Monday, July 18, 2016

Tri-Obstaclon 2016

Last year, I called Tri-Obstaclon one of the top three hardest races I had ever done. Obviously that meant I had to do it again this year. Tri-Obstaclon is Shale Hill's version of a triathlon. Participants mountain bike approximately 7 miles to Lake Champlain, do a 300 yard swim, bike back, and then run the 10K obstacle course at Shale Hill. There are options for everyone. If you are looking for a shorter length challenge, you can opt to do the bike, swim, and then 5K obstacle course. If you are looking for even more of a distance to traverse, there is an elite option with a 600 yard swim and two laps of the 10K course. As always, Shale Hill offers both open waves (with penalties of 25 spiderman push-ups for failed obstacles) and the journeyman non-competitive and penalty free division. Shale Hill also offers the option for a relay format (thought I don't think I saw anyone take that option).

For Saturday's race, I chose to do the 10K open wave (with penalties) option. Last year, I ran Shale Hill's races in the journeyman category. I had been encouraged to consider the competitive option. Shale Hill is edging in on 70 obstacles, and there are only a handful that I routinely fail -- time to get "serious."

I borrowed a bike rack and my roommate's car to take my bike up to Vermont. Let me be clear that while I have a bike and use it pretty much daily to commute to and from work, it is not, perhaps, ideal for racing. It's a heavier model, optimized for transporting my lunch and gym clothing with a basket on the back. The gears are not as smooth as I might want and sometimes the chain jumps. However, the bike has hybrid mountain bike tires and is rugged. The mountain bike 14 mile portion of Tri-Obstaclon is mostly on rolling hills along country dirt roads -- my bike would suffice for this purpose. It did last year.

Saturday morning dawned hot. I was staying in Benson (home of Shale Hill) with a few teammates. We coordinated, stopped by the Benson Country Store for some coffee and bagels with eggs, and then headed up to Shale Hill to check-in. As always, registration at Shale Hill is a breeze. This is a place where everyone knows you, where the race director will give you a huge and welcome you, and where the volunteers know your name on course and will cheer you on personally. Shale Hill is really the NE Shaptens home away from home, if you ask me. It's for sale, and so if you haven't made it up to Benson yet, this year is the year to take advantage. It's a special place.

At check-in we got a goodie bag with some stickers for Shale Hill, Tri-Obstaclon, and Team Sinergy. We also got a nice sleeveless tank as our finisher shirt. This is my first memory of Shale Hill providing a shirt that's not 100% cotton. I know a lot of people love tech shirts, so I can only imagine that this was met with excitement. (I'm a cotton and cotton blend person myself since I like to wear race shirts for casual wear or as pajamas instead of at the gym.)

The race was set for a 9:00 a.m. start. Considering the heat, I almost wish that we had started a bit earlier, but a 9:00 a.m. start is good for anyone who wants to travel in the day-of. There was a racers meeting at around 8:45 a.m. where Rob, the race director, outlined what we needed to consider for safety, announced the penalties for the obstacles failures, and told us more about the bike and swim portions. Helmets were required for the biking and shoes were required for the swim since the lake had zebra clams. 

After announcements, Vince Rhee took our lovely team picture and then we were off to get inline for the biking portion.

We began lined up along the fence that runs perpendicular to the barn. At the starting gun, we ran to our bikes and jumped on to begin the ride to the lake.

In 2015 I bemoaned the biking portion of Tri-Obstaclon. This year, I knew the ride would be 7 miles each way, not the 5 to 6 that is advertised. I was more prepared, had tuned up my bike, and had more biking experience, including a brief weekly trail ride to pick up my CSA after work. As a result, I was able to enjoy the bike ride a lot more this time around.

The bike course took us along rolling hills. On the way out to the lake, there was definitely more downhill than up. I don't especially like the feeling of going downhill on gravel and the lack of traction, so this was a good opportunity to practice getting comfortable with that feeling and keeping my bike under good control. In general, I did pretty well. I also limited the amount of time I got off the bike. In general, a lot of the Tri-Obstaclon participants are into OCR foremost and don't do a ton of biking. I am lucky that I bike regularly, if not quickly. I kept reminding myself to not pull up too much on the handlebars when going uphill so as to save my arms strength for the obstacles. I also tried to be smart about using the gears on my bike.

