Tuesday, April 11, 2017

F.I.T. Challenge VIII Spring 2017

Since I took part in my first F.I.T. Challenge in April 2015, this race has been a staple of my calendar. April 2017 was no exception. 

I showed up in Cumberland, Rhode Island's Diamond Hill Park at around 10:10 a.m., about 30 minutes before the 10:45 a.m. NE Spahtens team wave. Parking, as always, was $10 and onsite. Not a bad deal. I had to park in the second parking lot, which is about a three to five minute walk from the main venue area. Once I arrived, I was able to register. As always, registration was a breeze. (And, as a bonus, I got to see teammate, Marc.) I got my small unisex t-shirt and a timing chip -- I was good to go. 

I had a few minutes until race time, so I headed over to the NE Spahtens team tent where I did some visiting with Bobby and Paul, lusted after Paul's DryRobe (Yes, I'm going to cave and order one), and changed into my Icebugs. 

At 10:40 a.m., it was go time. I headed over to the start line with my fellow NES teammates who had not already started the race as multi-lappers or in the elite wave. (Seriously, I never see anyone anymore; so many of my friends from the NES multi-lap or run elite!) The announcer did a festive job and at 10:45 a.m. we were crossing the line to tackle the 3.5 mile F.I.T. Challenge course.

As usual, race director, Robb, packs in as much elevation as he can at Diamond Hill. We did approximately 1,000 feet of elevation, which included some gnarly descents. The course was more-or-less reversed from the last few races and featured some nice sections of trail. Compared with last year, we actual got to start on a less steep section. The past couple of F.I.T. Challenges have begun with a very steep climb; however, for this April's race, that climb was moved to later in the course when I was more warmed up. I think that this was a better move. 

There was a fair bit of trail running to start the race. Many of the F.I.T. Challenge courses start this way, in what is, I believe, an effort to spread out the pack. The weather was modestly sunny but not overly warm. It was in the low 40s and a bit windy. I had kept on a base-layer tech t-shirt under my NES drill shirt and was glad that I did. 

It was especially key that I had layered up because this spring's F.I.T. Challenge was slow. My main theme of the race was waiting. I would estimate that I spent almost half an hour in total waiting at various obstacles. This was quite a disappointment, especially since the obstacles were so fantastic that I wouldn't skip them even though I could. F.I.T. Challenge is an obstacle course race, and I was there to do the obstacles. I ended up waiting over 15 minutes at the hanging cargo net, about five minutes each at the two Destroyer walls, and a few minutes more at a cargo climb. Not ideal to say the least. The stopping and starting meant that I got cold and definitely interfered with the flow of my race an my enjoyment of the experience. I think that the abundance of multi-lap athletes (to whom the rest of us always had to give right-of-way) might have contributed to these back-ups. Fingers crossed that this is adjusted for the next event. 

The obstacles themselves were excellent! F.I.T. Challenge features a variety of unique obstacles, all of them fun. This year, they featured an obstacle that was much like the devil's steps, a set of upside-down stairs that one must ascend by one's hands. I still have yet to master this obstacle. While I did a bit better getting up the steps on the first side, I was unable to transition to the next half (even while using my feet, which I know is illegal). I have to work to get this down before OCRWC in October. 
There was also the hanging cargo net that caused such a back-up. I was much more efficient on this obstacle than last fall. I went backwards and used my hands and feet to move along quite quickly. I was pleased with my revised technique and improvement. 

As always, Robb had the rope climb back-to-back with the peg boards. This year, we had to do the climb first and the peg boards second, as opposed to last time when the process was reversed. 
There were also a variety of floating walls -- both a skinny one and a thicker one, the latter of which moves....a lot. When I first saw the thicker floating wall at the last F.I.T. Challenge, I was alarmed at how much it moved when I was at the top. This time, I was more prepared and I kept my body much closer to the wall as I climbed and traversed over. 

One of my favorite obstacles is always the Destroyer wall. This obstacle features an inverse wall that transitions to a high-up wall with grips. Creator, Larry Cooper, has now created a second version, the Destroyer 2.0, where the top wall is angled away from the climber. After climbing up the Destroyer 2.0, I was surprised to find a set of balance tired on the back side. Having trouble reaching the first, I basically draped my body across it, then tried to stretch to the second tire. I promptly fell off, had to pull myself back up, and then traversed the tired on foot as designed. Paul and Vince had a riot making fun of me on this one. (May the video Paul took never see daylight.)  

Another obstacle that I consider a highlight at F.I.T. Challenge is the rig. I especially loved the rig this year. It was the perfect balance of challenge and fun. The rig started with a horizontal pipe, transitioned to a few monkey bars, back to a pipe, and then to a cargo net climb. It was fantastic! There were also a couple of lanes where the horizontal bars were replaced with hand grips to up the difficulty. 

After the rig, it was a few short obstacles to the finish -- an inclined wall, an atlas stone lift, and an inverted ladder wall. I finished in 1:48:45 (though I've been subtracting time in my head due to all the back-ups).

F.I.T. Challenge is a great #racelocal event that features a course that's a fun length at 3.5 miles and loads of obstacles that are fun and unique. They do a great job combining a race that many people could do with a race that is competitive enough for the seasoned OCR athlete. (Hunter McIntyre ran F.I.T. in the elite wave this April. I cannot believe I missed seeing him -- so cool!) While this April's F.I.T. was not my favorite due to all the waiting around, I still had a lot of fun. I think I might want to consider the elite wave for the next event so as to avoid the lag time. Either way, it's always great to hit the trail, climb and swing!

