Tuesday, April 12, 2016

F.I.T. Challenge VI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Blizzard Blast 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Vince Rhee)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

2016 Race Planning

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

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

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

2016 Race Schedule:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

F.I.T. Challenge: The Epic Fifth Challenge 2015

What can I say, I am a fan of #racelocal. Local races are the place where I feel like I see real innovation with interesting and diverse obstacles. They are the place where you can bring friends for free and where everyone knows your name. Local races are where you can chat with the race director, where you can give feedback, where you see people who want to make your experience as a racer as good as it can be. They also tend to be more affordable, allowing people to take part in more events per year. For someone who likes to race once a month, or even more in the summer, these cost-savings are key, since OCR can easily add up. In sum, to me, F.I.T. Challenge is the highlight of what #racelocal is all about.

F.I.T.'s fifth race took place on Saturday at Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland, Rhode Island. This is my second time going to Diamond Hill, the first time being this April for the fourth F.I.T. Challenge. I had such a great time at that event, that I was very glad when graduate school classes did not conflict and thus allowed me to attend the fall event. Diamond Hill State Park is a great location for F.I.T. in my book. When I arrived, I was quickly directed to the onsite parking, which cost $10. The cost for parking is the only additional charge at F.I.T., again something to be appreciated. F.I.T. is also very family friendly. When I arrived I exchanged hugs with many fellow NE Spahtens. The team had put up a tent right near the parking lot and just a few steps away from my car. (I got the best parking ever -- maybe fifty feet from the starting line!) Right next to the Spahtens tent was registration. I handed in my waver and received my packet with my bib and timing chip. This took seconds. No lines and everything was perfectly organized.

It was a cool day with cloudy skies, gusts of wind, and weather in the low 40s. I kept my hoodie on until the last possible minute. At around 10:40 a.m., the Spahtens headed over to the starting line for a team picture.

Race director, Robb, shared a couple of super quick words and then we were off through the inflatable F.I.T. arch and on our way!

Diamond Hill offers the opportunity for surprisingly rocky and hilly terrain, making for a challenging course. This fall's F.I.T. clocked in at just over 5K in distance, and the park was well-used. In April, I had started more towards the back of the wave and found myself having trouble getting past people on the single track course at the beginning of the race. This time, I started at the front and had a much better time. I had a few waits, probably totaling less than five minutes at some of the obstacles throughout the race, but it was much much less than last time. The course layout made racers tackle a lot of hills early on, which did a great job spacing out the pack.

The course started with a couple of small obstacles -- we had to run over a pair of wood bridges. It was then on to the first climb of the day. The air was cold and my lungs were burning immediately, more than my calves and glutes even. The tried to climb quickly in order to warm up and also to increase my spacing from the pack. As I mentioned before, this was fairly successful and compared with April, the waits were limited.

I ended up running a portion of the race with fellow NE Spahten Ninjas Ragnar teammate, Bobby. Running with others is something I tend to enjoy, so this was a nice diversion from having to navigate some fairly technical rocky areas of trail.

The obstacles at F.I.T. were numerous, interesting, and a good balance of challenging and do-able. I am not going to remember all of them or their order, but I will do my best. The obstacles were well-spaced, something that I appreciate since it keeps the race interesting. The F.I.T. team gets top points for an interesting course with a good use of Diamond Hill's elevation, excellent layout of the obstacles, and for the quality of those obstacles.

After the first bit climb up the mountain and some time in the woods going through rocky, fairly un-run-able sections of trail, we came upon a vertical cargo net climb. There was a little bit of a wait here, but probably only a minute. When I got to the net, I zipped over and then ran off along a stretch of train that was smooth enough to actually have some running take place. There was also a small wait at a section of trail where you used a rope to climb down a stretch of hill between two rocks. F.I.T. offered the option to go around, but no way I was missing this fun.

F.I.T. also had a few strength-based obstacles. After the first climb, we encountered an area were we had to take a barbell and do shoulder presses -- 20 for women and 30 for men. This was an obstacle towards the end of the course last year, and both times, I have found it a challenge. Also, both times, a very encouraging volunteer has made all the difference. Hopefully these ladies know how much I appreciate their kind words! We also had a Wreck Bag carry. There were a variety of weights; I believe 25 lb, 45 lb, and 70 lb bags. I struggle with carries and took the 25 lb bag, which was more than heavy enough to go up and down the hill for a modestly long-enough  stretch. The final strength-based obstacle was an Atlas stone, which we had to lift and toss over our shoulder five times. This was odd but went fine and different weights were provided for men and women, which, as a small woman, I tend to appreciate.