Because it was warm out, I kept hydrated. The wind of the bike cruising downhill felt fantastic. It was so warm and humid, that after about 10 minutes, I ended up taking off my NE Spahtens drill shirt and raced the rest of the day in my sports bra. This is the first time I have ever done a race in a sports bra, and it was a very nice way to race, as it was much cooler. Any worries I had about scratching up my delicate stomach were unfounded. I had no trouble going over walls, carrying logs, or going up ropes in just a sports bra and capri tights. The only modification I had to make was that doing the traverse rope could not be done on the top. Riding a bike without a shirt was amazing!

The scenery along the bike route was lovely. Soon, I made it to the wooded area bordering the lake. This part of the trail is quite technical for someone like me who really only rides on the road, so I ended up running the last quarter mile or so down to the lake, as I did last year.

All along the bike course and at the lake there were lots of volunteers to keep an eye out for everyone and cheer people on. At the lake, I checked in with a volunteer, as splits were being manually tracked. I had make the ride in less than an hour. With the heat, I was eager to get into the water. When I did, it felt wonderful. The temperature was refreshing but not too cold.

The 300 yard swim was set up for people who are not regular swimmers. The entire way, a person could stand up and have their head above the water. (Note: This is not true if you're especially short like me, but you are, even then, swimming parallel to the shore with the ability to swim in only a foot or too towards the beach and be able to stand.) There were ample volunteers at the swimming section, including a life guard who was in the water with us and following along as we swam. The swim was perfectly lovely, if a bit of work on my arms. I got out of the water refreshed and jogged back up to my bike to begin the ride back to Shale Hill.

The ride back took slightly longer than the ride out since there were more uphill sections. I only had to walk in a couple of places -- one of which was because my chain jumped. All in all, I enjoyed the biking section much more than last year and felt slightly less tired afterwards; though biking 14 miles is work no matter what and gravel roads require much more effort than paved ones.

When I got back to Shale Hill, I took a couple of minutes to eat a Larabar and change my socks and shoes. I had uses my Reebok Spartan shoes, which have drainage holes, for the bike and swim, and I wanted to change into my Injinji socks and Icebugs with carbide tips for the obstacle course portion. I drank a lot of water and put on more sunblock. I decided to skip taking my hydration pack with me, since I had so enjoyed running without it at Viking Obstacle Race last Sunday. This was certainly convenient, but I probably should have taken it. Viking had 4 evenly spaced water stations and was mostly in the woods and took me around two hours per lap. Shale Hill has most of the water stations towards the end and has large portions of the race in the fields, which lacks any protection from the sun. Having my pack would have been nice, since I got slightly dehydrated towards the end of the course and quite sunburned.

Last year, I finished the race in 5:27. This year, I did it in 5:22. I consider that basically the same. My time on the obstacle course was faster last year. This year I did a bit better on the biking. I think that a huge factor in my decreased speed on the course was the heat. I did very well on the obstacle course portion -- that is my main sport -- however, during the last mile I was dragging. Also, doing penalties takes some time.

I failed less than a half dozen obstacles -- Zig-zag of Awesomeness, Slackline, parallel bars, monkey bars, and Tarzan ropes. Of those, I commonly fail the Zig-zag; the Slackline is new (and is something I feel I should be able to do); the parallel bars is the one obstacle I have yet to get at Shale Hill; the monkey bars I have trouble with because they are so late in the course; and the Tarzan ropes I can almost always make in training but can sometimes miss during races since they are the third to last obstacle and require so much grip strength. Suffice it to say, I can do better, and know that if I keep training there will be a time when I get all of the obstacles at Shale Hill.

