The canon fired and 50 of the world’s best OCR athletes hurtled off the line ready to give their all to be crowned world champ
Obstacle racing has been developing as a sport for several years now. There are already a few world championships, like Spartan, held by individual race organisers, but last weekend’s Obstacle Course Racing World Championships was a massive step forward in the form of an independent race to crown the world’s best obstacle racer.
The race was held in Cincinnati, USA, on an existing obstacle course that had modifications made to it fit for this inaugural championship. The course was around 14km in length and included approximately 750m of elevation gain. A variety of obstacles and carries featured along the hilly and technical route, leaving very little time to settle into a running pace.
For it to be a legitimate world championships it was key that the organisers got the top racers there. I was therefore extremely happy to see Ryan Atkins (Canada) at the pre-race press conference. Ryan and I had battled it out in the Spartan Race World Championships in Vermont just a month earlier and everyone was keen to see us lock horns once again. Also present was the most successful obstacle racer of all time, Hobie Call (USA). Even at that early stage I had a suspicion the race would ultimately be between the three of us.
I had a look at the course and knew straight away that it suited me more than the one we had raced on at Spartan. Indeed it was a course that reminded me very much of courses back in the UK. There were a few obstacles I earmarked as ones to watch out for. These included the steep inverted monkey bars, platinum rig, sternum checker and the weaver.
Standing on the startline I had the familiar feeling of ‘here we go again.’ I knew this would be a shorter, sharper race than Spartan and that often these races turn out to be the most painful, usually requiring a high work rate throughout.
The start didn’t disappoint! As the canon fired, roughly 50 of the best in the world hurtled off the line ready to give their all to be crowned world champion. Working my way towards the front, I nestled in behind Ryan who was flying through the woods, taking the initial obstacles in his stride far quicker than the rest of the field.
We soon reached the monkey bars, which were wet with dew. I took my time and used my feet as well as my hands as I really didn’t want to make a mistake this early in the race. Ryan was still ahead but I wasn’t too worried as I knew this race would be won and lost on the hills we were yet to face. This became clear when we dived back into the wooded area and started on some real ascents. Following closely behind Ryan, who broke into some walking strides on the steepest sections, I was able to keep a steady jog going.
It was a two-horse race. We headed back into the woods for some more hills. I made my move
Still in second place but feeling comfortable, we descended back to the arena for the platinum rig. Again Ryan was faster through the obstacle, but I got it completed first time, which was good enough. Then came a technical running section and soon I was back on his tail.
It now felt like a two-horse race as our pace continued to see us stretch out the field behind. Completing the rope traverse at the same time, we then headed back into the woods for some more hills. At this point I made my move.
I settled into a fast yet comfortable gear, working up the hills and enjoying the downs. Slowly my lead grew. Then came the first sandbag carry. The switchbacks allowed me to calculate my lead was around 30 seconds.
Taking my first energy gel, my legs still felt great but something wasn’t right with my breathing. Shallow breaths replaced what should have been deep, powerful breaths. This left me feeling that not enough oxygen was getting in. This didn’t, however, seem to be affecting my speed, which was still fast enough.
My x-talon 212 shoes felt as light as two feathers and gave me the best grip possible
I felt like I was cruising and I began to enjoy myself, my x-talon 212 shoes, as always, feeling as light as two feathers on my feet and giving me the best grip possible over all the varied terrains and obstacles. In truth, I couldn’t believe the ease at which I was crushing the course. Taking it one obstacle at a time, I slowly ticked them off, knowing the hardest were behind me with just the weaver to worry about.
I managed the weaver better than expected and was soon hurtling downhill again to the double tyre carry. Next came the last big descent and ascent before the final flurry of obstacles and the finish line.
I was led to a private location for a drug test. Ryan beat me in filling his cup to the red line!
Speeding down what must have been the biggest OCR slide ever made, I was cheered on by swarms of spectators. Another sandbag carry, including some crawls, followed before I hit the finishing straight. Delighted to be in front, I crossed the finish line over two minutes ahead of Ryan, with Hobie in third.
It had felt very much like the races in the UK, where I often run alone, allowing me to take the obstacles at my own speed and relax into a running rhythm. It wasn’t long before the fanfare was over and I was being led to a private location for my drug test. This was an experience that deserves its own blog post, but what I will say is that Ryan did beat me in filling up his cup to the red line!
The course was amazing and the organisers did a great job. Everyone hailed the race as perfect for a world championship. I was fortunate that the hilly, technical nature of the route suited me, but am immensely proud to have won all the same. I am in no doubt that taking part in my first-ever skyruuning race -the Limone Extreme Skyrace in Italy -a fortnight prior to the OCR World Championships helped me in Cincinnati. The race in Limone featured some of the most brutal ascents imaginable and this gave me extra power on the climbs when making my move away from Ryan.
It’s been an intense six weeks for me with wins at the Spartan Race World Championships and the OCR World Championships, both in the USA, and then a 14th place at Limone. Although I didn’t win in Limone the experience of testing myself against arguably the fittest athletes in the world was something really special.
2014 has surpassed anything that has gone before. I will be back in 2015 to defend my OCR World Championships title
This year as a whole has been unreal, really. Every year I think things can’t get any better, but 2014 has surpassed anything that has gone before. To win two world championships in OCR, as well as recording victories in ultra, fell and trail races, and get a first taste of skyrunning, is way beyond what I had hoped for.
With the last major race of the year now out of the way I’m looking forward to some enjoyable training on the snow in Norway and a few OCR races back home in the UK. I have many decisions to make about where I should take my 2015 sporting pursuits but I am sure that I will return to the OCR World Championships to defend my title.