The Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) - One of the highlights of the OCR calendar, where many of the best OCR athletes travel from all round the world to take on a full weekend of obstacle course racing. It's certainly an action packed weekend, with the 3km short course on Friday, the 15km classic race on Saturday, and the Team event and charity race on Sunday.
There was no OCRWC in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic. Then in 2021 the majority of international competitors (including myself from the UK) couldn't attend due to the USA Covid travel restrictions at the time. So this 2022 championship was the long awaited return to OCRWC for many of us.
For the 2nd year in a row, OCRWC was being held at Stratton Mountain in Vermont. A pretty cool ski resort and very small village that the event completely takes over, and even includes part of the race right through the centre of it.
So it was off to the US of A for two weeks, family in tow, for a combined holiday and OCR race weekend.
OCRWC - 3km Race
About a month earlier I was in the best shape of my life. Then typically as these things go, I got a cold/flu bug (not Covid), and was ill for 3 weeks. I felt terrible, my joints particularly my knees were really sore, and I had to avoid any high intensity training in order to try and get healthy again.
Then combined with a one week family holiday in USA immediately before the race weekend where it's difficult to eat healthy, hydrate well, and get decent sleep in uncomfortable hotel beds. Suffice to say, it was not the ideal preparation and lead in to the races.
The Wed before the sprint race on Fri was probably the first time I had felt reasonably well and healthy again. I managed to knock out some decently fast intervals on a hotel treadmill which gave me a little more confidence again, and a little more hope that the last month hadn't destroyed all the fitness I had built up the rest of the year.
As always the first race of the weekend is the Men's 30-39 age group 3km (my AG race) since it's the largest in terms of numbers. I got a decent warm-up in, was feeling good, and headed into the starting corral 10mins before the start time.
There was a looooong delay in starting. The wave was being set off 10 people at a time, and the very first 10 people didn't even start until almost 30mins after the intended time. This wouldn't have been great in the best of conditions. However, it was absolutely horrible weather as well - freezing cold (3 degrees celcius), raining, windy.
By the time it was my turn to head off, it had been 45mins since my warm-up, I was shivering, and my hands were numb. So not the best of starts, and not completely fair tbh.
I had to put a buff round my head for some warmth, and fortunately I had the foresight to bring my Bleggmitts with me from the UK, which were very much required.
I headed off up the initial climb and over the 4ft walls feeling very slow and sluggish, maybe middle of the pack in the group of 10 I had started with. After a couple easy obstacles to start, it was back down the hill to the first tougher obstacle - Stairway 3.0.
Since it was still so early in the race, I hadn't warmed up at all yet, and still had pretty numb hands. This was my first attempt doing Stairway 3.0, and so approached it the same as I would any Stairway to Heaven obstacle - backwards pulling myself up hand over hand.
Unfortunately I slipped straight off the 3rd grip due to it being wet and not being able to feel my hands particularly well. Took 20s to re-group, tried to warm up my hands, and then tried again - Same thing happened...
Right, 3rd attempt then. I had to find a different approach to tackling this, so spent 20-30s observing what others were trying while trying to warm my hands. This wasn't a normal Stairway obstacle since it was individual holds and not the horizontal planks of wood, so you didn't really have to go backwards (which was proving too slippy in the wet anyway).
So for the 3rd attempt (see video below), I went for sideways - opposing grips one hold at a time. Suddenly it was pretty straight forward, I hit the bell and headed back up the hill.
I never felt in danger of not being able to do the obstacle, just had to find the right technique for the conditions. I was a bit annoyed that this had taken me a couple minutes more than it should have though.
The rest of the race and obstacles went ok. I picked up some places on the uphill running, but I wasn't particularly fast on any of the obstacles. They were still wet, my confidence thrown a little from Stairway, so I was very deliberate and slow with bent arms + opposing grip on most things to reduce chance of slipping.
On the 3km race, you really need to be taking risks on every obstacle to have a competitive time, as there isn't enough running to make up for slow obstacle completion.
The next rig, Force5 Over Under Over, La Gaffe (slanting pole traverse), and Skitch all went fine and I passed through fairly quickly. Back into the main event village for the final gauntlet, I did get stuck on a new obstacle called Canyon briefly.
