane course is I'd definitely have to take my own training up a gear!
The structure of the day was unique, providing challenge at all levels and even making the medal itself something which isn't guaranteed.
Also included is the day is the opportunity to practice all the obstacles prior to your race. For £30, this is a great opportunity to build the course into your overall obstacle race training, or even to give your body the shock of a very unfamiliar workout!
I finished the day proudly with a medal, having had a great experience (and even some sunburn too!).
It was easy to get to, great value, exciting, fun and contained everything that you might want from an obstacle course, just without the mud or the running!
If you're looking for something different, to really challenge yourself, or you're even a bit curious - have a look on their website and sign up and check it out.
You probably won't have experienced anything quite the same...
Want to convince your friends to try something different?
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