I love having friends who arrange catch ups around a fitness or yoga class, sometimes even a race. These catch ups are ALWAYS followed by coffee or food and I really look forward to them. It’s been AGES since I last saw Charlie, so when she asked me if I wanted to do the Shelter River Rat Race with her followed by a pub lunch, I didn’t hesitate. I said yes.
I’ll openly admit I didn’t even look at what the race was before I said yes. I didn’t even open the website until the night before, thinking I might need to plan my kit for the next day. When I clicked on the tab describing the obstacles, I immediately saw the 20foot plunge into the RIVER THAMES (should have guessed by the “river” part of the race name) and suddenly I wasn’t too sure about what I had agreed to. This seems to be a common theme of my racing this year!
I really really hate purposely hurting myself. With running, it hurts sometimes – but it’s more of a pain you can endure, and (usually) nothing that makes you bleed or breaks bones. Somehow I had found myself lined up at the start line of a race where I was going to run into walls, scramble and climb over obstacles – and EVEN WORSE – voluntarily put my entire body (head under!) into the THAMES.
In one small acronym…WTF.
After donning our exceptionally striking “rat-grey” t-shirts and meeting up with Emma and Becs on Saturday at ExCel, we headed off slowly on to the course – all in agreement to take it easy and treat it as fun. A few simple obstacles inside the venue eased us in to the course – up and over a truck, over a few blockades, climbing over some metal barriers…before it was time to head outside.
We squealed as our feet hit the ankle deep icy water in a paddling pool – it was time to get WET. Through a maze, up and over some enormous walls (thanks to the marshals for offering us shorties a leg up) and we came to our first obstacle in the Thames.
We had to swim under two inflatables – the water was cold, murky and absolutely stank. Which meant when we came out – we were cold, dirty, and absolutely stank too! Drips of the Thames water made it inside my mouth (despite every effort to keep them out) and let’s just say it was nothing short of foul.
I would have loved a bottle of water to try and wash out my mouth about now! I tried to put the fact that this wouldn’t be my last “dip” out of my mind.
A sodden run along the other side of the docks and over a footbridge, under and over some metal bars, a bit of an attempt at monkey bars (pathetic!) and then it was time to get into some lifejackets – and back into the water!
We did a 25m swim from one platform to the next – the swimming was fine because we could keep our heads out of the water! The hardest part was getting up on to the platform – they were slippery and there was nothing for you to grip on to, so you relied on a marshal pulling you up by your lifejacket and you sliding on very ungracefully like a beached whale.
The next section you had to slide along tyres that were tied together. There were bodies going everywhere and it felt very over crowded on the platform – so rather than wait my turn to get on the tyres, I made the call to get in and swim along side the obstacle. I took hold of Charlie’s GoPro and took some delightful and graceful shots of the girls along the way!
Up and on to another platform, and the final section you had to run and jump on to a floating trampoline type thing. Most people missed them and bounced straight off into the water – so again, I decided to swim this section and try and push the trampolines closer for the girls to jump on to! Hauling myself up on to that final platform, and then having to clamber back up on to the footpath above – I felt absolutely exhausted. Every part of me felt heavy and weighed down – being in water in all your clothes is so much harder than just running!
And then we passed the 3km sign. Oh man.
We turned the corner and ahead of us was the 20ft drop. We climbed up, past the lower 10ft option, and continued up to the higher level. Emma literally threw herself straight off – she knew if she looked down she wouldn’t do it. I chanced a glance, and immediately decided I couldn’t. I just couldn’t stand there and jump. So I didn’t. I took a running leap and threw myself off that 20ft ledge before I could think twice. I hit the water with a slap (technique was the last think on my mind) and Thames water shot up my nose and in my mouth. The lifejacket popped me back up reasonably quickly – but I still coughed and spluttered. I quickly swam out of the way because Charlie and Becs were plunging into the water right behind me! I was SO proud of us all for JUST F*N DOING IT!
We continued on, through an inflatable obstacle bouncy castle thing (which, with barely any energy and sodden wet – was actually ridiculously hard!) and then it was an out and back run before time for the next obstacle. Kayaking! WHO KAYAKS IN A RACE?! We do…apparently. We grabbed paddles and off we headed around a few buoys. Charlie and I had the technique down and thankfully didn’t capsize!
I cheered with relief at passing the 6k marker, before we realised it meant more dunks in the river. This time we had to make it up some more gigantic walls before whizzing down a plastic waterslide straight into, you guessed it, the Thames! Yippee!
We ran back past ExCel and headed back on our second lap (cue the groans). We knew what obstacles were coming for us and this time made short work of the climbing walls and under/ overs. Instead of swimming under the inflatables, this time we had to crawl through giant inflatable tunnels and do a 50m swim around a buoy and back in to the dock. A sodden run along the riverside, over the bridge and back inside ExCel – surely this meant we were close to the finish!
The last few obstacles were particularly brutal. Belly crawls through metal scaffolding – where all I could do it try and caterpiller my way through the small gaps. The race ended with two more up and over giant wooden walls – before we fell across the finishing arch.
After being handed our medals we were directed straight to the hand sanitizer and bottles of cola (to kill the bacteria!) and a snickers bar that I ACTUALLY inhaled. Wet, stinky (SO stinky), scraped, bruised, slightly battered but still smiling – that was one medal I definitely felt I had earned!
After getting changed into clean dry clothes, Charlie and I headed to a pub for ALL the drinks and a big lunch – and finally got our long over due catch up in! Did I enjoy it? I’m not sure – I’m glad that I did the race and I attempted all the obstacles, but I probably wouldn’t run (or swim) to sign up for this one again. Swimming in the Thames is certainly not something I plan to repeat any time soon – but I guess I could class this race as good training for Tough Mudder (if I ever decide to do one!). It’s a week later and my bruises and scrapes are finally fading!
Have you ever done an obstacle race like River Rat? Would you voluntarily go swimming in the Thames?
All photos courtesy of Charlie at The Runner Beans. Thanks (I think!) to Charlie for the race entry too. I’ll get you back…one day!