15K. 39 obstacles. Hard core. The 2018 North American OCR Championships delivered on the difficulty with the 15K race, which had over twice the number of obstacles from Friday’s 3K course and what felt like infinitely more feet of elevation.
The women 30 – 34 wave set out early in the day at 9:15 a.m., an amazing privilege, not the least because rain was predicted for the afternoon. The start-of-race experience was much the same as on Friday. Loud music…check. MC…check. The good news was that they didn’t keep us in the corral long before sending us on our way at exactly 9:15 a.m. Unlike with the 3K, we didn’t do a phased wave start but were able to all go out on the course at the same time. We were on our way!
The course took racers up in a short incline in much the same way as the 3K. We faced the 4′ and 6′ walls before continuing up the mountain, in a way decidedly not like the 3K course. The hike up Stratton Mountain was intense, and it was lengthy. We climbed continuously until mile 2.25. The climb was, simply put, a beat-down and exhausting. It was relentless. The saving grace was that the weather was clear and cool and conditions were good. We were able to keep moving at a fairly decent climbing pace. The views were spectacular.
At the top of the mountain, we finally encountered some obstacles. I don’t quite recall everything between obstacles three and five on the map. I know that Log Runner had racers walk up a short inclined balance beam. The ramp wall would have been an inclined slip wall with ropes, I imagine, but I don’t remember that obstacle being at that position. Q Steps was similar to the American Ninja Warrior style quintuple steps, though you were able to put your hands on one set of steps and your feet on the other to move your way though.
I actually think that obstacle six on the map, Pipe Dreams, preceded the previous set of obstacles. Pipe Dreams challenged racers to do a short rope climb to a horizontal pipe, which the racers then had to shimmy along with hands, before a rope down to the ground. (Shale Hill regulars will know that this obstacle is an easier version of the zig-zag obstacle.)
We stayed on top of the mountain for the first rig. I saw a number of folks have issues with this rig and definitely some bands were lost here. I did just fine. The rig featured rings to a horizontal rectangular pipe. There were also some monkey bars and a rope to the final bell.
I grabbed some water from the water stations as I headed down the mountain. The water stations were very intelligently organized for the 15K with many of them being able to be visited twice — both going and coming on the course. As a result, I was totally fine with bringing no hydration, even though I was out on the course for four and a half hours. Moderate temperatures and well-positioned water stations made this possible.
We encountered a barbed wire crawl on the way down the mountain. The map lists obstacle nine as Rolling Thunder, though I recall that obstacle actually being positioned after the through wall. Regardless, Rolling Thunder is an obstacle from Bone Frog that has tires wrapped around a horizontal board, which racers have to roll themselves over. The tires are about face-level for me, so this is a bit tricky, but I managed to wedge myself between the small space between two tires and get over.
What I recall before Rolling Thunder is obstacles ten through thirteen. The quarter pipe was steep enough that I had to run at it twice. A volunteer encouraged me that I really needed to commit to racing up the incline and leaping to grab the top. To get down, racers had to roll across a cargo net and then climb another net on the other side.
The next obstacle was Dragon’s Back. At OCR World Championships, I hadn’t been able to get up this obstacle because it was so wet. At NorAm, conditions were dry, and they had added a rope. I climbed up. “I’m not afraid of heights,” I thought, “This will be no problem.” And I promptly freaked out.
How to describe Dragon’s Back? The obstacle is almost entirely mental and requires racers to leap off a platform, onto a board, angled away, and grab a pole. If you really want to understand, I recommend an article I found called, “Dragon’s Back Open Letter” (Content note: swearing, discussions of mental health issues). I do not kid you when I say I was up there unable to move. I have never really been afraid of anything during my time as an OCR athlete, and I had no idea what to do. I was extremely lucky that my OCR friend, Niki, came along while I was stalled. She encouraged me, told me I could do it, demonstrated by doing it herself. I really really really didn’t want to lose my band here. This obstacle was mental, and I didn’t want to lose my band on something mental. Something physical, something where my strength gave out? Fine. This? Not fine.
I had many false starts. I almost jumped and didn’t. Until finally, I did. And I made it. And there was one more jump to go. It was farther. How could I make it? I was going to miss and end up splattered on that wall and it was going to be terrible and I definitely shouldn’t and okay I could do this, I would do this because I wanted my band and I couldn’t lose it this way and and and…I jumped, and I made it. And I burst into hysterical tears while Niki hugged me. To anyone who has stood on the top of Dragon’s Back and not made the leap, I understand.
I pulled myself into some semblance of decent shape and moved over to the low rig, a super low structure with hanging loops that requires racers to move through without touching the ground. You have to keep yourself suspended with feet in loops and arms supporting you as you move forward. But I was back in familiar territory with this obstacle, pleasantly so, and I made my way through without too much difficulty.
