For the 2018 edition, the Obstacle Course Race World Championship moved from Toronto’s north mountains in Canada, to the other side of the Atlantic on the Nuclear Race grounds, about an hour from London, England. If we rely on recent years, we could conclude that the event will be held on the same site next year. OCRWC confirmed it would be the case, so the tendency to hold the event in one place for two years seems plausible.
The site is totally different from all points of view. Over the last two years, the site hosting the race was also a resort that included hotels, restaurants and bars just steps from the starting line. For this fifth edition, athletes will have to drive a minimum of fifteen minutes to get to a hotel. Some have opted for a rental vehicle to allow them to sleep and spend the night in the parking lot of the event. To fill the lack of a restaurant during the day, there is a ton of kiosks/food truck that offers a variety of food so that everyone can find something that suits their need/taste. It is well known, the obstacle runner is a species that likes to celebrate the end of a race with an alcoholic beverage. The latter are not left out, because there are also some kiosks taking charge of this aspect. Obviously, during such a competition event, moderation is recommended and water may better serve your goals in terms of hydration.
The main site is huge. A huge tent is installed on the site where we find the scene of the podiums and several kiosks. There are even two complete obstacles in the tent sheltered from the weather. Speaking of weather, the organizers were blessed by Mother Nature who gave us three days of good weather for the duration of the championship. The iconic English rain won’t have been a factor of failure for the athletes. The thermometer showed a more than comfortable temperature. Although the mornings were quite cool, as soon as the race began, we were warming up quickly. The registrations went well, from my point of view, and the process was fast. Many racers took advantage of the day on Thursday to settle all that was related to the registrations in order to enjoy the weekend with peace of mind.
The venue is different, but the format remains the same: four separate races are held over the weekend. On Friday, athletes wanting to attack a fast, intense and challenging course are entitled to three kilometers. Saturday is the "main" event with the fifteen kilometers and no less than a hundred obstacles announced a few days ago. The last day is the team race and the race for the charity.
*Trace and altitude of the 15km
Let's talk about the course and the obstacles. Unlike Canada's elevated mountain courses, the terrain is fairly flat and includes only a few small elevation changes. On the other hand, a very important element that was missing in Blue Mountains is present this time: water. On the three kilometers, no trace of water apart a small passage in the last portion of the course. On the other hand, the obstacles are one after the other. A short distance where most of the big obstacles requiring grip strength and upper body are all present. A Northman Race Gaffe version is present on the course, but is far easier than the original version. The platinum rig contains several rings and makes it quite simple. At least, that's what the technical obstacle experts will say. You must keep in mind that the organizers designed the course by weighing in the worst weather conditions they could face. The Wreck Bag carry is done on the flat and is quite a short distance that included a crawl. A major problem occurred during the first wave of the day (Male Age Group 30-39). The Caterpillar obstacle that was oddly moving on a metal structure using poles for the hands and feet (difficult to explain in text), quickly caused a long queue. Ten rows were available, but the number of poles being the same, one could not send two athletes on the same line at the same time. The situation was quickly corrected when the decision was made to remove the use of the poles and only use the hands and feet to cross the structure. Of course, this kind of decision can influence the final results because to cross the obstacle without using the poles was considerably faster, but it was absolutely necessary to make a change to eliminate the waiting.
For the pros, Jonathan Albon once again wins the honors, as he led the race off the first hurdle. Thirty seconds behind Albon, Canadian Ryan Atkins climbed onto the second step of the podium while Sergei Perelygin took third place finishing the race thirteen seconds after Atkins. For the women, the podium is hotly contested throughout the race. Between each obstacle, positions change. Many of them are shoulder to shoulder to get to the obstacles. Rebecca Hammond (USA) leads the race on a good part of the course, but Nicole Mericle (USA) has her nose in the last section. Canada's Lindsay Webster finishes third not far behind. To tell you how close the race was, the three women finished less than thirty seconds from one another: Mericle: 19:54, Hammond: 20:00 and Webster: 20:17.
