Monday, May 18, 2015

Bone Frog Challenge New England 2015

I waited three years to attend the New England Bone Frog Challenge, a 9 mile race with 53 Navy SEAL inspired obstacles that takes place at Berkshire East Ski Resort in Charlemont, Massachusetts. When the race was first announced for 2013, I desperately wanted to go. No luck; I had a scheduling conflict. In 2014? The same thing; I had to work. For 2015, I pledged to make it to the race, and it turns out I almost didn't. I signed up in early registration, but then two days before the race, had a terrible bought of illness that left me so dehydrated I wasn't sure I could make the run. So I chugged down some coconut water, put together a good nutrition and hydration plan for race day, and waited to see how I felt on Saturday morning of race day.

As luck would have it, I woke up feeling mostly okay. I was going to go for it. Turns out, I am so glad I did. Bone Frog is one of the best races I've done, and I killed it on the course failing only one of the 53 very challenge obstacles. I am going to give myself a pat on the back for this one and say that while I was not the fastest, I did a great job on the obstacles. The hard work I put in during training, and all the technique I have practiced at Shale Hill really came into play and made this race a success for me.

I live in Western Massachusetts, so something in Charlemont is really a #racelocal event for me -- it was just around an hour drive from my house. Bone Frog Challenge is run by former and active Navy SEALs, and the race has a legitimate nationalistic and armed services-feel. The course is advertised as having around 6,000 feet of elevation change. To me, that feels like a touch on the high side. The walking up and down the mountain felt like work, but it was never the focus of the day. The star of the show were the 53 top-notched Navy SEAL-inspired obstacles. The obstacles are some of the best around; they are both unique and challenging. These obstacles felt as if they were part of a permanent course instead of obstacles created for a one-day event.

I arrived at Berkshire East a little over an hour before the 10:00 a.m. NE Spahtens team heat. The day had forecast for rain, but it turned out to be sunny and in the mid-seventies; perfect obstacle course racing weather in my mind. Parking was $10 per car. Other than an optional $5 bag check, this was the only cost for the day. Spectators were free. The parking was onsite and a very short walk, like a minute, to registration. I quickly filled out a waver and was directed by a volunteer to the inside of the ski lodge for picking up my packet. It was good that there were volunteers around to direct traffic because the area was lacking in signs, and a couple of us got a bit turned around trying to find where to go at first. There was no waiting at check-in. I showed my ID and was able to pick up my bib and timing chip. (Note: I cannot say that there was no wait at the bathrooms. Only a small number of toilets in the lodge and three portable toilets were not quite up to the task of so many athletes' pre-race needs. This line was a bit longer. Fortunately, I had time.)

From there, I headed over to the Spahtens tent. Bone Frog Challenge was a #racelocal event, so over a hundred members of the team had turned out. I chatted with friends, joined in the team picture, and got ready to head off to the starting line.

I had plans to run with one of my co-Spahtens, John, that I raced with at Tough Mudder 2014. I met up with John, his wife, Linda, and a few of his friends Matt, Linda, and Dan. We walked over to the starting line together. The starting line speech was short and sweet with a few reminders about course markers, a Hooah, and some video snapped by the drone camera above, we were off!

The story of the Bone Frog Challenge course is best told by the obstacles, which I'll list individually in detail. With over 50 of them covering a nine mile course, there was an average of an obstacle every quarter mile or more. To be successful good grip strength and a strong upperbody were mandatory. I am not a great hill climber, but I am good at climbing obstacles and swinging from things. This course played to my strengths. Unlike some other courses, where you spend a lot of time hiking up and down and up and down the mountain, Bone Frog had us do a limited amount of up and back. We basically climbed out way up the mountain during the first half of the race, spent some time doing some switchbacks up there, and then came back down. I loved this! No padding miles into a race with hiking. We were able to focus solely on the obstacles and let them be the main point of the day, which is why we all do obstacle course racing anyway, right? 

This was a tough course with challenging obstacles to tackle. The penalties for a fail obstacle ranged from 20 to 50 push-ups. To do Bone Frog Challenge you should be able to hike briskly for four hours and at least be able to do some pull-ups (assisted is fine) and push-ups. This race is no joke. The only more challenging course I've done in terms of obstacles is Shale Hill. The only harder race I've done is the Vermont Spartan Beast, which I won't categorize as a obstacle course race as much of as an endurance challenge. Plus it wasn't fun at all. Bone Frog Challenge on the other hand, was a blast!

Here is my write-up of all 53 obstacles. I'm using the course map as a guide but in some cases my memory slightly differs. I have left blank any obstacles that I cannot quite recall. (Note: If I can find someone's GoPro footage later, I'll make updates.)

