I drove up to the town of Flaxmere last month on November 19th to participate in the Flaxmere Challenge.
Organised by Triathlon Hawke’s Bay, the Flaxmere Challenge was pitched as being an event to get whanau and the community together – and it very much fulfilled this. There were kids, families, and people of all ages present. To encourage physical activity in the community, there were local physical activity providers on display, such as a boxing club, volleyball, and a taster of a yogalates class (that’s right, a cross between yoga and pilates). It was very much a community event – with the MC occasionally joking around with the many people he knew by name.
Being aimed at stimulating community involvement, the Flaxmere Challenge was open to all ages (with under 7s requiring the supervision of an adult) and was low-cost entry at only $2. There were two categories: individual and team (playing into the event’s community aims, the teams were cleverly referred to as “whanaus”). The individual category was split into four divisions of male 7-9, male 20+, female 7-9, and female 20+. Unlike most races, there was no preregistration. This, whether through purposeful design or not, achieved the event’s aims of getting whanau and the community together well, as I witnessed people passing by and then deciding to give it a go themselves and I also heard there were people coming out from the nearby houses to join in and see what was going on. Registration was instead open throughout the event. Alternatively, with registration only open before rather than throughout people such as those passerbys and local home owners would have been effectively excluded from participation (well, unless marketing had got them interested beforehand).
The participation process involved being issued with an ankle timer and being given a number for your place in the starting queue. Runners were let out from the starting line either individually or in teams, depending on which category the runners entered, with purposeful gaps inbetween. This delayed starting process worked well, as it resulted in a constant stream of activity around the course without much congestion at any of the obstacles. The race was open for roughly 2 hours, in which people could come up to register, as mentioned earlier, and in which someone could also run as many laps of the course as they liked. However you did have to register before each repeated lap, needing to pay $2 again and get a new timer and new number for the starting queue. Aiming to run this course myself for time, I choose to enter twice – testing out the course the first time so I would know what to expect, and then pushing myself harder the second to aim for a good finishing time.
The Flaxmere Challange course was 2km, thus shorter than most OCRs, around Flaxmere Park consisting of mostly flat terrain of grass and gravel paths. Notably, the race had no mud. Hence I would classify it as an OCR but not a mud run. On the 2km course were 10 obstacles, positioned roughly evenly spaced out and so equating to about one obstacle every 200m. The obstacles in order were:
- Wall, with foot holds
- Tyre trot
- Cargo net crawl
- Over and under plastic rods
- Over and under wooden cable reels
- Balancing beams
- Vaults over large fruit crates
- Cargo net crawl, with soapy ground
For all the obstacles there was an option of opting-out and instead picking up a nearby skipping rope to complete 20 skips before being able to continue. While none of the obstacles were especially challenging, when compared to other OCRs in New Zealand or internationally, the Flaxmere Challenge was aimed at bringing people together and getting them active – and so for those who may not be familiar with OCR previously but just wanted to participate in a fun event with friends or family, the skipping option was a good mechanic to give everyone a scaleble challenge to overcome.
A warning: don’t make the same mistake I did of seeing the race wasn’t a mud run and so not bringing a change of clothes. As, while there was no mud, there were two obstacles which involved getting dirty (the slide was covered in water and soap and had the fire service gleefully arming their fire engine hose to spray runners, and second cargo net crawl of the race had a tarpaulin under the cargo net covered in soap – incidentally this obstacle was marshaled by the police. Hence the two obstacles marshaled by emergency services happened to involve them encouraging everyone to get stuck-in and covered in water and soap. Those guys would enjoy a mud run.). And so I was left standing around cold and wet after the race. Luckily I did have a clean shirt and shoes in my car, but was left to drive home in wet pants. I think it’s a safe policy to always bring a change of clothes to any OCR, even if it isn’t a mud run.
Like most races there was prize giving held at the end. There was a prize for 1st in each category and division, but not 2nd or 3rd – which was unfortunate considering I managed to run my way into 2nd place. Much to the delight of the kids present, there were tons of spot prizes donated by the sponsors which were given out. Finally right before the end, it was announced that proceeds raised from the event would be donated to the charity Te Taiwhenua O Heretaunga.
The most memorable moment for me was seeing an elderly lady walk up to the starting line. She was inching along hunched over with the support of a walker, and certainty didn’t look like the fit, muscle-bound runner you see in many OCR adverts. But assuredly she inched across the starting line and set the beep of the timing system off. To the cheers and claps of the crowd, she set out and completed the 2km course, proving the Flaxmere Challange can indeed, while challenging, be done by anyone.
Overall, it was a very doable course no matter your fitness level – completion times ranged from 8 minutes to 30 minutes; and was a positive, family friendly event for the community – bringing people from Flaxmere together.