Survival of the Fittest – The best/worst urban assault course ever

 

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the 2017 Survival of the Fittest event in London. My entry was haphazardly thrown together at the last minute, hoping to squeeze one more race in this summer. Although I’m beginning to lean away from distance running (seriously, screw cardio), the event’s website listed the distance as only 10k, so at worst I’d just take it super slowly or walk it.

I wangled myself onto the earliest starting wave I could, 9:15am, hoping to avoid the majority of the crowds and having to queue for obstacles during the actual run. I may have been a bit too enthusiastic, arriving at Wembley at 8:30am and finding the starting area to be a mostly deserted wasteland. Oh the bright side, it at least meant registering was easy and I had plenty of time to warm up.

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I noticed the run doesn’t seem to know what to call itself. It used to go by the London Rat Race, then simply Rat Race, now it’s Survival of the Fittest but there were still loads of Rat Race signs plastered everywhere. Currently between re-branding I guess.

So fast forward about 45 minutes and I find myself side by side on the starting line with a skinny grey haired lady who appears to be well in her 60’s. SOTF seemed to attract all ages and abilities, which was nice. There were over 1600 registered runners and unlike the bigger endurance events, most of the entrants don’t look like hard-core athletes. Despite being organised by Men’s Health magazine, there were plenty of women running the event too.

In the starting area, a guy on a loudspeaker goes through the usual start up routine these races do (jumping jacks, bodyweight squats, shadow boxing) and as usual I’m sucking wind before even running 10 feet.

After a 10 second countdown, finally we were off! Or not, because 50 feet from the starting line was the first obstacle, stacked hay bales, which caused a massive traffic jam of runners. I found myself standing still while my old lady friend scrambled up them ahead of me (fair play to her, she made light work of it).

SOTF officially touts itself as an “urban assault course”, because, well it’s in central London and there’s not a lot of sprawling countryside. I quickly found out that meant we would be doing a ton of running across roads with bustling traffic. Unsurprisingly, I saw a couple of runners almost become roadkill as they dashed across the street.

And of course, because we were at Wembley Stadium, it mean running up an awful lot of steps. Ben does not like steps. Ben dislikes steps even more when you have to carry heavy sandbags up and down them.

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There were a few fun obstacles though, a waterslide, a climbing wall and a giant washing machine filled with soapy suds to navigate through.

But most of the trend with most of the obstacles at SOTF was that they were really, really ghetto. To the point where I genuinely wondered if a drunken scaffolder had put them together on his day off. Most of the structures were rickety, haphazard and if you messed up, a lot of them offered 9-10 feet falls. Onto concrete. PSA, I am not Mick Foley and this doesn’t appeal greatly to me.

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King of the ghetto obstacles was a smelly ankle-deep jog through a filthy river bed for about 2 kilometres. I tried not to think of used needles resting at the bottom as I trudged past floating pizza boxes and dead pigeons.

The course was also really poorly marked out, to the point where I found myself running parts that I’d already done because I managed to absent mindedly meander off course. I am not a smart man.

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Crossing the finish line with a time of about 1 hour, 5 minutes, I can safely say SOTF was the sketchiest run I’d ever done, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it just for the absurdity of some of the obstacles. I probably won’t be running it again, but if you’re looking for an alternative that’s a little less intense (and less filthy) than Tough Mudder and it’s equivalents, I say give it a try. The risk of picking up an injury is probably a bit higher, but you don’t sign up to these things to be moddy cuddled after all.

 

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