I did, on Saturday, make a couple of obstacles I find to be hit-or-miss with completion. I did very well on the tire swing, and make the 19' rope climb without too much difficulty. I did well on the log splitter carry too. Those are all obstacles that have given me trouble in the past. I also did the pond traverse very efficiently despite having to do it entirely underneath. (As I mentioned, I ended up running the course in just a sports bra and capris and doing the traverse rope on top, my preferred method, gave my stomach too much rope burn.)

When I crossed the finish line I was exhausted but happy. I had enjoyed my day tremendously. The last mile of the race was incredibly challenging! I was hot and tired and would have signed up for Tri-Obstaclon 2017 in a heartbeat! I put on my finishers medal and headed over to the bar for some tacos and local chocolate milk. What a great day.

Shale Hill is hands down my favorite place to race. Rob and Jill, owners of Shale Hill and co-race directors, always put on a wonderful event. My next race of the season, coming up on August 6 is 24 Hours of Shale Hell, in which I'll try to do as many laps of the Shale Hill course as I can in 24 hours. I cannot imagine how hard this will be and how much fun. I cannot wait to get back to Benson in a few weeks and spend a weekend with the NE Spahtens and other OCR friends hanging out and doing lap after lap at Shale Hill.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Viking Hill Obstacle Race

The July 2016 Viking Obstacle Race may just be my favorite race of the season. The race takes place at Sunny Hill golf resort on the Viking Hill obstacle course, a 5.5 mile course with around 33 obstacles. I have been up to Greenville, New York in the Northern Catskills a couple of times to train at Viking, but I had yet to race there. Last year's race conflicted with Tough Mudder. This year though, I was going to opt for the Viking Obstacle Race over Tough Mudder. I am glad I did.

For the first time this year, Viking was offering the opportunity to do a double lap. This meant racers would get to cover the entire course twice for a total of 11 miles and just under six dozen obstacles. I decided I was up for the challenge. I wanted to get some good distance training in for this August's 24 Hours of Shale Hell. In 2015, I had done the eight hour version of this race, successfully completing two laps (totaling around a half marathon distance and six dozen obstacles). With all the distance running I've been doing this year in order to train for my marathon in October, I thought doing some endurance obstacle course racing would be a nice complement. I have fewer obstacle course races planned for 2016 because of the marathon training -- I didn't race in June and don't plan to race in September.

The June break was because I was just finishing up my spring semester of school, for the first time not taking a summer class, and was wanting some free weekends to run and spend time hanging out in Amherst/Northampton. I wanted no commitments. My June was a blast. I didn't race, but I did a ton of training. I got in some great runs, made it up to Viking with my friend, Matt, to train one weekend, and spent a lot of quality time relaxing. The lack of race commitments in September is the simple result of needing time for school work, with classes starting again in the fall, and needing time for my really long marathon training runs.

Back to Viking Obstacle Race. On Sunday, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. and headed out to drive 2 hours to the Catskills and do two loops of the Viking Hill course. The Viking Double was an elite wave. I have never run elite before. In general, in obstacle course racing, anyone can run elite. Usually, it means you run earlier in the day and that you pay an extra fee. There are also sometimes more challenging rules, such heavier carries or mandatory obstacle completion. In the case of Viking, they were requiring mandatory obstacle completion for all elite and Viking Double racers.

What mandatory obstacle completions means is this: In order to receive prize money, you have to complete all the obstacle. Every participant received a wristband. When you failed an obstacle, your wristband was taken away and you were not ineligible to win your division. The good thing is that with mandatory obstacle completion, you are allowed to attempt the obstacle as many times as you'd like (while giving first dibs to people who are approaching the obstacle for the first time). The Viking Double had a cut-off time of 12:30 p.m., allowing participants 4.5 hours to make it around the course twice. For people who had the time, they could spend it giving a challenging obstacle a number of tries.