F.I.T. also brought back one of my favorite obstacles from the April race -- a peg board climb, immediately followed by a rope climb.  In April, I struggled on the rope climb after the peg board. This time, I had no problem with either the peg board, which I was able to do using my legs and arms, or with the rope climb. There were a set of knotted ropes and an unknotted rope. I scurried up the unknotted rope with the s-hook and transitioned to the j-hook to speed down. Right after that was an obstacle just like Double Up at Shale Hill. We had to jump up and grab a log, pull ourselves up, and then go over a second round log on top. I enjoy this obstacle and was glad to see it at F.I.T.

The highlight of the day for me was and obstacle called The Destroyer. This is the first obstacle that has scared me in quite some time. I was able to get over it by myself, but I was happy to have a volunteer spotting me just in case, and I would not have made it over without the coaching that the volunteers at this obstacle provided. The Destroyer was an inverted wall where you had to use a kick (and in my case the side of the obstacle) to get up to a tiny grip. From that grip, one grabbed the top of the inverted wall. On top of the inverted section of the obstacle was another wall that went straight up. This, for me was the hardest part. I had to transition from where I was to another block up on the flat wall. The reach from the lower grip and the section where the walls met to the higher block was a far one. It was here that the volunteers' cues came into play. Once I got the higher block, I was able to pull myself up and dig my shoes into where the two walls met and climb over. The transition from the inverted wall to the higher straight wall was a bit of a scary one. I slipped a bit at one point and was glad that the volunteer was spotting me and that I have good grip strength. I was very excited to get over this obstacle!

Another favorite for me was The Rig. I always love a good Rig. This wasn't one of the most challenging, but that was good in a way since it was the second to last obstacle and, at that point, I didn't want to wait for more than a couple of minutes. The Rig had a set of monkey bars, which transitioned to a horizontal bar. That led to a couple more monkey bars which you had to use to swing to a cargo net that you climbed up and over. Super fun!

Throughout the course, there were a lot of walls, many around four or five feet, including at least two inverted walls. I consider these "medium height" walls to be my favorite variety, and really enjoyed them. I'm also a big fan of the inverted wall, so having them there was popular with me. There was also a taller wall of around eight or nine feet with a rope. Towards the end of the course, was a F.I.T. original -- the floating wall! This wall was suspended between two trees. Aaron, one of the race directors, had built this wall and had it at the Spahtens' Labor Day party, which took place at his parents house. At that point, I had battled the wall and more or less lost. As a result, Aaron has put a kick step on the wall -- the so-called Sibley Step. I was glad to see the Sibley Step still attached to the wall, as I took full advantage of it. Fortunately, the wall was hung quite a bit lower than at Aaron's, and I was able to get over without any trouble.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was that the very final part of the course was on trails that you could actually run! After all the up and down of Diamond Hill, it was great to have a stretch of groomed, less rocky trail where I could move quickly and stretch my legs out.

After the Rig, it was a short run to an inverted ladder wall and then across the finish line. I finished in 1:19:01. Good enough for 127/489, 30/214 (top 14%!) for women, and 15/93 in my age group. This was true, despite the fact that I had to wait a little bit at some of the obstacles, and I find this to be an exciting result.

As I said before F.I.T. is a highlight of what #racelocal should be. This is 100% a race I want to do again. (I am super disappointed that the April race conflicts with my spring grad school class and that I won't be able to make it.) The F.I.T. team puts on a fantastic event that emphasizes what a great local race can be. If you live anywhere in New England and can make it to the next F.I.T., I highly recommend that you do so!

(Note: Photo credits NE Spahtens -- Daniel Parker and Vince Rhee.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

2015 Shale Hill Halloween Run

The 2014 Shale Hill Halloween Run was one of the most enjoyable races on my calendar. When 2015 rolled around, it was one of the first races that I knew I wanted to commit to. What I didn't know, was that this race would be my brother's first obstacle course race. 

