Clydesdales and Athenas – The Next BIG Thing!

The Clydesdale and Athena divisions should be added to OCR and running events. There – I said it.  Burn me at the stake, throw tomatoes or emphatically disagree if you’d like. But before you do, at least finish the article. Deal?

What are the Clydesdale and Athena divisions?  Both divisions are classifications based on weight, rather than the standard age group.  The Clydesdale division is typically males over 220 pounds while the Athena division is women over 165.  Who cares, right?  It doesn’t affect the majority of people today, right?  Before you brush off the logistics already, let’s look at other sporting events for a moment.

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Would the world’s greatest boxers still be the greatest if no weight classes existed? Would Floyd Mayweather be able to beat Evander Holyfield in his prime?  Could Manny Pacquiao have withstood punches from Mike Tyson?  We will never know because it would be “unfair” to place them together in a ring.

Would Olympic weightlifting results differ if they didn’t have Bantamweight, Lightweight, Heavyweight and Super Heavyweight divisions? Chances are – the super heavyweights would take gold, silver and bronze every single time.

Would the MMA be the same if Conor McGregor fought heavyweights like Fedor Emelianenko, Junior dos Santos, or Andrei Arlovski?  We will never know – they will never fight.

The majority of individual sports can be broken down into two major categories – skill vs speed/strength.  Size or weight is less of an issue in skate boarding, tennis, golf, or surfing because you either have the skill at these sports or you don’t. Not every person has the balance to surf or hand-eye coordination for tennis.  However, Boxing, MMA, Weightlifting, Power lifting, and all forms of martial arts are restricted by weight class. Not to say that skill or talent isn’t involved, but a 130 pound wrestler is far less likely to win against a 250 pound heavyweight.

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What makes running different? What makes OCR different? What makes Triathlons different? That, my friend, is the question. Why are they different? The answer is- They aren’t. It’s just that nobody has challenged the norm. Running isn’t split by weight because runners are almost exclusively less than 200 pounds. Competitive runners are ALL under 200. Why change now?  I’d ask the opposite, why not? How many people started their journey as a runner in the Clydesdale or Athena division?  Many people who were overweight to start likely fell in that category.  However – some people are just larger athletes, regardless of effort or training.  Wouldn’t it be great to have the option to compete against other larger athletes who are of similar build?

If you want to be a nurse, do you pursue it? If you love painting, do you paint? If your passion is music, do you practice singing, playing an instrument or composing music?  Fitness has become a passion of mine and I have been sharing the knowledge I’ve learned from personal experience ever since. I’m pursuing that passion with every run; every weight lifted; every training session.  Why should that passion be thwarted because I’m 6’5” – 260 pounds running against 160-pound individuals?  Regardless of your opinion, the truth is a larger framed individual will never be competitive in running against the “typical runner”.  The body supplies oxygen and energy to working muscles, so the lighter the load, the better.  If you took two runners, identical in all physical abilities, different only in their weight, odds are that the lighter runner would finish with a faster time than the heavier runner.  Some might say “then lose the weight and quit bitching”. While I agree to an extent, and I will never stop training to be better, most Clydesdales and Athenas will ALWAYS be larger regardless of effort toward losing weight.  Should we be punished because our genetics have pushed us out of the “fit” category in running?

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I’ll leave this with a final thought…

At 6’5” – 260lbs, I have more mass to hold up on monkey bars, more mass to swing across rigs, and a more difficult time trudging up hills than Ryan Atkins.  Yes– he trains his arse off – but put the same training into someone 230 pounds and in the same shape as Atkins.  Who wins? Atkins still wins all day and twice on Sunday.  Why are bigger males still chasing Jonathon Albon or Ryan Atkins and females chasing Lindsey Webster or Alexandra Walker for a medal when we wouldn’t be placed in the same boxing ring for the title match?

The opportunity to challenge and compete against other athletes of similar build is long overdue. These divisions aren’t about me, my family, friends or acquaintances to acquire more medals or achievements for “mediocrity”, as most would consider it.  This isn’t about one man’s journey to “win events” and be famous. It is to change society’s view regarding the larger athlete while being the motivation for acceptance and change.  Regardless if my fitness journey takes me below 220 pounds or not – I’m a f&%king Clydesdale and proud of it. It’s time to remove the stigma that has been placed on these weight classes over the years and be proud to be a larger athlete. It’s time for the Clydesdale and Athena divisions to be represented in the OCR and running world.

