The Need For Speed

I’ve often wondered why shorter distances are seen as much less significant races amongst the sport of obstacle course racing and are therefore a lot less competitive. A strong example of this was apparent at the very first unofficial UK championships hosted by Dirty Dozen Races in 2014. I though it was great that they made the decision to run the championships over three distances but the 18k & 12k races were not only significantly more competitive but also widely publicised whereas the 6k almost when unnoticed (I should know, I was the winner).

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OCR is a sport that challenges competitors over all aspects of fitness and just because the challenge is shorter doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Take athletics for example. Those who run the middle distance events such as 800 meters and 1500m have to train just as hard as the marathon runners and generally the spectacle is viewed as much more exciting to watch. In fact the shortest of all track races, the 100m, is almost always billed as the main event.

I fully appreciate most OCR participants (myself included) have come into the sport to seek bigger challenges and it can often be the longer races that offer that but as the sport grows and becomes more competitive will the importance of the shorter distances become greater? The OCR World Championships certainly seem to think so as they have introduced a 3k race to this year’s event as do Spartan who always put on three distance options during their seasons.

They aren’t the only ones who offer multiple distance options by any means but they do seem to stand alone in putting just as much importance on each race. The ‘Sprint’ is 5k+, the ‘Super’ is 13k+ and the ‘Beast’ is 20k+. All offer the same prizes and qualification slots and attract the same level of competition. Spartan also offer a ‘Trifecta’ challenge in which you have to complete all three distance in one calendar year which also attracts more participants into the shorter distance race.

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The first event of the 2016 Spartan Race UK season came to the new and highly anticipated venue of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. With the back drop of the hugely impressive Olympic stadium and the rare opportunities of being able to race competitively over a shorter distance and on the faster Tarmac surface I jumped at the chance.

The elite race was an 8am start which mean I opted for an overnight hotel stay allowing me some precious extra hours in bed and a short walk to the start line. If anyone had any doubts over the competitiveness of Spartan races they were soon squashed as the race director laid down the laws via megaphone in front of the entire elite field. A 30 burpee punishment was in place for failure to complete any obstacle then with a 10 second countdown we were off.

As with my last Spartan race at the Beast last year we were almost immediately met with a sharp and narrow turn (something that defiantly needs addressing). I had however done my homework and knew this was coming so made sure I got out fast to avoid being held up. This spread out the field much quicker than I was expecting for a race of this distance as the first few round the corner were able get away leaving the others in a bottle neck.

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The first bit of clear running came after several large step climbs and this was where I moved up into second place behind Tristan Steed. Then came the first of many man made obstacles in the form of some monkey bars which were made a whole lot trickier by the rain that was pouring down. Next came a gravel bucket carry then some high walls. By this point Tristan had extended his lead and I was now clear in second.

Off the pavement for the first time we were met with one of Spartan’s signature challenges, the atlas stones. I struggled to lift these huge concrete balls at the Beast when they were situated right at the end of the course so I was relieved to approach them a lot fresher and this time didn’t find them a problem (even with the 10 burpees that were thrown in at the half way point).

Making the most of the little grass they had two long barbed wire crawls followed before the first real extended running section. It was here I began to make some ground up on the leader and I further shortened the gap on a double sand bag carry using some dirt track hills they managed to find amongst the urban terrain.

Lots more of the obstacles you come to expect at Spartan races followed such as over, under, through walls, webbed A frames, a double log carry and a hoist all planned out and positioned well in such a compact course which still allowed for plenty of running.

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I continued to get closer to first place as the race went on and I knew the lottery that is the spear throw still awaited close to the finish as always. I entered back into the race village with a rope climb knowing there was only a few hundred meters left to cover.

As I approached the spear throw I saw Tristan on the ground doing burpees meaning that he had missed his throw. I knew if I hit my spear in the suspended hay bale 10 meters in front of me the race was mine. I took aim and also missed. 30 burpees for me! I joint Tristan and we did them side by side. I was at 24 or 25 as he finished his and went on. There was still a cargo net crawl & three large walks to get over as well as the fire jump before the finish line. I wasn’t giving up all hope of the win just yet.

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As I entered the cargo net Tristan was still not out of it. At the walls he remained one climb ahead of me and didn’t make any more mistakes meaning after a pretty unorthodox flip/ roll over the fire jump I took second place, 5 seconds behind the winner.

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I had set out with the aim of a podium placed finish so was pleased enough with the result. I felt I had ran well and my suspicions that the sprint distance would suit my capabilities turned out to be true. Although I can mix it with the top guys over the longer races my background in middle distance track racing means I can definitely get closer over shorter events.

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There are always going to be top class all rounders who will be up there whatever the distance but having some shorter competitive events like this one will begin to bridge the gap. It will make for more exciting races rather than seeing huge winning margins and offers a better viewing spectacle. I believe it would also attract a different type of athlete into the sport so I’m hoping we will see a lot more of this as obstacle course racing continues to develop.

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