Working with OCR (Obstacle Course Racing) athletes and enthusiasts you get to listen to the ups, downs, trials and tribulations individuals feel when approaching their racing and training. You get to hear the frustration of a missed obstacle, the impedance of injury and elation of achievement, sometimes in the same conversation.
Performance Coaching also brings me the pleasure of being able to support those individuals in breaking through their limiting beliefs to experience their hopes, dreams and aspirations coming true.
From this experience, I thought I’d share the 5 levels of an OCR athlete I’ve observed as seen from the key challenge they are often facing, alongside some considerations each of those athlete personas have made that have enabled to conquer the next level that lay before them.
Level 1 – Can I complete one?
At some point this is the question all OCR racers have asked themselves. The reasons why we get into OCR are varied and uniquely personal, but this question is the key challenge everyone is trying to answer before their first one and always overcome.
How? Well it is often through a combination of things; spending less time on the sofa and more time running or in the gym, finding support when least expected or sheer determination to get to that finish line and earn that medal, t-shirt, patch or Facebook post.
The effort to get to this stage should never be under-appreciated, as the change in behaviour to be able to feel capable to complete that first race is likely to have a been a big shock to the system, one that feels good at times and not so great at others.
Appreciation of that effort can often be the starting point to progressing to the next level, as progression through each level requires a further evolution of behaviour to be able to achieve more and more. Recognising why they decided to complete that first race, why they appreciate the positive change and what that now brings to their capabilities and life are important questions for racers at this level to answer, so there is a familiar foundation upon which their future successes can be built.
Level 2 – Can I complete a tougher one?
The next question is a natural progression from the first, and the definition of ‘tougher’ is always a subject of debate. Is the distance longer? Are the obstacles higher or heavier or are there just more of them? Can I complete the same one quicker?
Identifying the shift in the goal at this stage is the first step to conquering it successfully. Setting the bar higher enables racers to clarify and commit to the training plan that will get them to that new goal.
Defining ‘tougher’ for each individual then helps them decide where to focus their training. Do they need to become physically stronger, be able to run further, or sustain effort levels for longer at a higher intensity? From there they can then source a training plan and support from someone like Coach Joe, a team like Team Bright Hammer or their friends and family to help keep the focus on completing their ‘tougher’ challenge.
It can be easy to spend some time at this level, cycling through becoming stronger, then becoming quicker, then becoming stronger and quicker until you have a medal wall that is the envy of those who see it.
Those looking to progress to the next level have found it critical to assess whether they are keeping themselves safe, protecting themselves from the perceived greater physical and psychological effort to break through and achieve even more. This is where that appreciation at Level 1 can come in handy, because they recognise they have evolved once before successfully and they can take confidence from that to evolve again.
Level 3 – Can I complete several?
By now, training regularly is part of who these athletes are. If it isn’t then addressing this should be the starting point, as the focus grows from completing to 1 or 2 a year, to 1 or 2 a month.
Taking stock of the improvement on a week-to-week basis, putting together specific training plans to address the biggest areas of weakness in the last OCR (strength, speed, technique) or even better for the next one, and breaking PRs left, right and centre keep these racers motivated and importantly maintain that growth focus.
Again, taking moments to reflect, appreciate and take stock allows the body to recover physically and psychologically, meaning these competitors stay sharp and invigorated to keep on striving for more.
The other trick (which also applies at Level 2) is that these athletes note if you have a moment of hesitation when booking several races, particularly if they are close together. If they get this, this could be them asking themselves this ‘can I complete several’ question.
Planning and preparation in other areas is where these athletes have focused to gain the confidence to successfully answer this question. Nutritional advice from an expert like Sophie Enever can help understand how to fuel appropriately pre- and post-race. Spending time researching and investing in recovery techniques such as ice baths, compression gear, supplements and flexibility all enables to step up and be ready to go within 24 hours of their last race or training session.
Level 4 – Can I win one?
This level also could be titled ‘just how good am I?’ and it’s inevitable if there is a competitive streak within these athletes.
With the availability of personal and race-provided timing to assess performance, alongside the ‘that person overtook me back there and now I’ve got them back’ thought pattern, it is often easy to get a boost in performance when the circumstances work in a racers’ favour.
But that boost can work against them when the circumstances aren’t in their favour, or are below the expectations they have set themselves.
To achieve success at this level, it is here where the most development needs to take place, alongside the physical training focus established in the previous levels. Yes, speed, strength and endurance will need to keep improving in order to compete at the level of those they once aspired to be compared to. However, all of these distractions need to be managed in order break through and beat them.
Learning to ignore this noise and focus on consistently applying their skills and capabilities to their fullest potential, to every obstacle and challenge they are presented with, in the unique circumstance of that race is key for these racers to potentially winning one.
Level 5 – Can I win them all?
The effort to win one can never be underestimated. The time dedicated to training at all times of the day, carrying bizarre things over bizarre distances, in bizarre places over and over again has reaped the reward that once was a distant dream.
Sacrifices will have been made along the way, some easily, some painfully, and some may be left with a feeling of what’s next?
Well, sustained success can often be the next level to focus upon, as it is here where the greats are truly differentiated from the one-hit wonders.
Winning a series like Toughest or Spartan, or taking on all-comers at a World level are just a few goals these top competitors set themselves. Whatever the goal, it is high enough to feel out of reach to give the drive to keep focusing and committing to the training, the nutrition, the recovery and the state of mind training.
Commonalities across the levels
Whatever the level, there are always distractions along the way that impact when and where the next level might be achieved or allow these athletes to repeat the success of the current level. Working with a Performance Coach will enable them to remain balanced along the roller-coaster ride that is the pursuit of their unique goal.
But if there is one thing I have observed that applies when pursuing any level of performance – any goal – it is the ability to focus on the inputs not the outputs that provides the clarity of thinking, the application of learning and the interpretation of the environment around each athlete, so they can react and act appropriately towards every single obstacle and challenge to achieve.
The other commonality is that athletes of any ability never know if they can perform at the next level unless they take that step into the unknown and commit to the events that are going to stretch them. This could be booking that ‘tougher’ race, the elite wave at a single race or a series of events that pits them up against the stiffest competition.
So consider this – whatever the event, if you want the next level, what have you got to lose and what have you got to learn…