(Note: Photo credits Daniel T. Parker and Vince Rhee.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour 2017

This year marks the 5th Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour, a winter race in which participants are given eight hours to do as many loops of Shale Hill's 6.5 mile course as possible. I had taken part in Polar Bear two years ago in 2015 when there was around three feet of snow on the ground. In 2015, it took me almost five and a half hours to do one lap (compared with the summer when I can do a lap in around 2:45) and still ranks as one of the hardest races I have ever done.

No pretense: I am not a cold weather acclimated athlete. I do poorly in the cold. For me, a race like Polar Bear is never going to be competitive. In the summer, I'll crank out a few laps. In the winter, I'm just going to do my best and have some fun. No goals. For me, Polar Bear is a great time to hang out with friends and get out an play in the outdoors during a time of year when I traditionally have less fitness motivation, less time in the fresh air, and not nearly enough time playing around on obstacles. Polar Bear fills my off season in a most excellent way.

(Note: Video taken by OCRTube.)

This year, we were fortunate to have an almost snow-free course for Polar Bear. After 2015, I was supremely relieved! That being said, it was cold. Temperatures at start time, 7:30 a.m., were in the teens and they never got above the low to mid 20s. Obstacle racing in the cold weather is an entirely different thing than in the warmer temperatures. Winter clothing restricts mobility, muscles are cold making everything seem more challenging, and, worst of all, one's fingers are unable to grasp things. I was either forced to wear gloves, which made my grip almost worthless and removed any tactile sensation from my finger tips, or I had to try to grab things with freezing fingers. After one lap my hands were dead. I couldn't close my fingers and my palm were raw. For me, there is no fighting this.

Nor is there any fighting how draining the cold is. One and done was my motto again this year, despite the fact that, in finishing my lap in 3:19, I had plenty of time to do another. I was not competing. One lap was fun. Two would have been a struggle and I would have failed lots of obstacles without my fingers working. I opted for a happy one and time socializing with friends.

All this being said, Polar Bear is a great competitive race if you want it to be. For this event, Shale Hill draws athletes from all across the US and Canada. It is amazing to be witness to these athletes giving there all. For the rest of us, it's one or two laps and then one of my favorite race parties in OCR. It's perhaps an understatement for me to say that I'm not a party person. I, in fact, often dislike parties. For me to say that I like the party at Shale Hill is huge. Why? Because Shale Hill is a close-knit community. I know people. It's friendly and low-key. Owners, Rob and Jill, treat me like family. Suffice it to say, Shale Hill is a special place. It's the best fixed OCR course in the country, a unique community I love, and a special place. Polar Bear has an all day buffet with coffee and bacon (for those who eat it -- certainly not me!) all day long. In the morning there was french toast and eggs. At lunch time there was soup, rolls, mac 'n cheese, meatballs ,and ziti. A hot meal before and after spending time in 20 degree weather is the way to go and a huge perk of this race.

Polar Bear starts bright and early with the 6:35 a.m. racers' meeting. With the early hour, my carpool buddy and teammate, Amy, and I decided to stop by Shale Hill Friday night on our way into town to register and drop off our stuff. As always, everything was awesome. We received our bibs (which were giant flexible stickers, meaning they didn't rip off on the course -- amazing!) and a goody bag with stickers, snacks, and our race t-shirt. I love that Shale Hill does a long sleeve shirt for Polar Bear. (Note: I left my t-shirt at the house where I was staying and am super lucky that fellow Spahten, Becky, is very nicely mailing it back. I was even more lucky that Jill at Shale Hill would have sent me another one if this one had gone missing. Good people!) Amy and I dropped our gear at Shale Hill before heading to our rental house about five miles away.

The close accommodations were helpful for our early wake-up. We were at Shale Hill parking a little after 6:30 a.m. and just in time for the racers' meeting. One of the great things about Shale Hill is that they don't charge for the extras. Parking, bag drop, and food is all included. Parking is onsite and just a 1/5 of a mile walk up the hill to the heated barn where all the action is happening.

During the racers' meeting, Rob went over the rules for the course. I was doing the open division this year, meaning that I would have to do penalties. Shale Hill also offers the penalty-free Journeyman division, which is an excellent option for those doing their first season at Shale Hill's highly difficult course. Journeyman is also great for the less competitive athlete who don't want to waste energy on penalties. All that being said, penalties are handled in a special way for Polar Bear. Usually, you do your penalties on the course in the summer, often completing spiderman push-ups for each failed obstacle. During Polar Bear, to keep the racers from stopping and getting cold on course, you collect small chips at each obstacle you fail and then bring them back and do all your penalties at the end right in front of the barn. Depending on the obstacle you fail, you get different color chips which correspond to different difficulty penalties. You then roll two dice to determine how many penalties you have to do and of what type. This year's penalties included such things as dips, hitting a tire with a sledge hammer, jumping into a box and out, push-ups using PUPs stands, and hugging a stranger while singing a song.

After the meeting, I quickly organized myself before the 7:30 a.m. open wave start. I put on my Icebugs, layered up, and put a buff around my face. I was ready to go. I ran out the door at exactly 7:30 a.m. and was on my way.

The weather was cold. At 7;30 a.m., it couldn't have been much above 18 degrees. I pulled my buff over my face and trundled on. The first challenge I hit was at the NES sponsored obstacle, the Zig Zag of Awesomeness. This obstacle features metal pipes that you have to traverse using only your hands. In such cold temperatures, it was ill-advised to remove my gloves and touch the bare metal. Unfortunately, in my gloves I could not get purchase on the pipe and kept sliding off. After several attempts, I ended up taking my first penalty chip.

