From OCR Europe (and via Heather Gannoe on Twitter), comes this: Red Bull is planning a swimming-based obstacle course race, Neptune Steps. “Competitors will face the challenge of a 420 metre sprint swim through the Maryhill Locks in Glasgow, incorporating eight climbs over the canal’s lock gates. Each gate will present a different test, with cargo nets, rope ladders or ropes to aid the ascent,” the article states.
This really excites me, although maybe it shouldn’t. See, I was a swimmer as a kid. Not a good one. I’ve been fat all my life, and that’s not terribly conducive to fast swimming, although I sort of found a niche doing butterfly, since most other people wanted to do it.
The thing is, I haven’t swam for fitness purposes seriously since maybe two years out of college, and not at all in probably 10 years. So while I feel like it would be possible to pick up and do the kind of swimming workouts I did as a kid (5,000 yards twice a day, at times), I know from my limited Master’s swimming experience that workouts are more like 3,000 yards, and it would probably take a while to build up even to that. (I can remember a time, one of the many false starts I had made to getting into exercising, and I would be completely gassed doing 2 lengths. (That’s 50 yards, the shortest race there is.)
In my mind, a 500 (namely, 500 yards—the closest standard-length race to the Red Bull course, which is 420 meters) is something that’s pretty easy to knock out. In reality, I would definitely need to work at it. If an aquatic OCR were a viable option, I’m pretty sure I’d make the effort.
That gets us to the (not-so-)fine print. This event will, after all, be held in Scotland, which is a bit of a haul for me. Moreover, it’s only going to be open to 100 elite athletes, so I’m definitely not included in that.
That’s probably okay, though. It might take a few tries running this type of event and working the kinks out before it becomes something that should be opened to the masses. For example, 420 meters isn’t really a terribly long race. (As a not-terribly-accomplished swimmer, I could have done that in about 6 minutes at my best; a decent but unexceptional varsity high school boy would probably be a bit above 4 minutes.) I think that means capacity would be an issue—If you let a big wave (ha!) go, there’s not much room for the pack to split up. That may well be why they’re limiting the race to a pot (ha!) of 100 people. But that limitation makes it tough to scale it (No, I can’t call that a pun, unless there’s a bunch of haddock in the canal) up to be an open OCR race.
It looks like they’re running it as a series of heats, with winners advancing to semi-finals and then finals. That makes sense, given the sprintesque nature of the race. Even that classification is a bit weird: In swimming, a 500 is the first race classified as a “distance” race (the first one where you have someone at one end of the pool counting laps for you, with these plastic boards that flip over and only count the odd numbers, except that there are solid orange flaps that signify that you’re doing your last flip turn). But the likely 10-20 minute duration of this race would be ludicrously sprinty for the OCR world. But again, that kind of heat structure might make for weird scaling to the open OCR world.
It’s hard to tell from the article, but the obstacles do seem a bit meh… cargo nets, ladders, “short rope climbs,” and a climbing wall. It seems like they’re just varying ways of getting over the “terrain”—the canal has a series of locks, and the obstacles are located at those barriers.
What would make great aquatic obstacles, though? Something like a Hercules Hoist, where you have a weight and pulley system on the shore but you have to swim the rope around a bar that’s anchored 10 feet underwater might be interesting, but it might also be a ludicrous insurance risk. I haven’t quite managed to adjust my thinking to say, “Here’s what would be awesome!”
So really, all I can say is, I hope the event goes well, and I hope the concept takes off. And if it does, you may have a chance to see me in a Speedo.
(Enjoy that thought!)