Survival instinct

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7,000 extreme runners experienced all Battersea had to offer at Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest, a 10K adventure race series. Stand Out talks to its organiser Jim Mee, managing director, Rat Race

It’s a sunny Saturday morning in November when Stand Out finds itself eclipsed by Battersea Power Station. Pools of ice, mud and water sit on a rugged obstacle course that only extreme runners and fitness fiends find inviting. I look to my right at Andy Butts, managing director, Gorilla Marketing and Events, which has created the extreme hurdles. He looks back and smiles: It’s quite obvious that the “experience” is personally not our cup of tea. So, we grab a brew and meet Jim Mee, managing director, Rat Race – the organiser of today’s race series.

Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest is a test of stamina and guts. The event has attracted 7,000 people, who will all run the 10K track. But it’s not a normal race – a series of obstacles have been created along the route that has been forged at Battersea Power Station and within Battersea Park.

It’s the first time that Mee has brought the series to London, yet it’s sold out. Every 15 minutes, 350 runners cross the start line and begin a testing course that combines hay bales, water hoses, ropes, slides, mud baths and nets. Utilising a wave start system, Mee is able to control the flow of runners, which comprise hardcore fitness fanatics and those who run for fun.

The decision to create a London event was decided in 2010. Mee did many site visits and looked at ExCeL and The O2 in detail but opted to utilise Battersea; its urban landscape and space fitted the brief, and a footpath underneath Chelsea Bridge created an ideal link between Battersea Power Station and the park.

“We decided to create the London event last year,” Mee explains. “The Survival series is very popular, and so we took some time to scout the ideal venue because we wanted to make sure it was of the right calibre.”

The series is sponsored by Men’s Health, Land Rover, Asics, For Goodness Shakes and Tissot but the event provides more than exposure, and Mee has strong views on the normal sponsorship packages adopted and offered by other organisers.

“We don’t rely on sponsorship to create an event. The entry fees pay for the event, so if an event is sponsored the money services that sponsorship. It doesn’t pay for the marquees and toilets. Sponsorship money should be ploughed back into the sponsor because if you use it to pay for infrastructure then there’s less money to service the sponsorship.”

Today’s event commands a £49 entry fee – spaces are allocated on a first come, first serve basis, which reserves you a space in one of 20 waves.

Butts and his crew of seven have created the event’s hosing station, Mad Max obstacle and a wooden ramp, developed using a cup block scaffold structure, which stands at just under three metres high. The temporary structure is weighted with six tonnes of ballast and has been developed with guidance from Capita Symonds to ensure that Wandsworth Council is happy with the calculations. Health and safety is paramount. Even the runners must wear helmets as they run through the station’s Boiler House before scaling three enormous steps and transitioning down the ramp. But first the runners must experience the ice pool, skip of mud, cargo nets, hosing station and swimming pool – also produced by Gorilla using cup block scaffold, decking, ply sheets, and ballast.

Capita is just one of a number of suppliers contracted to the event – Polar Bear Productions, Peppermint Bars, Brooks Marquees, Lifecare Medics, Elliott Event Hire, Speedy Hire, GMC Events, Flair Events, SFM Security, DSL, Frontrunner and The Event Business are on-site too.

Survival of the Fittest has been predominantly marketed through Men’s Health and its sister title Runner’s World. Mee also utilised other Rat Race events, of which there are 25, to address potential participants. Rat Race’s audience is two thirds male – an ABC1 audience, averaging 25-45, a relatively affluent consumer, who tends to own a bike or is active at the weekend. No one can argue that Mee does not know his target market. But what of plans for next year? Is he an organised organiser?

“On November 17, 2012, Survival of the Fittest will return to Battersea. The plan is to increase the event from 7,000 to 10,000, which means there will be more waves of runners starting earlier and finishing later. Then, we plan to introduce a night race and wrap up the series with entertainment, a social element and a beer tent.

“We’ll floodlight the area and create a smaller 5K course within the power station. The venue and the council are on board but naturally it’s still subject to licence. The ticket price will increase to £55, but if people want to run both the day and night races then we’ll offer the night ticket at a 50 per cent discount,” Mee concludes. “The night race is something completely different.”