40 obstacles. 15 kilometers. Over 3,000 feet of elevation. The 2019 North American OCR Championships 15K beat me down like very few races have.
Saturday morning dawned perfect for racing. Temperatures were in the 50s and wouldn’t get out of the mid-60s. There was a mix of sun and clouds. I was sore from my efforts of the previous day, but I was determined that I would give the 15K race my all.
The women’s 30 – 34 age group had a great start time at 9:15 a.m. I headed to the NorAm venue at Stratton Mountain about half an hour before my wave start — I was staying a quick five minute drive away in a house with a bunch of my fellow NES teammates. Having half an hour free allowed for time for some pre-race mental focusing, bathroom usage, and to check my bag. I also purchased a pair of NorAm goodr sunglasses. I’ve been wanting to get prescription glasses with transition lenses for running but, at the moment, can’t justify the expense. These $25 running shades fit the bill.
I joined NES friend, Niki, in the starting corral. As I mentioned, we were a bit beat up from yesterday but we were going to get this done. In fact, Niki and I ran most of the race together, true battle buddies. While the first half we kept leap frogging each other, the second half we were in lock step.
The 2019 NorAm course was somewhat similar to last year. The race started by taking us up a short climb, after which we did some low hurdles. Then it was up, up, up. In fact, the first three kilometers (around two miles) was mostly climbing with only one obstacle, a ladder wall called Confidence Climb, to break it up. It was a slog, taking an hour to get from the base of Stratton to the summit. Like last year, I was not enthusiastic about starting the race in this way; however, listening to an interview with race organizer Adrian Bijanada has given me at least an understanding of how necessary this climb is so that obstacles can be effectively and safely placed.
Finally, after a grueling hour, I reached the summit and was brought face to face with Skitch, an obstacle where you had to take two hooks and move them along a horizontal pole to the end. I hadn’t worried too much about Skitch, which I got with limited problem at NorAm in 2018 on the 3K and 15K courses. Mistake. Skitch of 2019 had some slight adjustments that had an impact on my performance. Unlike the previous year when I had been easily able to slide my hooks along the horizontal pole, my hooks this year would not move an inch. I kept falling off and falling off. We were only 3 miles into a 9+ mile race and only at obstacle three of 40. I had to move on. As on Friday, I was displeased at losing my band so soon and renewed my commitment to adjust my training for next year to resume more OCR and decrease my ultra running.
I quickly tackled a slant wall before heading over to the Force5 rig from last year with a trapeze, t-grip, wheel, t-grip, and trapeze. I had nailed this last year. The reach to start seemed a bit more this year (or perhaps it was me) and already my arms were extremely pre-fatigued from the previous day. I didn’t have it in me.
Up next was a low rig with monkey bars, a t-grip, and a pole. I was prepared to do well here, having
done just fine on the low rig last year. But again I failed.
These early failures gave me a lot to think about as I headed back down the mountain. Training specificity matters, and I was not as prepared for this race physically as I thought I had been. I needed a plan for next year. I was composing an email in my head to my coaches and thinking about acquiring new tools — perhaps a set of rings to bring to the playground near my house? That being said, I remembered my mental training efforts and didn’t beat myself up or “live in the past.” The race was ongoing, and it was important to be focused on what was important now. Doing as well as I could do in the present.
Midway down the hill I made my way up and over the big ramp and over to the next rig. This rig was similar to last year but instead of having rings hanging from square monkey bars, you had to be able to kip up to the bars. Another failure. I headed over to the short farmer’s carry, which went off without incident. Then it was over to hi/low, a basic obstacle where we had to walk along with our hands on a pole and our feet on the other. We did some crawl jacks, and continued to head down the mountain to meet up with the beginning of the 3K course from the other day.
Racers crawled over the 8′ wall and were back at the a-frame with rings, Valkyrie. My luck was no better than the previous day, despite a few attempts. I was beat. After a 6′ wall, the Wreck Bag carry was next, longer than the previous day. Instead of terminating at the crawl, we had to continue up the mountain a stretch. I labored up, and it was agony. At the top, I sat down for a second and decided to drag my Wreck Bag back down — I couldn’t stand the idea of it on my shoulders for one more second. It was slow, but it worked. I made the carry in 15 minutes, not bad for someone as small as I am who traditionally takes ages on carries.
Next was La Gaffe with its set of three poles. I did a way better job here than the previous day and made it through on my first try, transitioning to to a high point on the wood post to make the last swing possible.
I jogged over to Underdog, which had been adjusted from the previous day, the cargo net now hanging vertically instead of being strung up horizontally. This actually worked to my advantage! I climbed the rope, made it across the monkey bars, and sat myself in the net to rest. I swung myself under and did the last monkey bar to hit the bell. Finally; a success!
