Sunday, February 4, 2018

Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour 2018

Anyone who knows me knows that I won't miss a chance to race at Shale Hill. Even if it's in the middle of February. This year, Shale Hill hosted it's sixth annual Polar Bear Challenge, a winter race in which participants do as many laps of Shale Hill's 10K obstacle course as they can in an eight hour period. For me, this was my third time participating and while 2015 wins for the most challenge race with it's 3' of snow, this year was definitely the coldest.

Polar Bear Challenge tends to bring out a larger crew to Shale Hill and some very elite athletes. The race starts bright and early, which check-in from 5:30 a.m. - 6:30 a.m., followed by a breakfast buffet and racers' meeting. Waves were then scheduled to start at around 7:00 a.m., with elites going first and the non-competitive journeyman division heading out in the final wave at 8:00 a.m.

I arrived at Shale Hill just in time to check-in. I parked for free about a quarter of a mile from the check-in. The path up was lit by bonfires -- one of the most epic entrances in OCR.

(Photo credit: Hannah Hawley)

A real perk to racing at Shale Hill is that everyone is treated like family and they know your name. To that end, I checked-in with good friend and fellow Spahten, Niki, and the next thing I knew, I was off to the heated "party barn" to grab a coffee and some eggs and french toast from the buffet. (Bacon was also included for those who prefer pork, i.e. not me; pigs are too smart.) I snacked on my hot breakfast while co-race director, Rob Butler, led the racers' meeting. He explained the new penalty system where racers competing in the elite and open divisions would have to backtrack one obstacle if they failed an obstacle. For select obstacles where backtracking would be too much of a challenge, racers would instead take a chip and then complete their penalties right outside the barn before coming inside to mark the end of their lap. I had been planning to compete in the open division; however, a mild cold, combined with temperatures in the single digits, made me decide to run in the non-competitive journeyman division this year.

At the conclusion of the racers' meeting, the competitive elite athletes soon readied for their wave. It turned out that the course was extremely icy. The newly redone course had racers doing the double log carry as the second obstacle. With the treacherous conditions, people were being forced to go slow. To prevent any back-ups with racers having to wait at this obstacle, the journeyman wave was held a little and we went out at around 8:30 a.m. This was fine for me. It allowed me time to digest my breakfast and spend time with friends. I also chatted with a fellow racer who mentioned that he had read one of my blog posts about Shale Hill, and it had helped him decide to sign-up for Polar Bear. Fame!

In an interesting twist, this year, the course at Shale Hill had been re-laid-out. The obstacles were reordered, there were new paths, and we tackled some new additions to the course. I really enjoyed the new course. We started out by running through what used to be one of the horse pastures and ended up heading quickly over to the ankle biters and the double log carry. I was fortunate enough to get a good (i.e. not too heavy) set of logs that I could manage. It was a good thing too because it was incredibly icy and hilly over the half mile of the log carry. Even with my Icebugs, I was falling all over the place not just during this carry but throughout the race. Running was almost an impossibility. There was a layer of ice under all the crusty snow.

From the log carry, we headed along a part of course that more closely matched what I was used to. We did the pond traverse, followed by the gut check, and the tire pull. The tire pull is the only instance in which I found the ice helpful. Pulling the tire along the ice was easier than dragging it through the grass. The entire time the first half hour or so of the race was going on, temperatures hovered in the single digits. In the woods, it was okay in terms of wind, but out on the fields, one began to understand why the phrase "the wind cut like a knife" exists. For Polar Bear, I had wool socks, feet warmers, two layers of pants, four layers on top (a base layer, a mid layer, a fleece, and a coat), a buff, a beanie, and gloves with hand-warmers. All of these items were essential. There were times when I had my buff pulled up to the edge of my hat and only my eyes were free. The air was so cold that I avoided breathing it directly. While it was hard to grip some of the obstacles while wearing gloves, the alternative -- taking them off -- was impossible on the metal obstacles at this point in the morning. Later in the day, I would selectively take my gloves off for rope climbs or to grip wooden obstacles better, but I had to be quick before my fingers froze to the point of being unable to be effective.

One of the great things about the new course layout was that it allowed racers to tackle hard obstacles followed by easier obstacles in a non-traditional format. In the former Shale Hill layout, there were lots of hard obstacles towards the end and back-to-back. The new layout was great about spreading out challenging obstacles and hitting some harder obstacles sooner in the course. We got to do the Tarzan Ropes earlier on, for example. While we were supposed to do them backward, I decided to approach them in the traditional direction (journeyman division prerogative) and nailed them.

We reversed the course from the Tarzan Ropes and headed over to the monkey bars. The formerly uphill monkey bars were now downhill. I have to say they were still impossible for me. The super skinny rope that was designed to help people climb up to the bars was too slick to get a real hand on, especially with the spinning monkey bars spaced so far apart. My wingspan is almost not wide enough for the monkey bars (or the a-frame devil steps called, Bad Attitude at Shale Hill). At the downhill and flat monkey bars I was fortunate enough to run into volunteering Spahtens, Hannah and Christie. With my cold, I was feeling a bit "meh" and some friendly faces were great! Hannah and Christie walked with me from the monkey bars to two new obstacles -- both were metal and too cold to grab with bare hands but too slippery with gloves. The first was a set of short metal posts sticking out of a center beam. The posts stuck out in a way that implied they were to be tackled like monkey bars. On closer inspection, it became evident that the center post rotated, meaning that with each swing, you'd be wobbling up and down, side to side as you swung across. In my gloves, I couldn't get started, but I can't wait to check this obstacle out again in the warmer months. This obstacle was followed directly but a second new monkey bars or rig-inspired obstacle. This obstacle reminded me of the twister I saw at the Urban Sky obstacle at OCR World Championships but with smaller loops around the central pole. The racers had to grab the loops that corkscrewed around the rotating central pole to move laterally to the far end. Unlike Urban Sky with its nice coated metal loops, the Shale Hill loops were made of rebar. I definitely would need more time with this obstacle to get it down and spending all day there in the 8 degree weather seemed like not the right choice.