The Shale Hill Halloween Run is, in some ways, the most ideal race for first timers to obstacle course racing. The race has a small field of around 50 people. The attendees are Shale Hill regulars, which means that everyone is like family and the environment is friendly and comfortable. The Shale Hill course is tough, but people will stop to demo obstacles for you. Because there are a small number of racers you can try an obstacle more than once. Also, Shale Hill features the penalty free Journeyman division where you can test yourself on the course without having to worry about doing penalties for obstacles you cannot complete. Finally, the Halloween Run is a fun run. It's a time when parents bring their kids and new people come to have an enjoyable race that's about having a good time more than competing for prizes. 

The Halloween Run is also unique. It starts at around 5:00 p.m. Since it takes the average person a couple of hours to complete the course at Shale Hill, this means that people end up doing a good portion of the race in the dark. Along the course, there are volunteers who are dressed up in costume and will jump out and scare you. If, like me, you are not too keen on horror movies and the like, don't worry -- it's not really all that scary. While the man with the chainsaw might be a bit of a starling character, most of the monsters are children dressed in costume. (Note: When they ask, "Did I scare you?" The right answer is, "Yes! You got me.") All in all, this is a cute race that people can bring their kids to and use to introduce family members to the course of obstacle course racing. The one caveat being the added challenge of the dark.

My brother, Greg, and his fiancĂ©, Grace, had been mentioning for a while that they would like to try some obstacle racing with me. Both are very fit individuals. My brother is one of the most kinetically gifted people I know – for example, he learned to ride a bike when he was three – and Grace has always been an athlete. I convinced both of them to sign up for the Halloween Run, so this race at Shale Hill was one that I had been looking forward to even more than usual. This was combined with the fact that after a summer of going up to Shale Hill to race or train about every other weekend, I hadn’t been up in around a month and a half. The fall semester had started for graduate school, and I had been too busy with that and work to make the almost three hour trip up to Benson, Vermont. Suffice it to say, when Greg and Grace came to pick me up for the ride up to Shale Hill, I was excited and ready to go. 

We chose to head up a bit early to Benson. I wanted to show them the course and give them a little preview before the race, especially since it would be done in the dark. Unfortunately, the only damper on the weekend was that Grace had badly twisted her ankle and would be unable to participate. Fortunately, the Shale Hill crowd was able to hook her up with some volunteer work. She was an expert cheerer and also took a number of great photos (that you'll see in this post). I know she was disappointed not to get to race, so hopefully we will all be able to go up and race or train together soon. 

We arrived at Shale Hill around 2:00 p.m., which gave us plenty of time to look around the course before the 5:00 p.m. race start. We checked out some obstacles for about an hour and a half, headed for a quick snack at the Wheel Inn, and then came back to Shale Hill for the 4:00 p.m. check-in. At this point, a number of the NE Spahtens had arrived. We did some visiting, and I introduced Greg and Grace to some of my friends on the team. Shortly before 5:00 p.m., we finalized our registration, got our goodie bags and t-shirts and then headed outside for the racer's meeting. Grace snapped a quick picture of me and Greg. The weather was cool -- in the low 40s -- and we are bundled up. 

As you can see, my fingers are hiding in my sleeves and my torso is spherical from the three layers I was wearing. The NE Spahtens also took the opportunity to take a quick team picture. This was definitely a better showing than the approximately a half dozen people who came from the team last year.

Race director and Shale Hill owner, Rob Butler, took time during the race meeting to give us some modifications. In the interest of time, two carries were eliminated from the back half of the course. We didn't have to do the log carry in the last third of the race or the bucket carry. I was pretty excited about not having to do two heavy carries, since they are not my strength. However, I wish that the longer Log Splitter carry, which is over half a mile, had been eliminated instead of the shorter log carry in the latter third of the race. Still, this was a definite positive and helped speed things along during the end of the race when running in the woods was a near impossibility due to the dark. 

After announcements, we lined up and at around 5:10 p.m. did a single wave start. Greg and I were off!

Despite my several years of obstacle course racing experience, Greg is a decidedly superior athlete. We had, however, decided to stick together. This was a fun race and to be a family affair. Plus, I was the only one with a headlamp. A fair warning here: Do not be distressed when the balance of this post is about how awesome racing with my brother was and how great of an athlete he is. You have been notified.

Shale Hill is, without a doubt, one of the most (if not the absolute most) challenging courses around. The reason that I recommend it to beginners anyways is two fold: You can go there and train at your own pace and the atmosphere is so friendly that you will not feel intimidated or unsafe.

