It is starting to feel like the good Lord has a ‘sense of humor.’ We’ll say that when Texas decides to have a race and for the inaugural United States OCR Championships, he definitely had a “here, hold my beer” moment. This time though, instead of making the obstacle crazy amounts of water on the course, he decided to go with logistics as the first obstacle. Finding a way to get to Y.O. Ranch Headquarters for many became significantly more complicated as Hurricane Harvey (in case you missed it) raged from Southeast Texas to parts of Louisiana. The result was the disruption of one of the world’s busiest airport hubs and a man-made gas shortage based out of fear. Either way, it made things exciting.
If Y.O. Ranch sounds familiar, that is because Mark Ballas and Green Beret Challenge has put his fingerprint on this terrain and even Conquer the Gauntlet will have a crack at it in October. Mark’s handiwork was quite the talking point for the uninitiated post-race. The US Championships, like its older sibling, the OCR World Championships, is more than just a race. It is an experience that goes beyond the obstacles and embraces, in a more formal fashion, one of the best and defining features of OCR – the community and the family-like bond that many of us have with our fellow racers. Sponsored dinners were hosted each night and safari tours were available from Y.O. with a lovely and refreshing pool waiting for all the wished to enter. It felt like every time I turned around or walked by I heard a familiar voice or saw the face of an old friend whom normally I would not see at a Texas race. It truly helped make the experience special after the week I had just had. Feeling normal again was a true and appreciated blessing.
Parking was quick and straightforward – $10 and you are in, with a 2-minute shuttle ride from lot to race. I actually was worried about this piece but our hosts at Y.O. were more than prepared and cleared enough space for all. The festival area was alive right from the start with the smell of TexMex and Texas BBQ in the air and great vendors lining the area. Operation Enduring Warrior, Force5, 1000Podiums, and LegendBorne all had tents set up along with a top end merchandise tent set up to go through and pick up souvenirs. Very well done, feeling huge without overly spread out.
For this, we are going to focus on the 15K Course since that is the more traditional length for a Championship experience. I will say this though, with the 3K, I think there is a substantial opportunity for growth in the sport with these shorter courses. The obstacles were challenging and the Pro Waves moved at a crazy pace with true obstacle challenges standing in their path. I do not know if people will travel for these races independently but Friday night or Sunday add-ons seem like a logical addition in my mind. With Spartan running their Time Trials Series and Tougher Mudder X, there seems to be an agreement from the other big dogs as well. The most amazing part was seeing how World Champions were completely gassed at the end of this 1.8 Mile course. There was no time to “run your race” as you had to haul all out for the full-time.
The morning of the 15K definitely had a certain air about it. Some were there for a second crack at the course, some for redemption, others ready to get out there and see the full obstacle lineup. The Pro Field was lined up with some of the sports premier names including Robert Killian, Hunter McIntyre, and Matt Campione. Just like in the 3K, the field shot off right from the start with the entire group holding a 5 minute pace for the first mile. From there we started hitting obstacles and the field began to find its natural speed knowing that we had another 8 plus miles in 90+ degree Texas heat. I did not know what exactly was ahead of me but I did know there would be a challenging version of each participating races signature obstacles. I also knew that my old nemesis, the BattleFrog Rig, would be rising up not once, but twice on this course so I had to manage myself simply to make sure I did not get camped out there.
The course design team did an excellent job of using the available terrain, which was very technical with extreme climbs and declines. While this may not house the long death marches of Killington, their level of difficulty may be just as, if not more, difficult. Add in a 15k distance in 90+ degree heat and I can see Y.O. being viewed as the South’s version of Killington, especially because we did not even touch some of the bigger and more extreme trails Y.O. holds. We continue down the dusty trail, fast-paced with the obstacles being well placed. Then the first disruptive obstacle appears – the first BattleFrog rig. As a bigger racer, usually racing in the 200lbs range, the rig and I hate each other the way many hate burpees. I quickly approach the rig but make a point of scouting it out before giving it a try knowing that saving my grip and hands would be a top priority. For me it has taken a lot of pride to learn that ‘slow is fast’ sometimes, enabling a higher rate of first pass completion. So I gave it my all and focused on not rushing myself, it was a method that paid dividends. I was able to slip past the BattleStripper Pole (Y’all know what I mean) and lock myself on the ropes so when a ring went swinging out of my path I was still able to stay collected, regroup and ring that bell. It was a huge relief because it left me knowing that I could apply those principles again to the other grip suckers on the course. Again I took off with a renewed vigor moving through the obstacles. I hit the Angry Elf, fully equipped with an annoying caving ladder to make my way up and over. Quickly we work our way to Tunnel Rat, which was so low that I had to drag myself from log to log to make my way through. That low obstacle was much more difficult than it appears as you walk up if you are a larger racer.