1. Low Crawl: All the crawls at Bone Frog Challenge were very "civilized." By that I mean, they were over soft mud -- no rocks -- and with flat wire overhead instead of barbed wire. Nice all around.
2. Train Station: Throw your body over a large pipe on the ground. I rolled off and had to re-attached. Assistance was rendered by others.
3. Pot Holes
4. Drag Race: Take a tire attached to a rope to a stake and drag it up the hill. Then walk the tire back. 
5. Low Crawl
6. Re-Supply: This was, I believe the first of many carries of the day. We had to grab a sandbag (probably less than fifty pounds) and bring it up and down a short climb. The length wasn't bad, and I was able make this without too much trouble.
7. Tarzan Swing: Different from the Tarzan Swing at Shale Hill or Spartan, this swing had you grab just one rope and swing across a small divide. Think a rope swing from your youth.

8. Assault Craft: This obstacle provided our first back-up of the day. Back-ups were definitely a big problem on the Bone Frog course. (All said and told, I probably lost between an hour and an hour and a half waiting in lines.) This was fun and worth it though. The obstacle featured five or six inflatable boats tied together. You had to jump from boat to boat, making your way across the pond without getting wet. 

9. Log Carry: Choose a log of any size and complete a short carry. To make this one a bit interesting, a small part of the carry went through a brief section of woods. 
10. Drunken Monkey: Monkey bars with a twist! I love monkey bars, so this was a blast! Instead of traditional bars, this obstacle featured a board with staggered pegs on either side. Like with monkey bars, you grabbed one in one hand and another in another and swung away. A kind volunteer helped me to reach since my short lady self couldn't make it. 

This actually highlights two trends of the day. 1. Amazing volunteers. 2. Stuff that was too high. The volunteers at this event were the most top-notch of any I've had the privilege to encounter. They gave me physical help with reach high places. They offered verbal encouragement. They gave high fives. These ladies and gentleman worked hard. At some obstacles the volunteers were offering a lot of physical assistant to races to make sure everyone was safe and having a good time. This is an amazing thing and Bone Frog is very lucky. Also inspiring was the number of service men and women around the course taking part and volunteering. It was great to get to race and have them as spectators. It really made me bring my A-game. 

To my other point about things being "too" high; I had to get a boost a number of times to reach monkey bars and the like. Everyone was awesome, from racers to volunteers, to help get me where I needed to be so I could do each obstacle. Those who taller than my five foot stature were able to reach from the stand provided, but I couldn't quite make it. Fortunately, this was no problem because of the awesome help I received.

11. USS Miami Traverse: This was a water rope traverse, often called the tyrolean traverse. After we reached the 2/3 mark, we had to drop back down into the water and then swim the rest of the way. I used my normal method of doing half the traverse above the rope and half below. As usual, this proves a good technique for me. I was the only one in the group I was running with to make it. 

12. Cliff Hanger: This was a traverse wall with a bit of a twist. The walls were of differing heights. While this make it harder, the wall itself was, overall, probably easier than most traverse walls because there were slight ledges at the top for your fingers and the boards were large. I made it without any problems.

13. Get a Grip: This obstacle proved to be my only failed obstacle of the day. Hanging from poles were ropes with plastic handles attached. You had to swing from one to the other to get across. That would have been fine -- I am good at rings -- however, the ropes were looped through the handles meaning that they were not fixed and rotated. I took one swing and the handle rotated right under me sending me down to the ground. 

14. Grandma's Attic: This obstacle was set up like a small A-frame. However, instead of climbing on top, there were two sets of parallel rungs that you climbed between. Nice way to mix it up. 
15. Normandy: This was a two part obstacle symbolic of the invasion of Normandy. The obstacle began with a crawl underneath tarps in the pitch black. We then had to navigate trenches (see picture below).

