The one we’d all been waiting for.
A national championship in any sport is always a special occasion, highly anticipated for months in advance but this one had extra impetus as it was the worlds first OCR independent national championships so we were very lucky and privileged for it to be taking place in the UK.
Ran by Obstacle Course Racing Association UK and held at Nuclear races venue in Essex everyone was hopeful of a event and course fitting of the occasion and it didn’t disappoint.
In my opinion it had everything a competitive OCR should have with a perfect mix of regular obstacle, natural ones, running sections and tough technical obstacles that all required mandatory completion but still kept the fun factor of the sport on what was an impressively planned out 16 km course.
A wristband system was in place where by officially trained adjudicators were in place to cut the bands of anyone who didn’t complete any obstacle in the correct way. The rules stated that you could have as many attempts as you wished but failure resulted in the lose of your band and a 4 minute time penalty on any future obstacle not completed. At the end of the race two separate results would be published. One for those who kept their bands and one for those who didn’t.
My aim was to finish in the top 10. I knew this would be very tough, because as you’d expect from the national championships, almost all of the UK’s best competitors were there but I had been in good form in the build up to this race so I was confident I could achieve my goal.
I knew I had to take advantage of my strengths in this race more than ever so must put my foot down on any running section which included the start. I normally hold back early on in longer races but felt I couldn’t afford to lose touch with so many strong performers in attendance.
After being lead to the start line by a march of bagpipe players and set off by an almighty fireball blast I got going. I was positioned well as the first of the obstacles arrived in the Wild Forest gym section where I had gone for a training day last month. We were all still in close order as we negotiated several walls, monkey bars and hanging rings followed by a course of jumps. After another shorter run came some more monkey bars where I gained two places to put myself in 7th position
Then came one really tight cargo net crawls on hard uneven ground after another. I really struggled with these and couldn’t understand how all those passing me were managing to get through at the speed they were. My knees were screening at me and my arms were getting heavier with every clamber forwards.
Finally out of the nets I must have lost 15 or more places and as my legs began to speed up again my arms were having none of it. Luckily it was just running for the next few minutes so my legs won the battle and I started to gain back some places.
From here the field of competitors was spreading out. The quick start was beginning to separate the fast from the faster and gaps were appearing. I got myself into a good little group of runners who I knew were of a very hight standard and we pushed each other on for the next few miles.
It was a very cold day. Nowhere near the temperatures of winter Tough Guy back in February but the chilliest I’ve raced in since then so the water sections were always going to be testing. The first came in the form of a log carry along a 100 meter long, waste deep river wade. I seem to be fine with anything below the core and managed to make some ground (or water) up here and on the rope climb that immediately followed.
Just after this was an out and back drag of a heavy pole attached to a chain. This presented an opportunity to see who else was within catching distance and gave me some encouraging motivation that there were still plenty of places to be gained.
I safely negotiated a technical rig, a reverse crawl under a suspended cargo net and some very tricky hanging ropes over balancing balls which pushed me up another few places.
As I reached the section that included no less than five full body water submerges I got information that I was in 11th place with 12th right on my heals.
In normal circumstances this section would have been immense fun and although the water was absolutely freezing I still managed to enjoy the zip wire and ‘death side’ especially as a new kicker lane had been fitted resulting in increased air time before another splash in the shivery lake. The two swims and the wade on a bodyboard however were less pleasurable.
As I left the water for the final time and started to run again I knew it was imperative I pushed my pace on to get my body temperature back to a normal state. Hypothermia was a very realistic scenario at the point which would mean game over but I wasn’t going to let it get me.
As my pace increased I realised I was actually feeling really good considering I’d already put myself through 8 brutal miles. I had managed to pull away from all those behind me and had three runners in my sights. I knew I needed to catch at least one of them to get the top ten finish I so desperately wanted.
I had the bit between my teeth and cranked it up another notch. The gap was shortening and as we reached a quarry of short, sharp hills that winded back-and-forth the group of three I was chasing became four as another runner was reeled in. They still had 30 or so meters on me though and the last couple of miles were fast approaching.
I wasn’t giving this up and made light work of the ‘cliff hanger’, two adjoining angled walls with hanging ropes used to traverse your way across which lead back into the event village and ‘Isotope’, a succession of leaps of faith approximately 8 feet high onto angled walls followed by a suspended hanging pole to exit from.
A short run down & back up a hill then through some woodland was enough for me to latch onto 10th place. We entered back into the village again neck and neck where we were met by ‘Nuclear Ninja’. This involved traversing across a large metal A frame structure by hooking two rings one by one onto overhanging pegs. I’d done this at Tough Mudder back in May so knew it was an obstacle I was good at and others found tough. That was to be the case once more as two of those I’d been so frantically chasing were stranded as I flew past. I was now in 9th place.
The same runner I had caught up with going into the village had also completed the rings at the first time of asking so our battle continued. With a mile to go I managed to get ahead of him going up a hill before entering into some technical woodland running. I knew only the final straight of obstacles lied ahead now which included a cargo net A frame, four fence crawls, a half pipe, a testing high wall and then the only obstacle I’d been fearing, the weaver.
As I approached the half pipe I saw the runner in 7th place run up and slip back down. I knew a first time clearance would gain me another place. I took a sprint and nailed it. Up and over the final wall and all that stood in my way was the weaver. It was literally 10 meters from the finish line but I knew things could still all go wrong in the blink of an eye.
This obstacle involved weaving under and over a succession of wide horizontal bars without any part of the body touching the floor. The only other time I had come across this was at the World Champs last year where I failed it and I’d had no chance to practice it since. I looked back and saw one runner approaching but nobody else in sight. I knew I couldn’t afford to get caught up in a race as rushing would result in a fall on what were very slippery bars.
I took my time and much to my relief made it across first time. I had lost a place and there was no time to get it back but I ran through the UK championships finish line over the moon with an 8th place finish. I had not only kept my wristband but completed every single obstacle at the first go and took great confidence from how strong my running had been. I picked up my well earned medal and what was the best looking race t-shirt I’ve ever received and left Essex a happy man.
A couple of weeks later I checked back over the results to find much to my surprise that the 5th place finisher had been removed as he had lost his wristband so I had the added bonus of moving up to 7th place.