From a pack a day to the world championships – My journey to OCRWC

In a few short days I will be competing in the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships and it has been an amazing and difficult journey getting to this point.  5 years ago I never would have imagined that I would be winning anything more than a video game let alone qualifying to compete in a world championship athletic event.

Just A Skinny Kid

I’ve always been the skinny kid, I never participated in sports in High School or College, never worked out.  The closest thing to an athletic activity I did was play disc golf, which generally involved drinking and smoking weed (not the most “athletic” drugs).  At age 18 I started smoking cigarettes and developed a pack a day habit which would last me almost 12 years.  I wasn’t happy, I hated that I smoked but it was just so hard to quit.   I had tried to quit many times but always failed, I felt defeated by my addiction.  There were so many things that I wanted to do but felt I couldn’t until I stopped smoking.  I wanted to be active I wanted to go to yoga classes but thought “you can’t do yoga if you are coughing every 5-10 minutes”.  I had the desire but I did not have the right attitude. Justin-Smoking

When I was 29 I had the opportunity to go to India with some good friends.  One week of our month in India was spent at an ashram on the banks of the Ganges, where we learned yoga and meditation.  I had hopes that at the ashram I would be able to not smoke. It wasn’t so.  But I learned there, next to that beautiful river, that failure does not mean defeat. I learned how to forgive, and to cultivate love for myself and others.

I Quit

When I got home I started a daily yoga and meditation practice, I started working out.  I wasn’t going to wait till I quit smoking to get in shape. I was going to make a plan and put my hand to the plow to create the necessary environment where I could accomplish my goals.  I wanted to quit before I turned 30 so one week before my 30th birthday with all of the love for myself and will power that I had cultivated over the past 6 months I quit.

I knew that I needed to rehab my lungs so I decided to try the number one cheapest cardiovascular exercise in the world, running. (I would later be dismayed about how not cheap it is to race OCR)  I remember my first run, it was on a treadmill.  I thought “I’ll just run 30 minutes, that will be good” after 7 minutes running at 5.5 mph I was gassed, got off the machine and thought I was going to puke.

I quickly discovered that treadmills are demons from hell that should only be used in times of great need.  Outside was where I belonged and I eventually started to be able to run 5k and thought it was time to do a race.

Enter the gateway drug to OCR – Warrior Dash.

I was such a mix of emotions going into my first mud run, and the biggest was doubt.  That doubt had power and I had a choice of how I would let that doubt affect me.  I could have let it take over and keep me from the race but I chose to face it and put in the training I thought necessary to overcome this new challenge.  I trained my ass off! I would go to the grade school by my house and run a lap around the building then do the monkey bars and run through the play structures, take another lap do some pullups, climb the jungle gym, do another lap, on and on. (I still do this because it’s fun and a great OCR workout) Physically I was ready but I didn’t know it.  The doubt was still there, my goal was just to finish.Justin-First-Warrior-Dash

The day of the race finally came and I was a mix of anxiety and excitement.  I was physically ready but completely unprepared (all of my clothes were cotton).  My first exposure as I pulled into the parking lot was of people drinking and smoking.  Smoking cigarettes! I was surprised, I was confused, I was appalled.  “how could all of these smokers run this “intense race”  My judgement was out of control.  As I got ready to run I saw people of every type, not just the lean athletic bodies I was expecting.  “Maybe I overestimated the difficulty of this race” More unnecessary judgement.  Then at the starting line for my heat was a woman well over 350 lbs, and my judgement melted away.  “This race may be more or less than you expected, but this woman who so many wouldn’t expect to be here is challenging herself with the exact same challenge that’s been scaring you for months.”  I realized that everyone at that race was there to challenge themselves, and I was quite the hypocrite to think negatively of those people smoking in the parking lot.  Maybe they are on a journey towards quitting and fitness is helping them just like it helped me.

New Challenges

The race was easier than I had made it out to be, but it was also way more fun than I thought.  I had been bitten by the OCR bug.  I couldn’t wait to do it again, I signed up for next year’s race once registration opened.  I loved it but after two years of warrior dash I felt I needed something more challenging.

I signed up for a Spartan sprint and again felt intimidated.  From all accounts Spartan was far more challenging than Warrior Dash and my intimidation and doubt fueled my training.  I joined a gym and upped my running regimen.  That 2016 Chicago sprint was the muddiest race I’ve ever seen and likely will ever see.  It was hard, it was a challenge, but it was also much easier than I had built it up to be in my head.  Having accomplished yet another new challenge I felt confident.  Justin-Spartan

It was time to compete

I signed up for a Savage Race even though I’d never ran a 10K, and I went to compete.  I was timid though and stayed in the middle of the start coral.  I held back since I’d never ran so far in a race.  I let my doubt get in the way of my performance that day.  I let slower runners be ahead of me and hold me back on obstacles where I could have gone so much faster.  Doubt may have fueled my training but it bit me in the ass on the course.  I was a mix of emotions, I knew I could have done better, but I knew I could learn from my mistakes, but above all I had so much fun!  I signed up for two local OCRs and the Spartan Beast in Breckenridge.  Each Race I gave myself a new challenge and pushed myself harder eventually taking 2nd place overall in my final local OCR of the year. Justin-Funny-Faces

Goal Time

I set a goal of competing at OCRWC and signed up for 5 qualifying races.  I was going to set myself up for success.  At Terrain Race 5k in Tucson I went back and forth between 3rd and 4th place for most of the race when a wrong turn with 1 obstacle left took me out of guaranteed spot.  I went from for sure qualification (maybe even pro) to uncertainty.  I felt sick, literally I thought I was going to puke.  I’d never put so much effort into a run before.  It took two days but I found out I got first in my age group and qualified.   Just 5 years removed from destroying my lungs and heart, I had qualified for a world championship event.Justin-Terrain

Overcome Your Obstacles

I know that everyone has adversity and obstacles in their life, whether it is smoking, losing weight etc.  Every obstacle we face in our lives comes with a choice though.  When you are faced with a new challenge and you have doubt, will you let that doubt weigh you down or will you let it fuel you?  Will you take it and use it to your advantage?

Too often we all think “I can’t do that until I do this” I need to lose weight before I can run a race, I don’t want to look like I don’t know what I’m doing at the gym.  We setup unnecessary obstacles (not the fun ones we all love) in front of our goals when all we have to do is keep moving forward, and we will reach our goal eventually.  Don’t wait until “the right time” to make improvements in your life.  The “right time” is right now.  It may not be the convenient time but it’s the right time to start making the changes you want to see.  I know that I can accomplish whatever I put my mind to.  And I know you can to if you give your all.


In Conclusion I just want to share the meditation that helped me learn to love and forgive myself.  Imagine yourself as a child and repeat these words to your child-self

May you be well
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you feel loved
I love you

And give your child-self a hug.

Thanks for reading.  I hope to see some of you at OCRWC and other future races.

Be Well.


Justin Smith


Photos Courtesy of: Justin Smith, Warrior Dash, Spartan Race, Terrain Race

Justin Smith

Justin is an OCR and Ninja athlete.When Justin isn't training or racing he rescues animals for his local Humane Society.

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