I won't go through an obstacle by obstacle breakdown in this review. (If you are interested in that information, you can find a list of the obstacles with their descriptions on my post from last summer about Shale Hill. For the purposes of this write-up, I'll just list my highlights. 

The first highlight was at the Zigzag of Awesomeness. This is an obstacle that the NE Spahtens sponsored. We have our banner on it, and it is still one of only a handful of obstacles at Shale Hill that I cannot reliably clear. When Greg and I arrived at the obstacle, the fourth in the course, I was pretty cold. I did a great job handling the first half of the obstacle, as the video Grace took attests to, but unfortunately fell on the transition. My fingers were too cold, and I lost my grip. 

The video that I wish I had was of Greg, who, after using gloves on the obstacle the first time and then falling off, tried a second time and completed it in such record time that 30 Days of Shale Hill attendee, Rita, commented on it with amazement. It was awesome to watch!

The next highlight of the night was the Pond Traverse. The traverse was optional during the Halloween Run, mostly because of how cold it was. Greg and I watched the person in front of us fall into the lake. There was no way that we were allowing that to happen -- it was too chilly! I had showed Greg the way to do a traverse on top of the rope (instead of below). I find it a lot easier since you are not holding you bodyweight up with your fingers and legs. We both traversed that way fairly quickly and without much issue. Fellow Spahten, Nicole, took a video of me finishing up the traverse.

Other highlights of the course were getting to see my brother succeed on some very challenging obstacles. Some of them he managed just by being strong. For example, I tried to show him the j-hook and s-hook for the Rope to Ramp, which he ended up just muscling his way up. That works for him, but I would be hard pressed to replicate that. 

Greg had also mentioned being not very excited for the Loom; however, when we got there, he had a really fun time on that obstacle. He also did a great job on the 19' rope climb with the 2" rope. I had a less than successful attempt at this obstacle, getting to around 2' from the top before being so tired that I couldn't make it. I hung in there for a while, but my legs were too tired to propel me up even with the s-hook. This was a bit of a disappointment and served as an interesting reminder of how quickly we can lose fitness. I had been training at Shale Hill pretty regularly over the summer. My grip strength was good, and my upperbody was strong. After six weeks away, I noticed a very decided difference in my endurance on the obstacles. I definitely got tired a lot easier, especially with my grip, than I did over the summer. For example, while I managed all five panels of the Great Wall, my arms were pretty dead afterwards, where as, during my peak fitness in the summer, I was able to do that without feeling too tired.

Greg also did an amazing job at the monkey bars. After doing the flat monkey bars, he decided to do the uphill monkey bars. I don't know that they were required for the Halloween Race, since they are normally just for the Elite Men; however, it was incredible to watch Greg go all the way up them on his first try. This is the only time that I have ever seen someone do those monkey bars straight through, and it was a first-time obstacle course racer who did it.

One of the unique challenges of the Halloween Run was that it was at night. After less than an hour on the course, everything was pretty much pitch black, and we were moving through the wood with only my one headlamp to light us. (A headlamp that was, I'll note, not entirely effective for such lighting needs -- either that or I've gotten spoiled by my awesome headlamp on my bike.) Shale Hill did have solar lamps lining parts of the course. Unfortunately, a lot of these didn't seem to be working, which meant that it was hard to find the turns. For this reason, it was kind of critical to be out on the course with someone who knew it well. At one point, after the Tarzan Ropes, I even got lost and was lucky that Grace was there pointing the way, as she had done in her volunteer role with many other racers. 

Throughout the course, there were helpful volunteers and buckets with candy. The main theme of the night was fun. As I mentioned before, the course was packed with kids jumping out to "scare" you and adults in costume. The entire feel of the race was that of a family event where everyone out on the course and at Shale Hill was part of a great community. 

Greg and I finished the race in around two and a half hours and finished probably in the first half of racers. The fact that it was so dark that we couldn't run in the woods during the second half of the course definitely slowed up down, but we kept moving pretty consistently and, I think, put up a fairly decent time. 

We got medals at the finish line and then headed into the gym to enjoy the potluck dinner. There was ample food and lots of deserts. Greg, Grace, and I all enjoyed some snacks and socializing with the Spahtens before heading out for the night. 

