If you are an Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) athlete, you are probably familiar with this scenario. You meet some new friends that are runners and they ask about your 5k time. Your 5k time is respectable but nothing earth shattering. In fact, some of your new friends are faster than you on the road. A similar thing may happen on your obstacle proficiency when training at the local ninja gym. Does this mean that OCR athletes aren’t good?
No, and here’s why. Putting it all together is hard. As OCR athletes I regularly see my teammates, friends and peers undersell their capability. The ability to run at a fast pace and do obstacles well (i.e. keep your band) is not an easy task. The sport of OCR is convoluted requiring you to be pretty good at a lot of skills creating a very well rounded athlete. Here’s a deeper dive into why you shouldn’t be underselling yourselves:
OCR Requires Grit
Possibly one of the most overlooked aspects of putting it all together is grit. If you have it, and as an OCR athlete you do, you probably don’t even realize how significant this is. The desire to keep pushing the pace when your legs are covered in mud and there are rocks in your shoes is just part of our sport. Take a road runner and throw them on the course though and you may hear complaints of “well there was rocks in my shoes”, “everything was too muddy” or “I’m worried about hurting myself.”
OCR Requires Mental Strength
A nuance of grit, mental strength is needed for OCR. You have to be confident in your leg’s ability to leap over Triumph/Dragon’s Back. You need to be sure of your grip strength to make the transition at the top of Valkyrie or Stairway To Heaven. You must overcome your fear of heights to climb OCRWC’s rope climb and caving ladder. If you’ve conquered those fears, you probably don’t even see it as anything significant. This is further exacerbated if all your friends are OCR athletes and being able to do these things is the standard, no something exceptional. However, bring someone new onto the course and you may see people freeze up or even walk off the course when obstacles challenge their fears.
Having Upper Body Muscle Will Slow You Down
Part of what determines your running speed is how much mass you are moving throughout the course. To be able to do obstacles, you need more upper body muscle than the average runner. This means that added weight will definitely slow you down a little bit. So yes, the top OCR athletes will be slower than the top pure runners, that’s normal.
Spending Time Running Can Hurt Obstacle Skills
We have plenty of stars from American Ninja Warrior that cross into events like OCRWC. However, most don’t excel as high as they do on the show on the race course. The requirement to run fast and consistent training needed to do so will tire you out when training for obstacles. This makes training for both a tricky balance that needs to be maintained.
We all know someone that can run faster than us or do obstacles better than us. The bottom line is that putting it all together is complicated. It is the reason that after several years in the sport we generally know who the front runners are at major events like OCRWC. Top runners from other specialties aren’t swooping in every year to steal the podium spots at major events and the reason is because OCR is not easy.
I’ve competed in events from powerlifting, natural bodybuilding, marathon running, triathlon, adventure racing and even jumping into a CrossFit style competition. I stand by the belief that OCR athletes are the most well rounded. The ability to run a wide range of distances (our sport runs 100m to 24 hours), do obstacles (body weight strength), carry heavy things (pure strength), balance, flexibility and the mental grit requirement, makes us the most well rounded athletes around. We are the jack of all trades, master of none that, in my mind, truly makes us the most functionally fit.
Even though you may not be the fastest person in your local run club or the most obstacle proficient person at your ninja gym, don’t sell yourself short. Putting everything together to race OCR is hard. Be proud of what you have achieved in qualifying for OCRWC and we will see you on the mountain in Vermont later this year!