I kept moving with the goal of staying warm. It was cold but at least the sun was out and when the wind wasn't blowing it felt almost tolerable. I had warmers in my shoes and in my pockets (for my hands), which was a must. I made it to one of my least favorite obstacles, the log slipper carry, which requires racers to carry to logs connected with a nylon cord for half a mile. My favorite logs weren't there, but I got a good set and was impressed at how I powered through an obstacle that I often struggle on.

Next up was the pond traverse. The pond was deeply frozen, making this obstacle a "go." There were some short lines, so I opted for the traverse rope with Heaven's Gate on it. Heaven's Gate is a metal ring, wrapped around the traverse that one has to go around. I don't usually have much problem with it, so I decided to forge ahead. I had taken off my gloves to gain better purchase on the traverse rope, not thinking about how I'd have to touch the metal gate. Touching Heaven's Gate was like touching the coldest thing in the universe. I quickly made my way around and continued along the rope. My hands were ice and I kept asking Steve, who was stationed at the obstacle, "Am I there yet?" My fingers were hurting! I finally made it and was able to warm up my hands with the warmers in my gloves. I pressed on.

Rob is perpetually adding to the course at Shale Hill. Case and point, a new obstacle about half way through the course. This obstacle was of a type I am increasingly seeing and have yet to master -- the inverted stair / uphill monkey bar. It made my second failed obstacle of the day. I have done research and have a set of exercises (mostly pull-ups incorporating a plyometric element) that I plan to master in order to increase my ability to do these sorts of obstacles!

I was racing on my own. The winter is not my season and the cold was getting to me. I was feeling somewhat low energy and hoping for a friend to pass my way. Fortunately, as I hit the halfway point of the course on the traverse wall, hope appeared in the form of one Mr. Paul Jones (aka. the most famous person I know). Paul served as my battle buddy (and sherpa for my hydration pack) for the second half of the course. Having his company was key to my enjoyment of the race!

Of course, one new obstacle on the course wasn't enough, so Rob created the Shale Hill ATWB, the all terrain wheelbarrow. This demonic new obstacle replaced the old bucket carry and, dare I say it, was even worse. My forearms were trashed and my arms were shaking after taking the ATWB around the old bucket carry loop. Having this obstacle right before the monkey bars was just terrible!

At this point, I was feeling pretty tired. Fortunately, the end was in sight as we finished up at the Tarzan Ropes and headed over to the warped wall. Two more obstacles and then time to cash in my chips, do my penalties, and, finally, get warm and fed.

I crossed the finish line and headed over to the penalty table, extracting five red and three green chips from my pocket. I had failed the Zig Zag, the new staircase obstacle, two sections of giant traverse wall, the fireman's pole (though I had made it to the top, my fingers lacked the strength to pull me through the opening), the 2" rope climb, the monkey bars, and the Tarzan ropes. For me, this was a bit of a poor showing, but with the cold, I was okay with the results. Apparently, my penalty count for the day was not overly high because I only had to hug a stranger while singing and do 15 tricep dips. Not bad. I finished in 3:19.

I had time to go back out again. I even debated it for quite a while. I had finished in good time, and I had hours before the eight hour limit would be up. I could entirely do another lap. Then I realized, it wouldn't be fun, and I was there for an off-season race that day. I was there for fun. I collected my medal, satisfied with my choice. I had the summer, when I planned to peak, for a competitive endeavor. Now, it was time to change into warm clothing and hang out with friends.

What followed was an amazing few hours. I put on some clean clothing, had some hot food, and then hung out spectating by the fire, toasty warm in a Dryrobe that one of the vendors super nicely let me borrow. (Hint: These things are amazing!) Suffice it to say, I got to enjoy Polar Bear on many levels -- as a racer and as a spectator.

I cannot wait to get back to Shale Hill again. Next up for them is their August festival weekend. I plan to take part in the relay 1 miler, 8 miler (where I do plan to be more competitive and do multiple laps), and the charity relay. Between races, I plan to volunteer and spend time cheering on friends. Hopefully, in the meantime, I'll make it up to Shale Hill a couple times this spring to get in some training. Already, I can't wait to be up in Vermont again!

(Note: NE Spahtens photos courtesy of Vince Rhee. Shale Hill pictures from Jennefer Paquette Eaton. Thank you!)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Blizzard Blast 2017

There is no better way to say it: Blizzard Blast really stepped it up this year. New OCRWC qualifier status. New venue. New obstacles. Same great attention to theme and focus on fun.

This year, Blizzard Blast took place for the first time at Shedd Park in Lowell with the festival at Wamesit Lanes, a brand new bowling alley and family fun center. Race day logistics had all participants parking at the Ocean State Job Lot about ¼ of a mile down the street from Wamesit Lanes. Buses then transported people to the bowling alley. Another set of buses provided transportation to and from Shedd Park. Prior to the event, I was a bit hesitant about all this busing. I am not a busing fan, plus the buses were a bit slow at last year’s Blizzard Blast . I need not have been concerned. Logistics were well ironed out and ran smoothly, as far as I could tell. I parked my car at the Ocean State Job Lot and then decide to walk the quarter mile to Wamesit Lanes since it was so close. The walk took me no more than five minutes – it was just as close as some places where I’ve parked for other OCRs and not had the benefit of busing.

Registration and check-in was at Wamesit Lanes, along with the post-race party. In sum, Wamesit Lanes was a good place for a party. Personal caveat: I’m not much of a post-race celebrator and I found Wamesit Lanes to be way too loud for my personal taste; however, it was really perfect for what, I think, Blizzard Blast was looking for, and I bet most racers loved it. There was cheap food and drink, large areas to hang out, and plenty to do. It was a bit of a drag that the festival and the course weren’t at the same place, as in year’s past, but the new location was definitely better suited to the number of people at the race, and SmithFest did a great job providing convenient transportation.

