The Challenges of Becoming an Elite Obstacle Course Racing Athlete

I recently wrote a post for the running community that I do some freelance writing for about how training through hard days benefits you come race day. One of the reasons I put for training through hard days was to build confidence so that come race day you know you are ready and that you belong there and that alone can make the start line feel much less nerve wrecking.

I wish I could listen to my own words sometimes. Becoming an elite obstacle course racer has been a mentally challenging task. One of the best parts about having a successful age group season was that by the time the North American Championship and final series race came around, I felt confident. I knew that I would absolutely have to earn my placement, but I felt like I belonged there.  I felt like my training had prepared me and like nothing could stop me from having my best race. Having those feelings of confidence really helped me to power through during the race when I felt like my wheels were falling off. It took me a really long time to get to this point. I had several races during the season where I felt sick at the start line. I was worried I would disappoint myself. I was worried that I would finish the race only to find out that all of my training did not come together on the day when it mattered. I remember having these feelings in my May and June races this past season. Not wanting to be there, wanting to find a way out of it because I was afraid that I could not accomplish what I came to do, but as I raced more those feelings began to flee and I felt more excited than scared on race day, it made racing so much more enjoyable.

Feelings at the elite start line are a bit different. I don’t really feel nervous, but I don’t feel super excited either. I feel like… I am just there. Not expecting too much, maybe expecting to fail? I don’t want to be in that headspace. It is going to take some work to figure out how to accept not being on the podium but still be willing to fight for every second. During last weekend’s super I had some GI issues and got off to a rocky start. I fell more and more behind, and when reflecting I can’t help but to think that because I was so behind, I did not push as hard as I could have. I got comfortable with being behind and decided that I belonged there and had a lot of thoughts about how I should have just raced age group and how I didn’t belong. I felt annoyed with myself, disappointed that I felt like my training was not showing and just overall defeated. Again, not the headspace you want to be in a race.

The truth is, not everyone can be first or even in the top half of finishers and that is just the reality of racing in any heat. I finished to find I was almost 20 minutes behind 1st place who happens to be a top 10 national series and world championship finisher. I did 60 burpees and 2 penalty loops. I was angry with myself, angry that I couldn’t give more. But why? This was only my 3rd all out elite race of the season and I have only been running for a few years. I didn’t run track in college, I don’t have a lifelong history of being a runner or multiple other elite podiums. I am not making excuses, but I think I need to be fair to myself, I have a lot of work to do. I belonged where I finished. I earned my placements in age group over time, I must do the same in elite. I shouldn’t expect to show up and just be great and get the results I was getting in age group, even if I am working really hard. It is going to take time. I can only expect that I will show up and give absolutely everything that I have got, that I will push away thoughts of self-doubt during the race, and that at the finish line I can say I did all I could to end up where I did.

I found it impossible to not look at the age group results (this is clearly going to be a habit that takes some time to break) after competing in this race an elite Spartan race athlete. I would have been 2nd in my age group but only 12th in overall female age group. Now, a podium does not always mean you are pleased with your performance. I have had a couple podiums where I raced poorly and while grateful to still outperform some of my competitors I did not race up to my own standards. BUT, a crappy race can feel a little less crappy if you still stand on the podium at the end of the day. It isn’t fair to devalue my performance and hard work based on the heat I raced in. My feelings about the outcome should not vary so greatly based on what placement I landed. This will take some time to learn as well. Perhaps it is less me needing to feel like I should step back down to age group and more so some of the age group ladies needing to step up to the elite heat. Of course, race conditions do vary from heat to heat when there are “conditions.” Things like fog/rain/humidity can clear as the morning goes on and more people go through an obstacle so results from heat to heat are not always totally telling of what happened on course. It is truly going to take me some time and mental training to understand how to be in a good mental place on this new journey as well as how to measure my success fairly.

For the sprint things went much better. I still finished about 10 minutes behind 1st place and had 60 burpees (wet rigs are not my jam at the moment) but I was proud of my performance. I did have some GI issues again but powered through the discomfort and ran my little heart out. I do feel that I gave it all I had (although now looking back I wonder if I could have dug deeper, then again, we always do don’t we?). I really worked to keep 3rd place in sight. I did not give up just because podium was out of reach (in the Portland sprint I feel like I really let off the gas during the last little obstacle gauntlet near the finish when I was in the same position). I fought for every second. I did not have feelings of self-doubt or spend my mental energy during the race wondering if being there was the right choice. I just pushed and challenged myself. I started doing the 6ft wall differently than I had in the past during this race weekend and I tried the chicken wing approach on the rig (something I had previously been too scared to do). I feel like I had a lot of growth in just one race weekend. I am pumped to see how much I grow over this next year. Time to level up!

Leave a Reply