The very first Red Bull Conquer the Castle was a highly anticipated race by most Danish OCR Athletes. With almost 200 athletes signed up for the competitive waves and more than 1200 athletes ready for some fun-running, the weekend was looking particularly interesting! Quite a change from Uppsala Survival Run (230 participants) I did just a week before.
I had known about the race and concept for a long time, being onboard on one of the poster-athletes with Ida Mathilde. We knew Red Bull Denmark would bring the big guns and make sure everyone had a great time. For the exercisers, the Saturday course was a 4k race with a nicely narrated story towards conquering Egeskov Castle, for the competitive athletes the fight was on to get a top-32 position to start in the 1/8-finals the next morning.
I did a strategic Saturday race and conserved my energy, cheering on my co-racers, getting to know the course and having a good time. Every once in a while I was scared I was going too easy to make the cut and I sped up shortly, but finishing 8th and securing my spot there was nothing to worry about. On the Sunday morning I had a very clear plan to get through to the finals and a good idea of who I would meet there – it turns out my predictions were correct, but I still had to race the course at 9 AM (1/8 finals), 11 AM (1/4 finals), 1 PM (semi-finals) and at 3 PM (finals). This was not going to be an easy day and endurance events do not favour my fitness at all.
4 people in each heat, 2 people would continue in a solid knock-out format. The 9 AM race round went alright and I easily made it through with a win, Patrong right on my tails. Nikolaj Dam also made the cut and we met in the quarter-finals which we raced right next to each other – Patrong not really wanting to let go, so we had to keep an OK pace to secure 1st and 2nd. Nikolaj I know is faster than me, so the 1/4 rounds were even easier for him and two things were starting to get to me at this point; the damn cold and the Mulan-style carry:
I was also starting to feel a bit exhausted from the continuous tear and wear on the body, although my sports therapist did all he could to keep Nikolaj, Ida and I ready for the battles to come.
The real Hunger Games began in the semi-finals.
Jens Loff and Andreas Stahl would join Nikolaj and I at the start line and knowing both well, there was no longer a choice for me to hold back. Jens runs a solid 9:32 on the 3000m track and Andreas beat me at Reborn and just got the 5th fastest time at the Toughest Finals! As soon as the gun went off these guys were sprinting for the first obstacle, which was hammering a nail into wood, representing building some ballista. Straight to the rope climb and I found myself in 3rd or 4th. I never go hard in the beginning, but with just a 4k race, it’s not possible to hold back too much. I took 2nd before the Mulan-style carry in the forest and kept the position for some 1,5 kilometers, until I miss my first try on an obstacle! The obstacle was called wings; a high wall with a plateau sticking out one meter, which you needed catch whilst shooting yourself off the wall. My foot slipped and Andreas overtook me – the noose was tightening!
I was chasing after Andreas and the next obstacle, tossing a rope and climbing a wall with the rope, followed by a short swim didn’t get me much closer. I managed to gain time in the Torture Chamber (low rig) and took the lead (sorry, Nikolaj was in the lead but this was OUR race!) and ran hard. Turns out I’m a big old fool though, as I changed my previous functional strategies with the heavy atlas ball that we had to roll over logs – Andreas overtook me again… I was chasing and chasing, but only getting a bit closer and the race was almost over! Lucky for me, Andreas chose a catapult (yes, there was catapults) further from the last swim than I – and somehow I swam a bit faster, taking the lead again. Being utterly exhausted after the swim I crawled over the walls and raced into the last “obstacle”, which was a huge maze.
I broke down the doors before the finish line and fucking made it, 10 seconds ahead of Andreas! This was to me SUCH a success! I was very scared about my shape and the race didn’t favour me much, but I kept it together and managed to secure a spot in the finals. I was, of course, sorry Andreas couldn’t join, he’s a really nice guy and an impressive racer, but that’s the name of the game.
I was done for after semi-finals and had to use a lot of time to get the body ready for finals.. Racing Nikolaj who easily took the semi-final win, I also had to battle Thibault and Jonas – both very fast, especially our Belgium friend. I decided then, the battle was for 3rd and I was going to chase after Jonas like a madman!
Ready-set-go and the race was on, the world watching via the Red Bull live feed! The start wasn’t a success, I simply couldn’t get the same speed as the other guys. Mud, carrying, running in the water and on the tree-top track I found myself in 4th. And then something magical happened, I found my rhythm! Crawling up a tight-fit hole I was super close to Jonas and overtaking him I could hear him panting and I felt pretty good. I put my mind to the grind and pushed the speed a bit more!
It turned out Jonas was very, very fast at Wings since he didn’t need to propel off the wall to reach the top and he managed the overtake me again. I quickly closed the gap and had a short lead at the wall with the rope toss. One toss, another toss, another toss…. I just didn’t stick the damn rope! Jonas made it in his first or second throw and I spent so much time tossing and tossing he was almost out of the water when I was done… Not only was I a little frustrated I also lost a little bit of will to race hard. Doing the swim quickly and getting back on land I decided there would be only 2 things that could lead to a 3rd place today: Jonas would have to fuck up the low rig or the newest obstacle, finding a key underneath dark water.
I got back in the right mode and pushed on. The low rig didn’t phase him (I kind of knew that already), but I kept chasing whilst getting news from volunteers about Nikolaj being 1st with Thibault close on his tails. Sometime later at the final swim, I could see Jonas in the water! I began the swim and he dove to the key not once, but twice and thrice! I was eladed, but this was it! The fourth time though I got it and it turned out I need 5 tried to get the key…. Yay me.
I dropped the key on my first try, didn’t find it the 2nd, found a huge mussel shell on the 3rd, nothing on 4th and then the key. Job well done, Leon…
Running easily through the maze acknowledging defeat, I was happy for it to be over soon and happy I made it to the finals. I think I could’ve held on to Jonas and maybe beaten him if it hadn’t been for the rope, but I guess we’ll find out about that at some other race. Maybe at OCR World’s!
Special thanks to Mathias from Fix You for help this weekend, huge congratulations to all that made it through to the Sunday heats and especially to the top-3 men and women. It was such a hard race and Red Bull really did it with this one – looking forward to next year already, were I hope some Swedes will come by to get a can of whoop-ass at Egeskov Castle!
Foto credit: Jesper Gronnemann, Red Bull