The Obstacle Course Racing World Championships 2018

The Obstacle Course Racing World Championships 2018

Holy crumbs the OCR World Championships were in the UK this year!

OCRWC 15K

OCRWC Map

I’ll start with this because I couldn’t see where else to fit it in: Spartan Phil (or Regular Phil as I assume he was called this weekend) did a great job on the startline microphone, getting everybody ready and keeping the crowds alive, credit to him.

As for the course itself, it was 9(ish) miles with 100 obstacles (give or take a couple). Every obstacle on course could warrant it’s own little section here but this is going to be long enough already, so in my mind I’ve sort of roughly split the course into thirds:

The early section was filled to the brim with carries, mud, and crawls wearing down the legs and spreading the field. A fast slightly-downhill start headed straight into the first of many, many sets of ditches on a nice wide course, spreading everyone out well enough to have space for a quick start. Highlights in this early section were of course the Wreckbag over-and-under hurdles in the woods, a slippery Rope Climb, and Minions perhaps catching some people out.

OCRWC Crawl

The mid section then felt like Nuclear showcase with the Zipline, muddy crawls, and Death Slide leading into obstacles such as the Mud Queen Rings, Vertigo, and Stairway To Heaven to name but a few. The Slide put us into our only full submersion (as far as I remember), which was thankfully followed by a stretch of running in the woods – while it wasn’t too much of a cold day, being able to warm up with a run after being in water in a good sign of smart course planning. This middle section was where a lot of people would have been caught out by Stairway To Heaven – the first real ‘band cutter’ of the day.

The last section was an upper body destroyer, with all the various types of Rigs one could possibly want, a Weaver, the mind-trick that is Dragon’s Back, Ninja Rings and more. Those who weren’t caught out with the Platinum Rig leading straight into Varjagen Saga surely were by the Bomb Carry straight into Skull Valley as the almost final obstacle. The Platinum Rig and Varjagen Saga were two more ‘band cutters’ here, with many people left in the retry lanes – Varjagen Saga especially being a sneaky one which allowed you rest between each of the three sections, but a failure on any of them took you right back to the beginning. Skull Valley was in such a location that not only was everybody fatigued from the whole race but we had just been given a heavy bomb to carry on our forearms, so nobody went in fresh.

Skull Valley looked like the real killer of the day, not only due to racers physically struggling but as this was the penultimate obstacle it was just too disheartening to give up the wristband so close to the finishline.

The whole course was constantly broken up by muddy ditches, hurdles, and energy-draining obstacles laced throughout. Whether you were climbing, leaping, or carrying you were always being challenged and never allowed to get comfortable.

Ramp OCRWC

Some obstacles weren’t used – Caterpillar (which to be honest looked a little lame to me anyway), Barrel Roll apparently didn’t have enough barrels, there was no Tyre Flip, and no hitting-a-tyre-with-a-hammer. I’m not bothered about missing any of these in particular as the obstacles left in were top notch and things like tyre flips, to me, break up the flow of a race and turn it into a sort of big workout. I like moving forwards (or at least up & down).

Naturally, from the time of year and race location this was a crazy muddy and wet course – putting sawdust at every obstacle was a super welcome touch that they could easily have foregone. Little bits of course care like that are always nice to see and much appreciated. Drinking water was spread throughout the course as well, personally I only used one or two stations but knew there were more and never felt left wanting.

Dragon's Back

Essentially, this was a very challenging course – each obstacle individually was quite manageable but the sheer volume just chipped away at you enough for everyone, from the top level all the way down to find something to knock them back.

Overall Winner Results:

Women:

  1. Lindsay Webster
  2. Ida Mathilde Steensgaard
  3. Karin Karlsson

Men:

  1. Jon Albon
  2. Sergei Silin
  3. Thibault Debusschere

Just as importantly though, the atmosphere at the World Championships is always incredible and this year was no different. All countries involved had great turn outs and fantastic support for their own teams and others. Puerto Rico had an INSANE showing of athletes and really stole the show. Competitors went out on this course to challenge themselves and put themselves against a hard course, with everybody finding their own individual demons to overcome.

