Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bone Frog Challenge New England 2016

This weekend, I took place in my second Bone Frog Challenge. Bone Frog is a 9 mile obstacle course race (with a 5K option and Tier-1, the 9 miler, plus the 5K) that takes place annually at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts. At around 50 minutes away from my house, it's my home town race and one of my favorite races of the year. This race is owned and run by Navy SEALs. A positive vibe permeates the race, which does an excellent job at paying homage to those in the armed forces and, at the same time, provides the rest of us with an enjoyable challenge.

Last year's race was my favorite individual race of the year. (I say that so as not to compete with the wonderful racing I did at Shale Hill via my season pass last year. Both Bone Frog and Shale Hill are my favorite.) The race featured over 50 obstacles all of amazing build quality, the course was well-marked and well thought-out, the logistics were smooth, and when you crossed the finish line a former Navy SEAL draped a medal over your head. In my mind, those men deserve medals, so it's an honor or get to meet a former SEAL in person and have them rewarding you for something that, for me, is a hobby. Suffice it to say, this year's race was no different than last year's. I had a blast.

Saturday was the prefect day for obstacle course racing. The weather was in the mid to upper 60s, meaning it was comfortable without being hot. The sky was overcast, which while certainly less exciting than a sunny day was helpful for keeping the temperature down and the sunburn at bay. Charlemont is a close drive, about 50 minutes west of my home in Amherst, so I was able to sleep until 7:00 a.m. before heading out for a pleasant drive into the Berkshires. Parking at Berkshire East is a snap. It's the standard $10 you pay for race parking everywhere, and it's onsite. No buses needed. Spectators are free at Bone Frog Challenge, which means that unless you purchase swag, the parking fee is all you need to spend for the day.

Check-in went very smoothly. There was a bit of a line, but that line moved very fast, and the volunteers were ultra organized. There was one volunteer making sure that everyone had their waver and ID out so that by the time you made it to the front of the line you were organized and the volunteer getting your packet could move like lightning. I couldn't have waited in line for even five minutes, which is excellent for a race with a couple thousand people in attendance. The other area where the race was well organized was in having a good number of portable toilets. There was a bit of a wait last year, but they increased the number and, again, I only have to wait in line for a couple of minutes. I cannot image how hard these sorts of logistics are to nail down -- Bone Frog has my respect for their eye-to-detail and high level of organization.

After checking in, I headed over to the NE Spahtens team tent. There was no set team wave time for Bone Frog, so I was hoping to find some friends to run the race with. As is so often the case with the Spahtens, my battle buddy was just a friend I hadn't met yet. I ended up meeting Jennifer Daley who provided an extremely great person to take on Bone Frog's 9 mile course with. We were very evenly paces and had similar skills on obstacles. Plus, she was a lot of fun!

After getting our gear ready (I highly recommend a hydration pack and nutrition if you're doing the full 9 mile race or Tier-1), we headed over for the 9:30 a.m. wave. Announcement were brief and at exactly 9:30 a.m., we were off.

The course was packed with 40 obstacles. This was around a dozen fewer than last year. While I will say that I definitely missed having those extra twelve obstacles -- they definitely added to the fun and difficulty factory -- this is still a top-notch race. Some things that set the course apart from other races are the excellent build and the good obstacle distribution. May races fall prey to having most of their obstacles jumbled at the bottom of the mountain. I get that this is a logistical issue; however, somehow Bone Frog has tackled it, as they have good obstacle distribution along the trails at the top of the mountain too. This is key for a racer's enjoyment. Bone Frog does a great job utilizing every inch of elevation Berkshire East has to offer. Sure this isn't Killington, but some of us don't want to hike uphill all day. The amount of hiking up brutal hills is just enough (actually just a little more than enough) at Bone Frog. This is paired with some really excellent trail running. Miles 7 though 8 are along some especially nice trails. We had a great time running that stretch of the race -- it was beautiful and not so technical that the average trail runner couldn't keep a decent pace. It felt nice to stretch our legs and run along the trails towards the end of the race.

As I mentioned before, the race featured 40 obstacles. Here's my standard obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown. The couple of obstacle I have forgotten, I have left blank -- sorry.