I jumped a quick through wall on the way back down the mountain. In terms of mileage, we were around half way through. The next section was going to be terrible though — a hoist, a farmers carry, and a Wreckbag carry with a crawl. (Note: The hurdles listed on the NorAm 15K map were definitely not on the course.) The hoist was pretty standard, with racers having to use a pulley to lift a 50 pound Wreckbag. The rope was skinny, which was annoying, but I used the technique that Rob Butler, owner of Shale Hill, taught me at one of their summer training camps, and was able to get it up. For the farmers carry, we actually only had to take one cloth bucket of sand, so I alternated between hugging it in front and balancing it on my shoulder. I survived, but I was felt myself tiring. The 50 pound Wreckbag carry was twice the distance of the 3K and one of the most horrible parts of the NorAm experience. I struggled. I weigh 120 pounds, so the Wreckbag was 42% of my body weight, a significant increase in mass. My shoulders and spine protested as I trudged super slowly up the mountain. I almost didn’t make it to the crawl, but I did. The bag came off my shoulders as I turned to go downhill and under the crawl. Unfortunately, after dragging the bag through the crawl, a new problem presented itself; how would I get the bag back up? I writhed around on the ground, while racers walked by sympathetically offering encouragement. Somehow, I managed to get the bag shouldered and my body moving again. I walked down with a guy who distracted me with pleasant talk. Carries over. Thank goodness. Never again.
I was beat, but there were some technical obstacles up next, and I had to maintain my focus. I ran downhill and vaulted over the inverted wall before heading into the tent to the Force 5 Rig. I had done well on this during the 3K and hoped to do well again. Fortunately, I did. The underhand grip on the rectangular blocks worked well once more, and I made my way through with focus and intentionality.
Next up was La Gaffe and the low crawl up to Skitch, just like on the 3K. I had some time for trial and error on Skitch on Friday and was able to fly through during the 15K without any issue.
I was feeling optimistic at this point in the race. Most of the challenging upcoming obstacles were ones that I have managed the previous day. Up next were a couple other obstacles from the 3K, Skull Valley followed by the rope climb. The 15K course then diverged from the 3K course to take us up to a tall wall with a rope. The top of the wall was significantly thick for added difficulty.
I jogged along lightly uphill until I came along to Stairway to Heaven, an a-frame with steps that you have to ascend with your hands. I had been pleased to do well on this obstacle at OCRWC and hadn’t given it much thought since then since I had been doing similar / enhanced training. When I approached the obstacle I felt a bit of concern. The steps that had been easy for me to reach at OCRWC, so I was displeased to see that they started quite a bit higher and that the angle of the steps seemed adjusted with more space at top and between steps. The volunteer was telling racers that we could use our legs to get started. I braced myself against the two boards with my legs and shimmied up until I got my hands around the first step. I did a series of pull-ups to move up the stairs with my hands until I got to the top step. I went to transition and couldn’t make it. The reach! Back down to the ground. I couldn’t believe it. I had my band. I had done a bunch of really hard obstacles. I had done this obstacle before without any issue! Many times in fact.
I stayed at Stairway to Heaven and tried again and again and again. Over time, my body began to shake with fatigue. I took a break for water and tried again. Then it started to rain. At this point, I made the decision to move on. It was a difficult choice, but, I think, it was the right one. I felt sad as the volunteer cut the band off my wrist. I had done a lot of hold onto this band. I was at around the 12K mark and had obstacles that I had completed before ahead of me. However, with the rain, I knew things were going to get hard. I was exhausted, and I needed to finish. A fellow racer gave me a pat on the back and said, “Good job.” I super appreciated that lady’s support!
I trekked uphill. I was spent, but I kept a positive mental attitude and moved forward, though I couldn’t believe we had to walk up the mountain again. I just wanted to keep moving. After what seemed like ages and ages of climbing, I came to two obstacles. The first was Z-man, a set of horizontal board making a z-shape, shifted 90 degrees. I climbed over no problem and ran over to the next obstacle, top shelf. This obstacle had racers climb to a board using a rope and then climb over a board right above it. Both of these obstacles were fine, even in my tired state.
I ran along until I reached a wall with a rope. I had done something like this at Shale Hill many times, so I confidently made it over the wall. Following that, the course map had stated we’d come to a cargo net, but I didn’t see it on course. I continued onward running as best I could on super exhausted legs. I just wanted to finish. I came to the caving ladders, which I quickly ascended.
I knew that from there we had about a mile and a half to go. I had to do this. We met back up with the 3K course, so I knew what to expect. I headed over to Trapeze. At this point the rain was really coming down and the rigs were all soaked. I had made it through Trapeze with zero problem during the 3K but with the rain, I kept rolling off the monkey bar section. I made it about 2/3 of the way through, tried around three times and decided to move on to the rope climb, which proved just fine. Next up was the second rig. The first set of rings went well, but the low rectangular bars were super slick, and I couldn’t make it to the ropes, despite multiple attempts. I wanted to save something for the team relay the next day, so I moved on to the floating walls, which I was able to make my way through, slowly but steadily.
I came up to Urban Sky where I made, again, multiple attempts before deciding I was too exhausted and the rig was too wet for my efforts to have gains. I had only missed four obstacles on the entire 15K course, and I had given it significant effort. I was satisfied. I ran up to Car Jacked, rolled over the cars, and up to the final obstacle, The Knot. I ran as best I could at the slip wall, which was wet. I slid down, re-tried, and made it to the rope. I pulled myself up and over and ran across the finish line. I was so relieved to do done!
I finished the 15K course in 4:31 with only four obstacle failures — one of which I had done last year and three of which I had done the day before in better weather. I had put forth a significant effort and showed improvement. When I had failed an obstacle, I was able to keep a good attitude and motivation and move on. I also recognize that there are definitely some areas for improvement next year. When I posted my results to the tool that I use with my coaches I finished out my post-workout comments by writing, “Brainstorming 15K NorAm 2019 goals… How do you feel about pull-up negatives? ;-)” 2019 NorAm Champs? I can’t wait.