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Photo Credit: Starr Mulvihill, Jason Akers and Billy Howard – Single Stone Studios Photography

USAOCR with Tim Sinnett

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Tim Sinnett USAOCR

On today’s show we talk with Tim Sinnett. You may know Tim as The Race Sherpa and/or as husband of OCR athlete Rose Wetzel. He recently became a member of the media committee for USAOCR.  On this episode, we attempt to answer (among other things) what USAOCR is, what this first event in Miami is all about, how OCR may get into the olympics, and how you can get involved.
Todays Podcast is sponsored by:

Obstacle Guard – Code ORM gets you 10% off all orders in the U.S.

Show Notes:

Race Sherpa OCR – Facebook page.

Sports Illustrated article – Referenced in this podcast.

USAOCR.org – Homepage and how you can you can run for a seat on the Board of Directors.

Listen using the player below or the iTunes/Stitcher links at the top of this page. 

An awkward moment for the IORF at the OCRWC

 

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Much has been written about the third annual OCR World Championships held last weekend at the Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario, Canada. The International Obstacle Racing Federation also chose last weekend to host its annual conference at the same location. Its president Ian Adamson wanted to take part in the race, and this has led to some friction between Ian and OCRWC CEO Adrian Bijanada. I spoke to both of them today to sort out what happened.

First, a little background about Ian and the IORF.  Established in 2014 to promote obstacle racing, the IORF describes itself as the world governing body of OCR. Equivalents in other sports might be the IAAF for track/athletics or the ITU  for triathlon. It is no secret that the IORF was originally the idea of Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena, but the IORF has officially established its independence from Spartan in order to work with the IOC to try to get OCR into the Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, also in 2014, Adrian Bijanada founded the OCRWC. Part of the event’s origin involved the desire to sell OCR-appropriate gear, but it has blossomed into an annual event that attracts athletes from around the globe to what has been perceived as a well-organized professional end-of-season event that brings together talent from many different race series as well as obstacles from those events. In addition to elite races, the OCRWC features races for age groupers and those of us who will never set foot on a podium, as well as a charity event on the last day.

While the IORF congress and the OCRWC happened on the same weekend at the same venue, they were not organized together, and the two groups keep a safe distance. Ian and Adrian had discussed the possibility of Ian racing the course, but nothing was ever finalized. Ian explained to me that in the days leading up to the race he tried to reach Adrian, who was understandably busy, and at the event Ian talked to people from 365, the company that produced the event about jumping in. He climbed over a fence and joined in one of the waves of racers. Later on, he raced the course again with a team, having registered in advance for the team event.

A few days later, in a closed group on Facebook, Ian joined in a comment thread discussing fairness to athletes on the course. Very rarely does a story that starts with someone joining a Facebook comment thread end well. All the same, since part of IORF’s mission is to promote safety and fairness for the athletes at races, Ian chimed in with his input regarding fairness, and he mentioned that he had completed the course in an admirably fast 1:55. Another enterprising commenter noted that his time did not appear in the published race results, at which point Ian mentioned that he didn’t have a bib or a timing chip for the event. From there, things spiralled downwards, leaving many with the impression that could be expressed as “IORF official bandits OCRWC race”.

Running a race as a bandit is a phenomenon that drives race organizers crazy. For those unfamiliar with the term, running as a bandit means taking part in an event without paying an entry fee and without the permission of the organizers. People run as bandits at events because they can’t get into a race, can’t qualify, or don’t want to pay an entry fee. While it may seem like a victimless crime to some, it is not only unfair to racers who did qualify and pay to enter, it puts race organizers at risk. A bandit racer who collapses on the course has not signed a waiver and has not provided the organizers with any emergency contact information. It is also a theft of services. It is a bad thing to do. That said, not everyone who enters a race pays an entry fee. Racers are comped for a variety of reasons, but even then, the protocol still requires those racers to register, sign a waiver, and wear a bib like everyone else in the race.

