Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shale Hill Halloween Run

The event on my calendar that I had been most anticipating -- the Halloween Run at Shale Hill! I've been up to the fixed obstacle training course at Shale Hill in Benson, Vermont a couple of times now, first for the NE Spahtens training weekend in July and then again by myself to train over the summer. It is, without a doubt, one of my top five favorite places. When they posted that they were going to be having a Halloween race, I knew I had to sign up. After all, who doesn't love racing a haunted 10K obstacles course with over 50 obstacles at night?

Shale Hill offered both a 5K and 10K option for the Halloween Run, so it was "friendly" for everyone. Honestly, if you are a person who even thinks you might be interested in obstacle course racing, you should head up to Shale Hill. The course is definitely challenging, but I always have no fear when I am there. Owners Rob and Jill take such good care of you. Plus, the course never strays more than a mile away from the main office / barn where you start. If you're having a rough day, you can easily just make it back to the finish. 

I had coordinated to stay over at the apartment at Shale Hill with a few of my fellow Spahtens. After my Simmons library science graduate school class on Saturday morning, I headed up to Benson to "check-in" at Shale Hill and get ready for the 5:00 p.m. race start. The apartment was open when I arrived and I found it clean and well-appointed with sleeping for seven (if people don't mind sharing beds) plus a full kitchen with everything you could need. It rents for a very affordable $150 / night, so if you want to go up to Shale Hill and stay over, I recommend emailing them to see if the apartment is available for rent -- bonus points for splitting it with many others so you only have to pay $30 or so per person. I was splitting the place with Paul, Steve, and Sean (plus family).

After changing and meeting up with fellow Spahtens Paul and Steve, I headed over to the main office where I was given a bib and goodie bag with a Shale Hill sticker and Clifbars. I also got an awesome ladies-fit Shale Hill t-shirt. I chatted with Jill, festively dressed as a gypsy, who asked if I was doing the 10K or the 5K. I said I was planning to do the 10K but would see how I felt. Jill told me the race was timed -- serious business since the past time I had "raced" at Shale Hill it had been with the Spahtens, and we had kind of done our own thing. 

One of the huge benefits of renting the apartment at Shale Hill was I could quickly drop off my goodie bag before the race. I then headed out to the area in front of the office where Rob was giving some announcements. He let us know the course was wet from the rain in the afternoon and also let us know the penalties -- jacks for the 5K crowd and spider push-ups for the 10K crowd. People were dressed in costumes. There was a crowd of around three or four dozen and the atmosphere was fun and light! This was a timed run, with additional goodie bag prizes, but we were all there for a good time. 


Paul, Steve, and I headed to the starting line with the 10K group. Steve and I planned to do the 10K and Paul planned to do the 5K, but we decided we'd all head out together and just see how it went. We could run our own race, having fun, and let Jill know we were ineligible for prizes when we finished if we ended up doing the Special K (i.e. choose your own race distance). Soon we were off!



I won't recount all the amazing and super awesome obstacles that are at Shale Hill. (I do a good job of that in my big post about going to Shale Hill with the Spahtens, found here.) The bottom line is that Rob has the most challenges and fun obstacles around. If you want to learn how to tackle the course, email them and set up a training date to run the course with Rob. There is no better teacher, and you will feel prepared to tackle this course and anything else. 


Since we started the course at 5:00 p.m., we started in the daylight. There were volunteers around the course dressed in Halloween costumes who jumped out at us and then said things like, "Great job!" and other general encouragements. It was not terrifying scary; more scary fun! Everything felt festive with the costumed volunteers and Rob checking in on us on his ATV with his intense Halloween outfit.


There were also Halloween decorations on many of the obstacles -- think a mummy hanging from a wall. It gave the entire thing a fun atmosphere. Another bonus -- unrelated to Halloween but very cool -- were the photographers all around the course who took all of these photos I am posting to my blog. Rob and Jill posted these photos just one or two days after the race on their Facebook page for free with encouragement to download. Seriously, what other race is that awesome with their photos. 



As we hit the first wooded section of the course with the many climbing obstacles, like the abacus, linkin logs, and the ladders, it started getting a bit darker. At the linkin logs we had our biggest scare when a volunteer chased us with a running chainsaw. He was definitely eerie; not one of your encouraging volunteers. 

When we emerged from the woods Paul, Steve, and I decided to diverge a little bit from the standard 10K run. We ended up skipping around a mile in the woods, bypassing the traverse wall, hoist wet barbed wire crawl, Alcatraz wall, and balance beams. Instead, we stayed out on the meadow area where we hit up the cliff jumper and fireman's tower. 


Because I am obsessed with the obstacle, the loom, we decided to follow the 10K path after the town. We had what I consider the second best scare of the race right after the loom when we reached the hay bales. Here a zombie jumped out from in between the bales. (To be fair her scariness dropped when she assisted Steve who had gotten tangled in one of the bits of twine holding the bales together.) 

At this point it was getting very dark, so we decided to skip the bucket carry and start making our way towards the finish line. I should say that getting to do an obstacle race mostly in the dark was a new experience. I had done some of the Spartan Beast in the dark, but at that point I was kind of suffering too much to enjoy it. Getting to do Shale Hill in the dark was the opposite; it was a blast. I loved getting to go along with my headlamp and enjoy the course in a completely different way. It didn't hurt that I was with friends, which definitely made the entire thing way less scary.  