Check-in at Wamesit Lanes went very smoothly. I was given my chip and bib. I was able to go and pick-up my free long sleeve t-shirt (love the long sleeve option!) and buff and then proceed to check my bag for free. Excellent all around! I then went to the bar area to hang out with the other NE Spahtens as I waited for the bus for the 11:30 a.m. team wave. The busing was ultra-organized with the DJ telling us when it was time to depart.

The course was, for the first time this year, at Shedd Park in Lowell. The race location was excellent. One reason it was so great was that Fred, race director of Blizzard Blast, did a great job integrating existing elements in the park with the course. Examples: We got to run along a wall that bordered the park, many elements of the race had us using the tables and playgrounds within the park, and finally for traverse walls the race utilized a couple of walls already in existence at the park. This was a really creative approach and added to the number of obstacles on the course.

This year’s Blizzard Blast was, for the first time, an OCRWC qualifier. As such, they really upped their game. In past years, I’ve commented that Blizzard Blast can be light on the obstacles. Last year’s course was a 10K and sparse with the obstacles, making it feel more like a trail run than an OCR. Not so this year! I would say with 100% confidence that this was the best Blizzard Blast yet. There were more obstacles than the past and less running. The course was 3.5 miles in length, and you didn’t run more than a couple of minutes without hitting an obstacle. The length and number of obstacles was spot on!

Blizzard Blast had all the classic obstacles from past years along with some new and innovative ones. To begin a discussion of the obstacles, it’s important to acknowledge that Blizzard Blast is great at keeping with their winter theme. As such they had pine trees aplenty. We had to climb over pine trees, run through pine trees, do a pine tree carry, and do a sled drag with a tree (new this year). There was also sledding. Kudos to Fred on getting some snow out there. Even more kudos because when he heard that the sledding was getting a bit too fast, he adjusted to have us sled from farther down the hill to avoid injury.

The other main themed aspect to Blizzard Blast is kegs. The race is sponsored by Shock Top, a beer company, and the kegs seem to proliferate each year. The signature obstacle at Blizzard Blast is keg kingdom, one of my favorite obstacles. It’s a Rig with hanging kegs that move unpredictably making this one lots of fun. Keg kingdom is one of my favorite obstacles in OCR. There was also a keg hoist, a mini keg raise, and two keg carries – the first of which required racers to roll the keg half of the way (uphill of course!). Inspired by the new festival venue, there was also an obstacle where racers had to walk along slacklines using bowling pins suspended overhead for balance. While not very challenging, this new obstacle was innovative and super fun!

Blizzard Blast featured one new obstacle that was a great new test for racers, Devil’s staircase. This obstacle was a giant metal a-frame with rungs spaced far apart to be ascended by swinging as if doing inclined monkey bars. Super hard for me, and the one obstacle I did not make. These inverted climbs are always a struggle for me and definitely an area where I need to do some training. (Note to self: Talk with my coach.)

Naturally all the traditional favorites were there: walls, under-over-thru’s, a peg board climb, and a rope climb. All of these elements were well placed on the course. I was very impressed by how little running took place between each obstacle. It made the course every enjoyable.

I crossed the line in 1:14:19 (28/116 in my age group and 256/705 overall for open, to provide context). I was given a medal which featured a bottle opener and a little OCR racer who moved back and forth across a mini keg kingdom. So cool!

Blizzard Blast really had a tremendous event for 2017. They nailed the race, integrating new obstacles and creating an engaging course that was challenging for seasoned racers while still be very approachable for beginners. The new location is stellar. Logistics were well handled. (Though the post-race chowder would totally have been enhanced by some oyster crackers – get on it, Fred! Jk!) All around, I was very impressed with what I consider the best Blizzard Blast yet. I look forward to the 2018 race. I plan to be there.

(Note: Photo credits to Vince Rhee of the NE Spahtens. Thank you!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


What do you know -- it's 2017. I'm feeling pretty enthusiastic about 2017 in terms of my personal life. This is the year that I'll be finishing up getting my Master's Degree. (93 days to go until I finish my last class.) That means I'll have more time to devote to a lot of the things I care about. I'll have more time to devote to the volunteer work I've been doing on the Friends of Forbes Library Board of Directors, which is a great experience so far. I'm eager to use my education to take on new challenges at work. I'll have more time for leisure activities, such as reading, knitting, and keeping this blog, which have fallen somewhat by the wayside as I've worked on my studies.

I am also very excited to have more time for racing. Even with the busy schedule I keep working full time and volunteering, fitness has been a real priority for me, so I would say that my training has not fallen by the wayside. This past year, I took the time to train for a marathon, and I qualified age group for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) in Toronto, Canada this October.

With the new year, it's natural to start thinking ahead around planning for 2017. My big race of the year will definitely be OCRWC in October. I am very excited to have qualified and am looking forward to my first visit to Canada, my long distance trip in ages (since I have been spending my money over the past almost decade on school and improvements to my condo). I will plan to have my training "peak" around this event, though I have a few other things on the calendar that are sort of goal races and a few more items on the calendar that I signed up for with fun in mind.

As of the writing of this post, my calendar is as follows:

  • Blizzard Blast: Blizzard Blast is an OCR around 3 - 5 miles in length. It takes place during a rather fallow time of year on the racing calendar and tends to offer a fun time. I love their Keg Kingdom obstacle, which has you swinging from suspended kegs. Definitely not a goal race. Instead it's a fun time to see some of my NES friends during the "off season."

