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If technology doesn't seem like magic, it's probably obsolete

I'm finding less time to update my blog these days, but my flickr photostream is often updated.

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Friday July 21 2006 at 01:45 GMT

Saturday

Just after lunchtime I met up with the rest of my team: Chris, an architect and avid mountain biker & Robert, ex-army and with good climbing, kayaking and cycling skills. Once we'd been through registration, including a full kit inspection, medical review and SPORTident dibber armband attachment, we split and I went home to sort out my small Camelbak with minimal kit for the evening event.

The Saturday night event was something like a big treasure hunt, with the aim being to get as many points as possible within three hours; take any longer and you start losing points. Additionally, all members of a team had to stay in close proximity with every member dibbing at each point. At 6pm we were given a list of points in the city, some of which were simply locations with a control station that we'd stick our dibber into, registering we'd been there. Others would have an additional task, for example completing a maze or wheelchair basketball. These additional tasks took longer to complete, but provided more points. The clever bit was that we were only provided with the points allocation per activity at 7pm, when the race actually started. The different checkpoints could be visited in any order, depending on how far you wanted to travel and which activities you felt your team could do best.

Rat Race Edinburgh With our carefully marked map and a rough route planned out, we grabbed our points guide and sprinted off into the evening. It must have been quite a sight seeing 500+ people in identical t-shirts racing in all different directions from Princes Street Gardens! Our route took us to the Cowgate for a maze, through Bannermans Pub, on to the wheelchair basketball, the Innocent Railway and then in an anti-clockwise arch back around the city. After carrying sadbags up a hill, finding a slacker student, crossing the water of Leith using tethered inflatable boats, cycle speedway and picking up coffee beans using chopsticks, we arrived back at the Ross Bandstand in Princes Street Gardens with just over one minute to spare. Perfectly done! Here's the 21km route we took.

Saturday night was always going to be the best part for me, given my running background and the need of local knowledge to maximise point scoring, and I absolutely loved every minute of it.

After some good pasta-based nourishment, those of us doing the Adventure class were given the route book for Sunday, and told not to lose it. Whilst I headed home to bed, my teammates carefully marked the new map we'd been given with each of the points necessary to complete the Sunday course. This turned out to be a crucial piece of work.

Sunday

We'd been warned that Sunday was going to be hot, and it was. All competitors have to be self-sufficient for the race, including finding sources of water if you use what you have. With that in mind, I filled my Camelbak and bike bottles to the brim before leaving the house at 6.45am.

When I met Chris, Robert and the other guys, the exciting talk was of our overnight position. We'd managed to collect 385 points, putting us 18th out of 150+ teams.

After Saturday's success and the fun of running about for three hours, I knew Sunday's mammoth biking, ropework and kayaking was going to seriously stretch me. The last time I cycled anything more than 10 minutes to/from work was 12 years previously and the last time I abseiled or kayaked was a good 15 years ago.

We gathered on the Castle Esplanade for a 'quiet start', before a runner led us down the Mound and around the Gardens, then up and down the castle hill before we got on to our bikes. The Sunday route was the same for everyone apart from a cutoff at 5pm, where those who hadn't completed the task were made to shortcut their way back. Again, all team members had to stick together, doing all tasks at the same time.

We made good progress on the run, managing to keep in the first half of the pack, so we got to our bikes and out of the paddock with much stress. Our first stop was a spot of bike-orienteering in Marchmont before heading to Blackford Quarry for some abseiling. As we stood at the top in our orderly queue, we could hear some music from below and naturally assumed it was something set up for the Rat Race. Luckily, the abseiling was taking too long to get everyone through, so only one person had to do it (Chris) and Robert and I slid our way down the path. Only when we got to the bottom did we realise there was a party going on, nothing to do with the Rat Race. As Greg commented, it was actually a two day illegal rave. The contrast was stark, but both groups seemed happy to see each other.

Rat Race abseiling Following the abseiling, we biked up to the Braid Hills Golf Centre where every team member had to drive a ball between two areas about 50m(?) away. Chris and Robert took a few attempts, then I stepped up and hit most probably the best golf shot of my life straight over the barrier. My dad would have been proud!

Now that the easy things were out the way, it was time for some serious altitude increase. We cycled over to the bottom of the Pentland Hills and started climbing. I think it was Allermuir Hill we tackled, and the ascent never seemed to end. Pushing bikes up a ridiculously loose and rocky track, in sweltering heat just wasn't fun. The descent felt relatively short although exciting enough for me. Most of it felt like riding through sand, with little control at times.

We were then back on to road and cycle track to our next point at Roslin Glen Country Park. The aim of this part was to complete an orienteering challenge. After racing around on bikes, the slow pace of walking along trails totally threw us and many other teams. Our map-reading was way, way off and we only got back on track thanks to a friendly farmer. After a bit of a time loss, we were moving on with good pace. At some point during that section, we managed to ... misplace ... our route book. This was not good. Having the points on the map was a start, but the book gave a lot more detail on what was involved at each point.

