Thanks to 4,000 coffee adverts, we all know what we're meant to be doing on a Saturday morning. Our bedrooms are supposed to be filled with light, and beautifully crisp, fluffed-up duvets. We are supposed to wake up looking angelic, and be fed delicious breakfast treats and high-quality coffee whilst wearing matching pajama sets. I can't wait. In the meantime, I spent last Saturday waking up blearily, scrabbling around my room for lycra, and setting off to Wembley.
Survival of the Fittest is a 10km obstacle race run by Rat Race Adventure Sports. Written like that, it looks fairly manageable. Waking up on Saturday morning, schlepping to Wembley and then joining 1000s of other, much fitter and happier looking people, it was less so. "I can run 10km,' I told my friend, as we milled about anxiously, putting on our matching red race t-shirts and haphazardly pinning on our race numbers. ('Do we absolutely have to wear these?' I asked one of the organisers, who nodded firmly.) I remain unconvinced as to the usefulness of paper race numbers, awkwardly safety pinned to one's chest, in an age where every entrant is given a digital timing chip to attach to their shoe. As it turned out, I was right. The course itself is littered with torn off race numbers. Mine didn't last longer than the first obstacle, although by that time I was far too preoccupied with staying alive to enjoy the warm glow of being right.
As it turns out, the 10km ought to have been the very least of my worries. (Well, that and the paper race number). 'This is like a gulag,' my friend said, breathing heavily to my left. 'A gulag, that we've paid to be part of.' I didn't have the breath to answer him. I'd let him set the pace, you see, in a fit of over-optimistic bravado, and we were currently pelting round the outside of Wembley Stadium at a speed I wasn't sure I could maintain for very much longer. We'd successfully overcome the first of the obstacles, and, not yet realising that the course weighted the level of difficulty of its challenges, were foolishly thinking that this might all be rather easy.
11.30am: The race began with everyone in our wave (thousands of people willingly and enthusiastically sign up to Survival of the Fittest, so they put you into 30 minute starting slots, and give you corresponding coloured wristbands, so you can see if you are hopelessly slower than the people you started with) being led in a group warm-up exercise. I half-heartedly did a squat, and then watched as everyone else warmed up much more enthusiastically.
11.35am: I am faced with clambering over a large haybale. I wonder why I didn't warm-up properly.
11.45am: 'We've probably done about 3km,' I tell my friend hopefully. He does not deign to reply.
12.30pm: 'I've really got the hang of this,' I point out, and promptly face-plant into a large pile of mud. My friend is laughing too hard to keep running, and hits his knee on one of the metal building poles we are meant to be clambering over.
1.15pm: I am wading, at chest-height, through the Thames. I start to wonder why I have voluntarily agreed to do this. The water level lowers somewhat and my friend begins to pick up the pace, singing the Baywatch theme tune. I momentarily forget how cold my feet are.
1.20pm: I am running fast, to try and warm up. I'm regaining feeling in my extremities when we run round a corner, and into a wall of water. Some of the volunteers have taken it upon themselves to pick up large hoses, and spray oncoming runners with freezing water. (I check, and apparently this is part of the course. I'm still unconvinced).
2pm: 'We're nearly there,' I exclaim to my friend. 'How are you feeling?' he asks. 'Really good,' I lie. We run to the last of the hurdles: The Men's Health Wall of Fame. 8 feet of intimidation and fear. 'This is where champions are made,' I think to myself. I stare up at the sheer wall, and don't even pretend to attempt it on my own. 'Jump,' my friend exhorts. I stare at him with the contempt he deserves. 'Is there any way we can go round?' I ask one of the volunteers. (Volunteers, like plain-clothes policemen, look just like us. Only less tired). He shakes his head with more pleasure than I think is strictly necessary. Two of the other runners hoist me up from the ground, and my friend pulls me over the top from above. It is rare that I have felt so glamorous and elegant.
2.15pm: The beer hall. This, when we saw it before the race began, was a largely unremarkable tent-like structure with a bar at one end. It is now the happiest place on earth. We walk in, and are greeted with a wave of heat and happiness and alcohol, and for the next 2 hours, it really seems like it was all worth it. On the way home we pop into Wembley's Nike Outlet Store, and I buy a t-shirt that says 'More cushion for the pushin', so who knows what state of mind I was in.
Sunday, 9.30am: I realise that my legs and arms no longer work, and that I will have to remain in my bed forever. Which, despite its lack of breakfast treats and high-quality coffee, still seems pretty tempting.
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