Interview with Rat Race Director, Jim Mee

International Obstacle Racing News   |   Jun 15, 2015

What is your background and how did The Rat Race begin?
I used to work for Red Bull - WAY back in the day when it was still quite a niche brand. We organised nightclub parties and extreme sports events - quite a combination and it gave me a taste for the events industry. I then went off and spent a couple of years mountaineering around various places and I took a notebook (it was 2004 but the Internet was still payable by the hour so a paper and pen was nice and handy!). I penned a concept called the Rat Race Urban Adventure while climbing in Peru. This format sought to take running, mountain biking, abseiling and kayaking out of the wild places and stick them on the streets of the city - abseiling off buildings, navigating through shopping centres and kayaking on urban docks and waterways.
That was our first event and it was a hit. We ran it in Edinburgh to begin with, got a TV deal and some sponsors and then expanded it all over the world - including stops in South America and even events in Perth and Melbourne. We don't operate that particular event anymore but from that kernel, the company grew and we evolved our portfolio to incorporate OCR amongst other pursuits. We now operate around 20 events - everything from OCR to Ultra-running and adventure multi-sport races too. And of course, our urban roots can still be seen with the Survival of the Fittest events that are staunchly city-based OCR propositions.
How has it evolved over the past 10 years?
Well, it's grown a lot! Our first event had 300 people in it and we now cater to 75000 + per year with our biggest single event in London drawing in 11 000 (one of the Men's Health Survival Series). 
I think there's been an explosion in leisure and participation sports and we have grown with that, keeping our concepts current with the market as it develops. There's a lot of stuff in the market at the moment and that's great for the consumer. I doubt all of the events out there now will be around for ever, but I think it'll be the style and type of event that will change going forward, not the participant base. I can't see people getting less active; I see the opposite. For us, we want to be with and in front of the zeitgeist, not one of the 'me-too' operators copying the leaders
The course was the best we have seen, Who designs the course?
Originally it was my concept and most of the Rat Race events start with an idea from myself that I throw out to colleagues and they tell me if it's a keeper or a stinker! We then have a great team of route and course planners who go out and put the "line on the ground." In terms of obstacle design and construction, it's very much a team effort and we have open forum for all ideas, plus an engineering company that we've worked with for years and who I know from Red Bull days. So we've got a good pipeline of ideas and a realistic outlook on how to build and execute stuff. Which is why you see some er....unusual stuff in there!
What plans do you have for the future, involving The Rat Race?
We are taking our urban brand 'Survival' global this year and stop number 1 on the list is Sydney. The Rat Race Dirty Weekend, our 32km 200 obstacle monster, could travel. It's going to need a very special site though for us to consider touring that Beast. And a lot of racers as it's a massive-budget event.
You are bringing out Survival of the Fittest to Australia in December. Tell us about that event?
These have been huge for us in the UK and are actually some of the oldest and most established OCRers anywhere. Currently 'Survival' is the UK's biggest OCR series. 
It's a 10k course and has an urban feel throughout - both in terms of venue and the look and feel of a lot of the obstacles. We tend to group our obstacles into zones and theme these zones, which makes for interesting (and sometimes amusing) interactions! It's very much a team-based event and despite the affiliation with Men's Health magazine, it's around 35% female. A very inclusive event; lots of food and beer at the event - basically a great OCR and a great start to a summer weekend!
What can the punters expect?
Our pledge is more obstacles than any other race in Australia. It'll have at least 50, over a 10k course. The Olympic Park isn't exactly hilly so folk can expect a flat and fast route but as it's going to be peppered with lots of content, it may well not be as fast as they think! We are also going to feature a LOT of stairs and we'll be importing our trademark massive obstacle - 'Last Orders' - which can virtually be seen from space! There will definitely be a lot of obstacles that have never been seen in Australia before. We also do good bling: A quality medal, high quality tech tee and a 'Rat Rag' piece of headwear. Oh yes, the run is chip timed too for those who want to push themselves, either against each other or against themselves.
Do you have plans to bring out The Rat Race to Australia?
We'd love to and are seriously looking at The feasibility of bringing Rat Race Dirty Weekend to Australia. It's a massive undertaking so we need to be confident on venue and lots of other stuff first. We will also consider a 'Survival' Series if the Sydney event is as successful as is shaping up to be so far. Watch this space!
We noticed that your staff are very loyal. To any budding race directors, what is the key to a successful event?
An event like Dirty Weekend has a lot of moving parts but underlying all of that the essence is to keep the plan as simple as possible. Clear chain of command when the event goes live, solid safety systems and a massive dose of pre-event planning. The weekend itself is very much the icing on the cake - the amount of work that goes in pre-event is literally a year long and it's there that the effort needs to go in. 
It also helps to have a person (or in our case several people!) on hand with a massive spanner in case something needs fixed! 
My main mantra when it comes to obstacles is:
1.) Build it heavy-duty
2.) Concentrate on processing capacity 
3.) Make sure the content is plentiful, but varied. No-one wants to climb the same wall 10 times in a row
4.) Oh yeah. We don't do burpees. It's a running event not an aerobics class
Lastly, we put the challenge out there....Jim, will you run a lap of Survival of The Fittest with Bruce Superstar in December?
Will Bruce Superstar have combed his hair by then? If he sorts the bounce, I'll do the lap...