Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fancy a Rat Race?

I love a good challenge so when someone suggested I try the Rat Race I didn’t hesitate to sign up. “What’s a rat race?” you might ask. A rat race is traditionally defined as something that is “endless, self-defeating or a pointless pursuit”. However the rat race I signed up to was far from pointless. Instead it is a bizarre urban event that turns cities into high-adrenaline playgrounds for its eager participants. With teams of two and three who race in a multi-sport test of endurance and skills, the course is only revealed hours before the event begins. And while the repercussions of the adventure can be jelly legs and aching limbs, it is an inspiring weekend for those who seek a memorable city adventure.

Since the first Rat Race Urban Adventure was held in Edinburgh in 2004, it has spread in popularity to vibrant cities like Edinburgh, Brighton, and London, where the next event will run on the 26th of September. The race has also extended to Ireland, and it was in the eclectic city of Galway that I signed up to my first rat race with my sister, Steph. The rules of the rat race are few and far between, and the perk is that it is open to anyone, even if you haven’t trained hard in advance. There are two events to choose from - Mean Streets and Nine2Five. The Mean Streets is recommended for rat race virgins, since it is “suitable for anyone with a pair of trainers and a sense of humour.” The three hour run to find clues is nowhere near as physically taxing as the Nine2Five. Still today I am not sure what convinced me to compete in the more enduring of the two races. It was only as we pushed our way to the front of the start line that I realised how horribly unprepared we were. We might have looked the part - kitted out in our lycra shorts and Asics runners - but we lacked the fitness to survive the eight hours of mad-cap checkpoint hunting around the city. Luckily we still had enthusiasm on our side, lots of it.

As soon as we received our first clue it really ramped up the adventure element and separated the professionals from the amateurs. The handful of pro teams skedaddled off on their mission to win; the rest of us followed their swift lead, hoping they would guide us towards the jackpot. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t long before we were miles behind their track and left to rely on our unpolished navigation and orienteering skills. The race is predominantly bike-based where we had to set off on various “adventure loops,” which link up venues, activities and adventures across the city and beyond. Often we had to drop our bikes and run or walk as well as complete different challenges at the “Rat Traps.” These varied from abseiling down a shopping centre building, to wading blindfolded through a bog and scrambling up a slide of melted margarine. Needless to say bruises and small cuts come with the adventure. While the professional teams swiftly found the short cuts on the course, we seemed to fall upon the scenic route on most of the loops. The checkpoints were quite different, some were activity-based, others were in famous places, many were right off the beaten track and a few were just downright surreal. As we pedal powered from one checkpoint to the next, we made sure to soak up the incredible scenery and lively camaderie around us. It might not have improved our finishing time, but it certainly made it a sociable event. With a few other teams of the same mindset, we made the most of the fine weather and the hilarious antics. In the end we managed to complete just two and a half of the four loops. Those fit and dedicated enough to complete the entire course cycled an impressive 50 kilometres. That evening all rat race participants gathered for the prize giving which inevitably led to a night of partying, and many signing up for the next rat race. Despite the after effects - aches, pains and mud everywhere - I am hooked on this urban adventure and already signed up to the London Rat Race.

The Rat Race takes place in London on the 26th and 27th of September. Prices for the race range from £39 per person for Mean Streets, £69 for the Nine2Five and £99 for the weekender entry. For more information visit www.ratraceadventure.com

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