Swinging Through the Urban Jungle
Race across a freeway flyover, jog the stairwell up a 12-story high-rise, abseil down its red brick facade, cycle around a city park, then wade through a canal weir before assailing a rock wall into a derelict shipyard. Cut across the abandoned dockland and kayak along the seashore before stopping at a food stand for a compulsory gorge on a local delicacy such as jellied eels or deep fried Mars bars in batter. Then bungee jump over a motorway bridge before descending into a drainage system and emerging in a busy pedestrian street full of Saturday night shoppers and jeering drunks. The U.K. Rat Race is an adventure with a difference, foregoing the muddy paths and open fields of conventional endurance races and replacing them with all the urban obstacles that four historic cities can throw at you.
The Industrial Revolution took place in the British cities of Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Newcastle and it is in each one that a series of 2-day rat races takes place during the frisky English summer, offering the perfect urban background of abandoned factories, meandering canals, and railway sideways to challenge the most agile of athletes. The race kicks off at 7pm on a Saturday evening when black clad runners outfitted with climbing harnesses, compasses, head torches, and whistles fan across the city for a 3km run (nearly 19 miles), passing checkpoints on the way where their electronic wristbands are passed under scanners to collect points. Extra points can be gained if competitors stop to try their hand at karaoke, boxing, or speed cycling without brakes. Organizers don’t make it any easier by pelting runners with eggs and smearing the finishing line with banana skins and butter.
Yet the Rat Race is a masterpiece of organization with the entire course meticulously planned, right down to the event village from which the race starts. It offers food stalls, outfit shops, and impromptu classes in rock climbing, kayaking, and abseiling for the uninitiated. Competitors do not have to be uber-athletes (though the event does attract its fair share of ultra marathon runners) as the race is split into three ability levels with the super elite having extra challenges to perform.
The lesser elite can just sit back and enjoy the ride, especially on the second day, which is a 60km (37-mile) cycle around the city, broken up with a round of paintball or potholing. Despite the urban backdrop, the circuit takes in everything that is beautiful about these four British cities with open parks, canal paths, and woodlands all on the itinerary. It is certainly a better way to see a city than from the back of an open top bus. Anybody can enter and entrance fees vary from 30 to 80 (approx. $50–$125) depending on the level you choose. Teams of two or three people complete the course and the variety of activities and their often tongue-in-cheek manner means that if the climbing, ducking, and jumping don’t make you breathless, the laughter surely will.
When to Go: Throughout the summer in different U.K. locations.