Up the hill and trails, to lead us to what was the most talked about aspect of the race and led to lots of passing on course – the Green Beret Challenge Yoke Carry. The carry was about a quarter mile in length with a weight about 75 to 80# (I am being generous). For those not previously baptized to the carry, it was absolutely brutal. To those who are GBC veterans, this was actually incredibly light and short. Personally, if we had gotten the full GBC version this may have been the obstacle that would have completely changed the standings in this race. I passed numerous racers and hunted down others shortly, each complaining about that “damn carry”. Being that this was not a grip intensive obstacle like many of the others, I hope they let the Yoke Carry live in its full glory at World’s. Many on Facebook are already dreading it.
From there, things were straightforward as we began to work our way back towards the barn. A water crossing and jump led to the Log Hop and Irish Table with a view of the barn. As we head back in you start to feel both excitement and anxiety. We climb over the Terrain Wall and then we see it, the Continental Divide, Skull Valley, Leap of Faith combo. I’ve had a chance to play on Skull Valley in the past at an Atlas Race but never “in” a race. So the heart was pumping as I came over the Divide. I went “Slow is Fast” again and managed to make it to the Cargo net to climb up for the Leap. With the Leap, even knowing it’s relatively short, it still makes you double take for just a second but boom, I was over and rolling on the net down to Pipe Dreams to get that last splash in before the home stretch.
A mile and a half remained and I knew three new-to-me obstacles awaited, along with the second Rig. I took off with everything I could for the Wreckbag Hoist and the unusually high rope climb. This quickly led to the finale of difficult obstacles as we started with the BattleFrog style Wreckbag Carry up and down a third of mile ascent, decent and steep sections mixed in. This seemed to take many for a whirl as it really tested your balance and technique as a runner. Once I completed the carry, I take off with three racers within shooting distance of myself and I locked in on making up that ground. As I approached I could see the heat had started taking its toll on those of us out there. Temperatures were rising and if you do not constantly train in the heat, some can’t make the one-time transition. We all come together and head to the second Rig. This was a rig that took many bands on Saturday and Sunday so I was nervous to take this one on but I was able to measure it out as I approached, took my time, and slapped that bell by the skin of my teeth because I tried to ring it before I was down the final pipe.
Knowing I had passed that Rig, I became invigorated with pride, determined to keep my band not just for me but for the $5 donation to Harvey relief back home in Houston. I sprinted up to Skyline and worked down, just missing my Ninja jump over the knob, but completed the obstacle none the less. Moving straight on to another new obstacle to me, Urban Sky. What was unique about this obstacle was that, despite its length, it had three completion sections that allowed you to quickly recover section to section. Taking a breath from section to section allowed me to complete the obstacle in a single pass and I knew I had this. Straight onto Indian Mud Runs Floating Walls with its unique setup and climb, this was definitely the playground-like obstacle of the course in my mind. I could have done that one a few times purely for the joy of it. I slip through the top section and know I have done it, my band was mine no one could take that from me. I roll down the cargo net and sprint to the finish. This was a course worthy of being called a Championship course, every obstacle may not have been in its most soul-sucking version but with the grip heavy theme, they teamed together to push Pro to Age Group racer alike past their limits. Very well done, team.
As for critiques of the weekend, a big talking point was a number of water stations on the course, and while it would have been nice to have one between the Wreckbag Carry and Final Rig, I do not think it should have been treated as a requirement but a nice to have. Only 17% of athletes opened the Athlete Guide with obstacle rules and safety tips. Add that to the numerous Facebook water warning posts and I was shocked at how few brought a water source with them. This was a course in the Texas Hill Country, in the summer, and we all knew it was going to be hot and dry. While normally people may not take water for a 15k course or shorter, many of us experienced Palmerton last summer and knew what happens when a top notch course meets heat. Next year make sure you bring water and let us hope they add a station or two as well. My next point is that we are all ambassadors of the sport, but at independent races like this is it is pushed to an even greater extent. If you wear another races gear on course act as if the owners of that race could see you at any moment, which they may. Make them, and all their hard work, proud of you and I will leave it there.
Overall I felt this was an amazing weekend, there were some spectacular moments on and off the course. Friendships formed and cemented, people overcoming what they thought they would not be able to accomplish leading to numerous limitations being shattered. It was an absolute honor to witness it all, from top-tier athletes to the next generation just killing it, to Operation Enduring Warrior bringing the inspiration along with them. It makes me want to sign up for next year’s race now and take part in their Enduro event and World Championship even more. As Coach Pain would say “we are here to Conduct Our Business” and that is absolutely what this race and its participants did.