1. Hurdles: Jump across some muddy trenches.
2. Low crawl: Wire crawl. They used normal wire instead of barbed wire and the ground was not too rocky. 
3. 1st phase wall: Lower high wall -- probably around 5'.
4. Walk the plank: Walk across a wobbly balance beam. Meanwhile, exercise balls hang encapsulated in nets right along your path.
5. Hell box
6. Rope climb: Standard rope climb. Probably around 12' to 15'.
7. Ammo carry: Carry an ammo box along an uphill, then downhill loop. The ammo boxes, fortunately, came in two sizes, so the smaller folks, like me, could choose wisely. Also, at the top of the hill was a sign that featured six symbols on it. We had to memorize these six symbols and then recall the at obstacle #14, Mind Games.
8. Night crawler: This obstacle featured three increasingly high "thru" walls. Last year, this entire obstacle was handled a bit differently. The entire thing was covered in a heavy black drape making it dark as night. People had to pass glow sticks along and provide directions so that everyone could make their way through. I was kind of sad to see that gone for this year, since the 2015 obstacle was one of the more inventive I've encountered.
9. Stairway to Valhalla: 800 feet of elevation is less than half a mile. This was far longer of a climb than last year and brutal. There were people camped out all along the climb who basically were not making it. One poor woman was dry heaving, another couple of people were felded by cramps. This climb was no joke. It reminded me of the lengthy uphill march at the Killington Spartan Beast. Midway through the climb, there was a net that you had to crawl under.
10. The Kraken: A cargo net climb, then a roll across a cargo net, followed by a net down.
11. Slide for life: We ended up doing the 25 burpee penalty and bypassing this obstacle based on the long wait. Last year I stuck it in there and waited in line, but I just didn't want to again. This obstacle you have to hoist yourself through a hole in a platform. Once you've pulled yourself up and through, you then descend back to the ground via a rope traverse.
12. Reverse wall: Wall at a 45 degree angle towards you. If I jumped high, I could grab it, which was great. 
13. Solar walls: Two back-to-back tall walls that you had to climb up and down with a rope.I would say these were pretty tall -- definitely 12' or more.
14. Mind games: Here was where you had to recall the six images from the Ammo Carry. We remembered them and were able to go on to the next obstacle.
15. 31 Heroes:This obstacle memorializes 30 fallen Navy SEAL officers and one K-9 officer. We did burpees for each person, saying his name. I think this obstacle is an excellent example of how Bone Frog does an excellent job honoring our men and women in uniform. 
16. 2nd phase wall: Slightly taller than the 1st phase wall. Probably around 7'.
17. Seige wall 
18. The Punisher: This was a tall wall that you climbed with the help of a cargo net. At the top was a bar to grab and pull yourself through before going down the other side.
19. Rolling thunder: Tires suspended horizontally on a pole. You had to jump really high to get over them. There were two sets. I am, in all honesty, not very good at this one. I try to stay to the side where there's a chance of getting to grab the pole that the tires are on. Otherwise, my height tends to be a disadvantage and I roll right off.
20. Mike & Murph: This obstacle seemed new from last year. We climbed up a ladder wall, then down a net. Then we reverse it. 
21. Deck of cards: I didn't recall this obstacle, so I crowdsourced it. Per my NE Spahten friends, this obstacle ended up getting cut from the race.
22. Cargo net: This was a huge cargo net -- very tall -- probably 20'. There was a bit of a wait at this one, but we stuck it out. 
23. Sand bag carry: We had to fill our own sand bag before carrying it on a loop through the woods. Filling a sand bag is kind of a challenge when the dirt you're working with is just soil dug from the ground. I managed to increase my bag-filling speed by shoveling in dirt from a couple of people who had just emptied their sand bags.
24. Water crossing: Brr! We had to wade across a snow pond at the top of the mountain and then wade back across again. By wade I mean that I had to swim in the middle. Okay, we swam. It was cold.
25. Jacobs ladder: Ladder wall.
26. Window walls: A through wall. This stretch was marked by some nice trail running. It was great to have a few obstacles to break up the trails!
27. Tire roll: This was another set of tires on a horizontal pole. Basically, it was the same as the earlier Rolling Thunder obstacle.
28. Spider wall: A traverse wall. I like this one because it has finger grips. Last year, this was down at the bottom of the mountain, so it was nice to have it here up at the top.
29. Tire drag: These tires were heavy. I actually had to have Jennifer help me. She's strong from cross fit.
30. Swingers club: Yikes! My first of three failed obstacles of the day. This obstacle was American Ninja Warrior-style. It featured balls suspended on ropes. You had to swing from small ball to small ball. I had trouble reaching these and even more trouble getting going. I was actually disappointed at the number of obstacles I did fail this year. Last year's Bone Frog was likely more challenging; however, this year I failed three obstacles to last year's one. I have been doing a lot of running lately, but OCR season is upon us, and I think I need to hit the pull-up bar more.
31. Sprint 31 Heroes: This was the 31 Heroes obstacle for those doing the Sprint length distance. For those doing the full 9 mile challenge, we did not end up doing 31 Heroes again.
32. Get a grip: This was the obstacle I failed last year, and I failed it again. Hanging from poles were ropes with plastic handles attached. You had to swing from one to another to get across. The handles moves a lot. This will always be a tough one. If I was more handy and didn't live in a condo, I'd say I should build one of these in my backyard.
33. Traverse: Rope traverse across a snow pond at the bottom of the mountain. Like last year, they had you traverse the rope part way and then drop into the water and swim. I may have slightly "cheated" and gone a bit past the half way point on the rope because I didn't want to get into the cold water.
34. Hell's gate: This was a great obstacle and new from last year. There were a nine closely packed walls of increasing height. You went over the first and then under the next, as the "overs" got taller and taller. This was a lot of fun. People did get bunched up and I was pretty cold waiting after I just got out of the water, but it was a good time.
35. Water crossing: I was not super pleased to get back into the water; however, it was not an option. We had to wade into the water, which came up to chest height. In the middle there was a large ammo box we had to climb over. I was so cold at this point I was basically inept. In my flailing efforts, I knocked my ankle enough to leave a bruise. I get it. Navy SEALS -- water. Still. So. Cold.
36. 3rd phase wall: The tallest basic wall yet. I'm putting it at 9', though with my short person status, perhaps I am over exaggerating. 
37. Dead weight
38. Drunken monkey: Instead of standard monkey bars, this featured a board with staggered pegs on either side. I had a blast on this obstacle last year (once someone lifted me up so I could reach it), yet this year, I failed it. Not pleased. Pull up. That's all I have to say. On it!
39. Dirty name: Similar to gut check at Shale Hill, this obstacle had a lower log from which you had to jump and then pull your self over a higher log. In this case, two were stacked. I am waiting for this obstacle to leave the OCR scene. It's a menace and people are hurting themself and bruising ribs on it all the time. I climbed up the side supports -- hey, I want to live to race another day.
40. Black ops: Very few things scare me. Black Ops scares me. This obstacle had you climb up a rope wall and then traverse a set of monkey bars before landing on a platform and climbing down a ladder. Here's the thing. The monkey bars are really high up and below them is just this net. This obstacle is the last one, and it's smack in front of the spectators. Last year I nailed it -- there is video evidence. Still I was scared. I made it up the wall with the rope no problem. A volunteer was ready to lift me up to the monkey bars. I was seriously ready to just roll across the lower netting, but he encouraged me. I made it across, but I was shaking. Seriously, I never shake. I cannot think of any other obstacles in OCR that scare me, and I cannot say why this one does, but it definitely does. I tried for an early dismount and alarmed some volunteers who though I was going to fall back on the platform. I was super happy to climb down on shaky legs, find my battle buddy and run across the finish line!

I crossed the finish line in 4:08:34 having had a wonderful time all around. What a great day and a fantastic race!

Beyond what I've said already, here are some pros and some things I wish would get adjusted for next year.

Pros list:
- Amazing volunteers. Two people carried our hydration packs and everyone was super encouraging. Bone Frog has the best volunteers of pretty much anywhere. Hats off to these fine folks!
- Back-ups were much improved over last year. I probably spent an hour or more waiting in line last year. This year the lines were limited. We probably didn't wait for more than 15 minutes total. The only thing that had a line we decided was too long to justify waiting for was Slide for Life. It had a wait last year too. Last year I did make the decision to wait in each and every line, but this year I was less than keen to do that since I had done the obstacles already. Still it's a bummer since the obstacles are what we come here to do.
- Great finishers medal. Plus getting a medal from a retired Navy SEAL is very meaningful. Bone Frog also had great t-shirts in 2015. They had super soft women's fit t-shirts. Alas, this year's shirts were delayed in customs. Bone Frog is going to mail them out to everyone. Since last year's shirt is pretty much one of the only OCR t-shirts I wear, I cannot wait for this year's shirt to arrive.

Wishlist for 2017:
- Please add mile markers. We don't all want to bring a GPS watch, but that doesn't mean we don't have interest in how far along we are in the course.
- Bring back some of the awesome obstacles from 2015 that were missing this year. I loved Operation Red Wings from last year. This was a stretch with around eleven obstacles back-to-back. It was basically the best thing ever, and I missed it this year!
- There are a number of obstacles that are kind of high up. I had to rely on the kindness of some taller gentlemen to help boost me up to reach a few of the hanging obstacles. Just a few more inches down would be a big help. I know of other shorter women competitors who felt the same way.

I am already signed up for the next Bone Frog Challenge in my area, the fall Bone Frog Championships on October 29 at Berkshire East. 6 miles and two dozen obstacles -- I am looking forward to it.

(Note: NE Spahtens photos from Vince Rhee -- thank you!)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ragnar Cape Cod 2016

My 2017 race season kicked-off this weekend with one of my all time favorite events, Ragnar Cape Cod. Ragnar is a multi-day 192 mile running relay. Twelve person teams take turns running three times to cover the distance. Each "leg" (Note: Ragnar term for each run) is a different distance. You run every twelfth person, which means you find yourself running at crazy times of the day and night. This year, I was runner five and ran 7.3 miles, 5.5 miles, and 4.6 miles at around 9:00 a.m., 9:00 p.m., and 7:00 a.m. for a total of 17.5 miles, the second longest in my van.