  • Polar Bear Challenge: Those who know me are well aware that I need little excuse to want to travel to Shale Hill in Vermont. Their February 8 Hour Polar Bear Challenge is a staple race, which challenges you to do as many loops of their 10K course as you can. This is February in Vermont. I have, to date, only been able to take part in this race once, two years ago. (Last February I was unable to attend because I had a Saturday graduate school class.) It was one of the hardest races I have ever done. The course at Shale Hill usually takes me around 2.5 hours. One lap in February 2014 took me almost 5.5 hours. This year, I'm hoping the weather cooperates and I don't have three feet of snow to contend with. This would make two laps a possibility. Honestly, I am not a cold weather person. Any winter race, especially one on a course as challenging as Shale Hill is not going to be a goal race for me. The main aim here is to go our, play, challenge myself, and have some fun 

  • O'Hartford 5K: My dad and I both celebrate our birthday in March. Two years ago, Dad, my stepmom, Lisa, and I ran the O'Hartford. It was a lot of fun! This year, Dad and I are again planning to celebrate our birthdays in this manner. Dad, Lisa, Ben, and I all plan to have a fun time doing this festive 5K run before enjoying lunch with Mom. A great way to celebrate turning 32!

  • F.I.T. Challenge: A perennial favorite F.I.T. is a race that I never miss. I love that it kicks off the "race season," as I consider the summer months traditionally my peak time for OCR. I usually make a decent effort at this race. It's a barometer for me for how I'm coming into the season fitness-wise and what a great way to get things started!

  • Ragnar Relay Cape Cod: Way back in 2014, Ragnar Cape Cod was my first event with the NE Spahtens. Four Ragnars later (three road and one trail), Ragnar Cape Cod holds a special place in my heart. 200 miles, three runs -- one at night. This is always a signature event in my calendar. This year, it will fall a few weeks before my May marathon, meaning that I should be able to say, for the first time, "Give me any legs to run; I can do the distance."

  • Vermont City Marathon: Last October's Newport Marathon was my first attempt at 26.2. I had the joy of spending lots of summer hours enjoying the outdoors, logging miles. The day of the big race, I was faced with some of the most undesirable weather one could have: driving rain, wind, and temperatures just above 50. It was cold, wet, and windy. Despite it all, I had a great time. When my friend and colleague, Amy, asked who would join her for her first marathon, the Vermont City Marathon, taking place over Memorial Day weekend, I thought, "Why not?" Wouldn't it be nice to run a marathon in nice weather? The challenge here is going to be motivating myself to log long runs in winter temperatures. I'm a summer person and my energy and desire to be outside flags in the winter. Hopefully, training for May's marathon will be the motivation I need. Training begins next week!

  • Ragnar Trail New England: Last August, I attended my first Ragnar Trail. Again, I was lucky enough to be on the NE Spahtens Ninjas team. (This is the NE Spahtens sub-team that I'm a member of for the Ragnar races.) It was a tremendous experience -- a great display of teamwork and a definite physical challenge. There is no way that I would pass up the opportunity to do this event again this year. Bonus points for the fact that it takes place less than 40 minutes from my house!

  • Tough Mudder New England: I've done Tough Mudder three times. Last year, based on the expense and bad timing in my race calendar, I passed up doing Tough Mudder at Mount Snow, Vermont. Honestly, I missed it. Tough Mudder is a blast. It's an experience, not a race. It is very different from anything else on my race calendar. The obstacles are unique and innovative. Tough Mudder is less about the physical challenge of obstacle course racing and more about overcoming fears and putting yourself in interesting situations. I love how Tough Mudder mixes it up and am looking forward to adding this race back onto my calendar for 2017.

  • Savage Race: Formerly a race brand mostly devoted to the southern region, Savage Race is making its way to New England. I, for one, could not be more excited. Savage will be at Carter & Stevens Farm in Barre, less than an hour from my house. I cannot wait to check out the new obstacles they have.

  • Viking Obstacle Race 8 Hour Ultra Viking: Last year's Viking Hill Obstacle Race where I did the Viking Double (i.e. two laps of the course) was one of my favorite events of the year. For 2017, I was planning to do the Viking Double again; however, as luck would have it, they are offering two options for race weekend. The traditional Viking Race (with doubles, elite, and open waves to name a few options) is taking place on Sunday. On Saturday, an eight hour option is available. I actually thought really hard about this one. To forgo the race is somewhat sad for me; however, I plan to do an eight hour race at Shale Hill in August, and I think that doing the eight hour option at Viking will prove and excellent tune up. Also, I think there is the option for me to actually be more competitive in the eight hour race, which features penalties instead of mandatory obstacle completion. I still am not confident I can make the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars, and to lose the Viking Double again for one obstacle would be sad. Let's see how the eight hours go. (And, yes, it's a goal of mine to eventually get Dragon's Tooth!)

  • Shale "Hell" Obstacle Festival: Could it get more exciting than a weekend at Shale Hill. No, it could not. This year, instead of having many races spread over the summer, Shale Hill is offering a mega race weekend packed with a schedule of events. Basically, I want to do pretty much everything (other than the 72 OCR and 48 hour ultra run), but I had to pick just a few. I ultimately decided on three things. First, the 1 mile lottery relay on Friday, since it would allow me to check out their completely new 1 mile sprint course at a very reasonable price. Second, is the big event for me, the 8 hour race. I'm doing the open one and not the mandatory obstacle completion version. I'm a bit sad to not be doing the 24 hour race, but realistically, I would probably only do 12 of the 24 hours with good obstacle completion anyway, and I won't do more if I'm just running and not completing many obstacles. As a result, the 8 hour is perfect. I know I can get in two laps. I'd like to start out for a third -- if I make it in time great; if not, I'm happy to have that lap not count in my totals but would like to try to finish it anyway "for fun." We'll see. The final race I'm doing is the Sunday charity relay. I'll have plenty of downtime between my three events, and I plan to camp out both Friday and Saturday nights and spend the time between races volunteering, supporting other racers, and just relaxing. This event is not for many months, and I am already in countdown mode. Can't wait!