We had less than a mile to go. Steve, Paul, and I gave the monkey bars a try, but my hands were getting cold and my grip strength was gone. Similarly, I only made it through about half of the Tarzan swing. I promised myself I would come out and practice on this very challenging obstacle the next day. 

A quick run through some ups and downs and over some walls and we were at the finish line. Jill gave us our time -- 2:22. When we told her we'd done the Special K, which ended up being just over five miles (this time), Jill knew what we meant -- we Spahtens are a crazy bunch! 

We headed into the apartment for a quick shower before hitting the after-race potluck. The food was plentiful as was the local chocolate milk that Shale Hill is famous for offering. I am not a milk drinker at all, but I always love to have a chocolate milk after a race (or during!) when I am at Shale Hill. Local Shale Hill chocolate milk probably makes up around 95% of my milk intake for the year. (The other 5% is the very small amount I put into tea.) The company, of course, was stellar. I want to add too that Shale Hill is pretty much the only race series I have done where you actually get to spend time with the race director. Rob came up and checked-in with us multiple times on the course and hung out with us at the party. Both he and Jill made sure we were comfortable in the apartment. They make you feel like their best friends when you come to Shale Hill and the hospitality cannot be beat!


As the largest team there, we took a great team photo. From left to right: Steve, Sean (on the floor), Paul, me, Heather, and Geoffrey. Heather is an awesome blogger with her own .com: http://relentlessforwardcommotion.com/. I am sure if you are reading this, you read her blog, but if not, you totally should!


After the party, I headed to bed while the gentlemen stayed up by the bonfire. I slept very well and was able to get up fairly early the next day. Rob and Jill had both said that I could go and play on the course on Sunday. While Steve, Paul, and Sean, plus family, all headed out, I went to go and run around the course. My fingers and arms were a bit fatigued from the run Saturday night, also it was cold -- in the lower forties -- so I decided to only do an hour or so on the course. I ended up doing 1:15 and hitting up some of my favorite obstacles as well as the one mile that we missed during our Special K loop on Saturday night. It was great to get up, roll out of bed, and get to run the course. Again, I cannot overstate that Rob and Jill offer the best hospitality!


Shale Hill's Halloween Run was a blast! It was a fun run in the truest sense of the phrase. I had a wonderful weekend away with my team, the Spahtens. The Halloween Run was festive and a great way to celebrate Halloween doing something I love. I will definitely try to make this race again next year. Any time I can make it up to Shale Hill is a good time. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 Spartan Vermont Beast

The bottom line: brutal. The Spartan Vermont Beast -- World Championships at Killington Ski Resort in Killington, Vermont is infamous in obstacle course racing circles. I have not been nervous -- really nervous -- for an obstacle course race in a very long time. However, going into the Spartan Beast, my first attempt at the 12+ mile Spartan Race distance, I was feeling stress. I was stressed about my gear. I was stressed about my fueling. My training. The reported elevation. Stories from last year's race. Everything. To make matters worse, it was a very busy and stressful time in my life overall with a lot of action at work and graduate school having started a few weeks ago. I usually can't wait to get to my next obstacle course race, but I was dreading the Beast. 

I had a bit of a rough week and felt fairly unwell on Saturday. Not a good portent. All that being said, I had trained hard for three months for the Beast, and I wasn't going to miss it for anything. Seth and I got up bright and early and left Amherst at 6:10 a.m. to make it to Killington for the 10:00 a.m. NE Spahtens team heat. Most everyone I know on the the team was planning to run on Saturday, so I had met up with a new (to me) Spahten, also named Nicole, and we had made plans to run together on Sunday. 

From the car ride up to Killington, I could tell Sunday was not going to be my day. I felt sluggish, dizzy, and slightly nauseous; not an auspicious start. On the plus side, I was feeling good about a couple of things. First, the weather, which had looked like it was going to be rainy, was proving to be great: sunny with a predicted high in the low seventies. Perfect OCR weather. Second, I was feeling good about my gear and nutrition. I had packed early in the week so as to feel prepared and have less weighing on me towards the day of the race. I felt like I had nailed it. 


Nutrition:
-Sharkies Turbo Chews
-GUs: Mostly to give out on the course in case I saw anyone struggling -- I've started to like gummy fuel more then GUs for my OCRs.
-Larabars: I was planning to be out on the course for anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. I wanted some solid food.
-Mio: A drink mix, like Gatorade, to help with keeping my electrolytes balanced. The Beast was notorious for causing cramping, and I did not want to fall victim.
- Chia chews

Gear:
-EMS Squito hydration pack: I swear by this thing! My hydration pack would carry all my food and my water. Hydration packs are required for the Beast by Spartan.
-Emergency Poncho: Reflects 90% of body heat. There were reports of people not finishing last year's Beast because of hypothermia. This scared me as much as the talks of intense elevation. I wanted to be prepared. I also threw a hat in at the last minute.
-Headlamp and glowsticks: Required by Spartan for anyone who was going to finish after 7:00 p.m. If you didn't have them, you'd be pulled from the course.

