Disclaimer: I race for Nuclear Phoenix and this was my fifth OCR World Championships so I’m clearly a fan of both the venue and the mandatory obstacle completion race format. While each OCR Worlds I have attended has been challenging in their own way this was by far the hardest for me. It wasn’t the obstacles… for me they were at a similar level or slightly easier to last year with regards to volume and difficulty… BUT… oh my… the weather made everything ten times harder. To think there were some complaints before the race that it was getting too easy.
To take a step back… after winning my age group at the OCRWC last year I decided to make the jump back up to the 15K Men’s Pro wave. I had raced the Pro wave before in 2015 and 2016, when the field was not as competitive as it is today, placing 37th and 53rd. I felt confident I could beat 37th and set a goal back in October 2018 of placing 25th or above. Given the continued growth of the ‘sport’ I felt this was still a very ambitious target and this was reconfirmed when I looked at the names of the finishers of the 3K race on the Friday. A list full of elite athletes who have won many top races around the world, and I also knew a lot of great athletes were skipping the 3K to focus on the 15K too. A little bit of doubt crossed my mind, but I also knew how much training I had put in this year with the support of my coach Sam Winkworth. I was in the best shape of my life. No excuses. I would run my own race and not worry about everyone else’s.
I had managed to get a decent starting position on the second row and was buzzing to get racing. My legs felt fresh and I couldn’t wait to get started. I usually start fast to avoid traffic and given the calibre of athletes this would be the fastest start to a race of my life. Obstacle number 1 a series of jumpable trenches, through a ditch and tyres and then under a wire crawl. At this point I think I was in the top 10. I knew I needed to slow the pace but was happy with where I was in the race.
A decent amount of running followed with some inverted walls and see-saw balance obstacle to navigate before we hit a short set of monkey bars. These were soaking wet and a sign of things to come. As we hit some more trenches, I was probably in the top 30. These trenches were definitely not jumpable and sapped the energy in my legs, but they did help me close the gap on those in front. We then had the wreck bag carry which included navigating five (yes five cargo nets – and my least favourite Nuclear Races obstacles). The sheer amount of racers made the nets easier than usual, and it helped to bunch everyone together again. I dare say there was even a little bit of camaraderie under those nets as we all got through them one by one.
From here we got running again and took on a fun river running section that must have been 400 metres long. Small rope climb, chain drag, log balance and hang tough rings (again soaking wet). Some more obstacles and then through the Aquaphobia section of Nuclear races. The water wasn’t too cold, and I had settled into a pack of runners I was guessing within the top 30. It was clear this was a great obstacle race, with athletes from around the world switching position from one obstacle to the next. Germany’s Matthias Graute and I must have swapped position about 10 times during the race!
The next section was the first grip intensive section. Spinning monkeys (five spinning metal holds going from one platform to another), kingfisher (monkey bars that loop up high over water) and a Tyrolean rope traverse. I completed all these obstacles with no problem, but they were far harder than usual with the wet conditions. Yet, I felt strong and ready to push on for the final half of the race.
Deathslide, zip wire and new obstacle Swingers were up next within the lake area. Always lots of fun. The water wasn’t cold, but I was happy to get this final wet section done as the swimming/wading involved was still draining.
From here it was a short run to the Nuclear low rig. Last year they made the Nuclear low rig a lot easier, it was essentially a low horizontal bar traverse. This year it was more akin to the standard Nuclear low rig we see it at Nuclear Races. The strong pace and the conditions had clearly made an impact as 8.5K into the race I hit the first queue for an obstacle with lots of top racers retrying. The person in the lane I was in was taking forever, after 30 seconds of waiting and the guy approaching the end of the final bar, I started the obstacle. As I got to the middle where you traverse from bar to bar via a ring the guy was still on the bar in front. I waited, but then decided I should swing for it and we would both be on the bar together. In hindsight I should have waited, or got him to drop (it’s not allowed to be stationary on an obstacle for more than 5 seconds), because as I swung, he swung and the bar I was swinging for swung out of reach. I hung desperately in the middle of the obstacle on a single ring trying to reach the bar, but without momentum I had to drop and retry. Tired from my first attempt I debated waiting but given the amount of people arriving I knew I had to go straight away. This is an obstacle I can usually do in my sleep, but that second attempt was so hard, I traversed across and jumped and hit the bell much to my relief. The energy used to get across certainly had its effect, and I took stairway to heaven carefully to avoid any slip up.
I now had no idea where I was in the race, but knew the race still had a long way to go. The next section was a fun Nuclear Races section of obstacles, all doable (despite one slip in the wet!). I tried to speed up to make some time as best as I could. This would also mark the end of most of the Nuclear Races obstacles. Despite some criticism, for me it makes sense to use the obstacles at the race location chosen for a championship. The obstacles are there to tire you out before the more technical OCR Worlds obstacles later in the race. It’s already a very expensive event, and it wouldn’t be financially possible to deliver the same number of obstacles without something like this.
I was about 10K into the race, with 5K and about 25 obstacles (mostly the hard ones) to go. I was a little worried at this point, I have been training a lot on my grip with Sam this year, and its massively improved since 2018 when I completed every obstacle first time at the Worlds, but the weather was making everything harder and my arms were getting tired. The extra hanging I had done on the Nuclear low rig was not helping either. The problem with this is that it leads to extra caution on obstacles and more time spent hanging, leading to more time working the grip. Not good.
