On Sunday 14 October 2018, the Jungle Babes entered their first team OCR event – the Northface Outdoor Challenge. In our team of nine, six were racing for the first time ever. To encourage our newbie racers, we opted for the advance category – 15 km and 8 obstacles – instead of the elite category – 30 km and 12 obstacles.
In the lead up to race day, I found myself feeling surprisingly calm – quite a difference to how I felt before the Spartan Race earlier this year. Aside from the usual workouts and a couple of long hikes, I did almost no OCR-specific training. There were only 8 obstacles, so how bad could it be? Additionally, the organisers had confirmed that there would be no burpee penalty for the Advance category. In my mind, it was already going to be easier than Spartan Race because I think the burpees are the real killers.
The distance was 15 km, almost double the Spartan Sprint, but after completing two half marathons this year (IJM Duo Highway Challenge and 2XU Compression Run), I felt confident about that, too. As a team, we had already agreed we were not going to run the distance, so I knew it was definitely doable, even with the inclines. To be sure, we did some hiking training at Bukit Saga-Apek and hit all the killer inclines at Bukit Gasing.
What worried me was not the race, but the fact that I was not worried enough. Murphy’s Law has a way of killing you if you don’t account for it. I knew that I needed to feel some level of anxiety if I was going to be prepared for race day.
Thankfully, the build up came the night before when I had trouble sleeping. I woke up at 1 am and couldn’t go back to sleep until around about 2 am. I was conscious of being in light sleep for much of the night and was not really sure when I was asleep or in the alpha/theta state. This was atypical for me because sleep is almost never a problem and waking up at night is rare.
When race day came around, the Jungle Babes forgot all our anxieties and were off to our usual shenanigans and camwhoring. We are great believers in that statement – “if there’s no photo, did it even happen?”
Then there was our trademark shot – “all for one and one for all”. This was the before shot, when we were all still nice and clean. Scroll down to see the after shot.
At 8:10 am, it was time for us to get into the pen for our flag off. They gave us some warm-ups which included, among other things, some star jumps, jogging on the spot, quick feet, squats and push-ups. It was almost reminiscent of the functional training in Emilio’s boxing class at Tribe.
They also held a few mini competitions, like the fastest to complete 20 squats and 20 push-ups. We didn’t bother at all with the push-ups.
The Northface Outdoor Challenge Advance Trail
When something went wrong…
The image on the left is the map of the trail we were supposed to run. The image on the right was recorded by my Garmin Fenix 3. Due to some misplaced markers or poor signage, everyone got lost on race day. At least I think it was everyone because there were a lot of people hovering about in confusion. The Advanced category ended up running some 8 km plus and the Elite category only completed 15 km or thereabouts (can’t be sure on the number for the latter because my information was all hearsay).
When we realised something was not quite right… After running for a while, we could hear the music from the start point even though we hadn’t even covered half the distance. Then we saw a large group of runners stopped by the side of the trail.
“Are they waiting for the rest of their team?” I wondered.
As we approached them, one person asked, “How far have you run?”
I glanced down at my watch and noticed it had only recorded about 7 km. When I told him so, he replied that their trackers were also around the 7 km mark. Something was clearly wrong because we were near the finish line and there was no way we would be covering another 8 km before we crossed it.
“Potong stim” is the Malaysian phrase for the feeling we felt. After all the water and gels I packed, it seemed I had over estimated how hard it would be. This was a walk in the park. Feeling a bit cheated of a challenge, we started to back track. Perhaps if we retraced our steps all the way back to the start, we could cover the distance that was promised.
Along the way, we found an even larger group of people congregating around one of the intersections. Apparently, they, too, were confused by the distance. We saw some Elite racers coming in and they confirmed that they hadn’t covered the required distance either.
Thinking back to the trail we had covered, it had been very clear which way we had to go. I can think of no point at which we were uncertain about the route. There were even guides stationed at some of the intersections to steer us onto the right path. We couldn’t have made a mistake because every other racer had made the same mistake and the odds of that is just too unlikely.
Finally, an organiser on a bike caught up with us and directed us onto a different path. There was another moment of apprehension when we had to cross a construction site that clearly stated “No trespassing”. Not that it stopped us because almost everyone entered the site in search for the trail. Evidently, a lot of people wanted the race they paid for.
True to form, the Jungle Babes were not able to pass this truck without a camwhore moment. Yes, we’re shameless.
We picked up the trail further in and continued on. The final distance I covered, according to Garmin, was 13.74 km. It took us 3 hours 34 minutes, but I’m sure we could have done it faster if we hadn’t gotten lost. The delay in finding the trail meant a lot more people ended up queuing at the obstacles because we were now all clumped together.
What Happened on Race Day
After some investigation by the organisers, they offered us the following explanation and a RM150 store credit to all participants by way of apology for what happened:
#1 – Distance Shortage
Incident: Distances for both Elite and Advanced categories were cut short by almost 40%.
Reason: Some signage and markers at key junctions/intersections were found to be missing during the event, while others were found to be misleading for participants. Unknown motorists were discovered diverting participants to wrong directions.
#2 – Marshals/Crews/Volunteers
Incident: Shortage of manpower at certain areas, lack of route knowledge.
Reason: Total manpower was sufficient, however some marshals/crew/volunteers were reshuffled and relocated to key areas due to incident 1. Furthermore, due to the heavy rain from the previous night, some arrangements had to be amended.