I put everything I could into waterproof bags, since I would be taking my pack through the water obstacles. I managed to fit it all into the Squito.


I also laid out my clothing. I was going to wear my team shirt, black capris, and my Injinji toe socks no matter what. Depending on weather, I had options for wearing my Spahten sleeves or an Under Armour base layer. I ended up going with the base layer to be safe, but took it off pretty early into the race when the weather proved nice and I started overheating. I paired this with my favorite OCR shoes, Icebugs.


I packed my standard bag of race gear and was ready for the race: before, during, and after.


When we got to Killington everything was pretty straight forward. We were able to park on-site about a quarter of a mile away from the main area. Parking, as per usual with the national races, was $10. Regardless, I was happy to be parking on-site. No bus required!

We walked up the hill to the festival area. Seth and I had pre-printed all our wavers, so registration went fairly smoothly. Oddly there was a descent sized line where I had to go to check-in (check-in is done by bib number), and most of other lines were completely empty. The line moved pretty quickly though, especially because I was racing on Sunday when there tend to be fewer people.

Once we were in, we immediately began to search for the Spahtens' tent so that I could meet up with people. Seth must have Spahten intuition because he directed us in the right way and soon we found the tent. 


Joy! A bunch of people I knew where there. A group that had raced the Beast yesterday were staying on to either volunteer or run the Charity Spartan Sprint. I got to see a bunch of Spahten friends. Even more exciting, Jesse, a friend from Tough Mudder 2014, was there. He had run the Beast yesterday and was planning to run the Ultra Beast (two laps of the Beast) today, but had unfortunately hurt his shoulder. He had originally planned to bag on Sunday completely but instead decided to "just" do the Beast. I was thrilled and asked him to race with us.

Jesse and all the Spahtens at the tent who had raced yesterday asked my starting time and recommended starting a.s.a.p. because the course was hard and taking people a long time. I messaged Nicole, who I was running with. She soon arrived with a couple of other people she was planning to race with and the three of them plus me and Jesse headed over to the starting line. We wanted to get this started! We pulled out group together and headed through the starting gate.


Spartan reports the 2014 Vermont Beast as covering 14.5 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation. This measure does not include any obstacles. When those are included, we ended up covering between 15.5 to 16 miles with 7,000 feet of elevation. The race was so long and so taxing, that I can't say I 100% remember all the obstacles and their ordering. I will attempt to recount the race as best I can.


The course started with a climb. I was still feeling fairly dizzy and Nicole and her group pulled head of me and Jesse, who was very appropriately tired from yesterday. We met up again at the first set of obstacles where we had to go under a short net and over a wall, probably around five feet. From there it was more climbing up Killington to a set of Over-Under-Throughs (go over a wall, under a wall, and through a wall with holes). At this point, Jesse and I were somewhat behind Nicole and her gang. We decided in the interest of each of our races to split up. Jesse and I were the new team.

It's hard to describe in words what the terrain was like. For the start of the race, we were ascending a double black diamond ski slope (or some sort of diamond ski slope -- I admit it; I don't ski). The ascent was hard, though this was probably, in retrospect one of the shorter and easier climbs of the day. I was still feeling unwell, so it was a haul. At this point we were following some cleared hills, but the terrain in general was not so clear cut. While we started off on ski slopes, throughout the course, we wandered through wooded areas, which were some fairly uneven trails. There were rocks and tree roots everywhere. If you were on a flat stretch of ground, I guarantee you were facing technical terrain in the woods. While climbing was hard, the descents were also brutal. The ones along the ski slopes in the cleared areas were the worst. They were steep enough to make your quads scream. Going up the mountain was at times so challenging that I had to keep counting in my head to keep my feet moving. ("One foot fall. Two foot falls.") There were sections of incline where I was almost on all fours trying to pull myself up. There were sections of declines where I sat on the ground and scooted down the hill because I didn't want to take a tumble. The Spartan Beast did not have that many more obstacles than most other races. What set the Vermont Beast apart was the terrain -- the exhausting mind-sucking climbs and the terrifying descents. This is where the mental fortitude really came into play.

After splitting into our new two-some, Jesse and I continued to make our way to the next obstacle. This was the first of two sandbag carries. The course featured a half dozen carries in all: two sandbag carries, two bucket carries, a log carry, and the Atlas carry. The course designer for the Vermont Beast, Norm Koch, loves to work in heartbreaking terrain and lots of carries. This race was emblematic of that. The first carry was not a bad one. We were using the Spartan pancakes (pancake neoprene sandbags). There were different weights of men and women. We had to take our sandbag up and around a short incline and decline. This was perhaps a slightly heavier weight than at the Spartan Sprint in Amesbury, but overall it was not a killer carry. 

We then go to head down the mountain where we hit the first of two bucket carries. Like the first sandbag carry, this was the easier of the two carries of the bucket-type for the day. The carry was not quite as hilly as the next one and a bit shorter. Regardless, I always have a hard time on the bucket carry as the weight of the bucket to my weight is not a good ratio. I had to take a few stops along the way, but was able to make it. 