It was amazing to be around and the venue hosted that vibe perfectly – from major obstacles being within easy distance of the event village, to some actually being under cover in a big tent, there were warm showers, loads of food stalls (although only one good coffee vendor.. shoutout to Matt Sharp who can probably retire from his profits this weekend), and enough noise and buzz in the air to keep the whole event electrified. Credit to all the OCRWC team and James & the Nuclear Races team for exceeding everyone’s expectations. They all continue to deliver.

To remind you of just how impressive some people are, here’s how competitor Blind Pete and his guide runner Joey McGlamory took on Dragon’s Back and Ninja Rings – two of the trickier obstacles:

My Race

In the lead up to the OCRWC, I had two races – Devil Mud Run (5 weeks prior) and Spartan Beast (2 weeks prior). Most of my summer training was for DMR which meant a lot of hills, while doing enough upper body training knowing OCRWC would sneak up. I pushed hard at DMR, feeling tired the week afterwards. While I wanted to do Spartan Beast, really I could have done without a long, tough race 2 weeks before the World Championships as it meant that pretty much since DMR I’ve been trying to just maintain fitness – not overdo it so I wasn’t too tired to recover properly or to race well. As a compromise I had to take Spartan as a 50% race 50% training run. It was a hard balance to keep but it felt like the last 5 weeks haven’t really been progressions, leaving me to hope that consistent maintenance work has been enough.

On the day I did feel great, legs were loose enough, no aching in the knees or ankles, upper body felt strong. While this awesome at the startline it also suddenly adds an element of stress that I can’t think of any excuses fast enough when people ask how I’m feeling.

Wreckbag

Unsurprisingly this was a fast start among some very competitive racers when we got going. Thankfully the course was set out nicely so even though we were almost immediately into ditch jumps, barbed wire crawling, and the Wreckbag carry, and while the wave was completely packed out it didn’t feel like it bottlenecked at all. There definitely was crowding but personally I didn’t feel like anyone was really getting in each others’ way and this just sped things up really!

From seeing how the course was set out, my plan going in was just keep pushing forward, not too fast, not too slow. This started out ok as while I wasn’t exactly flying at the start I was moving at a decent pace despite never really having the chance to open up the legs and hit a good running stride. A minor hiccup came at the Minions (hanging ropes over slippery balls in water. Can’t think how else to describe it), where I had to retry due to steadying myself on the framework as I finished which is annoying but my own fault really – I got through it again quickly enough but even there I noticed how many places I lost.

This race was moving at a cut-throat pace.

Kingfisher OCRWC

Crikey

I didn’t feel like I really hit my stride until running after the slide, we had a nice bit of woods to speed our way through before hitting another little bunch of obstacles. I’ve never done a Nuclear Race so things like the Mud Queen Rings were new to me, and while they were all passed easily enough, they are all designed to just chip away at our energy levels and at that they succeeded nicely.

I made my real error at the Platinum Rig, leaving me there for far too long – it’s very common to let things like this play on your mind and easy to over-analyse what goes wrong sometimes. SO LET’S DO THAT:

Rope-Ring-Ring-Little Bar Thing-Rope-Horizontal Bar X4-Little Ball-Ring-Ring-Bell. Easy enough right?

On my first go I jumped in moving through without much swing (going side-to-side keeping arms bent). After the bars I couldn’t quite reach a ring, instead being met by a tiny ball – my energy went at this point as I hadn’t got through the little bar and rope very smoothly and I came off. A little frustrating but I went straight through again, trying to use the ball this time but that was a bad choice and I came off again feeling my energy drain.

Back at the beginning, my forearms had near-doubled in size by this point and my head was in danger of going, standing among others who couldn’t make it through I simply had to take a break and keep my composure. A long wait and good support from the crowd (including the very loud Team Madness) and I went again – reaching Monkey Bars with long, straight arms I swung nicely to the rings, then to the bell. I can testify that it is a HUGE relief to feel like you’re stuck somewhere to then switch it up and make your way through.