So why did Ian, who is an experienced adventure racer, simply jump into the race without a bib? He explained to me that he wanted to evaluate the course, “and the only way to do that was to get my feet dirty, to talk to the volunteers and the race officials.”. He told me that when officials from international federations host their counterparts from other sports at championships, officials get what are essentially all-access VIP passes, and it would not be uncommon for a federation official to compete alongside the age groupers. Since this behavior was common at other international championships, he did not think what he was doing would be a problem. In retrospect, he told me, it was an oversight on his part. He explained that he was thinking like an international race official, and not from the perspective of an athlete. His goal was to do something for the health of the sport, but his execution was faulty.

Meanwhile, Adrian found himself in an awkward position. The highest priority of any race director is the safety of the participants, and the head of the international federation had just admitted to committing a fundamental breach of safety protocol. Today he told me “While I understand that  the IORF is trying to position itself as a governing body, having an official illegally enter a race is unacceptable regardless of that individual’s intentions. Individuals need to understand that they put themselves at risk as well as others.” Everyone needs to register to race, “otherwise we have no idea who is on the course, and should an individual needed medical attention, or if someone falls down a ravine, we do not know that they are there. While I admire his intentions, this may not have been the best course of action.” Adrian also explained to me that race officials compare the numbers of everyone who crosses the start line and the finish line to make sure that no one has been left out on the course. Given how rigorous the terrain is at many obstacle course races, this is a smart safety routine. 

What are the consequences of Ian jumping into the race without a bib? Adrian told me: “I prefer not to address race violations publicly, but we do want to note that Mr. Adamson did violate the rules by effectively banditing the race and entering the race without permission. We have informed him that we have prohibited him from participating in the 2017 events.”

Adrian wrote us close to press time to add  “I truly respect Ian and admire his desire to drive OCR forward. However, it’s important that our organization take a consistent approach in addressing infractions regardless of who commits them”.

Ian has apologized, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned. For starters, never bandit a race. Also, if you break the rules, don’t mention it on Facebook, even in the comments, even in a closed group, even if you didn’t think you were breaking the rules at the time. Finally, there are plenty of people who care about this sport and want to make sure it is safe for everyone. Let’s encourage that kind of concern.

Update 10:05am EST Jesse Fulton, president of 365 Sports and partner for this year’s OCRWC championship sent us an email which reads:

“As much as we want everyone to enjoy our events in no way would we ever allow someone to access the course without going through the proper registration steps, most importantly signing a waiver. This event was insured by our personal insurance policy and we would never allow someone access to the course without a signed waiver. Even the Dj’s and the staff/volunteers all had to sign them. In addition, we do not have the ability nor the power to allow someone access without the expressed permission of OCRWC”

– Jesse Fulton 365 Sports Inc.

OCR World Championships (OCRWC) 2016: Race Recap

The third annual OCR World Championships (OCRWC) took place over this last weekend at the Blue Mountains Resort near Collingwood, Ontario, Canada.  After taking place at the King’s Domain permanent obstacle course in Oregonia, Ohio the first two years, moving the race to another country truly made it feel like a more international event.  Race creators would also be tasked with building a complete course from scratch as this venue primarily functioned as a ski destination.  The organizers could not have asked for better conditions on Friday and Saturday as the trees were in full color-change mode along with a sun filled 45-70 Fahrenheit temperature.  Parking and spectators were once again free of charge this year plus a well laid out vendor area right in the center of the ski resort lodging.  An added bonus was free ski lift rides for athletes and their support teams to truly take in the natural beauty atop the Blue Mountains as they cascaded down into the Georgian Bay.