I arrived at Sunny Hill at around 7:15 a.m. and 45 minutes before my scheduled wave. The elite would go off at 7:30 a.m. and then the Viking Double would follow. Parking was conveniently onsite and free. Spectators could join for free as well. (Note: This is not a good spectator course -- it's all in the woods and all spectators can see is the finish, so if you're the kind of spectator who likes to follow your racer and take video and photos, know that Viking is not the best course for it.) Check-in was a snap. Viking has a tent by the lake where the race starts and ends. There was pretty much zero wait time. I received a finisher t-shirt, bib, timing chip, and my Viking Double wristband.

After check-in, I headed by to my car to organize my gear and change into my Icebugs. I put on my Viking Double band. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be able to retain it. I have a very high obstacle completion rate at Viking; however, I have a lot of trouble on Dragon's Tooth, a set of monkey bars that has a very steep uphill and downhill section. I had yet to make that obstacle. As a person of shorter stature, the span between the bars on the uphill section is challenging. I had worked on this obstacle a bit last time I was at Viking and didn't quite have the technique or strength down to do the ascending section. I was going to try my best but feared I might lose my band here. Either way, I was determined to complete my two laps of the course. That was the challenge for me -- having the endurance to make it around the course without missing any obstacle other than Dragon's Tooth. That would mean I'd have to do a number of challenging obstacles -- a 22' rope climb, a five panel traverse wall -- twice without losing my grip strength.

We lined up at the starting line a little bit before 8:00 a.m. There were probably around 30 people, only a half dozen or so of whom were women. The race director, Tinker, gave us some announcements, and then we were off!

I started out in the back of the pack; however, I knew that we had a long race ahead, and I wasn't worried. I won't do a complete obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown here because I have that information posted on my blog in a previous write-up about Viking -- see that post here. What I will recount is some of the unique aspects on Sunday's race.

Because I was more-or-less in the back, I was soon running mostly by myself. I did see people. Because of the mandatory obstacle completion rule, there were volunteers at each obstacle. Viking is a very wall-heavy course, featuring at least a dozen walls. many of them in sets of three, increasing in height. There were volunteers at each set of walls. The volunteers were great! They were encouraging and helpful. I wanted to keep an eye on my time. Viking features a lot of water, so I wasn't wearing my Fuelband and had no idea of time if I didn't ask every now and then -- I wanted to make sure I got my two laps in under the cut-off. I wasn't too concerned. When Matt and I came up to train we had taken a very manageable pace, stopped to do extra work on Dragon's Tooth, and still managed to finish the course in two hours. Still, if I got tired and my time suffered on the second lap, I wanted to be sure I'd have the time I needed.

A main challenge of the course on Sunday was how wet it was. It had rained the night before the was raining or drizzling during much of my first lap. The skies cleared by the time that lap was over, but the walls and balance obstacles were slippery. This added to the difficulty. I recall having a challenging time making it up the 10' rope wall, because it was so slick, making the rope hard to grasp. This obstacle doesn't usually trouble me in the least -- suffice it to say, in obstacle course racing, weather really matters.

I was moving along efficiently without seeing many others until I reached the Asgard Skywalk. With the wet conditions this balance obstacle was causing some significant problems. There was a line of people attempting the obstacle again and again. The Asgard Skywalk features a lengthy set of balance logs, a traverse rope, and then another set of balance logs. If you failed on any portion of the very long obstacle, you had to start over. I was glad to be wearing my Icebugs. On a wet day, they were a game changer. I had no problems on the Skywalk, though I had to take it slowly so as to not run into people. My success was a matter of good gear over good skill on this obstacle. Like the weather, footwear matters.

After the Skywalk, I found that I was running with other people, at least some of the time. Viking Obstacle Race probably attracts somewhere around 120 to 150 people, so the course was never crowded enough to cause significant obstacle back-ups. I moved along pretty well, the only big challenge for a while being a bucket carry that was added right before the Tree Bob. This obstacle required you to take a bucket filled with around 45 pounds of water and carry it around the lake. Fortunately, the lake was not large because carrying a 45 pound bucket is a serious challenge for me.

