Obstacle Race Magazine – The Next Generation of Obstacle Course Racers

Obstacle Race Magazine Interview with Michael Cohen
Obstacle Racing Magazine

The Next Generation of Obstacle Course Racers

Interview with Ross Cohen and Caine Johnson

Issue 3 May 2014

As this issue has the theme of the next generation of obstacle racers so we thought it only fitting that we go in search of the elites of tomorrow. So here we have two of them, Ross Cohen and Caine Johnson who are both members of TEAM Wild Forest Gym. They’ve been really pushing the pace at races this year so far so we caught up with them to ask them a little more about their racing and training.

Interview with Ross Cohen

Ross Cohen

So Ross you seem to be really starting to push the pace at races now, can you let us into your secret?

For me its about being mentally strong and having the determination to keep on going that gets me to the finish line.

Do you have any tips for the younger guys and girls who want to train towards their first OCR?

It’s a sport that you don’t have to be good at to enjoy and it can be the start of an amazing adventure, as I realised myself. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself like I did.

Do you feel there are any real advantages or disadvantages to racing at your ages?

I have experienced both advantages and disadvantages throughout the races I have done and have realised that my height and weight comes in very handy when going across about 40ft of monkey bars without a struggle, whereas even some of the top finishing athletes fell in before even getting half way. Another massive advantage is that if you start training at a young age, you get a head start on some of the older athletes as you can work your way up to their level whilst you’re still much younger than them, so by the time you’re their age, you’ll be at an even higher level than they were. Some of the disadvantages are that as I am only 15, I can’t compete in many races and also cannot compete in the UK championships.

What races do you have planned for the rest of 2014?

I’m looking to compete in the Nuclear Rush in May, the summer Nuts challenge and many other races throughout the year, and hopefully complete another Spartan Trifecta.

What do you like to do when you aren’t racing?

I play football every Sunday morning and will soon be competing in some athletics tournaments with my school. Like outdoor activities in general, but still enjoy the comforts of playing on my x-box. What’s your favourite sort of cross training? Playing football has increased my agility and speed while I am running.

Which elite racers inspire you?

Thomas Blanc is a very inspiring racer as he has been through many painful times and manages to fit training most days of the week into his mad lifestyle. Plus he is the 2013 Spartan Race OCR champion.

What type of training do you do?

On a weekly basis I do continuous training by running around my local area but I have done fartlek training and interval exercise training. I go training with my dad, which is fortunate as he is an OCR coach so he trains me in the forests. I also attend my TEAM Wild Forest Gym training sessions, which is great opportunity to train with elite OCR racers. Every morning I do a workout at home including pushup, burpees, press ups, crunches and pull-ups. I change it regularly like doing 30 burpee challenge for 30 days. I am doing GCSE PE so I do a lot of sports at school. In preparation for THE Spartan Race Beast & The winter Nuts Challenge I did cold water training which meant full boy immersions in ice cold ponds and streams.

Did you ever imagine being an obstacle racer?

Not until recently when my dad introduced me to the sport, this time last year ago I had never heard of obstacle racing, let alone get my hands muddy, now I am up to my knees in it.

What team do you race for?

Team Wild Forest Gym.

What is it like to be part of a team?

It makes me proud to race and adds a sense of achievement to racing, however well I do. It’s inspiring to train and race with the top OCR athletes as it gives me something to look up to and work towards.

What’s your best results so far?

Recently I came joint 5th in the Nuts Challenge with my dad as we raced together and had an awesome time with an unexpected finish. I also set the youngest best time. I was also the youngest person (at least) in the UK to complete the Spartan Trifecta last year at the age of 14.

Have you had any weird experiences while racing?

Yes, about half way through the Spartan Super Race, my dad whom I was running with helped a rather large guy by lifting up a wall so that he could fit under when all of a sudden he swung his arm around (trying to pull his way through) and almost knocked me out. I was in excruciating pain and in total shock nearly being knocked out. It took me a while to recover whilst I was still running but still continued to finish the race as nothing was going to get in my way of finishing.

