If you know me personally, you’ll know how excited I get leading up to a race. I will talk about it non-stop in the week prior and be almost jumping out of my skin on race day.
I was patiently waiting for those feelings in the week leading up to the 2017 Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) but they never came.
I’d decided not to run the 3km short course on the Friday so I spent the day saying hello to friends and wallowing in my own misery thanks to a cold that hit me the day before. My sneezing and coughing got worse throughout the day and by nightfall I was questioning whether I should still compete in the three races I had signed up for.
2017 has been a challenging year for me personally as I’ve been at home and unable to race. The lack of training and racing has led me to have a negative mindset in relation to racing, and when combined with a cold it meant I had no desire to do anything but curl up in a ball and sleep. I’d travelled halfway around the world for my third OCRWC and I didn’t want to compete? What is going on?
I had to make a conscious choice to run and enjoy myself no matter what, so that night I downed some cold and flu tablets, packed my gear and prepared for a long slog the next day.
On the Saturday morning, I put on my race gear, grabbed my breakfast and we were out the door. After two naps in the van and many hugs, I was standing in the corral at 2:45pm, ready to give up my band, but determined to finish.
As the Journeymen and Journeywomen headed off, I started jogging and promised myself to walk the uphill and run the flats and downhills. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep my band, but I would give everything a go at least three times before moving on. My band was safely attached to my wrist as we had low hurdles and barbed wire crawls to start, but as I approached the first big wall I knew I was done for.
The weather had been less than ideal and there had been light rain throughout the day before I started my race. The wall and the rope were both slippery and after three attempts I was done. I wasn’t just done with the obstacle, but with the race. In that moment I wanted to walk off the course as I’d done nothing to prepare myself for being there – both physically and mentally.
The tears welled in my eyes, but before I could cry I noticed a girl stuck at the top of a wall, sobbing as she didn’t know how to get down. In that moment I knew exactly how she felt for I’d been in the exact position in 2015. As her friend re-climbed the wall to help her, participants and volunteers stood under the wall to help her down. She finally made it and we later went on to complete the course together.
The course weaved up and down the side of the mountain, and the mud made the climbs difficult as with every step forwards you’d slide backwards. We joked that we’d take a time penalty or give up our bands to not have to climb the last giant hill, but eventually we pushed through and made it to the top.
The first half of the course consisted of hills, walls and barbed wire crawls. It led us through the trees and then back down towards the festival area where the monkey bars and another wall were waiting. The rain had started about 40 minutes into the run and showed no sign of stopping. By the time I reached the monkey bars only one person had got through successfully from the Journeyman division as they were impossible to grip on to.
I was questioning my sanity as I trudged along through the rain, but grateful that I’d decided to bring my Gore-Tex jacket with me on the course. The rain was warm but the wind was cold, and when you’re sick it’s definitely not a good combination. I picked up a small sandbag for the farmer’s carry and tried not to fall flat on my face as I walked it up and down the side of the mountain.
I caught up with the girl from earlier in the race and she introduced herself as Kelly. We started chatting about the rain and how much we wanted to finish, but we both had serious doubts about making the 5 hour cut-off. All we could do was keep walking, so we headed back up the mountain towards Stairway to Heaven, another wall, traverse walls, and finally Urban Sky at the top. Again, the rain made it impossible to hold onto anything, so I just kept giving my number to the volunteers and walked on.
My mind was torn – on one hand I was fed up and didn’t want to be on course, but on the other hand I wanted to try and get as much done as I could and finish the race. It seemed that a lot of other Journeymen were in the same boat. We had no idea how we’d get through – but we knew we’d do it together.
By the time I reached my arch nemesis – Dragon’s Back – it was far too wet to even attempt. So I walked on by, promising to conquer it again next year.
As we started the descent through the trees the rain started coming down even harder. It was getting darker and harder to see, so after I tripped on a tree root I pulled out my head torch and we continued on. Eventually we had to give up on the idea of running or even walking, as we all succumbed to sliding down the hills on our bums as it was too slippery to get down any other way.
At one point one guy came sliding down the hill so fast that he almost took out Kelly, and would’ve slidden off an embankment if I hadn’t have grabbed him in time. We were all cold, hungry and tired as we finally reached the bottom of the mountain after an hour of sliding on the path and bushwhacking through the trees to avoid slipping.
A volunteer pointed us towards the finish as we walked past more closed obstacles and grumbled that we never got a chance to try all the rigs. By the time we reached the last few obstacles we were told they too were closed, so we crossed the finish line, got a medal and then headed for food and warmth.
I was glad to have made it before the 5-hour cut-off, but so disappointed that the terrible weather meant I missed out on so much of the course. I’m pretty sure the words out of my mouth when I crossed the finish line were “fuck that!”. On one hand I felt like I didn’t deserve the medal as I missed/failed so many obstacles, but on the other hand I felt like I did deserve it because of the hell that I went through with my fellow Journeymen and women.
Being out on course reminded me of why I love this sport and reignited my passion, even if it was a huge mental and physical struggle to get through. Despite being sick, the crap weather and my inability to complete obstacles, I was glad to have been out there. But the gratitude didn’t come easy. I had to make the choice to keep going, I had to make the choice to stop the tears, and I had to make the choice to see the light in the darkness. Nobody else could do that for me.
This race wasn’t just any other OCR – it was a world championships race that made me question so much about myself. It made me question my motives. It made me question my training. It made me question the choices that I have made leading up to that point. The questioning has made me realise that I need to change. I need to become stronger – physically, mentally and emotionally. If I choose the path of more resistance now, it will lead me to the path of least resistance later.
SUNDAY – TEAM RACE AND MAKE-A-WISH 7km
On a brighter side, Sunday’s races were fun!
I was grateful that my gorgeous friend Amy Bortoff was able to join my team so we could cross another finish line together, this time with no tears! We were joined by Steven the Canadian, to create an international team.
Amy had the endurance leg so she ran off to tackle the huge hills before I had the pleasure of doing the farmer’s and wreckbag carries. Going up the hills was a challenge as I tried not to slip backwards, but coming down was even more challenging as I tried not to fall flat on my face or straight onto my back.
Steven took on the technical portion before we all conquered the final wall and crossed the finish line together – with all our bands intact.
For the Make-A-Wish run, I joined team Legendborne for the second year in a row. We walked, we crawled and we laughed our way through all the obstacles and up all those fantastic hills (once again).
The most heard comment on course was “I didn’t realise I’d signed up for a Tough Mudder!” Everyone was surprised at just how muddy the course was!
The rain returned an hour into our plod, but our spirits remained were high as people helped each other over walls and up the hills and pushed through together. Trails were now slip-and-slides or mud pits and the obstacles were nearly impossible to complete, but we all gave it a go!
Crossing that finish line for a third time was an awesome feeling. All the doubts I’d had on Friday were gone and I embraced being in the moment with my friends.
Type: Obstacle Course Race
Distance: 3km, 15km, 7km (team and Make-A-Wish)
Location: Blue Mountains, Ontario, Canada
Date: 13-15 October 2017