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New this year was the addition of the 3K short course championship ran on Friday which turned out to be an amazing event.  The order of heats for this event was reversed from standard with the master’s participants heading out first, competitive athletes second, and the professionals last.  This proved very successful because it allowed both 3K participants plus those still traveling that morning to the venue for packet pickup to view the entire professional competition.  Using a rolling start format, athletes would stay close to the bottom of the mountains and face 15 obstacles.  The men’s pro race, in particular, was extremely close with Hunter McIntyre and Ryan Atkins battling back and forth the entire course.  These athletes were running sub 5-minute mile pace through the running sections and conquering obstacles with reckless abandon.  Hunter, unfortunately, slipped at the end of the Urban Sky obstacle allowing Ryan to cross the finish line in first place.  On a side note, Hunter was later disqualified entirely for missing a bell at one of the earlier obstacles, but it was still an excellent viewing spectacle.  2nd and 3rd for the men ended up being Jon Albon and Viktor Alexy.  On the women’s side, Lindsay Webster took top honors by a healthy2-minutee margin with Karin Karlsson and Hanneke Dannhauser rounding out the podium.

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The main event took place on Saturday where athletes from 42 countries would tackle the 15k (9.3 miles) long course comprised of 48 manufactured obstacles in conjunction with the natural terrain and elevation of the ski slopes.  Undeterred, athletes gathered in the starting corral under the start banner adorned with flags from across the world and listened to Coach Pain give an impassioned pre race speech.  Once the “GO” command was given, hundreds of participants attacked the slight uphill start through the crowd of spectators and green smoke onto some small hurdles.  All the excitement of the first flat quarter mile quickly faded as the course turned sharply up the “Happy Valley” ski slope.  Turns out the ascent was not the worst of the worries because halfway up the slope loomed an ill placed warped wall.  Being placed right after a muddy water run-off and in the shade still covered with fresh dew resulted in an immediate bottleneck.  Exacerbating the issue was the fact that 200+ elites were in the midst of fighting for early race position and unwilling to provide ample space to one another for a proper approach.  It was pure chaos with no race staff there to assist in providing order and absolutely allowed the first runners to gain a serious time advantage.

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Eventually, athletes were able to negotiate the bottleneck and continue up the ascent totaling 600 feet in the first mile.  Upon reaching the summit and questioning the reason one would willingly sign up for such an event, participants were greeted with a breathtaking scene.  A six foot wall stretched across the entire trail width and beautiful blue water meeting a cloudless azure sky was all that could be seen lurking behind.  From there the course routed us around to the top of the slopes through some low crawls and an assortment of walls to scale before forcing us down a 700 foot descent.  Along the way, Savage Race Pipe Dreams and Toughest Dragon Back made an appearance.  Slated next on the obstacle list was a new offering from Platinum Rig called the Samurai which consisted of vertical poles one must traverse.  However, athletes arrived to the structure only to find it taped off and not part of the 15k event even though it was used during the previous days 3k race.  This was rather disappointing, but there was no time to dwell on the reasoning as the trail provided a steep 500 foot ascent and then descent.  At the bottom was the original Platinum Rig which was nestled in the center of the busy festival area providing prime spectator viewing.

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A quick dash over the decorative waterfall and up a small incline took participants to the dreaded 50 pound sandbag carry that was slated to be a full half mile up the steep “Tranquility” ski slope.  Once again, the race organizers had unexpectedly made last minute changes to the course and the carry was the same distance as the 3k event or roughly half the planned length.  This was still a tough carry at 200 feet ascent/descent on 40%+ gradient, but somewhat unsatisfactory after mentally preparing for the anticipated longer version.  Perhaps the race director felt it was too difficult since it was immediately followed by a 700 foot ascent directly through the tree lined slope boundary.  While climbing, racers encountered an eight foot wall, barbed wire crawl, and cargo net crawl.

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There was little time to celebrate or catch a breath as a new variation of Skull Valley was looming right at the peak.  This year’s version consisted of the same skull handholds on one side of a suspended beam transitioning into four ropes with foot assist knots and finishing with more skull handholds on alternating sides of the suspended beam.  The deep skull handholds and the knotted ropes made this obstacle very manageable compared to the more difficult 2015 version.

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Completion led directly into Platinum Rig # 2 which was being dubbed Platinum Rig Mini as the entire structure stood only six feet.  The actual portions of the rig that participants were allowed to touch during the traverse were a mere three to four feet!  This was a great twist on a classic obstacle which required athletes use core strength and body control as they snaked their way across the assembly without touching the ground.  Feet were permitted on this configuration as opposed to the standard rig.

