“Embrace the not knowing, trust yourself, and go” was a mantra I found myself repeating time and again, before, during and after the race, at the OCRWC this weekend in Oregonia, Ohio. I missed last year’s inaugural OCRWC race, so all I really knew about it was the glowing reviews and the hints and sometimes ominous pictures of obstacles published on facebook in the weeks leading up to the event. I’ve never raced at this venue, which has also hosted BattleFrog and is a permanent home to the Mud Guts and Glory Race (MGG), and have never even been in this particular corner of the country before.
The OCRWC started as a dream by visionary Adrian Bijanada to unite an industry that was splintered into a few big organizations who wanted nothing to do with each other, and create a world class event with qualifying races all around the globe. While there are a few notable holdouts among the largest players in the US, many of the smaller race series have embraced the concept to create #OCRunited. The contribution of different races was immediately evident at the venue, which featured several of their signature obstacles; Tip of the Spear from BattleFrog, Pipe Dreams from Savage Race, Dragon’s Back from Toughest, Skull Valley from OCRWarrior / Terrain Mud Run, and a rig called Band Cutter from Shale Hill (which was not used during the race, but was available to play on in the festival area). These combined with the MGG obstacles and a few other additions including two different Platinum Rigs leading to an impressive 53 obstacles over a 10 mile course.
Packet pickup for the race was Friday afternoon, and the venue filled with an assortment of athletes from all over the world, with huge representation from England, Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and Canada. In all, 26 countries were represented by over 1600 athletes. Also Friday, we were treated to a competition of OCRWarrior’s Best of the Best, where athletes from previous OCRWarrior episodes were invited to compete head to head with each other as well as qualifying walk-on athletes on a short course featuring several of the OCRWC obstacles. This was followed by a sold-out charity dinner where we were the audience for the premiere showing of the trailer for Scott Keneally’s long-awaited documentary “Rise of the Sufferfests“, which delves into the obstacle racing industry and examines the “why” behind the sport’s rapid growth and popularity.
Saturday dawned crisp and cold with below freezing temperatures and never really warmed up, with temperatures hovering in the 40’s because of winds and cloud cover. This played a big role in the race, with several athletes suffering from hypothermia, and others having trouble keeping their hands warm for the many obstacles that required grip strength. The top elite racers in the world crushed the course in just over an hour and a half, with familiar faces Jon Albon, Ryan Atkins and Cody Moat taking the first, second and third spots for the men, and Lindsay Webster, Claude Godbout, and K.K. Stewart-Paul doing likewise for the women.
After the elite divisions, age group divisions began; all athletes in a particular age group would start together and race directly against one another. OCRWC has eschewed penalties like burpees in favor of mandatory obstacle completion, and particularly in the age groupers, this played a huge role in the race. You could attempt an obstacle as many times as you wanted, but if you gave up on it your wristband was cut and you no longer qualified for the monetary prizes. Additionally, for each bypassed obstacle, a 4 minute penalty was added to your finishing time. Race officials at each obstacle diligently wrote down the bib numbers of racers skipping obstacles so all time penalties would be assessed and times adjusted accordingly after the race.
On the Course
Finally, at 12:30pm it was my turn, time for the 45-49 year old men to test themselves on the course. Having no illusions about my own athletic prowess and knowing that I still have a couple of nagging injuries that need to be babied, I boldly predicted that I’d be sweeping the division to make sure no-one was left behind. I didn’t care at all about my time on the course. My goal was to keep my wristband; a goal that, having not faced so many of these obstacles before, I honestly had no idea whether or not was attainable for me. A brief inspirational speech by Coachpain Dewayne, the best in the business at motivating athletes, and the firing of the cannon got us started.
A fairly quick loop up and around lead to the first few obstacles, which included monkey bars, a fairly long 50 lb Wreck Bag carry, and Pipe Dreams, then we went back into the woods for a long, relatively flat loop that included multiple river crossings before returning to the starting meadow.
The best view on the course was from the top of the 30′ high log castle, and then we tackled the Destroyer (a rock-climbing based obstacle designed and built by Larry Cooper), and Dragon’s Back. For Dragon’s back, athletes had to jump from a platform and grab a bar with a steep angled wall as their fate if they missed. While this wasn’t a huge physical challenge, it was a great mental one, and several athletes hesitated or over-thought it and got stuck here for some time. Once past, the next obstacles were several of MGG’s permanent obstacles, including their epic declining and inclining monkey bars over a pool of water. Slippery bars from the splash of other athletes made this tricky, but I made it safely through with a steady approach and using my legs extensively. After the monkey bars, it was into the water for an over-under logs obstacle, then we went back into the woods and up the hills.
The hills on the course weren’t huge, but they were steep and the trails very technical, often along rocky creek beds (with or without water in them) or under, over or through multiple dead-falls. Race director Garfield Griffiths made relentless use of them, looping the course up and down these hills again and again until we were begging for flat stretches.
The next major obstacle was the first that had a significant backlog of athletes who were trying desperately to keep their bands; the sternum checker. The jump to the log was high and far, and shorter athletes were definitely at a disadvantage on this one. It took me a couple of tries, but I was able to fling my body high enough to lever it over the log, and then it was down the hill to the first Platinum Rig. This obstacle decimated the competition at last year’s OCRWC, and the race directors wanted to avoid this, so it was set to a relatively easy configuration (which nevertheless caused many to lose their bands). Having never faced it before, this was definitely an obstacle that worried me, but I managed to navigate it successfully on the first try and this definitely helped with my confidence level.