For the third year in a row, I was lucky to spend the weekend as a member of the NE Spahtens' team, the NE Spahten Ninjas. Our team evolved out of the 2014 NE Spahtens Co-ed team. We've had some people cycle on and off, but kept a similar core group. This year, I was luck to once again share Van 1 and the NES Ninjas team with a group of great people.

Runner 1: Cathy
Runner 2: Erick 
Runner 3: Wes
Runner 4: Bobby
Runner 5: Nicole (me)
Runner 6: Paul
Runner 7: Aaron
Runner 8: Sarah
Runner 9: Jessica
Runner 10: Stephen
Runner 11: Sandy
Runner 12: Josh

We started off the relay on Friday morning bright and early. A group of us had spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express in Braintree, about a thirty minute drive from the starting line in Hull. At 3:30 a.m. we headed off to Hull and the starting line -- we had a 5:00 a.m. start time. As a group with mixed running speeds, we needed all the time we could get to cover the almost 200 miles between Hull and Provincetown.

When we arrived in Hull it was practically void of people. Check-in, as a result was fast. Could it have been more organized? Yes. I'm pretty sure we didn't get half the stuff that people who checked in later in the day got and there was a bit of a problem finding our bibs. Fortunately, everything worked out. A good thing because this year our team captain, Jess, was not in the van. This meant that when we arrived in Hull we were a bit at loose ends. Based on what must have only been a lack of sleep induced lack of logic, it was decided that I was "in charge" enough to pick up the packets and organize the team in Hull. (As a note, I did not take this very seriously and it can be said I was basically not actually in charge of anything.)

Hull is a lovely place to start any relay. The weather on Friday morning at 5:00 a.m. was mild with temperatures in the mid-50s. The sun was half a blood red orange on the horizon. The sky promised pleasing morning weather, perfect for a run.

After check-in we began to get ready. Our first runner was Cathy. The first run of 6.7 miles would be her longest run to date. We snapped a quick team selfie and went back to the van to collect Cathy's gear before heading back to the inflatable arch starting line and sending her on her way.

After launching Cathy, we hit up a Dunkin Donuts and headed to the first exchange. I've been sticking to tea for most of the last month and a half but decided that if there was ever a time for coffee it was Ragnar and immensely enjoyed a cappuccino. After dropping off most of the group at the first exchange, a couple of us headed back along the running route to check in on Cathy, take her extra layers, and bring her a gel. She was doing great, so we headed back to exchange one where we inflated a small shark inflatable and alligator, Alfred.

Why an alligator inflatable named, Alfred; you might wonder? Because Ragnar. Yes, the question as to the "Why?" of inflatables was asked by your's truly in our NES Ninjas FB group prior to the race and the answer, "Because Ragnar," was the reply. There are aspects of certain experiences that are inexplicable to those outside of that experience. Suffice it to say that there are aspects of Ragnar that fit that paradigm. 

Soon an excited Cathy was finished with her run. She checked her first leg off the back of our van as we send Erick off for his run. 

The decoration of the vans is a Ragnar tradition. It's customary to do a few things: 

1. Check off your completed legs on the van.

2. Decorate your van with your team name.

3. Record your "kills" on your van. In Ragnar speak, a "kill" is anytime when you pass another runner during your leg. I had two kills on my first leg, two on my second, and one on my last.

4. Tag other vans. Teams usually get magnets with their team name on them. At the exchanges you go from van to van tagging them with your magnets. The goal is to do this with the utmost stealth and tag without being seen. At the end of the relay, you get to keep all the magnets that your van got tagged with. Bobby is a tagging ninja and was responsible for all our tagging. (Well, I did one or two, but only under his guidance.) As a reward, Bobby took home the magnets on our van.

In 2014 and 2015 the legs for Ragnar Cape Cod remained the same. For 2016, the first legs for van 1 were switched up a bit, meaning that we had a couple of new exchange points. After Bobby headed out for his run, we headed off to find the exchange where I would take over for him. Alas, some confusion happened, resulting in our van ending up at the fifth exchange instead of the fourth. Poor Bobby! When we arrived at exchange five, I hopped out of the van and ran over to the exchange point where Bobby slapped off to me using the slap bracelet that serves as a baton for Ragnar.  

My first run was my longest at 7.3 miles. The run was through the town of Marshfield. It started with around three or so miles of rolling hills in a residential area. 9:00 a.m. is a pretty standard time for me to be doing some exercise, so I felt pretty good for this entire run. At first my legs were a bit less than springy from sitting in a van for hours. (I am used to standing at a standing desk at work all day, which I enjoy much more than sitting.) However, after a mile, they felt fine. The rolling hills were not as challenging as I thought they would be from driving along them in the van and the real estate was interesting to watch. I like to think of running as exploring on foot, and new neighborhoods are great for House Hunter-style activity. 

After a few miles, the run transitioned to a main road. For the last half of the leg we were running along a main drag on the sidewalk. This was less than pleasing, but the run was flat and easy. My teammates met me at a midway point where I got a quick drink of water and continued on my way. 

Over the last year, I have started running without any sort of tracking. I don't listen to music, I don't bring a GPS watch, and I have no idea about my pace or distance. All I do is keep track of my time (more or less) on my Fuelband. I run about a 10:00 mile -- perhaps a bit slower. When I go out, if I want to run, say, 7 miles, I'll plan to run for around an hour and fifteen minutes. This strategy works for me. I am very ultra organized in all aspects of my life. Running is one of the only places where I allow myself this flexibility. This is where I relax. Since adopting this strategy, I have been running much more and enjoying my time on my runs much more. Running is training, but it's also, even more importantly, for my mental health. It helps me de-stress. I follow a general guide of doing 4.5 miles on Monday and Wednesday during the lunch hour and doing a long run of 7 - 12 miles on the weekend. This works. In fact, I think it's working pretty well since I had three good runs during Ragnar, covered 17.5 miles in total and did not feel sore.

The stretch of my run that was along the main road was flat and easy. It was unexciting, in terms of the scenery but it was fine. There was one exciting moment in which an elderly man in a truck came far too close to me in a cross walk. (Three runner actually were very alarmed and checked to make sure I was okay.) Fortunately, the run was uneventful. Soon, I spotted the church where I'd be handing off to Paul. I ran in, we did a quick chest bump (a team tradition!) and then I slapped off to Paul, and he was on his way.

Paul's run was the one I did last year and finished at Duxbury Beach. It was also where we passed off to van 2. Any exchange where we get to see our fellow teammates from van 2 is an excellent one. Duxbury is a major exchange where there are also sponsor tents, since it's where van 2 does their check-in. When we arrived at Duxbury, we quickly found our fellow NES Ninjas and did some socializing and, of course, selfie taking. (Ragnar is pretty much an excuse to take a ton of selfies, I've learned.)