Again, I never felt in danger of not being able to do it. Just had to find a technique that worked. With me being a taller competitor (6ft 2in), Canyon was proving very awkward and I kept scraping my bum or feet on the ground while transitioning under the lowest point.
I finally cracked it on the 3rd attempt (see video above). Build up some momentum first using the higher rings, then do one big swing all the way under the low point while tucking my legs up as far as I could, then grab a slightly higher ring on the other side to quickly pull myself back up.
The remaining obstacles were all good fun, and would be the same finishing loop on all 3 days. It was interesting to see how much you could improve and speed up on these obstacles during the weekend.
For example, Dropzone (another new obstacle) took me 28s to complete on the Friday (video immediately below). It was still cold and wet, my arms were starting to tire, I had no confidence in my grip, and it was my first time doing it.
On the Saturday it took me about 10s to complete. It was dry, I had seen how the pros tackled it, and had plenty confidence to straight arm swing across the bigger gaps.
Then in the Team race on the Sunday it took me only 6s! (see video further down in the Team race review). My confidence was sky high, I was pushing myself for the team, and so even managed a wee lache across the widest gap.
By this point, towards the end of my race, the rain had stopped and the obstacles were starting to dry. It gave me a bit more confidence in my grip to jump straight on to Urban Sky missing the first hold, and then single hand swing the rest of it.
A small taster of how I would be able to perform on the obstacles for the rest of the weekend.
The final obstacle - Ricochet - is more awkward than it is difficult I would say. A series of rings that zig zag back and forth, and you need to kick off (ricochet) of a wall in order to reach the next ring at each turning point.
I had spent a lot of time practicing straight-arm single hand swinging during the previous few months, so felt pretty comfortable on this. Though the bell was surprisingly high after the last ring which I think caught a lot of people out.
Over the giant cargo net, a sprint to the finish line, and I was done. First race in the books, I had kept my band (completed all the obstacles), and in a respectable (although not overly competitive) time.
- Finish time: 38m 55s
- 55th out of 182 in my AG race (48 people couldn't complete all the obstacles, so a completion rate of 74%)
- 155th out of 588 across all male AG races (169 DNCs, so completion rate of 71%)
OCRWC - 15m Race
Onwards to day 2 and the classic distance race featuring an epic 15km, 40 obstacles, and 1200m elevation gain!
Thankfully the weather gods had taken mercy on us for the second day. It was still cold, but dry and beautiful sunshine instead of wind and rain. It made a huge difference to my mood and confidence on the obstacles.
My race (Men 35-39) was a bit later in the morning, and there was no delays this time, so I felt ready and warmed up when setting off.
Unlike the 3km race, it's a mass start (per AG race) instead of 10 at a time. I set off fairly hard to avoid getting caught in any early obstacle bottlenecks, and was maybe sitting in the top 20 for the initial climb and first few obstacles.
The first few obstacles were pretty standard fare - various walls, a tyrolean traverse, etc.
The Force5 LCD obstacle was an interesting one early on. You could either take the risky lache approach across the large gap between each horizontal bar, or you could take the slightly slower approach of shimmying around the side of each gap.
I used a sort of hybrid technique of single arm swinging using the side bars to bridge the gap between the horizontal ones. It worked well, though I did lose a place to someone doing a lache across them.
After a short steep descent it was on to the infamous Skull Valley obstacle. Fortunately since my race was later in the morning, I had already watched some of the pro race coverage earlier; so had a very good idea in my mind of how to quickly and efficiently complete this:
Jump to the end of the first horizontal bar, reach out to the second skull, then you could straight arm swing to the first ring. After that, as long as you kept momentum and a big swing going, you could get away with using only the rings and final horizontal bar, skipping out all the other skulls and holds!
It made this very straight forward, and I reckon I passed 2 or 3 guys on this obstacle alone. Definitely a benefit in seeing how the pros do it, and then formulating a plan in your head before attempting new obstacles.
After another few easier obstacles (rope climb, farmer's carry, snake pit (multiple rope traverse), trapeze), it was time to settle in for a very long climb up the mountain.