The newly designed course took us out to the main field where the final third of the original course used to be twice. This meant that some of the harder obstacles featured in that part of the course were split up since we went out around the midway point of the course and then again in the final mile. We tackled the wheel barrel loop, the 11' wall and the 19' rope climb, and the parallel bars before coming into the woods for the entire "jungle section," categorized by the climbing obstacles -- the abacus, the linkin' logs, and the ladders. I had good success on all these obstacles. For the 11' wall and 19' rope climb, I hazarded to take my hands out of my gloves, which was horrible but also worked. I am a fairly good climber, and the jungle is my favorite part of the course, so I did well there. At this point, I was feeling a bit better and was really enjoying myself, a feeling I would maintain for most of the rest of the race. It didn't hurt that the temperatures were at least edging into the teens, making things a bit less painfully cold, particularly in the woods where we were protected from the wind.

I finished up in the woods with the wall traverse -- almost impossible with my limited mobility with all my clothing and gloves -- the coffins, and the hoist. It was at the great wall where I thought about the big difference that doing the Shale Hill course in the winter is. In the summer, I can fairly consistently do all five panels of the wall with the cross beams. In the winter, with my arms constricted by four layers, my hands covered with gloves, and my joints still from the cold, it was all I could do to make it across one wall. I am a summer athlete -- the winter is my off-season. That is a product of when my key races tend to be but it's also a reflection of the fact that despite living in New England for my entire life, I am very poorly adapted to cold weather. On the other hand, you really won't hear too much complaining from me over the summer. I trained for my first marathon during the hottest summer on record and while runs in the humidity and high 80s weren't my favorite, they were nothing compared to how I feel about the cold. I'll never be competitive at a race like Polar Bear, but I can definitely give it my all at a summer race at Shale Hill.

Following the section of course in the woods, we continued to follow a familiar route out to the field again by way of the Alcatraz wall and balance alley. We zigged into the middle field to do one of my favorite obstacles, cliff jumper, and double up. I got to Bad Attitude, Shale Hill's answer to the devil steps and once again marveled at how I had been able to nail this obstacle at OCR World Championships with the closer together steps. (A fun note: At this obstacle I was also passed by The Twins, a set of identical twins in their mid-20s who compete at Shale Hill regularly. To my comment about how much harder Bad Attitude was compared to the obstacle at OCRWC, one of the twins said, "I'll let you in on a secret -- it's because Rob Butler is an asshole." We shared a laugh. Ah, Rob, you are the best because you're the worst. Seriously, this is why Shale Hill rocks!)

The course then brought us back to the Fireman's tower and the obstacles that would lead us into the final pass through the far field -- the tires, the new Irish Table obstacle( which I love by the way), and the loom (another favorite). Usually at the loom, I am started to get tired and then dismayed at the number of hard obstacles to come. The good news was that with the redesigned course, I had tackled those already and they were done. I had already bested the tall ropes climb, tried my hand at the monkey bars, and been "like Jane" on the Tarzan ropes. Sure I had to go over a few mountains of hay bales and climb a new really steep section of course, but then I was back to right past the Tarzan ropes and in sight of the barn where I knew the course finished.

We got to hit up the rope ramp, another favorite, before going to the warped wall and winding our way along the very slick anaconda, where I had to sit down and slide to descent the berm. Rob had put his giant rig platform right before the finish line and attached rings. I love rings, but I couldn't reach from the first to the second due to height. If the ring had just been an inch lower, I would have loved to do this obstacle. Any chance that small adjustment could be made before the summer? As I was at the final obstacle, I ran into some fellow NE Spahtens who had been volunteering. I had an entourage as I headed up the hill to ring the bell at the finish line!

I finished my lap in around 3:15. There was definitely time to go out again, but I was sapped from my cold, from the freezing weather, and from sliding around on the ice. I had done well with my obstacle completion rate and felt good about my performance and the fun I had enjoyed. This was a race I had come to to spend time with friends and have fun, more than to challenge myself and do "all the laps." I changed and headed back to the bar where I enjoyed the buffet lunch and spent more time with my teammates before heading out.

For someone who hates the cold, I can reliably be counted on to sign up for Polar Bear at Shale Hill again and again? Why? Because Shale Hill is amazing! It's challenging, fun, a community, the best people. Polar Bear Challenge can be whatever you want it to be -- it can be a goal race in the off-season or it can be a tune-up to see where your winter training is at. It can be a change to connect with friends you don't always get to see in the colder months and an opportunity to get to play in the snow. An eight hour race with breakfast and lunch included, it's a great deal. 2018's race was fantastic. I love the new course layout and hope that it is maintained for the summer. I can't wait for the weather to warm up and to get back up to Vermont to hit the course again!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Blizzard Blast 2018

Blizzard Blast is traditionally my first race of the season, and 2018 was no exception. A race of approximately 3.5 - 5 miles in length, the focus is the seasonal theme (i.e. winter) and a focus on fun.

For the second year in a row, Blizzard Blast took place at Shedd Park in Lowell with the festival at Wamesit Lanes, a bowling alley and family fun center. Last year, parking was about a 1/4 of a mile from check-in at Wamesit Lanes, and I was able to walk. For 2018, participants had to park quite a distance a way, which meant that we had to take two bus rides in each direction. One bus to check-in at Wamesit Lanes and a second bus ride to Shedd Park. The buses went very smoothly. I never had to wait and the rides were brief. However, this bit of logistics is kind of a drag and does add to the time one must allow before and after the race. Combined with a 90 minute ride for me to get out to Lowell, this is kind of a drag for a race that takes a little over an hour to run, no matter how fun.

Blizzard Blast did deliver on fun. Check-in at Wamesit Lanes was a snap. I grabbed my long sleeve t-shirt and bib in just a minute. Before I knew it, I was in a very loud room (seriously Wamesit Lanes is so loud) surrounded by fellow NE Spahtens. After not seeing folks since OCRWC, it was great to have time to mingle and say a quick, "Hello," before hopping back on the buses to Shedd Park for the race.

Many people run multiple laps at Blizzard Blast. For me, I am a one and done person for this event, which means that I miss seeing many of my friends. I was pleased to see that many of the members of the NES multi-lap crew were around at 11:15 a.m. for a quick team picture and a greeting before we headed off to the starting line.

Similar to last year, the course was 3.5 miles in length. This is a bit shorter than in past years when Blizzard Blast was at Four Oaks Country Club. I like the new venue and shorter, more obstacle dense, version of this race. It's a big improvement. Race day on 2018 was fairly warm -- in the upper 40s -- which meant that the course was muddy and light on the snow.

