Due to misfortune, or my stupidity, I turned up at the airport ready to travel to the OCR Series World Final without having a flight to board…this meant that a week later the OCR European Championships Short Course was due to be my first OCR of the year.
Watching the pre-race videos of obstacles, I could see it was going to be a baptism of fire. Every obstacle videoed seemed to be a rig and, looking at the race map, there seemed to be a lot of them.
It was for this reason that I stood on the start line a little less enthused than usual. The weather was brilliant and I felt I had great running legs, but I could tell they weren’t going to be much help. After a kilometre with some walls, a step up, two rigs, water dip and water slide…the rigs began in earnest. First up was a 10 metre low rig, which transferred into a high rig with twisting monkey bars. This was followed by a wooden rig, with many ropes, and then a polish rig; this was where I first had problems. I was pumped in my forearms!
Bouncing off a trampoline, I grabbed the first bar. Swinging to the next bar, we then had to transfer onto a spinning bar, then three metal nunchucks before another spinning thing and the bell. Failing my first go, I was directed to the retry line. The nunchucks were wet so I figured Leon, who was leading, had also had to retry. I came off again. Now I was really pumped. One last big effort and I was through.
On the following running section I couldn’t push myself to run faster to catch the next athlete, I knew I needed the time to recover the use of my hands.
Going through a weaver and over a metal A frame the rigs soon started again. First up was hamster style monkey bars…these are really tough for the skin because each bar twists in your hand. Jumping off I noticed a massive tear on my palm. I had stuck some gloves up my shorts before the start and proceeded to put one of them on, but only got half way before the next rig. This consisted of a rope traverse, climbing under a net, swinging between mini anchors, another net and then transferring between 5 thick ropes.
At the end, I reached to touch the last rope, slipped and tried to reach for it in the air. I got it at the exact same time as my feet hit the ground…unsure as to whether I got it in the air or not, the marshal turned me back to begin the entire thing again. This time I slipped off at the same point.
I decided my day was done. I knew there were many more rigs to go and my main race was on the Saturday. I had already pushed my grip strength to explosion, but I could at least save the skin on my hands. I also wasn’t in the mood to wait for a five minutes before having another go.
I got my band cut and walked off.
Leon won in an impressive display of ninjaness; thirteen elite males went on to finish the 4km course within the 2 hour time cut off and only one female.
I know some people are going to say: ‘some races should be technical, same as some having heavier carries or more swimming’. For me, an obstacle race is meant to test many attributes that a human has evolved to have; things like: balance, agility, speed, endurance, strength, grit, skill. The winner is the athlete with the best combination of the above. This course had few obstacles that tested anything other than how well you can hang from different stuff. The obstacles that weren’t grip strength based were far too easy and few and far between; the ones that were, were far too many and too hard for me to say this course was a true representation of how an obstacle race should be. Perhaps it would have been fine if this was a normal event that was advertised as being ninja heavy; but a championship course that represents a combination of obstacle racing around Europe, this was not.
It is fair to say that the organisers and federation did a fantastic job on every other aspect of the event. The facilities were the best I have seen, the live feed was a breakthrough in race coverage and they even had an app with all required information, maps and results. Even the obstacles were beautifully built and amazing feats of imagination alone, but when put together how they were, the course resembled something else other than an OCR.
Reflecting on the race, I realise that my technique and strength were not up to par and it seems a shame for me to ‘blame the course’. But, with such low finishing rates, I can’t help but feel like something wasn’t right. This is without mentioning that nearly every athlete to tackle the course would have ripped up skin on their hands.
On meeting with the federations after the race, I could see the race hadn’t gone how they wanted it to. We spent much time discussing obstacle racing and the future of the sport and, on leaving the meeting, I had the feeling that the future is bright and I am going to help make it so. For the immediate future though, I had some antiseptic spray and tape to buy so I could be ready for the 15km course the next day.
Photo by Johan Cajdert and J.P Ocr/sport-Foto