The sport of OCR (Obstacle course racing) has had my attention for as long as I can remember and from the moment I first took part in a Spartan Race in 2013 I knew it was something I wanted to be in the thick of – not just as a participant, but also from a coaching perspective.
Since that first race things have snowballed for me in OCR in both those spheres of involvement – not only did I race as much as possible and grow from being someone who raced for fun to someone who competed, but also created and lead one of the longest running OCR teams in the UK scene (Team Bright Hammer). This growth in ability, mindset, and involvement through coaching changed my view of what OCR is. I no longer viewed it as a weekend pastime or social challenge but as a budding sport that needed to furthered, embraced, and tackled to the best of one’s ability.
In 2017 I took the year off all things fitness to travel and to recover from some health issues – both physical and mental (burn out, depression, and anxiety are a bitch). In the process I gave over control and leadership of Team Bright Hammer to my trusted friend of many years, Michael “Wilko” Wilkins. Wilko saved the team from collapse and helped lead it into the direction it has gone in now – a supportive and social unit based on the love of the sport of OCR. The team has finally found and settled into its rhythm and its place with Wilko’s vision and way of doing things. When I returned from my travels and got my life in order in terms of my health issues the team was there to welcome me back as a member and as an occasional coach of monthly sessions.
Being part of Team Bright Hammer from this angle helped me get me back on my feet again in OCR and dive back into the sport again, first as a participant and then as a competitor again – all documented in my blog posts on this site titled “Putting some skin in the game”. For that I am grateful because it helped me get reacquainted with previously shelved aspirations and dreams I had not only as a competitive athlete but also as a coach, older and a little wiser these dreams became ideas that started to be mapped into goals and projects – soon I had one vision that I wanted to become a reality so bad that it even kept me awake at night as my brain wouldn’t shut off whenever I thought of it.
As an Age-grouper who prioritizes his time toward being the best athlete they can be and competing to the best of my potential in the sport of OCR – specifically Spartan Race as my main focus – I wanted to not only surround myself with people who want to do the same thing but that also who need help in the form of coaching, camaraderie, and quality programming to make that happen. At first I thought I could make this happen with a second squad within Team Bright Hammer (abbreviated as TBH) aimed at the competitive and progressive aspect of OCR, but after much discussion with Wilko it was decided that this may not be for the best of TBH as it could be divisive for the team and demoralising for some who do not share the values of my new project or direction of it. With his blessing I set off to start a new team in the Summer of 2019 and approach anyone who I thought would be a good fit for it.
This lead to the birth of Sigma Athletic, things have snowballed since then.
The goal of the team is simple – to become the best competitive OCR athletes that we can become, support each other in doing so, further OCR as a sport, and do all this through smart science backed training and coaching. There are some very big and well established teams in OCR – for the most part though I am not sure how many UK based OCR teams run themselves like an established sports team from say football or rugby would (I would love to know which ones do because it would be great to interact with the coaches involved and toss about a few ideas) – with a shared and in-depth vision of training, with coaching systems relevant to the sport in every way, with the setting of benchmarks and standards that every athlete should reach for in order to become a better racer, and with something more serious than socialising and racing for fun to give it focus.
I believe in this vision so much that I actually created an all new training system specifically to assess and improve the athletes involved – featuring quarterly testing, monthly training sessions, periodised programming, and guidance through out the season – there is even a reward system for the achievement of fitness standards and racing performance. I am proud of this training system to the point that I am actually stepping away from my involvement in Spartan SGX and other branded coaching qualifications permanently to go my own way as an OCR coach. I coach the Sigma Athletic method way and will be spending my time developing that.
With the above base set I have been joined for the 2019 to 2020 season by 8 like minded age group athletes who have embraced the vision of Sigma Athletic and who are ready to release their potential, we have spent nearly 2 months together already interacting through training in person and our whatsapp group and things are looking interesting for the coming year. I feel very lucky to be in a team with these individuals, every one of them brings something different to the squad and is perfect for it. I am not saying we are Real Madrid or the New England Patriots – far from it! We are not the best athletes in the world, the sport, the country, or the county by a long fucking shot – but it does not mean we cannot conduct ourselves like we are in how we train for and compete in the sport we love in order to make our own humble goals become potential achievements – and maybe help push the sport along in the process by showing a potential level of organisation and professionalism in regards to it.
From the outside looking in I do not think most of the world takes the sport of OCR seriously or even realizes how challenging and rewarding it can be, as well as how much work it takes to be a competitor in these events. This could be because in the UK we are still trying to crawl out from the “is it like tough mudder?” wallowing around in the mud with your mates image that OCR seems attached to. Even the most competitive event for OCR athletes in this country and the world (Spartan Race) has to market itself to that crowd still because we do not have enough competitive athletes in the sport, so the events have to attract people for all sorts of reasons or they won’t happen. I get this fully and believe there is a place for both the competitive, and participatory fun side of OCR to co-exist forever – both are as valid and relevant as each other. My reasons for being involved in this stand with the former though – wholeheartedly – I want OCR to be recognized as a serious sport and to be organised like it. If I can do my bit for that through this team then I will.
One of the reasons for my stance on this is due to a few conversations I have had in my time with people from other sports. Earlier this year I helped out at a half-marathon running race by doing some post-race sports massage for the athletes when they finished. While treating one runner their friend was talking to me about racing and training when the subject of Spartan Race came up and they asked me if that was some kind of Iron Man race. When I explained in detail what Spartan Race was they had a distasteful look on their face as they replied simply “Oh”. The conversation ended there. Another interaction with the S&C coach of a lower league Football team had them quite emphatically state that they “Don’t regard it (OCR) as a sport and never will”.
These are not the first, last, or only conversations I have had of this nature in regards to OCR. Maybe the individuals in these cases don’t understand what is involved in the preparation for a competitive race, or their image of obstacle racing events is tainted in part by the marketing used by many races in this country (it can be silly and does not help things), or they are just pricks. Who knows? It is not going to stop me from doing what I do or help like-minded people do the same, but I feel that being disrespected for it through ignorance is something I would like to see diminish with the sport improving and establishing itself more seriously in the UK. More people know about the Conker world championship than the fact the OCRWC event has been here in England two years running and that to me seems a little fucking daft.
They say you need to be the change you want to see – I hope that the creation of Sigma Athletic may help with that, if it does or doesn’t only time will tell – you are entitled to your actions but not the fruit of them. I am already enjoying the experience and opportunities this team is gifting me, and that is kind of the point – enjoyment. Although the direction may be serious it has enjoyment at its core – in my opinion: it is enjoyable to be challenged, it is enjoyable to progress in an activity you love, it is enjoyable to look back and see how far you have come, it is enjoyable to make a dream a reality, and it is enjoyable to be around like-minded people when all that is happening. It even makes the hard times, the avoidance of picking low hanging fruit, and the struggle/toil for improvement a bit more enjoyable. All of that is why I am here and why I had an uncontrollable need to make this team – for people who feel the same, who have that fire in their belly, and who want to put skin in the game. And with that, now the journey begins.