Stockton River Rat Race – Race Report

  Nearly a year ago I signed up for this race for a few reasons. Firstly my brother was going to do it with me, secondly I quite enjoy the random fun of these obstacle course races (OCR) and thirdly because I grew up in Stockton-on-Tees and it just appealed to me to go back and race there.

The idea behind the event is to maximise the challenge of navigating the river and the surrounding waterways in Teeside, which have significantly rejuvenated since the days of heavy steel industry when I was growing up there in the late 70s and 80s. I thought it would be a bit of fun, although I was a  bit concerned as subsequently to signing up I had decided to do the Weymouth half iron triathlon and that was only two weeks away. I am trying to raise a £1000 towards my ongoing total for Parkinson’s UK at Weymouth so injury would be more worrying than just missing the race. And injury is a real possibility at these events!

Anyway, I still turned up on the day and using my mum’s local knowedge we were easily parked, registered and in a coffee shop for some pre-race caffeine well before my wave was due to leave. It was really nice as a lot of my races I travel to on my own or with club members who are also competing, but this time I had my small cheering support team of mum, wife and kids! My dad and BROTHER (yes, the one who was “apparently” going to do this with me) had season tickets for the annual Arsenal vs Newcastle sufferfest so weren’t able to join us. But I’m sure they had a lovely time shouting at the referee…

These events tend to attract all sorts of capabilities and quite a large field, so when I booked I tried to get as early a wave as possible. If you are in the later waves then you do tend to get a lot of congestion around the obstacles as the back markers from each wave start to stack up. So, I joined the rest of wave two and we did our obligatory group “warm up” (Bruno Mars Uptown Funk since you ask, and not as cringy as often can be) before we went off to the start line. Although I am under no illusions that I am particularly fast or have the upper body strength needed for the obstacles, I did still make sure I was at the front of the wave. As I say, it does get congested. 

Off we went and, with the exception of a few warm up objects to vault / clamber over, the first mile or so was heavy on the running – you still have to cover 10k after all! I realised early on that my wave wasn’t strong in running pedigree so I seemed to settle in towards the front of the field. With a quick wave to the support team (kids are great cheerleaders, I recommend having some at all events), I headed out towards the Newport Bridge, the furthest point away from the start. This section of about 2.5-3 miles was light on obstacles, but it did provide the first water challenge, reminding me of how cold the Tees can be even in August!

With a quick swim of about 5 metres across an access waterway we’d all been well and truly soaked through and sent off to clamber over a hilly section before the bridge turnaround. The one thing that was a little bittersweet was that in this section we were herded round a set of monkey bars as some poor soul was on the floor looking quite injured. Whilst I felt a lot of sympathy for the person with a potentially dislocated shoulder a bit of me was shamefully quite pleased not to have to attempt what’s in my top two least favourite obstacles. Number one is walls – both require upper body strength that has eluded me my whole life.

Anyway once we turned around we were on the trek back towards the riverside, with a stop at the white water rafting course on the way. Stockton has a fab facility that loads of kayakers / canoodlists travel to from all over the country and it provided a lovely set of water based obstacles. I fared pretty well and stayed upright where I could on the inflatable obstacles and dived in with gusto when I needed to. The only downside was being flipped a bit as I slid down the white water part of the course and scraping my elbow along the concrete. Sore and dripping with blood I didn’t mind too much as it’s the very definition of a flesh wound – nothing to bother my Weymouth prep.

After navigating all the obstacles in the white water centre we set off back towards town. This was my second sighting of the family support team who took some good photos of me and my latest friend. We had to do a loop in a two man kayak on the Tees so I teamed up with a guy who turned out to be not too shabby. Between us (me relying on latent school days training) we did pretty well and went past two or three kayaks ahead of us who were struggling somewhat to go in a straight line. 

Jumping out of the kayak, off we went again and headed to the final mile or so of the course – heavily back-ended with obstacles and sections of swimming in the river. We were in and out, swimming over and under inflatables and also having to balance on strapped-together rafts. We finally made it to the poster obstacle for the event – walking the plank of HM Bark Endeavour, a full-size replica of James Cook’s famous ship. Lots of people baulk at this one, and to be frank I’m not the best at heights but I knew my tactics had to be to just walk straight off, no messing. In reality it wasn’t that scary and soon I was swimming the 30 metres to the exit ramp from the river – not that easy in a life vest!

And then I was off – running the 500m or so to the finish and the final obstacle of a 10ft high ramp with rope. Over I went and I was done! My strange children wanted a hug from me with my wet clothes so I duly obliged and then promptly sanitised my hands of Tees gunk before scoffing a complimentary Clif bar.

I did OK too. 1hr 21m for a 10k – a pants time normally but not bad with the added water and stuff! Other stats:

  • 11th out of 156 in my wave
  • 100th out of 619 men
  • 107th out of 941 overall

So, really glad I did it, loads of fun. Even more glad I wasn’t injured for Weymouth!

If you have heard scary stories of pumped up meatheads at these OCR events, then they are there, but they are a minority. Most people are just there for a laugh, and not worrying about their km split times. Every now and then I say do one, they are really good fun and yes they may be a bit more expensive than a standard race but you get plenty of organisation for your money.

Now, where are those probiotics again…?

  

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