October 25th was a day that will be marked as a monumental day in Obstacle Racing’s history. The first Obstacle Race World Championship’s was born and Britain cemented its way as an OCR powerhouse with a British champion in Jon Albon, and overall five top twenty finishes in the Men’s Elite for the UK.
A spectacular course awaited the 750 athletes from across the globe at the infamous and spectacular course of Mud Guts and Glory, the hilliest part of the very flat American state Ohio with no fewer than 57 obstacles. Obstacle Race heavyweights congregated for the $10,000 prize for the winner of the Elite categories and $1,000 for each age group winner.
At 8am US time 71 male Elite athletes kicked off the OCR World Championships in a ferocious pace running through the event village. They headed into the hills unaware of what was waiting for them, scrambling up 45 degree climbs before charging back into the village to the roaring crowds.
Twenty seven years on from the birth of Tough Guy in a cold wet Wolverhampton the OCR World Championships was formed by an independent body with a view to transform the sport; it was a huge risk and the potecntial to fail was high if the top athletes did not compete.
The event caused a stir within the industry with Spartan Race refusing to recognise it as a major championships full stop. The founder, Adrian Bijanada, was bold in his move and remained strong keeping to his desire to support the OCR community worldwide.
Fifteen minutes in and they were met with a low 25m barbed wire crawl where the congestion and competition was high. In the men’s race at this point, Canada’s Ryan Atkins took the lead early on, a man who has won World’s Toughest Mudder, was second to Jon Albon in the Spartan World Championship and little over a year ago an unknown contender.
Chasing his heels was Jon Albon, the man who gracefully took Ryan’s lead in Vermont last month. Fierce enemies on the course it was clear Ryan knew he had to get a lead early on as this course would be won in the hills.
With Jon out running any obstacle racer on the planet, Ryan was edging for the lead at the monkey bars which required careful footing as it began with a descent and followed by an incline. A slip here could cost so much and Jon knew this, after all he was confident of his ability for the following seven miles. The crowds roared as the athletes charged through the village and we all dashed between obstacles capturing the special moment.
The event was groundbreaking, they didn’t follow a set template but created their own rules and were clearly set on making this the hardest course worldwide. A course that racers would congregate to each year and add to their lifetime bucket lists.
Penalties at obstacles have been a talking point for a while with critics concerned of skipping, with a burpee penalty difficulty to monitor. For this event athletes were handed a green wrist band at the start – not completing an obstacle would result in this being cut off and removing the ability to win a prize in addition to a four minute time penalty. Unlimited attempts were allowed though. The rules were strict, with marshals armed with radios at each obstacle and in real time fed back to the timing desk adjusting the athlete’s placing and overall time.
Atkins made the monkey bars look easy as Jon went for the footed technique on the incline. Leaving the village, Jon was around 5 seconds behind and in a good position with Ryan starting to look a little tired after manoeuvring across obstacles and crawling through pipes.
Ryan Atkins taking the lead over Jon at the monkey bars
The Platinum Rig was perhaps the most talked about and feared obstacle of the day. A ‘Hang Tough’ style obstacle with rings at different heights, swinging bars, rope climbs in a Ninja Warrior theme.
In the men’s Elites category Jon and Ryan returned from more hill climbing neck and neck with the course now clearly becoming a two horse race. Closely following them was Hobie Call, the godfather and influential man of the US obstacle racing scene, a man that has won just about everything possible and an accomplished sub 2.17 marathon runner.
From here the athletes battled the steep terrain and obstacles with Jon still slightly behind Atkins. The course had little flat terrain and featured every obstacle you could think of. Barely five hundred metres passed without an obstacle, and if there wasn’t an obstacle it would be another hill reducing the most seasoned hill runner to a crawl.
The final slide
We waited in anticipation at the event village for the athletes return. The 50m slide would mark this point, which would lead into the event village, an obstacle filled battle field. This would make a great finish for the crowds to watch.
1 hour 15 minutes later and after 8 miles of hill climbing a now well known British man Jon Albon appeared from the forest with his trademark smile on the slide, looking unphased about the battle he had just won.
He had managed to gain a clear two minute lead on second place Atkins and third Hobie Call. This had now marked him as one of the greats and he had gone from an unknown at the Spartan World Championships last month to the king of the world, proving that it was no fluke. He has now confirmed to the world that the UK already knew, he’s untouchable.
All Jon had left was a few walls, a wreck bag carry and a some jumps to jog his way through the finish line to be crowned the first ever OCR World Champion. The UK and World of Osbtacle Racing stood up and listened to what had just happened. #OCRunited