16. Tire Carry: Traditional tire carry. I got a modest sized one, draped it across me messenger bag style and headed out for the carry.
17. Black Out: Very unique! This was another obstacle done entirely in the pitch back underneath a blackout tarp. We had to feel our way along with only a few glow sticks as markers. There were some low and then high "throughs" to tackle as we made our way along. People were great about passing around the glow sticks to offer a little bit of illumination and providing cues about where to go and who was going next.
18. Wall Nut
19. Stairway to Valhalla: A brutally steep climb up a section of mountain. At the top, there was a memorial wall for participants to sign before heading back down. This was probably the most mentally challenging thing I did all day. Some points of the hike up were so steep I was almost on all fours.
20. Snake Pit
21. Spider Wall: The Spider Wall was the second traverse wall of the day. It was pretty basic and marked the start of a section of the course that meandered through the woods on beautifully marked trails. For many races, this would mean that there would be no obstacles. Bone Frog, on the other hand, had great obstacle distribution and kept up the obstacles throughout the wooded section. The more complex obstacles were not, in general, in this section; however, you never ran for more than a few minutes without hitting an obstacle. This kept things very interesting, and should be a source of pride for the course designers, who I think must have made a huge effort to make this possible.
22. Reverse Wall: This was a classic inverse wall, where you have to climb a wall that's leaning towards you at an angle.
23. Camel Spider
24. Pontoon Playground: This obstacle had to getting over a row of tires hung along a pole at chest height. There were two back to back, and both proved... interesting. Of course, tires on a pole rotate under you, so you had to jump, hang on, and get over these fast!
25. Breaking & Entering: A "through" wall.
26. Solar Walls: Two back to back tall walls that had to be climbed with a rope. Most tall wall climbs with a rope let you take a ladder down the reverse side, but for this one, you had to take the rope down too. As per usual, the Icebugs proved a huge advantage here. I powered up both walls without any difficulty. 
27. I'm Up & I'm Down: Two pairs of over and under walls. 
28. Filler Up: Take a bag and fill it with sand. Then do a carry. Fortunately, all of the carries -- of which there were many -- were fairly short. I am not a huge fan of the carry, so I was glad to see that if the race was going to feature a lot of them, they would at least be quick to get through. 
29. The Widow Maker: Traditional rope climb. This one wasn't too tall, and the rope wasn't too slick. I was able to do the s-hook and get right up there.
30 - 41. Operation Red Wings: As the numbering system here and on the map indicates, this was a multi-part obstacle bonanza! It started with a climb up a leaning wall with a rope. There was then an amazing obstacle where you had to do a climb up a straight wall with a rope, then transition to a set of monkey bars and finally go from the monkey bars directly to a rope climb down. Everyone was failing this obstacle on the part where you had to transition from the monkey bars to the rope (even a member of the US Air Force!), but by using the s-hook technique that I learned at Shale Hill, I was able to hang from the bars, hook my feet, and then descend without incident. From there, it was over a set of logs and then to a tall cargo net climb. There was a bit of a back-up at the cargo net, so we had to wait before continuing onward to a set of hurdles and then a crawl underneath wire. The final obstacle was a very tall wooden ladder.
42. 31 Heroes: This obstacle memorialized 30 fallen Navy SEALs and one K-9. We did burpees and then shoulder presses with a Wreck Bag for each SEAL and said his name.
43. Mind Games: This was a two part memory obstacle in which we had to give the names of one of the three charities that the Bone Frog Challenge supports (One Team One Fight, 31 Heroes, Navy SEAL Foundation) and then answer a question about information we saw on a sign about the M4 gun. I thought that raising awareness and including this component of the race was very meaningful and a wonderful, well thought out addition to the day that dovetailed nicely with the races mission and the previous obstacle.
44. Slide for Life: The Slide for Life obstacle was another one with a pretty descent wait. People were just doing the penalties so they could bypass and move on. It was getting late in the day and we'd spent probably 60 to 90 minutes total waiting on obstacles, so I could appreciate the frustration. At the same time, we wanted to try everything out, so we hung in there. For this one, you had to hoist yourself (or get boosted) through a hole in a platform. Once you pulled yourself up and through, you then did a traverse rope back down to the ground.
45. Mud Slide: For this obstacle, we had to crawl downhill underneath a tarp. I tried sitting and going feet-first, but this proved kind of slow, so I just hunched over and walked down.
46. Trail Crossing
47. Brick House: We emerge from the last set of jogging through the woods along switchbacks to another carry obstacle. The finish line was in sight, but we still had a bunch to do. This carry was the hardest of the day. You had to carry either a munitions box or a large crate up and down the hill one last time. The box was smaller but heavier. I opted for the large crate, still very heavy. I trudged through counting my steps. I didn't stop or put the large crate down because I knew I would never pick it back up again. Brutal.
48. It's Go Time: One last wall to end the day. Of course, it was a nice tall one!

49. Rolling Thunder: This aptly named obstacle featured balance logs that rolled back and forth. My unfortunate teammate took a digger on this one. The log really rolled, and it required a lot of focus to stay on. The volunteer at this obstacle was super amazing and offered lots of support and kind words. He definitely helped keep me focused on getting across.
50. Dirty Name: Similar to Gut Check at Shale Hill, this obstacle features a lower log from which you must jump to a higher one. In this case, there are two stacked.
51. Black Ops: After Black Ops I knew I would be home-free. But this was a challenge. You had to climb straight up a wall using a rope, do a set of monkey bars -- some of which were moving -- and then climb back down. The bars were high and the only thing they were over was a net. That would be a fall to remember. I climbed the rope. 

At the top, I was completely too short to reach the monkey bars, plus, I was kind of nervous. I considered taking the easy way out and just walking across on the net. A volunteer (perhaps a SEAL?) came over and asked if I wanted a boost to get to the bars. I must have looked a bit dubious because he gave me encouragement. "You can do this. I'll get you up there and then just go." I remembered back to Battlefrog last year and how I had not given as much as in retrospect I could have on the second to last obstacle, Tsunami. I had been so disappointed in myself and letting my emotions get the best of me. Okay, I was going to do this. The gentleman got me to the bars and I started moving along on my very tired hands. About 2/3 of the way though the bar began to rotate beneath my grip almost sending me falling. I hung on so hard, adjusted my technique, and, at last, made it to the other side. Yes!

52. Get Wet: We rolled through a quick tub of water so that we could move on to part 2.
53. Sugar Cookie: And roll around in some sand. Sugar Cookie -- get it?

