Friday morning, Blue Ridge Mountains in Ontario Canada, and the temperature is 59 degrees. Coming from Texas, I imagined it would be much colder in Canada, but hey I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If you’re passionate about OCR, if you have a burning, driving feeling inside you, pushing you to be the best in OCR, you’re at Obstacle Course Racing World Championship 2016. You had to qualify to compete so you’re probably serious about OCR, thus it’s a complete love fest of athletes from 42 different countries. OCRWC has been going on for a few years, however, this is the first ever 1.8 mile (3k) short course.
Amidst the chilly breeze blowing across our shirtless chests, you can feel the excitement in the air. As if the hugs, high fives, yelling, and laughing wasn’t enough to get you pumped up at the start line, we will be shot out the gate from the best hype man in the business Dewayne “Coach Pain” Montgomery. Unlike most races, the master’s male wave will be the first to go, with the men’s pro wave going out at noon. Every athlete crowds the sidelines to watch the first wave of the weekend go off. Coach pain gives a speech so powerful, everyone is covered in goose bumps, the gun goes off and the weekend has begun. Seeing how this course is only 1.8 miles and hundreds of athletes, they are staggering the start line with 5 athletes every minute or so to help prevent back-ups and bottlenecks.
My only complaint is that everyone has been stretching and running to warm up, all that is useless if you have to wait 20 minutes to get out of the shoot. There was an athlete waiting coral inside the resort that would have been a better place to send athletes out from in my opinion. I get in line after the women’s masters wave shoots out of the gate. Slightly nervous as my wave, the 35 – 39 sells out first and is completely packed with some of the best guys in the sport. I keep jogging in place to circumvent cooling down, Brakken is kind enough to come give me a couple last-minute tips so now I’m hyped and ready to go. This course albeit only 1.8 miles is a steady climb from the start line at about 15% grade to what is most likely 30% incline grade at the wreck bag carry. I conserve myself at the start staying close to the back of my pack conserving energy for obstacles and the eventual steady climb that I know is to come. The first obstacle is a series of 3 very small hurdles into some more climbing at which at the top was they called the Q steps. You and I know the Q steps from Battle Frog as the obstacle where you are planking between two boards.
I get in line after the women’s masters wave shoots out of the gate. Slightly nervous, as my wave, the 35 – 39 sells out first and is completely packed with some of the best guys in the sport. I keep jogging in place to circumvent cooling down, Brakken is kind enough to come give me a couple last-minute tips, so now I’m hyped and ready to go. This course, albeit only 1.8 miles, is a steady climb from the start line at about 15% grade to what is most likely 30% incline grade at the wreck bag carry. I conserve myself at the start, staying close to the back of my pack conserving energy for obstacles and the eventual steady climb that I know is to come.
The first obstacle is a series of 3 very small hurdles into some more climbing at which at the top was they called the Q steps. You and I know the Q steps from Battle Frog as the obstacle where you are planking between two boards.
No surprise to anyone that attended last year’s OCRWC, up next was Tough Mudder’s “Dragons Back”. This obstacle completely frightens and freaks people out. I can’t figure it out, the cause for panic. I would go back later in the day to cheer people on but they would get to the top and just be paralyzed. Many people froze up top for a long time. It is only a 6-foot drop with hay at the bottom and if you were to miss the bar at the top you have to grab to progress. I say it’s not dangerous but apparently one woman hurt herself pretty bad at some point in the day. This obstacle is so mentally formidable that it was the reason Spartan pro team member, and all around OCR sweetheart Faye Stenning, got to it and simply refused to do it, saying ”it was just too dangerous”.
As I start the first decline in about 50 meters you are met with what we Americans would call Savage Races “Tree Hugger” they call “Platinum Rig Samurai”. The Samurai consisted of two metal poles, followed by 3 wooden upright posts, and finally finished with two metal poles all sticking out of the ground. The goal is to traverse the poles and logs without touching the ground. Remember breezing through savage races tree hugger easy breezy? Here’s the caveat, unlike tree hugger you are NOT allowed to touch the tops, making this the first band cutter of the day. If you fall off you have to retry in the retry lane, of which there is a Wal-Mart sized check-out line. Keep in mind there is only one notch in the middle log at the bottom and it is way too small to get your shoe in, kind of tempting but a non-pseudo hold.
