OCR? What’s that?!

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR for short) has become more and more popular in recent years, with most people having heard of the big commercial races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan. There are a whole host of smaller races across the country who are held in high regard within the OCR community though. Some are designed to encourage team work (such as Tough Mudder), some are more focussed on the individual and some are just for fun, whether you want to run alone or as a group. One thing they all have in common is that they are set to challenge you in one way or another.

While obstacle courses have been used for many years as training for the military, the first obstacle course race is traced back to an event called Tough Guy. This event was started in 1987 by an eccentric former soldier, Billy Wilson – aka Mr Mouse. The 15km race was, for 30 years, held on the last weekend of January and very often thick ice would have to be broken in order to wade through the water sections, resulting in many people withdrawing from the race with the onset of hypothermia. The course was designed to induce fear and pain and to push participants to their limits, in fact you sign a ‘death warrant’ before being able to take part!

In 2010 Tough Mudder was launched, shortly followed by Spartan Race. These two races differ, in that Tough Mudder is not timed and is focused on team work (whether that team work comes from a group you’re running with or participants just helping each other out), whereas Spartan Race is a timed, competitive race. One thing they have in common though, is that they are both now international, commercial races.

In more recent years there has been a boom in new OCR’s popping up all over the country, due to the popularity of them. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years that boom has resulted a few of the popular races disappearing as there simply aren’t enough people, and weekends in a year, to keep all races afloat.

So, how did I get into OCR? Well, while I was training for Yorkshire 3 Peaks I joined a fitness class which at the time was exclusively for Mums. Some of the women from the class, along with some women from the bootcamp run at the same gym, decided it would be fun to take part in Cancer Research UK’s Pretty Muddy. I signed up with some friends I’d made in class. We did the race in June 2014¬† and it was great fun.

After signing up but before we actually did the race, one of my group of friends (None of us can remember which of us it was) had the idea that if we were going to do an obstacle race, why don’t we do a ‘proper’ one. A race called ‘The Nuts Challenge’ was suggested and four of us signed up for it.

In August 2014, the four of us turned up to the event in Dorking, having little idea of what we were letting ourselves in for, other than that it was 7km with over 100 obstacles. While waiting for our start wave, we got chatting to a chap who was running a stall selling clothing etc designed for OCR. He asked us what races we’d done before and when we explained this was our first, he went on to tell us that this particular race had been voted the toughest OCR!

Although we were now a little daunted, having no experience of these races we didn’t really know how tough the toughest was going to be. We weren’t there to race though so we just took our time going around the course, tackling each obstacle as it came along.

It was an amazing experience, even if we did feel broken at the end of it. I went on to do a further four events that year. I was hooked!

The Nuts Challenge has remained a firm favourite of mine through the years, and I even qualified (accidentally) for the UK OCR Championships there in September 2015.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever qualify again, so in November 2015 I took part in the first UK OCR Championships, and got snapped at the back of the pack crossing the start line! To date, this remains the only race that I ever genuinely wanted to quit. Finding out I was only 1km from the finish line gave me enough oomph to get the job done.

During 2016, Mr Mouse declared that 2017 (the 30th anniversary) would be the last ever Tough Guy. It’s still unclear whether this was a very clever marketing ploy, or whether it was actually intended to be the last. Either way, this announcement resulted in a huge amount of sign ups, including me and a friend. I mean, how can you say you’re a true OCR racer if you haven’t done the original OCR?!

The race certainly lived up to it’s reputation. The course was brutal (and we had to miss some of the water sections as they’d been closed by the time we got to them). Both of us were really suffering with the cold well before the finish, but we pushed on and helped each other through to get across the line.

2018 saw Tough Guy put on a shorter version of their original race, on a different weekend, and it has since been announced that the original Tough Guy will return in 2019, due to racer demand.

If you’re looking for a way to challenge yourself, both physically and mentally in some cases, there are races out there to suit all manner of abilities. It’s a great way to push your limits and do something different. Plus, obstacle racers are some of the nicest people on the planet. I’ve made lots of new friends at various races.

I’ve put together a little gallery of pictures from my races, which I plan to add to with each blog. ¬†Check back weekly for new blogs, and follow me on Instagram @fitness_jen_erator

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