First big climb
I generally do all my long runs in the Pentland Hills, and spend a lot of time speed power hiking up steep hills. This definitely came in handy for this race! 1200m of elevation gain crammed into 15km is pretty full on, so a LOT of the race was spent climbing and at a gradient where you were just as quick power hiking as running.
I overtook quite a few people on the first prolonged steep climb, gradually working my way into the top 10. At the top of that first big climb was another infamous obstacle - Gibbons.
I've been practicing Gibbons religiously in my garage for quite a while so saw this as a good opportunity to make up another place or two. I had saw from the pro race coverage that the Gibbons were fairly close together, so already had a plan in my head to use the 2nd Gibbon to reach out for the 3rd one while still standing on the bar, then swing to the 5th, then hit the bell.
Makes it very quick and a lot less taxing as you then only have to dynamically put the dowel into only one Gibbon (the 5th one).
I think many people lost their bands at Gibbons (as usually happens). If you don't have a plan or don't complete it in the first couple attempts, it can very quickly drain your grip strength and blow out your forearms.
After Gibbons there was a very muddy descent where I lost a couple places. I'm working on it but I'm still not the best descender in sloppy conditions (don't have an ACL in my right knee, so always a bit wary when not sure of my footing going downhill). I got these places back and then some on the next uphill though.
Next was a pretty tricky low rig. I'm always a bit nervous of low rigs due to my height making them extra awkward, and this one was no different. The first few holds you couldn't really use your feet at all, so involved a lot of core strength and momentum to make it to the slightly easier middle section.
I missed a hold with my left hand at this point, and badly staved two fingers, and found myself hanging in a lock-off position briefly with just my right arm! I managed to save it before falling, and got my feet up safely on to the bar in the middle of the rig.
Once you could use your feet as well, the rest of the rig was fairly straight forward.
To the top of the mountain
From there, it was time for the monster climb - almost 2km and 400m elevation gain straight up to the top of the mountain! It was completely exposed and the sun was beating down at this point; brutal and utter carnage haha. So many people just lying down having a break, or trudging slowly backwards up the hill.
I just got the head down, and did my usual "count 10 steps running, 10 steps power hiking, then repeat". Though after the 2nd or 3rd false summit, that became exclusively just power hiking as fast as I could.
I overtook a lot of people during that climb, though we had fully caught up with the earlier races by this point, so it was getting a bit muddied who I was actually directly racing.
Finally to the top after what felt like an age, the views were amazing. Though I never had much time to appreciate it, as it was straight into the next obstacle - FitFighter Carry. This was a short heavy firefighter hose thing that you had to carry through a short course of balance beams, a crawl, and some walls.
There was a very long 1-2km descent back down the mountain after this. I was glad it was mostly very runnable gravel trails, instead of slippy mud. So I was able to bomb it down here with confidence and never lost any places like on the earlier steep descents.
For the rest of the race I was chasing down a Swedish fella. He was quicker than me on the descents but I was a lot faster going back uphill. Obstacle-wise maybe about the same.
At the top of the final climb, I had finally drew level with him. However, it was short lived. He absolutely smashed out the "Twist On Life" obstacle (bit of a strange obstacle where you twist a horizontal metal pole attached to a rope so that it winds the rope up and raises a heavy sandbag).
Then on the descent down to the event village, and on the Skitch obstacle that followed it, he increased the gap by another 10-20s. I've never seen anyone do Skitch as quickly, and still not really sure what he done. Looked like he dived on to it, slid along, and managed to somehow navigate around the transition point will still sliding!
After that there wasn't really enough time and distance left for me to make it back up.
The final section of the 15km race was the same as the 3km - the obstacle gauntlet through the event village and town. I was significantly faster and more fluid on the obstacles this time than the day before.
I knew what to expect, had fine tuned my technique and had a plan for everything; and the weather was of course a lot better.
Even non-technical things like the dragon's back (called "Triumph") I felt I managed a lot quicker. During the 3km race, I had hesitated slightly on the 2nd jump simply because it looked massive and I wasn't expecting a much bigger gap than the first jump. Where as in the 15km, no thought or hesitation at all, just immediately launched myself across.
I reckon I judged my effort fairly well throughout the race, as my quads were only just starting to cramp as I came off Urban Sky and into Ricochet (the final obstacle).