After Paul arrived and Aaron set off, our van was off until around 5:30 p.m. It was only 11:00 a.m. (though we'd been up since 3:00 in the morning.) We strolled around and looked at some of the sponsor tents. This past year, Ragnar switched title sponsors from New Balance to Reebok. I love Reebok -- they are super nice to the NE Spahtens, and I product test for them -- however, I really liked New Balance as the Ragnar sponsor. New Balance provided really nice tech shirts for all finishers and did both men and women's fits. Reebok provided a polyblend cotton unisex (so men's) t-shirt. Kind of a bummer. Otherwise, the gear they were selling seemed fine, though I did not get anything. Other sponsor tents were around, such as Nuun and Nathan, but there was nothing too exciting either here or at the final exchange in Provincetown. Ragnar has great brand recognition, but I have yet to pick up any of their swag, which I find a bit overpriced for the value. Others, I know, feel differently, so take this with a grain of salt. 

After we finished up at Duxbury with our shopping, we headed out for breakfast. Last year, we had eaten at a fantastic place called The Blueberry Muffin where people had pancakes that were head-sized. We headed back there for another delicious meal. Again, I opted to not have pancakes but instead to have eggs. (In this case, scrambled eggs on corn cakes with cheese and a dash of salsa and beans.) I wanted the protein for recovery and was feeling like I wanted to be "responsible" with my eating choices. That being said, those pancakes always look amazing -- next year I might have to go in that direction.

From there we headed across the Sagamore Bridge to exchange 13 in Sandwich, Massachusetts. We had a number of hours to kill at this exchange, which provided a nice opportunity for everyone to relax and visit. Bobby and I spent some time decorating the van. Mostly Bobby decorated and I handed him markers and wrote the occasional bit of text. At that point I was pretty tired, so I rolled out my sleeping bag for a quick nap. I slept for maybe 30 to 45 minutes, but it definitely felt good. Soon we had some visitors from some other NE Spahtens on various other Ragnar teams. I spent some time visiting with Spahten friend, Niki.

At this point, as the picture above attests to, it had gotten kind of chilly. By around the time that Cathy was scheduled to run again, rain was just starting to roll in. It held off for most of her run before beginning as Erick took over.

I was scheduled to take over for Bobby at around 9:00 p.m. Bobby and Paul had purchased glowing tutus for their night legs. (Actually, the tutu is a thing to discuss. Bobby's tutu came in the most excellent packaging. The front said, "AvidLove: Here is the Right for you as the Mr. Right beside you. AvidLove make your life better, higher, comfortable!" The product name was written on the back "AvideLove Women Sexy Organza Tutu Multi-layers LED Party Dance Skirt Light Up Dress Petticoat Green." How the tutu purports to makes one's life higher I cannot say, but I am curious...)

 Bobby is quite the speedy fellow because by the time I made it out to the exchange to do my 5.5 mile night run, he was waiting in glowing tutu and in the steady rain. I felt terrible for missing him twice now, especially in the weather, and vowed to not make him wait next time. For the end of his third run the entire team was there to cheer.

My night leg was 5.5 miles of dark wet running. There is something interesting about running, especially about running at 9:00 p.m. soaking wet in a place you do not know where you cannot see anything beyond the rain drops that catch the beam of your headlamp. I don't always like running, but I always love it.

I run for myself. I run because when I run all the things in life that hurt or are hard or are unfair seem a little bit less hurtful or hard or unfair. Maybe that's not true. Maybe those things all still hurt but the way in which they hurt seems manageable because all one can feel is one's legs working and one's lungs breathing and one's feet rapping against the ground. When I run I don't think of anything else but running, or, rather, I think of everything else; however, I can think of it in a way that's not judging or mitigating. I think of things in a way where I don't manage those feelings. The truth is when you run at 9:00 p.m. in the dark and the wet and without any idea of where you are it's all the things one might imagine -- a drag and uncomfortable and the lights from people's windows seem like the glow of something sensible and a place where you should be. It's also wonderfully liberating and peaceful and feels like flying through the void of space.

I got back to the van entirely wet and quickly changed into some sweats and pulled out my sleeping bag. I wasn't cold from my run since it was mild, but I wanted to stay warm just in case. Paul was scheduled to finish his run at 11:00 p.m., from there, was planned to head over to the next major exchange, Monomy Regional High School in Harwich where we'd have until 2:45 a.m. to rest. I must have fallen asleep during the ride over because next thing I knew it was 12:30 a.m., the rain had stopped, and we were in Harwich. Monomy was the last place to get a shower. Last year, I had slept through the stop in Harwich and missed my chance at a shower. I was tired -- I had run 12.8 miles after only sleeping for five hours Thursday night and had been up for almost 24 hours. I knew a shower would be ideal, as I truly regretted not taking the opportunity to take one last year. I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag, grabbed my stuff, and headed into the school where I donated $5 and took an amazing hot shower in the school's new locker room.

The shower felt amazing and would be on my list of must-do things for suggestions for first time Ragnar runners. I headed back to the van with hopes of sleeping for another hour and a half. Unfortunately, the shower had woken me up a bit, and it was as a tad noisy. I rested but sleep was elusive. Soon it was time to go.

Ironically, it was once we were on the road that I fell asleep. After Cathy got off to the exchange, we headed out with me still curled in my sleeping bag. A couple of hours must have passed because I missed Cathy coming back and Erick heading out. I only woke up when Wes was leaving for his 9.5 miler. I dozed for a tiny bit more before realizing that I needed to wake up, change into running cloths, and eat. Bobby had a 5.7 mile run and then I was going to need to be ready for my last run, a 4.5 miler.

I changed in my sleeping bag and coordinated a Larabar which I planned to eat right before Bobby set out so that I'd have at least something in my stomach. My last real meal had been brunch at The Blueberry Muffin, and I'd just had a bagel, some jerky, and Twizzlers for dinner. Even though I wasn't sure how hungry I was, at least a little bit of food was in order.

My legs were feeling fine. With the long runs I had been doing on the weekend my running fitness was better than it had been for all my past Ragnar races. I had run my first two legs pretty well and was looking forward to putting in a decent third run. I headed out to the exchange plenty early -- I was not going to miss Bobby this time! The entire van came so that we could cheer Bobby in with enthusiasm.

The last run of my day was also the most scenic. The first couple of miles wound through salt marshes. It was 7:00 a.m. The sun was up and the water was glimmering. I made my way up and down rolling hills and through quiet neighborhoods hemmed in by water with driveways of sand and shells. The first couple of miles were a bit of a challenge. I was tired and feeling a bit dizzy from lack of sleep and food and too much caffeine. I pushed on and eventually got my second wind. By the time I was finishing my last mile along the Cape Cod Rail Trail, I was almost sad for the running to be over. I finished strong, slapped off to Paul, and was done!

The van headed to Nauset Regional High in Eastham to do the final exchange to Van 2. I quickly changed and then went to the exchange point to hang out with all of my NE Ninja teammates as well as some of the members of the NE Spahtens men's team. Soon, we saw Paul coming around the corner. We cheered him in. Our van was done! We said, "Good bye," to Van 2 as they followed Aaron and headed off for the finish line in Provincetown with a quick stop for coffee and doughnuts at Dunks.

It was just shy of 9:00 a.m. when we pulled into Provincetown. We had until around 1:45 p.m. to wait for Van 2's arrival. We wandered down Commercial Street until we came to a restaurant called Post Office. There we got some good breakfast -- I opted for scrambled eggs with cheese in potato skins.

