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Featured Review: North American OCR Championships 2018 – 3K

Shaina and Aaron at NorAm OCR Champs start

The story of my 3K race at the North American OCR Championships begins with the past. In October 2017, I traveled to Canada to participate in the OCR World Championships. I had trained hard. I thought I was ready. But I wasn’t. The course was harder than I anticipated and the difference between my expectations for my success and reality were mentally challenging. I had been convinced I would keep at least one of my bands — the symbol for having 100% obstacle completion. I was so focused on this goal that, in some ways, I let my enjoyment of the experience slip me by.

I came back from Canada convinced not to let that happen again. My thoughts were two-fold. I wanted to train smarter (since I was training hard enough). I also wanted to adjust my expectations. To this end, in December, I recruited professional help by enlisting Hart Strength & Endurance Coaching. I got a training log and started recording all my workout meticulously. I also did mental work around goal setting and making sure that the goals I created were not too singular. There had to be many definitions around success and incremental levels to track growth.

My target race was the North American OCR Championships. I had qualified for both this race and the World Championships in August at F.I.T. Challenge but with OCRWC traveling to London, I was going to focus on a more local effort. I wanted to do well at the NorAm Champs and put in a performance where I felt I had given 100% effort. I wanted to race and feel good about my results.

The 2018 NorAm Championships are taking place as I write this in Stratton, Vermont. Stratton is only a 105 minute drive from my home, meaning I was able to drive up Friday morning before my 9:45 a.m. wave for the 30 – 39 women. I arrived at Stratton in plenty of time, which was a good thing since it was a bit challenging to figure out where I needed to be. I ended up driving around and asking for directions. The NorAm Champs main area was located right near the heart of the Stratton ski lodge. I found parking and walked around until I found check-in.

Unlike at OCR Championships, the check-in was entirely stress-free. Not only was I able to walk right up to the registration area, but friendly faces were behind the counter in the form of fellow NE Spahtens, Niki and Sandy. I had registered for the Friday 3K, the Saturday 15K, and the Sunday team relay and charity races. I got four bibs and three bands for the 3K, 15K, and team relay.

After getting my packets, I went over and got my t-shirts. I was excited to find that we got different ones for each race. I have three identical shirts from OCRWC, plus one different one for the OCRWC charity run. From NorAm, I’ll have four unique shirts with different colors, all marked with their distance. Because registration had been so smooth, I had plenty of time before my wave. I chose to take the time to organize the items I had gotten at registration, try to relax, and check my bag. I am not usually nervous before I race, but this was a race where I wanted to do well, and the result was some stress. I wanted to channel that feeling to keep focused and energized on the course.

A little before 9:45 a.m., I headed over to the starting area. One thing I have never liked is how loud music at the starting gate is at races. It’s painful (and bad for people’s hearing). I was happy to see that Coach Pain had been replaced with a new starting line person. I am not one for getting amped up with an MC at the starting line, but I was happy to not have to be offended by Coach Pain, who struck me as a bit of a misogynist at OCRWC.

The 3K was designed so that sets of around a dozen people went out at a time, meaning that the entire wave would start over the period of ten minutes or so. I was fortunate enough to be in the first set of 12 at the starting gate. I was ready to get moving and pleased when announcements were over and we were sent out on the course.

The 3K (1.8 mile) course started with a modest climb. (Note: I logged the course at more like 2.5 miles, but maybe I just did a lot of back and forth?) I was not particularly fast out of the gate, but I persistently jogged uphill passing a few folks. I was in this to complete obstacles, not to worry about my time. I will never be the fastest athlete, but I wanted to have quality obstacle completion. The weather was perfect. It was cloudy with a little bit of a breeze and temperatures right around 70 degrees. It felt like the first nice day in weeks, and I was pleased to be outdoors doing something I enjoy. Soon, I hit the first set of obstacles, a 4′ wall, and then a 6′ wall a little farther down the course. From there, it was a bit of a downhill jog to the Wreckbag carry. I am not a fan of carries, which I always find super challenging and, which tend to slow me down. It took me a while to shoulder the 50 lb Wreckbag, but, once I did, I wanted to move as efficiently as I could so as to get it off my back. The Wreckbag carry was long enough while still being manageable.

I was a bit tired from the carry, but two obstacles were immediately up next. First, there was an inverted wall. Because it was downhill, I was able to get a good running start and jump to grab the top without too much issue. From there, racers proceeded into a tent where we would face our first technical obstacle of the day, the Force 5 Rig. On my way over to the starting line, I had watched a few of the men come in and tackle this obstacle, and was a bit concerned at how challenging it appeared. It would definitely make or break a lot of people’s attempts to keep their band. The Force 5 Rig featured a t-shaped grip that transitioned to a flat rectangular wide grip. From there, racers transitions to a wildly swinging wheel before moving back to a t-shaped grip and then a flat wide grip.