From the bucket carry, it was a short jog to the traverse wall. I love the traverse wall, and it's always been a favorite obstacle of mine. I tend to nail it. When Jesse asked me if I wanted him to spot me, I said I would be good. However, the traverse wall was a humbling experience and showed me how "off" I really was that day. I made it about a third of the way along the wall before falling off. I have never, ever failed the traverse wall before. I was stunned as I went to do my 30 burpee penalty. 


We were about 3.5 miles into the course at this point. We had done a few obstacles but most heavy hiking. We were moving towards the big water obstacle of the day. Early reports said we'd be doing a 200 yard swim. In the middle, we'd have to climb a ladder and then do a Tarzan Swing across five ropes on the underside of a bridge.

Jesse and I arrived at the water obstacle. I was not too worried the the length of the swim, but was worried about the water temperature. The water had apparently been around sixty degrees the day before and it had rained overnight. When I was thinking of this race before race day, I had worried I would get into the water and never warm up. Fortunately, the day was sunny and mild instead of rainy and cool, as the forecast had originally stated. I was much less worried about the water as a result, even though I am very sensitive to the cold. I love swimming and the water but I hate the cold, so I had mixed feelings of anticipation and trepidation about this set of obstacles. 

At the water obstacle, we came upon a fellow Spahten, Jeff, who was volunteering. We said a quick, "Hello," and Jesse and I grabbed life jackets. I had considered maybe not using one since I'm good in the water and the life vest was optional, but I figured it was better to be safe.


Taking a life vest may have been one of my best moves of the day. I got into the water which was so cold I could not catch my breath. I was stunned and gasping. Having the life vest certainly made me feel much better -- I was safe at least. I began to swim as quickly as I could so as to try to warm up. It didn't help much, but at least I was soon able to breath again. I made my way over to the ladders on the underside of the bridge. We were supposed to climb the ladder, ring a bell and then swing from four or five short skinny ropes (called the Tarzan Swing) to ring another bell. This is one of the most failed obstacles with an almost 90% fail rate. Now I know why. I was able to get up the ladder. I honestly had trouble getting to the first rope because of my short arms. I finally grabbed it, but my fingers were frozen from the water and I could not get good enough purchase on the very thin rope or get the momentum going. I splashed back into the water and swam back to shore.



After our burpees, we had to head back to the pond and follow the edge in waist deep water. I was actually pretty acclimated to the water at this point and waded along feeling pretty okay. The cold water had cleared my head a little, and I was feeling slightly less dizzy than I had earlier in the course.

We began to hike what would be the first major ascent of the day. There may have been a wall to climb over, but mostly I just remember hiking up the mount. We actually hiked continuously upward for about a mile before getting to the next obstacle. It was steep and long. I was feeling pretty terrible at this point again. I was very happy when we arrived at the Atlas Carry and saw the volunteer was one of my favorite Spahtens, fellow-ginger and Ragnarian, Mike. I was so happy I ran and hugged him. (As a note I think he was happy to see me to because he shouted when he saw me, potentially alarming his fellow volunteer.) The Atlas Carry requires you to pick up a heavy bounder from a divot, carry it a short distance, put it down, do five burpees, and then pick it up and carry it back. Getting the weight lifted is the hard part because the walk with it is quite short. I was actually able to do it without to much difficulty. 

We didn't have to walk far (thank goodness!) until we came to the first barbed wire crawl. This one was fairly short and over some really nice smooth mud. It actually didn't require crawling over rocks and dry dirt -- what a treat. Because I was still not feeling too well I mostly crawled under the barbed wire instead of rolling. I didn't want to get dizzy. 

Also, I was beginning to sense a trend. There were two sandbag carries, two bucket carries, and two wire crawls, and in all cases the first one was the "easy" one. With the way I was feeling this was going to be a challenging day.  

A short walk from the barbed wire crawl was the log carry. As a bonus, we came upon fellow-Spahten, Jessica, volunteering at the log carry. Being with Jesse and seeing so many friendly faces on the course was really making a difference and was helping keep me motivated and my morale high, especially considering the circumstances. The log carry was actually a bit devious. The logs were very large and quite heavy. As with all the carries, we had to walk up a stretch of hill and then down another. The uphill was brutal. I tried a few ways of holding the log (on my shoulder, in front of me), but it was all hard. Coming down was definitely an improvement, but I had to make sure not to drop the log and send it tumbling down the hill in front of me. 

Next up was an actually nice bit of trail running that was gently downhill. It was probably the only bit of running that I really enjoyed that day. The path was smooth and not clogged with roots or rocks. Jesse and I could actually move along at a good pace. We jogged along to the next obstacle, log hop. 

At log hop we again got to see a friendly face voluteering, Spahten Aaron, with whom I did Ragnar. At Jesse's very good suggestion we decided to help each other through the log hop. For this obstacle, you had to hop from stump to stump four times, then cross a narrow log balance beam, and then hop four more stumps. Jesse held my hand for balance as I went through the obstacle. We then doubled back and I held his hand as he went through.

