I have no idea what I’m doing.
Not that it’s stopped me.
Those were the thoughts that ran through my mind as I loaded up my car with race gear and snacks and hit the road for Blue Mountain, Ontario, Canada this weekend.
This weekend was the international obstacle course racing big event – World’s! Where obstacles and aspects from all the different races around the world are brought together, along with individual racers from around the globe.
I learned about the event in June. I started training for it specifically in July.
I had no idea how the whole thing would work. I got an Airbnb for the first time for this trip. No idea how that worked either. But I decided I’d figure it out as I go.
I packed a bag with a bunch of running clothes – stuff for if it was cold, stuff for if it was warm, two sets of everything in case it was wet and raining. I had my race shoes and my ankle brace. I had a waiver already printed and my passport.
I threw a 24 pack of water bottles in the car with me and tried to drink as many as I could during the 8 hours to Blue Mountain. The downside was that I had to pee almost every hour – which significantly slowed me down.
I pulled into the driveway of the house I’d rented a room in for the trip. It was weird. And super cool. The family was still in the house I just had a room in the basement. Which was amazing. The bed alone seemed the size of my actual room at home. The shower had the jets that come out of the wall. It was nicer than a lot of hotels I’ve been in.
The race venu itself was only 15 minutes away and I was allowed to use the kitchen. It was convenient and much more affordable than the hotel rooms at the resort.
After I dropped my stuff at the Airbnb I went to the race venue – Blue Mountain Village – and tried to figure out what it was I needed to actually do.
The village was like a small town center. Cute shops, lots of restaurants, and tons of people. So many people! It was exciting, it was nerve wracking.
I followed where the largest stream of people seemed to come from. Luckily, once I got into the central “square” area where they had the OCRWC merchandise tent set up I did see someone I recognized. Coach Pain – the former MC and announced at Battlefrog before it discontinued its races – was there. I’d met him at a training event at a local gym a few months ago. He was the race announcer/race starter for worlds this year as well!
He pointed out the way to the registration building for me. Several obstacles were set up along the path as I went to registration. The excitement started to bubble up in my stomach then. It was real. I was AT WORLDS.
The line in registration was long. I probably waited an hour. I talked to some of the other racers in line near me. Multiple other languages and accents floated around me too. I loved the international aspect and environment.
I picked up my athlete packet and met some of teammates. I arrived Thursday evening but wasn’t racing until Saturday. I had planned on using Friday to watch the short course event and recover from sitting in the car all day before racing.
Friday they ran the 3k short course event. Some of my new obstacle racing friends I’d only met recently through OCR were running that event – along with some of the “elite” racers you see on social media winning all the big races – Spartan Race, Spartan Championships, Worlds Toughest Mudder, etc.
Friday I spent watching the festivities and racers fly through the short course. What would have taken me somewhere around 45 minutes maybe an hour took these elites closer to 15 minutes to do.
I spent most of Friday with the family of one of my team event teammates that I ran into while wandering the village.
We watched competitors tackle the obstacles, assessed techniques. Usually I go into races blind. I don’t want to know or I’ll stress out. Some technique studies, however, would actually probably benefit me as some obstacles I look at and just stare at and think…how….???
One of these “how the hell” obstacles was called the Samurai Rig. It was a series of metal and wooden poles you had to monkey your way across without touching the tops of the poles. I watched a lot of people slide off those. It seemened near impossible to me. And the line for people to try the obstacle after failing it the first time grew rapidly.
After the results of the short course with this obstacle the race officials scrapped this one altogether on the long course the next day. We just ran around it instead. I was not sad.
The other obstacle I was most worried about was the Platinum Rig.
They actually changed this one up each day. Regardless – this was a very technical obstacle that I did not feel confident about. I have not had a lot of time to work on transitioning through these set ups and wasn’t sure I could muscle my way through it.
Worrying wouldn’t help me finish it though – so I was just going to have to figure it out when I got there. Just like everything else!Saturday morning came – bright and beautiful and dry with no rain in sight! It was finally time! It was REAL.
I suddenly felt very nervous, anxious, excited, terrified. What had I done?! 15k?! Through the Canadian ski slopes?? I would DIE! AND racing alongside the best in the world! What the hell was I thinking??
Well, the best in the world would be far ahead of me so I would never actually see them on the course. No matter – my stomach flipped about with butteflies anyway. Why was I so nervous?? It was no big deal I told myself. This wasn’t any different than any other race I’d done. I didn’t have anything on the line here.
Except it was different.
I started off with my age group. Females 25-29. I knew one other person in my group – younger than me but my senior in race and running experience.
Coach Pain was there to deliver the race sendoff speech. He is an amazing motivational speaker and it’s near impossible not to feel moved when he’s delivering the sendoff.
