In this interview, Adrian Bijanda—founder of the OCR World Championships—talks everything obstacle course racing.
What was your intention behind starting the OCR World Championships (an event that’s now in its fourth year)?
Bijanda: As the sport grew, we had this idea about introducing an independent platform to bring races and athletes together from all over the world for one amazing weekend. It's a race designed to be a good mix of everything in the sport today—an aggregate of various types of events.
We also try to make our event as spectator-friendly as possible. We want you to be able to see each athlete six times throughout the race, and at the start and finish. That’s a priority for us. I remember when I used to do half Ironmen and I would see my wife at the start and then six hours later at the finish. “How was your race? I saw you at the start and then sat in the car…”. So making sure you get to see the athletes more than that is definitely a focus.
As someone who isn’t an obstacle course racer, can you elaborate on what you mean by an aggregate of various types of events?
Bijanda: Well, different regions of the world tend to host different kinds of events. The USA ’s events tend to be more gritty and focus on things like heavy carries. In Scandanavia, the obstacles tend to be more technical, more akin to parkour or a Ninja Warrior-type of obstacles. Australia tends to be a good blend of everything, and the sport in the UK is stil growing. I'd say the UK market is a year or two behind the US market. In fact, when we first launched the Word Championships, there weren't enough events held in the UK (for athletes to qualify from). But now there’s pretty much an event every weekend in the UK.
Diversity of obstacles is a priority for Bijanda
So how do athletes qualify for the World Championships?
Bijanda: We partner with various races—like Warrior Dash and Battle Frog—and determine qualifying criteria from each event, and then people can qualify based on whether they meet the quailfying criteria from that event.
What are the best physical features for an athlete to have to excel at your event?
Bijanda: Honestly the best athletes for our event are just well-rounded. They have to be really good mountain runners, but they also need to possess the skill set and strength to tackle quite challenging obstacles. You defiinitely can’t get by with only being a good runner. If you look like a typical marathon runner, I think you'd have a tough time with the heavy carries or the rig-type events.
The best athletes in this sport I see are spending a ton of time focusing on running—mountain running and uphill running—and mountain climbing, as well as grip strength and obstacle proficiency. The ones at the top of the podium have a diversified training (plan).
Where would you like to see your event in five years?
Bijanda: We're very focused on making it the hallmark of our sport, similar to the Boston Marathon in that sport. I want it to be known to deliver the best athlete experience possible. We want athletes to show up and feel special, and have a chance to meet their fellow athletes from around the world. And we want it to be the most diverse event. Already this year, we have athletes from more than 50 nations competing.
And, of course, we’re hoping to gain more mainstream media attention down the line. We have had talks with various networks about putting it on the air, but we’re at a place where we need to figure out what’s the best use of our money right now. Is it worth spending US$250,000 to get something on ESPN or is it better to spend it on athlete experience right now? There’s a lot to consider there, but of course, TV would be a great way to showcase our athletes.
Where do you see the sport in general heading?
Bijanda: I think we're at a place where the market is settling down a bit in the US and has become less saturated. There are still plenty of events, but now we're on this level trajectory. I think we will continue to see this in the US. And globally, we’re really starting to see different regions of the world develop their own characteristics at their events.
The 2017 OCR World Championships—which offer a 3-km, a 15-km and a team relay event—are slated to be held in October at Blue Mountain Resort in Ontario for the second year in a row. Next year, Bijanda said he's looking to move the even to Europe.