Well that was disappointing. Just a few hours ago I finished in the humble top 20 at the very first, very hyped Bear Grylls Survival Race. The race wasn’t what you would expect from an event organised under the Bear Grylls banner, as contrary to all the marketing materials, there was very little survivalism involved.
In fact, as a very first Bear Grylls race event this was an entry-level obstacle race with poor organisation and skewed rules.
The race took place on a crispy cold morning with thick fog on the outskirts of north London. Finally a London-based race nearby which really is based in London and doesn’t involve 2hr train journeys. The venue, Trent Park, was perfect with its secluded wood and green areas, some mixed urban terrain on the side and small, muddy lakes scattered throughout.
What impressed me even more was how big the festival area was. It was the typical Tough Mudder/Spartan Race village but on steroids! As elite racers gathered at the start line, there were hundreds of people responsible for various stands and attractions. These included a marine corps stand with a bunch of marines, a Segway test-driving area, a deep jump and dive obstacle, and another 30 or so other survival and outdoors brands pitching their goods. In other words, the racing village was definitely worth the festival’s name.
From here on out however everything goes down hill. I won’t go deep into the technical difficulties that the staff had to deal with – this is after all a new event and such troubles are understandable if not expected.
What is unforgivable is the absence of clear rules and the inability to ensure that the elite competitive heat of the race and the sport is actually that. Now, you can call me fitness nazi, but if you sign up to compete you had better know how to do ALL of your burpees and how to DO THEM RIGHT.
The Bear Grylls Survival Race didn’t have burpees. We knew that their choice of a physical penalty for failing an obstacle was bear crawls, but the practicalities of this weren’t explained very well. The race spokesperson just said that the penalty will vary in length depending on the obstacle you’ve failed. Wow that’s something new and cool, I thought.
I failed monkey bars once and was asked to do 25 jumping jacks, whilst a fellow racer was asked to do 20 for the same fault. And this was one of the few obstacles that had course marshals; most of the obstacles that followed were completely abandoned, which meant you couldn’t fail. The hell, you didn’t even have to complete the obstacle! You could just run past it, which of course, some people did do.
When you race competitively and you’re in the lead you will get lost sometimes. This is exactly what the group of athletes I was running with experienced. We didn’t peel off because we were blindly following the first member of the pack, but because after following the marked race route, we got to a point where none of the paths had any markers. This was followed by multiple crossroads and a couple of miles of wandering around woods. In the end, we cut maybe 1/3 of the original 10k route.
I never personally got this lost in any of races in the past couple of years. This had to be the test. That’s what I told myself and fellow wolf pack members who were swearing profusely. What followed were another couple of miles of trails with monkey bars, some ammo box carries, slippery wall and hills. All too typical obstacles and nothing to prove that we were here to survive.
UPDATE: Based on talks on the OCR community groups parts of the race were unmarked because some unhappy locals night before the race decided to remove the tapes and pointer signs.
This was a very dry race with just a minor dip here and there. And in my books if you don’t have mud in your underwear this must be a stadium race or just your regular 10k!
Fast forward to approx. an hour later and the whole pack crossed the finish line. None of us happy, just shocked at what we’d just experienced and not in a good way. We were greeted with a few marshalls who knew less than we did: no comments on abandoned obstacles, the lack of race markers or what had happened to the other athletes, who by their chip times had arrived first. But the funniest thing was that they still knew more than the race staff, who just shrugged at our questions and offered to do another lap free of charge.
Perhaps the momentum created by this season’s last Spartan races added up to the disappointment, but there were just too many things that didn’t go well in this race. Maybe by next year this event will have matured. Historically every race has it’s shortcomings, but they usually learn from mistakes. We’ll keep you posted.