Well, one might say I’ve always struggled with the UK Champs, despite it only having existed for a year. I almost bottled it in November, and I intermittently sobbed my way around the course, aiming for completion rather than any semblance of competition. That was more of a reflection of my state of mind at the time, rather than the race itself, because Nuclear is fantastic. The course was very well thought out, and the obstacles were largely achievable with appropriate training.
Somehow, despite the absolutely fantastically innovative and deserving Judgement Day team taking over the build for 2016, in one of my favourite venues no less, the idea of going to the UK Champs this year is about as appealing as sticking my foot in a blender. And there’s a reason for that – our own governing body.
I’ve been a bit worried about the state of the UK’s Obstacle Course Racing Association for a little while, not least because there appears (to the layperson) to be a rabid focus on eliminating potential qualifiers for UK Champs with a view to having some sort of supermega-elite-herculean (and unrealistic) competition.
Don’t get me wrong; I very much appreciate the fact that there is a governing body trying to make the sport fair and accessible. The only problem with the current situation is that to the everyday OCR runner, it appears to be making the sport unfair and inaccessible.
Now, much the same as I believe that you probably shouldn’t be doing Nuclear Oblivion before you can complete a Parkrun, I don’t believe OCRA should be picking off potential competitors this early in the game, and I’m going to try to explain how their rulings make me feel. I’m not going to talk about how everybody else feels, not about what people ‘in the know’ might whisper in my ear, I’m just trying to articulate my take on it all.
I’m speaking as a poorly trained, but fitter than average girl who isn’t entirely shit at obstacle racing, but who has the potential to do a lot better if she trains harder. To recap, I got into OCR because I was lower than a millipede’s buttcrack, unfit, and wanted to throw myself into an unusual sporting community populated with friendly and likeminded people. I found that I wasn’t bad at OCR, and when I really push, I can get into top tens, top fives and even win stuff when the wind’s blowing in the right direction. Basically, I’m not terrible, but I’m not going to get an Adidas sponsorship deal in my lifetime.
Now that that’s established: I’m going to try to make my point.
I am struggling to get enthused about the direction in which obstacle racing is going in the UK, because:
OCRA’s policies regarding qualification for the national championships are not based on past race statistics, or anything remotely logical or reasoned.
Correct me if I’m off base here, but I would have thought that if you were deciding upon obstacles to deem ‘mandatory’ within any race, you would have observed attempt and completion patterns from the previous season. You’d have watched how many attempted the obstacles, noted the completion rate, and in multi-lap races such as NUTS, checked out the almost inevitable decrease in completion rate as the laps progressed. You may have also looked at the gender split, and reasoned that there may be some obstacles where the clear advantage was chromosomal. Off the back of that information, it’s very unlikely that the obstacles selected as mandatory for completion this year would feature on a reasonable list. Yes, women can complete every obstacle on that course, but when you’re basing qualification criteria on the fact that 2 women managed it out of everyone who attempted it, then you have a problem.
The mandatory obstacle lists are inconsistent.
Had these lists been based on previous observation and research, they would probably be of the same difficulty and calibre regardless of the RD or venue. As it stands, it looks very much like there has been a casual wander around the course mere days before an event, and the obstacles have been picked at random. If there are obstacles you must complete, they must be comparable between different races and settings. This doesn’t necessarily mean they should be structurally the same – each race should be allowed to go wild on their designs and put their stamp on it, but the difficulty should be assessed, and should be comparable. Right now, this doesn’t appear to be the case.
This also rings true for lap races – why, for example are there 8, 12 or 16 mandatory obstacles in lap races of increasing distance, and only 4 for a 12k set distance? And, ‘because laps’, is not a real answer.
The announcements come too late.
I think it’s safe to assume that if you entered a race with the express intention of qualifying for a championship race, you’d have booked it weeks to months ago. It is not right, nor just, that the qualification criteria pertaining to that race is released just days before you’re out on the field, leaving you little time to adjust your training accordingly. I know race builds take time, and some obstacles are only finalised a short time before race day, but come on, if you’re a ‘professional outfit’, you should have a vague idea of the plan when you sign the race on to be part of the qualifying events.
I am fully, painfully, incredibly aware that championship races should, to a degree, be exclusive, and qualification should be upon demonstration of superior technique, strength and agility, but we are 9 months away from the UK race. Who’s to say that some chap who falls off the last hang tough ring will not be able to master them in that time?
Moving the goalposts in this fashion also technically makes some races mis-sold in the first instance; there have been at least two races that were supposed to have been championship qualifiers that have had to rescind their claims. That is embarrassing, and shouldn’t be happening mid-season.
I have faith that OCRA have ears, but they choose when to listen and engage.
I was so happy and appreciative of the decision to remove the ridiculous time cap for 4 laps of NUTs this year. The original decision would have seen a massive percentage of female racers knocked out of qualifying before they even set foot in a puddle. This further highlighted that statistics are not properly considered before arbitrary limits are placed on racers hoping to qualify. The decision to alter this based on public opinion was very welcome and appreciated, however the criteria are still illogical and out of line with those for 2 and 3 laps. I can only shrug my shoulders at this, as it’s inexplicable.
Given the latest debacle regarding mandatory obstacles, there doesn’t appear to have been any reasonable re-evaluation of the decisions, rather just a pretty immature, thinly veiled threat that we just need to suck it because the governing body has spoken, or else.
Questions are not met with answers.
When faced with reasonable and politely worded questions about reasons behind decisions, it remains easier to get a straight answer from Donald Trump than from the OCRA Facebook account.
It’s been suggested that my decision to ignore the UK Champs is possibly a bit rash; that I should register for them regardless, and see how I get on, but I didn’t get into this sport to have unreasonable limits applied to me, and endure a ceremonial wristband cutting (which is seriously demoralising) at a race that I know I can perform well on. I can see others suggesting that those of us who are opposed to the current state of affairs are only against them because we can’t do the mandatory obstacles and want to be included in everything regardless of ability; and this just isn’t true. I’m capable of all of those obstacles (albeit on a good day), but I cannot get on board with the arbitrary and seemingly random nature of it all. Honestly speaking, I really want to run the course – I think it’ll be a blinder. I just don’t want to run it with a monkey on my back.
In short, I don’t think this is the year to get heavy handed with OCRA; yes, build the sport, encourage participation, forge bonds with sporting associations, but narrow the field maybe next year after some more research into what the UK competitors are capable of. You don’t level the playing field by throwing a grenade into it; you first take the time to understand the people you are dealing with, and above all, you don’t defenestrate your toys when your public disagree with you. Delegate, form a committee that knows what they are doing and understands how best to communicate with the bodies you’re governing. We will respond to that.
TL;DR: I just don’t have a clue how decisions are made at OCRA, and are thought to be fair and logical in the first instance, and I don’t like being made to feel like a prick for pointing out the inconsistencies. Until there is some serious overhaul within the organisation, I’m not bothering even trying to qualify for a race I no longer believe represents what the UK has to offer in capable, strong obstacle course racers. I’m sure many can relate to the fact that I got into this sport because it made me feel better about myself; and when it starts to demoralise rather than build confidence, there is something very, very wrong.