Pretty soon after, I reached the dreaded Dragon's Tooth monkey bars. It was a mess. The bars were set from the rain and people were failing left and right. Just as the Asgard Skywalk was costing people lots of time and they tried to meet the mandatory obstacle completion, so too was Dragon's Tooth. The difference was that while most people cursed the Skywalk, they inevitable made it, while Dragon's Tooth was a "band cutter" (as we say in OCR). I gave it a try and made it across the flat section, but I couldn't make the swing up to beyond the third bar on the uphill monkey bar section. I made a good effort but decided that repeat effort would not yield good results and would just serve to exhaust me. I had really wanted to keep my band -- it's a badge of honor! -- but I also wanted to play it smart. My goal was to finish two laps. I knew this obstacle was one that I have yet to make. I wanted to focus on my larger goal of finishing with a decent time and completing all the other obstacles. I moved on.

For the most part, the course after the monkey bars went smoothly. There was an additional obstacle that was added for the race. It required participants to swim across a shallow pond, swimming under a half dozen or so logs. All of the water at Viking is kind of... natural. There is a lot of silt, dirt, reeds, grass, and bugs. Not the most pleasant, especially when grass pieces get in your clothing and feel like tiny snakes, but it is natural. 

The most challenging part of the course, post-monkey bars, is the massive 22' rope climb. I was determined to make it though, and was able to get up the first lap around with out too much trouble, if not in an entirely effortless way. Soon I was approaching the Viking Gate and the end of my first lap. I crossed the line, quickly ate half a Larabar from my drop point, and then grabbed some chomps for the second lap. With cool, if very humid, temperatures, I was using the four water stations on the course instead of racing with my hydration pack, a strategy that I really liked since it was so much easier not having to manage the pack. 

Within no more than two minutes I was off for my second lap. As it turned out, I was the first female Viking Double to come through. I have never been first in anything sports-related ever. I knew it didn't matter because I'd lost my band and wasn't competing, but it felt kind of cool to be "in first place." (Okay, not really, but kind of...) I felt great! My endurance was in a good place from all the running I've been doing, and I felt strong on the last lap -- I was really no more tired than on my first time around. It was exciting to see volunteers and have them say, "You again!?! Great job!" I was moving smoothly. 

I realized how tired I was when I got to the last mile or so of the course. Back to the 22' rope climb. Honestly, I barely made it. I was determined to have the Dragon's Tooth be my only failed obstacle of the day. I made my way up the rope at a snails pace, stopping to rest on the knots several times. Each upward pull was a struggle, but I was persistent and finally made it to the bell. Success! 

The rope climb made me realize that I was tired. I had less than a mile left. I had had a fun day, but I was really to be done. I kept moving, jogging through the last mile and completing obstacles. I got each one. Finally, I could hear the festival area in the distance. I ran towards the Viking Gate and became the first female Viking Double to cross the line. My time was 4:02. 

I had done it! I got my medal from a volunteer and headed over for a free sandwich and beans, followed by a hosedown of my shoes. While I was washing I heard the first place women's double finisher come in. I cannot imagine how much effort she must have put in getting through Dragon's Tooth and keeping her band -- what a great accomplishment! I was pleased with what I had done too. I completed 11 miles and just under six dozen obstacles. I had completed the goal I set out for myself and identified where I need to work for next year. I also got to see how distance running was having a tremendous impact on my endurance. I was able to keep going, moving quickly, feeling good for much longer than before. Who knew marathon training would be such a help for my obstacle course racing.

Suffice it to say, Viking Obstacle Race is going to be on my 2017 calendar. This race is challenging without being a beat down. They have some unique obstacles -- for example, Viking has far more balance obstacle than I've seen anywhere else and they are all much more interesting. The course terrain is nicely "run-able." The trails are not too rugged and there aren't any serious climbs. I love being able to run along between obstacles and enjoy obstacles that I find difficult but do-able. I had a blast doing the Viking Double. You'll see me there again in 2017. After all, I need to try to keep my band.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Bone Frog Challenge New England 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ragnar Cape Cod 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Check off your completed legs on the van.

2. Decorate your van with your team name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

F.I.T. Challenge VI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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