Since we still had a few hours, we took time to organize and clean the van. We wanted to be ready to head out and get home once we all crossed the finish line. We all pitched in so cleaning the van went very quickly and soon we were able to go up to the finish area.

The finish area of Ragnar is kind of unexciting. It mirror what you see at exchange 6 with some vendors. They also have some free food and beer up at the foot of the monument. The NE Spahtens men's team was at the monument, so we headed up and enjoyed some sun and beers as we waited for the rest of our group to show up. While being done early and getting to clean the van and coordinate is a perk to being in the first van, the wait at Provincetown where you're finished and tired and waiting on the rest of your team so you can really finish is totally a challenge. It was great to have so much good company to make the wait worth while.

We decided to head down to the finish line area to wait for the rest of the team at around 1:00 p.m. It's Ragnar tradition to meet runner 12 and cross the finish line with him. When Josh was about a mile out, we headed down the hill so that we could see him coming in. We lined up along the race route, all chest bumped Josh in turn, and then fell in step behind him to race across the finish line as our team name was announced.

Jess passed around team medals. The Ragnar medals are top notch; one bonus is that the back of them forms a puzzle. Expert puzzle master Sandy took the lead and we arranged our medals. An awesome last photo with an awesome team.

Ragnar is always one of my favorite events of the year. I am so lucky to have an amazing group of people to share this great experience with. The best part of Ragnar is the people, and the NE Spahtens are, without a doubt, the people to do Ragnar with. Ragnar 2014 was my first event with the Spahtens. I was shy and nervous thinking how was it that I had committed to spending 48 hours with a group of strangers. Now I couldn't feel more differently. The Spahtens are friends. Sure I see them less than I'd like (especially in the winter), a product of distance and my being in graduate school. Ragnar is a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with people whose company I enjoy. As a bonus we get to push ourselves and do some running. Honestly, what can be better than that? 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

F.I.T. Challenge VI

It happened like this. I was messaging with friend and fellow NE Spahten, Matt, earlier this winter. We were comparing race schedules. "You doing F.I.T.?" he asked. I replied that, with much sadness, I would be leaving F.I.T. off my spring race schedule. The reason: Saturday 1:00 p.m. graduate school class. Matt was undeterred. He was running the 8:30 a.m. wave. If we left Amherst at 6:15 a.m., we could run, be finished by 10:00 a.m. and back in time for me to have around an hour to get ready for class. Clearly this was ironclad logic. Next thing I knew, I was clicking the "submit" button on the registration page for F.I.T. Challenge VI.

F.I.T. is one of my favorite #racelocal events. (Read my reviews of this past fall 2015's event and the spring 2015 race.) It's a 5K race that takes place at Diamond Hill in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Diamond Hill State Park may have the word hill in the name; however, race director, Robb McCoy, packs a lot of elevation into his course. This year's F.I.T. clocked in at around 3.35 miles. Two days later, my quads are still recovering from the pounding they took running down the hills.

Matt and I arrived at F.I.T. around half an hour before our 8:30 a.m. wave start. Registration took no time at all. The amount of swag was nothing less than epic -- no pun intended (#doepicfit). All participants received a headband, wristband, poly-blend t-shirt, and, upon completion of the race, a finisher's medal.

Even though I was at F.I.T. about two hours before the NE Spahtens' team wave, there was already a Spahtens presence. I headed over to the start line with many fellow teammates.

The course followed an almost identical route to the fall event. This meant that the first part of the race -- the first mile especially -- was a lot of trail running with few obstacles. The obstacles were denser towards the end. This split up the pack and helped avoid some bottlenecks at obstacles. (The one notable exception was the wait at the monkey cargo net.)

Here are the obstacles I recall from F.I.T. In addition to what I list here, here were also a number of walls and over-under-throughs that were places throughout the course, including on top of the hill. There was a lot of running at the onset of the course, so these walls were key to making me feel like the course wasn't too "boring" during the running sections. This sort of attention to detail is a hallmark of F.I.T. and one of the reasons I enjoy this race so much. (Addendum: I apparently did not remember these obstacles in very good order. Check out this YouTube video to see the real order and get a good idea of what the terrain was like.) The obstacles included:

Cargo net: The cargo net was suspended between two trees. Definitely enough wiggle so that you wanted to stay towards the sides as you climbed.
Tires: I first encountered this obstacle at Bone Frog last year. It is harder than one might expect. Tires are hung around a horizontal beam. If you don't get a good enough jump, you can rotate right off.

Wreckbag hoist: This hoist had what I believe were 35 pound and 50 pound Wreckbag options. The rope was quite narrow. I just barely avoided some rope burn.

Floating wall: Aaron Farb, the inventor of the F.I.T. Challenge floating wall, is a bit of a mad genius with this obstacle. It is hard. The floating wall made its debut last F.I.T. and this time a new taller version made an appearance. The wall rotated. A lot. I climbed the wall with one other person and we were almost horizontal (which I will say was unexpected and slightly alarming!). I ended up having him climb down the back first and staying on top to counterbalance. Very cool -- a truly unique obstacle to F.I.T.

Rope wall: A wall of around eight or nine feet, best climbed with a thick rope.
Teeter-totter: Yes, a seesaw. Climb up and down. I saw someone take a serious tumble on a teeter-totter once -- though not at F.I.T. and have been ever-cautious of this obstacle ever since.

Log carry; I was lucky enough to get to the log carry just as a fellow Spahten with a perfectly sized log was finishing up. "Hey, Nicole Sibley!" she shouted and sent me on my way up and down Diamond Hill with a perfect log.
Monkey cargo net: Believe it or not, this was my first time doing and obstacle like this. The monkey cargo net is a challenge, especially one as loose as this. Swinging was not a good option, I discovered right away. (Believe me, I tried.) Like everyone else, I ended up "walking" the net with hands and feet. Regardless, by the end, my grip was tired from moving slowly while holding up the weight of my body. This obstacle was probably the highlight of the day.

Pegboards: Back-to-back strength obstacles! The past three F.I.T. Challenges have featured a pegboard followed immediately by a 15' rope clime. This year, they were directly preceded by the monkey cargo net. As a result, I tried to use my legs quite a bit to help on the pegboard. It helped.

Rope climb: The rope climb after the monkey cargo net and the pegboard was a challenge. It was slow going, but I made it.
Wreckbag carry: I was actually glad to be able to do a carry after all the work on the last three obstacles. I grabbed a 25 pound Wreckbag -- there were 50 pound bags too -- and draped my arms in the loops. Honestly, it was almost a break. Okay, not really, since I was climbing a hill with extra weight on my back, but at least my arms could hang.
Destroyer: The Destroyer was my favorite new obstacle of the fall F.I.T. Challenge, and I loved it once again here. This picture says it all. Climb an inverted wall and then a higher wall on the top. You are high in the air and it's all about having good grip. This obstacle is intense and wonderfully hard to complete.

Inverted wall: A wall angled at 45 degrees or so towards you. I like this because it makes it ever so slightly shorter.

Crawl: Uggg! This was an uphill crawl under what felt like miles of crisscrossed yellow rope. I have some legitimately huge black and blue marks on my knees from this obstacle.