The course and obstacles were fairly similar to past years, though with much of the course a reversed format from 2017. The park was relatively flat with a few hills thrown in the mix. Definitely run-able. As always, Blizzard Blast has two main themes with regard to the obstacles: pine trees and kegs. To keep with the winter-focus, there is also always a sled ride. There was the traditional Christmas tree carry, two keg carries, a keg drag, a keg hoist, and my favorite obstacle Keg Kingdom, in which racers have to make their way across a rig of hanging kegs. This is Blizzard Blast's signature obstacle and a real favorite of mine. (Honestly, it keeps me coming back year after year.) This year it was especially challenging for some reason with the kegs at vary random heights, making swinging and reaching the next keg extra hard. I actually had to try a number of times before I made my way across. On one notable occasion, my keg and the keg of a racer in the lane next to me swung to the side instead of to the front and we collided. Yikes!

I had 100% obstacle completion at Blizzard Blast this year. In addition to the themed obstacles, there were some traditional walls, crawls (under holiday lights) and a rope climb. There was also a football toss (at which I was terrible) and a paint ball target shooting obstacle. Additionally, there was an a-frame with rungs, analogous to devil's steps, though with the rungs farther apart, which allowed for racers to use hands and feet. Finally, there was a new obstacle this year -- a low rig. This obstacle had racers start by crossing a metal frame on top, lying on one's stomach. Mid-way through, one had to flip to underneath and traverse gripping with hands and feet before finally swinging around to the top again to finish the obstacle. This was a solid addition to the race and enjoyable.

I crossed the finish line in 1:16:37 (42/336 by sex, 14/100 for age group, and 118/641 for all open racers), completing all the obstacles and certainly not running hard -- this is an off-season race for me, and I don't compete in winter races. 2018 Blizzard Blast was fun as usual. After four years, some of the obstacles are seeming familiar to me, and logistically getting to Blizzard Blast is a huge drag for me. By no fault of Blizzard Blast, I might sit this one out in 2019, despite how much I love Keg Kingdom and how organized this race is. That being said, new racers, definitely add this in for your season. It's a race everyone should experience at least a few times during their time doing OCR. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Amherst Half Marathon

13.1 in 01002. That's right, my adopted hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts is now also home to the Amherst Half Marathon. Late this summer, I was excited to learn that the Hartford Marathon Foundation was going to be putting on a race weekend in Amherst. The two-day event, would feature a 5K race on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. Hartford Marathon Foundation puts on great events, and this was an opportunity to run a race without travel. I was totally in! I registered for the Amherst Double, signing up for both races -- perks included a small charm to attach to my half marathon medal and a 1/4 zip for signing up early. 

The weekend of running, as I called it, ended up calling for some cool weather. The 5K on Saturday was at 11:00 a.m., allowing for some time for warming and temperatures in the low 30s. About 30 minutes before start time, I headed the 1.5 miles up the road to Amherst College's Alumni House where registration was happening. It was a bit funny to be picking up a pair or race bibs at my workplace, but it was certainly convenient. In less than five minutes, I had bibs for both of my races, a short-sleeved t-shirt (for the 5K) and a long-sleeved t-shirt (for the half). I also had my free 1/4 zip. I quickly dropped things in my car and connected with my friend, Katie, who would be running the 5K with me.

Katie and I jointly decided to run the 5K at an easy pace. The focus here was fun, not competition. We'd chat on the run. This seemed to me the perfect plan what with a 13.1 miler scheduled for the next day. (Plus, I had PRed at my last 5K, the Dakin Toasted Owl Halloween 5K, where I ran 26:43.)

The race started at 11:00 a.m. with some brief announcements. The starting line was directly in front of Alumni House, allowing people to wait inside until the last few minutes. The field was small -- probably a hundred runners, if that, but people seemed to be excited to race.

The course took us quickly along College Street and then back behind the Amherst College campus to the bike path. We ran along a stretch of path through the College's conservation area before turning around right after Fort River. This was a stretch of path I knew well from my almost daily bike commute during the summer. 

Katie and I turned around and doubled back on the path for the second half of the race. It was cool out but sunny, and we were having fun running together. At the intersection with Route 116, we got off the bike path to finish with a quick uphill section. The finish line was situated right in front of the Amherst College Alumni Gym. Katie and I ran through the inflatable arch together with a finish time of 32:17.

Interestingly enough, the finish line was about a half mile walk from the parking lot by Alumni House. This gave us some cool down time as we made our way back to our cars. Overall, the course was flat and fast. It was not the most interesting course ever, and the tight turn was probably a challenge for faster runners, but everything was well organized, and the course was good at accommodating the number of runners who participated. Most of all, I had fun running with my friend! I grabbed an RXBar at the finish line -- there were snacks aplenty! -- and headed home to await the half marathon the next day.

Sunday morning dawned bright and cold with temperatures just edging over 20 degrees. The race was scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. at the University of Massachusetts, along University Drive, right along Hagis Mall, a main part of campus. Knowing that it was forecast to be 24 degrees at race time, I decided a wait in the cold was not what I wanted -- I needed to jump from my car to the starting line with minutes to spare. One of the luxuries of living three miles from the start line is that you can leave late. I hopped in my car at 7:45 a.m., which meant I only had to freeze for about five minutes before the run started.

The Amherst Half Marathon is the first time I'd done a race that covered many areas where I regularly run. There was no area of the course new to me, and many part of the course were along areas where I ran many times a week. In a way it seems crazy to think that I spent $60 to run where I often run, but in another way it's amazing! I was able to support a new race in my hometown and get to see racers from all over New England enjoy roads that I am lucky enough to enjoy all the time. Amherst is lovely, and the course we took reflected that. 

The half marathon started by taking runners up University Drive and off the UMass campus, through downtown. We then ran down Route 116 with Amherst College on our left. At around the mile and a half mark, we passed my office. From there, it was downhill, a regular stretch of road I must run on average two to three times a week. 

 At the bottom of the hill, we turned left onto Shay Street and made our first significant climb of the day. Shay Street is relentless as the hill just seems to continue and continue. Fortunately, I was lucky to run into a fellow Amherst College employee, Anita, on this part of the course. We ran up Shay Street together until we reached the South Amherst Commons. The course then took up downhill along Station Road, where we connected to a stretch of bike trail that I use for my weekly long runs. Anita and I ran together along the bike path, chatting, and generally enjoying ourselves.

