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Rain or shine they say!  

Eric Sirois's picture

On Saturday, April 20, in Jersey City was held the City Challenge Obstacle Race on the edge of the Hudson River. This obstacle course is quite unique as it stands entirely on the concrete sidewalks and streets along the river with the city of New York and its famous skyline as a backdrop. The 2019 edition was a lot different from last year. If at the same time a year ago the festival place was full of participants under a hot sun, this time it was the opposite. The rain and the wind were raging and there was hardly anyone on the site thirty minutes before the first start. The on-site volunteers for the registrations were equipped with makeshift raincoats and were trying to stay dry as were those trying to set up their tent to for the festival grounds. The first wave of departure was given a little late, because some elements, like the starting arch, were not quite ready, but it was well recovered during the day.

The course was essentially the same as last year, but the final loop was the other way round. In order to reduce the number of participants arriving at an obstacle and thus limit queues, departures were given in small waves a few minutes apart. A good thing since about 300m from the start was already the first test: thirty box jump or step-up. Immediately after, barricades that are not very wide and cars over which we have to jump. The rest of the obstacles were almost the same classic obstacles of this race with some new features. Two new obstacles were placed at the end of the course: the "Tricky Swiss" and the F5 rig here called "Urban Cliffhanger". The first is actually a series of perforated and suspended panels through which runners must pass. A bit like the floating walls of Indian Mud Run, but without the appearance of height or difficulty of the holds. This obstacle offered a nice challenge to the "open" class, especially with the wind sending the panels in all directions. The second novelty is the famous F5 rig with the wheel in the middle that we saw at NORAM or OCRWC. Without a doubt the most "difficult" obstacle of the race. The rain made the metal very slippery and made the task harder for the runners. The traverse wall also offered a significant challenge in being wet and rather slippery.

Two of the obstacles were quite risky especially with the rain and strong winds. There was a rocking balance beam on which participants obviously had to climb which was placed directly beside a fence overlooking the river. When halfway on the beam, we literally find ourselves above the fence, and hope not to make a false move to end up in the water! The second obstacle was also a balance test which consisted of climbing on a beam and then moving on poles covered with a tire. It was extremely slippery and dangerous. The structure of the obstacle is, in my opinion, to be reviewed because even before adding the sliding factor of the water, the basic instability causes a huge security problem. I personally witnessed a fall and imbalance that could have caused serious injuries. In the end, the decision was made to close the obstacle and replace it with ten burpees. The problem is that this decision was made in the middle of the elite wave. Obviously, those who passed through did not have the same treatment as those who had to make burpees. It's always a problem to make that kind of decision and thereby change a rule in the middle of the game, but since it's been done to address an issue around athlete safety, I tend to agree with that one. This is never the ideal, but sometimes necessary. The same kind of decision was made in London at the 3k championship last year as an obstacle caused a long queue.

Regarding the elites, I thought there was a bigger problem than closing an unsafe obstacle. The competitive wave was held in a mandatory obstacle format and the athletes were all wearing an orange wristband that he had to hand off in the case of failure and abandonment to an obstacle. Several wristbands have been lost at Urban Cliffhanger (rig F5). The wristbands were actually picked up, but I did not see anybody at the finish line who tore apart those who had managed to keep the famous bracelet of those who had lost it. What makes the use of bracelets and the obligation to complete the obstacles useless and that causes a huge problem for a qualifying race for the World Championships and North American. Is the lack of volunteers or poor planning of this aspect that is the cause, I could not say, but I would have paid particular attention to the finish line. There were also failures at the podium and the awards ceremony. On the men's side, the winner (Benjamin Côté) was doing volunteer work to help the organization that was short of volunteers. At the podium, we raised the 4th position on the highest step! Some people say that there was an error in the results at this time. There are some points to improve for the competitive portion of the event, especially since it is a qualifying race.

On the other hand, if we forget the problems of the competitive division, I think that the general appreciation of the racers is quite positive. The proximity of the city and the absence of mud are a great opportunity to introduce new people to the sport. This is the ideal race for office groups, those who cannot afford to travel and drive for several hours and those who want to discover the sport. It is a fast course, without elevation or technical terrain, on concrete of the city that everyone knows. The atmosphere at the start was good and the emcee did a good job of warming the participants before they left. We want a more lenient temperature for future editions! Other events are planned this year including the New York race which is scheduled for August 17.