Bilston Glen ViaductUsing our memory and the map, we soldiered on, stumbling on a big activity point. Seeing as we had some time, Chris scribbled down some notes and I used my phone camera to take pictures of the lost pages from a book another team kindly leant us. It helped take my mind of the task of crossing the underside of Bilston Glen Viaduct (some more photos here). Heights are not my favourite thing, so the experience was quite something for me!

From there we walked/jogged back around to our bikes, heading (via the pub ... for water refills) towards Musselburgh after a swift dip in the River Esk. We had great fun sea kayaking in Musselburgh before speed-cycling to Craigmillar Community Arts Centre where we JUST made the time cutoff, ensuring we could complete the entire course. Chris's legendary map-reading skills can not be faulted!

Craigmillar CastleThe 'community challenge' was karaoke, which we completed with aplomb. Next stop was Craigmillar Castle and then it was on to Crewe Toll Shopping Centre before a ride into town for the final main activity of the day: a rope descent, climbing traverse and scramble net climb and drop. By this point my arms had very little left in them, so none of those activities were completed with too much grace and poise!

Rat Race EdinburghFinally we got on our bikes one last time and cycled along Princes Street to drop our bikes at the far end of the Gardens, before running into the finishing area. One last nasty task was making us climb a slippery wall covered in margarine and banana skins. We finally crossed the line having taken 11hours and 53minutes to complete the course. Here's our 90km Sunday route.

Review

Without doubt, the Rat Race was one of the coolest things I've ever done. It has left me on a high for the last few days. Running has always been about keeping fit, to a certain degree; this was really using my fitness as I'd like to do a lot more. The things for me that made it so cool were:
  • my teammates: Chris, Robert and I all worked off each other very well, pooling our skills and keeping each other going. I most definitely landed on my feet with those guys.
  • the cameraderie between teams: whilst it was a race, whenever we saw another team there was always a nod, a smile and some banter
  • the organisation: putting on an event like that must require levels of organisation I can only dream about, yet they were there. The administration was cleanly done and the course layout was immense.
  • the marshalls: the same marshalls worked tirelessly throughout the Sunday, manning different checkpoints and always there with a smile and some encouragement. A huge thank you to all the marshalls and also the medics, who were a good bunch too.

One of the big surprises for me was how well I got on with the cycling. Clearly all my running has given my legs stamina, and there was still some energy left in them for the final sprint down Princes Street. On Monday morning my legs and shoulders were a little stiff, but that has cleared now.

Quite a few people have asked how it compared to running a marathon. A marathon is pretty straightforward in comparison: you turn up with your shoes and number, then go for it. There is a huge mental challenge, but it's whether or not to keep going. The Rat Race (and other Adventure Races) require a different sort of mentality. You need to keep your wits about you more to ensure you're going in the right direction, on top of whether you have the strength to keep going. For me, the Rat Race was a good deal more fun ... but I'll still run marathons.

From end to end, the event was quite simply epic fun and with any luck the Rat Race will be back in Edinburgh in 2007 and I'll be there too.

If you're interested in taking part next year, my personal advice would be to do the Rookie event if you just want some fun for an evening. It is tremendously good. In terms of fitness level, we covered just over a half-marathon distance in the three hours, so you don't need to be superhuman to handle that. To complete the Adventure class, which is Saturday and Sunday, I'd definitely recommend that you have completed previous races in whatever discipline before you enter that one. Knowing how your body will work over an extended period of physical activity is important, as is the general race knowledge. Being in good shape is a definite plus if you intend to cover the whole course.

My weakness was my upper body strength which pales in significance compared to my legs. Next year I'll be sure to get some climbing and kayaking practice in, to build some more confidence there and to get my body used to the disciplines.

Supplementary

Some of the papers carried stories on the race. Here's a few:

Dave and Nobby from extremedv were on hand to film the lunacy. Hopefully they'll have scrapped all the bits of me looking absolutely knackered.

There are some photos on flickr, and probably more to come. Brooner has a comprehensive set here. Thanks, Brooner.

If you're interested in adventure racing, the best place to start is SleepMonsters.


Comments


I thought this was a technology website. You seem to have shifted from being a nerd to a fitness bore. Such a shame, I was looking for an opinion on HDTV or Sky's broadband move or a new gadget that might change my life.
Neil | Friday July 21 at 09:11 GMT| Comment permalink


Clearly you misread the label. ;-) This site is about whatever I'm up to, generally about tech & Edinburgh life.
Martin Little | Monday July 24 at 17:56 GMT | Web| Comment permalink

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