Floating wall: This is a smaller floating wall and the one that debuted at F.I.T. last time. It's also the wall that I got to play at during the Spahtens Labor Day party at Farb's house. At the party, the wall had been hung a bit higher than it was at F.I.T. As a result, Aaron put in a step -- the so-called Sibley Step -- to help the shorter of us get over the wall. When I approached the floating wall at F.I.T. on Saturday, I noticed a certain lack of the Sibley Step. The wall had been hung backwards! Right after I climbed over the wall I noticed Aaron coming over to move the step to the correct side. Naturally, I gave him hell for it as I ran along.
Over-under (with picnic tables): The finish line was in sight but there was still an obstacle-dense section to get through. There was a set of over-unders with hurdles and picnic tables. Note to self: Crawling under a picnic table is not as easy as I anticipated.
Double up: For this obstacle, you have to jump up and grab a log and then pull yourself up a second, higher up parallel log. I enjoy this obstacle. It's a good blend of challenge and fun.
Atlas stone: Lift the Atlas stone up and over your shoulder.
Rig: This Rig from the last race was back. Monkey bars, followed by a horizontal pipe and then a rope climb. Loved it!

Inverted ladder: Just a quick climb up and over and then a quick run across the finish line.

I finished in 1:33:17 with 100% obstacle completion. This was a bit longer than my 1:19 finish in the spring. However, I think, in general, the course times ran a little longer. I finished in the top quarter overall, the top 14% for women, and the top 19% of my age group. These results are identical to the spring's, except that I moved down three percentage points in my age group.

As always, F.I.T. is a fantastic event. It's fun, challenging, and innovative. There is a great attention to detail, a good sense of community, and a wonderful time to be had by all participants. From the first-timer looking for a new experience to the endurance athlete who wants to do as many laps as he can, F.I.T. offers up something for everyone. This fall, I'll be at F.I.T. VII!

(Photo credits: Liz Cardoso for F.I.T. and Vince Rhee for the NE Spahtens.)

Monday, February 1, 2016

Blizzard Blast 2016

The 2016 NE Spahtens #racelocal kicked off on Sunday, January 31 with Blizzard Blast, a winter obstacle course race located at Four Oaks Country Club in Dracut, Massachusetts. 

This was my second year attending the race. A big plus for me was the date fell on a Sunday. I have Saturday classes for graduate school this spring semester and as a result my race schedule is a bit stripped down from last year when my Saturdays were free. There were a couple other key reasons for my participation in this race. Last year, I had really enjoyed myself. Blizzard Blast took place in snowy conditions and did a great job highlighting that it was a winter race. The race is also fairly close to my house -- only an hour and a half away. The final and main reason that this race remains one I will likely keep on my calendar is that it's one of very few winter races. After the 2015 OCR season wrapped at F.I.T. Challenge, since then, I've had limited opportunity to see my fellow Spahtens and enjoy my favorite hobby of obstacle course racing. In the past, I have been lucky enough to have two winter races, Blizzard Blast in January and Polar Bear in February. Then I'd do F.I.T. in April. This year, Polar Bear and F.I.T., two races that I love, won't be a possibility. That means that Blizzard Blast is likely my only race until Ragnar in May. Though I love school, the schedule is sometimes a bummer, since it means less time with friends. With this in mind, I was dedicated to having as much fun at Blizzard Blast as I possibly could. (P.S. I am also going to try to plan a day trip or two to Shale Hill to hang out with people and do some OCR this winter. I was lucky enough to get to go in November and January and am planning to go up again for my birthday in March. This should help!)

I arrived in eastern Massachusetts a little over an hour before the 12:30 p.m. team heat. The parking for Blizzard Blast is always off-site. This means taking a 10 minute bus ride from where you drop your car to the race venue. Kind of a bummer. Parking was the standard $10 and the buses were conveniently waiting, so the trip out was smooth. The trip back was less ideal. My teammate, Bobby, and I ended up waiting almost 20 minutes for a bus to take up back to our car. The 20 minute wait, plus the 10 minute bus ride, added 30 minutes at the end of the day. I wish that the buses could have been as well coordinated for the outgoing trip as for the incoming one.

When the buses arrived at the country club I headed over to registration. This went very smoothly. There was no line. I had my waver signed and ready to go and was instantly handed a timing chip and bib in a packet from a volunteer. From there, I went to t-shirt pick-up. There was a line of maybe a half dozen people here, but there were plenty of well-organized volunteers and the t-shirt pick-up went smoothly too. As a member of the NE Spahtens I received a special cotton long sleeved t-shirt with our team logo on the sleeve and, as a bonus, a Blizzard Blast buff. Last year, the team got a shirt with our logo on the back. These are details I really love. I also love that Blizzard Blast does cotton long sleeve shirts. I am not a fan of the lower quality tech t-shirts races often give out and would much prefer a cotton shirt I can wear around the house and to sleep in. I have very few race shirts that are long sleeved for the cooler months, so ones like the Blizzard Blast shirt get extra usage. 

From registration, I headed into the country club and found the bar room, which the Spahtens had taken over been given as team headquarters. The room was packed! Tons of people had come out for the race. Though I didn't recognize most people, I also spotted many friends that I hadn't seen since F.I.T. I went around saying, "Hello," before situating myself in an unobtrusive spot to get ready for the race. 

The Spahtens had decided that this year for Blizzard Blast we'd all run in onesies. Back at the beginning of the winter, this seemed like it might end up being a idea that was just odd instead of totally crazy -- onesies are warm and January is, in general, cold. However, Sunday ended up being unseasonably warm with a high of around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and a temperature in the upper 40s at the time of our team heat. Nonetheless, I donned my Totoro onesie for the team picture. I debated taking it off, but was both interested in cultivating team spirit and fascinated by what the actual experience of running in a onesie would be like. What can I say; I am an empiricist! 

(Photo credit: Vince Rhee)

I headed over to the start line with fellow Spahten and Ragnar teammate, Bobby, who was dressed in a Batman onesie, complete with cape. At the starting line, we ran into Paul, in a dragon onesie, complete with an elaborately spikes tail. The three of us ended up running the race together.

We started the race with basically no fanfare. I believe announcements were made about penalties. Last year Blizzard Blast had you do 10 snow angels as a penalty for failed obstacles. This year, it was almost 50 degrees and no snow, so we were asked to do jumping jacks instead. We started the race with basically no fanfare. I believe announcements were made about penalties. Last year Blizzard Blast had you do 10 snow angels as a penalty for failed obstacles. This year, it was almost 50 degrees and no snow, so we were asked to do jumping jacks instead.

The course was 5.5 miles in length. A lot of time was spent on the golf cart paths that crisscross the country club. Other time was spent doing some trail running in the woods. There were no significant hills. I'd be surprised if we had more than 300 feet of elevation change. It was mostly rolling hills, which is fine by me. The course roughly followed the path that we used in 2015 with slight modifications due to the lack of snow. It was a fast course, in part because of the lack of snow, but mostly due to the lack of obstacles over the first half of the race. We ran all the way to the first water stop – probably around a mile – before encountering any obstacles at all. Here we had one tall wall and an under wall. That was it. After that, it was another mile and a half of running before we encountered anything else. As it is, I found this race to be okay; if they had cut out that first 2.5 miles of running and done the race as a 5K I would definitely be giving this race higher marks. Obstacle placement and spacing is very important. I like to run. I even sometimes love it. However, when I sign up for an obstacle course race, what I am looking for is obstacles. I would love a 5K distance that is obstacle dense over a longer distance with all the obstacles at the end. It’s much more fun and gives me exactly what I am looking for in my obstacle course racing experiences.