Would you encourage other teenagers to take up obstacle racing?

Definitely, it can do so much for your general fitness as it doesn’t just revolve around running, it improves your upper and lower body strength and provides a great amount of achievement. Its fun and they can do it with their friends and family or even for charity as I ran the Spartan Races for the Children’s Trust.

How do you fit your training around school/college?

I spend 15 minutes every morning just doing sit-ups, pull-ups and whatever challenges are going around at the time (e.g. Spartan burpee challenge) and go running two times a week after school and once on the weekend.

What is your goal?

To get myself on the podium and achieve even more in my years to come as an obstacle racer.

What are your strengths?

To me, the fact that I am very light means that I can complete monkey bars and climb ropes with ease whereas I see many elite and older athletes suffering and struggling with the same challenge. Even I beat my dad by completing the 40 rung monkey bars at the Spartan Race Beast.

Name: Ross Cohen
Age: 15
Hobbies: Football, Running and Xbox
No. of OCRs To Date: 5.
Favourite OCR: Spartan Sprint.
Favourite Obstacle: Monkey bars.
Your Kryptonite: Running for long periods of time (over 15k) and cramping.

Interview with Caine Johnson

Caine Johnson

So Caine can you let us into your secret of OCR success?

My secret is simple.  I do things I’m passionate about.  For me, the training is great fun, whether it’s training with my TEAM Wild Forest Gym, with my local BMF (British Military Fitness) group, in the gym at college or pounding the roads.  Because I enjoy training, racing feels like a bonus activity, the test of how I’m developing as an athlete.  Yes, I’m committed and I take racing seriously, but to me, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing.  It shouldn’t be a chore. Obviously it all comes down to being motivated and giving our all at every training session. Another thing to bear in mind is diet. I know it is said a lot put you do get out what you put in. Therefore I try to eat as little processed food as possible

Do you have any tips for the younger guys and girls who want to training towards their first OCR?

OCR is about testing your limits, challenging yourself and having fun.  Anyone can have a go, that’s the brilliant thing about our sport.  For the complete novice, just aiming to get round, with a group of friends is fantastic.  You’ll then get the bug and you’ll want to improve on your time at each event.  For the more serious athletes, setting yourself personal goals can really help; aiming to be the best in your age category, for example.

Do you feel there are any real advantages or disadvantages to racing at your ages?

I started racing when I turned 16, so 18 months ago.  Being 17, I have the enthusiasm to hurl myself into things I’m passionate about.  The only other commitments I have are college related really, so I can afford to devote a lot of time to training.  The disadvantage of being 17 is that my body is still developing, so I’m still growing.  On some levels, my body isn’t designed to compete with people ten years older than me, but this is where the confidence of youth kicks in and I manage to hold my ground.

What races do you have planned for the rest of 2014?

Wow, where do I begin? Both my dad Mark Johnson and I are racing with TEAM Wild forest Gym which includes racing all the Spartan races this year in England and Scotland.  The Reaper, The Nuclear Race, Tough Mudder, Back to the Trenches and Hurt Zone will be new races for me, but I’m really looking forward to the challenge.  I’m really looking forward to the Summer Nuts Challenge and will hopefully knock a good amount off my 1 lap time.  That’s all I have booked so far, but hopefully I’ll add more to the race calendar.

What do you like to do when you aren’t racing?

When I’m not training or at college, I’m either out with friends, playing my guitar (I’ve been playing for around 9 years) or just chilling at home.

What’s your favourite sort of cross training?

I used to play Rugby at school. I was out on the wing which so it was lots of sprints and quick reactive accelerations. That has proved to be good for my OCR racing.

Which elite racers inspire you?