When I approached the Force 5 Rig, I tried to focus and calm myself. I’d been doing a lot of grip strength intensive exercises, and this is where that work could pay off. I climbed the platform so that I could reach up and grab the t-grip. It was a stretch but possible, which was a relief since looking at the rig before I was unsure if the reach would be too far for me. I was happy to see that it was not. In fact, NorAm did a fantastic job making it possible for shorter athletes like me to reach everything. (Note: I am 5 feet tall.) I give race director, Adrian Bijanada, and the OCR Champs team huge props for this. Thank you. I greatly struggled getting onto obstacles that I could have completed at OCRWC. At NorAm Champs, I was given the chance to test myself on these obstacle because the height was not a hindrance.

I took a decent swing, and I was on the rig. I opted for an underhand hold on the rectangular grip, an approach which had seemed to have the highest level of success. It worked. I swung immediately to the wheel, not wanting to lose momentum. From there, I grabbed the next t-shaped hold. I was a bit shaky, so I took a moment to steady myself and kip to get a good grab of the final, most challenging, rectangular grip. I held on with all my worth and smacked the bell. I had done it. I had completed an obstacle I legitimately did not think was possible for me. I felt weak with relief and so drained that I was nauseous for a spell. I walked and tried to regroup. This was still just the beginning of the race.

Up next was La Gaffe, an interesting obstacle with poles that racers had to hang on and move with the weight of their body. I had found this obstacle to be different and interesting at OCRWC and was glad it was at NorAm Champs. I got through without difficulty, knowing from experience, that the obstacle is a lot easier if you keep your center of gravity low on the pole.

I ran over to the low crawl that went up the hill. No fake barbed wire here — this as the real stuff but not too low. I was quite curious about the next obstacle, Skitch. It had been the focus of much social media attention. I had carefully watched a video in which the NorAm crew talked about technique. Skitch featured two horizontal rods. Racers had to take hooks with straight handles and work them down one pole, while hanging from below, then transition to the second pole and move along it to a bell. In the video on the NorAm site, this obstacle seemed “do-able” but when I came to the obstacle, there was a mass of people in the re-try lane. The transition from the lower to the upper bar was quite challenging, and I had to give Skitch multiple attempts. I kept having my hook on the lower bar supporting the transition slip off. It was fairly hard getting both hooks off the high-up poles at my height, and I was worried about them crashing into my face. I tried Skitch about a half dozen times before I successfully made the transition — practice made perfect, I guess. Rumors are that there were some injuries at Skitch, such as pinched fingers and people getting hit by falling hooks, so I might guess that this obstacle gets adjusted for tomorrow.

Next up was Skull Valley. This obstacle had bested me at OCRWC based on issues of height accessibility. As a result, I was beyond pleased to see that for NorAm Champs Skull Valley featured a low ring that I could step into so as to access the main Skull Valley obstacle. Turns out, Skull Valley, if you can get on it, is super fun and not too bad. I had a fun time swinging from skull-shaped hand-grips to some short monkey bars to another set of skull grips. Good times.

I was starting to feel as though I might have a chance to keep my band. All I needed was some focus, luck, and persistence. I still had some tough obstacles to go. I had a job to do. Up next was Trapeze, a fun rig featuring a trapeze, uneven monkey bars, and another trapeze. Just the kind of rig that I enjoy. I breezed through.

The stress of wanting to do well at this race had me breathing heavy, so I took a few minutes to walk and recollect myself as I headed to the rope climb. This was your standard rope climb, so I did the s-hook and worked my way up. From there, I headed over to Rig 1, which featured rings and a rope to low monkey bars to another set of four ropes, two of which had knots at the bottom. I took a brief rest on one of those knotted ropes to breath before swinging my way to the final bell.

From there I quickly came to the Floating Walls. This had been my highlight obstacle from OCRWC — super fun! I made my way through.

As I came down the cargo net on the back on the Floating Walls, I saw Urban Sky. This was the last complicated rig of the day, and it was a doozy. Urban Sky had three sections, with breaks in between. The first section was a wheel to a ring to an angled wheel to a rope. I swag my way across and stopped to shake out my arms before doing the cork-screw section. The last section was the most challenging with a trapeze to two horizontal levers that angled with the weight of your body. I kipped to make a long reach to the last trapeze and hit the bell. I had done it. Urban Sky had bested me at OCRWC but this time it was no problem. I was so pleased. I knew I was going to keep my band, the culmination of almost a year of goal setting and training. I don’t consider myself an emotional person, but I felt a bit choked up.

I raced over to Car Jacked, where I rolled my way over two wrecked cars. The last obstacle was in sight, The Knot, a slip wall with a rope. I dashed up and across the finish line. I couldn’t believe it as the announcer shouted out about how I was a racer who had kept my band and finished 100% of the obstacles. Other than Skitch, I’d gotten them all on the first try.

Athletics loves to celebrate stories of people who have hard work pay off. It’s great when that happens. That’s what happened at the 3K race at NorAm Champs for me this year. But shouldn’t we also celebrate the process? I learned a lot from the hard work that didn’t pay off at OCRWC last year. Some days you win and some days you lose. The wins are great. The loses are not, and the kind of learning it provides isn’t fun, but it can pay off. It helped me become very intentional this year with my training, something that I’ve found to be a joy throughout the process because the effort I put in feels like growth.

Tomorrow, I’ll race the 15K course at NorAm Champs. Maybe it will be my day. Maybe it won’t. But I’m excited, focused, and ready to give it my all.

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