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Featured Review: North American OCR Championships 2019 – Team Relay & Charity Open

Sunday of a race weekend is always tough. You’re sore. You’re tired. You’re probably “hangry.” Perhaps you just want to get home and settle yourself on your coach under your cat with a book and some tea. And there’s one more day of racing.

The final day of the North American OCR Championships featured the team relay and the charity 7K events. The team relay allowed for groups of three, where participants specialized in the areas of speed (i.e. climbing the mountain), strength (i.e. doing some heavy carries), or technical (i.e. rigs and obstacles). This was my third year as a member of the team Tiny^2 + 1, which consisted of Niki on speed, Steve on strength, and me on technical. My body was one massive ache. This was going to be an interesting day. 

The co-ed team wave was scheduled to go off at 10:15 a.m., leaving us time to coordinate checking out of our rental and heading over to the venue. For the third day in a row we had some really nice weather. It was sunny with mild temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s.

At 10:15 a.m., Steve and I saw Niki to the starting chorral and cheered as she went out for her leg of the relay. Last year, the team relay had taken us around three hours, so I knew there was some time to kill. That being said, we anticipated being faster. Niki had recovered from her injury, plus the speed section was not quite as long. In fact, the team relay seemed to be much better balanced that last year. The speed section was a reasonable distance, the strength portion was beefed up with more obstacles than just one Wreck Bag carry, and the technical section — always the strongest design-wise in the past — remained much the same as past years and was a portion of the 3K course.

I used some of my free time at the venue to do some shopping. I have been talking a lot about having 2020 be all about training for OCR and, with no good OCR gym near my house, I wanted to get some gear. I ended up at the Force5 tent where I got a good deal on some rings, a t-grip, a pipe, and a short rope, all of which I can attach to a set of monkey bars at a playground near me for some quality grip and swinging training to keep up my obstacle fitness when I’m not at races. 

After dropping my purchases (seriously the most shopping I have done all year) in my car, Steve and I headed up to meet Niki. I made a quick detour to the restroom on the way and was below the transition when Steve zoomed by, Niki having arrived seconds before and ahead of her projected time. We were definitely on schedule to be faster than last year, if our non-competitive group cared about such things. Nevertheless, Niki ran an awesome race, and I was excited for her!

Steve was out on the course, which meant I was up next. I checked my bag for $5 and headed to the team exchange point where a bunch of NES folks were hanging out. We chatted as I waited for Steve. Niki spotted him as he set off for the Wreck Bag carry, the final portion of the strength section. She ran up the hill to wait. About 15 minutes later, they were charging down the hill. Steve handed me the timing chip. I attached it to my ankle and jogged off. 

Every step hurt as I ran. My quads were slabs of pain. My biceps and back ached with each impact. I arrived at La Gaffe. My body was so stiff from the last two days that I couldn’t really get my legs around the pole. I tried with all my might to climb high enough to ring the bell and kept sliding down. No go.

From there I made my way to Underdog, which had been adjusted again for the third day of racing, this time with a rope, to monkey bars, to a pair of vertical cargo nets (instead of just one). A bunch of NES folks were around cheering me on. With their encouragement, I hauled myself up and, using painful hands, made my way across the monkey bars and to one net and then the next. I rang the bell. I had made it. 

Skull Valley and Gibbon did not treat my aching body well, but I knew that after Stairway to Heaven, I might have a fighting chance. I made several attempts on Skull Valley, where I made it half way, and then on Gibbon before heading up the hill to do a low crawl and then examine Stairway to Heaven. In my tired state there was just no way, though I tried.

The rope wall with the oddly positioned rope was next. It took almost max effort, but I dragged myself up and over and ran down the hill to the next obstacle. I was starting to warm up a little and even though every step hurt, I was at least able to get some response from my body on the obstacles. 

I tackled the balance logs and ran down to Little Foot. A bunch of NES friends were hanging out at the obstacle and shouting for me. Having everyone there gave me such a mental boost. I love how supportive NES is for everyone. The camaraderie is great! With all this encouragement, there was no way that I was going to miss Little Foot. I sailed along, rang the bell, and hopped off at the end.

Over Under was next and, once again, happy to be enjoying the company of my team, I zipped through. 

Next up was Tricky Swiss. I made my way along, though my arms were feeling pretty beaten up. After finishing with a bell ring, Niki and Steve joined me for the last three obstacles that we were supposed to complete as a team.

We slid over the parked cars for Car Jacked and then ran through the center of the Stratton village to Urban Sky. In order for a team to keep their bands, all athletes had to make it through the team obstacle. (Note: I have heard some back and forth on this. Some reports say that everyone loses their bands if the team doesn’t all get through Urban Sky; other reports say that if you have your band getting to Urban Sky and make it through as an individual that’s fine, even if other teammates fail.) I knew that with my hands and arms the way they were, I wasn’t going to make it far on Urban Sky; however, there was little pressure beyond the want to do one’s best as all three of us had already lost our bands earlier on the course. Niki and I gave Urban Sky a try and didn’t make it super far, but Steve nailed it 100%. 

The last obstacle was the giant slip wall. Unlike during the 3K and 15K, there were no ropes for you to pull yourself up. Instead, we had to make a pyramid of people. Steve and Niki sent me up to the top first. From there, Niki was able to grab my legs and climb up. Finally, I held onto Niki from over the top of the wall as Steve used her to climb up. It was probably the most efficient we’ve ever been on the final wall!

We crossed the finish in 2:12:21, our fasted team time yet.

NorAm Championships and OCRWC always finish the weekend with a charity 7K fun run to benefit a local non-profit, in this case the Stratton Foundation, which provides support for families challenged by poverty through efforts like food banks, educational support, and clothing. 

The truth is that by the time the charity run comes along, there’s next to no one on the NES interested in tackling a trip up the mountain again. This is true for many other athletes as well. The goal here is to give money to charity. Running the exact course is not important since the “7K” is not timed in any way. 

As with past years, we opted to stay at the bottom of the mountain and walked around 1.25 miles in just under an hour. This was a time to goof off. Niki, Steve, and I headed out with a fellow NES member, Adam, who had stayed at the same house in Stratton with us over the weekend. We were a motley crew, bumbling along, legs and arms not quite working right. 

The 7K course is basically the same as the team relay, and we more or less covered the same ground as I had just raced. It was a fun time to hang out and recap the weekend’s festivities.

NorAm Championships is one of the premiere events in our sport, only topped by OCRWC, in my opinion. It is such a privilege to get to race at this event. 2019’s NorAm races were not the athletic success that I had in 2018, but I think I learned a lot. I learned how I’m not the kind of athlete that can be ready for both ultras and OCR if I want to do well at the latter. I also was reminded of how OCR is my real passion. I cannot wait to begin training for 2020 so as to be more obstacle dominant. One of the first things I did upon returning home was to email my coach at Hart Strength & Endurance Coaching to chat about my 2020 training goals. What better can be said about an event than that it inspires you to train harder and with more specificity?

As of the writing of this post, the 2020 location for NorAm OCR Championships has yet to be announced. OCRWC tends to move every two years, and NorAm has been at Stratton for two years, which leaves me anticipating a change of venue. That being said, there’s no reason that NorAm has to follow any two year rule. I would love to race age group at NorAm in 2020, pending a location that doesn’t require lengthy travel — Stratton would be great. Either way, I will always watch how this event unfolds and will spend the next year training with the idea of addressing gaps I saw at this event. If NorAm OCR Championships is anywhere I can get to in 2020, I want compete and crush it!

(Note: NES photos credited to Vince Rhee.)

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