After failing twice, because I kept sliding down, I decided to change my strategy. I was fortunate enough to have a couple friends spectating and rooting me on, with a little push from Mikhail Geronimo, Killian, and Brakken yelling at me to take off my arms sleeves, push up my shirt and take off my long compression pants. I followed suit and got through and immediately started hammering the downhill run with reckless abandon right into the Platinum Rig, which at this point is dry, and easy to get through.
The rig was the first of many obstacles that were spectator friendly as it was along the walkways of the resort, brilliant course design. Before I could start the half mile ascent up a 30% grade hill, you climb over a waterfall fixture that is part of the resort they have marked as an obstacle. Sounds simple, right? A few people actually seriously injured themselves on this feature, it ends up that wet rocks are actually indeed really perilous.
Next up is the 50-pound wreck bag carry up what is at least a 30% grade incline. As I gasp for air and try to just keep moving without stopping, the next obstacle is just a small set of minor stairs you walk over with the wreck bag before your descent.
From here on out, the rest was a gauntlet of obstacles downhill to the finish line. Time to Push, time to leave everything you have on the course. After an 8-foot wall, there was a cool two-part obstacle called “Skyline”, brought by Canada’s Dead End Race that consisted of monkey bars and then a pipe you have to traverse with just arms. I personally think they should have got rid of the platform in the middle that you can stand on before you attack the pipe. The monkey bars were too short and very easy.
As I run towards the oh so close finish line I have to get over the, returning from last year, the “Sternum Checker” which volunteers were calling the Irish table. If you attack this like a wall you generally won’t have a problem. After sternum checker, I was really excited to take on this new obstacle, the suspended walls. This obstacle is pretty much just as mental as dragons back. It’s basically 4 walls at increasing heights, each wall suspended by two chains. The grips are deep enough and large enough that it shouldn’t present much of a problem. I used this as my best opportunity to catch my breath, I concentrate on breathing as I smoothly transition from wall to wall.
Almost directly after the suspended walls is a new obstacle, to Americans at least, it’s called “Sky Line”. This obstacle would end up being the reason Hunter McIntyre was disqualified. He was having an awesome run as he killed the wreck bag carry faster that anyone. He didn’t hit the bell at the bottom, the race and the day really should have been his. Sky Line is just a metal track at a decline with two stubs along the track that you have to pop up the handles you’re holding on to get over the stubs impeding the descent, all the way down to a bell at the end.
Directly in front of you, as you hit the bell, is the obstacle “Urban Sky”. This kind of reminded me of ANW and Savage Races wheel world, except here the wheels are larger and swing the same way. After you traverse the spinning wheels you climb a wall of bars and right into a set of monkey bars on a spindle that you have to pull up and grab onto to make the spindle turn so that you can grab the next hold. Alas, we’re at the last and final obstacle! The slip wall is a normal staple of OCR, the ropes hanging from the top were long enough that it wouldn’t present much of a problem for anyone. It doesn’t hurt that it was dry outside and easy to grab onto.
The music is PUMPING, Garfield Griffith or Adrian Bijanada is on the loud-speaker announcing people as they come across, and everyone is cheering you on and clapping as you make the final 50 meters across the finish line and are adorned with what is arguably the coolest race medals of 2016. I ended up placing 27th in my age wave so I’m pretty proud of that considering it’s the WORLD championships.
At the end of the day it was a brilliant course layout as most obstacles were readily available for spectators to watch and root on their athletes. Nobody had to park far away, and even though I stood in line for an hour and a half to pick up my packet the night before, the hard-working staff and volunteers stayed open way past closing time to ensure everyone got what they needed. An hour in line at an event like this blows by quick as you are undeniably going to be drawn into an amazing conversation when you are surrounded by so many passionate, and like-minded athletes. It’s hard to rate the obstacles because it’s so subjective and relative to what kind of obstacles you personally like. OCRWC did a fantastic job at gathering obstacles from as many different race venues as they can to ensure the race is a collection of obstacles from all over.
Now I could go watch the men’s pro wave go and live stream the beginning ascent as I try to keep up with them. To my own downfall, this is where I would lose my rental car keys and spend the rest of my time scouring the fields looking for them. To call losing rental car keys a life lesson is an understatement.
Podiums were stood upon by Ryan Atkins in 1st with Jon Albon in 2nd and Viktor Alexy from Canada in 3rd for the men’s wave. In the women’s pro wave no surprise, the pride of Canada Lindsay Webster in 1st with Sweden’s Karin Karlesson in 2nd and South Africa’s Hanneke Dannhauser in 3rd.