  • Obstacle Course Racing World Championship: Blue Mountain, Ontario, Canada. This year, I qualified to race age group in the OCR World Championships. I have qualified for journeyman before, but this is the first time I've been able to qualify for age group. It's also the first fall that I won't be in school. OCRWC started in the fall of 2013. I started graduate school in fall of 2013. Hence, I've been unable to attend. 2017 might be the last time that OCRWC is in North America, and it's a fall when I have no graduate school obligations. I cannot be more excited. I have signed up for both the Friday 3K short course and the Saturday 15K standard distance course. (I have not signed up for the team relay on Sunday, thinking that I might sight-see that day, especially if my boyfriend, Ben, comes with me to Toronto. Also, I have never been to Canada and seeing some locations beyond Blue Mountain might be fun. Though doing more OCR could be fun too -- I'm of two minds on this!) OCRWC is most definitely my goal race for the fall. It features a unique system of required obstacle completion where when one fails an obstacle one loses a band. I'm hoping to come back from Toronto next fall with at least one band around my wrist.

I'm hopeful that 2017 will turn into a personally rewarding year. I'm currently laying the groundwork for what I hope to be a memorable and fun race season. Fingers crossed!

OCR Buddy

If you are reading this post, it's likely you race. A lot. Keeping track of all these races can be a bit of work. Figuring out when you're racing, where, and what weekends are free (so that you can sign-up for more races) requires some logistics. Yes, you can use your Google Calendar, but it's kind of a hassle to organize everything so that you can query for all your races at once. Plus, how do you know where your friends are going to be?

Enter OCR Buddy, an app designed for tracking and organizing your race schedule, plus it lets you know which of your friends will be at whichever race you're planning to attend. For $1.99, it's a must for any racer serious about organizing their race season.

OCR Buddy fulfills two main functions -- it's a personal race calendar, and it's a database. When you open up the OCR Buddy app, the home screen gives you a sense of the primary functions of the app. There are areas for finding an event and then a "My Events" area for viewing the races you've RSVPed as attending. The app features social aspects as well. You can join a team (i.e. NE Spahtens) and then see the members of the team for easy friending. You can also view a list of your friends under the "My Buddies" tab.

Have a free weekend and want to know what events are available? Here's where the race database in OCR Buddy can be an asset. Click, "Find an Event" and you're off and running. You can browse through the dates or search based on specific criteria. Select a date and all the available races are displayed at the bottom of the screen. You can scroll through them or just click on a dot to skip to a specific event. Races that your buddies are attended are highlighted with a heart to allow you to give them priority. If browsing isn't your thing, you can search events by brand, country, region, state, length, and other criteria. If the race you are looking for isn't listed, you can add it, thus making it available on the calendar for all other OCR Buddy users.

Once you click on a race, you get to view more detail about the event, including discount codes and a link for registration. There is even a space to add notes. As a bit of a futurist, I love that the app includes a countdown tracker at the bottom of each event. (16 days until Shale Hill's Polar Bear Challenge -- yay!)

Hands down my favorite part of OCR Buddy is the "My Events" section. This is where you can see all the races that you've RSVPed for in the app. When I'm thinking about signing up for a new race I like to take into account not just what weekends are free on my personal calendar but the time between races, as I'm not keen to travel too many weekends in a row. Having all my races listed together in an easy-to-view format is a great way to plan for any additional races and to figure out my key races so as to sync my training schedule.

OCR Buddy just received an award from the 2016 Best of OCR: Runner Up in the category of 2016 Best New Product. The award is well-deserved. For $1.99, why haven't you downloaded OCR Buddy yet?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

F.I.T. Challenge VII Fall 2016

“So so much fun!” If one is to judge the success of an obstacle course race based on the first text sent, F.I.T.Challenge would be deemed an epic success!

After a month of racing in sub-prime weather in October, I was thrilled to learn that the weather for this fall’s F.I.T. Challenge VII was to be sunny and in the 50s. F.I.T. Challenge is the epitome of #racelocal and time and again proves to be one  of my favorite races on the calendar.

Taking place twice annually at Diamond Hill Park in Cumberland, Rhode Island, F.I.T. Challenge combines a course with innovative and frequent obstacles with some solid trail running and around 1,500 feet of elevation — enough to make you feel like you’re doing some climbing but also not so much that you feel beaten down. Challenge without a beatdown is one of the best things about F.I.T. Challenge. Race director, Robb McCoy, prides himself on offering a race that is always just over the 5K mark. At 3.4 miles, this fall’s course was right on the money. After doing lots of long races, it’s nice to have a race where you can get out and push the speed a little bit. For those who prefer endurance at every event, there is a multi-lap option. This fall, Robb had around 200 multi-lappers, making this a very popular option (and one that could serve as an OCR World Championship qualifier).

For my part, after a busy October, I was ready to have a race that would take under 90 minutes, have some do-able but challenging obstacles, and be fun! With the lovely weather and the fun course, I was almost tempted to go out for round two (and you could make that adjustment on race day); the course was that much fun for me. In the end, I decided that my one super fun lap was good enough for me. I have perfect memories of a very enjoyable race day. 100% enjoyable. I arrived at Diamond Hill about half an hour before the NE Spahtens 10:45 a.m. wave start. I paid my $10 to park onsite and then headed over to the main festival area. Registration was a breeze. We were provided with timing chips to wear on our ankles. No bibs this time. Likely this is because, unlike in past years, there were no event photographers on the course. For me, as a NE Spahtens, this wasn’t really an issue since we were lucky enough to have Vince there taking pictures of the team.

