The OCR girls were the breakout, hard as nails team that got us talking at the OCRWC. For those that don’t know, (racing on Mars, perhaps?), the OCR Girls are Amelia Cocksedge, 16; Jess Cope, 14; and Evie Waring, 13. They are a junior OCR team that are inspiring people all the way from OCR sideliners to TV star athletes. We caught up with the girls to see what their 2018 game plan is, what drives them, and who they were most excited about meeting at OCRWC.
Everyone seems to have a backstory, or a reason as to how they ended up traipsing through muddy fields for fun, but the OCR Girls are far too young for that mid-life epiphany, so what was it that inspired them to start running obstacle races?
As expected, their biggest inspirations so far have been their parents. Amelia’s father Paul, for example, runs Cliff Lakes OCR training facility, and is well known to the OCR circuit. Amelia remembers wanting to join in, and being allowed to take on Reaper with Paul at her side: ‘I absolutely loved it. He told me he saw a lot of potential if I trained hard.’ And train hard she did – she is coached by her father at Cliff Lakes every week, and fondly remarks that she ‘would not be an OCR athlete without him.’ For Jess, her mother is behind her drive, encouraging her to use her talents and passion for the sport to race for this small, but determined team. Evie and her sister grew up with the sport; after her mother’s friend founded Total Warrior, and she went along ‘for support’ she herself was hooked: ‘I remember travelling to the Lake District aged 6 and asking when it was our turn to have a go,’ says Evie, who finally got her wish in 2016, after being entered into Mini Mudder. That, however, was too easy, and she progressed to Iron Run (now Uventure) where her love and talent for obstacle racing were realised.
With her determined attitude, it’s no wonder that Amelia cites OCR as her main sporting focus, as her schedule is insane. She takes Bear Grylls Fitness Classes (the girls are sponsored by Oxygen Freejumping which offers ninja rings, monkey bars, ropes and more) and the Snowdome Gym. All of the girls utilise Cliff Lakes for OCR specific training. There, they can work on hill sprints, slaloms, trail running, as well as on full size obstacles such as rigs and walls. They even make time for dips in the eponymous lake, which is, according to Amelia, ‘fun in the summer but bitterly cold during winter acclimatisation sessions.’ Rather them than us. Her gym sessions are fit in around Cliff lakes training, and though it may seem intense, it’s fun, and it really shows in her performance.
Jess is no stranger to athleticism, but got a bit bored with track life: ‘I used to compete in 1500 and 800m and trained with Royal Sutton Coldfield Athletics Club and represent West Midlands County. I am still a member of RSCAC and train with them on occasion but unfortunately the times clash with training at Cliff Lakes, which is a shame as it helps my running. But as enthusiastic and supportive as they are, I just found track running a little dull.’ We suspect she’s not alone in that. As well as hitting RSCAC and Windley Gym, Jess also manages to fit in the occasional BMF in Sutton Park, training every day except Friday, hitting the weights and Wreck Bags in the gym, and getting out on a couple of runs each week, which makes us feel like terrible underachievers.
Evie’s training is also incredibly structured. It has to be, because she plays hockey. But not just any old hockey- she’s involved in the U14 Hockey Championship Cup, plays for Matlock Baileans and is at county level for Derbyshire as part of the England Player Pathway. Obviously a hugely sporty individual, her focus is divided between Hockey and OCR, with her schedule a dizzying array of indoor cycling on a Monday morning, hockey training in the evening, training with the other OCR Girls at Cliff lakes on Tuesday, and either running or circuits on a Wednesday. Thursday is devoted to hockey training and the weekend is dedicated to Races or Matches. On Friday, she recuperates. In the spirit of OCR community, Evie attends a run-coaching group led by Shaun Wilde, another familiar face on the UK scene, and an excellent mentor at that.
It’s worth noting that all of the girls do all of this intense training around a full school timetable, which is just so impressive. Though, we’d wager school would have been far from their minds in October of this year, when they flew out to Canada with their families to be part of the Obstacle Racing World Championships. This race was to be their hardest test, with the girls describing it as an ‘amazing, unbelievable experience’. Amelia took on the 3k Journeyman with her dad, and we’re not even sorry for tearing up as she explains why: ‘This year was all about the experience and enjoying it. It was definitely the right decision, as I got to run alongside my dad and cross the finish line with him.’ For her, the hardest part of it all was controlling her nerves, and that is completely understandable considering that it rained, and everything was so slippery. She maintains that she ‘finished proud’, but probably nowhere near as proud as her dad will have been in that moment.
Jess, who ran in age group along with Evie, believes her hardest challenge was getting the Wreck Bag, (a considerable proportion of her own bodyweight) up the mountain. The race seemed a positive experience overall though. ‘The whole thing was a physical and mental battle but the race was so obstacle heavy that I lost track of time and distance. It was all over in one overwhelming, exciting rush.’