Here's a breakdown of the obstacles in the course with descriptions for each. As always, I have tried to recall as best I can all the obstacles and the placement of each. Feel free to let me know if I missed anything -- it's sometimes hard to remember without a course map or GoPro footage.

- 7' wall: This wall had a set of kicks and a hand hold, which helped a lot.
- Under: Roll under a wall.
- Pegboards: This obstacle was a pegboard attached to a tree. The last Blizzard Blast I had trouble with this obstacle, but I've worked on my technique and managed it just fine at the last two F.I.T. Challenges. It was fine here too.

- Double keg hoist: This hoist was actually very heavy. The rope was thin and completely slippery with mud. Bobby ended up assisting me with the hoist. (I got it up off the ground about once before the rope slipped through my hands.) It was great having the assistance!

- Rope climb: This was a fairly short rope climb, but the Totoro onesie and lack of Icebugs made it harder than usual. I was able to j-hook down pretty quickly though -- Totoro is kind of slick!
- Paintball target: Grab a paintball gun and try to hit a target. Last year we got only three tries. This year, the volunteer said we could have ten. I was able to get it on try five or so.
- Pine tree weave: Dodge and weave your way through hanging pine trees.

- Teeter totters: Climb up and down a see-saw. I didn't have my Icebugs, so I took this one very slowly. The only OCR-related injury I've witnessed was on a set of teeter totters, so I'm always careful on this one. (Note: Last year, I skipped it because it was so slippery. Plus, half of it was closed down for some reason in 2015.)
- Hot chocolate!: Just kidding -- this was not an obstacle. At the teeter totters, instead of a water stop, there was a hot chocolate station. It even featured marshmallows. This helped make up for the 2.5 miles of running I'd done with only a over and under wall back at the start of the race.
- Hoist: This was a unique hoist. We had to haul up a small keg, but instead of just hoisting it, we actually had to wrap the string holding the keg on the pulley onto the handle we were using. Forearm strength was required. This is the second year that Blizzard Blast has had this obstacle. It's fine -- I like it more than a traditional hoist -- but there tends to be a back-up at this obstacle.
- Keg carry: Blizzard Blast is sponsored by a beer company and, as a result, kegs abound. For this obstacle. We had to carry a beer keg along a loop. There were kegs on the ground to weave through and climb over.

- Through wall and 6' wall: Shimmy through the opening in a wall. Then do a standard wall. This second wall was little wobbly but nothing too terrible.
- Christmas lights crawl: Like a barbed wire crawl but with Christmas lights. Festive!
- Cinder block walk: You got two cinder blocks. While standing on one, you had to move the other forward. Then step to that one. You moved one block while balancing on the other to advance.
- Ankle biters: We had to make our way across an bridge criss-crossed with ropes at ankle height.
- Football throw: Take a football and throw it at a tire attached to a tree. I hit around the tire but didn't quite make it. I did the penalty of 10 jumping jacks as we began running to the next obstacle.
- Traverse wall: Doing a traverse wall was a bit more challenging with the limited mobility of the onesie. Fortunately, the hand blocks had lips at the top, and I could pretty much hang off of them.
- Hanging tires: Directly after the traverse wall, you had to cross a suspending a-frame with four tires tied to the trellis. The tires were fixed. The idea was to grab each side like a lip with your fingers and then move your way along. I actually found this a lot harder than anticipated. It ended up taking three tries for me to make it, and it was much more exhausting for my hands and shoulders than monkey bars.
- 5' wall
- Pine tree carry: I like this carry better than a traditional carry because, honestly, what's displeasing about walking around covered with the scent of pine. Also, Blizzard Blast is good about selecting a nice variety of sizes, so it's possible for me to pick a tree that's the correct level of challenge to carry.
- Cars: This is the first time I have ever seen an obstacle like this. And that might be okay. We had to crawl through the window of a dilapidated car and then crawl out the window on the other side. From there, we fell into a pile of foam blocks (kind of like what you see in a gymnastics training facility). Finally, we had to crawl through the windows of another car again. This was a bit of a dirty operation and quite odd, to say the least. However, I totally give it points for originality, and it was novel. I alternated between amusement at the activity we were doing and alarm at how gross the cars were! (Note: Apparently dirty stuff, like mud, in the outdoors is fine. In the "indoors" of a car it's distressing.)

- Keg Kingdom: This was my favorite obstacle last year, and this year I was not disappointed. Last year, we had four hanging kegs, monkey bars, and then another four kegs. This year was a bit of a different set-up. We had a set of four kegs and then some hay bales to rest on. From there, it was a set of over a half dozen kegs. We then got to stand on some hay and transition to a modestly long stretch of monkey bars. Swinging from kegs is tricky for a couple of reasons. The main one, is that they swing in unpredictable ways. The other reason is that they have only two handles you can grab, so you have to be lucky enough to have enough space to reach the next handle.

I had pretty good luck with the kegs and made it all the way through. I was unable to reach the monkey bars. Fortunately, Paul gave me a boost. (Thank you for your help two years in a row at Keg Kingdom, Paul. My height is clearly a limiter on this!) There weren't any hay bales at the end of the monkey bars, which I think was an oversight since it was a pretty long drop down for someone my size. Bobby and Paul helped me down, which was much appreciated. After that, we had to climb up and over one mound of snow and then it was across the finish line. My final time was 1:44:59.

From there, I returned inside. I was massively hot in my onesie (which at that point, I had tied around my waste, leaving my top free). I was ready to change and get some food. Blizzard Blast includes a free cup of soup / chili with entry. This is a nice perk. The food line was a bit long, but it moved fairly quickly. Sadly, selection was limited as they were out of chowder and chicken noodle soup, so we all got some chili. It was not a favorite, but one cannot be dissatisfied with free food after exercising for 1:45. Plus, the race was at the country club which included a restaurant and bar for anyone interested in purchasing food.

Bottom line: Even with its faults, I’ll keep going to Blizzard Blast because it’s a race at a time of year when there are very few things on my calendar OCR-wise. It’s a good opportunity to play outside in the winter and a great opportunity to get to see friends that I see less often than I wish during the colder months. If this race was instead in a busy month like May or July, I might skip it. It also tends to be a very affordable race, costing anywhere from $40 - $70. For OCR that is downright cheap! The race experience is mixed. I like how the obstacles are different from what I see elsewhere. For good or bad, we do get some novelty here. None of the obstacles are going to win “most innovative,” but they, in general, have a fun twist that adds up to a good time. I continue to be a big fan of Keg Kingdom; it continues to be one of my favorite obstacles. I enjoy how dedicated Blizzard Blast is to their winter/snow theme. I like some of the details, such as the personalized t-shirts for our team and the hot chocolate stop along the course. I also think having the race at a country club is quite nice. The venue provides a nice indoor location for the cold weather (when we have it). Plus, it offers any easy place to store gear, get a meal, and use an indoor restroom. What more could someone want!