 After registration, I made my way over to the Spahtens tent where I changed into my Icebugs and then stowed my gear. I spent some time socializing before heading over to the start line. The 10:45 a.m. wave was Spahtens only. Much of the team was already on course, opting for the multi-lap challenge. There were some brief announcements, and then we were off and running!

The course matched fairly closely with what we did at this spring’s F.I.T. Challenge with a few new obstacles added in. As with last spring, the course layout was to my liking. There were some stretches with a bit more running and a few fewer obstacles than I would like; however, a lot of this was to the beginning of the race and is necessary to make it so that racers don’t experience waits at obstacles. This is especially important for a race that is one of the favorite OCRWC qualifiers in the area. I was very impressed this year but the lack of wait-time at the obstacles. It was, for me, the best it has been.
The course began by taking us straight up Diamond Hill. It was quite a steep hill to start out on, but it did a good job of thinning out the field. Overall, there is a bit of up and down for F.I.T. Challenge. Robb and his team make use of every inch of elevation on Diamond Hill. The running is somewhat technical and quite rocky. There are definitely downhill segments that are gnarly, where my speed is limited by my comfort running on trails and not my fitness. I was able to get quite a bit of running in along the course though. The amount of running I’ve been doing lately is great for my endurance, and I’ve been enjoying reaping the benefits during my OCRs. I can do a lot more running without feeling tired. Other than the very steep hills and the gnarly downhills (which do count for a bit), I was able to run the entire course. The trail running was interesting, challenging, and well marked. This is a quality build.

Of course the obstacles are the star of the show. F.I.T. Challenge featured two Destroyer Walls, both the original and a new Destroyer 2.0. I was lucky to have the creator of the Destroyer be right by his obstacle when I tackled it and was so pleased with how he praised my form getting over the wall! I complemented him on his excellent obstacle. The Destroyer 2.0 has a similar design to the original but with the top wall angled away from you. I actually found the original to be a bit more of a challenge, but the new one definitely gets you higher up in the air, plus the transition at the top of the wall is harder. The Destroyer at Shale Hill takes the cake though for hardest Destroyer around, with four different difficulties, only one of which I can do (and I have never failed a Destroyer at F.I.T. Challenge).

Another great obstacle at F.I.T. Challenge is the hanging cargo net. This net is suspended above you and you have to traverse it underneath. The volunteer at the obstacle helped me reach because I was too short, but then I was off. This is definitely a challenging one. It is made more challenging by the fact that it is immediately followed by a pegboard climb and then a rope climb.

F.I.T. Challenge also features an abundance of walls. There is a ladder wall in the woods, two sets of over-under-thrus, a tall wall with rope, an inverted wall, a set of hurdle walls with unders, a set of short walls with unders (where you crawl under picnic tables), and no doubt more that I’m not remembering. A hallmark of F.I.T. Challenge is the floating walls. There were two on course, one of which was a bit thick and had a bit of a challenging transition at the top of the wall. It was wobbly and a bit alarming! There is also a fun double-up make out of logs.

F.I.T. Challenge also has a cargo climb and features two carries, the first with a log, which was not too bad, and the second with a Wreckbag, which was quite lengthy. Fortunately, they provide a few weights to choose from, anywhere from 25 lbs. to 50 lbs. Wreckbag is a F.I.T. Challenge partner so there is also a Wreckbag hoist, paired with a Wreckbag bicep exercise (because Robb loved biceps). 

The race finishes with a bang with a really great rig. There were five different lanes, all different. I attempted two of them. The first, featured monkey bars, a horizontal bar, more monkey bars, and then ropes. The ropes were tiny and very hard to grasp. There were three. I successfully swung along two of them and touched the third before coming off. Thanks goodness I made the reach so that I could say I completed the obstacle. From there, we did the ladder wall before attacking a giant slip wall to finish out the race.

 I crossed the line in 1:24:23, good enough for fifth in my age group, 21/230 for women and 99/472 overall. Most importantly, I had an absolutely blast. F.I.T. Challenge is one of my favorite 2016 races and a great one to close out the #racelocal season. I can’t wait for the April race. I will definitely be there.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Bone Frog Challenge New England: Fall 2016

This year's Bone Frog Challenge could be summed up in a few sentences.

  1. It was cold.
  2. We did a lot of trail running.
  3. We got lost.
  4. We crawled under a bunch of stuff.
Suffice it to say, it was a sufferfest. Of course, four sentences is hardly the sum of the story. Let's get into it.

Bone Frog Challenge typically takes place at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts in May. The 2015 Bone Frog will likely go down as one of my favorite races of all time with over fifty obstacles stretched over a 15K course. The race was meticulously executed. This spring, I took place in the race again, and also enjoyed it. As a result, I was quite excited to see they had a fall 10K championship race planned for late October. I signed up right away.  

Fast forward a few months. Suddenly the championship was a standard 9 miler. The October race would be another Bone Frog Challenge. I had been excited for the shorter course, but this struck me as fine. They didn't have enough races, I presume, to support a championship -- it would be too challenging for people to qualify. (I had signed up for the open wave, for which you did not have to qualify.)

The weather in New England is a fickle thing. Thursday I drove home in a swarm of snow. We got around 3". Bone Frog posted pictures on Facebook of Berkshire East with obstacles covered in snow. Bone Frog's course features two water crossings. All I could do was shake my head. 

The morning of Bone Frog, I left my house at 7:00 a.m. to make it to the venue for my 9:00 a.m. wave. I live fairly close -- less than an hour away -- and it was an easy drive. Parking ($10 per car) was a breeze. The turn out was a lot less than for the May event, making both parking and registration a snap. Volunteers were plentiful down in the festival area and on the course. The weather was dreadful, and these people are real champions!

