The Thrilling Journey of the OCR European Championships: Triumphs, Challenges, and Team Spirit
The OCR European Championships of 2023 marked a significant milestone for me. As I prepared for my 5th appearance at the event, memories of my past results on the 3k short course flooded my mind. Each year brought new challenges, victories, and also setbacks. Now, with a burning desire to reclaim my short course title and podium on the long course, I embarked on a training block in January that would define my journey. Little did I know, this would be the beginning of the #returnoftheking, an exhilarating tale of determination and fierce competition.
The organizer didn’t seem to believe in my abilities, so amidst the excitement, a mystery loomed over this year’s Euros: the seeding of the start groups. To my surprise, I found myself placed in the second heat, not alongside defending champion Jesse De Heer, Sergei Perelygin and fellow Danes Jonas Drescher and Pierre Axelsen, who all started in heat 1. Meanwhile, top contenders such as Thibault Debuscherre were scheduled to start much later. Although it meant running in a slightly less competitive heat, I faced the challenge of pacing myself without direct competitors. On the bright side, I anticipated a smooth passage through obstacles and envisioned catching up to Jesse and the others along the course.
With a course map in hand, I crafted a race strategy that balanced control and intensity. The plan was simple: run hard but controlled through the 1.5km obstacle gauntlet, maintain a steady pace through the obstacles, let my legs unleash their power in the obstacle-free zones, regain composure before the last five obstacles, and finish strong and safe.
The Battle Begins: As the countdown echoed through the air, my heart raced with anticipation. With a burst of energy, I surged forward, quickly taking the lead. The initial carry proved challenging, and I pushed a little too hard, inadvertently banging the metal ammo boxes against my head. But I stayed focused, focused on my breathing, and swiftly resumed running. The next hurdles posed no significant obstacles, but as I reached the latest addition to the course—laser pistols—I couldn’t help but question its place in obstacle racing. Nevertheless, I adapted, drawing upon my past experience in shooting competitions, turning this unexpected challenge into an advantage.
Passing obstacle after obstacle, I extended my lead through the first two rigs and subsequent gauntlets. The race took an exciting turn when I encountered Liana and the following nine tightly packed obstacles. Maintaining my composure became increasingly difficult, affecting both my running pace and my perception of speed. The desire to outpace Jesse ignited within me, and my multi-year #getagrip training paid off yet again.
Despite expecting to excel at the obstacle section, a hint of hesitation and nervousness crept in. The fear of losing a wristband and incurring penalties loomed over me. Additionally, the newly introduced #rainprotocol mandated that every participant must grab the first grip on all obstacles, leading to a uniform approach to each challenge. While it ensured safety, it eliminated the opportunity for innovative strategies.
After an arduous carry obstacle, the last running section awaited. Glancing at my Garmin Instinct 2X, I grimaced as I realized I wasn’t maintaining the desired pace. I attempted to go faster, but my efforts only made me appear more foolish. Hastily squeezing into a tight pair of gloves before the last five obstacles didn’t help my cause. However, a moment of personal joy awaited as I caught up to two athletes from the first heat. Overtaking one of them, Sergei Perelygin, a favored contender, heightened my spirits. Racing towards the 3rd last obstacle, Endless Rope, I barely managed to hit the bell with my short arms. Moving onto the penultimate obstacle, I surpassed Pierre Axelsen, a surge of confidence coursing through me. Fatigue set in, and the risk of a single mistake haunting my mind. The final rig almost proved disastrous as my planned technique faltered. Spinning through the air, I summoned my grip and pull power, finally reaching the bell. With the last obstacle behind me, I sprinted towards the finish line, crashing to the ground amid the thunderous cheers.
Triumph in Second Place: As the adrenaline subsided, I basked in the crowd’s applause while catching my breath. Jonas, the national coach and others congratulated me, revealing that only Jesse and Jonas from heat 1 had finished ahead of me. I had managed to surpass four of the top contenders. An hour of anticipation and hugs followed, waiting for the final results. While missing the crown by a mere 16 seconds, I celebrated my achievement as the Vice Champion of Europe, a testament to my comeback from both injury and a disappointing placement in the previous year’s event.
A Showdown Among Women: The women’s competition mirrored the intensity and speed of the men’s race. I couldn’t help but feel immense pride for my training partner and friend, Ida Mathilde, as she secured her 2nd European Short Course title. Queen Ida’s victory set the stage for an exciting question: who among us—Ida, Jesse, and me—would be the first to claim the coveted 3rd individual short course title.
The Standard Course: Redemption and Reflections: The morning of the 12k race brought with it a different set of emotions. Having performed exceptionally well in the 3k distance, I entered the 12k race with a sense of happiness, anticipation, and a touch of nervousness. Despite not being a favorite to win, I held a secret—a secret of countless hours dedicated to improving my running. The challenge was to keep that secret hidden and let my performance speak
Starting the race as the last among the top Danish athletes, I embraced the opportunity to chase and surpass my competitors throughout the course. The act of hunting and selecting my targets injected a sense of comfort, allowing me to maintain control and keep an eye on the rearview mirror. Running with joy and composure, I frequently checked my Garmin, ensuring my heart rate remained within an optimal range. With each step, I sought to replicate the feeling of my threshold work during training.
As the race unfolded, I raced with a controlled intensity, approaching each obstacle with intelligence and precision. I neither overperformed nor underperformed, maintaining a steady pace. My running legs felt strong, propelled by the flat course that lay ahead. I relished the moments when I closed the gap between myself and the other athletes, showcasing my progress as a runner.
My last encounter with the standard course in 2019 left me disheartened, feeling slow and non-competitive. This time, the experience differed, but it wasn’t one of pure joy and excitement. Crossing the finish line, half-dead but relieved, I felt a mix of pride and disappointment. Finishing in 5th place fell short of the anticipated fun. Surprisingly, I found greater satisfaction in being the fastest Dane in both races. Perhaps the true celebration lay in laughter with friends, indulging in beer, and savoring delicious food.
The Team Relay: At the start of the year, I faced the disappointment of not being selected for the Danish National Team. Missing the physical try-outs due to a training camp in South Africa, I paid the price of exclusion from both the team and the European Championships. However, fate had a twist in store. After the 12k race, my OCR partner, Nikolaj Dam, approached me with an offer. If I took his place, I could compete in the men’s team relay. After thoughtful discussions weighing the rational and emotional aspects, I embraced the opportunity and put my beer plans on hold.
The men’s team competition had often been dominated by the Dutch, and this year was no exception. To secure victory, our Danish team had to overcome the formidable trio of Jesse, Frank, and Stijn. Jonas Drescher, our starting runner, vowed to outpace Frank and gain precious seconds for us.
Unfortunately, Frank delivered on his promises, leading the Dutch team from the start with an outstanding performance. As I embarked on my leg of the course, I heard the split times, realizing the need to make up ground against Jesse. Despite pushing hard, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of underperformance. My pace and obstacle work left me unsatisfied, and the Dutch team extended their lead quite heavily. However, our anchor runner, Sebastian Ifversen, unleashed his pent-up energy, surpassing everyone with exceptional speed, including Stijn.
In the end, victory eluded us, slipping into the hands of the Dutch team. Nevertheless, we surpassed all other competitors, securing the silver medal. It was a remarkable achievement, although Jonas and I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment in our own performances. Participating in the team relay held a special place in my heart, and I cherished the opportunity to race alongside my teammates.
A million thanks to my sponsors, who have supported my journey as a professional athlete. Their unwavering belief in me, even during challenging times, has allowed me to live a fulfilling athletic life.