A few hills, the devilish Weaver, and a couple other obstacles lead to the second platinum rig at the top of the hill. This one was shorter and easier than the first, and the only concern was that it was also considerably lower to the ground, making an inadvertent touch more likely for taller folks. A fairly short and flat bucket carry (buckets pre-loaded with 50 lbs of gravel) followed.
The remainder of the course consisted of hills, hills, and more hills, interspersed with obstacles including a heavy hoist (2x50lb Wreck Bags for the men, 1x 50lbs for the women), a rope climb out of another pit of cold water, and a tyrolean traverse before the steep climb up Pinnacle hill (using three different ropes) and finally to the water slide; a super fast 300′ ride down the hillside to land in a deep pool of water.
Now we were on the final stretch. Up and over a 12′ incline wall (with short ropes to grab near the top), a second, smaller Sternum Checker, and then Tip of the Spear – another obstacle that I’ve heard horror stories about. For those who haven’t encountered it at a BattleFrog race, this obstacle consists of two inclined walls that you have to traverse using ropes, with a balance beam in the middle. A definite test of grip strength, and a steady, methodical approach is recommended. Next up was another inclined wall (with no ropes this time) that we had to go up and over, and then came Skull Valley, and another long line of shivering wet and cold athletes trying to work their way through it.
Skull Valley was configured as a short climb and hands-only traverse across several rock climbing holds in the shape of the skulls that gave it its name to a cargo net. You then had to maneuver under the cargo net without touching the ground and come up on the other side, swing across a pair of ropes to a platform, and cross a short cargo net monkey bar section to the other side. Failure at any point meant you needed to restart the obstacle.
As it happens, I felt confident about this one; they’d opened it up for practice on Friday afternoon following the OCRWarrior competition, and it was relatively easy. At the end of a 10 mile race that had taken me about 5h to this point, soaking wet following the slide, and rapidly cooling in the 40 degree temps, it was anything but. My first attempt went well until the rope, where I missed getting my foot on the platform. Many others were struggling here as well, and this part seemed to be the hardest bit. After waiting my turn and huddling under a space blanket for awhile, I tried again, and failed at the exact same point. Are you kidding me? I was starting to shiver badly, and despite encouragement from my friends and teammates on the sidelines, really began doubting whether I’d be able to get past it.
An inner battle began; I knew I’d be really upset with myself if I gave up the band this close to the finish line – at the second to last obstacle. I also knew that I really, really wanted to be done and get warm again. This debate went on for some time, not willing to give up, but not ready to take what I felt would surely be my last attempt. I talked to Brett Stewart, who was tirelessly coaching as many athletes as he could through this hell of his own creation. I even spoke to the person cutting people’s bands on the other side of the obstacle, and he collected several while I was there. I made excuses to myself, and asked him to give me the band after he cut it; he said he couldn’t do that. I let him know I was a friend of Brett’s, and that Brett would surely let me have it. Brett told me no way. And strangely, that was just enough to spark my stubbornness again, and send me back for one more try. Maybe the time I spent undecided had brought some of my grip strength back; maybe my hands had warmed up more than I thought, or maybe I was just pissed off enough, but I made it that third time. Up and over the warped wall (2 tries, but I knew I could do that one), and down the cargo net and across the finish line.
This race taxed me like no other has ever done, and later that evening my hands, forearms, and biceps began cramping at odd intervals; when I went to change my shoes, while taking a shower, and while trying to eat a burger awhile later. There is no doubt that I left absolutely everything I had on that course, and I’m ridiculously proud of keeping my band, even with a time that was only minutes away from being disqualified.
Sunday brought a new twist; a fast-paced and exciting team competition. Three person teams competed against one another in a relay race with one person designated the runner, one the strength specialist, and one the obstacle specialist, handing off a single timing chip on a wristband as they went. Many of the water elements had been removed from the race, and only the strength specialist really got wet as he/she barreled down the waterslide at the end of their section. Once off the slide, the three teammates reunited and had to use teamwork to make their way through the last several obstacles, some of which had been reconfigured specially for this competition. In the elite competition, Team UK took the top spot for the men, with Team Canada and Team USA taking second and third. In the women’s elite competition, Team BattleFrog took first, followed by Team Sweden and Team South Africa.
Although I was signed up to compete in the open competition, my body said loudly that that wasn’t going to happen, and I listened to it for once. The stress of the race and cold temps had many others doing likewise, and there was a bit of a scramble on Sunday morning for teams replacing dropped or injured members. It was, however, a ton of fun to watch, and Operation Enduring Warrior capped off the day in style and inspiration as they worked their way through the course together.
Everything about this race, from the spectacular venue to the challenging obstacles to the motivators and MC’s announcing incoming racers was spot on. The staff and volunteers were strict but friendly, often offering helpful advice on how to get through their obstacles. No obstacle was unattended, and a few key ones had bonfires going nearby to warm up wet and cold runners, along with plenty of emergency blankets. Truly, the concept of OCR United has found a voice and a home, and the OCRWC represents the best future of obstacle racing as a serious sport.
OCRWC BONUS COVERAGE
Complete race results from both days can be found here.
An additional review by the one and only Tretsch can be found here.
Last year’s review is here.
OCR World Championships moments.
Posted by Obstacle Racing Media on Monday, October 19, 2015
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