Strong Viking claims to be the best obstacle run in the world! They were chosen as the best obstacle run in 2013, 2014 & 2015 from over 100 obstacle run events. Unique beyond any races in the States, they have many editions of their race which define the terrain and obstacles a participant can expect: Mud Edition, Hills Edition, Water Edition, and Family Obstacle Run among others. Beyond having different editions, they also offer a variety of distances at each event, 7km Lightning, 11km Warrior, 19 km Beast, and the 42km Iron Viking. If you conquer the Lightning, Warrior and Beast series in one season, racers can earn a Viking Torque bracelet. After each run, you’ll receive one distance specific bracelet and can trade the three bracelets for the Torque at one of the events.
It was with great trepidation that I registered for a race that was called Hills Edition. I selected the 19km – Odin- which was the competitive wave. Obstacle number one was reading the confirmation emails that were in Dutch. On May 21st I was able to attend my first Strong Viking event to see if it was as great as it appeared to be online.
The race location was at a park and recreation area which backs up to Snow Planet, an indoor ski facility. Parking and registration were very organized. The festival area was energetic and packed with racers and spectators. Unlike races in the States, there were gender specific porta johns (to include urinals for men) and enclosed shower areas allowing racers to strip down and hose off before entering his/her respective changing tent. The starting line and finish line were in the same respective area and provided a focused backdrop for the entire festival area.
Upon entering the starting corral, attendants were checked for the time identifying wristband, an “Elite band” (elastic and Velcro arm band- which only fit on my leg) and filtered into a two entranced enclosure flanked by large 10-ft walls. For the Odin- competitive wave 19km and Iron Viking 42km – the number of men far exceeded the number of women (if I had to guess, I would say at least 80/20). The wave was large, as expected for a sold out event. The emcee explained the obstacles that could be averted such as a hammer throw, joust, and buddy carry- due to the dependence of another racer at the same obstacle. When the gun sounded, athletes scaled the start wall and disbursed among the course. Participants became spread out over a long uphill rock climb, descending stairs and up a second rugged ascent.
Comparatively, there were many obstacles that one would expect to see at a race in the United States however some of the similar obstacles were met with a new twist. The barbed wire crawl was comparable to a Spartan Race- long and uphill, balance beams were advanced with moving levers and cylindrical steps, overs were prevalent with so many in a row they felt never ending, contrast to a typical tire pull they used a series of connected logs, there were bag carries that lead through hilly terrain which were reminiscent to a BattleFrog Series Wreck Bag carry. There was a warped wall which could be completed with or without a rope assist. A highlight was seeing a familiar friend, the Platinum Rig! (from what I could tell, the rig configuration was not so difficult that it would set Elite racers back and the lanes were the same for all participants).
There were many obstacles worth highlighting individually due to uniqueness. The first was the shield and hammer carry. Both pieces were made of wood, while not heavy, they had an awkwardness that made running with them a challenge, but provided a fun photo op! Using a similar but larger and much heavier hammer, there was an obstacle that required athletes to hit a log (picture a 6ft telephone pole on its side) down the length of a stand. This was quite challenging for someone of small stature and I spent a long time there to get the job done. One of my favorite obstacles was a combination of four obstacles, starting with a leap reminiscent of the dragons back at OCR World Championships, 2015. Then climbing off the dragon’s back into monkey bars. At the end of the bars there was a transition beam where you could stand to gather rings to lead to the next portion. There was a board with pegs to traverse across while holding rings in your hands. After that, you transition to a standard peg board which could be mastered in a few quick moves. A fall at any point in the duration of the obstacle would require the racer to restart. The Flying Ragnar was a leap to a hinged bar which would fling the runner out over the water, in hopes of hitting a bell at the end of a string. This was nearly impossible for anyone lightweight and short due to the counterbalance weight and distance from the bell. Toward the end of the race was a pipe slider, which was wooded parallel bars overhead, and a pipe the athlete holds perpendicular to brace over the parallel bars. Movement was achieved by pullups accompanied by kipping, while it took some time to get a feeling for the obstacle, once a rhythm was developed, it proved to be quite fun. The most miserable obstacle was the run through Snow Planet, which involved a snow crawl, incline wall, and a freezing trudge up the ski slope.
Strong Viking exceeded my expectations for obstacle course racing in Europe. I had a great time talking with locals post-race who were very interested in how it compared to races in the States. I met many athletes who had qualified and were looking forward to attending the OCR World Championships in October. In my opinion, the course was better than most in the United States and so well marked there was no way to get off course. I would absolutely love to do another one and it would be awesome if they could bring one race a year to North America. I would gladly clear my schedule to attend. If I had to leave a critique it would be to make the Flying Ragnar more accessible for athletes of all sizes (similar critiques were on their Facebook reviews). An additional ask would be for more defined rules for mandatory obstacle completion. If you plan to travel for vacation in Europe, I would suggest putting a Strong Viking event into your schedule.
Photo Credits: Strong Viking Obstacle Run official participant photos and Dustin Radney
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