#3 – Safety
Incident: Obstacles such as river/lake crossing and the mud hills were not up to safety standards.
We understand all safety concerns including comments regarding the first aid teams and will definitely improve on this in the future.
As a token of our appreciation for your feedback and patience with us, our team has announced a reward plan on our Facebook page. You may check out the post in the link below for further information.
It was good to see the organisers taking full responsibility for the error.
There were supposed to be 8 obstacles, but there were instances where I wasn’t sure if the thing we did was considered an obstacle. Some of the labels below are not the correct names either.
Personally, I didn’t think the trench was an obstacle but others disagreed, so I’m including it here. If you count the river slide and crossing as two separate obstacles, then this makes nine obstacles. I remember wading through this trench at the Spartan Sprint earlier this year – we had to cross it on the way back to the finish.
The Mud Hill Jump
I don’t have any proper pictures but it is essentially a series of dirt hills separated by a crevasse in between each hill. We had to jump over the gap without falling into it.
It was a surprisingly fear-inducing obstacle because the distance between the dirt hills was pretty of far. For the vertically-challenged individuals, it was a “bully short people” obstacle. That said, even with my height advantage, I still fell into the chasm. Not that I should have been surprised since I’ve always sucked at long jump.
The Ladder Crossing
I think the picture is pretty self-explanatory – walk across the ladder without falling into the water. Nearly fell off this one but managed to catch myself before I tipped in.
A few people went on all fours, which I think was allowed. Either that or we were allowed because we were in the advanced category. The marshals were only strict with the elite racers.
The Cargo Net Monkey Swing
Like the monkey bars except that you’re holding onto a cargo net that sags under your weight. That meant that the next bit of webbing you have to reach will be higher up. The best thing to do is to swing so you have the momentum to get up to the next bit of webbing without having to do a one-arm lock-off. I didn’t expect to make it, but I was surprised to get further than I thought I would.
I think this is an obstacle I could complete with more training in the right setting. Stuff like hanging on one arm would be good practice for this, too. I fell off because I missed the next bit of webbing and couldn’t hold on for long enough on one hand to get the other hand back up to the webbing.
The Sandbag Carry
This was optional for the Advanced category but I did it anyway. They told us that these bags weighed 15 kg each and were the same for men and women. I couldn’t swing the sack over my shoulder so I carried it “bucket style”. This was a lot easier than the Bucket Brigade or the Sandbag Carry that we had to do at Spartan because the distance was a lot shorter and the ground was flat.
The Ice Bath
Jump into a container of icy water, wade across to the other side and climb out. This was actually pretty refreshing. So refreshing that I did it twice.
The River Slide
We had to climb up a ladder to the top of a platform and slide down a steep slope into the river. They gave us the option of wearing a life jacket but the water at this part of the river was barely waist deep. They also had people at the bottom to pull you up just in case you have any trouble finding your footing.
It was a little scary at the top because the slide is so steep. There is no way to control your speed once you’re off. The thing that made it worse was that we had to stay up on the platform until the people below moved off and we were cleared to go. The longer we had to sit up there waiting, the more the fear builds up. I think it would have been less scary if we jumped as soon as we got to the top so we didn’t have time to register the fear.
The River Crossing
Of course we had to camwhore before crossing the river…
The river crossing was just like Spartan so it was pretty easy.
The Warped Wall
This was the last obstacle and, in my opinion, the hardest. With a running start, you have to get up high enough on the wall to catch the end of the rope and haul yourself up.
I gave it a go but failed for so many reasons. One of my biggest problems with obstacles is my inability to “wing it”. Given a chance to practice, I think a lot of things can be learned but where do you go to learn how to do something like this?
Even if you do manage to catch hold of the rope while in motion (a downward one at that), you have to resist gravity and haul yourself up an almost vertical incline with shoes that have no grip on a surface like this. So yeah, perhaps I don’t think I would have gotten through this even with training.
Because we leave no Babe behind, we all crossed the finish line together. And because that’s part of the rules for teams – you can’t cross until all your team members are with you.
The after shot of “all for one and one for all” with our medals and muddy shoes:
Compared to the Spartan Race, I thought this race was easy. I’d like to think it was partly due to an increase in fitness on my part but I cannot deny that it was definitely an easier race. The distance might have been nearly twice that of the Spartan Race, but everything else was kinder. The weather was overcast so we weren’t suffering under the intense heat from the sun. There was no burpee penalty, and there was only one third the number of obstacles. Easy, easy, easy. So easy that I didn’t even need the energy gels or the chocolate that I packed. One of the Jungle Babes even said that the training hike at Bukit Gasing that I put them through was harder than this so make what you will of that.
This was my first race in a team since I was in school. Up until now, I have loathed being in a team because I am not physically inclined. If anything, I am physically challenged. I have to work twice as hard to be half as good as everyone else around me. It kills me to let the team down because I am not good enough. In school, I was butterfingers because I would always drop the ball at the most critical moment of the race.
Being a part of the Jungle Babes is different. They give me the confidence to be a part of a team because they are forgiving when I am not as good as I should be. No one gets upset at the last person for slowing the team down because it’s not about the timing or being fast, but about being a team and helping each other. We wait to cross the finish line together because we leave no Babe behind. And that’s a team I will always feel comfortable being with.