After Sugar Cookie, it was a quick jump up and then a run across the finish line. 

A retired Navy SEAL handed me my metal, and a kind volunteer handed me a women's fit size small finishers t-shirt. Job done -- pictures and high-fives all around.

I am so glad that I finally made it to Bone Frog Challenge. Frustration aside about the interminable waiting at obstacles, this was a fantastic race. The course was interesting, well-marked, well designed, and featured some of the best quality obstacles I've seen around. This is a local race with a big race feel. The volunteers cannot be beat. The race stays true to its Navy SEAL roots in a wonderful way. It's in my backyard. What more can be said. Hopefully, I'll be able to make this race an annual tradition going forward.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ragnar Cape Cod 2015

For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to get to take part in the Cape Cod Ragnar Relay as a member of one of the NE Spahtens' teams, the NE Spahten Ninjas. 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 six and ran 4.2 miles, 5.5 miles, and 3.1 miles at around 10:30 a.m., 9:40 p.m., and 7:30 a.m.

It's interesting the difference that a year makes. Last year, I remember a mixture of excitement and stress about Ragnar. My time doing Ragnar 2014 with the co-ed team from last year was my first with the Spahtens, and committing to 36 hours with some people you don't know is kind of an intimidating proposition, especially for someone like me who has a private tendency towards shyness. Of course, my time with the co-ed team last year was one of the most fun I can think of. As a result, I approached this year's race with only excitement. The NES Ninjas team was a blend of around half of the team from last year, mixed in with a few new folks (some of whom I knew from the bigger Spahtens group.) Like last year, our group was focused on the experience more than completing. The group was filled with fun, enthusiastic, supportive, and cooperative people -- just the sort of folks that you'd want to be with if you were going to spend the better part of two days together. For our team we had:

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

Our adventure began Friday morning at around 4:30 a.m. when we left the hotel where five out of six members of our van stayed over (the last lucky person living close enough to drive from his house!). The running route for the Cape Cod Ragnar was more or less the same as last year, meaning that we were once again starting on the beach in Hull and making our way to the Monument in Provincetown. Because our team consisted of people running at all difference paces, we wanted to start the race fairly early and give ourselves ample time to make it to Provincetown. We were scheduled to start running at 6:00 a.m. and needed to get to Hull by 5:00 a.m. to go through the pre-race safety check and have our amazing team captain, Jessica, collect our materials, such as flags, bibs, and our finisher t-shirts.

The beach in Hull was really lovely in the morning. I snapped a few pictures, and we took an obligatory group selfie.

Jess was first up, as runner 1. She was running the same legs that I ran last year, so her first one was a 5.1 miler from the beach in Hull to Hingham. We crowded up along the chute that led out of the starting arch to cheer Jess on. Since she lined up in the front, we started the relay winning!

While Jess was logging her miles, we grabbed some coffee and bagels from the local Dunkin' Donuts. I doubt that "Dunks" is reading this, but if they are, I would say seriously consider being a sponsor for Ragnar. All of the Dunkin' Donuts we went into that were around exchanges where filled with Ragnar participants and on the end of day two of Ragnar, I was pretty sure that the cappuccino I got at the Dunks outside Truro was the best beverage I had ever had. 

After our quick coffee and bagel pick-up, we piled into the van to head over to the next exchange to meet Jess and see off Bobby. It was interesting getting to be runner six instead of runner one. By this time last year, I would have already been done with my run; here, I was waiting for everyone in my van to finish before I even started. In a way this was awesome. By the time I got to run, I was really really ready to get out and do it. It was also a different sort of challenge because I knew on my last leg that everyone would be done, while I had to keep mentally prepared. I wanted to make sure to nail all three of my runs. If you read my post about last year, you know I was a little bit disappointed about performance on my first leg. I used that to make sure I did a great job on my last two legs; however, this year, I wanted to make sure to nail all three runs and really do my part of the team. I had some pretty modest distances compared to some of my teammates, and I saw that I could help give them a bit of extra time by getting all of my runs done in the time predicted. These were my friends, and I wanted to run well to support them. In a way, that is the huge bonus of Ragnar: You run great because you want to do the most you can for your team. 

After a few more runs by my teammates, we headed over to exchange six where I would be taking over from Wes for my first run, a 4.2 miler from Marshfield to Duxbury Beach. My run into Duxbury, would take us to the first major exchange. At Ragnar, you dive your 12-person team into two groups, each of which have a van. The major exchanges are the ones where your two vans meet up because someone from van 1 is passing off to van 2 or vice versa. After my run, I would be passing off to Mike (aka. my ginger brother) from van 2. 

I was excited to get started. We reached the church in Marshfield where my run would start. I was feeling pretty good about a 10:00 a.m. 4.2 miler. I was doing 4.5 mile or more training runs around three days a week leading up to Ragnar, so this was well within my ability. Plus, 10:00 a.m. is my favorite time to exercise. I had eaten a nice mellow breakfast, and was feeling good. I was ready to go. I headed over to the exchange area with the rest of the team to wait for Wes to come and hand off the baton (really a slap bracelet). Wes is a speedy runner, so I didn't have to wait long for him to come, and then I was off!