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After a quick drink at the hydration station and a glance from the scenic ski lift summit, it was back to single track running through more beautiful fall foliage.  The journey would take entrants through a weaver, over-unders, Dead End Race warped wall, and quarter pipe all leading up to Conquer the Guantlet’s Stairway to Heaven.  This obstacle was cleverly placed at the tallest point along the course overlooking the entire Blue Mountain village and making competitors literally climb into the sky.  A 400 foot descent was up next with natural obstacles along with a rudimentary 50 pound sandbag hoist.  There was a final 300 foot ascent thrown in for good measure to fully sap the last bit of leg strength before heading entirely into the main festival area.  The finishing sequence of obstacles were Dead End Race Monkey Business, sternum checker, suspended boards, Skyline, Urban Sky, and a finish ramp wall.  Urban Sky was particularly fun which featured spinning wheels at various angles with a transition into a rotating spiral monkey bar type apparatus.

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When it was all said and done, UK’s Jon Albon (currently living in Norway) repeated as male pro Champion for a third straight year followed by Canada’s own Ryan Atkins and Conor Hancock also from the UK.  For the women, Canada’s Lindsay Webster claimed the title with Nicole Mericle of the USA and Karin Karsson of Sweden rounding out the top three.  Full results are available online.

From an elite perspective, the obstacles were very well laid out, but not overly difficult so this course definitely favored the more proficient mountain runners.  It was clear the race organizers wanted a higher success rate during the age group waves which is a balancing act every event tries to strike.  The now defunct US based BattleFrog Series used a clever multi-tiered difficulty system and Europe’s Toughest Series has a short, challenging option as well as a longer, easier alternative.  It would be interesting to see if these strategies could be incorporated into next year’s event.  At the end of the day, this was still a world class event that brought together the entire OCR community in one glorious setting for a very memorable weekend.

Civillian Military Combine – Introducing an OCRWC Obstacle

From start to finish, the Civilian Military Combine (CMC) was an event that truly had options for everyone to challenge themselves or just have a fun time. As a one of a kind hybrid obstacle course race and fitness competition, CMC provided options for the elite obstacle course racer as well as the weekend warrior, and even kids too. For those seeking a challenge, CMC’s Diamondback obstacle was announced as an OCRWC obstacle for this year – a true testament to their innovative and tough obstacles!

THE PIT

Having a CrossFit background, The Pit was one of my favorite parts of the day. CMC is advertised as a hybrid obstacle race series because of the 5 minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible) style workout before the race. With divisions for all abilities: Alpha – bodyweight, Bravo – kettlebell, and Charlie – barbell, it truly is for everyone. After 5 minutes of burpees, lunges, and other exercises, racers get 5 minutes before queueing up and hitting the course.

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The first elite wave went off 30 minutes behind schedule, which set the rest of the heats back. The number of racers waiting outside The Pit quickly grew to a crowd and those in front went in for the next heat, regardless of wave time.

THE COURSE

The majority of the course was grass, weaving around the buildings on base and making use of every last hill. One particular slope was used for the Wreck Bag carry which had racers ascend the hill four times. Small portions of the course crossed paved roads and sidewalks and even some small sections of stairs.

Course marking seemed sparse in one particular section of the course that was crossed several times. A little extra tape or spray paint would have gone a long way in directing racers, but after a few heats, volunteers made sure racers knew where to go.

THE OBSTACLES

Racers seemed particularly pleased with the obstacle innovation. In addition to the typical obstacles such as the 8-foot wall and rope climb, CMC added in a few that threw even your seasoned obstacle racers for a loop. The first worth mentioning is Diamondback, which has now been revealed as an OCR World Championship obstacle. Diamondback begins and ends with inverted climbs on wide bars which makes this twist on a classic obstacle that much more challenging! The bars were quite wide and fairly spread out testing both your grip strength and flexibility.

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Other notables include a wreck bag carry with 25 and 50-pound options, as well as a dummy carry later in the race which was an awkwardly shaped 60 pounds for everyone.

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The mud pit was quite small and there was only one, but with the wire hanging just over the mud, you had to get low and dirty.

