The Race and the Rant
I’ve decided to split this write up into two sections. Firstly it will be my normal race review and then I’ll give my thoughts on the reasons why I feel certain issues occurred and address some comments that have been made on social media regarding the subject.
To avoid the 130 mile drive from home to Sussex on race day I stayed in a nearby hotel the night before and then made the short journey to Pippingford Park on what was a crisp Saturday morning. So crisp in fact that I had to scrap the ice from my car windscreen before setting out. Not a welcomed sign knowing the course had several water crossings.
I arrived in good time and got a full warm up done before making my final kit choice decision. We were called into a holding pen 30 minutes before the 9.15am race start. I felt this was way too long to be standing around in an enclosed space in cold whether so avoided going in until the very last minute then managed to get out again for some strides while we were moved to the starting pen. With the sun making a surprise appearance it was at this point that I made the bold move to take off my thermal under layer top meaning I now just had on the same gear I’d raced in all season. I knew the lake swim wasn’t until over half way into the course and there were several extended running sections before then so I decided overheating was just as much of an important factor. This was a choice I remained happy with throughout the race as although the water was freezing once out the whether was being kind and there was never a point were I felt too cold.
Once we finally got started I quickly found myself at the front alongside race favourite Tristan Steed. I wanted to keep close order so I was fine with this but also content as he moved away on the long hill drag to begin. I didn’t feel as though I was moving at any real speed but remained in second place until we reached the top of the hill and headed into the woods. Three others then moved passed me and I slotted into fifth place.
We soon looped back into the event village where the first set of obstacles came before heading back out to the hills. A really long and heavy bucket carry was the first point I felt really tested but this was a good opportunity to see how far behind the leaders I was. Tristan was by now out of sight, Ross Brackley in second was just about still in view with Jason Burgess further away from me than I’d of liked and Jason Brunnock in closer order. I was also having a cat and mouse battle with James Burton who I’d had such a great race against here at few weeks back at the Judgement Day race. He had gone past me by the time we’d finally got to put the gravel filled buckets down but I knew if I was to have any chance of a podium finish I couldn’t let anyone get any further ahead so I went back passed him and pushed my running on hard.
I was feeling good and flew up a cargo net onto a bridge then slid back down the dangling rope into some knee deep water. My body temperature was remaining at a good level as I got a reminder of just how cold it actually was as I had to break through ice in some trenches. This lead us back into the event village again where some more testing obstacles awaited.
First up was a section of jumps and climbs over a trio of awkwardly built wall type obstacles from Reaper race, then after a crawl was one of my favourites, the ninja rings. There’s several reasons why I like these, the main one being that I don’t find them too difficult yet others seem to really struggle with them meaning it’s a good place to gain a strong advantage over my rivals. At the champs last year these were placed towards the end and I managed to overtake two people on them. This time it provided me the chance to move from fifth to fourth and widen the gap further on those behind me.
I then managed to get over the Suffering race’s 10 feet wall without any issues and knew that was the bulk of the obstacles dealt with. As I began what was now mostly hilly trail running I didn’t feel any pressure from behind me and concentrated on not letting third place get any further ahead.
The 50 foot rope traverse across a lake marked 8km which was the half way point. Rope traversing used to be one of my weakest obstacles, in fact it was the first one I ever failed when at the world championships in America in 2014. I worked hard to improve on it after that and it paid off as I effectively won Judgement Day 18k last month by the speed in which I completed it. This time the ante had been upped again as it was across water. The harshness of the rules meant after making it to some red tape 30 feet across you then had to drop down into the freezing lake below and swim the final 20 meters to dry land. I was pleased to had completed it again but shocked at how deep the water was. It was a full body submerge and my head stayed under a lot longer than I was expecting. I used to hate swims in OCR’s but since training for Ironman I quite enjoy them now and although I was happy once it was over I was glad it had been added to the course.
Whenever you face cold water it’s so important to get moving again as soon as you’re out so with a long hill climb to follow I pushed hard to ensure my body temperature didn’t drop too low. At three quarters of the way up I got a glimpse of the yellow top of Jason in third just before he disappeared over the summit. I knew an 800m 30kg sandbag carry awaited and as that’s a piece of equipment I train with regularly I saw that as an opportunity to close the gap.
This was a really tough carry with a steep incline, uneven ground and plenty of shrubbery to clamber through.
From here on in other than a couple of tunnel crawls and some incline walls it was all trail running until the final 1.5km where the last section of obstacles awaited.
It was at this three quarters of the way point though that I had started to lose energy and fade badly in my last few races. I was slightly conscious of this but still felt full of running and had nothing to lose and everything to gain by continuing to push hard. Each time the course opened up I could see that I was closing the gap but there were several sections of technical running where I couldn’t get any extra speed up even though I wanted to.