We were almost to the six mile mark, and I was feeling good. I had not trained intensively for the Amherst Half Marathon, having focused my summer and fall efforts on preparing for OCR World Championships. Fortunately, I had kept doing long runs as a staple in my exercise calendar, with 9 to 10 milers regularly occurring. (In addition, I also did a virtual half marathon with my friend, Amy, in support of Team Mike McNeil, who fund-raise to fight cancer.) The first two miles had been a struggle to get warm, with feet that felt like blocks hitting the ground and fingers that were icicles. At this point, I was finally warmed up and on my way.

The course had great runner support. I had brought some chomps with me, but was happy to not have to tote water around, as there were water stops every mile or two. There were even restrooms on course, which I found use for at mile six, after which we runners turned off the bike path and on to South East Street.

We ran a ways along South East, until it turned into North East Street. At this point, the course, once again, became quite hilly. We rolled along headed into North Amherst. The Town of Amherst is narrow east to west and longer north to south. We had started in North Amherst at UMass, headed to the South Amherst Commons, and, now, were heading back to the northern edge of town. Though the hills along North East Street were a bit of a drag, the scenery was great. There were panoramic views of farmland and hills covered in foliage that was just passing its prime but lovely nonetheless.

We turned on to Pine Street near what I unofficially consider the North Amherst Commons and then made a quick left onto East Pleasant Street. This was the part of the course I was least accustomed to running. I live more toward the southern end of town. I run around UMass sometimes, but don't normally come past the northern end of the University. East Pleasant Street reminds me why. It's a lovely street but it's also a relentless hill from north to south. At mile 11 in a half marathon, that sort of thing makes you rethink your choices.

All that being said, I was feeling pretty good. Considering how hilly the course was and how cold the day, I was pretty happy to be going along at 10:25 miles. Training for marathons in 2016 and 2017 really did a lot of my endurance. While before a half marathon seemed almost impossible, now it was more like a fun day celebrating my enjoyment of running.

After reaching the top of East Pleasant Street, I knew it would be all downhill and flat for the next mile and a half. We turned right to go back into UMass, past the dorms on the northern end of campus. I picked up speed downhill. At the bottom, I turned onto Pleasant Street for the final run through UMass. I was hoping we'd actually get to run in the middle of the campus, something I like to do during my lunchtime runs, but we stuck to the road -- probably a good idea to keep people from getting lost, practically speaking.

I made the turn on to University Drive again and ran into Hagis Mall, running as fast as my somewhat tired legs could take me to the inflatable arch.

I crossed the line in 2:16:45, having had a good race and done well on a lovely but hilly course.

I really enjoyed the Amherst Half Marathon. I am so excited to see the Hartford Marathon Foundation bringing races up north to Massachusetts. I hope that the Amherst Half Marathon was a success for them. I definitely plan to sign up for 2018 if it's offered again!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: Team Relay & Charity Open

Sunday, the last day of OCRWC, had two races scheduled, the team relay, and the Make-A-Wish charity run. I had planned to run the former and thought I might sign-up for the latter after assessing how I felt on Saturday after the 15K. It turned out, that I was lucky enough to be able to get a bib for the Make-A-Wish run from a housemate and fellow Spahten who thought that one more race might be one too many considering how he was feeling. 

I don't blame him. Sunday was another wet day, the course was trashed, the rain continued, and I had slept badly for days and was sore. This was going to be a rough one. Perhaps fortunately, there was really nothing to be done about the sheets of rain that came down. Obstacles were un-grip-able, at least for me, and this made it a day that was kind of hilarious. 

The first race of the day was the team relay, which consisted of three sections: endurance, strength, and obstacles (in former years the sections were speed, strength, and agility). The map says it all -- this 7K course was a mixed experience with the endurance athlete having to take an extremely challenging trip up the mountain in highly inclement conditions, the strength person having to do just two carries (worth the price of the registration?), and the obstacles person having little distance but basically the same course as the 3K the previous day.

My team was Tiny^2 + 1 and consisted of me and Niki (both of us tiny), plus Niki's boyfriend and my fellow friend, Steve (+ 1). Niki was going to start off the race with the endurance 5K, Steve would do strength, and I would do the obstacles. This was a pretty natural fit considering where we normally excel; however, with all the trouble I had been having on the rigs, and with my hands cut-up a bit at this point, I knew my chances of keeping a band were slim. That being said, the team race was for fun. At this point in the weekend, we were all exhausted. We'd do our best.

At 10:30 a.m., Niki started our group off while Steve and I cheered. She had a rough 5K that would go up a mountain that had been saturated with rain. She had a rough part of the team course -- probably the hardest -- so I settled in knowing that covering that 5K would take some grit and some time.

Steve and I got me a quick snack, since I was really hungry, before making our way to the transition to wait for Niki. Soon, Niki was in sight and it was time for Steve to head off for the sandbag carry. I knew I was going to have to do the Northman Poles, so I headed over to the transition. Unfortunately, at this point the weather turned even worse than I could imagine. It began to pour. I knew that with the soaking obstacles, there would be no way to keep my band. All expectations went out the window.

Soon, Steve was back after slipping his was down the hill. I headed to the Northman Poles where it was impossible to get any grip. Metal. Soaking. Wet. There was nothing to be done. I slipped all over the place, tried a few times, and handed in my band. I didn't even feel bad. I knew I could do this obstacle in normal weather. I handed back over to Steve for the Wreckbag carry as the rain began to come down even harder.

I moved over to the next transition. I would be hitting up the obstacles from the 3K, minus the rope climb. When Steve can back, I was off. I noticed that the rigs had been modified from the day before. Honestly, in normal conditions, I might have had a shot, even at the rig that bested me in the short course. With the rain pelting down, there was no chance. I tried to make my way across monkey bars only to have my tired fingers fall off again and again. Fatigue combined with bad weather for a race where I failed obstacle after obstacle. 

The floating walls came into view. These were a favorite new obstacle of the weekend. I nailed them and made it to the knot wall where my team joined me. The bottom ropes had been removed for an added challenge, though with the weather, this was hardly necessary. My team boosted me up first and then sent Niki. Steve was left at the bottom, but fortunately, fellow Spahten, Geoffrey stepped in, having just finished his race to help us out. With his help, we got Steve up and over the wall, finishing at a little before 1:00 p.m. 