Skull Valley followed, though, alas, my grip was toast at this point and I didn’t make it through like the previous day. I was, again, unable to get Gibbon, but after a few attempts knew to continue on. Niki and I made our way through the crawl jacks and jogged up the mountain a little bit. It was time for Stairway to Heaven, where I would not be any luckier than the previous day. I was, again, racking up obstacle failures, but I was getting so tired, it was hard to figure out how to be successful.
We started climbing again for yet another trip up the mountain, though — thank goodness — not to the summit. There was a basic through wall and then trapeze, a rig with trapezes and monkey bars. I was tired but determined and, somehow, made my way across. Obstacle complete!
Niki and I made our way to Top Shelf, a wall with a rope tied to a trust above it. We climbed our way up the wall and then over the very top of the obstacle. With our tired grip this was not an inconsequential obstacle. We ran up the mountain some more and by ran I mean walked and by walked I mean slogged. At the top of the slog was Triumph.
Triumph is the updated version of Dragon’s Back. If you read my recap of the 15K from 2018, you’ll know that Dragon’s Back sparked huge fear in me. I eventually made it last year. I wanted to keep my band, and I was determined to make it. This year, I was exhausted, and I could not bring myself emotionally to get up there. (I had also spent Sunday night cowered in fear as bats circled my house over Ben and my heads and that contributed to not being willing to be so fearful again.) While it is some kind of failure that I didn’t get up there, in my mental state it was all I could do to move on. Let me be clear: This race sounds like failure after failure, but I was, in fact, trying much harder than at most races where I have been more successful. It’s harder to keep focused, positive, and moving during a hard race than one where you’re cruising along. It took great mental and physical energy each time I came to an obstacle to try it with all the effort I had.
Next, I ran over to the rope climb, which was a quick vertical gain. Then it was over to another rig, starting with a horizontal pipe and then some monkey bars. I made it along the pipe but my grip was too trashed to move on — I kept falling off.
This was immediately followed by a 50 pound Wreck Bag hoist, which was, fortunately, not too tall. We then moved fairly immediately again to some metal ladders before starting to head down the hill. We hit an inverted wall, which took all I had to get over. From there, we continued down the mountain to meet up with the 3K course for the final part of the race. Before that was a gapped ladder wall, which Niki and I did in perfect sync, impressing passerbyers.
We met up with the 3K course at the rope wall. This wall had the rope at an awkward placement and took some effort the previous day. I tried but ended up coming back down. I almost never have problems with walls, but I was that drained. From there it was over to balance logs, which we crossed without much issue. At this point a brief rain shower started. It was cold and wet. We made our way to Little Foot. With the wet, I slipped off on the second traverse. I was almost ready to give up, but the volunteer on this obstacle was amazing. He gave me tips and told me that I could do it as I made my way through. With his encouragement, even in my super tired state, I made it. I was so grateful and happy. Kudos to that guy for his help. He assisted my race for sure.
We jogged to the over under obstacle, which was soaking wet metal. I had been able to make this obstacle the previous day. I dragged myself along the wet obstacle and transitioned to the under section and did alright. On the second transition to get back on top, right near the end of the obstacle, I slipped off the wet poles. I was too tired to try again.
Niki and I made our way to Tricky Swiss with it’s swinging walls with holes and rings. At this point, my body was so tired that it was shaking everywhere. I made it through the first set of walls, across the rings, and to the second set of walls. I was hanging from the last set of rings when my grip just entirely gave out. I could not try again even though I had been just one wall from the end.
We had only a few obstacles left — I had rarely been so relieved to almost be done. We ran over the car for Car Jacked. Then we made our way through the Stratton Villiage and to Urban Sky. I was still shaking from fatigue and was able to do not much more than hang and swing a tiny bit.
There was one obstacle left: the last slip wall. Niki and I jogged over. I made it over and cheered Niki on as she made a few attempts. The announcer called our names as we crossed the finish line. I was exhausted and beyond pleased to be finished.
NorAm’s 15K course challenged me like few other races have done. I was completely wiped out by this course. The elevation and the obstacles were hugely challenging. My training was not quite right to dominate this course — having been better aligned for ultra running this season — and I think that was a part of the difficulties of the day. To be honest, this was a bit inspiring. It reminded me of how fun it is to do OCR when you’ve trained for it. I am so ready to switch to training that is 100% (or nearly 100%) focused on OCR. I want to swing with a sense of flow, climb strong, and enjoy doing well at OCR competition. 2020. I think we have a goal!
(Note: A huge thanks to all my fellow NE Spahtens who provided awesome pictures for this post.)