Having inspirational role models is a big part of racing for me.  When it comes to “Elite Racers”, two athletes stand out.  Firstly, Thomas Blanc; Thomas is a fellow team mate with TEAM Wild Forest Gym, so I’m lucky enough to train with him every week.  I’ve learnt a huge amount from him in a short time and he’s helped me to gain a competitive edge.  As well as being an outstanding athlete, he’s an awesome friend.  The second is Jonathan Albon.  I had the chance to race with him at the Men’s Health Race in London last year where he decimated the competition.  What a superb ambassador for our sport.  My ultimate inspiration though has to be my Dad, Mark Johnson.  He got me into training and racing and beating him was my driving force for months. We’re massively competitive with each other and we keep each other fired up to give it our all.

What type of training do you do?

With TEAM Wild Forest Gym, we focus on developing the range of skills essential through natural movement techniques so I can optimise the way my body functions so as to racing effectively.  We work on the techniques needed to deal with the whole range of obstacles we’re likely to encounter in conjunction with building running stamina.  Training with the TEAM in Epping Forest is brilliant as it simulates a race environment, allowing us to use natural features as obstacles. As well as the weekly team sessions, I train in the gym, mainly doing strength work 3 – 4 days a week.  I also do cardio workouts at home 4 – 5 days a week.

Did you ever imagine being an obstacle racer?

No, being an obstacle racer wasn’t a goal at all when I was younger.  Until I was 16, being a professional musician/guitarist was my career of choice.  Though I still enjoy playing the guitar, it’s been downgraded to a hobby now.  I started to run to keep fit when I was around 15.  Dad was already competing in OCR races and I entered my first race, The Zombie Run, when I turned 16.  That was it, I was hooked.

What team do you race for?

I race for TEAM Wild Forest Gym under the wing of Coach Michael Cohen.

What is it like to be part of a team?

It is amazing. The amount of support I get from the TEAM is great. It makes me want to train harder so that I don’t let my TEAM down. Training with other elite athletes lets us get tips from each other and we help each other out in anyway we can. When Michael first approached me to become a part of the team I was so shocked and honoured.  Suddenly, it was all stepping up a gear.  I knew Coach Michael was a huge deal in the OCR world and then when you throw in training with Thomas, my dad and the rest of the team, well, it doesn’t get much better than that does it!

What’s your best results so far?

My best results to date are getting 1st place on the 7km Nuts Challenge race in March, and 1st place in the Zombie Evacuation last October.  As far as I’m aware, I’ve come first in my age category in every race I’ve ever taken part in.

Have you had any weird experiences while racing?

In the Zombie Race in 2012 (my first ever race), a tiny 5 – 6 year old, dressed as a zombie managed to corner me as I didn’t feel charging at a little person would be the nicest thing to do.  He managed to claim one of my three lives.  It was a very surreal experience.

Would you encourage other teenagers to take up obstacle racing?

Absolutely!  I know it’s a cliché to talk about lazy teenagers slouched in front of their games consoles, but sadly, it’s a reality.  Exercise can feel like a chore to be endured or it’s perceived as being mindlessly repetitive gym sessions.  This is where OCR can make a huge difference to people’s lives.  Not only are you getting out, getting fit and challenging yourself, you’re having brilliant fun at the same time.  The OCR community are such a welcoming supportive bunch and I love how they cheer each other on after they’ve crossed the finishing line.  Being a part of something so positive and beneficial HAS to be a great idea.

How do you fit your training around school/college?

I am lucky enough to have free gym access at my college, so I go most evenings. I then walk across town to meet Dad in the park for our British Military Fitness class twice a week.  On Sunday’s I have TEAM Wild Forest Gym training, which is an awesome 3-hr training session. I obviously have to fit homework in, but I do this after training, even if this means staying up until the early hours of the morning.

What is your goal?

My personal goal would be to get more young people involved in our sport.  There aren’t many athletes in my age group racing at the moment, so we need to encourage people to get involved to ensure the longevity of our sport.  From a career perspective, I want to be the number one OCR athlete in the world and continue competing for as long as possible.  Having goals is what keeps me motivated!

Name: Caine Johnson
Age: 17
Hobbies: OCR and playing the guitar
No. of OCRs To Date: 12
Favourite OCR:  The Nuts Challenge
Favourite Obstacle:  The Rope Climb
Your Kryptonite: Crawling through pipes

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