At the finish line we experienced some bad news. They were out of medals, having overfilled the team race. Bummer! This is the kind of oversight that I would have hoped a world-class event could avoid. The volunteer promised that OCRWC would mail us our medals. (Note: I followed up via email on Sunday and have yet to get a reply but am still hopeful that Niki, Steve, and I will get our medals in the mail. Stay tuned, I guess.)

The Make-a-Wish fun run started at 1:00 p.m., but had regular waves going out until 2:45 p.m. or so. This allowed team Tiny^2 + 1 time to regroup and head to the start line again for the 1:30 p.m. wave. We were joined by fellow Spahtens Geoffrey and Jamie Miller and the group from Shale Hill. The mass of us ended up racing together, which was great fun!

The wait at the start line was a bit lengthy. The MC, Coach Pain, spoke at length, as a result. Unfortunately, the results were less than stellar. In the space of a few minutes, he managed to marginalize and, in my mind, minimize mental health issues. I was glad when we were off and running.

Minus the intros at the start line, the Make-a-Wish lap was hilarious fun. (I know I've used the word "hilarious" a lot -- it was the word of the day.) The course followed the 7K loop from the team relay; however, the rain was really coming down now, and a trip up the mountain was out of the question and really not advised for a fun-do-what-you-like run. 

Never have I seen a group of such fit people try so little! The name of the game was enjoyment. We played. We took selfies using the Millers ultra cool mini cube-shaped camera. We climbed on the obstacles and fell off in the mud. We got more and more soaked and didn't care. Our 7K was more like a 3K, and we had a blast touring some of the technical obstacles on the lower half of the course. Heavy carries? No way. However, having someone lift me up so I could finally try Skull Valley? Absolutely! Hint: Once I got up there, it was a blast!

Near the last obstacles, the knot wall, we ran into the other group of Spahtens that had taken part in the charity run. Together, we all braved the wet and scaled the wall, helping each other. The weather was getting wetter and wetter, and it was getting cold. We coordinated at the bottom of the wall and, from there, made a run to the finish line, crossing as a group to the sound of the announcer saying, "And here are the New England Spahtens!"

We posed for a team picture, before, all cold and wet from the torrential downpour, we headed into change. What a great time, and how lucky to be part of such a cool group of people! The charity race was not what I had thought it would be. There was no real effort, none of the concentration, taxing work, effort to success that I often associate with OCR and especially with the World Championship; however, in a way, the charity run was the highlight of the weekend -- it was fun and camaraderie; it was the nice wrap-up to all those days of hard work on Friday and Saturday that didn't quite work out as I had hoped.

I've been back home from OCR World Championships for a few days now, and I can safely say that I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I assure you I am not a person given to hyperbole; I absolutely mean that statement in the most literal sense. Did I achieve all the goal I had set out? No. I didn't keep my bands on any race. I am working on coming to piece with the disappointment of that fact. However, I did get a chance to qualify and attend a world championship event -- that's something that I can say is a great accomplishment and, even more importantly, a neat and cool and fun thing. I got to try new obstacles, learn where I had room to grow as an athlete, challenge myself, spend time with friends, and participate in an event with world-class athletes. Not bad. 

It seems likely that the OCRWC will move out of North America next year. This year's trip to Canada may be my one chance to participate in this event. I am glad I didn't miss out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: 15K Standard Distance

Today was the day to take part in the OCRWC and really embrace the experience. After the difficult obstacles of yesterday, I refocused on having fun and enjoying myself -- no expectations. I would do my best, try hard, have as good of an outcome as possible, but also not beat myself up. This was a world-class course, and I was lucky to be participating.

The women’s 30 - 34 heat went off at 10:35 a.m. The weather was semi-cool at 60 degrees but the much dreaded rain held off for the entirety of my race, making the weather really quite good for a day on the course. To start the day, I headed over to Blue Mountains ski resort with fellow Spahten, Shaina, who is a great athlete, keeping her band on the 3K short course. We had time to watch some of the elite women come through. It had been misting all morning, right up until around when we started, and there were definitely some struggles that we saw.

About half an hour before we were set to race, we headed inside to check our bags, use the washroom (as they call it in Canada) and then make our way to the athlete room. There, we waited until it was go time. Fortunately, the time at the start line was brief, since it was cool to be standing around. We were off at 10:35 a.m. exactly!

The 15K course made more use of the limited elevation at Blue Mountain than I could have even imagined. The course was a huge challenge, though an engaging one. The mountain was muddy from the rain overnight and during the morning. Incredibly so. This made for some of the most difficult climbs I’ve done, where, at times, I was on hands and knees smashing my fingers into the clay mud to try to get a grip and keep from catapulting down the hill. My Altra Lone Peaks were good friends on the course, but it was still slippery, with downhill sections that required a rope so as not to slide all the way to the bottom at a catastrophic pace.

The race started with the same hurdles as the 3K course, though with a few more thrown in for good measure. Instead of taking us up to the inclined wall, the course zagged in another direction, taking us to our first climb of the day. This climb began with the first crawl on the course. All of the many crawls for the day featured actual barbed wire (caution!) and some jacks to keep it at even height. I was immediately coated in mud on my hands and knees.

We scaled some walls before headed up the biggest climb of the day. Here was the climb that required all hands and feet to be engaged in the hill. The women around encouraged each other as we tackled a serious climb. We clawed and mud and slowly made our way up, looking for any grass available on which to gain a little purchase. The final section had some ropes to grab. I was happy to be able to stand at last and make it to the top of the hill.

At the top of the mountain, which we would do two more complete ascents of, there was an over-under-through before a rope drop back down the mountain a ways to another crawl. All of this climbing was more engaging than I would normally find it due to the intense conditions. This was not a death march uphill. This was grabbing at the ground around you to keep from sliding down the mountain. Engaging to say the least.

Down at the foot of the mountain was a much needed water stop followed by a slanted wall with a rope. Everything was so incredibly muddy that the walls were definitely giving people more trouble than usual. Directly after the wall, was a set of quintuple steps, which all of the competitors I saw were treating as two poles to walk across with hands on one and feet on the other.
It was back up the mountain -- this time the trip back up seeming less of a good experience. Couldn’t we be done with the hiking already? At the top, we were greeted with another wall and crawl, followed by another slip wall, and another ramp wall. These were not back to back but instead separated by some trail running, which was a nice way to mix up all of the walls. It was an interesting choice by OCRWC to group all of the walls with the climbing of the mountain and then all of the rigs at the end. It would have been nice to mix it up, but I think this course design was intentional so that the course could be ready for tomorrow's team relay. Following was another quarter pipe (with short ropes at the top) and vert, another inclined wall.

