“It’s not going to be fair.”

Those were the first words out of the mouth of Rob Day, the brainchild of Hurt Locker. Normally when I review an event, I begin by summarizing the event concept as it generally fits within the normal box we place OCR into. However, I want the reader to go into this recap the same way the participants did. Completely in the dark. Not literally, of course.

When athletes registered for the first-ever Hurt Locker, they were only told they have to register in teams of four, when and where the event would be, and that this challenge was not for the faint of heart. All signs pointed towards a challenge along the lines of a Hurricane Heat or a Go Ruck. The event sold out the same day tickets went on sale. OCR athletes are a different breed, but you already knew that.

Upon arrival, what was normally an empty field was littered with fifty logs, ropes, and sandbags along with 100 pipes, affectionately known as the X-Bombs. Behind them were the numbers 1-50, representing the 50 teams that registered. Imaginations began to run wild wondering what sort of challenges would be associated with the equipment. The pre-challenge briefing began to answer some of the questions everyone had asked, what is Hurt Locker.

The concept was three-pronged. Rob advised the crowd that they were going to be tested in the three main elements of obstacle racing: speed, strength, and grip. He referred to these challenges as evolutions. Each evolution would begin with a seeding round to determine the top 10 teams going into each challenge. As all of the teams did different parts of each evolution in order to avoid backlog, I will only discuss the specifics of what my team endured as I can’t speak to everyone else’s experience.

Speed

The first seeding round took many back to something they have not done since grade school: the Beep Test. The standard test is a shuttle run between pylons 20 metres apart with the time to complete the distance decreasing the further along you get. This version was a little different. In your team of four, you would complete the test in relay fashion until everyone on your team failed to reach their pylon in the allotted time. In addition, this iteration included a “there-and-back” instead of just running to the pylon, so the distance was double. On top of that change, the distance increased as time went on. Running sprints on soft top soil is no easy task. It was clear the intent of this was to tire out competitors early. After nearly 20 minutes, the top 10 had been sorted and we were ready to begin the speed challenge. The advantage given to the top teams was a mere 3 minutes. Those teams would tell you they had 10, but the director changed the time as soon as those teams had left base camp. He did say it would be unfair.

For this challenge, teams would have to orienteer themselves around the venue based on a map they were given while holding a 7-foot piece of rope at all times. This forced teams to stick together and not send off their fastest people while the rest relaxed. To prove you had been to a specific point on the map, there would be a coach handing out poker chips which resulted in points being awarded to your team. Coaches were colour coded into red, green, and blue sections which determined how many chips were awarded and when their particular station opened up. Our team learned early on that finding a coach before their station opened would only result in them running away from you and causing you to waste time (we only had an hour to get as many chips as we could before returning to base. The penalty for arriving late was forfeiting all of our poker chips). Although this task was relatively straight forward, it forced many to increase/decrease their regular pace based on their teammates as well as to navigate from a map, something not everyone is familiar with today. The biggest obstacle was deciding what areas of the map to target and when, because each coach only had enough chips for the first 10 teams they encountered. It was not an uncommon sight to witness a coach tied up with a team’s rope to prevent them from running away with the chips (sorry Keith).

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Photo Credit: Jackie Ruiz

Strength

The seeding round of this evolution stepped up the intensity on an already fast-paced event. In a similar fashion to the first seeding event, teams would have to travel between increasingly distant points. This time, teams would use between two and four of their members to carry a dense log in a straight arm shoulder press while lunging to the pylon. Once they reached their target, they had to put the weight down and pick it back up before returning to the start. While this was happening, teams would have a coach calling out “no-reps” to teams who did not do proper lunges or who started bending their arms. Many regarded this as the hardest part of the day.

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Photo Credit: Kim Bray

As previously stated, this event was “unfair.” During the entire strength portion that followed the seeding round, teams were required to carry a 40-pound sandbag with them the entire time, alternating as they saw fit between teammates. For those who earned a top 10 finish, they were “rewarded” with a second bad to carry. This time, teams were again required to navigate to different sections of the property using a map provided to them. However, this time teams had to orienteer to specific areas on course to complete a variety of strength-based tasks. Once they completed the task, they would have to return to base camp before venturing out to their next objective. In some instances, it served as a way to increase the distance teams ran as some challenges were located beside one another. Returning to the theme of unfairness, it would seem that some tasks were intentionally mislabeled on the map as a way to throw off athletes. Some dealt with the mind games well, others took some time to adjust.

