Last time I visited the UAE, it was to compete in and win the prestigious and fun Gov Games, a multi-day TV show with a massive prize purse. In other words, I had the best of times with Team Copenhagen! Heading back to compete in the Spartan Race Championships for my 2nd time came with clouded excitement. Not only was there skepticism about the new 3k format, but just weeks before the race, Spartan Race CEO and Founder, Joe De Sena, had made pro-Israel comments on his social media. This sparked a local boycott of Spartan in the UAE in support of Palestine. I understand the local pushback against Joe, but pushing back on his brand instead of his person hurts all the athletes who enjoy the sport, the employees, and also the sport itself. That’s tough to witness.
Traveling with my favorite teammates, Ida Mathilde and Nikolaj Dam, it was easy to get excited about racing! We pumped each other up, did all the prep, and laughed a ton. I really needed that energy after a long, long season with all the traveling, training, social media, and so on. I managed to arrive at the race site with a relaxed and focused mindset and a good feeling about the races.
Coming off a podium performance in Mexico, losing to local superstars Angel and Eugenio but beating out the favorites Rylan Schadegg and Manuel Dufaux, I was confident about my abilities. I did struggle with imposter syndrome (I’m not a Spartan Racer… Or am I?) and with thoughts about how damn fast my competitors were. Nikolaj and I listed which men we thought could podium and came up with the following list, which isn’t in any specific order:
- Veejay Jones
- Angel Quintero
- Eugenio Godinez
- Rylan Schadegg
- Manuel Dufaux
- Pavel Hrdina
- Petr Vinicky
- Jan Vladar
- Ryan Atkins
- Sergei Perelygin
- Gian Maria Savani
Let’s talk about the race experience! Put on your Leon-POV glasses; here we go: The loop was all run on somewhat hard sand, measured 1.4km with a 200m double sandbag carry 2/3 into the course. The first 400m were slightly downhill and fast with 0 obstacles, so I knew people would run very hard from the beginning and pray they wouldn’t crash before the finish line. I was quite nervous if I’d make it through to the finals, so I wanted a fast first loop to know how it’d feel to run with the fast boys!
As I walked up to the start line for my qualifying heat (the last one), I heard the announcer say 10-9-8… and I knew I was LATE! I jumped in behind the 12 other guys and directed my mind towards the race. I decided to start slower than planned as I was all the way in the back, but after 300m, I had climbed into 3rd place – and it felt pretty damn good. I had Veejay Jones right in front of me leading our group, and I knew it was nonsensical to try and overtake him. We ran elbow-to-elbow, swapping positions until the monkey bars, which moved around a little extra with 8-10 men hanging there at the same time. I squeezed into the dunk wall and ran towards the beams/hurdles. I wanted to stay strong here as the next obstacle would be the double sandbag, which truly was the crux of the race. I got there 3rd or 4th, but it was very hard to get any sandbag because some athletes from the heat before us still fiddled around with them. I managed to get the 2x 45lbs once Veejay’s spot got open, threw them on my shoulder, and was luckily still in 3rd. I ran better than expected and felt good dropping the bags and running towards the last obstacles. The finishing straight was my favorite part with obstacles back to back: A-frame cargo, slip wall, multi high, and then the laser pistol before sprinting to the finish line. I finished 2nd in my heat with a time of 7:11, which was the 11th fastest time overall. I was a little gassed but felt like there was loads more to give.
I went back to hydrate, eat, and chill before the next round. I looked at the results screen, which said the next start would be in about an hour, so I enjoyed the local music show that had started in the athlete area. At one point, the music got a little too intense for me, and I decided to start walking around to loosen up my legs for the 2nd round. When I got out of the tent, I saw half my competitors finishing the race, and I knew something was wrong. I hurried to find the race director who told me the qualifiers were done! They had started much earlier than the results screen announced, so 8 other athletes and I hadn’t heard they moved up the race. We all got quite frustrated but were allowed to start in small groups. I went out with Nikolaj Dam and Jan Vladar, who put down a strong pace from the beginning. I ran slightly frustrated and ultimately took off 32 seconds from my round 1 time and ran a 6:39, making me the 5th fastest guy so far. But was I disqualified along with the other top contenders? Or could we race?
Luckily, we got to race, and I actually liked the solution Spartan (Gary and Steve) came up with. All the athletes who ran at the correct start and qualified wouldn’t lose their spots, and those of us who also ran a top-12 time would also continue. It was now a 16-people final. A very, very stacked and strong final!
There was no starting at the back of the pack in the final. I wanted to race well, so I got in the front line and decided it was OK for the first lap to hurt a little bit. 3-2-1 and luckily not a single aroo later, we’re off running into the first of 3 rounds. I pushed and found myself around 9th position after 1/3 of the round, just behind Manuel and all the other boys. I jostled with the guys next to me, battling for good positions on the obstacles and room to move as we approached the double sandbags. I found my bags and was pretty fast at getting them up, moving into 6th place.
The pace settled, and everyone slowly realized how tough it was to start out too hard in this race. I came prepared though and stayed in contact with the leading group throughout the 2nd round. As I was on either the A-frame cargo or the slip wall, I saw Eugenio fail the multi-rig. I had moved into 5th before that, which meant now I was 4th! That’s very, very close to the podium, and I could see Atkins just an obstacle ahead of me. So I pushed a little harder and listened to all the split times Nikolaj gave me from the sideline.
18 seconds to Atkins, 14 seconds, 9 seconds – and then I did the worst double sandbag of the year. I got them up really poorly, moved slowly, and lost +20 seconds on Atkins. Auch! That wasn’t not a pretty move, and I’d say it was my only mistake that day. With Petr Vinicky now breathing down my neck, I put in a last push and happily ran over the finish line after shooting my last laser pistol shot.
4th place?! At a Spartan World CHAMPS?! I was baffled, proud, and thrilled. Yeah, it’s a little bit my luck that this is the first year ever they only pay the top 3 instead of the top 10, and 4th is without a doubt the worst position to finish in – but! This was a massive personal success which proves the hard and dedicated work is paying off. I’m a new athlete now. I am an athlete. 2023 was a good season with strong results! Yes, I didn’t regain my Euro Champ title, but I was damn close and I podiumed both a Spartan North American series event and (this is SO big for me) the OCR World Championships!
Men’s top 5:
Women’s top 5:
Ida Mathilde Steensgaard
The Team Relay: Now this is ALWAYS THE MOST FUN event of any championships weekend, and it felt great to be reunited with my fav team mates, Nikolaj Dam & Ida Mathilde. Ida had a rough battle and also finished 4th in the 3k, Nikolaj had the race of his life and finished 3rd in the 21k, and finally made his first ever championship podium. He was close since 2015!
We decided Nikolaj would start the relay, running the first 1,4k loop before Ida took over. Nikolaj ran hard and got into the final straight in 2nd place, but unfortunately fell off the final rig and we dropped out of the top 10. I knew Nikolaj would be frustrated about this, so I decided the only thing we could do was race even harder. I pushed Ida to move fast and she ran a blistering time of 6:50, almost half a minute faster than any other woman. She caught both men and women, which meant I had a realistic chance of getting us back on the podium. I clocked the fastest time of anyone that day, running a 6:04 and we finished 3rd, only 19 seconds behind Team Slovakia. We celebrated by going to the waterpark and had a blast!
Team top 3:
Alrighty, on to the next one. Or on to the final one 😉 But first, it’s the off-season and Christmas time. If you want inspiration for your OCR Christmas wish list, click here; otherwise, thanks for reading, for the support, and enjoy the holidays!