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Thankfully immediately after, there was a refreshing dip in a dumpster of water covered with plywood, forcing you in, but also rinsing you off.

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There were two different rigs, the second harder than the first. One was similar to Spartan’s and the other was unlike any other rig I had ever seen. The first began with a rope climb to a floating bar. From there you had to swing across 3 rings and traverse another floating bar before hitting the bell. The second rig was the last obstacle before the finish. It began with a climb up a free hanging pole. From the top of the pole, you had to grab a hold of a ring which spun freely on a wheel. Two more of those and you’re on to floating monkey bars before hitting the bell.

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THE REWARD

After crossing the finish line, racers received a hefty gold finisher’s medal which definitely delivered a sense of pride in your accomplishment. Although the finisher shirts were cotton, they were a military coyote color with a simple CMC Finisher logo on the front, an American flag on the sleeve, and came in a wide variety of men’s and women’s sizes. The festival grounds offered several food options including food trucks and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, as well as quite a few popular OCR merchandise vendors, such as Obstacle Guard.

The course seemed to be about a mile shorter than expected, but it was overall a really fun event. It was a hot and sunny day in New York and everyone said they were glad to see CMC make a return and hope they do again in the future.

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Alpha Obstacle Training: OCRWC Qualifying Event and Training Camp

Teamwork, Determination, Courage. This is the foundation that Alpha Obstacle Training in Toronto, Ontario, is built on, and their event this past weekend did not disappoint. This was the first of three OCRWC qualifying events they will be hosting this season (the others being August 14th and Sept 18th).
Alpha OCRWC Qualifying Event

On a day that began dreary and cold, the Alpha Team led a group warm-up session for all participants…..keeping spirits high and hungry for competition. Jesse Bruce, co-founder of Alpha, had the entire group fired up with his motivational speech to start the event. The 7km course was comprised of relatively flat terrain in and around the Toronto lakeshore with trails amongst the trees, open fields, walking paths, and sandy beach. They made use of what was available to them, but what would an OCR course be without obstacles? And there were several to be encountered here – plenty of carries ( stones, cinder blocks, water from Lake Ontario), walls ( traverse, inverted, warped), tire flip, cargo net, monkey bars, and more. With roughly 30+ obstacles to negotiate on the 7km course, most of which were in the last 2km of the race.  You soon discovered if you had saved enough energy to successfully tackle them.

ALpha OCRWC Qualifying event

Alpha OCRWC Qualifying event
The great equalizer seemed to be “Sternum Buster”…a log you must jump to and then climb over. This seemed to be the one obstacle that had competitors scratching their heads. If at any point you failed or skipped an obstacle, you received a rubber band. Any bands cost you a penalty lap, which consisted of carrying a cinder block over a short distance at the end. The event concluded with participants gathering inside Alpha’s facility,  eagerly awaiting final results.

But the race was only the beginning of our active weekend. Alpha hosted an OCR Training Camp for those seeking to learn, train, and improve. Jesse led an informative seminar on strength training and periodizatation. He works with each individual to create a custom workout program. From there, the in-class session moved to the running game. Led by Peter Dobos, “students” were taught the importance of cadence, stride-length, posture, and heart rate, but the classroom soon bid farewell to the team as they hit the gym for a hard strength-training OCR-specific workout.    You read that right – a strenth-training OCR-specific workout AFTER the 7km race.
Alpha OCRWC Training Camp

As an added bonus, Jesse and his crew treated the Training Camp recruits to dinner.

Day 2 (yes, I said day 2) convened at the site of this year’s OCR World Championships (OOCRWC), Blue Mountain in Collingwood, for some hill running/ training. Although the morning greeted us with snow flurries, all the recruits braved the elements to tackle uphill runs, downhill sprints, and lots of technical trail negotiating. Three hours later, the weekend was complete.  All involved felt a sense of accomplishment and victory. OCR brings people together, and Alpha Obstacle Training is at the forefront. I highly recommend keeping an eye on the Alpha Army at future events. IT’S BIGGER THAN FITNESS!!!


Alpha OCRWC qualifying event
Alpha OCRWC Qualifying event