After running Rough Runner together in July, the boyfriend and I found ourselves well and truly bitten by the obstacle racing bug. As the scratches, bruising and general muscle soreness that accompanies these races impacts on my general running training, and I was planning on running a 10k in October, we decided not to book another obstacle race until after it. We looked around to see what events were happening, and found out about Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest.
Obstacle racing comes with a hefty price tag; the cheapest option for a solo runner running next year’s survival of the fittest was £49 and that price has gone up since November. As I am always looking for ways to save money, we decided to sign up to volunteer at the race before running in a later wave, and reducing the cost of entry to a mere £5! We signed up for the London wave, which took place at Wembley on Saturday 21st November. We were extremely lucky, perhaps because we signed up very early, in that our volunteering post was inside. This particular day was one of the coldest of the year; it actually started to snow before the start of the first wave. My best friend also signed up to volunteer and run with us, and sadly was far less lucky. She had to marshall one of the obstacles so had to stand outside in the freezing cold for 6 hours. Not ideal!
We volunteered from 06:30 until 13:00, then had a quick lunch before our wave started at 13:45. I would definitely recommend volunteering as not only is it a bargain (you still get the race pack and goody bag, all for just £5!!!) but you also meet some fantastic people. We really enjoyed chatting to the other volunteers and sharing stories about racing! All that being said, I don’t think I’d recommend volunteering if you’re allocated a post outside in the Winter…make sure you’re wrapped up warm in case this happens!
Onto the race! We jogged over to the start-line to keep warm before doing a warm up organised by British Military Fitness, and then we were off! A great selling point of this race is that there were so many obstacles, from climbing hay bales, to scaling fences, carrying kegs, jumping onto air bags and more. Even though it was cold and windy, I really enjoyed the first few kilometres. I could feel my strength and stamina from my running and dancing training come into play, and I enjoyed employing various obstacle running techniques that I’d read about into my race. My initial problems started to happen at a slip n’ slide style obstacle (I’m not exactly sure, but I think it was about 3km in). I had decided before that I would at least try to attempt each obstacle, so I tried to slide down it but failed. I got about halfway down then stopped, resulting in one side of my body being soaking and starting to get very cold. I did warm up slightly after this, just from generally being energetic and throwing myself into each obstacle.
Unfortunately, I had a much bigger problem to contend with. After 6km, there was a 1km stretch of the course that involved running through a river. I had my trusty trail shoes on, so initially felt quite prepared for this bit of the course, but I wasn’t aware of just how long this bit was and how difficult I would find it. Initially I was fine; the water was cold, but I just kept on moving. However, after about a minute in the water I start to feel the circulation in my feet shutting down. I suffer from Raynaud’s phenomenon, which essentially means when I get really cold the circulation in my toes shuts down (thankfully the circulation in my fingers is not as badly affected). At first this was just uncomfortable, but once this feeling spread into my feet and up my legs it began to become extremely painful and frightening. A large segment of the river run took place in a tunnel and the cold coupled with the darkness resulted in me starting to panic about whether I would make it out of the water. My boyfriend offered to carry me and I refused initially, not wanting to “wuss out” but I later gave in as I could see that I simply wouldn’t make it out of there without assistance. He carried me through the tunnel, and once out I speedily ran the rest of the way through the water until we were on dry land again.
The experience of the river left me drained, emotionally and physically, and made the rest of the race difficult to complete. I still managed obstacles involving squeezing through something with relative ease, carrying obstacles were largely okay too, as were climbing ones (provided there was some assistance available). However, any obstacles involving upper body strength (such as monkey bars) I found my hands were simply too cold to hold on to, resulting in me failing each one. This was particularly annoying as I felt I could have done better, given my success on “hang rough” at rough runner. This year Survival of the Fittest also had a Travelator, which I felt reasonably confident about, given my success with it at Rough Runner. However, by the time I reached the finish and tried to attempt it, I was so cold and battered that I decided to only make one attempt. I got about halfway up it, before my shoes lost their grip and I slid to the bottom. If I hadn’t have been so cold, I would have attempted it again, but I was conscious that I was probably bordering on hypothermia and decided the most important thing to do was to finish the race and get warm again.
I crossed the finish line, hand in hand with my best mate and we received our goody bags. I looked out for foil blankets (I was extremely cold by this point), but couldn’t see any. In my opinion, this was a massive oversight by the organisers; foil blankets are standard at many races and should clearly be present at a race with a large water component, taking place in cold conditions. I was so cold at the finish, that I was physically unable to remove my timing chip from my shoe and required assistance to do so. Once this was done, I wondered back over to the race HQ where our bags were. Several other volunteers noticed how cold I looked, and offered to help me by this point, but the three of us managed to get to a room, change clothes and warm up slowly and safely. Once my hands functioned normally, I explored my goody bag and was pleased with its contents.
All in all, I don’t know if I’d describe the race as enjoyable overall, simply because of the cold and its effect on me. Yes, I’m glad I did it; as I’ve said above, I met some fantastic people and I also felt a massive sense of accomplishment for finishing, but it felt more like an endurance challenge than an enjoyable activity.
Would I run it again: maybe…but given my problems with Raynaud’s, I’m not sure how well suited I am to winter obstacle racing.
Would I recommend it to others: Yes! As long as you don’t have circulatory problems, and don’t mind the cold, you’ll be fine! This is definitely a race to wear gloves at though, so make sure you have a good pair!
I hope this has proved either useful or interesting, hopefully both!
Until next time