The course next met up with where we had done the second and third obstacles of the 3K the day before. The inverted wall gave me some trouble. My shoes, caught in the clay-like mud were practically suctioned in place, making it difficult to jump and grab the thick ledge of the wall. After a number of attempts, I finally got it, and pulled myself over. It was then back down the hill to the monkey bars. A woman and I completed our two lanes in tandem and stopped to share a high-five before jogging off to the next challenge.

One of the interesting aspects of OCRWC was the difference I notice in the athletes. I spent the first half of the race with more-or-less just the women’s 30 - 34 group. There was lots of chatter among the athletes and words of encouragement. People connected and cheered each other on. Midway through the race, I found myself separated from my female athletes and with a lot of the male athletes in their mid-20s and early 30s. The atmosphere was much more intense and competitive. There was a bit of an “every man for himself” sense with people pushing to the limit. It was great to watch these men give it their all, but the vibe was quite different from how the women athletes were tackling the course. Throughout, it was fun to hear people talking in a myriad of languages and accents (though pretty much everyone from every country seemed to be able to say, “On your left,” in English). OCRWC is a world event, and I got a good feeling for that today as I focused on spending more time appreciating my surroundings.

The course wound its way back to the festival area where there were spectators-a-plenty to watch me tackle the 14’ warped wall. Fortunately, it had dried off a bit since the earlier waves had gone through, and I was able to make it in the first attempt. This led directly into the farmer’s sandbag carry from the day before, this time double the distance and with a mud-soaked course to contend with. Racers were skipping and sliding everywhere, so the crew at OCRWC had opted to have people take one 25 lb. sandbag instead of two. The only rule was that racers could not put the sandbag on their shoulders. You had to carry it. I wrapped my arms around the sandbag and held my wrist to grasp it to my chest. Midway through, my back tired from the effort of the climb with the added weight, I took the opportunity to turn around and walk backwards for a stretch. I was glad I did! The view from the mountain of the town below and the water was a great sight to see (and not to mention a good distraction from my discomfort). I did what you do in heavy carries, and suffered through it, happy to get down to the bottom and drop my burden.

Next up was La Gaffe, otherwise known as the Northman poles. The first set I stepped on had pucks on the second pole that were covered in mud. I slipped off, but got the obstacle without any issue the second time through. It was a trip midway up the mountain to an 8’ wall right into a traverse wall. The first time I attempted the wall, I was faced with block that were so far apart my arms and legs could hardly make the reach. I’m good at traverse walls in general (and can do the entire wall at Shale Hill); however, I fell off this three panel wall. I moved to another wall at a volunteers suggestion and found this blocks more manageable -- I made it to the end.

Devil’s steps. This is an obstacle I had never conquered before. Always, the steps were too far apart or the transition at the top was too long a reach. I had kept my band through almost ¾ of the course and if the Devil’s steps were the end, well, I’d give it my all. I approached the obstacle and grabbed the first step with my hands. I pulled myself up and grabbed another, and another, and another, until I reached the top and -- what do you know -- the steps were close enough that I could make it across. I reached, grabbed, and worked my way down the platform below, finished the Devil’s steps for the first time. I was overjoyed to say the least! No matter what happened that day, I would know that at the OCR World Championships I had, for the first time, been able to conquer an obstacle that had plagued me.

From there it was time for another crawl, uphill and, thank goodness, to another water station. This climb brought us to a new rig-style obstacle, Urban Sky. This obstacle featured three sections that athletes had to traverse, with three bells to ring. The first section had a trapeze to two horizontal trapezes. While I was unable to make it to the third trapeze the first time through, a second attempt got me through this section. Next up, was a set of rings corkscrewed along a rotating center pole. Beyond that where two wheels with a ring in between. Despite my best effort, I was unable to make it beyond the set of rings. I gave it another few attempts but decided that efforts to do more would only serve to make me unable to continue later on. I walked up to the volunteer and handed in my band. It was sad, and I was disappointed, but I was also having a good day, and had completed some obstacles well. I was satisfied. My goal was to finish and have a good race. I was going to focus on realizing that objective.

Beyond Urban Sky was an a-frame cargo climb followed by the infamous obstacle, Dragon’s Back, which forces racers to scale a slip wall and then jump across an expanse high in the air to grab a pole hanging off a platform. For some reason, I was unable to get up the wall, slick as it was with mud. Too bad, as I know Dragon’s Back is supposed to be a mentally interesting obstacle. Another year perhaps. Right after that was another quarter pipe and an obstacle called big wall, which was a 10' wall that was very thick on the top. Fortunately, it had a few kicks to help racers get over.

The low rig was next. It seemed to bemuse people, as it consisted of a set of short ropes on a frame about four feet off the ground. The ropes alternated between foot and hand holds. I fell off the rig the first attempt because I had yet to figure out how to get my motion going; however, a second attempt ended up being successful. This obstacle was different from ones I've encountered before and quite a fun time. I liked getting to try something new.

From there, we went to the log hop. After doing the log hop at Shale Hill, I was kind of concerned, but this was fairly easy with the logs quite close together making it possible to straddle two with your legs. We then had to wind our way through a section of trails. The trails were slick throughout and featured bridges that were slippery with mud. I took a slide or two and find it hard to imagine how people who took part in the later waves found this section of the course, especially with the rain that took over around 3:30 p.m.

At the bottom of the hill was the rope climb. The end of course was within 2 miles, and I was relieved because I was getting tired and the five hour time limit was ticking down. I was just over four hours and needed to get this done. Fortunately, there was limited pressure because I had lost my band. I was motivated to do my best and kept jogging to make sure I made the cut-off.

The rigs from the 3K race yesterday were up. The first rig was the orange rig with rings, low monkey bars, and ring. Unlike the previous day, there was a cargo net at the end. I had made this rig the day before; however, at this point I was tired and only made it half way through.

I kept moving toward the Wreckbag carry. The carry was the same general format -- 50 lb. bags only -- as the day before but double the distance. I got the bag on my neck with some difficulty and then was not going to take it off until I reached the top of the hill. Despite some slipping, I made it. The way down, was so slick, I opted to sit down and slide along with the Wreckbag leaning against me. A fellow racer zoomed down behind me and stopped until I told him he was welcome to push me along, and off we were to the bottom of the hill. I re-shouldered the Wreckbag and quickly got to the end of the loop.