The Shale Hill Halloween Run remains one of my favorite races. It is entirely fun and, this year, was made even more special because I was able to share the race with my family. As always, I enjoy and appreciate the community that Shale Hill has built with their incredible hospitality. You are always welcome to bring guests and children, and many people do. The inclusivity that Shale Hill promotes is part of what makes it so special. The Halloween Run's focus on getting out there and having a good time fits well with my ethos. I race because I enjoy it more than I do to compete. I like to challenge myself, but I always want to be having a good time. The Halloween Run is just that -- a good time. It's also unique for being one of the only races of the year that is done in the dark. That added feeling of excitement and novelty is something I enjoy. 

I did a lot of racing this year, and I would say that the Halloween Run is probably a top favorite race for me, along with Shale Hill's Benson Bear Race, Bone Frog, and Ragnar. I am already signed up for Bone Frog and Ragnar for 2016, and as soon as Shale Hill posts their 2016 calendar, you can count me in for Benson Bear, 24 Hours of Shale Hell (which will be my keystone race of the year when I get Rob's training program), and the Halloween Run. I can't wait for 2016 to do the Halloween Run again!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Run the Gauntlet

My mother's birthday is this Monday and, as a result, I took the opportunity to travel down to my hometown in Connecticut and visit with her this weekend. I knew that while I'd be down in Connecticut the NE Spahtens #racelocal race, Run the Gauntlet, was going to be taking place at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Hammonasset is in Madison, Connecticut, on the shoreline, and about 45 minutes away from my hometown of Bethany. Why not check it out?

I arrived at Hammonasset at around 9:10 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. NE Spahtens team heat. The last time I had been to Hammonasset was when my two best friends, Molly and Clela, and I made a trip there during high school. When asked that classic question, "The beach or the mountains?" I tend to vote for the mountains -- I like to be surrounded and hemmed in by the trees; however, all these years living in Western Massachusetts, I had kind of forgotten the nice contrast of the lovely openness of the beach. Being at Hammonasset was a real treat!

The Run the Gauntlet group did a really excellent job of directing us to parking. This was good since Hammonasset is a big park, and I didn't want to get lost. Parking, like everything else was free. This was a local race supporting the YMCA and had a nice fun small race feel. 

After parking, I went to register. Registration was very well organized and had zero wait time. You got a chip for timing that you had to wear around your ankle and picked up your bib along with your tech t-shirt. For a small local race of around 200 participants or so, Run the Gauntlet has some really top-notch sponsors including Denali, SmartWool, GoPro, and North Face. 

After registration, I headed down to the beach. There wasn't an official bag check, but when I chatted with the person at the information tent, she told me I was welcome to leave my bag with her, especially since I was a Spahten. This is the sort of nice touch that you only get at a local race, and it was really appreciated! 

I had some time to kill before my wave went off since the registration had been so seamless and the free parking so close. I headed out to the beach to enjoy some scenery. Soon, the other Spahtens started to arrive. A lot of them had come early to run the 9:00 a.m. wave and then also do a second lap at 10:00 a.m. I found myself chatting and socializing with a bunch of the other #racelocal regulars. We snapped a quick team picture before lining up to run.

Run the Gauntlet is a beginner-friendly 5K obstacle course race. It's most definitely a race with some simple obstacles, but they are kind of cute and fun. Sure this isn't Shale Hill, and I wasn't challenged, but, overall, I had a good time. Key to this, was the location: Hammonasset. The beach is really lovely and doing a beach race was a departure for me. I am not a huge fan of climbing mountains, and it seems like every third race I do is at a ski resort. It was nice to have a change of scenery and not have to deal with anything other than running on the flat ground. 

That being said, from the moment we crossed the starting line, it was clear that the running portion of Run the Gauntlet would be the challenge. The entire first mile of the race was run entirely on the sandy beach. Let's be clear: Running on the sand is hard work! This was probably the biggest challenge of the day. I was pleased to be able to run the entire time. All that trail running I've been doing is definitely paying off because I was able to handle the unstable surface of the sand better than I anticipated.

