The third annual OCR World Championships (OCRWC) took place over this last weekend at the Blue Mountains Resort near Collingwood, Ontario, Canada. After taking place at the King’s Domain permanent obstacle course in Oregonia, Ohio the first two years, moving the race to another country truly made it feel like a more international event. Race creators would also be tasked with building a complete course from scratch as this venue primarily functioned as a ski destination. The organizers could not have asked for better conditions on Friday and Saturday as the trees were in full color-change mode along with a sun filled 45-70 Fahrenheit temperature. Parking and spectators were once again free of charge this year plus a well laid out vendor area right in the center of the ski resort lodging. An added bonus was free ski lift rides for athletes and their support teams to truly take in the natural beauty atop the Blue Mountains as they cascaded down into the Georgian Bay.
New this year was the addition of the 3K short course championship ran on Friday which turned out to be an amazing event. The order of heats for this event was reversed from standard with the master’s participants heading out first, competitive athletes second, and the professionals last. This proved very successful because it allowed both 3K participants plus those still traveling that morning to the venue for packet pickup to view the entire professional competition. Using a rolling start format, athletes would stay close to the bottom of the mountains and face 15 obstacles. The men’s pro race, in particular, was extremely close with Hunter McIntyre and Ryan Atkins battling back and forth the entire course. These athletes were running sub 5-minute mile pace through the running sections and conquering obstacles with reckless abandon. Hunter, unfortunately, slipped at the end of the Urban Sky obstacle allowing Ryan to cross the finish line in first place. On a side note, Hunter was later disqualified entirely for missing a bell at one of the earlier obstacles, but it was still an excellent viewing spectacle. 2nd and 3rd for the men ended up being Jon Albon and Viktor Alexy. On the women’s side, Lindsay Webster took top honors by a healthy2-minutee margin with Karin Karlsson and Hanneke Dannhauser rounding out the podium.
The main event took place on Saturday where athletes from 42 countries would tackle the 15k (9.3 miles) long course comprised of 48 manufactured obstacles in conjunction with the natural terrain and elevation of the ski slopes. Undeterred, athletes gathered in the starting corral under the start banner adorned with flags from across the world and listened to Coach Pain give an impassioned pre race speech. Once the “GO” command was given, hundreds of participants attacked the slight uphill start through the crowd of spectators and green smoke onto some small hurdles. All the excitement of the first flat quarter mile quickly faded as the course turned sharply up the “Happy Valley” ski slope. Turns out the ascent was not the worst of the worries because halfway up the slope loomed an ill placed warped wall. Being placed right after a muddy water run-off and in the shade still covered with fresh dew resulted in an immediate bottleneck. Exacerbating the issue was the fact that 200+ elites were in the midst of fighting for early race position and unwilling to provide ample space to one another for a proper approach. It was pure chaos with no race staff there to assist in providing order and absolutely allowed the first runners to gain a serious time advantage.
Eventually, athletes were able to negotiate the bottleneck and continue up the ascent totaling 600 feet in the first mile. Upon reaching the summit and questioning the reason one would willingly sign up for such an event, participants were greeted with a breathtaking scene. A six foot wall stretched across the entire trail width and beautiful blue water meeting a cloudless azure sky was all that could be seen lurking behind. From there the course routed us around to the top of the slopes through some low crawls and an assortment of walls to scale before forcing us down a 700 foot descent. Along the way, Savage Race Pipe Dreams and Toughest Dragon Back made an appearance. Slated next on the obstacle list was a new offering from Platinum Rig called the Samurai which consisted of vertical poles one must traverse. However, athletes arrived to the structure only to find it taped off and not part of the 15k event even though it was used during the previous days 3k race. This was rather disappointing, but there was no time to dwell on the reasoning as the trail provided a steep 500 foot ascent and then descent. At the bottom was the original Platinum Rig which was nestled in the center of the busy festival area providing prime spectator viewing.
A quick dash over the decorative waterfall and up a small incline took participants to the dreaded 50 pound sandbag carry that was slated to be a full half mile up the steep “Tranquility” ski slope. Once again, the race organizers had unexpectedly made last minute changes to the course and the carry was the same distance as the 3k event or roughly half the planned length. This was still a tough carry at 200 feet ascent/descent on 40%+ gradient, but somewhat unsatisfactory after mentally preparing for the anticipated longer version. Perhaps the race director felt it was too difficult since it was immediately followed by a 700 foot ascent directly through the tree lined slope boundary. While climbing, racers encountered an eight foot wall, barbed wire crawl, and cargo net crawl.
There was little time to celebrate or catch a breath as a new variation of Skull Valley was looming right at the peak. This year’s version consisted of the same skull handholds on one side of a suspended beam transitioning into four ropes with foot assist knots and finishing with more skull handholds on alternating sides of the suspended beam. The deep skull handholds and the knotted ropes made this obstacle very manageable compared to the more difficult 2015 version.
Completion led directly into Platinum Rig # 2 which was being dubbed Platinum Rig Mini as the entire structure stood only six feet. The actual portions of the rig that participants were allowed to touch during the traverse were a mere three to four feet! This was a great twist on a classic obstacle which required athletes use core strength and body control as they snaked their way across the assembly without touching the ground. Feet were permitted on this configuration as opposed to the standard rig.
After a quick drink at the hydration station and a glance from the scenic ski lift summit, it was back to single track running through more beautiful fall foliage. The journey would take entrants through a weaver, over-unders, Dead End Race warped wall, and quarter pipe all leading up to Conquer the Guantlet’s Stairway to Heaven. This obstacle was cleverly placed at the tallest point along the course overlooking the entire Blue Mountain village and making competitors literally climb into the sky. A 400 foot descent was up next with natural obstacles along with a rudimentary 50 pound sandbag hoist. There was a final 300 foot ascent thrown in for good measure to fully sap the last bit of leg strength before heading entirely into the main festival area. The finishing sequence of obstacles were Dead End Race Monkey Business, sternum checker, suspended boards, Skyline, Urban Sky, and a finish ramp wall. Urban Sky was particularly fun which featured spinning wheels at various angles with a transition into a rotating spiral monkey bar type apparatus.
When it was all said and done, UK’s Jon Albon (currently living in Norway) repeated as male pro Champion for a third straight year followed by Canada’s own Ryan Atkins and Conor Hancock also from the UK. For the women, Canada’s Lindsay Webster claimed the title with Nicole Mericle of the USA and Karin Karsson of Sweden rounding out the top three. Full results are available online.
From an elite perspective, the obstacles were very well laid out, but not overly difficult so this course definitely favored the more proficient mountain runners. It was clear the race organizers wanted a higher success rate during the age group waves which is a balancing act every event tries to strike. The now defunct US based BattleFrog Series used a clever multi-tiered difficulty system and Europe’s Toughest Series has a short, challenging option as well as a longer, easier alternative. It would be interesting to see if these strategies could be incorporated into next year’s event. At the end of the day, this was still a world class event that brought together the entire OCR community in one glorious setting for a very memorable weekend.