Next up was a bit more downhill trail running followed by a 7' wall. It was then back up and up. This constituted part two on the intense climb to the summit. We had some brief zig-zags through the woods where we got a brief reprieve from going upward, but mostly it was slow climbing. I was feeling quite nauseous at this point, which was one of the lowest points for me during the race. We were about seven miles in, so around half way, and I was struggling. 

After an intense bit of climbing we came to an a-frame cargo net. Music was blaring and I was just feeling pumped to have a break from all the trekking. From the a-frame, which was a quick up and over, we continued upward through some woods. Here the climbing was not as steep, and we were able to do a fast walk in the woods, as much as the terrain would allow. Right before hitting the summit, which would be our highest point of the day, we hit the tractor pull obstacle. We had to take a rock on a chain and drag it down and then back up a short bit of hill. This obstacle was really quite easy and the weight wasn't bad. Even feeling as sick as I did at this point, I was able to make it through. 

We then continue the short walk to the summit where we met up with Seth. He was sporting Gatorade and Clifbars. We gratefully took each. "I feel terrible. I am never doing this again," I said for the first time that day. I would think it many more times.


There were two obstacles at the summit. The first was the memorization station. The second was the spear throw. At the summit, we walked over to a board. Depending on the last two digits of our bib, we had to memorize a word and set of numbers. This was mile 7.4. We would not be asked our numbers again until after the Tyrolean Traverse at over the half marathon mark. I can still safely say today I remember my memorization -- Hotel 143-5526. 


From the memorization station, I headed over to the spear throw. Jesse nailed his throw. I missed. The spear throw seemed to be sorter than in Amesbury. I was able to make the distance this time, but threw to the side. After, Jesse showed me some of the technique he uses for his spear throw and even demoed with a perfect throw. Two in a row -- impressive. I was feeling weak after the throw, and needed to do burpees. Seth stepped in and split them with me doing 15 to my 15. I have never been more grateful. 


After the spear throw and burpees Jesse and I left Seth and headed back down the mountain. (Seth headed down the mountain too, but he went down the way he came up -- in the gondola [fancy!].) Jesse and I, of course, headed down on foot. I had been eating consistently through the course and drinking, but something about the Gatorade really helped. In the long run downhill after the spear throw and seeing Seth I began to feel a little bit better. The worst of my nausea passed and my dizziness lifted. Thank goodness. I definitely started to enjoy the day more. At least now I could "embrace the suck" without having to worry about keeping down my calories.

I feel like there must have been an obstacle or two on our downhill trip, but I honestly don't remember. The next thing I recall was that we were at the bottom of the hill by the inverted walls. There was a water stop, and I had to use the bathroom, so I ducked into the woods to do so and completely forgot to check my pack's water level. Big mistake. I hastened over the inverted wall to go catch Jesse at the second bucket carry not realizing that I was almost completely out of water. It would be two miles, almost an hour and a half, until I was able to refill my water again. While Jesse generously let me drink some of his water, this was a huge oversight on my part and a rookie mistake. It's hard to take in calories without water, so I definitely under-ate during this point of the race, which did not leave me feeling my best.


The second bucket carry was immediately after the inverse wall. As I've said before I have a lot of trouble on the carries. This one was quite a bit longer and steeper than the first carry. Though I wasn't feeling sick anymore, I was already quite tired. Knowing the trouble I have with carries, Jesse recommended partly filling my bucket, doing the carry, and then doing the mandatory burpees. There were a number of other racers I saw doing this too. Some people might be opposed to this idea, but I swear that I gave this race 100% and have no regrets. Doing the bucket carry this way was still me giving it my all at this point. I actually finished the bucket carry and none of the volunteers noticed that I didn't have it filled all the way. Still, I did the burpees while waiting for Jesse. I believe in running your own race, but I also believe in being honest.


I knew from Jesse's reports that the next few miles were going to be tough ones. From the Bucket Brigade at around mile 9.5, it was going to be the second very significant climb of the day and the hardest. It was a super steel uphill crawl. I was struggling to put on foot in front of the other. I again employed my technique of counting steps. The mountain was so steep at points that I was using my hands along with my feet. It was one of the most grueling moments in any race I have ever completed. We had covered around ten miles and were now spending almost half an hour just climbing and climbing. It was brutal beyond words. 

I honestly have very little memory of this part of the race other than of being thirsty and being physical and emotionally exhausted. If there were obstacles other than me versus the mountain, I don't remember them. I wanted to stop, but there was no way that I was going to quit at this point. I have never been much for collecting medals, but at this juncture in the race I wanted that medal. Having Jesse there to talk with was a huge help. Also, it was great that he had done the course before. We had to nail this uphill, tackle a very technical downhill, do a second sandbag carry, and then, Jesse said, the rest was no problem. 

We made it to the top and immediately went down through some dense areas of rock and root laden trail. Jesse, being faster than me on the downhills, got a little ahead. I took the chance to chat with a fellow racer who had traveled from Kentucky. It was his first time in New England, and he thought it was beautiful. 

I met up with Jesse again at the tire pull. He very kindly helped me pull the tired up the hill and then I walked it down. At Amesbury the tire pull was on level ground, which was definitely much easier than at the Beast on an incline. I was very glad for Jesse's help.