Evie is perhaps more analytical about the details of her race. She certainly enjoyed herself, but reflects on the loss of her band from a more strategic angle; ‘I lost my band at the Platinum Rig, this was a real grounding for me as when I walked the course with my Mum on Thursday, it was the one obstacle I was confident about. Once I had failed at the low monkey bar section my forearms were destroyed but I was determined to complete it and stayed at the rig for an hour and twenty minutes. This turned out to be a bad decision and something I will learn from, it started raining and the harder I tried the more difficult it became. Yes, it was harder than I imagined, but it's the OCRWC - it's got to be tough.’ Defiant, she adds, ‘I will conquer it next time.’
Working together in the team race was something the girls were equally excited and nervous to do. Amelia describes her struggle with self doubt versus her desire to support her teammates perfectly; ‘I did the strength section which I was really nervous to do as I don’t see myself as very strong, but I knew my girls were relying on me - so I got my head down, powered up that mountain and got the job done. It was the best thing I’d ever done. I feel like I’m a better person for doing it.’
Though they’re in it together, the girls don’t feel alone, each individually acknowledging the amazing support they received from the sidelines; ‘The OCR community from all over the world is so kind and supportive. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without encouragement from all the people racing alongside me.’ Says Amelia. Jess recalls similar support from friends and strangers alike. ‘[It] was incredible, I’ve never seen so many people come together at one event and greet strangers as if they were dearest friends. I really want to thank everyone who supported us out there and back here too.’ Evie too remembers feeling genuine astonishment at the welcome they were given in Canada; ‘We didn’t expect the reception we received. All nations were just so encouraging and helpful. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to participate.’
The central theme here is that the OCR Girls feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to race among the greats, almost discounting the hard work it took to get there in the first place. When asked who their OCR heroes were, many names were thrown into the mix; Conor Hancock, Jon Albon, Hunter McIntyre, Tristan Steed, and everyone’s favourite nettle hater, James Appleton, but the name that came up unanimously was Brooke Van Paris, AKA, Beast Mode Barbie. Brooke’s life was almost shattered in a car accident that damaged her hands beyond use for a time. The way she powered through this, recovered and became not just a big name in OCR, or bodybuilding, but on shows such as American Grit and the Broken Skull Challenge has ignited a fire in each of our racers. ‘She told us to believe in ourselves and inspire others,’ says Evie, recounting how Brooke followed them around the course to coach and encourage - a perfect example of a strong woman selflessly fostering the talent of a new generation.
Is it off the back of this that the OCR Girls want to ‘dedicate [their] lives to OCR and to strive to be the best’? We don’t doubt it. But how do they think we can urge more young people to take up the sport? Jess believes it’s by changing perceptions of OCR as a sport. ‘Most at my school think of OCR as running around a field, crawling through a tunnel and jumping over a few hurdles, but it’s very different from an obstacle race at sports day! The first thing is to get people to understand what’s involved.’ She suggests that kids clubs at OCR facilities are the way to get kids motivated, just like the one run by Cliff Lakes. Amelia wants to promote OCR through their sponsors, contact schools and even offer to go in and talk to her peers about how fun it can be. Again, Evie discusses the bigger picture, ‘OCR is about having fun and reaching your full potential, and finding things that you didn't know you could do before, all as part of a team. We need more junior races and an opportunity to compete on more adult courses so that we can prepare for OCRWC.’ Which really stands as a call to existing races to ensure provision for this hungry generation of junior competitors. The girls all want to run smaller races as a team to encourage curious young athletes to step out of their comfort zone and into the muddy embrace of a junior UK team. We would hope that race brands are listening to this when planning their 2018 seasons.
Looking to 2018 is something the girls are already well on top of. After concluding that OCRWC was a ‘massive eye opener’, Amelia and Evie are set on more gym sessions and running, respectively. They’re also bringing trampoline training in to enhance core strength. Evie has even descended into the realms of the scientific: ‘We are focussing on my forward power and my lactic threshold to assist with recovery after obstacles and to make me more efficient.’ Which, aside from putting us to shame, sounds very useful indeed. Jess, however, has other priorities; ‘I need to improve my technical ability and my grip strength, particularly in the wet. I also need to grow, as one of the problems was just not being able to reach far enough!’ [Preach. –Ed]
So where will we find these tough cookies over the coming months? What’s next for the OCR Girls, as we’re fairly sure it’s not winter hibernation? It looks like they’ll all be at Zeus race, raising money for Olivia’s Journey, a very worthy charity. They are stepping up to the challenge of running with TeamDan, ensuring safe passage of Dan and his wheelchair around the course. Of course, World and Spartan championships are on their hit list, so there’s no rest, just training, training and more training. ‘We can definitely succeed’, says Jess, of her plans to overcome next year’s obstacles, while Evie remains steely in her resolve: ‘I’m determined to do the UK proud’.
What she may not realise though, is when it comes to these girls, we already are.