I am not a person who finds that running comes easily to me. I am a kinetic person, but my build is not really optimized for running. I like to run, most days, but it's always work. A great run is always a special and memorable thing; I don't have that many runs where I feel just fantastic. This run I did. The entire 4.2 miles to Duxbury Beach was awesome. It was one of the best feeling runs I have ever had, and I enjoyed it immensely. The weather was gorgeous -- sunny but not hot. The wind was at my back the entire way, and I was running either on the flats or on a slight downhill grade of no more than a percent. Perfect. For Ragnar, I was treating myself to music while running, and I ran along feeling great and enjoying my tunes. The run had some nice views. The run started with a section that ran along a street with oceanfront properties, and I enjoyed some house hunting. I then turned and ran through some salt marshes. There were some birdhouses set up, but I didn't spot any interesting local fauna, sadly. The course was well marked, and soon, I was heading up a narrow road, watching carefully for vans, as I made my way to Duxbury Beach. I could see the inflatable arch that marked the start of the run for van 2 in the distance. As I came into the beach area, I had to finish the run along a sandy stretch of road, making my way to the beach and the exchange where I handed off to Mike. Coming into the exchange was fantastic since the entire team, from both vans, was there to cheer me on; plus, I was excited to see my ginger bestie.

While I was out running, the team had the chance to take an amazing selfie with the full group (minus me because I was running). When I reached the exchange I got to say, "Hello," to the group from van 2 and meet the couple of new people I didn't know yet. Everyone was super awesome. We swapped hugs and people said, "Great job." I was pleased at my fantastic first run -- much different from last year.

We didn't hang out in Duxbury long, though there were some vendor tables at the beach. It was lunch time, and we were eager to catch some brunch. I sent a quick postcard to my mother from one of hte tables, and quickly changed into clean clothing in the van. I had  earned my awesome Spahtens t-shirt from the #racelocal series I've been doing with the team. Knowing he's see me, Paul brought my shirt to Ragnar, making me the third person (after Paul and his wife, Beth) to get the shirt. I modeled it outside the van, so that Jess and Paul could have a picture for the #racelocal Facebook page. The t-shirt is super soft and the logo is super giant. #racelocal people are in for a treat!

With Bobby's Yelp skills and Jesika's enthusiasm for cute place-names. We settled on a restaurant called the Blueberry Muffin for brunch. This place gets an A+ rating for its great food and service. Honestly, I have never seen such giant pancakes in my entire life. I had an omelet, which was large, but still kind of something you'd see. Paul, Jess, and Bobby got pancakes, and they were seriously giant and without a doubt the size of my head. They were super entertaining to see. 

After brunch, we headed over to the next major exchange, exchange twelve, in Buzzards Bay / Sandwich. We had finished our vans set of legs around 11:00 a.m., and we're schedule to run again until around 6:00 in the evening. We had around four and a half to five hours to kill at exchange twelve. We spent some time wandering around, stretching our legs, and digesting from our big lunch. 

Bobby tagged some vans with our Spahten magnets. (Note: One of the things to do at Ragnar is "tag" other vans. In general, teams decorate there vans and then also get magnets with there team logo on them. At exchanges, people surreptitiously go around an put their team magnet on another team's van. This is called tagging. At the end of the race, someone gets to bring home the magnets.) Bobby was an expert tagger, and did a lot of tagging for our team. 

During our downtime, we also decorated our van a bit. Jesika did a great job drawing the Spahten logo on the side of the van. We also tracked our "kills" on the side of the van. Anytime you pass someone while you're running one of your legs, this is called a kill, and it's Ragnar custom for teams to track their kills. I got a couple of kills on each of my legs, and got to add those tallies to the side of the van. Some of our faster runners would get over a half dozen kills per leg. It wasn't competitive for us; just a fun way to take part in a Ragnar tradition. We also added our names to the back of the van and added checks for each leg we completed. 

Even after lunch and decorating the van, we had a lot of time to kill. We all made a mental note to bring some games for next year. Last year, van 2 had come to meet us at this exchange, meaning that we spent some time socializing with them. This year, van 2 was doing some sightseeing, so it was just us. Mostly, the five of us hung out and enjoyed each other's company. Bobby, Wes, and I played a rousing game of dots. Categorize this under you-had-to-be-there-to-understand. Inevitably (and pleasingly) lots of inside jokes occur at Ragnar as a result of spending many sleep deprived hours with a handful of people in a small space. It's part of what makes Ragnar so special, but it's hard to explain this joy to outsiders specifically, though conceptually I am sure others have had this sort of experience. Either way, we hung out for a while having good times and waiting for Josh to come in and Jess to start the next set of legs for our van, which would keep us busy until around 11:00 p.m.

