I had been given the opportunity to represent the UK at the first ever obstacle course race world championships in Ohio, USA by placing 1st and 2nd in two qualifying races put on by Nuclear Races. From these performances they had selected me to take up their place with flights to America included.
I arrived in Cinnicnatti, Ohio late Thursdays evening and the following morning made the 40 mile drive from our hotel to the event venue on the eve of the race itself for registration and the athlete briefing. This also offered a chance to view parts of the course. I saw that some of the obstacles were on a different level of toughness to anything i’d faced before and also got a glimpse of just how hilly the area was and that the terrain was going to be very uneven and rocky throughout.
The next day I was up at 5am to make the same journey from the hotel to returned to the venue for race day. My race had a 9am race start time. The races were to go off in waves, every 30 mins in age divisions going up in 5 years as well as an elite wave which would go off first at 8am for men and 8.30am for women.
I had spent a few days deliberating weather to enter the elite wave or my age category race and in the end I decided to go for the 30-34 age group race as I’d only just turned 30 so felt I could be a lot more competitive in this one.
After an awesomely inspiring speak from the event MC on the start line that would get the least energetic of people pumped up we were off.
I started well and found myself at the business end of the field as we pushed up the first winding hill section in the woods then much to my surprise, still feeling very comfortable I moved into first place and actually began to extend my lead. This lasted for well over a mile up to around 2 miles in when the obstacles started coming thick and fast and the leading pack began to take closer order again.
I stayed in the top two during a lengthy 25 meter barbed wire crawl up and down a hill and was still there after the infamous gauntlet. This is a succession of obstacles on this permanent course that starts with what must be the highest and most angled monkey bars on the planet and ending with an equally impressive high wall climb. I was more than happy to complete this section without faltering.
The course then weaved through the last of the feet friendly terrain until the final part which lead to the finish. In the next 6 or so miles of this 8.8 mile course there wasn’t to be a single step that wasn’t either on hilly or rocky ground, most of the time it was both and any parts that would have given a slight rest bite was filled with a object carry.
Once we hit the woods and the hills again I began to feel slightly dizzy and started to become very low on energy. Although the nature of this course had meant I’d already had to provide as much of my energy as I sometime do in the entirety of other races I shouldn’t have felt this way this early on, especially as I’d consumed half a pack of Shock blocks on the start line. I had to put it down to having not trained at all for the past 3 weeks due to an ankle injury suffered at the Red Bull steeplechase. At this point it made me aware that my ankle was feeling fine and that gave me the boost I needed.
Flying down another huge descent brought me back into the spectator area where hundreds had gathered to watch athletes attempt the Platinum rig. This involving every type of equipment imaginable that can be hung from, all suspended from a metal structure which left your feet at least a meter from the ground at all times. Before I started my race I had watched many of the world’s elite try and fail this repetitively. Some were there trying for 40 minutes. I was actually looking forwards to giving it a crack and I was pretty proud of myself to complete it with a perfect run. This must have put a bit of room between myself and several of those chasing me and allowed me to get closer to a few that had overtaken me during my dizzy spell.
After a run on the rocks up a river bed I arrived at another obstacle I’d never faced before in 6th place which all but the first placed runner in my sights. This obstacle involved a thick rope suspended approximately 7 ft in the air between three platforms that you must cross while hanging backwards and upside down. I climbed up onto the first platform and got into position. I gripped my arms tightly and worked my legs along making it onto the second platform in the middle. I then repeated the process as my arms began to tire and it became harder and harder to keep the rhythm of my legs going. I got half way across and my grip started to weaken. Within a few seconds I was in a whole world of pain. I was clinging on for dear life and my arms were screaming at me to let go. I managed a few more shifts of my body and I was within touching distance of the final platform when my grip gave up on me and I fell to the ground with a thump.
I laid there helpless for a few moments before raising to my feet. To my horror the official told me that I not only had to go back for another attempt but had to start from the very beginning, not the second platform. It took me a while to muster up the courage to have another go and as I stood on the platform my arms were almost lifeless. I gave it a fairly weak attempt before accepting that this wasn’t going to happen and I’d be here all day trying so I had to take the 4 minute time penalty for failing an obstacle. I ran on feeling pretty defeated knowing any chance of finishing on the podium, something that up until this point had been a reality, was now very unrealistic.
I was trying to tell myself that others in front of me would face similar situations as the race went on but before I’d had too much time to think about it another obstacle greeted me. It was a similar platformed structure to that of the pervious obstacle but instead of a rope a thick metal pipe was suspended from one side to the other, roughly 10 meters in length. I listened to the instructions from the marshal who told me perhaps the worst possible thing she could have said at that point. The same traversing technique that I’d just tried so desperately hard at and fail was to be used again.
I psyched myself up and made my attempt. This time I wrapped my armed around the pipe as tightly as I could in a hugging fashion and slowly but surely hoisted my way across one shunt of the legs at a time. I was getting closer and closer to the end as every muscle from my shoulders to my fingertips were in absolute agony. Again I was within touching distance, one more hoist of the body and I’d be there. My arm grip loosened, I hung with just my hands desperately trying to avoid falling so close to the end again. I let out a scream as I gave everything I had but it just wasn’t enough and I was down. My armed had never felt pain like this before. There was no way I could get through that with another attempt without a lengthy recovery break so I was forced to take another 4 minute time penalty.
