If there’s one word to describe Claude Eksteen on the obstacle course, it’s blitz. The 39-year old from KwaZulu-Natal is renowned for his ability to motor through the most technical trails that the local OCR scene has to offer.
After successfully representing South Africa for 13 years on the international triathlon stage, Claude has competed against some of the world’s top multi discipline athletes.
In pursuit of a new goal, he turned to the exhilarating sport of trail running and found immediate success. The thought of combining trails with challenging obstacles pierced straight through his multisport heart. And in 2013, Claude stepped onto the obstacle course for the first time at the IMPI Challenge.
Fast forward three years, and he now runs Adventure Obstacle Training with fiancée, business partner, and fellow OCR athlete, Trish Bahlmann. He has 10 IMPI titles and nine Warrior Race wins under his belt, and is also the undefeated champion of Cape Town’s Grind Race.
His main focus at the moment is preparing for the OCR World Championship in August. It will be held at the Blue Mountain Resort, so imagine the altitude and relentless climbs that athletes are expected to face. Perfect conditions for Claude, however, one of South Africa’s top OCR trail running contenders.
Tell us a bit about your running background.
I always ran at school and represented KZN in cross country. And then got into triathlon after school and competed professionally for 13 years. So running has always been my strength.
It’s really important to be a strong runner in OCR, especially if you’re wanting to be successful internationally. The guys overseas are quick!
So I still do a lot of cross country and trail running. At the moment Trish and I enjoy running in Virginia Bush, it’s just up the road from us. We’ll be doing more running in Kloof Gorge as we get closer to OCR World Champs to get some elevation gain.
How has your years as a triathlete helped with OCR?
OCR is similar to triathlon in trying to master three different disciplines, but is more about strength, running and the mental side of things. Just like the quick transitions that triathlon requires, OCR involves running to hit the obstacles at top speed, get through as economically as possible, and getting back to top speed as soon as possible.
I’d say triathlon set a strong foundation for me mentally, and taught me to handle myself under pressure. The professionalism of triathlon days required commitment and drive, and I’ve brought that over into OCR.
Obviously with triathlon being multi-disciplined, it helped me gain all around fitness. But I had to work hard on grip strength training and getting my upper body strong for this sport! It took a few years, but seem to have gotten the balance right now.
When did you start OCR and what was the appeal?
While I was still doing triathlon, I used to see IMPI races on TV. Obviously the risk factor was too high as that stage, so I never had a chance to test it out.
I stopped triathlon and needed a new challenge after competing for so long. I first did quite a bit of trail running, and then finally tried IMPI. I really enjoyed the diversity of the sport and taking on a different kind of challenge.
OCR can be really frustrating, but it also comes with such a sense of exhilaration! The sense of accomplishment is massive after just completing the race, never mind doing well in it.
What has been the ‘secret recipe’ to your OCR success?
With The Warrior Race being the leading OCR series in the country, I needed a lot of upper body and grip strength to be successful in their design of obstacles. You’re dealing with the small muscles and tendons, and fine motor skills for grip strength, both of which take time to develop. Patience is your best friend in that process, and rushing things can lead to injury.
The key for me coming from running and triathlon was my small frame and being quite light. My power to weight ratio is quite good. You have to be really good runner to compete internationally, so luckily I have that on my side too.
What area are you working on the most leading up to World Champs?
The Warrior Race demands a lot of upper body strength. It’s helped get me to a level where my grip strength is good enough. So my focus now is more on building my running so I can get faster and stronger. The OCR World Champs will be at a ski resort in Canada, so really need to work on steep climbing (and long climbing) to get the foundation I need to take on that kind of elevation gain.
What are your goals for the local OCR scene in the year ahead?
I’d love to get a podium position at World Champs, that’s the ultimate goal. Now with the winter break, Trish and I get to really focus on training without having the interruption of races. We’re getting to introduce more trail runs, and for longer sessions.
What kind of role has Adventure Obstacle Training played in developing you as an OCR athlete?
Competing locally has afforded us the opportunity to start a business with Adventure Obstacle Training. It’s just amazing to help other people in not only OCR, but in keeping healthy and fit. We use obstacles and the knowledge we’ve gained to encourage people. It’s really something fun to do outdoors with family!
Personally, it’s really helped fine tune training. We can train directly on the kinds of obstacles we race with, and get familiar with what it feels like to hang on walls and carry poles. It’s really cool!
What do you hope the future of OCR in South Africa will look like?
I’ve seen more and more youngsters coming up, and the sport just keeps getting bigger every year. There are more events than ever, so the future looks really good. It’s the fastest growing sport in the world, and South Africa is experiencing that.
The challenge is OCR doesn’t belong to a governing body like SASCOC, so there’s always going to be the issue of how to combine the different events to make it one unified sport.
But it’s definitely heading in the right direction with athletes identifying that this is a sport they can do at the top level. There’s the World Championship to aim for and the opportunity to pursue OCR professionally. It’s looking very promising for South Africa.
You embody the excitement of a multisport lifestyle. Why would you encourage others to do OCR?
Going multi keeps things exciting. You’re not just working the same body parts monotonously, but mixing things up and using your whole body. I think OCR is the pinnacle of functional training, it covers every aspect of your fitness. It’s an incredible sport to do, and becomes a lifestyle.
Is there any sport you would still like to try someday?
I’d love to focus on trail running quite a bit still. Obviously growing up in KZN, Comrades is definitely a goal too. I’m turning 40 this year so I’m competing with guys that are a lot younger than me! I want to make the most of the competitive years that I have left.
While my body is motivated, my mind is still willing and strong, I really want to give it go. I’ve represented South Africa in triathlon and OCR as an elite athlete, so be able to do that with trail running too would be really cool!
Is there a specific role model that has inspired you as an athlete and why?
Growing up it was Bruce Fordyce. Being a local KZN boy, Comrades was always big for me. These days Kilian Jornet is an incredible multisport inspiration. But I feed off any top athlete, because I know what it takes to compete at that level. Whether it’s Roger Federer or Valentino Rossi.
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