We were a bit ahead of schedule, so it was a bit before 6:00 p.m., I believe, when Josh came in. His van hadn't quite arrived yet, but we were there to cheer him on and send Jess off. The next set of legs was fairly quick. I would be doing my next run at around 9:45 p.m. 

The 9:45 p.m. run would be my night leg. As time went by and it got closer to the time of my run, I found I was feeling kind of poorly. We had all been up since around 4:00 a.m., and my body felt like it really was the middle of the night. I'd just had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner because I was feeling a bit nauseous. I was not looking forward to my night run. This was one of those times when being on a team is key. If it had been me by myself I would have thrown in the towel and said, "Forget about it. No run today." As it was, I had my team to support. I had to run 5.5 miles, my longest leg, and I wanted to do it well. 

Everyone could tell that I wasn't feeling it, and they were really encouraging. This, plus some nice texts from people back home, helped motivate me. I was still feeling not 100% as I got to the exchange point to meet up with Wes, but I felt mentally focused. 

It was pitch dark when I started my 5.5 run through Hyannis. For the first couple of minutes, I felt a bit queasy, but as I kept running and interesting thing happened, and I started to feel better. About a mile into the run, I knew I would be fine and dedicated myself to enjoying the unique experience of a nighttime run. 

I am not, nor have I ever been, an evening person, and I do most of my exercise before lunchtime. For me, this makes the night run during Ragnar an even more unique experience. Running at night is fascinating. Even with the headlamp and reflective gear, nighttime running seems more like floating through dark space. It's hard to have a sense of movement, and, at times, it almost didn't feel like I was running. I had a sense of flow, and the miles seemed to roll by pretty seamlessly. I could detect some large houses and beaches as I ran along. There were plentiful signs to show me that I was on the right path (much better than for my night leg last year when I feared getting lost). So I went along an enjoyed the experience. Everything felt fine, and even the last mile where there was some slight elevation gain felt like no problem. My tired body was doing fine. I took the last turn and knew that sleep was at the end of it. I sped up and made it to the exchange where I handed off to Mike and then took a quick moment to congratulation Aaron who had completed a half marathon length leg while we were chilling out during the afternoon. 

While van 2 headed out to follow their runner, we went back to the van so that I could change and we could make our way to the next major exchange. The second set of legs for van 2 were all either moderate or short distances, meaning that we'd be running again in a little over four hours. We wanted to get some shuteye before Jess had to run again at 3:00 a.m.

When we reached the next major exchange, I took the opportunity to go into the school that was hosting us and brush my teeth. Paul and Wes took their sleeping bags into the school for some sleep on the gym floor. I opted to stay in the van with Jess, Bobby, and Jesika. I rolled out my bag on one of the bench seats (which was the perfect size for me) and promptly fell asleep. Apparently there was all sorts of action in the van with people coming and going, but I had no idea. I probably got two to two and a half hours of sleep, which felt great. 

I got up when Paul and Wes returned to the van. I was feeling kind of depleted because I hadn't eaten after my night leg. To ward off dizziness, I snacked on a larabar. I really didn't feel like eating, but I knew from last year that sometimes it's necessary to force yourself to eat something. I am glad I did because after the larabar and some cherry juice, I felt loads better and was able to coordinate myself to get out and see Jess off for her last leg. This was the crazy night run I had done last year, so I knew Jess was going to have a very unique experience.

After Jess's run, we were on the move again. It was dark for Bobby's run and for the start of Jesika's 9.4 miler. Her run, one of the toughest, in my opinion. Brought us into the daylight hours. When Jesika got back to the van, I realized that it was time for me to get ready for my last leg. Paul had a 5.6 miler and then Wes had 3.5 miles to run. I knew that they would both be pretty quick, and I wanted to be ready. I got out of the van to see Paul come in from his last leg, and then we had to move quickly to get to the next exchange before Wes. We booked it, and it was a good thing. By the time we got to the van and I walked down to the exchange point it was a short wait for Wes.

One does not really feel all that motivated to run 3.1 miles after running almost ten miles already and sleeping very little. I just wanted to get this finished! A 3.1 mile run is a pretty short on for me. I usually run 4 or 4.5 miles during training and, as I mentioned before, had been doing regular 4.5 milers for Ragnar training. I knew I could just bang this run out.

My third leg went through Eastham. My legs felt pretty tired and my right ankle was bothering me a little bit from a pothole I had stepped in wrong during my night leg, but overall I felt physically okay. It was only 3.1 miles. I willed myself to keep moving. This was a bit more of a challenge than on some of the other legs, but I was determined that I would not walk -- not once -- during all of my legs. I focused on supporting the team and putting one foot in front of the other. I made deals with myself  of the sort that one does when one is tired and running, such as, "Do this, and you never have to run again." The third leg was almost entirely on a gentle uphill. It was only a percent or two grade most of the time, but cumulatively it got a bit challenging feeling. When I'm having a bit of a difficult time during a run, I like to count. If I'm doing slightly over 10:00 miles then I know a mile takes 600 seconds. For the last mile, I began to count down from 600. I only had 549 second to go. Now only 466. I kept counting. It was only second, and I could do anything for a few seconds. I focus on getting to the finish line, slapping off that bracelet on Mike's wrist, and being done, knowing I had done a good job and my part for the group. I kept moving, going as quickly as I could. "Let's get this done." I made a turn and could see Nauset High School where my run would end. I put on a final burst of speed and turned into the parking lot. I slapped off to Mike and was done!