It was time for the second rig, where I had failed the previous day. I knew it would be a no-go this time around. Fortunately, some modifications had been made and the vertical pipe at the end had been replaced to make it a bit easier for racers. I might have made it through this set-up on yesterday's 3K, which makes me feel a bit better. I got up on the monkey bar section of the rig and gave it a good try but was ultimately unable to make it too far, exhausted as I was.

The final stretch included Skull Valley and Skyline from the day before, followed by the Floating Walls, and finally The Knot wall to take you to the finish. As with the day before, my experience with Skull Valley and Skyline were unsuccessful despite multiple attempts. I would like to see the Skull Valley obstacle be adjusted to allow for greater parity for athletes of differing heights. The challenge should be the obstacle, not getting up on to it, something almost impossible for someone of my height. The Floating Walls are still a favorite, and I made it across without any issue. One try got me up The Knot wall, which was very pleasing. I was so happy to go from there across the finish line. Done!

The 15K course was a brutal test of endurance. The mountain was used more than anticipated (and perhaps more than I would recommend); however, the obstacles were excellent and the experience unrivaled. Room for improvement? Sure. One more water stop would have been ideal, several obstacles really disadvantaged shorter athletes, and I think it might have been nice to have some of the grip-intensive obstacles broken up. (Though I know they were placed this way with the Sunday team race in mind.) The OCR World Championships is the Olympics of our sport. Different from the Olympics, it is for a larger body of racers -- it is not just an experience for a few elite people, but also for the masses, and balances the difficulty of obstacles for elites versus age-group athletes, must be a challenge. It is one that the OCRWC team takes seriously.

Going to the OCR World Championships and having qualified was a great experience. I did not do all that I wanted to do out on the course, and was unsuccessful in keeping my bands on either course. In a way, to me, my medals from OCRWC will always have as asterisk because of this. It is great to see everyone who kept their bands and hear people telling them that their hard work training paid off; I agree. This is a great accomplishment. The hard part, I think for me, is that all that hard training, a year's worth, didn't culminate in the shinning idea of success I had for myself. Maybe qualifying should be enough, indeed in some ways it is; however, I still wish I could have performed just a bit better. And, perhaps, this is the ultimate success of OCRWC -- that it's a race that challenges me in a way that makes me want to be a better athlete. Maybe my 2017 medal isn't the culmination of a year of training but the beginning of a new section of hard work in trying to achieve my next goal.

Friday, October 13, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: 3K Short Course

In my goal to keep my band, the 3K short course seemed like my best shot. The OCRWC promised to be a course dense with rigs and other upperbody intensive obstacles that would be almost impossible in the rain predicted for Saturday's 15K full course and Sundays' team relay. I had trained hard and had hopes of doing well, as an athlete that normally does quite well on upperbody focused obstacles.

As part of the 30 - 39 women's age group, my heat was scheduled to go off at 10:30 a.m. I headed over to Blue Mountains ski resort with fellow NE Spahten, Shaina, at around 9:00 a.m. Because we had gotten all of our materials the previous day, the only thing we had to do was bag check our DryRobes and line up in the starting gate about five minutes before our wave was scheduled to go off. We took some time to view the other athletes and milled around. Bag check, when we were ready, was a snap. From there, we headed into the athletes room where we were able to hang out and watch a short OCRWC video that mentioned the rules and regulations for the day.

At 10:25 a.m., we headed out to line up. The 3K course was a staggered start with athlete lining up and each row getting sent out. The start line MC was energetic, though that's not my thing. Fortunately, I was about the fourth person back, which meant that I didn't need to wait too long. This was it.

The course started with a short run uphill. There were tons of cameras, where really lent an epic feel to the start of the race. We turned a corner and tackled the first obstacle, a set of low hurdles. From there, it was a trek up the hill to the inverted wall. To my surprise, the inverted wall gave me a little bit of a hassle. The top of it was very thick and I had to jump a few times before I was able to get my hand grasped around it. (Not having my Icebugs, shoes were tips being disallowed from competition, added to the overall difficulty.) Next up was a set of monkey bars from Sandstorm. They were length but I managed well and was able to move on. I was very sad to see a fellow racer disable on the ground -- how hard to train so long and to be disqualified on the first race due to injury.

From the monkey bars, it was a run down the hill along some slippery sections of the course. I took it easy making sure not to fall. I was planning to run to keep my band, not for time. Additionally, at OCRWC, you are given a time penalty for each obstacle you fail, so it makes sense to make a few attempts at an obstacle if you think you can make it. The time spent retrying might be better than the penalty you face.

The next obstacle as a 14' warped wall. I had been worried about this without my Icebugs, but I got up without incident, reaching the rope at the top and pulling myself over. From there, it was on to a double sandbag carry, farmers walk style, up a section of hill. Each bag was 25 lbs. and somewhat sapped the grip. I took a few stops on the walk up the hill since my heart rate was quite elevated, but it was a suffer-and-carry-on kind of thing, and I persisted.

The course brought me to the next obstacle, La Gaffe, a set of three moving poles, the first and last metal and the middle one wood. All of the poles moves and from there you must transition from pole to pole. At first when I encountered the obstacle, I did the standard thing and tried to get really high up. Of course, that meant that I was too high from the fulcrum to move the pole. With the feedback of teammate, Liz, who was watching me race, I retried it and got it right away. It was interesting to try this obstacle, which is different from anything I've ever seen.

The short course featured not one but two carries. The second was a Wreckbag carry with a 50 lb. bag for both men and women. Yikes! I am usually pretty weak at carries but was very pleased to do quite well on this one. The bag was almost impossible to get shouldered, but once I got it up, I was not putting it down (despite the fact that I had to sit during a steep and slippery section of trail). The bag stayed on me. Was it hard? Yes. It was terrible, but not any more so than the carries I do at Shale Hill and of a very manageable length. I left the Wreckbag carry feeling pretty good.

