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Interviews

Train and Qualify for OCR World Championships with Ben O’Rourke

Although the 2016 OCR World Championships (OCRWC) are now history, the 2017 OCRWC will be held in the spot of Canada: Blue Mountain.

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Sure it’s a year away, but it’s never too early to start preparing, is it? In fact, as you’ll learn from Ben below, preparation is key to a good performance at the OCRWC.

To find out what a qualifying athlete can expect from the championships, we spoke to elite athlete Ben O’Rourke.

Ben has been a guest on Gritcamp a few times now. He is a super fast runner taking podium places at most races he does. Most recently, he shared with us his 5 tactics to improve running speed. If you are trying to up your running game, then Ben is also one of the OCR athletes you must follow on Strava.

But that’s not why we’re here today. Ben boldly stated this about the OCRWC:

Overall, this was my favorite ever event and it signifies a very exciting time for the sport of OCR.

So obviously we wanted to hear more about the event and in particular the courses. Fingers crossed we can check them out in person next year…

V: Ben, you ran both the 3k and the 15k courses at this year’s OCRWC. How was it?

Ben: The courses were fantastic and featured mostly trails with lots of uphill and downhills, as well as some technical terrain to keep us guessing.

The 3k course featured 15 of the 49 obstacles. On the Saturday there actually ended up being only 48 obstacles as the Platinum Rig Samurai was removed. There were back logs because of people re-trying it which was disrupting the flow of the race.

The 15k course featured some great obstacles I’d never seen before. Mainly technical obstacles that you don’t see at North American races. Some of my favourites were: the Platinum rig, the Platinum low rig, Urban Sky, F5 Skyline, Toughest Dragon’s Back, Skull Valley,  Conquer the Gauntlets Stairway to Heaven and the Indiana Mud Runs Floating Walls.

My favourite about the OCRWC races is that they bring together so many top OCRs and feature their signature obstacles.

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V: Was there any way these events could have been improved?

Ben: There’s only a few changes I would have made to the event. Jon Albon, who was the winner of the 15km event, stated it needed a water element and, although getting cold isn’t my favorite, I agree with him. An obstacle course race should feature some water. Then in the 3km it was a rolling start with 8 athletes starting every 1-2 mins. My start time was 9.30 but I didn’t start running until 10.15. Fine, but we only found out about this on the day of the event so more notice would’ve been nice.

V: Uh oh. I can imagine that could have been a problem if you’d fuelled up too soon. Could you talk a bit about your pre-race nutrition?

Ben: For the 3km I didn’t need anything during the race as it is a shorter distance. I just stuck to my trusty oats and cashews with a cup of tea for breakfast and then a banana 30mins before the race. Drink plenty of water the morning of the race too to re-hydrate from the night before.

For the 15km I had the same breakfast but I added a bagel with lots of peanut butter for extra energy. Then I had two bananas about 30 minutes before the race started. As for nutrition during the race, I relied on the water stations for hydration and had a packet of Clif Shot Blocks with me – I had one of these every 30 mins or so. I also had a Clif Builders Bar but didn’t end up using it. I didn’t have much nutrition during this race as it was short enough that I knew I could get by on just the Shot Blocks. Having a hydration pack I think would have got in the way for a lot of these obstacles so I decided to run without one. Most people didn’t have one for these races.

V: How did you training change leading up to the OCRWC?

Ben: I qualified back in June at the Edmonton Spartan Sprint so I continued my regular training up until 6 weeks before the OCRWC. I still had goals to achieve in my trail and road races so I continued with my speed and hill work for as long as I could. Once these races were finished I stopped doing specific running drills but still continued running 5-6 times a week.

I then completed my first ever Ultra Beast at the end of September. This was the first time ever I completed a rig too. For the OCRWC I knew there would be a lot of obstacles that require upper body and grip strength so that’s what I focussed on for the 6 weeks leading up to the event.

I’d done all my running training and, in 6 weeks, I wasn’t going to add any significant improvements to my running time. So my focus was on maintenance in running and improving grip strength and upper body strength. This paid off as I kept both bands and didn’t have to retry any obstacles during both races, which is something I don’t think would have happened 6 weeks earlier!

It’s important to work on weaknesses, you would be surprised with the improvements you can make in even two weeks if you focus on it. Build a good base during in the off-season and then you will be more confident during the race season.

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V: Speaking of, what advice would you give to those who want to qualify for OCRWC 2017?

As its coming into off season, I would recommend to focus on building strength for about two months. Continue with some running but it shouldn’t be your main focus. This is your chance to let your body recover and build towards next season. Focus on recovery and imbalances/weaknesses during the off-season so you will be improved for the next season.

After New Year’s start building your running base and add in some plyometrics and obstacles specific drills. Then add in your speed work once your running base is built, and you should be peaking for race season. Obviously, depending on when your race season starts you may want to tweak those time lines.

I would recommend to research which races in your area are an OCRWC qualifier. If your main aim is to go to OCRWC then these will be your peak races so focus on them. You can have other goals for other races but concentrate on the races that will help you qualify and these will be your primary goal.

V: How’s your training changing now that we’re entering the off-season?

Ben: I took a whole week off from training after the OCRWC. Only did some stretching and foam rolling to recover.

I’ve trained and raced hard all year so this was my first proper break. I still have another week off from running but I have just started my strength training phase. I’m focusing on heavy lifts like squats, lunges, deadlifts, chest press, shoulder press and rows for the next two months or so. I will do intervals twice a week and the rest of my cardio will be crosstraining so on bikes, rower or swimming. Once the two months are up I will add in more running again.

For next year I will add in the extra grip strength work I did for OCRWC. I saw big improvements on the rig and monkey bar obstacles at OCRWC, so I want to continue this into next year. At the start of the year I made improvements in my heavy carries too so I want to bring both these improvements into the new season.

As usual, running should be the main focus of an OCR athlete’s training. After that, obstacle-specific training is important (something I only really added this year and saw huge improvements!). Aside from that I want to add one more hill day a week than I had this year.

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