Okay, story time.
This past weekend, Dan, Little Person, and I ran the Spartan Trifecta Weekend at Duntroon, Ontario. It’s an event we’ve done before, and one we enjoy. The relatively flat terrain and long stretches of trail running make it a fun and accessible race for runners of all skill levels.
The bucket carry was near the end of the race. I’ll describe it for those who aren’t familiar with the course terrain. The buckets are set up at the bottom of a steep hill, one face of which is composed entirely of loose sand. They change things up a little every year, but this year we picked up our buckets, walked to the far end of the hill, turned, and climbed up a steep trail to reach the top of the hill. Then we turned again, and descended the hill via the slippery sandy slope. It was steep, the footing was VERY precarious, and the chances of falling (with your 50-70lb bucket in your arms) were relatively high, even while wearing good trail running shoes.
This is where our story begins. I was picking my way down the sandy slope during the Sprint when my feet went out from under me, and I slid. I didn’t fall, but it was enough to make my heart leap. I yelped, and said “Wow, that’s dangerous!”
The man who’d been descending behind me chose that moment to barge past. As he did, he shot a glance down at my shoes (a pair of Tough Mudder branded Merrell trail shoes — I was saving my really good La Sportiva Bushidos for the Beast and the Super, since my Salomon SpeedTraks bit the dust last race) and then said “Go back to Tough Mudder.”
I was stunned. “I’ve been doing these races for five years,” I said. And then, as the anger really hit me “Don’t you dare tell me to Spartan the F#@& Up, you A$$.” But by then he was gone, and I was left fuming and hurt that someone…someone who I’d never met in my life…had judged me based on one moment of fear and my footwear. That he’d felt he had the right to tell me I didn’t belong in his race.
This man didn’t know me. He didn’t know I was 2nd ranked in my age group in 2017, and would have hit age-range podium in every race I ran, if Spartan had had age-range podiums back then. He didn’t know that in October of 2017, at the OCR World Championships, I slipped on a very steep bit of trail, flew over six feet through the air and smashed down on my back hard enough to give me whiplash and a concussion that still affects me today. He didn’t know that as a result of that concussion, I haven’t been able to work in almost a year and half, or that when I get too stressed or mentally fatigued, my symptoms flare up. I lose words, I get confused, I have trouble making decisions. Sometimes I get so turned around that familiar things seem strange and I can’t place landmarks. Imagine driving somewhere you’ve been a million times before and suddenly having no idea how to get there, or how to get home. Scary, right? It’s frickin’ terrifying.
So of course I was going slowly. Of course I got scared when my feet slipped. I have a REALLY GOOD reason for being scared of falling again.
And then this a$$-hat has the gall to tell me to “Go back to Tough Mudder”? How dare he imply I needed to STFU? Dude, I’m Spartan AF just for being out there!
But you know what? None of that matters. It doesn’t matter who I am, or my story, or that I have a really good reason for being slow, and being scared. Because regardless of who I am, he had NO RIGHT to say that. He had NO RIGHT to gate-keep our sport.
Obstacle course racing — our sport — is filled with the best people in the world. I’ve seen incredible acts of sportsmanship, compassion, and kindness on course: people stopping to help others, people giving out their own fuel, water, and even equipment to someone in trouble, people sacrificing their own time to carry/assist an injured competitor over the finish line. We have the very best people.
But we also have guys like the one I met. Dan and I call them Douche-Bros, and after seven years of racing, we’re sick of them.
So, with no further ado, I present to you:
How to be a Good OCR Racer or Don’t be a Douche-Bro
- Control your run. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve seen out-of-control runners fall going down a steep, technical hill. But guess what? It’s way less than the number of times I’ve seen OTHER people tripped, bumped, or even knocked over by that out-of-control runner. Sure you want to go fast, but here’s the key; fast with no control isn’t skill. If you can’t stop or control your descent, you’re a danger to yourself and others.
- Don’t cheat. It should go without saying, but unfortunately, it doesn’t. Don’t cut the course, don’t hide your band, don’t skip obstacles, and don’t skip your penalties. Follow the rules of the race you are running. And if, for some legitimate reason, you can’t do something, be open and honest about it. I have an impinged nerve in my shoulder (yet another after-effect from my ill-fated fall in 2017). It’s improved a lot over the past year, but I still can’t do obstacles that require a lot of swinging, like rigs or Urban Sky. I can’t do burpees very well either. I’m running age range this year because I want to see my race family, but when I get to something I can’t do, I explain my situation to the course marshals, recuse myself from competition, and do 50 jumping jacks instead of burpees.
- Follow trail running etiquette:
- Don’t block the path (i.e. step aside for faster runners)
- Call out when you intend to pass. Douche-Bro’s are famous for not doing this. They’ll smash up behind you, elbow you out of the way, and whip past you without even a “sorry” or an “excuse me”. Don’t do this. If you come up to a slower runner, here are your options: if the trail is wide enough to pass safely, call out the side you intend to pass on. A quick “On your left/right”, will ensure that the other runner doesn’t accidentally get in your way. If the trail is narrow, let them know you are behind them, and ask to pass. “Runner back, can I pass on your left/right?” They’ll move over for you, trust me.
- Say “Thank You”, when people move over for you.
- Don’t litter. I know you’re trying to go fast, but if you drop that gel packet or that cup, some races will DQ you faster than you can say “litter bug”. And the ones that don’t should, ‘cause it’s just a jerk move. Part of the fun of OCR is the beautiful terrain we get to run through, and the runners behind you would like to enjoy it too. Take the time to put your garbage back in your pack.
- Look out for each other. If you see someone down or struggling, ask them if they’re ok. If they’re good (and you believe them), you can keep going and you haven’t lost more than a second or two. If they’re not good, help them out! That could be calling over a volunteer, race staffer, or race medic. That could be offering a gel, salt pill, or water. That could be staying with them till help arrives, or getting them up and to the next obstacle/water station/volunteer. “But what about my time?” you say. Think of it this way; it’s just one race, and if you were injured, you’d want someone to help you.
- Thank the volunteers. Be nice, be polite, and do not yell at them, no matter how frustrated you might be. If there is a misunderstanding about a rule, ask them to contact a course marshal. These people are donating their time to help you have a good race; treat them with respect.
- Better yet, volunteer yourself. It’s a great way to meet other runners and learn more about how your favourite race works.
- Don’t be judgemental of other runners. Just don’t. Speed, size, age, ability, appearance, strength, technical skill or lack-there-of…none of it matters. Everyone is here to run, push themselves to their own personal limits, and have a good time. Don’t ruin it for someone with snarky comments or snide looks.
- DON’T GATE-KEEP. Everyone is welcome in OCR. Hard Stop. From the best elite runner to the absolute newbie, everyone is welcome. No one gets to say who should or shouldn’t be running a Spartan, Tough Mudder, Dead End Race, Bone Frog, or Mud Hero. Even qualification-based races like NORAM and Worlds have an open charity race on the final day. If you are a competitive or elite runner, remember that it’s the open wave runners who make up the vast majority of participants in your race of choice. They’re the ones who bring the profit and keep your race going. Instead of gate-keeping, why not run two laps, one competitive and one open? Instead of judging other runners, put your skills to good use helping first-timers through the obstacles, cheering them on, and celebrating their successes. I say this because I believe, despite a few bad apples, that’s who OCR racers are. We’re inclusive, kind, and generous. We support everyone to do their very best, and we celebrate every success as if it were our own. And who knows…that newbie you help over the seven foot wall today might be standing beside you on the podium next year.