Before Jesse and I had briefly split up again for the next downhill run, I mentioned my fear about the sandbag carry. The second sandbag carry was not like the first. Instead of pancakes it was 60 pound bags of sand, like what are used for holding back floods. The sandbag carry was terribly long and steep. It was one of the first obstacles I saw when I was organizing myself in the Spahtens' tent before the race, and it made me very nervous to look at it. I could not imagine making it up and back with 60 pounds on my back. I had also heard that 45% of the field on Saturday did not finish (DNF). Apparently a lot of these DNFs happened at the second sandbag carry. This carry was around 12 into the 16 mile race. There was no way I was going to get that far and not make it, so I needed a strategy. 

I caught up with Jesse at the bottom of the mountain at the sandbag carry. He had been scouting ahead trying to find us some "good bags" for the much-feared carry. Many of the bags had been torn apart and tied back together after previous runs up the hill making them much less heavy than the original 60 pounds. Jesse found a pair of perfect ones, and we started tackling the carry. We also met up with Seth at this point who ran and got me some much needed water. I was exhausted, but I was very happy to pass the final obstacle that I had been dreading.


In all my worries about the Beast pre-race, there had been one thing I was really really looking forward to, The Rig. A hike uphill after the sandbag carry, and there it was! The Rig reminded me of American Ninja Warrior. You had to swing from ring to ring four times, then transfer to a monkey bar, swing to two more cube shaped monkey bars, then a regular monkey bar. From there to you transferred to two swinging monkey bars. Next you grabbed a rope and used that to transfer to a set of four rings you had to step through. Finally you reached up to grasp a last hanging ring, rang the bell and jumped down. All of this was done without touching the ground. So exciting and perfectly suited to my strengths. I nailed it! Without a doubt my best moment of the day. I was psyched. (Here's a picture of The Rig with a slightly different set-up I found online to give you a sample of what it's like.)


I was feeling the best that I had felt all day after the success on The Rig, which was met with admiration by the men who witnessed me doing it, which always felt great. Spartan racing is a male-dominated sports with around 75% of participants being male. I am always pleased when any men on the course are impressed by something I, a very small woman am able to do. Maybe that is bad, sexist thinking, but it's the way that I definitely feel since men tend to be strong on upper-body exercises.

From The Rig, we headed down the hill to Jesse's favorite obstacle, the Tyrolean Traverse. This obstacle has you go over or under a rope and drag yourself along over the water. You had to make it to the bell, ring it, and then drop into the water and wade to shore. I have mixed feeling about the traverse. When you get it nothing feels better, but it's a tricky obstacle. It tends to be painful, in my opinion, and getting the proper technique is key for me. I like to do the first half on top of the rope and then drop down and do the second half of the traverse below. This lets me use different muscles and not get too sore. 

I have about a 50% success rate with the traverse. I've made it twice at Shale Hill and failed it once there. I failed the traverse at Battlefrog where I wasn't able to get on top of the rope and had to do it all below. The good news was that it was easy to do an on-top technique at Spartan. I moved along on the rope for a while and then swung down below. I then moved towards the bell. The rope was definitely loose which meant I had to go uphill somewhat to get the bell. What a challenge, but I made it and then dropped into the water. I must have made a good impression because later when I was getting my finishers t-shirt a group of three men told me how they had really liked my work on the Tyrolean Traverse. 


We were now past the half marathon mark and had only a couple of miles to go. We wove through a flat section of woods. "Memory check up next," Jesse reminded me. Hotel 143-5526. And we were off. It was getting later, and we really were ready to be done, so Jesse was pushing the pace. 

We were now in the obstacle-dense final stretch. It was time for the rope climb. After 8.5 hours on the course, here we were. Jesse had hurt his shoulder the previous day, so he did burpees. I had never failed a rope climb and here was one with knots. I had seen the rope climb when we drove in earlier that day and thought it looked great. The knots, which I had never had the benefit of before, should make things easy. I made it 4/5 of the way up the rope before I could not move. I had less than two knots to go to hit the bell and my arms would not work. I tried as hard as I possibly could. Seth, who was watching encouraged me, and I could not do it. The cumulative fatigue of the day and something like 14 miles of intense climbing had gotten to me. It was a humbling experience.


Right next to the rope climb was another spear throw. 30 more burpees. I was hurting. After the spear throw, the obstacles continued to keep coming back to back. We made a quick jog to an 8' wall. Jesse helped me over, and then I came around and helped him. It was then onto the second barbed wire crawl of the day. This one was one of the nasty kind with rocks on dry ground. And it was long. Not quite Amesbury long but pretty close. It was also fairly low compared to the first crawl of the day, so I took off my pack. As I navigated through, I chatted with some people next to me. They were in a low place, and I wanted to try to help. Throughout the day on the course, I tried to represent the Spahtens well, as I always do when wearing my team shirt. I handed out a bar and GU to a couple of people in need, and I tried to be encouraging and chat with people as I could. Being as small as I am, there is little I can help with other than a leg up on a wall, so I tried to be supportive to others on the course by being positive. As I said, it's important to me to be a good example for my team.