Just as I thought the woodland running was never going to end I saw my Dad who had veered away from the event village area to give his usual great support. He informed me that third place was now only 100m ahead. I replied with some famous last words of “if he struggles on the rig I’ve got this” as I ran on with confidence. The rig was 1km from the finish and a technical obstacle lots of people struggle with but one I’d never failed to get across first time in any other race I’d done including here at JD on what I thought would be the same or a slightly harder version. Oh how wrong I was!
Before that was a barrel carry. As I approached it Jason was just leaving which gave me a further indication that the race was still very much on.
As I approached the rig Jason was just taking his first few swings across. Just as I stepped up to begin he slipped off. I don’t like finding happiness in other people’s misfortune but on this occasion I genuinely thought this was the moment I was going to take that final podium spot I had been fighting for the entire race.
I confidently swung from rope to bar, ring to ring, then traversed cleanly across a thick squared pipe. It was at this point, three quarters of the way across, that there had been a second foot hold during the JD event but that had been removed. This small adjustment turned out to be a huge game changer. I managed to grab hold of the hanging ball grip then swing to the next ring but as I grasped it I slipped and hit the ground. Attempt over. Both of us continued trying to get across but consistently fell at the same point each time. A good 5 or 6 tries and several minutes later, for the first time since the ninja rings, I saw another competitor other than Jason. He also fell at the same point as we continued to do.
Before long more and more of those who had been trailing us for so long managed to catch up and each and every one of them attempted and failed the rig. By now I’d had at least ten attempts, getting to roughly the same point every time, my arms getting a little weaker and my mind becoming a bit more demoralised with each effort.
As a queue was now forming those who had already made an attempt had to use the one and only retry lane meaning I now had to wait several minutes between each go.
I really didn’t want to give in but people were now starting to sacrifice their wristband and move on meaning if I didn’t make it across they would beat me. It was a real dilemma because I knew if I did achieve it I would get that third spot I’d been chancing for most of the race. I decided to keep trying until either I or someone else completed it.
The entire 16k had now turned into a race over this one obstacle. With approximately 30 competitors now at the rig eventually the time came where I had to watch the last podium place disappear from me as someone finally made it across. This was my call to admit defeat. I reluctantly let the marshal cut one of my wristbands and did the ‘run of shame’ past the obstacle I’d now been at for close to half an hour.
All that was left was a wall, a rope climb and what seemed like a rather pointless run with a tyre for anyone who didn’t have both bands. Talk about rubbing it in!
I crossed the finish line in sixth place (although they called me out as fifth for some reason) feeling deflated, disappointed and gutted. Sixth I would have been relatively satisfied with but I knew anyone who now finished with both their wristbands would move ahead of me no matter how far behind they finished.
Eventually the final results showed that 9 competitors from the first wave had completed all obstacles so added to the two who had sacrificed their wristband before I did that put me in 12th place overall.
In total 9% of the near 700 competitors from the elite waves, age group categories and the journeymen completed the rig and therefore finished with both their wristbands. There wasn’t a single female making up that tiny percentage meaning even the lady who finished first, who was the reigning champion and fifth best female obstacle course racer in the world, finished the race in disappointment & uncertainty seemingly feeling like she’d failed when in fact unbeknown to her she had actually won but had to wait several hours to find that out.
No obstacle in a competitive race should cause queuing. Queueing isn’t racing.
I am a believer that obstacles should be hard and more challenging at a championship race as everyone there has performed well enough to finish highly in other events in order to qualify and I appreciate its a difficult job to get the balance right but in no circumstances should one obstacle be made so difficult that it determines the outcome of the entire race.
And finally, I’ve read lots of comments on social media, other people’s reviews and articles from the leading OCR media outlets in the fall out of this event. It seems that my views are echoed by many but not everyone. I respect the opinions of others but one common theme I’ve read and completely disagree with is those saying that anyone who failed the rig just simply haven’t trained hard enough or in the right way. I appreciate this may be true for some but certainly not all.
Training for OCR should involve working on every aspect of your strength and fitness as all areas should be tested on a good course. The balance of your training should be structured to the main areas in which you face during a race therefore if a course is given as 16k this means you’re going to be covering that distance predominantly with running so the majority of your training should be geared around that. This doesn’t mean your strength work, body weight exercises, obstacle techniques or grip work should be neglected but in my opinion it shouldn’t be the case that someone who is 20 minutes or more slower that someone else over 15k of the course should be able to catch them up and overtake them based on being stronger on one specific area over one obstacle because they have spent the majority of their training working on that one strength.
To give a football analogy it’s like one team being 10-1 up having scored 10 long range shots and the other team scoring a header then with one minute to go the referee saying only headed goals now count. Or something like that anyway!
I’ve never previously failed a rig, in fact I’ve never not got across first time and that includes the one at the OCR world championships in America, the Suffering race, Spartan and the same rig slightly adjusted at Judgement Day. I didn’t achieve that through not training hard enough. I do however recognise there is always room for improvement and I will be adding more grip and forearm strength into my training regime. We live and learn and I just hope the OCRA UK learn from their mistakes in order to put on a more successful championships in future years.