Obstacle Course Racing World Championships 2018: Hearts Broken and Lessons Learned

Now I know the harshness of these words. Obstacle Course Racing is my heart, it is my passion, it is my life.


11.3%. That’s the alarmingly low percentage of female age group racers who kept their band and made the 4-hour time cut off at Obstacle Course Racing World Championships in London this past weekend; 11.3%. This is down from 28.3% at OCRWC in Canada in 2017.


When I began to write this review, I was prepared to write about my experiences of OCRWC 2018. I was going to compare and contrast the 3k course to the 15k course. I was going to talk about the differences between London and Blue Mountain. I was going to highlight all of the best that Obstacle Course Racing World Championships had to offer, and in what ways OCRWC missed the mark, but I have a larger takeaway to address.


If you’d like an overview on the weekend here’s the cliff notes version:


    • The 3k was fast, with challenging obstacles stacked back to back to back, and just a little of the mud we were promised

    • Welcome to the 15k. Here comes the mud… and it never stops

    • The 15k had some new obstacles that the North American racers may have never seen before; the 15k had some of our favorite obstacles, but with a new element, either making it easier or more difficult

    • We saw little-to-no drinking water along the course or in the festival area

    • The regulation and rules enforcement at obstacles was poor at best


Based on that quick overview, you may be wondering why I’m not elaborating on the races, right? Well, I was not in the 11.3% of completion during the 15k and I am trying to be ok with it.


Friday’s 3k saw a completion rate of 40.3% amongst female age group competitors. I was in that group. I had only retried one obstacle that morning and I felt very confident going into Saturday. I am an obstacle specialist and I have never met an obstacle that I could not beat. But then Saturday happened…


We took off onto the course on Saturday expecting more obstacles, and more mud, but nothing of what we encountered. The course was fast and the obstacles were hit or miss on their difficulty levels. Minions tripped me up for a minute, but I moved along. The mud tried to steal my shoes and to hold me back, but I broke free. And then I came up to Stairway to Heaven…


As I was approaching Stairway to Heaven, I saw some friends and fellow Americans in the massive crowd of men and women who had been spending the better part of the hour at the obstacle. One friend complained about a change in the rules from NorAm to OCRWC; one friend complained about the transition gap being impossible for us short girls (6-8 inches wider than usual); one friend reported watching every single pro female racer fail the obstacle at least once. Every. Pro. Female.


Now I have never failed Stairway to Heaven; I’ve never had to retry Stairway to Heaven. This obstacle is my absolute favorite at any course. My instant reaction was “I got this!” I climbed up to the top platform and reached across as I normally do, but the other platform wasn’t there. I turned back to the platform and tried to change my grip; nothing. I swung and I missed; I fell. I climbed back up the obstacle and tried again, with zero success. I was demoralized and left in tears, doubting that I could get through.


At this point my friends had all given up their bands and ran off. But then, the Nuclear Races photographer, Tony, came up to me. We met last year during OCRWC in Canada and he was watching me try and try for nearly half an hour. He turned to me and said, “you can do this. You know what you need to do. You’re going to get it this time.” And with that reassurance, I climbed back up to the top, and this time I reached my left arm over the top of the highest platform. I attempted to transition 3 times before I finally threw my body over and grabbed on. I held those chicken wings the entire way down and collapsed on the ground in tears of joy and excitement. I had beaten the “band eater.”


If this were a Hollywood movie, I would have run off and beaten every single obstacle from there until the end, but this isn’t Hollywood. The truth is, the next serious grip obstacle I faced, the Platinum Rig, took the last little bit of grip I had left. Try after try I would get to the end and the bars would slip through my fingers. I was wrecked. After over 30 minutes of trying and failing, I realized that it was time for me to move along. I reluctantly gave up my band, with tears streaming down my face, and continued on.


I went on to beat obstacles, I went on to try and to fail other obstacles, but truthfully, I felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest. I finished the race, I washed the blood, the sweat, and the mud off, and I left the venue.


So why did so many Americans struggle with OCRWC 2018?


American obstacle course races do not prepare us for international competition.


I have trained every way I know how. I run, I strength train, I work my obstacle technique, but I do not run races featuring both difficulty and the expectation of Mandatory Obstacle Completion. This is where the North American obstacle course racing circuit is flawed.


The American racers are creatures of habit. We all go out on Saturdays and Sundays to run our local or national series OCRs. We run clean races of obstacles that we’ve had mastered for years; we burpee, we perform our penalty loops, we try, we fail, and we move along. Nowhere in our race season are we consistently thrown into the world of mandatory obstacle completion. Our race brands do not require obstacle completion. And those that do, often times do not present a level of difficulty that will challenge the elites and the world class age group racers. We need to be put into a situation where we try and try until we either pass through and complete the obstacle or we accept defeat. We are not racing to overcome obstacles; we are racing to attempt obstacles and to run off to collect a medal and a few race photos.


How are we supposed to call ourselves obstacle course racers if we do not actually complete the obstacles?


Now I know the harshness of these words. Obstacle Course Racing is my heart, it is my passion, it is my life. This realization is not an excuse, but more of a call to action within myself and hopefully within the North American Obstacle community.


Upon leaving OCRWC, I’ve read posts and statuses about the experiences of others. Rebecca Hammond wrote “4th in the 15k… Performance wise, my running was there but I gotta work on my obstacle game.” Ian Hosek shared his experiences saying “the 15k race was just as crazy [as the 3k] but with a new element, there was a ridiculous amount of obstacles…. I was running well and in a chase pack of 5 around 6-9 place when we hit the parallel dip bars. I failed those suckers repeatedly...”


Ultimately, Obstacle Course Racing World Championships 2018 was a learning experience for North American racers alike. In the words of Ryan Atkins, “I hope everyone can walk away happy with their performance or with a golden nugget of wisdom...”


For me, I am going to keep my head high and try to accept the result. No, I did not keep my band, but, I beat every obstacle I faced this weekend at least once and I am walking away with a huge lesson learned. It’s time to break out of my OCR comfort zone of races featuring missed obstacle penalties and short, simple obstacles and courses, and start training with my sites set on mandatory obstacle completion and international competition.


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