The next few obstacles were great. Valkyrie, an up and down ring traverse…. Sabretooth, an up and down monkey bar traverse. Simple obstacles, with a twist, made harder in the wet. Loved doing them, but I knew my grip was being eroded obstacle by obstacle. We then ran back into the big tent to complete the big Force5 rig. Usually a relatively straightforward obstacle for me, but this time on the second to last hold I fell off at the same point on my first and second attempt. Something was up. I switched lanes and made it across anxious to get some life back into my arms. Unfortunately, the next obstacle was the Force5 low rig. It seemed straightforward enough when looking beforehand, but with tired arms I slipped on the first attempt and then opted for hanging on for dear life/elbow hooks and all to make it across at the second attempt. It was super frustrating to have made these mistakes, but something I have learned while racing is that it’s not over until it’s over… you must stay focussed and not give up.
The Ninja rings were up next, this was the only obstacle that caused me any issues last year. Thankfully I had got some tips from a 1-1 down at the PT Barn with Scotty and I felt confident I could do it despite the grip deteriorating. With some adaptations on the fly I made it across, I could see lots of racers retying so was grateful to regain some places.
Snake pit (hanging rope traverse) and the infamous Skull Valley followed. The latter was a little tamer than previous years, but I was grateful for that at this point in the race, with 1K to go. The Force5 over/under was up next and this was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I really loved how Worlds made seemingly simple obstacles challenging adding new twists or dreaming up completely new ideas like this one.
The next obstacle… gibbons. Five metal holds where you insert a wooden dowel into each to move through the obstacle. This has had everyone talking for months, and in the last four weeks I have been training a lot on the ones Foz Sug makes. I felt confident I could do it, but my tired grip was not strong enough on the hand holds. After 2-3 attempts I went for the chicken wing approach, it fell out the first time, but on my second go at that I got across. Frustrating… especially with the practice, maybe I should have gone straight for the chicken wing technique, but I had to get moving as I remembered there was one more tough obstacle to go! Skitch.
As I approached the obstacle, I could see three top OCR athletes that I knew (and looking back at the video others too) stuck at the obstacle. Showing these great athletes some respect and mindful of my own grip I took a deep breath… dried my hands as best as I could and spent 10-20 seconds to compose myself. Then boom… I went for it. I knew this was a big moment to achieving my goal and I felt the pressure for sure, but I certainly had a second wind and felt strong skitching across the obstacle to ring the bell. Yes!
There were three or four more obstacles to go, but as I got to the weaver, I knew I just had to get across this obstacle without any silly slip ups to finish in the position I was in. Job done.
Jumping through two sets of large tubes into water and then up and over the big final wall I had finished. Happy to have finished strong, a little annoyed with my mistakes that had cost me time, but as I saw the results placing me 22nd in the World I had to be happy with what I achieved and be respectful of the conditions. This said, there is 100% some unfinished business for next year and room for improvement, which is one of the reasons I love obstacle racing. It’s very rare you walkaway from a race without something learned or to improve upon.
I really enjoyed the 15K, for me it was a true showcase of OCR. The course was well designed and had a great mix of obstacles. The event professionally run as ever too. It was truly a challenge and while self-proclaimed, it was 100% fitting to be called the world championship of obstacle racing.
I would have loved to have seen a longer wreck bag carry and some additional strength obstacles, but I’m sure there was rationale behind those changes from last year. I also think that they should leave sawdust at technical obstacles like they did last year. You’d do anything to get as dry hands as possible before attempting an obstacle… rubbing trees, dry bits of obstacles etc. It would make it a lot fairer (especially for age group waves) if something was standardised here and to help address how much mud builds up on obstacles.
As always there are improvement points… this is a very new ‘sport’… but I honestly can’t think of many more which is a credit to the OCR World Championships.
Unfortunately, the weather did dampen some spirits in the race village as the sun we enjoyed last year was notably absent and replaced by three days of rain. However, the huge race marquee did come into its own here. There was still the famous OCR World Championship atmosphere and it was great mixing with athletes from around the world and catching up with Team UK friends.
What did you think?
How did your race go?
Will you be heading to the States for the World Champs next year in Vermont?
Photo/video credits: The OCR Report, Nuclear Races, OCRWC, Cyro Studios, Jack Carpenter
3 thoughts on “OCR World Championships 2019 15K Race Report”
All those retries and STILL that great result and time?! Dang, well done James! Ok I also retried a couple of obstacles (Gibbons, dowel fell out twice while trying to chicken-wing, and Skitch where I ripped my finger trying to loosen the hook from the chain we transitioned past), but still! This is a testament to your running ability! Wow! What are your 10k and 5k times for example?
Had a great experience this year, running 16 minutes faster than last year (took it relatively easy then) and feeling strong all the way. Lost a couple of positions on Weaver where both my legs totally cramped up. Agree with everything you said about how well organised the event was. Loved the course 🙂
I’m an age group competitor and need to improve technically. The conditions were brutal but it was a good representation of a uk mud run for all the international competitors. The wet conditions stopped me completing obstacles that in the dry would have been no problem. Whilst disappointing that I failed a few obstacles it was an amazing event. I need to improve my grip strength – what are your tips?