Friday, October 23, 2015

My Journey to the Center of the (OCR) World - OCR World Championships 2015

I've never been to an Olympics, but this had all the feel I would expect of an Olympic event.  From the very first minute I showed up at Kings Domain in Oregonia, OH (permanent site for Mud, Guts and Glory) for the OCR World Championships (OCRWC) build, I knew something was different from any other obstacle course venue I had been on.  That difference would become more and more pronounced as the week went on, culminating in an incredible event and a personal journey of international discovery.

Within minutes of arriving on site Monday, after driving 7 hours up from NC, I was already at work.  Just lending a hand moving around a few partially built obstacles for finishing and painting.  There still seemed quite a lot to do but I figured, hey...we have four more days and that should be plenty of time for a build crew to finish...right?  Shortly after this I got some good news, there would be room to put me up on site.  This fact would make a huge difference for the rest of the week as we'd be putting in very long days!!  I was also a bit surprised when the race founder, Adrian Bijanada, and Mud Run Guide founder Brett Stewart invited me to tag along with many of the staff for dinner that night.  We'd never met before and this was just another indication that "I wasn't in Kansas" anymore.

Tuesday morning was my introduction to the realities of the OCRWC build.  I would say that we had a skeleton build crew but that would be an insult to skeletons everywhere.  What we lacked in the core crew though, we more than made up for in volunteers.  Not the volunteers you normally expect to see on builds either (which I do regularly myself).  These were some of the racers who had arrived early in the week...many of which were international racers.  And by no means new to OCR builds.  They were as comfortable with tools and on the machines as they were on the course.  In some cases I was actually working next to international race directors and even founders of international races.

And I was learning more every day about who was who at the OCRWC.  A bit of a humbling experience when you follow the sport as closely I do and find out how much there is still to know.  A feeling that started at my very first race this summer in Barre.  This sport is exploding...the big-bang of OCR...expanding so fast that there are few people that really know what's going on in every aspect.  But that's a whole 'nother topic.

One thing I was learning very quickly is that there was a very passionate and very intense group of international athletes here.  I was also getting an impromptu introduction to the "politics" of a world championship.  This year was the second OCRWC and many of the international racers feel that the 2016 race should be held outside the US...I assume somewhere in Europe would be the preference.  Something the organizers I'm sure have been keenly aware of.  A reasonable opinion too it seems, as some of these teams were traveling here with 20-30 racers or more...quite impressive for such a young sport.  Some countries can't even manage that many athletes at the Olympics!!

So the build continued...inching forward every hour towards completion.  Each hour,  expanding my knowledge of this new world of OCR.  Learning not only about the design and building techniques the European course builders were using, but also about how they handled some of the race day operations.  Some very interesting aspects that we could learn from as an industry here about race coverage and fan promotion (this also made me wonder if they had peaked at my posts from a couple of years back on these very same suggestions!)

I also had the unique opportunity to help design asome adjustments for a few of these iconic obstacles, as the construction methods here were so much different.  Looking back, I'm glad I didn't know who some of these people were until later.  I mean, how do you suggest changes to the da Vinci's of OCR?!  In time, the course was coming together through an intricate dance of build crew, fabricators, racers, volunteers and staff...orchestrated somehow by Garfield Griffiths, race director extraordinaire.  An effort I was fortunate to witness up close from the fact that we were 'cabin-mates' for that week.

By Friday, things were getting interesting!  Since I hadn't really looked at the schedule, I was a bit surprised to see SO MANY racers and spectators in the festival/lower course that morning.  I was amazed so many racers had come in so early to check out the course.  What I didn't realize is that the OCR Warrior "Best of the Best" series was happening that afternoon!  Say what??!!  And imagine trying to keep them off the obstacles...really!!??!

The OCR Warrior event lead to one of the more amusing moments of the week for me though.  The event director came over to ask if I could get the obstacle I was working on...Tip of the Spear...ready for the event.  At least the front portion.  "Sure, when do you need it?" I said.  He said, straight faced, "In a few minutes."  ......momentary silence......  As I got out my "I'll do my best", I suppose my face had answered more quickly.  They rerouted the initial heats.  Nothing like the (pleasant) distraction of live OCR races going on right next to you, as you try desperately to finish obstacles on the eve of the Championship.

So for me, the build week finally ended Friday night around 9:30 with the completion of the winner's podium and a "painting by head light" of same...after testing it of course!  Another lesson learned here too!  Since I wanted the best finish to be on the front I asked which way the podium know, which side the second and third place stood, since they were different heights?  Trust but verify!  Needless to say, I forget who told me the answer but the next day I was mortified when they placed the podium with the 'back' facing forward!!  Certain that the imperfections would be the scandal of the event.  Fortunately, nobody but me noticed...

Another first for me at this event was that I wasn't racing!  Although I had qualified, I never registered.  And, while at the beginning of the week I'd hoped I might be allowed to race, the anticipated freezing temperatures and nagging injuries said otherwise.  After seeing much of the course all week, I realized that in my condition, there just wasn't anyway to make a legitimate attempt.  It was a difficult thing to admit that...this course was spectacular and a sort of pilgrimage venue to me.  So many iconic Mud, Guts and Glory obstacles that I never expected to see in real life.  And so it goes...

Race day I did the next  best thing though...after a godsend, Pete Durment of DryWear, allowed me to crash at his room...I went to the race as a spectator.  Armed with warm clothes and my trusty camera pack.  The OCR World Championship did not disappoint!  I witnessed an incredible Olympics worthy event...truly.  Inspiring athletes everywhere!  Team coaches running along the course for the final distance shouting encouragement.  Racers doing the same for each other.  Brett Stewart yelling advice to racers on Skull Valley.  Everyone in an OCR frenzy cheering on any racer within range.  Awesome is a vastly overused word these days.  Awesome though, is the only word that can do justice to this day in OCR...this World Championship day.

All that day I simply soaked in the atmosphere, recorded the memories and witnessed the latest stage in the ongoing development of this infant sport we have come to love...OCR.  And now, after this week, I have also come to know so many people from around the world.  Understand better what this sport means to them as well.  Not to mention becoming Facebook friends with people whose posts I can't understand...even with the translations.  But knowing that the bond of OCR transcends our differences in language.  And when I consider what I thought I knew about OCR before, it reminds me of a line from Men in Black and I think...Imagine what I'll know tomorrow.  Can't wait!!!

Related links:

OCR World Championships website

#OCRUNITED Series Brings Together the Sport of Obstacle Racing

OCR World Championships 2015 - Race Review - ORM/Chris Cow

Kings Domain

OCR World Championships - Thank You's Abundance

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