OCRWC Part Two
The Obstacle Course Racing World Championships was a multi day event, after all, so I broke my reminiscing up as well.
I thought another day might also give me some more time to formulate my thoughts better. I am not convinced that it has. I was just forced to go back to work and already start to feel nostalgic for the weekend in Blue Mountain. I want to go back!
Saturday was the big event – the 15k. I signed up for the 3k and the 15k and the team event this year, in order to maximize my experience. I still don’t know if I will be able to attend this event again in the near future, or even the longer future. So I decided to do ALL the things.
I was nervous for the distance, of course. I am not a distance runner, and the course map promised a lot of climbing. And the weather. More rain. Not a torrential downpour all day, but enough rain before, during, and after to make it pretty messy in places.
So messy, in fact, that the first brutal climb had a section that required use of your hands and knees. Everyone was fighting to find hand and footholds in the muck to allow them enough support to not go sliding back down the mountain.
There were a few sections of incline and declines where the course designers dropped a few dozen feet of rope to assist in the climbs. I had felt more confident about the climbs this year, as I did practice them a little more.
It wasn’t enough. It is never enough. There was no way to prep for that level of steep and sloppy up and down. Unless you regularly scaled soggy ski slopes in the rain for funsies.
I wanted to run down the hills, but I also didn’t want to face plant or die. Or ruin another ankle. There were a few times my momentum did get a little ahead of me, and I started to run/slide downhill at some unnerving speeds. Sometimes I’d be navigating the downhill and my feet would just slide to a stopping point. I imagined that it was what kind of what skiing felt like. Or maybe skating. Left foot sliiiiide. Right foot sliiiiide. Try not to do the splits and wipe out.
A good large portion of the course was just up and down the mountains. It felt like they designed it to mentally and physically break runners down before throwing obstacles at them. I feel like there’s a video game reference in here about doing a bunch of random stuff before you get to one of the bosses, but I don’t actually know video games all that well so I’ll have to skip it.
I was slow on the hills. At least I felt slow. I could hear myself breathing hard. I hate to hear myself breathing when I run. I feel like it makes me sound weak. Everyone else around me though was also slogging through the same hell, so that did provide some comfort. I had one large, personal victory on the hills this year. I successfully fought off the calf cramps!
Given that several past races calf cramps crippled me, I was extremely happy that I was able to manage that insane terrain with my legs much more intact. It was doubly good fortune given I had to do the heavy carries uphill again at the team event. Even if it can sometimes get annoying, I think hydration packs are probably a must for me.
As well as my legs were handling the climbing, my hands were having a much harder time. Not only were they caked in mud most of the time, everything was slippery and muddier and wetter.
It wasn’t raining when I got to the Northman obstacle again on the 15k. I felt OK going into the obstacle the second time since I had done it the day before. On the flip side, my legs were already fairly bruised and sore from holding onto the poles the first day. I failed the first attempt again this time.
I went back into the Northman’s retry lines yet again. I was lucky again too to have teammates that were around watching the obstacle. The foot holds were worse than the day before. They were so muddy it was nearly impossible for me to use them. I wasn’t utilizing them effectively or they were just too muddy, I couldn’t keep my feet on them. My thighs were tender and a little beat up so clutching the poles with my legs was rougher as well. I was getting a little frustrated that it was taking me so many tries again, after figuring out only the day before.
On one run I finally made it around the second wooden pole and got it to tilt to the far side. I got a hold of the last pole and finally had the chance to use the footholds. I was confident that I’d get the bell, until I actually made a grab to pull myself up to reach it.
Another runner for some reason had started in on my lane before I had cleared it. He was on the second pole while I was trying to maintain my hold and give my hands a second to recover so I could shimmy up the rope. I was flustered and angry that he would rush me on that obstacle. There’s no way around it. Then the volunteer told me I only had 5 seconds because another person was on the obstacle. I felt like I was going to cry. I was freaking out. I definitely had a mini melt down on the last pole that time. The MIT teammate who I believe ran pro or at least had already blasted through the course stayed with me the whole time on that Northman run, talking me through it. He tried to keep me calm while inside I was fast forwarding through all the worse case scenarios.
I am going to fall. I can’t reach the bell. I won’t be able to climb far enough. I couldn’t hold on. If I didn’t get the bell this time I wouldn’t be able to try again and I would lose my band. I was going to lose my band on that stupid thing. I was going to lose my band on something I knew I’d done before! I felt like a failure. All in the several seconds I spent huddle on the last bar.
I had to make a go for the bell or the volunteer was going to kick me off for non progress. I made a desperate jump and reach for the bell and actually made it!
It was such a huge relief for me. I made it! I didn’t get to thank the MIT teammate enough who helped me through the obstacle that day, but it really kept me going (even when I was about to break down mentally).
After that, it was back onto the mountain. Unfortunately my hands were only getting worse and worse for wear. I was so disappointed that they had turned out so weak on the 15k. That and the weather didn’t help. At Stairway to heaven, my grip was really worn out. The space between steps looked so much larger than what I remembered. I could hardly get up a few rungs. It just felt like it wasn’t there – and the 5 hour cutoff time was looming over my head. I ended up having to give up the band there.
My obstacle completion after stairway was dismal. My hands started to shake. I could hardly hold onto anything at all.