From there it was onward to Rig #1, which featured rings, monkey bars, square grips, and foot rings. I actually slipped a big as I transitioned from the square grip to the foot ring, which I grabbed so hard to stay on that I tore open two fingers. I kept on the rig though, enough to navigate through a set of very low monkey bars, and up a standing ring to some ropes and the final bell. One try and I made it through a challenging rig. My arms were quite a bit tired, but I was happy with how I did. It was a quick run to a rope climb, which, despite tired hands and forearms I made in one go.

By my GPS watch, I had gone more than a 3K distance already (note that for some reason my watch clocked the 3K at more like 3 miles). The next up was Rig #2. I had heard this was hard, but I was determined to keep my band and was going to try. I approached the green rig where there were people in line waiting in the retry lane. My hands were tired from all the earlier work. I wanted to make this in one try. Really. I climbed up a short vertical pipe to a section of monkey bars. From there, I transitions to a ring, to a rope loop, to a ring, and then to a set of ropes, making it across. Next up was a ring and a vertical long pipe. Then there was only a rectangular bar and the bell. I transition to the vertical pipe trying my best to scurry up and reach toward the bar. I could almost reach it but not quite. I tried to grab the ring behind me, as my momentum had stalled but could not get moving. Fingertips away, I could not make it. I fell on the ground. I had to do this. I had to keep my band. My hands were shaking and my forearms pulsed. I shook from the exertion but got back into the retry lane. I waited and gave it a second try. Again, I fell off. I walked to the end of the rig feeling defeated. I could not do this. I had to do this. The volunteer at the end asked me if I was okay; I nodded. "You're going to try again?" "Yes." I got back in line, waited, shook out my arms, tried again. Fell. I could not use my hands. I could not engage my fingers or more my arms. I walked to the end and silently handed my band to a volunteer. My main goal was not accomplished.

Two grip and upperbody intensive obstacles awaited with Skull Valley and Forces Skyline. Skull Valley had racers use a ring to get up to a set of skull grips, to floating bars, to skull grips. My arms were so tired that even getting up to the first skulls was impossible despite several attempts. I soldiered on to the Skyline, which made you take a zipline down a ramp where you had to jump the glider over two pegs. I attempted several times and was able to make it over the first jump but never the second. My arms gave out and I was on the ground.

I needed to regroup. There were two obstacles left and I was not going to continue my poor streak. I shook out my arms and headed to the Floating Walls, four swinging traverse walls, to a net climb, to four more swinging walls, to a climb down. This was a very different obstacle, visually, from what I've seen before, but it was technically a lot like other traverse walls I've seen. I made it. The rope climb down, I had to wrap my arms through the loops because my hands were shaking so much. The final obstacle was The Knot. This obstacle was a slip wall with three very short ropes hanging from it. My legs were shaking. I had to attempt three times before I was able to reach the first rope. Later on, when it began to rain, the completion rate for this obstacle dropped precipitously with what appeared to be around 2/3 of people unable to get traction on the obstacle.

From there, it was across the finish line where I received my medal. I will be honest, I was not as excited as I could have been, almost feeling like I didn't deserve the medal because I didn't realize my goal of completing every obstacle and keeping my band.

Now, hours have passed since the race, and I'm reframing a bit. The third place elite man, Hunter McIntyre, failed that rig too. I gave the race 100%. Really. It was one of the most physically demanding courses I have done. The number of ultra challenging grip obstacles back-to-back was so challenging. Tomorrow, it will be rainy, and it seem unlikely that I will keep my band. I trained hard this year, and it seems I won't realize the goal I set before myself, but perhaps it's more important to remember the other 362 days of the year instead of these few race days. With this in mind, I am going to focus more on having fun tomorrow and be less hard on myself. This will likely be my one and only OCRWC experience; time to start enjoying it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: Prep Day

After a year of preparations, the OCR World Championships have finally arrived. Three days of obstacle course racing: Friday's 3K, Saturday's 15K, and Sundays' Team Relay and Make a Wish charity race (in which I am not planning on participating). 

I arrived in Blue Mountains, Ontario, Canada on Wednesday evening after a 10 hour drive. This allowed me Thursday to check-in and organize. This proved to be a crazier day than anticipated. I have seriously never waited in so many lines in my entire life!  The house where I'm staying is located about a 25 minute walk from the Blue Mountain ski resort whee the race is taking place. We headed over there at around 9:30 a.m. in order to arrive for 10:00 a.m. athlete check-in.

The room was packed. I got in line at 9:50 a.m. and as able to check-in for the 3K and 15K course in about half an hour. Then, I have to get into another line for the team race check-in. My team, Tiny^2 +1, Niki, Steve, and me, lined up -- another half an hour was spent. In the check-in packet there was a traditional time chip and a bib with my name on it. The coolest stuff though was an athlete badge with my name and the bands for each event (which I will lose if I fail an obstacle -- I really really want to keep my bands).

From there, we got into a third line for the t-shirts (three identical ones for the three races, curvy fit). That line was fast moving at least. Unfortunately, at that point, I noticed that one of my registrations said "jouneyman" on it, which meant a trip back into the crazy busy registration room. Fortunately, it was just a misprint and my timing chips and everything else where all set for me to run age group.

At that point, we'd been hanging out in packed rooms and waiting in line for a couple of hours. There was another huge line for merchandise, but it was also noon and we were hungry, so Niki, Steve, and I got a quick hamburger before joining the merchandise line at around 12:15. We were in that line for around an hour before getting into the room. The place was picked over, which is crazy because the race doesn't even start until tomorrow. By the time people are at the starting line, there will be nothing left to buy! The options were somewhat limited, but I was able to find a pull-over hoodie, which I got. It's a size small but quite a bit big on me. Still, it will be good for layer and the hoodie zips were huge (and the nice jackets that they had fit great but cost $185, which is crazy!).

In between everything, we walked around a bit. It was fun to see people from all over the place and to hear a lot of other languages being spoken. A really nice fellow racer from some place in Europe took a team picture of Tiny^@ +1 under the finishing line arch.

There were some obstacles at the bottom of the mountain that I was able to check out. They looked very cool. There were some floating walls, a set of swinging poles, a half pipe, to name a few. I am very much looking forward to tackling the course tomorrow. Especially good to keep in mind is that tomorrow is going to be the main dry day of the weekend, so it will definitely be my big chance to keep my band. (Note: Racers get to keep their band if they complete all obstacles.)

I also got to have some poutine with Niki and Steve. We had a quick snack before walking back to the house. From there, an early night. The big 3K is tomorrow. Time to try to keep my band!