Saturday was reserved for the fifteen-kilometer race. A few days before, the organization had unveiled the race course which indicated no less than a hundred obstacles! A figure that strikes the imagination on such a distance. On the other hand, we must see this quantity as a marketing blow. Certainly, there was a lot of obstacles, but, in my opinion, the figure of one hundred is not reached. The Wreck Bag carry is the best example. The latter counted as six obstacles on the map, but was actually one according to my vision of things. In addition, the famous Caterpillar that had caused so many problems the day before was removed from the course. The additional loops allowed to go much further on the Nuclear Race’s field and use the obstacles on the ground. The new route sends racers in beautiful woods and uses beautiful sections of race. Obstacles are present in large quantities, but the level of difficulty remains fairly easy for the average athlete. What makes the task more difficult is accumulation. We often find a series of obstacles one behind the other with little time between each to regain your energy. One obstacle that still caused a lot of problems is the "Stairway to heaven", which is called "Phoenix Rising" by Nuclear Race. Although it was 100% dry and they have added something in the paint to make it less slippery, many have once again stuck to this obstacle. What is not missing on the course is the mud pits. They are present everywhere, which makes several obstacles very slippery because of the mud accumulation. Ropes to climb were a good example. This time, Water is an integral part of the course. Either you steeped in a current of icy water, or were literally plunged into it (the slide). The water allows to clean the accumulated mud, but also freezes the mind of all so it is cold! In addition to all the obstacles of the three kilometer of the previous day, we find a zip line, a big slide, a series of endless net under which we must pass, some balance obstacles, a quite light hoist, some rigs and other rather simple obstacles. It is certainly not the difficulty of the obstacles that causes the problem, but the accumulation as mentioned above. Obviously the big structures around the festival are the most difficult and offer the biggest challenge. Several carry are scattered all over the route. The most difficult is probably the bomb carry which was quite heavy.
Water stations were not easy to see for everyone. On the three kilometer, rare are those who saw a source of water. In addition, there was no water or any form of liquid at the finish line. Fortunately, following several comments, the situation was corrected for the fifteen-kilometre race. On the course the stations were present in the form of a fountain, which may have misled some people because we are used to seeing tables with glasses of water. On the other hand, it is a good way to preserve the environment by eliminating the plastic glasses and have permanently installed drinking fountains. The finish line should, in my opinion, have more for the athletes finishing the race. With an event of this magnitude, we expect something more when we cross the finish line (water, electrolytes, energy bar, etc.).
For the fifth time in as many attempts, Jonathan Albon (1h27m17s) is crowned great champion of the fifteen kilometer followed by Sergei Sillin (1h27m45s) and Thibault Debusschere (1h27m53s). On the women side, Lindsay Webster (1h51m56s) finished first, Ida Mathilde Steensgaard (1h52m56s) second and Karin Karlsson (1h55m24s) third. The list of athletes who performed well in the age group categories would be too long to list here, but I want to congratulate each and every one of them!
Sunday is the favorite race of many: The team race. Each team is formed of three people as usual where each one take care of a section of the course (speed, strength and agility/technique). This year, once the three individual sections were completed, the teams had a mini section that they had to cross as a team. An atlas stones carry on a kind of stretcher and a rope climb. Obviously teams had to find a way to get over the big wall of the end where the rope was now made very short. Great battles were done at the last wall for the pros. The athletes pushed themselves to the limit for this last competitive event of the weekend. The Platinum Rig team came first in men's pro, A doctor, a politician and a Benji walk into a bar in women (yes that's really the name of the team) and the Maple Syrup Mamas in the mixed category.
The weekend ends as usual with the race for the charity and at that moment the athletes and participants are laughing and having fun. The competition is now over and everyone is satisfied or not with their performance, but having given all they could on the field. If we summarize the event in a few sentences, it was once again a great weekend of racing, allowing athletes from all over the world to meet up for a weekend to practice the sport they love. Obviously the European delegation was much more present this time while America was a little less. Many have combined race and travel to discover cities and countries for the first time. The course was interesting, without too much altitude and offering beautiful sections of race. Obstacles were still easy will say the obstacle specialists, but it must be kept in mind that the director planned according to a difficult temperature and tried to avoid a hecatomb like the European championship a few months ago. Luckily the weather was ideal and the life of the fast runners was facilitated. The few problems encountered on Friday were quickly corrected for the rest of the weekend. If there is one point to improve, I would tend to point to the punctuality of the podiums and award ceremony. Every day, there was a significant delay that was covered by sending gifts in the crowd, but the wait was often endless. All in all, it was a great event that will have given a good visibility to the sport since it was televised for the first time. Without being perfect, OCRWC remains a must for the most competitive and those in love with our sport. A last word for the marshals who kept the obstacles all weekend by constantly repeating the rules to respect. Thank you for your time and control efforts on some athletes harder than others!