Varjagen Saga OCRWC

My race was essentially done there as I spent so long recovering. We reached Varjagen Saga immediately after the rig and sloppy technique found me missing the final ring, taking me all the way back to the start and with arms already tired I had to take another big break before going through successfully. Afterwards it seemed silly as I felt strong enough but it just wasn’t worth rushing and failing again. Ultimately this also meant that obstacles such as Trapeze (basically a normal set of Monkey Bars) and some others took just that little bit longer than they should have and I spent the rest of the race going from being a little bit cautious to super cautious and slow.

All other obstacles were completely manageable, just slowly completed. I caught up to some runners who had overtaken me at the Platinum Rig when I reached Skull Valley, which thankfully didn’t get into my head and I happily got through this first time. Being caught here must have been a horrible feeling so close to the end and I can understand why some would spend so long not wanting to give in. From there of course it was a trot back up to the finish line, over the big wall which just about had dry enough rope for me to grip onto and I was home, band intact.

Wall Climb OCRWC

Another interesting thing that happened was that I gave myself a fairly nasty scrape on my back from the Slide – the plastic lid on the food I had in my little pouch got me good and put a hole in my t shirt, base layer, and skin so that’s pretty nice.

All in all, as a race – this did not suit me at all, don’t take that as a bad comment on the race which I thought was very well designed, but more of a comment on myself that I need to race with more haste, less hesitation and faffing around. I’m plenty strong enough for these obstacles and I’ve worked on efficiency and moving through obstacles such as walls more quickly this year but I still end up taking my time on rigs or obstacles I haven’t seen before where I could be moving a lot faster, especially when wet or muddy I move with caution in areas that don’t require it.

Summary: I liked it.

Strava time: 2hrs 20mins

Distance recorded: 10.1 miles

Shoes: Salming OT Comp

Keith’s Corner

Still reading? Good because I’m still typing.

The OCR World Championships is a strange one, obviously I can only speak from a UK perspective but throughout the year it almost felt ‘uncool’ to get excited about this at least until the week or two beforehand – I don’t know if this is just the general English attitude, or because it was being held in our country the natural reaction had to be a negative one? I’m not sure but a general week-by-week negative view towards actually racing a race and people wanting to do well was highlighted to me quite a lot here.

There was a lot of chat leading up to the race saying things along the lines of “I don’t care that I’ll lose my band” or “I’ve accepted that I’ll fail” or “I’ve done no upper body training for obstacles” – this confuses me, because if this is the case then why take part? Some will say “well this is just another race really” – but this wasn’t cheap to enter, and there are plenty of “other races” where there’s not so much pressure regarding obstacle completion/failure. Is there an achievement of just showing up? If the qualifying and getting there is a big achievement then why not take it one step further and prepare for the course? 

I understand that OCRWC needs the masses to enter to have money to put on an event, but I don’t see it from the participant’s point of view – what are they getting out of it? A lovely shit feeling when they have to announce their failure and have their band cut? It has been building to this race all year why wouldn’t you want to put in some preparation? Again – maybe it’s ‘uncool’ to actually care about such things, but if you’ve prepared well and kept your wristband – respect to you. If you’ve prepared well and failed to keep your wristband – respect to you. If you’ve avoided training and purposely came in under prepared – well what were you expecting to happen?

Anyway, look at this clumsy idiot:

Sometimes I find it amusing that someone like me can take part in a World Championship race – I know that I’m not a top level athlete, but really with where our sport is at the moment, the OCRWC is a just great once-a-year chance to run with/against people from all over the globe.

To me, a race like this isn’t particularly saying that we’re the top athletes in the world*, more that we’re the athletes in the sport at the moment, we’re building this, and we enjoy racing each other, so here’s our big chance to put all our effort in. I loved it, I have loved it in each location I’ve taken part in it, and I can’t see that changing.

*I feel I should point out here that many who take part actually are world class athletes, but you didn’t need me to tell you that.


Written by me: Keith Fairburn

Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.

Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.

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