As I mentioned before, Run the Gauntlet was a beginner-friendly 5K. The obstacle were not large, but they were cute. I was able to finish the entire race in 38:15 and most of the time was spent running on the sand. Was the race epic? No. Was it a challenge? Not really. Did I have fun? Sure. Everything was well organized, the volunteers were fantastic, and the course along the beach was pleasing. If I had tackled these obstacles on a ski slope (again) I don't think I'd have had nearly the enjoyment I did. Having the race at Hammonasset was key for me. It was the slightly exotic nature of running along the beach that won me over here. The race did a good job of utilizing the area. The obstacles were not the star, and, for me, not a real challenge, but I had a good day anyway. 

Here's a run down of the race's obstacles:

Charlotte's Web: A very short crawl on sand underneath a net that was spread over a wooden frame. 

Into the Drink: While the entire first mile to mile and a half of the race had us running along the sandy beach, we had the option of running higher up in the dry sand or lower, close to the water, for most of the time. For the Into the Drink obstacles, we had to wade into the water a little bit. I was surprised to find that the water was actually really pleasant. I am, shall we say, sensitive to the cold, but this water felt fine. 
Black Hole: This was a crawl under a tarp though a pit of water. The water was a bit cool but overall not too bad. That being said, I couldn't feel my finger too well for about five minutes after this obstacle.
Alligator Alley: I am, perhaps, not the most whimsical person that ever lived. That being said, this obstacle was adorable even to me. There was a pool of water that we had to traverse on a beam. In the pit of water there were three or four inflatable alligators. I had to laugh -- fantastic!
Hammonasset Hurdles: The Hurdles were a pair of orange barriers like you'd see on a road that you had to go up and over. Lately, I've been using the technique I learned at the Shale Hill Weekend Training Camp and more or less rolling over walls. This is efficient and worked well here. 
The First Ascent: This obstacle was a short rope wall with a ladder on the back side. At this point, we were just past the one mile marker and had been running on the sand the entire time. As my post eluded to before; I am not a beach person by result of geography. The last time I ran on sand was for a half marathon a couple of years back, in which the organizers had us do the final quarter mile or so on the sand -- what kind of crazy people are these! -- and I had no desire to repeat the experience. I was happy to see the course head off the sand after this obstacle and move towards other parts of the park.

Prairie Dog: After leaving the beach, we headed off to the grassy area next to the beach. There, we tackled an A-frame ladder wall and some tires before hitting Prairie Dog, a short tube that we had to crawl through. From there, it was onward to another set of tires that we had to run high-knees through before jogging off along the road towards the beach.
Get Over Yourself: Along the road that we took to get to the event, there were a set of obstacle. The first was a short wall of around 4', which I rolled over. Next was a short ladder that we had to climb and then jump down after crossing a platform to the other side. I actually almost fell off the platform, alarming the poor volunteer who was at that obstacle. Fortunately, I was able to correct myself as I jumped down. Oops!
Dodging Ramen: This was another cute obstacle. (I legitimately cannot believe the number of times I have used the word "cute" in this post...) This obstacle featured a balance beam that ran through a set of hanging pool noodles that one had to swat out of the way while traversing the beam. It was entertaining. The pool noodles were dense but very manageable. 
Trek to Basecamp: We headed back to the beach for the next obstacle, Trek to Basecamp. I believe this was a North Face sponsored obstacle. We had to grab a pack of either 20 or 30 pounds and carry it along a small flat out and back loop. I'm not a fantastic athlete at carries, and I lost a little time here, but all in all, this was not too terrible.
Log Hop: After Trek to Basecamp, we were very close to the finish. The course took us up and over a set of very small hills with rocks along the shore. From there, the finish line was in sight. 

The last obstacle was a set of logs set in the sand. We had to jump from one to the other before making a run through the sand to the finish line.

I finished the race with a clock time of 38:15. This was a small, easy, but enjoyable race. I might not trek all the way to the Connecticut shoreline for this race next year, but, if I'm in the area, I would definitely hit it up again. As you all know by now, I am more a fan of the races that challenge me with a lot of technical obstacles. (I've said time and again that racing at Shale Hill is so amazing it's almost ruined me for other races!) That beings said, Run the Gauntlet was well organized and had a nice turn-out from the NE Spahtens, which made the day fun. The weather was great, the venue was stellar, and the race was a fun diversion. If you're a new obstacle course racer or looking for a race to introduce friend or family to the sport, Run the Gauntlet is a nice way to get started.

(Thanks to Jennifer Decker and Daniel Parker for the photos and Run the Gauntlet for the course map.)