Almost everyone from vans 1 and 2 was at the exchange point. We had a little bit of time before van 2 had to go off to meet Mike, so we headed back to van 1 so that I could change. Our van was done, and we were planning to get some Dunks and then head over to the final exchange in Provincetown where we were schedule to finish as a team by around 1:20 p.m. I was eager to change into comfy clothing, but allowed for a quick photo by a team van for Ginger Strong. (Dear Ginger Strong team. I don't know who you are, but you have competition -- our team had a statistically significant number of gingers!) 

We headed out to Provincetown with a brief stop at Dunkin' Donuts for that earlier mentioned best cappuccino ever. In P-town we took the ample time allotted to us before van 2 was schedule to arrive to start cleaning and organizing the van. We also explored the finish line festival area. This was similar to the exchange 6 area with sponsor tents, a Ragnar store, and hopping dance beats. We took the time to sign our names on the finishers wall before heading up to the Monument to have some lunch.

The lunch area had a "beer garden" and a lunch of chowder and wraps. It was pretty weak fare all around. There was no water up in the lunch area for those of us who don't really feel like a post-race beer and the sandwich was kind of inedible. This was made up for by the amazing views and the plentiful oyster crackers for the soup. 

Post-lunch, we headed back down to the the finish line area to wait for our last runner to come in. Van 2 arrived, which was nice, as it allowed us to hang out with the full group. Last year, van 1 and van 2 definitely interacted more than the two vans did this year, so it was a special treat whenever we were all together, especially since some of my van friends from 2014 defected to van 2 this year. (Mike. Aaron. You know who you are.)

One of the fun parts of Ragnar is running in with you final runner for the last few feet of the final leg. We spent some time waiting at the bottom of the hill for Josh. We'd been waiting a while when we got a text that said he had one mile left. Thinking I had some time, I stepped away for a minute and ended up missing the finish. The text had been delayed and he was actually just 200 yard away. Very very sadly, I missed crossing the line with the team. Fortunately, we had video footage that Paul took.

A video posted by Paul Jones (@nespahtenspaul) on

The medals that we got for Ragnar all had the same front, but on the the back contained puzzle pieces that together made the Ragnar logo.

There is not much more to say than that Ragnar proved to once again be a once-in-a-lifetime amazing event. Your team will make or break your Ragnar experience. I was luck enough to have a fantastic group to undertake this adventure with. Jess, Bobby, Jesika, Paul, Wes, Mike, Stephen, Jonna, Aaron, Cathy, and Josh, same time next year same place?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Viking Hill Obstacle Course

Sunny Hill Resort, in the Catskills of Greene County New York, is home to the Viking Obstacle Course, a fixed obstacle course covering 5.5 miles and consisting of 35 obstacles. Twice a year, they host races, but I have never been able to make it up to Sunny Hill to check out a race and the course. I had heard rave things about Sunny Hill, a family friendly resort, and the obstacle course they had there, created by none other than Shale Hill's owner, Rob Butler. Today, the stars aligned, and I was able to go up Greenville, New York and check out the course during their free training day for Bone Frog Challenge participants.

I got up bright and early to head out to Lee to meet my Spahten friend (and FIT Challenge carpool buddy), Matt. He lives west of me in Massachusetts and we were planning to head to the Viking Obstacle Course training day together. After a quick meet-up in Lee, we were on our way to Greenville, New York, a little over an hour drive west. 

When we made it to Sunny Hill Resort, it was immediately clear why this is a popular destination. This is the most family-friendly place I could imagine. There were tons of playgrounds, golf courses, pools and water parks, and cabins to stay in. If I had a family this would be a definite destination. (ie. Kids enjoy the water park; I enjoy the obstacles.)

We were able to drive right up to one of the club houses where we checked in with Tinker, who is in charge of Viking Hill. She was welcoming and clearly knew Matt, who living an hour away is somewhat of a regular. After we changed our shoes, she said we were welcome to head out on the course by ourselves. It was a day of training, and we were free to roam. 

Matt is a lot faster than me. (Those who read this blog regularly might recall that he qualified for OCR World Championships at F.I.T. Challenge a couple of weeks ago.) He was very kind to stay with me the entire training day at Viking Hill and show me the whole course.

Overall, the course features some nice trail running through the woods around the golf course. There are some rolling hills, but you're not going to have to worry about elevation much. Everything is well marked using yellow arrow markers, in the style of Shale Hill. The placement of the obstacles is truly excellent! They are pretty evenly distributed and you never go more than a fifth of a mile without something to tackle.  