They sent you off up a small hill (small only in that it was smaller than the others) to begin with. They set off smoke to run through at the beginning. I tried to stay up with my one friend as long as I could. She pulled ahead of me in time. As she is much more a distance runner than I am. I definitely had to walk most of the uphills.
I’d say the first half was okay. I got through the obstacles without a hitch. There were several walls. Some other women struggled to get up them high enough to reach the tops or the ropes that were in place to help you over. As long as I had a good running start I could usually get up and over in one go.
My strategy for these walls was: full steam ahead and no thinking. I sprinted at the slanted walls and flung my arms for the ropes. It always felt a little surprising when it worked out. Like: ah! I….I made it…I’m hanging on and didn’t fall!
Any time I gained over the walls though I usually lost in the uphills. Which were everywhere.
Another small slanted wall didn’t have any ropes on it. The outsides did have small 2x4s in place like steps if need be. The obstacle monitor informed us upon arrival, however, that we had to try the middle route first without any help at all.
The monitor commented on my swearing. I ignored him – and gunned it.
To my own surprise I got up the wall. First try. Well shit, indeed!
After that I came to Dragon’s Back. I had been hearing about this obstacle all day Friday, but I’d never personally seen it. It sounded like one a lot of people had difficulty with – mentally more than physically.
Dragon’s Back was a small platform you climb up to, then have to jump across a small gap and grab a metal bar on the other side. There was straw on the ground below for those who fell. You had to do this twice.
My plan of attack was similar to my walls: go fast and don’t think about it. It didn’t quite work out that way though. There were so many people already there hesitating that I had too long to look at it and hesitate.
The obstacle monitors were yelling at us to hurry up and go or get off the obstacle we were in the way. This did not help anyone over the thing. It stressed out the scared racers even more. One girl spent almost 2 hours there before being able to take the jump.
Once I was able to focus just on the bar and no one and nothing else I took the jump. And landed hard with my feet on the slanted wood panel, but my grip was firm and I didn’t fall. After jumping the gap felt small and the amount of worry seemed silly. It was a very mental challenge in addition to physical.
When I got to the orange Rig, though, spirits did come down. This one was technical and grip, upper body strength oriented. I spent probably almost an hour there. I struggled getting past the square monkey bars that were very hard to grip. Even when it was totally dry.
My 8th or 9th attempt I did somehow manage to get past the monkey bars, and I got excited – I could make this one after all! The second half though-I was shaky from all the previous attempts. I lost momentum, and fell trying to transition from one element to next.
From there the course got progressively harder – from fatigue, disappointment in losing the band, and the never ending upward climbs. So, so much uphill climbing.
On my way up I got off balance when another guy passed me, and I couldn’t recover the bag. I dropped it. And it was even worse hell after that. I managed to pick it up and drag it back onto my shoulders several times, but the losing and picking back up was incredibly draining.
I never thought about quitting a race on any of my other events. I was always set on finishing no matter how much it hurt. The thought may have entered my mind on that carry, though. Why am I doing this? This is miserable. I do not enjoy this. I am completely sucking and failing at this. I should never have believed I could do this.
Yet-somehow-I slogged on. Small step by small step. No. No giving up. It’s not like you can just give up. You can’t just say no and go home. You would still have to walk yourself down this frigging mountain. You are here in the middle of it – so suck it up buttercup.
If only that had been the last uphill battle. Alas it was not.
We still had to make the slow arduous climb to the very very top of the mountain. The wreckbag carry had only been half way up.
My legs must have been torched by the first sandbag carry. As I climbed the unending upward trail my calves started to seize. Please God no. No cramping. Go away. Stop. I got out my mustard packets and downed a few in hopes of staving off the cramps as much as possible.
It helped. Some. I had to keep stopping to stretch them out. I would walk some. If I tried to be on my toes they’d seize up and I’d have to stop and knead them out.
This is where the heart and spirit of OCR really shines through. Complete strangers also going for time and obstacle completion stopped or asked me if I was okay. When I told them it was just cramps everyone would nod or ahh in sympathetic knowing. A few people offered me water or mustard or the like. Total strangers offering to share what they had even if it meant sacrificing minutes off their race times. It really helped to keep me going!
The obstacles at the top of the mountain went less well than the first half. Several of them required holding onto things with your legs – like wrapping them around ropes or bars or 4x4s. That wasn’t happening for me at the time. I tried everything – but as soon as I’d contract a leg it’d cramp immediately and I was useless.
I failed the low rig – similar to the first one I lost my band on but only 3 feet of the ground and you couldn’t touch the ground.
I failed the giant Weaver. My old nemesis from Battlefrog and Mud Guts and Glory. It was twice the size of the one I’d previously seen, but with the cramps in my calves I couldn’t make it happen. Since I had lost my band already I also didn’t feel like it was worth the extra pain and suffering to keep trying it when I’d fallen off it once or twice already.
