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.

BattleFrog Riverside Regional Championships

Last Saturday (August 13), BattleFrog hosted their West Coast Regional Championships at Lake Elsinore, CA (about 90 minutes from Los Angeles). The race ended up being hot, flat, and fast with some unique twists. The course was 8 km (~5 miles) with 25 obstacles. Since elites make 2 laps, their total course was 16 km (~10 miles) with 50 obstacles.

As the elite start time of 7:15 am approached, just over 100 athletes (masters included) took their places in the corral. Even at the early morning hours, the heat of the sun was intense and gave premonition to the day’s 102℉ high. Coach Pain welcomed the elites and reminded them with his signature heart-felt speech to “conduct their business”. With a resounding “Hooyah!”, the elites were off!

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The flat course made for a fast starting pace. However, the sandiness seemed to quickly sap energy. The first 3 km remained flat and was scattered with many of BattleFrog’s traditional obstacles (over/under/through, various walls and nets, wreck bag carry, and monkey bars). Kilometers 4 through 7 became more interesting with the introduction of the snake eater, which traversed the racers up and down a levy. The combination of the snake eater and the mud mounds did a good job in breaking up the flatness of the course. Notable in this portion was the wedge traverse. BattleFrog did away with a separate women’s elite lane, and both men and women traversed using rock climbing hand holds and widely spaced boards for feet. This increased difficulty, however, didn’t seem to give the elite women much trouble.

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The last kilometer of the course was packed with 7 obstacles…many of which required grip strength. The last kilometer included 2 platinum rigs (not back to back), a rope climb, tip of the spear, and the 12’ rope wall. BattleFrog adopted a similar strategy in the layout of the greater San Jose course (the prior Saturday). Because of the heat and sand, these obstacles were not slippery. None the less, this portion of the course claimed many elite bands! The platinum rigs were not significantly different than prior races. Both platinum rigs were a combination of rings, ropes, nunchucks, traverse bars, and widely spaced rectangular monkey bars. Positioning the rigs at the end of the course among other heavy grip obstacles is likely what made them the most challenging.

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The podium finishers were as follows:
• Elite Men: Ryan Atkins, Glen Racz, and Matt Kempson
• Elite Women: Lindsay (Webster) Atkins, Nicole Mericle, and KK Stewart Paul
• Elite Masters Men: LeEarl Rugland, Colin Sanders, and Mike King
• Elite Masters Women: Elvy LaPointe, Julie Werney, and Lisa Nondorf

A really fun twist to this event was the shaving of “the Beard” (Christopher Acord, BattleFrog’s Assistant Director of Race Ops). Christopher auctioned the shaving of his renowned beard to the highest bidder. Not only did the BattleFrog community see a shocking transformation of their beloved “Beard”, but also nearly $2,000 was raised and donated to Operation Enduring Warrior, The Navy Seal Museum, and St. Baldricks.

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Overall, this Regional Championship was fast, fun, and hot! Many of the elites anticipated that this course was going to be more difficult. However, BattleFrog did do a good job designing a unique, challenging course.

Spartan Race Boston Sprint 2016: Built For Runners & Bovine Manure!!

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Photo Courtesy of Brandon Narciso

While the Spartan Pro Team and other highly ranked Elite Spartan Racers had their sights locked on the large payout and potential face-time on NBC courtesy of the Golden State Classic Super in Monterey California; many North Region Spartan hopefuls toed the line this weekend with dreams of conquering obstacles and claiming their one-way coin West to the Spartan World Championship in October.

SpartanRaceBostonSprint2016-Map Photo Courtesy of Brandon Narciso

The 5.2 mile runners dream came true with just Hay Walls and Monkey Bars in the first mile followed by a few additional walls and sporatic obstacles in the second mile. The proverbial cherry on top revealed itself in mile three where A net, A-frame, and A speedbump of a Sandbag Carry helped these speedsters continue to crush all 15,840 feet of the course thus far.  The Rolling Mud with Dunk Wall and Barbed Wire Crawl of Mile 4 provided little resistance for the sprinters however the obstacle assault of the last half mile bogged down the racers with the Herc Hoist, Rope Climb, Bucket Brigade, Spearman, followed by the Atlas Carry to finish the course but…too little too late for those who favor the physical demands of the obstacles over the faster pace of uninterrupted mileage.

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Photo Courtesy of Nelson “Runaway” Diaz

To add insult to injury, the 80+ degree heat and hives, reportedly from the hay, did not make things any easier. Translation: Other dreams were simply buried in the bovine manure surrounding the Carter & Stevens Dairy Farm. Yes, my dream included.

SpartanRaceBostonSprint2016-bovine Photo Courtesy of Nelson “Runaway” Diaz

The Saturday Elite male landslide, all from Massachusettes, consisted of Ryan Kempson 1st, Junyong Pak 2nd, and Joshua Fiore 3rd of Nor’Easter OCR who now owns a streak of 3 podium finishes in 3 weeks including 2nd at the Endurance Society Infinitus 88k and 3rd at the Bone Frog New England.

For the Saturday Elite females Kathleen Lanphear, Orla Marie Walsh, and Nicole FitzGerald finished 1st through 3rd respectively.

The Sunday Elite Male heat re-introduced the Nor’Easter OCR storm to the Spartan Race community led by Kiaran McCormack 1st, Michael Miraglia 2nd, and Shane Leighton 3rd.

While the Elite females kept it in high gear with Debbie Koch 1st, Kelly Sullivan 2nd (also of Nor’Easter OCR), and Serra Langone 3rd.

Could this race have uncovered an underdog in the Nor’Easter OCR Pro-Team for us to rally behind? The fact is that at least 5 of their members have qualified for the Spartan World Championship at this race alone, and there is still plenty of time for the rest of their team to earn some coin. Do they have enough to upset the Spartan Pro-Team? Can Nor’Easter OCR run with the big dogs or just bark from the porch? Time will reveal.

Spartan inspiration provided by Adaptive athlete Misty Diaz at the rope climb reminded us that we have officially run out of excuses for our laziness…again.

SpartanRaceBostonSprint2016-MistyDiaz Photo Courtesy of Spartan Race

A friend recently reminded me that most of us understand fear of failure and some of us are accustomed to living with that fear. At the same time, some of us have a genuine fear of success and are accustomed to living with this fear. Fear of success is equally real and a true hindrance to our God-created potential. Fear in any form and for any reason is futile. However, there is a reason to fear NOT – so find it – and be prepared to be amazed on the Spartan course but more importantly throughout the course of your life. #inspiresomebody