Why the UK Championship is not on my calendar

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.

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10 thoughts on “Why the UK Championship is not on my calendar

  1. Mike N. says:

    Excellent write up.. The issues you pointed out thankfully don’t apply to an event like OCRWC because they choose to be a 100% standalone event, not tied to any race brand or any governing body. A regulatory group attempted to establish themselves in the states (IORF-International Obstacle Racing Federation) and luckily for all the athletes, no race brands would join up with them.

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  2. Liam says:

    You should note that OCRA UK are not the governing body of the sport.
    It is their mission to become so but currently OCR is not an official sport, nor does it have Governing body.
    At present OCRA UK is a race brand, with its race self dubbed as UK championships, working with other races to provide qualifying criteria.
    To be a governing body the first step is to have some formal governance. And there are no official documented rules, hence why they seem to change daily.

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    • Ami says:

      Well I certainly didn’t think about it that way- good point.

      I think the issue still stands though, even if you aren’t quite there yet, when you are attempting to govern something (and OCRA absolutely are), then you should still do it with common sense and regard for the people that you want to represent.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Andy W says:

    A very interesting and thought provoking article Ami.

    I was all for standards like the ones that are being imposed but your points about these being empirically researched and fair for both genders is very valid. At present they seem to be anecdotal at best.

    On the back of this I am now considering not taking a wristband on Sunday as I will still be eligible for OCRWC qualification!!

    Thank you for taking the time to write this.

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  4. Iain Exeter says:

    From the way you attack the subject I guess that is Ami Veronica!! You express concerns that many of us feel. However this started last year when qualification was farcical, literally pay up and you’re in. We set up the OCR Community League because we felt the way to mix the top runners and the improvers in competition was via league system. Those responsible for the pending farce of the UK Champs departed and Mark Leinster took over. I did not know him so asked Muddy Duck, my co founder of the Community League, about him. His response was positive so I decided to support him, for whatever that support may be worth.
    There was a huge amount of positive feed back after the UK Champs, a creditable turn around by Mark and Nuclear
    It was a big surprise when a couple of weeks before our January Ram Run we were appointed UK Champs and Euro Champs qualifying race. Mark agreed to attend and support the race and he had good relations with our race timers Race Timing Solutions, very necessary because of the different category rules compared to the Ram Run.
    We agreed to do it and despite the most dangerous weather conditions we have had we got through it. There have been a number of enquiries since about qualification. We simply used the standards as written to us by OCRA and EURO. I believe Mark has accepted that changes were necessary and as far as I know he has allowed qualifications that might not make it under the updates. That is awkward but I also believe the principle is correct that what was set on the day is accepted even if it gives some people an easier qualification than now. You cannot go back and disqualify runners and change the rules retrospectively.
    The future is important and here is where I feel OCRA has to inform better or tighten up as far as the UK Champs is concerned. I have 12km and 24km qualifying races on April 2 and 3, just over 4 weeks away. The courses are planned, both routes and obstacles. It has not been mentioned to me that we have to insert qualifying obstacles into the course or if Mark will choose four of ours. We are not putting pressure on anyone – we can handle it as it comes
    Finally, and the most important thing I see is for runners to decide what kind of OCR they want for the future. If it turns into an international standard sport it will need a huge number of rules and standards and if it heads towards the truly difficult obstacles then it may become an unnecessary competitor to Crossfit games or Superhuman Events. At the top level there will be regular drug testing of performers. It will become like rugby, my lifelong sport, a pro level and an Amateur level. The difference is that rugby pros and amateurs play with the same ball on same size pitches. Amateur OCR runners cannot play on the same toys as the pros.
    TOUGH GUY got it right all those years ago, thats why it is still a mega event. A string of new races came along in recent years and some added competition. Runners I talk to love the competition. So do you Ami, but it has to be realistic. If you have a full time job you are an amateur rugby player. If you have a full time job you will not be able to compete at the very top end of OCR.
    Runners have to be realistic and decide which route they want to follow
    OCRA, as far as I know, was set up to help standardise safety requirements. From what I understand from a few years ago that was a very good and necessary idea.
    I think this year will see a lot of things resolved and remember – we are a free country and you can make your choices. You are a very intelligent and strong minded young lady – you will make the right choice for you, no doubts about that!

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    • Ami says:

      You’re right. It certainly will mean that is runners will have to decide which way to go.

      For me, this will never be a profession, but a hobby, so I want to make it an enjoyable one. I think there need to be clear definitions as to what exactly the organisation is working towards. safety is of course a noble and appropriate thing to want to standardise, so perhaps sorting one issue before diving in to others will help progression.

      As always, a pleasure, Mr Wild Ram 😉 I hope you get the information in time to ensure your runners have the best chance! Xxx

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  5. Mark says:

    All my thoughts in such a well written piece. I agree with everything you have said and also have no enthusiasm for the so called UK Champs race this year. Conveniently it comes a week after Nuclear so I probably wouldn’t have been able to walk/stand anyway!

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  6. Ami says:

    Thank you. I have heard though that they are abstaining from putting on a champs next year, which is a decision I really do applaud. I think they need to build on the other aspects of the organisation to ensure we all have faith in it, and want to be associated with it.

    I am not as enthused about the other race that people are choosing to put on in place of the UK champs. The whole point is that it takes so much organisation, this is not the opportunity for someone to cobble together a race and call it a championship.

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