They did, thank goodness, have a water station at the top of the mountain. I had never experienced dry mouth to that extent before. To the point I couldn’t speak – it was so bad.
I downed three paper cups of water and a half banana and tried to carry on. Running was harder after that when it was all sloshing in my already unhappy stomach.
At some point up there one of my racing teammates’ husbands showed up. He only started at least 2 hours after me. He probably found me at my lowest point on the course. I was feeling drained, useless, no more confidence. My legs hurt, I needed water, just lost in misery.
He was very supportive and encouraging, though. I was trying to massage my own legs out and waiting to try this massive warped wall when he arrived. I was not confident in my ability to get up this one. I was convinced I’d cramp up or fall before getting to the small nunchuck at the top of the wall.
Several people were hesitating at that wall. It looked giant from the ground. Several people had to make multiple attempts.
I watched my friend’s husband go up the wall and another small woman make it up. I’d spent enough time waiting. So with no confidence whatsoever in getting over this one, I ran at it.
I managed NOT to cramp mid-wall and somehow DID manage to grab the small nunchuck to help me get my legs over the top.
Huzzah! Back in business.
My friend’s husband even got me to jog a little after that, despite my extreme lack of desire or energy.
At least the worst of the uphills were over at this point.
There was a very high rope climb as well on the way back down the mountain. Fifteen feet at least probably. I wasn’t feeling a lot of motivation at that point, but I also couldn’t allow myself to just skip anything.
I made one half hearted attempt to hook my feet around the rope. I’d never been able to climb the rope in a race and I think I half expected to fail this one before getting to it. I almost walked away after I slid off my first go.
I decided that the first try was too sad of an attempt. If I was got to fail I was at least going to fail with effort. With some combination of stubbornness, anger at feeling so weak, and the lack of mud on the rope, I muscled my way up. And it probably was 85% arms and back getting me up that one – as my legs were not cooperating at all.
I completed my first in race rope climb. I at least managed that. Small victories I had to tell myself as I coninuted on.
I got across their version of the Z-Wall as well. It’s like a climbing wall but you travel across three sides horizontally instead of vertically. Pretty sure I got this one thanks to the small amount of climbing I started doing prior to the race. And the lack of mud. But the forearms and hands were definitely screaming after that.
The final stretch of obstacles came as a relief. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. I knew the end was near!
I may not have sprinted the final stretch, but I was determined to finish as many of these obstacles as possible. I even surprised myself at how easily I got over some of them.
The table top was no problem. I watched another woman ahead of me from Europe struggle with it for a while. Maybe because I was taller or my upper body was more intact but I got up and over easily.
Slogged forward. Across some little monkey bars. Just hold on. Do not let your grip slip.
The floating boards were tripping people up as well. They were a series of boards with climbing handholds and footholds that were suspended from the ground and would swing in the wind or with your body weight.
These had been at a local training area near me so I’d had some experience with them already. I could not fail these. Even if my calves cramped and seized mid climb I could not fail this one. Absolutely not. I got them on first try.
Then there was Skyline. Or sky something. It had a small zip line handle you would hold onto and slide down a track until you hit a stopping peg. Then you had to kip the handlebars over that peg and conintue to slide. You had to do this 3 times.
I hit the stoppers with so much force that I decided the only way for me to get the handles over it was to use the momentum generated by the impact itself. It took me one or two tries but I got it over the first stopper, the the second and third. I was a little shocked each time.
I’m still holding on! I haven’t fallen yet! Oomph! Next stopper. The end of that one hung a bell. You had to hit the bell or it didn’t count.
Unlike me, I did NOT whiff the bell and hit it as I fell from the handlebars.
One more obstacle, a wall, and then the finish line.
The last obstacle I likely would have been able to do in the first 5-6 miles. On that last stretch though, my arms were shot, and my mind and body just wanted to be done. So when I slipped off a transition a second time I took the time penalty instead.
The only thing left then was the final wall. Hallelujah.
Crossing that line almost did make you want to cry. It was finally over! I crossed the finish line under my own power! I got my medal!
It was decidedly one the most arduous and toughest physical and mental challenges I have ever encountered. I felt broken several times along the way. I felt elated several times. I was angry some. I was exhausted a lot.
Even with all of that – I still felt strong. Strong because I powered over all the walls-I completed Obstacles I didn’t think I would or could-I finished the 15k through the Canadian ski slopes without quitting or needing help off the course.
Sunday I ran the team relay event with two other badass women. I had to face dragons back again in the pouring rain. I was even more nervous with the bar and my hands being wet. But I did it, and we crushed it.
I of course have things I wish I’d done better or could have done better. I have things to work on. In the end, I’m proud of the accomplishments i did achieve, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
Next year I hope to be even better. I won’t be in the “I have no idea what I’m doing” camp anymore. I’ll know just enough to get myself into some trouble. But at least now I know I’m strong enough to get myself out of that trouble as well.