As I ran on I was in a bad place both physically and mentally and there was still a long way to go. I thought of everything I’d put my body through this past year, how I’d struggled for hours on end to come back stronger in other enduring events I’d faced and how I’d tested my body time and time again and it had never failed me yet. This was the world championships, I’d flew half way across the globe for this and I was going to finish to the best of my ability no matter what it took.
I pushed on knowing I’d lost a lot of time and the only way I could get that back was to run harder. Running is my strong point and any opportunity I had to exploit that I would. The problem was that those chances were very few and far between. It was relentless hill after hill. This at least gave my arms a break they so badly needed at times although many of these hills were so steep that the only way possible to get up them was a bear crawl and other were even steeper with the use of a rope the only possible way of scaling them.
On the occasions that reaching the summit of a hill didn’t involve turning round to negotiate a descent back down where at times my life flashed before me in moments of shear terror, we were greeted with a carrying task. There was a 50 pound sand back carry, a huge handleless bucket fill with gravel and a double tyre carry. I found these a welcome relief and made up several places on each carry. There were also several walls on different heights to scale scattered amongst the hills.
I was beginning to feel like this course was never ending. There was 3,500 feet of claiming apparently. Every time I let myself think that it must be coming to at end soon and I’d see the welcome sight of the event village and spectator area again were nearing another hill reared it’s ugly head and I knew that there were another two obstacles I still had to encounter. The infamous weaver and Pinnacle hill (yes that’s right, another hill!). Both had been mentioned almost every time anyone had spoke of this course and both were regarded as two of the hardest obstacles anywhere in the world.
The weaver is a wooden structure with beams laying horizontally across it around a meter apart slopping upwards and then back downwards in a pyramid style. Athletes must weave their way under and over each beam alternatively. I’d watched a couple of YouTube demo videos of how it’s done and to be honest I didn’t know what all the fuss was about.
Before I finally reached the weaver I got a true reflection of just how much this course had taken out of me as I failed on an obstacle I normally have no problem what so ever with, a rope climb. In fact at Judgement day earlier this year I have breezed up a much higher rope than this during a one mile sand bag carry but every time I pulled my feet off the ground my grip failed me. I couldn’t get any hand or leg hold on this rope and I had to take another 4 minute penalty. I was made to feel slightly better by the fact that most other athletes around me were also failing confirming my thoughts that these were partially slippery ropes.
I ran on to the weaver and jumped straight on to the first beam which I was instructed to go under (without any part of my body touching the floor). I then just about managed to get one foot into the second beam before my hands slipped and I was down. As much as I tried this was as far as I was able to get as my hand grip repeatably gave way with or without my gloves. I knew this obstacle was the only one on course that came with an even longer time penalty (what I thought was 6 minutes but later found out was actually 8 minutes) but by now my time had become much less important to me and finishing was the only thought I had in my mind. I took the penalty and moved on to a very tricky running section of large rocks which lead to Pinnacle hill.
I was struggling to believe that there was such a thing as a steeper hill that several of those that I’d already faced but yet here it was. Although it was the biggest of the lot, it was also the last of the lot and this is what got me up it as I clung on to the ropes to pull myself a little closer to the ‘pinnacle’ with every step. Upon reaching the summit I got a real sense of achievement knowing that although I had failed a few of the obstacles I had managed to concur every single hill climb with this course has sadistically put in front of me.
Not only that but the reward for such a huge climb was an epic waterside said to be the longest in OCR history to bring me back down to ground level. It was so high that I had to brace myself for a couple of seconds before sliding down at great speed with a grin on my face from ear to ear. I splashed into the water at the bottom where the crowds watch on and climbed out crawling through a tunnel refreshed in the knowledge that I was nearly there.
There were still a few obstacles to go yet though but the sight of the massive finishing arch was just the buzz I needed as I began to pick up my pace overtaking runners one by one on another 50 pound sandbag carry and a succession of high walls. I was halted momentary by an obstacle named ‘the tip of the spear’ as I found a sideways slanted traverse using only chains to grip impossible to get across but from then on it was my moment if person glory as I crossed the finish line a world championship finisher and had my world championship medal hung around my neck.
I had no idea where I’d finished but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had come in 26th place in my age division and at the time was currently 53rd overall.
After the results were finalised they were split into two sections, with those who completed all obstacles in one list and everyone else in the other. This gave me a placing of 25th overall and 7th in my age division.
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of this review talking about obstacles I didn’t complete but that made up only a very small proportion (5 in total) of what was the toughest obstacle course I’ve encountered with a total of 52 obstacles I did complete as well as a massive amount of hills and nothing or no one can ever take away the fact that I was a part of history having competed in the first ever OCR world champs, that I can say I lead the world for 2 miles and I have a world championship medal that I well and truly earned. 26th in the world for my age division isn’t bad either.
It was also a big relief that my ankle held out as in all truth I didn’t think it would. I can now push on with my running training with a winter half marathon on the agenda and work hard on the weaknesses in my grip strength that this race exploited to come back stronger and fitter than ever.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Nuclear Races for giving me this opportunity and to my Dad who flew out with me to give his unrivalled support as he always does.