I connected with my fellow Spahten and good friend, Matt Puntin. Cool things about Matt include almost everything (i.e. He has obstacles in his backyard!); however, today's cool thing was that he'd agreed to run Bone Frog with me, despite the fact that I am quite a bit slower. I was seriously off my game during the race, and having Matt with me was key to finishing. Having a good battle buddy makes all the difference.

The weather in Charlemont was unfortunate. It was damp, at times rainy, and in the low to mid 30s. There was snow on the mountain. Everything was slippery and wet. The saving grace, was that there was no wind, but this was still going to be a rough day. 

Our 9:00 a.m. wave was pretty small. There were a lot of fellow NE Spahtens. Some others had chosen to do the Tier 1 Challenge, which involves doing the 9 mile Challenge course followed by the 3 mile Sprint course. They had taken off about 15 minutes prior. We had some brief announcements -- a good thing in the cold -- and then we were off!

The 9 mile course was almost a reversed version of the course in May with stripped down obstacles. Of the Bone Frog Challenges I've done, this will not rank as a favorite. I'll go through the course map and some of the obstacles to give a bit of a breakdown of the course with my feedback.

The course featured around three dozen obstacles; however, this included a lot of repeat obstacles:
  • Four wire crawls and one net crawl
  • Two sets of tires to hop through
  • Two sets of tires on horizontal logs to go over
  • Two water crossings
There were also a number of walls, but I consider walls an OCR staples, and these walls were all different heights so I'm good with that. The wire crawls were absolutely miserable. They were through snow. I couldn't feel my fingers at a point, and my elbows and knees got soaked through. I should also add that I elected to not enter any of the water. I was frozen enough from the crawls and would not have been able to make it through the course if I entered the water. The first water crossing was the fifth obstacle and was chest high. The second was at the top of the mountain, where it was around freezing temperatures. I acknowledge two things about my electing to skip the water: I had a slightly different race experience and that experience was less hard. I am less strong for doing this. 

I should remark that I was definitely having an "off day." The course did not engage me, I was very uncomfortable, and my performance was lackluster. I am deeply effected by the cold, and I had a challenging day.

There was a lot of trail running during the course. The trails were great. They were technical and interesting. The terrain was slippery and people were sliding all over; however, the paths were interesting. There was a lot of climbing up and down the mountain, but there was equally a lot of cutting across the mountain on single track trails. A problem though was that the trails were not as well marked as they could have been. I have never gotten lost on a course during the day. (And only once gotten ever so slightly off course -- missing less than 50 feet -- during the night.) During Bone Frog, we got lost twice. The second time, we ended up having to cut across the mountain and underneath the mountain coaster at Berkshire East. Yikes! Also, for the third time, I wished that the course had mile markers.

The low turnout, while bad for Bone Frog, meant that there were no hold-ups at the obstacles. The course moved smoothly. While there weren't any new obstacles I can name, there were a lot of fun ones from the past. I'm a fan of the Solar Walls, which are two huge walls of at least 15' with a rope to climb them. My hands were frozen from the crawl right before, so I had to use my legs around the rope to make sure I didn't slip down. I also like Slide for Life. Here, you climb through a hole in a platform and then go down a traverse rope. This is unique obstacle and fun. I have to get a boost to reach the hole in the platform, but then I'm good to go.

I should mention that many Bone Frog obstacles are not short-person friendly. I cannot reach on Slide for Life, Swingers Club, Get a Grip, Drunken Monkey, or Black Ops. I also have yet to complete Swingers Club and Get a Grip, both of which are obstacles where you swing from hanging grip to hanging grip. Drunken Monkey, peg monkey bars at varying heights, I have made. Today, I was able to climb up and grab a bar, but this left me unable to get to another. Also, they were super wet, and I kind of fell half off. Matt seemed quite alarmed, and I did not elect to try again. I have made Black Ops at my first two races but did not complete it today. I made it up the rope climb but did not attempt the monkey bars, which were dripping wet. I couldn't feel my fingers at this point, and was doing my best to just keep moving and make it to the end. Like I said, I did not have a fantastic race and did not make a number of obstacles I normally would love.

There were a few carries -- the Ammo Carry for the first obstacle and the Wreck Bag Carry. Both were very short and manageable. I even found them easy. This was a great relief! I enjoyed a number of the cargo climbs and, as always, had fun on the walls. They have a number of thru walls, which are a nice way of mixing it up.

I ended up finishing this race in just over three hours. It was my fastest Bone Frog yet, due entirely to the reduced number of obstacles and zero wait time due to low turnout. 

All and all, I would give this race a 3.5 out of five stars. (Though I would give having Matt as my battle buddy five stars for sure.) The course was less diverse than I might have hoped with lots of repetition and the obstacles were less interesting than in the past. I have never gone off course before and found the markings to be a bit lacking. That being said, the volunteers were great and we got an awesome medal and t-shirt. (Though I still miss the shirts from 2015, which were the best finisher shirts ever and even came in curvy fit!) The weather, which is no one's fault, definitely put a damper on the day and made the race a whole lot less fun. Still, no matter what, Bone Frog has some really interesting obstacles. I've seen them several times now, and might be a bit jaded, but I don't take for granted the good work that they do. 

I won't be able to make the May race since I'm running the Vermont City Marathon the following weekend. However, I look forward to doing Bone Frog again soon. It's a #racelocal favorite, and while this fall's race was not their strongest showing, I'll be back.

(Note: Thanks to Vince Rhee and Daniel T. Parker for photos!)