Although I was flying on all the obstacles and never felt in danger of failing anything, there is still such massive relief when you hit that final bell on the last obstacle.
With a huge smile on my face, I somersaulted over the top of the giant cargo net, and sprinted to the finish line. 15km race done, nailed all the obstacles, and later I would find out I had finished 9th in my age group race!
I felt I had ran a pretty good race, but had no idea where exactly I was. Once you catch up with the waves and races in front, you quickly lose track of where everyone is.
My top goal for the weekend was a top 10 finish, so I was over the moon with 9th. Especially given that the 3 weeks leading to the weekend were not great, and I hadn't exactly done amazing in the sprint race the day before.
Such a good feeling when a race goes well, and you feel confident and happy swinging and flowing through all the obstacles.
- Finish time: 2h 17m
- 9th out of 115 in my AG race (53 DNCs, so a completion rate of 54%)
- 69th out of 670 across all male AG races (306 DNCs, so completion rate of only 54%)
OCRWC - Team Race
I felt like I had been hit by a bus when I woke up on Sunday morning, but there was still one more race to do - the Team race.
The Team race is always great fun and a great way to finish the weekend. Everyone is always a bit broken by this point, but there is something special about running as part of a team that forces you put all of that to one side and muster up your best effort of the weekend.
Our team "Flying Scotsmen" was made up of Chris doing the Speed section, Ollie (honorary Scotsman for the day) doing the Technical section, and myself doing the Strength section.
Chris hadn't managed to keep his band the previous two days and his hands were pretty messed up, so we made a last minute decision to switch to Chris doing the Speed section and myself doing Strength.
Despite what the section names suggest, all of them had technical obstacles, and the Strength section probably had the most. Where as the only tougher (albeit very technical) obstacle in the Speed section was Gibbons.
We all absolutely smashed it. Chris was incredibly quick on the very sloppy muddy downhill run, Ollie nailed the rigs, and I killed myself going up the hill and also managed a cheeky wee lache on the Dropzone obstacle (video below):
After all doing our individual legs, we then run the final few obstacles all together: Triumph (the Dragon's Back obstacle), Little Foot (a horizontal traverse along some sloping wooden planks with small foot holds), Urban Sky, and Ricochet.
I love this part, its not often you get to run alongside people together on the same team instead of actually competing against them.
I had went hard on my strength section (the 3rd and final section before meeting back up as a team so never had any break), but somehow you always find a little extra to continue pushing for the final short stint.
We finished in a very speedy time of 53m 10s, which was the 13th fastest time out of 190 teams!
However, unfortunately Chris never managed to keep his band on Gibbons, so we were the fastest time in the Non-Completion list instead of 13th overall. Ultimately doesn't really matter, we all ran brilliantly, was tremendous fun, and absolutely loved it.
A cracking way to round off a brilliant OCRWC 2022 weekend. Take me back already!
If you're planning to do this event (or similar), here is the gear I used with some notes on what I might change:
- (Shoes) VJ Sport XTRM 2 - Used these for the shorter 3km and Team races. Amazing grip and brilliant for any OCR (Amazon link)
- (Shoes) VJ Sport MAXX - Used these for the 15km race. Similar grip to the XTRMs, just a little more cushioning and forgiveness. One of my favourite all time shoes. (Amazon link)
- Injinji trail socks - My usual merino wool socks, perfect for preventing blisters in any conditions. (see blog post here)
- Skins compression shorts - For keeping the vital bits warm and in place.
- Gore R7 shorts - Very lightweight, quick drying shorts. (Amazon link)
- ObstacleMan tech vest on the 3km, Scotland OCR vest on the 15km and Team - One of a kind ;)
- Bleggmitts - Neoprene mitts designed for OCR. Keep your hands warm when needed, but can instantly get your hands out for obstacles when required. Were invaluable during the really cold 3km race! (Bleggmitts website)
- Race buff/rag - Great for protecting and keeping my watch clean-ish and readable, as well as giving me something to quickly wipe mud off my hands or face. Also became a makeshift bandana during the 3km when I was freezing cold!
- Garmin Fenix 5 - Love this watch, never leaves my wrist. Perfect for OCR - durable, long battery, reasonably accurate GPS.