The barbed wire crawl was intersected by two mud pits. There was then more barbed wire followed b a dunk wall. At this point it was around 7:00 p.m., and the sun was going down. That last dunk made me cold! I emerged shivering slightly from the water and looked at the next obstacle, pole traverse. The obstacle required you to grab a metal pole above your head, shimmy your hands along, transfer to another pole, and then make it to the end. My wet hands could not get any purchase on the pole. This would normally be the sort of obstacle I would be thrilled to try, but I was exhausted from nine hours of racing, cold, and it was getting dark. Burpees.

Jesse was ready to get moving. He had taken out his headlamp. We headed into the woods for a jog to the next obstacle, when I realized immediately I would need my headlamp too. The Spartan volunteers were supposed to be checking to make sure that people had headlamp and two glowsticks after around 7:00 p.m., but I didn't see this getting enforced at all. Seth even said that he saw people finishing without headlamps when Jesse and I finished at 7:30. At that point it was pitch black. I can't imagine not having my light. 

With our headlamps on we made it through the quick stretch of woods. We had been out on the course for over nine hours, and I could not think of anything but how tired I was and finishing. I was focused. We emerged from the woods and were at the Hercules Hoist. Jesse had beaten me here, and Seth had quickly asked him to help me with the hoist since I had experienced such difficulty with it in Amesbury. Jesse and I started pulling. This was either easier than Amesbury or Jesse was doing an awful lot of work. I asked if I could check it out on my own. Wow -- this was a way easier hoist than in Amesbury -- a fraction of the weight. I finished on my own, pleased, and we hurried off. 


Directly in front of the hoist was the bridge.


Moving as quickly as we could, we scaled the bridge. It was seriously starting to get dark.


Two obstacles to go. Right after the bridge were the same monkey bars from Amesbury with rungs at different heights. Seth let us sit on his shoulders as we made our way across. Again, on any other day at any other point in the race I would have said, "No, no, let me try on my own." Not this time. We were in get-it-done mode. I knew I could do the monkey bars and enjoy them -- they were probably my favorite obstacle in Amesbury -- but at this point in the Beast I was so tired I could hardly think and my body could barely move.

There was one more ascent and descent before the finish line. Seriously!?! Up the mountain again. Yes. It was a modest climb, but it felt interminable. The climb was along the tree line and we had to navigate fallen trees and branches. I counted my steps. I pulled myself along with my hands. I rolled over fallen trees and contemplated stopping, but I did not stop moving. Not once. All day, we had had a motto of slow and steady. We weren't moving fast, but we were always moving. I kept counting. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Finally I reached the top and turned to head down the mountain. All that was left was the fire jump. I could see it glowing with the finish line right beyond it. I was so tired I was sliding down the mountain partly sitting, but I knew I was going to make it.


One last run and a triumphant jump over the fire, and I crossed the finish line!


We had started at around 9:40 a.m. It was now around 7:30 p.m. We had been on the course for 9:51. 


I grabbed a sandwich, protein bar, and shake. Someone draped medals around my neck and gave me a ticket for the finishers t-shirt (the same as the t-shirt I got at the Sprint). While I have not done (and will not be doing) a Spartan Super this year to finish my trifecta. I do have a nice duofecta. The Beast medal looks great with my Sprint medal from this summer.



I was also very luck to get, as a gift from Seth, an awesome Spartan Vermont World Championship Beast bag for the gym and two patches, which I plan to add magnets to and put on my filing cabinet at work.


The Spartan Vermont Beast was the hardest race I have ever done. It is the only race that I can think of where I've gone in not sure of the outcome, since my first big OCR, Tough Mudder 2013. I love that this race pushed me out of my comfort zone and scared me. I feel a sense of accomplishment over this race that I have not felt with many other races. More to the fact, I persevered on a day when I was really not feeling my best. Absolutely key to this was my battle buddy, Jesse, without whom I don't know that I could have made it. Having someone with me made quitting not an option. The only choice was to keep moving forward. 

That being said, I am not sure that this is a race I would do again. As I was doing the race I remember saying to Seth at least twice, "I am never doing this again." Those were moments when I was feeling weak and sick. I am not sure I'll stick to those words. However, the Spartan Vermont Beast was not the kind of OCR that I can say I enjoy. I appreciate the challenge and overcoming that challenge, but I do OCRs for recreation and, as a non-elite athlete, primarily to have fun. 

My favorite sorts of OCRs are ones that are obstacle heavy (and I don't mean carries, which to me seem just like pointless manual labor). I love to climb structures and swing and jump. Races like Battlefrog and places like Shale Hill are truly obstacle course races with over fifty obstacles each! 

The Spartan Beast was an endurance event, heavy on the hiking, and short on the obstacles. The placement of the obstacles, predominantly towards the end of the course, meant that lots of participants, myself included, are almost too tired to enjoy them. This grouping of obstacles all towards the end is likely intentional, as it poses an extra challenge and makes for better spectating. However, for racers, it means miles and miles with few obstacles and lots of terrain. Hiking is fine, but not necessarily my goal when I sign up for a race. I had a similar feeling about the Spartan Sprint in Amesbury and have come to the conclusion that while I like Spartan Races fine they will never be my favorites. They offer something that a lot of people love. My interests are in races with a ton of obstacles (evenly spaced) and limited hiking and carries. 

