Edinburgh assault course challenge for runners

Competitors scramble over bales of hay on the Royal Mile at the start of last year's event. Picture: Kate Chandler

Competitors scramble over bales of hay on the Royal Mile at the start of last year's event. Picture: Kate Chandler

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Thousands of amateur athletes are set to tackle a gruelling race complete with hay bales, army 
obstacles and roadworks.

The city centre will be transformed into a giant assault course tomorrow for the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest race – a high-octane running-based event.

Now in its fourth year, more than 3500 runners are expected to take part, the highest number yet.

The race, which is being staged by Rat Race Adventure Sports, sees competitors tackling a 10km running route interspersed with obstacle zones throughout the city centre.

The Edinburgh course will feature a “Braveheart charge” starting sequence on the Royal Mile – followed by a tough ascent of Jacob’s Ladder and the completion of multiple obstacles all over the Old Town and Holyrood Park.

It finishes in West Princes Street Gardens, where spectators are encouraged to come and cheer on participants.

The obstacles themselves consist of a variety of challenges and runners should expect to face some staple survival classics such as a series of hay bale walls, an army assault course, the “parkour” zone and a roadworks-inspired “Men’s Health at Work” zone.

Also standing between entrants and their chances of crossing the finish line will be the infamous Men’s Health “Wall of Fame” – a sheer 8ft high construction, which competitors must scale before they are able to officially call themselves a survivor.

This year, a new element has been introduced – “The Wet One” – a series of water slides and deep water pools in Princes Street Gardens. And the race would not be complete without a dash through the SoCo site on the Cowgate up to and through a derelict building on Chambers Street.

Gary Tompsett, course designer and race director, says: “In Edinburgh, what people enjoy is the thrill of being out on the streets of the city, because it’s so hilly and there’s so many winding closes.

“It’s generally regarded as a dry course compared to the other cities, where participants end up in rivers, so this year we’ve decided to add the Wet One at the end of the course.

“Being Scotland it might be quite muddy and wet as it is, though. The key to the popularity of the event is the obstacles and the challenges, which spice up what is a normal 10km course.

“People come to Edinburgh to take part from all over the country – around 50 per cent of the participants live nearby and the other half come from all over the Central Belt and down south.”

Over the years, the Survival of the Fittest events, which take place down the length and breadth of the UK, have become a huge draw for competitors.

This year’s Edinburgh date forms one of five fixtures across the “survival season”.

Other events take place in Cardiff, Nottingham and Manchester – culminating with a season closer at London’s Battersea Power Station, which runs into the night.

Gary says: “A lot of people go round all of the events.

“We see quite a few familiar faces – they tend to be people who get dressed up for the race and put in a huge effort to raise money for charity.

“Each city has its own flavour so it’s not surprising people want to go round them all.”

One of the UK’s first urban adventure races, the Rat Race Urban Adventure, was held in Edinburgh in 2004.

Jim Mee, managing director of Rat Race Adventure sports, says: “Survival has become a much-loved date in Edinburgh’s events calendar and we love the way in which the city not only embraces the event, but gives us an amazing canvas on which to create this quirky urban obstacle course.

“The secret to the success of the events are that they are unique and provide a brilliant way to see the city differently, whilst having a bit of rough and tumble along the way.

“It appeals to people’s sense of adventure because of the way they can access the city - and obviously people do have a lot of fun, because about half of the runners taking part have done it before. But it isn’t easy, it’s an exceptionally tough race and out of all the cities, I would say Edinburgh is the toughest because of so much of it is uphill.

“But these days, people are also looking to take part in fundraising events that are a little bit more challenging, or a bit off-kilter – we like to think that we are just a little bit different.

“An urban assault course through the streets of Edinburgh certainly is.”

The event raises money for lots of different causes and the organisers are not prescriptive on who the cash can go to. But in an arrangement with Cancer Research UK, anyone who raises £100 for the charity will get £10 back.

This year’s title sponsor of Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest is Volkswagen Amarok. Other partners include Tissot and Remington. For further information about the event, including start times, visit www.mhsurvival.co.uk