So far 2013 has been quite the year for parkour events. In early February Origins Parkour and Athletic Facility held the first North American Parkour Championships in Vancouver, and in the middle of the month Tempest Academy held the Pro Takeover down in LA. I didn’t get a chance to attend or even watch either of the events (they were both posted as a livestream), but luckily I did make it up to Parkour Visions’ Obstacle Course Challenge last weekend.
The event was my first time participating in a parkour competition and aside from getting to hang out with a ton of cool people, it was a great learning experience. The event was organized around 3 different obstacle courses, that you ran twice. Anything not designated as “on the course” was out-of-bounds and if you touched it you had a “scratch” that counted against your time. It was basically a game of hot lava, with some walls and horizontal obstacles that you couldn’t touch. Fun features included rings, a lava boat (to ride across), gaps, tic-tacs, a bouldering wall, and even a tomb.
I’ll spare you the suspense: I got last place in my division.
Scoring was based on your aggregate time for the three runs, mediated by how many scratches you had. Justin Sweeney took first place in the highest division, stealing the show with his blistering speed.
Prior to running the course, Tyson Cecka encouraged everyone to approach the event as a way to expose weaknesses in their training. Rather than placing emphasis on your time and how you place versus other runners, he advised us to view the event as a learning tool to see how you operate under pressure, across a series of obstacles. By paying attention to our shortcomings during the course, we would know what skills need more attention in our daily practice.
His message really resonated and I think it is the single best argument for why parkour athletes shouldn’t be afraid of competing.
Okay, so what did I learn from my experience on the courses?
- Visualization is key. With only 2 chances to run each course, there really wasn’t an opportunity to practice how you would move your body in space. My first scratch came because I didn’t hold my knees forward when swinging across the rings. Had I visualized my body in space better, it would have been obvious that my legs needed to be held forward, flexed at the hips for floor clearance.
- The power of creative sight. When presented with what was on-course versus out-of-bounds, it was easy to just pick the most direct line from A-to-B. Yet, given the skills that might be needed to get you from here to there, it was likely that there was an even faster route if you opened your eyes up more. This was seen by people who chose to lache from bar to bar rather than take the time to swing across the rings. By seeing all the creative possibilities on the course, more experienced traceurs were able to cut significant amounts of time from their runs.
- Collaboration. Immediate feedback from other competitors about conditions on the course was priceless. If someone was able to tell you that X obstacle was super slipper or unsteady, you could adjust your plan of attack for a better performance.
- Slow down to go faster. Want to know the single best way to screw up your time? Fall. People who fell on an obstacle (myself included), added not just the scratch but precious seconds to their overall time. If you were unsure about making a leap, it paid to take a slower route than risk falling and slowing yourself even more. For me, it was a tac to crane that resulted in a fall. I did it on my first run, but tried to push the speed on the second run and ended up missing it and landing on the ground, out-of-bounds. Had I slowed down a hair, I probably would have made it again and not been so slow!
- An empty mind. We are used to giving a name to each unique move (e.g. safety vault vs kong vault), but thinking in terms of what moves to do on a course can fumble your flow. Instead of thinking about the type of move to do over each obstacle, it was better to trust your training and let your body decide instantaneously. If you get hung up on needing to move in a certain way, your mind isn’t present to respond as fast as possible when things don’t go as you planned. If it sounds very Zen – that’s because it is!
Ultimately, I had a great time at the Obstacle Course Challenge and really enjoyed getting to meet many like-minded athletes. Thank goodness Parkour Visions is going to start doing these events quarterly – I’m hooked and will be going back for sure!
If you get a chance to participate in a local competition, I’d encourage you to give it a shot. Take Tyson’s words to heart and hopefully some of my insights can be helpful as well.