I had very mixed feelings about the obstacle racing European Championships 15km classic course. The short course the day before had ruined my hands, grip strength and left me questioning obstacle racing as a sport.
The organisers had been busy during the night adjusting rigs in an attempt to raise the finishing rate that was ridiculously low. I knew this was a good thing all round but still gave me a weird feeling. The course wasn’t how the organisers had intended, if I won on this course, did I deserve to win, or should the course be left how it was?
With this mixed view of the new course and knowing some athletes didn’t compete at all the day before I knew I still had a tough job to win. There would still be just as many rigs (actually more) but they would be easier. The map shoowed we were to do a large loop with some obstacles and carries out to the beach, before returning to take on roughly the same course as the day before.
As we started I was towards the back of the small group. I had accidently turned my watch of and spent the first kilometre trying to fire it back up so I could start logging the race.
After a few obstacles and sand bag carries we hit the beach. I had something like a 30 second lead but was struggling to build it to anything more than this. Dead flat running makes it hard to grow a lead by much but at least I was alone out front where I could relax.
Coming back into the main event area I once again entered the same sequence of rigs as the previous day. A small extra running section that included a winding path where we had to jump over some logs was a highlight. This lead directly into my favourite obstacle where we had to swing from a rope, to a ring, to a wheel, to a punch bag, before traversing a hanging pole. This was one of the only rig obstacles that wasn’t really made easier.
This part cheered me up a bit but to be honest, my mixed feelings weren’t allowing me to enjoy the race.
Reports were that I had a 1 – 2 minute lead, so I mistakenly started to relax. Instead of pushing hard to the finish I was asking marshals to explain each obstacle as I did it to make sure it was done correctly. With the many changes I didn’t want to screw an obstacle up. After each obstacle I would turn to ask if I was good to go.
I had looked at the rule book but was never going to remember the exact sequence of each obstacle, there were over 45 pages in the thing and with the changes to the obstacles some of these descriptions weren’t even correct.
I started to reach parts of the course that I hadn’t seen because I quit the day before. Entering the final 400m I was faced with three ‘giga rigs’ with different stages where you could stop and rest during the obstacle.
The end of the first had the hardest obstacle of the weekend. A flying monkey, to two (or three in the short course) hanging spinning ‘nuts’ that you had to crimp on each side. Swinging and jumping between these I was through. A cool sliding ring rig from urban sky and then the next giga rig. Hanging ropes and legos and other stuff. In the final section I slipped a little and felt my foot graze the floor. I hadn’t put any weight on it but waited to hear if the marshal would call me out. Finishing the rig I figured I was ok…after the race I heard there were complaints but I was judged to be ok as I hadn’t put any weight on my foot and had just grazed the floor.
If you think this is controversial things are about to get really interesting.
Onto the final rig. The rolling monkey bars were removed so I did the normal monkey bars and went over the net A frame. Climbing down backwards (the safest and slowest way) I hopped down onto the running track ready to walk over the line victorious. I looked up and could see there was a large rope. I guess I was meant to climb it but the marshal suddenly started screaming. I slowly realised I was supposed to stop on the net, turn around and pull in the rope to swing over a line to get to the finish. I was standing in ‘larva’ even though it just looked like a running track to me.
Thinking ‘o shit’ I ran back to start the rig again. This is when I realised Thibault was now just a meter behind me. Rushing through the rig again he was faster. This time pulling in the rope swing I missed one grab allowing him the extra 0.5 seconds to swing over and cross the line, victorious and exceptionally happy.
Not quite believing what had happened I felt somewhat awkward. I had managed to fail a simple rope swing costing me the win. I had been so careful through all the obstacles simply to loose concentration at the 5 meters.
The timing guys showed me the results which had my name on top and Thibaults below by next to no margin. I just said that’s wrong and you need to switch the names. As it would turn out those were the correct chip times. My stupid relaxed attitude to starting races had meant I crossed the start line a second after Thibault…resulting in me winning.
Seeing how happy he was and thinking it over I said he should win. You can’t cross the line like that, timing a sprint finish against someone that started in the same wave as you, only to find out you hadn’t won. This weekend had already been a disaster for me so I figured I might as well cap it off and at least do what I thought was morally right.
Surprisingly I received a message saying that Thibault was open to sharing the podium. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this but was slowly convinced this was for the best. It was a nice touch and a nice way to end a controversial weekend.
Another meeting with the organisations the next day and I realised that the weekend had proven that championship races require some guidelines as to how the course should be. The sprint course had unearthed the need for good balance between different obstacles that test different types of fitness. The classic course had shown obstacles need to be clear, not designed and built to be confusing or need instructions. I know what the rules said and it was clear that I had to swing the rope but I can assure you that at the end of pushing yourself to your limit, even remembering your name can be a challenge.
Needless to say I was thankful I didn’t have a team race entry for the Sunday. That way my concentration could turn to being in the UK to help prepare for my brother’s wedding and to take part in the Tough Mudder European championships…an un-federated event, it will be an interesting comparison.