When I got to Dragon’s back I almost forgot it was going to be there at all. It was four jumps long this year as opposed to the two from last year. Everyone’s shoes were thick mud pies at that point. The wooden fencing that was right before the obstacle was also caked in all the runners’ attempts to regain the tread on the bottom of their shoes.
Hardly anyone was on top of Dragon’s Back when I got there. People were struggling with the slip wall to get to the top of the obstacle. I tried to dig out my shoes a little bit, and then decided to just run at it. My ‘sprint at full speed’ tactic for most walls managed to get me to the top of the first platform.
No one was up there with me. When I looked down, I hesitated. I think I called out to the people below, stating looking down was a mistake and now I was anxious. The volunteer told me that most people failing the obstacle couldn’t even get to the top. There was a friendly British woman at the bottom next to the volunteer as well. The British runner told me that I was going to jump on three, and she counted me down. I hit the next platform easily, and my new coach counted me down each time.
I momentarily felt proud and accomplished at having beaten the extended Dragon’s Back! It was fleeting, as I failed most of the next obstacles that required me to hold on to things and support my whole body weight solely on my hands.
Another one of my friends from home caught up to me around this time as well, and it was nice to run with someone for a little bit. The gauntlet of grip heavy obstacles that came towards the end, however, really started to eat away at my sense of accomplishment. I still managed the wreck bag carry, slowly. The rigs, however, were a no go, even skull valley which I had conquered the day before.
I did succeed at the zip line/skyline obstacle on the first try, which was lucky given I was barely holding on. It was also raining. When I got to the wall again right at the end it rained even harder. My curse! I had conquered all the walls before this one, both days, and yet THIS wall kept defeating me. It was so wet and slippery that people were starting to use the bolts on the panels and the knots in the ropes themselves. It beat me back every time, and my hands would not stop shaking. I was already slightly over the 5 hour deadline when I got to the Knot wall.
If I was crushed at any point during the weekend, it was here. Teammates where encouraging me and telling me I could do it, meanwhile I was unable to figure out how to get myself over that stupid wt wall. One of my attempts I slammed into the wall and the way I fell back down made it feel like I crunched my back – like I had just gotten shorter by an inch. I felt defeated -totally broken by the very last obstacle on the whole course.
Eventually some other teammates showed up to the wall, and also encountered a rough time getting over it. When I finally had to concede the defeat to the knot wall, I was still able to run through the finish line with my friends. I was shaking harder at that point and drenched. I was glad it was over, even though I felt a little like I hadn’t really earned the medal I was wearing.
On the way back to the condo – the center spinning piece of my medal just fell out and landed in a puddle. I stopped and looked at for a second – a pathetic, dripping thing. I felt like it summed up my 15k day fairly well.
All I wanted after racing Saturday was to be warm and clean. No ice bath that day. I did manage to get a new medal after my original one broke, luckily.
I spent a good amount of time with the foam roller Saturday night trying to make sure my legs would hold up for the team event Sunday. I wanted to be able to leave everything I had left in me on the mountain for the team relay. It was my last chance to keep my band – my symbol of completion. It was the only time I felt confident in keeping the band too – given that my job was to carry the heavy things up and down the mountain a few times. I might be slow, but I could do it. My notorious cramping held off and all the taping I’d done to my ankles kept them in line as well.
The mountain was a sloppy mess by our team time Sunday. It was soup.
Our first leg was the speed/endurance leg. They had to do the first 5k or so of the course – up and up the slopes. It took our first leg a little over an hour given the conditions. She handed the ‘baton’ off to me and I carried the farmer carry sandbag up the first slope. The hill was so steep and ruined by then that I was even slipping while going UP the hill. I wanted to be able to storm back down the hills faster, but I also wanted to not wipe out too many times.
The first exchange to the technical obstacle ninja last about 30 seconds. I got our timing band right back. I barely had the time to catch my breath before I was headed back up the mountain with the wreck bag, it was even slower going. I went down the mountain half of my butt and half on my feet. After the last exchange to our ginger ninja obstacle guru, I met the running leg teammate and we waited at the last obstacle to gather for the final wall.
At the knot wall, our technical guy was able to get both of the other two of us high enough to get over the top. While it was raining. At last! I got over the wall! With a little help from my friends.
And then in the rain, covered in mud, we crossed the finish line together, all with our 100% completion bands! It was the best end to the grueling weekend. Our team even went back to the course to continue helping others over the crazy wall. During the charity event, the whole team went through the short course together and helping everyone they came across who needed it. Again, perfect closing.
The condo after the last event was a mess. The whole group afterwards was very slow moving. Not driving the eight hours home immediately after racing was one of the best decisions of the weekend. I was not happy with the fact that we had to go back to the course to pick up the wreck bags we had pre ordered. They told us that we would have to actually go out to the wreck bag carry point and take the bags back to our cars ourselves. It felt like moving a small body – wrapping up the two 50lb bags in trash bags and shoving them into the trunk of my car.
The way home, Team SwoleMITs stopped at Niagara Falls, and passed quite a few other OCR fans wearing their OCRWC gear.
The weekend wrecked me – mentally and physically. But it also gave me a sense of family and friendship in this team I’ve been fortunate to join. Taught me to trust myself more, and reminded me to continue to persevere. It’s only been less than a week and I already want to go back.