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Photo Credit: Sonya Elias

As I previously mentioned, all teams were given different tasks to complete from one another so I can’t list everything that was done. For our team, we had to complete a heavy propane tank challenge (one of the mislabeled challenges, so we elected to go back to base and attempt the next on our list), a giant hay bale push, long-distance tractor tire flip, as well as pulling a full-sized Jeep. The coaches were assigned to follow teams to ensure all of the tasks were completed correctly and to provide support and motivation. There were a total of 13 different challenges that teams could complete so everyone was able to walk away with similar, yet different experiences.

Grip

The final seeding round took quite a toll on the majority of athletes. As seen in the previous two rounds, teams were challenged with completing line touches where the distance increased over time. This round, teams were instructed to carry a 15-20 pound pipe on the top end in each hand. Imagine you are carrying a cup on the lip of the glass rather than the side or the handle. This again was done in a relay fashion but some teams elected to have teammates run multiple lengths before passing off the X-Bombs, which was allowed. The top 10 teams were given an actual reward of bonus points that would count towards their totals. All teams were required to have one person carry both pipes at any given time during the grip challenge that followed. The top 10 teams were informed they would have to have two people carrying two pipes at all times, the same way they were asked to carry a second sandbag in the prior event. Did someone say this event was unfair?

As I am sure you have guessed, the final round involved teams finding different challenges on the map carrying the X-Bombs everywhere they went, returning to base camp before attempting their next assigned challenge. This time, all of the challenges had a grip strength focus but now there were specific rules for how many times each task had to be completed. The rule of thumb required teams to complete each obstacle 4 times with only 5 attempts. If teams elected to, they could have two people complete the obstacle twice, but no one could do it 4 times consecutively. On others, Hurt Locker employed the “team touch” rule. Team touch requires all the members of a team to be on a given obstacle and have a hand placed on each other before they could finish the obstacle. More on this later.

Our team was required to attempt Olympus, team touch peg board z-wall, rope climb, a floating door rig, and a normal style rig. As the rest of the obstacles are fairly self-explanatory, I wanted to elaborate on the team touch concept. The pegboard z-wall is an obstacle where you are required to traverse a series of walls as you would for a normal Z-Wall, but in this instance, your hand grips were wooden dowels you placed into holes as you made your way through. The footholds were rather thin and fairly dirty, so athletes had to focus their energy on their upper body strength. As this was a team event, you could help your teammates through, but the team touch aspect did not count until all members were on the wall with some sort of body contact being made. Then each member had to complete the obstacle without falling off. By the end of it all, it was difficult to carry any weight, let alone hold your body weight as the X-Bombs quickly depleted any strength left in competitors' forearms.

Analysis

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Photo Credit: Colton Hamson

So, did Hurt Locker live up to expectations?

This question isn’t really possible to answer. Going into the event, participants were not told what to expect. Not to mention that it was the first ever time this event was organized. Having said that, the “safe” assumption going into the challenge was that it was going to resemble a Hurricane Heat. This proved to be untrue.

While it did share some elements of a Hurricane Heat in the sense that there was a focus on teamwork and completing difficult tasks together, there were more differences than similarities. There was no gear list full of obscure items. It felt more like six mini races within a six-hour span. Not what this writer expected going into the challenge, but a welcome surprise. This was perhaps the best part of the day. Truly not knowing what to expect, forcing teams to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

As with any new event, there were some hiccups. But what have I said about fairness up to this point? The only downside that was overheard throughout the pit area was the amount of downtime between challenges. Although it could have been part of the plan, there was quite a bit of inactive time where racers quickly stocked up on food and water before stretching and chatting with other teams. To put a positive spin on it, it gave everyone an equal chance to recover going into the next section of tasks.

Overall, it was a fun experience that didn’t end up being as much of a sufferfest as one would anticipate. It would be interesting to see how a twelve-hour Hurt Locker would operate. Given the model of rest used, it may be the best time allotment to employ.