While I may not have enjoyed the Spartan Beast, I am glad that I did it. The Spartan motto is, "You'll Know at the Finish Line." I now know what that really means, and that is a unique and humbling experience. When I was out on the course I had to know in my mind that I wanted to finish this race because there were absolutely times when it was hard to lift one foot and put it in front of the other. Learning this kind of mental fortitude is a great asset. Was it fun? No. Will I do this race again? I am not sure. I like my recreation to be recreational. All that said, I will definitely remember this experience for a long long time and have great gratitude to Jesse and Seth for all their help on the course. I could not have done it without those two.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Summer Vacation

For the fourth summer in a row, Seth and I staycationed in the lovely Pioneer Valley. I am not against a traveling vacation by any means, and would actually love to get away. However, we've been instead allocating our funds towards improving our home (pellet stove, new windows and slider) and for school for me (Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science -- classes start a week from Saturday).

What with our money going towards our home and my education, there isn't room for travel. Instead, we have stayed locally during our week off and done some day trips. This year we started off our vacation week with the trip to the Boston Spartan Sprint, which I've already blogged about. That day also took us over to Hampton Beach, a fifteen minute drive away from where the Spartan Race was. Hampton Beach is a popular tourist destination. The weather was lovely, and Seth and I enjoyed walking the crowded boardwalk, which was lined with shops selling novelty gifts, arcades, and restaurants.


We also wet our feet in the ocean and got to see the famous seashell stage where they have free concerts. 


Later during our vacation week, we headed over to Mount Warner Vineyards. Seth and I very much enjoy checking out the local wineries in western Massachusetts and had yet to visit Mount Warner, in nearby Hadley, a ten minute drive from our house.

When we arrived, we found that the winery and farm was located at the growers' home. They grew all their grapes there and did the harvesting and wine-making all on-site. We got to walk around the vineyard and see all the grapes on the vine.


We then headed into the tasting room where we were able to try all the varieties that Mount Warner had to offer. 


White Wines

 

The Cayuga White was a lovely dry Riesling style wine. It was completely pleasing and perfect for the summer.


The Chardonel was Chardonnay-inspired and quite dry. I think it would be perfect for pairing with a variety of foods and for when I want a more robust white wine.


I recall this wine being a bit fruitier and totally pleasing. 


A nice blend, and I do like a good white blend. This included three local grapes and was definitely the most fruity of the white wines.

Red Wines


The Corot Noir was sadly the one wine that we didn't get to try. They were out of it! I'm hoping to find a bottle once they produce it this season and give it a try.



The secret was made with such a new variety of grape, Petite Pearl, that they weren't even able to list it on the bottle. However, it was totally delicious and had a great full mouth feel. 



The Sunset Red was a red blend. The vineyard owner, Bobbie, said that it was a perfect accompaniment for any casual dinner. A good pasta and pizza wine. I think that it would be perfect for that because it had a very mild unassuming taste.

Rosè



I am not always a fan of rosés, but I was delighted to find this wine amazing! It was wonderfully dry, flavorful, and complex. We brought home a bottle!

Dessert Wines



Wow! Very unique. The fini! certainly had a higher alcohol content than the other wines. The warmth of the alcohol really hit you and the aftertaste was lovely and tropical. One of the most interesting wines I have ever had.



Our last wine was the Raspberry Rhapsody. The raspberry flavor on this one was not to be believed. I have had a number of raspberry wines, and I would have to say that this is the most flavorful. Bobbie served it to us with a piece of dark chocolate. The combination was amazing!

We had a fantastic time trying all the Mount Warner Vineyards has to offer. They sell their wine locally in some local market, like Atkins, so it will be convenient to get more of their wine whenever we want. During our trip to the winery, we purchased three bottles, the Neither and the two dessert wines, fini! and Raspberry Rhapsody.

Tasting and tours at Mount Warner are by appointment. I completely recommend that anyone in the area give them a call. The owner, Bobbie, was wonderfully welcoming and great about sharing all sort of cool information about the wine-making process.



My last adventure of the week, at the end of our staycation, was another trip up to Shale Hill, a fixed obstacle course in Vermont with almost sixty obstacles over a 10K course. I am officially obsessed with the place. Ever since my weekend there with the Spahtens, I have wished I was up there pretty much every second. I am not a bit one for time in the car. The fact that I am willing to spend almost three hours driving to Vermont and then another three coming back is a testament to how outstanding it is. 

I was hoping to go up there again and volunteer at the race they are having Saturday in early September, but I forgot grad school starts that weekend. I'm super excited to start graduate school at Simmons School of Library and Information Science, but it's definitely having an impact on my ability to race. I still plan to head up to Shale Hill once more before the Spartan Beast on September 21. I'm also hoping to be able to get up there again for either (or both) the Halloween Run and the Benson Polar Bear 8-hour Challenge, which would be as many loops of the course as one can do during the cold of February in Vermont. We'll see -- I am kind of cold-averse. 

It was great to have a week off to relax around the house and get in some fun day trips. Things are starting to get busy as the fall rolls around. Orientation for graduate school is next week and then things intensify at work when the students return. I have to get in as much summer fun while I still can!