May 20, 2024

The Fluid Rules of OCR in 2019

Author: Charles MacDonald
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The Ever-changing Rules of OCR in 2019

A lot of amazing things have happened this year in OCR. Nicole Mericle finally won a Spartan World Championship. Ryan Atkins continued to reign supreme as the 24hr King. We saw Warrior Dash disappear before our very eyes. I think the one thing 2019 should be remembered for are rule changes. Rule changes and oversights has been an ongoing drama for OCR this year. From rules being changed and made in real time during races, to rules that didn’t need to be updated becoming updated. I wanted to take a look back on a few rule change controversies that shook the world of OCR. Rate the importance of these rule changes. Then explain what rules actually need to be looked at.

Ryan Woods and the A-Frame Cargo:

The Jacksonville Super was the first race of the Spartan North American Series. Ryan Woods originally finished second, after the race he received word that he was DQ’d for using the truss of the A-frame as he ascended the obstacle. Talking with racers at the time, we kind of already knew it was an unspoken rule to not use the truss when going up and down the cargo net.

Looking at the Spartan Rulebook at the time of that race, it wasn’t a DQ to use the truss but you actually had to redo the obstacle. After the race, Spartan took a few days and decided to overturn the DQ and make this a 5-minute penalty for using the truss. As of right now the Spartan rulebook says the A-frame cargo is still a repeatable obstacle. If you do grab the truss and do not repeat the obstacle and it is reviewed after the race, you will now receive a 10-minute time penalty. As well all know, 10 minutes clearly equals doing 30 burpees, right?

Where does this rule change sit in terms of importance? For the rule itself I don’t think it is very important, but in context to how this rule was enforced it is very important. It opened our eyes to how Spartan was handling their own rulebook. Things are able to change as they happen, and that will the trend for Spartan in 2019.

More Rule Changes:

August 2019, the Spartan US National Series is over. Webster and Atkins have won the points series. Spartan North American Championship in West Virginia is about to happen. Spartan drops a series of rule changes that are effective the day of the North American Championship. Leading up to this point there had been a outcries from the OCR community for years for Spartan to change and standardize certain obstacles. Was this the day? It was not. None of the changes were really what needed to be looked at and changed by Spartan.

These are just a quick run down of the major rule changes. They removed the mandatory 5 burpees from Atlas Carry. The Dunk Wall is now mandatory. During flip obstacles you must fully disengage with the object. This means you cannot rest it on your foot, or keep your hands on the object. This rule is actually a step in the right direction.

There were a few major rule changes that came out of left field. You could now carry the bucket above your head or on your shoulder. This is a rule I’m still not hot on for safety reasons. Depending on where the bucket carry is, if someone drops the bucket, that thing will start rolling down hill and someone’s ankles will be taken out. I’m also not hot on this rule because it wasn’t really needed. The bucket carry was always hard and we accepted that. So why are we now making it a little easier to carry these heavy buckets?

This final rule will lead me into my final rule change of 2019.

  • Competitors are not allowed to pre-run the course or engage with obstacles unless prior approval has been granted by Spartan. Events like Spartan’s Open house is considered approval for the areas mentioned for each specific event.

Source: Spartan Announces Rule Changes

The Pre-Run Debacle:

The final rule variance for Spartan Race in 2019. Two days before the Spartan Race World Championship in Tahoe, Spartan made an announcement that last year’s champ, Jon Albon, was under review for DQ for violating the rule I posted above. For the next two days this would be the big news of Tahoe. Many racers felt Albon hadn’t completely violated the pre-run rule. The common question being, “Why does it matter if he has run on part of the course when the course has been the same for several years now?” Spartan finally came to the conclusion that Albon would be allowed to race. They cited the fact that Spartan is still a new sport and the rules are still being sorted out. These kinds of things have happened in other sports as well.

Here is a link to a video of an explanation from Joe De Sena

Spartan isn’t the only one:

For North American OCR Champs 2019, on the 3k course for Friday the new rule was: “No chicken winging, or grabbing the back of the devils steps.” Little did most racers know that this would be a devastating rule change for many. Devils steps went from being a hard obstacle that with enough tries was passable, to being a band killer. I personally saw many veterans of the sport get stuck at the obstacle for hours until they eventually gave up or were taken off course. Many of the victims of this obstacle were women and I was told by a few that it was due to the reach disadvantage and not being able to use their elbows (chicken wing) the steps.

After the 3k Devils Steps massacre on Friday. Saturday’s 15k saw the update of being able to use the back of the steps and chicken wing. This was how the rules should have been in the first place, but for a lot of racers the damage had already been done. The countless retries from the day before sealed their fate for trying to complete obstacles with completely torn hands, and bruised forearms.

For a better idea of how difficult this obstacle can be, even with the chicken-wing technique. Here is a link to an athlete who was impacted most by the rule: NorAm Devil’s Steps with Chrissi

How does this impact the sport?

OCR is still a new sport; the rules are still changing and settling. As the sport grows in popularity we will see old rules change and some new rules come and go. If Spartan wants to be considered a sport, they need to look at how other sports handle their rules. For the majority of sports, rules, penalties, and fines are set at the beginning of their season. Spartan was changing their rules on the fly during the major chunk of their Championship series. Changing the rules as we go creates a bit of confusion among the athletes. It also makes OCR as a whole look a bit messy. I think if Spartan and OCR want to be considered as a real sport, we all need to get on the same set of rules, to have some sort of unification.

A lot of problems inside of Spartan have been the standardization of their obstacles. The sandbag carry is riddled with bags that are in varying types of condition and weight. In 2018 there was controversy over Robert Killian’s light sandbag at the US National Series champs. How could this be fixed? Partner with Wreck Bag. They’re all one weight, they’re better suited to be carried, and you can use them over and over again.

The other major rule change is, Mandatory Obstacle Completion in Spartan. This would mean no more burpees in the elite and age group categories. Most of the top competitive OCR companies require obstacle completion for their Pro categories; I still don’t understand why Spartan hasn’t gotten in line. This change would put Spartan on the same standards as the rest of the sport. Creating a mostly unified set of rules across the whole sport.


Looking ahead.

It is hard to say or predict what will happen in the sport of OCR in 2020. In the off-season I hope companies are looking through their rulebooks and getting ahead of the problems. As we see the sport of OCR rise, and obstacles and athletes evolve, I think we will see more rules change. As racers we can only hope that these rule changes happen at the right time and not during the races themselves. The best way for us racers to avoid such drama is to be up to date on the rules as they are at that time. Being well educated racers and enforce the rules ourselves can ensure a more steady and fair sport.

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