I still believe that this race would be much better as a 5K. (I said it last year too.) Blizzard Blast is advertised as being a 3.1 mile race; however, last year it clocked in at 5.8 miles and this year it clocked in at 5.5 miles. We ran the first 2.5 miles of the race and only encountered one set of obstacles – an over and under wall. The vast majority of the obstacles were jumbled together at the end. I’ve given my feelings about this in numerous Spartan Race (and other) reviews, and I continue to feel the same way. Good obstacle placement and spacing the obstacle out across the course is key for the experience of your racers. I had fun during the 2.5 miles of running because I was chatting with Bobby and Paul about OCR and Ragnar. Basically, I was lucky and had good people to keep me company. Otherwise, I think I might have been a bit bored. I am sympathetic to the fact that key to Blizzard Blast is snow. I am sure that all bets were off when they realized it was going to be warm and the ground bare. This probably meant the removal of some obstacle from last year, like the sledding, which were a lot of fun and broke up some of the distance.

Have I signed up for the 2017 Blizzard Blast yet? No. Will I? Very likely, yes. It's fun. The level of challenge isn't overwhelming, but you do get some obstacles that will work you. It's a race anyone can do. Friends are key to the experience. So, yes, 2017, I'll be there with the team.

(Note: Photos courtesy of Blizzard Blast and Caley McGuane Photography unless otherwise stated.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

2016 Race Planning

It's official: I have run my last race for 2016. I finished up the year with my annual tradition of doing the Hot Chocolate Run, a local 5K that benefits the charity Safe Passage. I love this event -- it's a huge community collaboration that brings out many friends all of whom are supporting a charity that offers help to families who are effected by domestic violence. It's the one bit of fund-raising I do in my personal life each year. This December, I was able to raise $136!

With the 2015 season in the books, it's time to start planning for next year's races. This spring, I will be taking a Saturday afternoon class for my Master's degree program. This means that certain races I loved this year, like the Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour and F.I.T. Challenge won't be in the cards for 2016. Disappointing for sure, but I will be able to catch up with those races in 2017 after I earn my degree, and there are many other races to enjoy. (Plus, my Saturday afternoon class is Descriptive Cataloging, and I am excited enough for it to make up for missing a couple of races.)

I like to plan, and, as a result, I tend to register for races as soon as possible. This helpful for keeping costs down, extra key in a sport that is as costly as obstacle course racing can be. My 2016 year will be nicely divided between #racelocal OCR events and some more running. This year I've found myself running a lot on trails without thought to mileage, pace, or anything other than spending time on my feet enjoying myself as much as possible. This has kind of refocused how I think of running. It's a good activity for relaxing and something I find I am doing more of and enjoying more when I do it. OCR will always be my main love, but I like the idea of continuing to mix in some running into my 2016 race schedule.

2016 Race Schedule:

January: Blizzard Blast (OCR) -- Sunday, January 31
Description: This is a fun 5K obstacle course race done in central Massachusetts in January. It's a nice off-season race that really nails "fun in the snow!" This year, for added whimsy, our team will be doing this race in onesie pajamas. I am usually not one for dressing up, but I am going to try my best for this. Look forward to seeing pictures of me in a Totoro outfit come January. Occasionally, even I think it's good to take a break from routine and do something out of character!

May: Ragnar Cape Cod (Running) -- Friday, May 13 and Saturday, May 14
Description: Ragnar is a relay run that takes place over two days and has runners covering approximately 200 miles. The Cape Cod race goes from Hull to Provincetown. 12 runners each take turns running three legs total. For me, Ragnar Cape Cod has become an annual tradition; one that I very much look forward to. In May of 2014, this was my first race with the NE Spahtens. It's a sleepover meets a road race. Great times with fun people are a certainty for my third Ragnar with the Spahtens!

May: Bone Frog Challenge (OCR) -- Saturday, May 21
Description: If there was a hometown OCR for me, Bone Frog would be it. The race is located at nearby Berkshire East Mountain Resort, around 45 minutes from my house. Bone Frog Challenge is a 9 mile obstacle dense race put on by Navy SEALs. Last year, it was one of my favorite races. With over 50 unique obstacles, it's a must-do race for anyone in New England.

June: Viking Obstacle Race (OCR) -- Saturday, June 11
Description: Viking Obstacle Race is held on a fixed course at Sunny Hill Resort in the Catskills of New York. Last spring, I was lucky enough to do a free training day at Viking. I loved it. The race dates for Viking Obstacle Race have never worked for me because they've conflicted with Tough Mudder. As much as I love the unique obstacles of Tough Mudder the cost compared with other races combined with the ratio of hiking to obstacles is making me take a year off. Will I miss Tough Mudder? Sure. But also, not really; I am looking forward to Viking. With over 30 obstacles on a 5.5 mile course, I'm looking forward to this race.

July: Shale Hill Relay (OCR) -- Sunday, July 17
Description: Anyone who reads this blog probably already knows that Shale Hill is likely my favorite place for racing and training. Last year's team relay was a blast! Get a team of three and tackle the ultra-challenging 6.5 mile 60+ obstacle Shale Hill course. Each person gets a third. Camaraderie = A+

August: 24 Hours of Shale Hell (OCR) -- Saturday, August 8 and Sunday, August 9
Description: Shale Hill's 24 hour race will be my anchor OCR of 2016. Last year, I did the 8 hour version and completed 2 laps for a total of 60+ obstacles and 13 miles. This year, I am going for the full 24 hours. It's too early yet to set lap goals. Three? Four? Time to research best-practices for training. Either way, this endurance event will be a good set-up for the rest of my plans for the year.

August: Ragnar Trail New England (Running) -- Friday, August 26 and Saturday, August 27
Description: Ragnar but on trails instead of the road. Think camping instead of time in a van. Think running through the woods instead of on streets. Sounds like a dream! When I got invited to join one of the Spahtens teams and take an open spot, I knew it was an opportunity I could not pass up. I cannot wait!

October: Newport Marathon (Running) -- Sunday, October 9
Description: 26.2. Yes, the time has come to commit to the challenge of the marathon. Of all the races I have planned for 2016 this one is the one that gives me pause. I've done OCRs that have taken me seven, eight, or ten hours, but it's the type of exercise I am optimized for. The marathon will require a special level of commitment. I'm reviewing training plans now and have cleared my Saturday mornings (before my Saturday afternoon graduate school classes) for my long runs. Let's do this!

For now, that's the plan. As you can see, my winter and spring are pretty low on races so as to accommodate my class schedule. If a Sunday race or two pops up, I might be tempted. As always, I am waiting on signing up for must in the fall until I see what my course schedule is like for the semester. Additionally, the marathon -- long awaited -- is a big commitment. My longest runs will be in September and, as such, I want to keep my racing in that month to a minimum. I am already planning about how I'll work around my August events for the marathon training, though I think that the endurance focus of those events should dovetail nicely with the training I need to do for my 26.2 attempt. 

Bottom line: It promises to be a fun year with some great challenges. There will be new experiences, such as the marathon and Ragnar Trail, and also enjoyment of classic favorites, like the races at Shale Hill. Now, I look forward to planning my training and then getting to get out to some races with the Spahtens!