Below is a list of all 35 obstacles with descriptions. As you can see form the map, and as I said before, distribution of the obstacles is excellent. There is some mud and water on the course, so be ready for that, and wear your OCR shoes -- for me, the Icebugs that I don't mind getting dirty with water and mud. Upperbody strength is key for this course. There are a lot of walls, so you're going to want to be efficient at tackling those. The course features a lot of unique and fun obstacles you won't see anywhere else, so it's worth the drive!

1. Troll Traps: A spiderweb of knee-height ropes. Agility required to jog your way through. 
2. 5' Wall
3. 4' Wall
4. Loki's Ladders: A rope ladder with wooden rungs. Some of these ladders are actually tied down at the bottom (unlike the similar ones at Shale Hill), which makes them a bit easier. You climb up the ladder, ring the bell, and then go back down.

5. Helga's Hurdles: Three chest-height logs that you had to pull your self up and over. 
6. Freya's Cloak: A webs of netting (plastic) to crawl under, down a slight decline. Matt gave me a good tip, which was to do this one feet first. I managed to forget to take of my hydration pack and got a bit tangled, so I would recommend doing this one with your pack off, like you might with a barbed wire crawl.
7. 5' Wall
8. Odin's Tables: Absolutely awesome obstacle! You climbed up a ramp and then climbed down the rope hanging off the other side. There were two of these back to back. This obstacle really impressed me because it was the opposite of one of my favorite ones at Shale Hill. On the Shale Hill obstacle, you have to climb the rope, and hoist yourself up onto the platform and then take the ramp down. It was fun doing this in reverse. Plus there were two of them. Proper technique with your feet on the rope (j-hook or s-hook) is key.

9. Tall Wall: The Tall Wall was probably around 12 feet and featured a rope. You used the rope to climb over the wall and then lower yourself down on the other side.
10. Triple Walls - 5', 6', 7'
11. Cargo Net: This was a nice large a-frame cargo net. It was well secured and a fun climb.
12. Runestones: The Runestones were a use of a natural feature on the trails. This was a set of boulders that you had to climb over and weave your way through.
13. 10' Walls
14. Down 'n Dirty: This was a crawl underneath some logs and through some wet mud.
15. Asgard Skywalk: Another amazingly fun and innovative obstacle. (I wish I was able to find a picture!) This obstacle is actually three parts. The first is a set of three or four logs that you have to walk across like balance beams. You then transfer to a rope, where you do a fairly short rope traverse. From the traverse, you have to lower yourself back down onto another balance log and complete a set of two or three more balance logs. You are probably off the ground for over 100 feet!
16. The Norse Poles: This obstacle had you climbing up a wooden log with small foot holds and then transferring to a rope for a rope climb. Be warned, you have to do the rope climb with just the strength of your arms. The log weighs down the rope, so a j-hook or s-hook is impossible. I wasn't actually sure I'd be able to make the climb, but it's a short one and not too deep into the course, so I did. Pretty exciting!

17. Triple Walls - 5', 6', 7'
18. The Hull: Another fantastically interesting and innovative obstacle. This was an inverse wall with a difference. First the wall was more inverted than what you normally see. Second, there were no rungs underneath. You had to grab the top, get a foot over, and muscle your way up. For fellow short people, like me, you're going to need a bit of a jump to grab the lip, but I was able to do it by myself. From there, you slide down the other side of the wall before climbing up and over a wooden ladder. Again, take note, the ladder was on a slight angle, so you were leaning back a tiny bit on the way down. Awesome!

19. Tree Bob: Matt and I had been avoiding getting really wet for the first part of this course; the Tree Bob would make that impossible. For this obstacle, you had to walk across a set of logs that were bobbing just above the surface of the water. This balance challenge was made more difficult by the pieces of bark that sometimes flew off underfoot. The Icebugs saved the day and we both made it across the slippery logs. 

20. Creek Culverts: Time to get more wet. This obstacle had us walking up a small creek and through a culvert. Brr. (I used to be able to feel my feet.)
21. Traverse Wall: Most raced have one traverse wall. Viking Hill has five. Three back-to-back traverse walls, followed by a balance beam, followed by another wall, followed by an overhead beam (that you have to walk up with your hands), followed by a final wall. This is a very similar set-up to the Great Wall at Shale Hill, but there are many more hand and foot holds on the wall at Viking Hill. I've never made it past the third wall at Shale Hill without falling off, but I was able to make it through all five walls at Viking Hill. I am actually pretty thrilled about this accomplishment. My forearms were pretty tired after the fourth wall, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to do the overhead beam. However, I made it, and then I had to do the last wall. I will say that this entire obstacle pretty much trashed my arms for the rest of the course. I need to do some work!

22. Loose Logs: Another balance obstacle. This one featured logs, suspended by ropes over a small stream. These logs moved forward and back quite a bit. I almost fell off at least once. 

23. Arnie's Armbusters: This obstacle was a log carry. They had a lot of different sizes and most were dry and pretty easy to carry. The loop was fairly small. This was the only "work obstacle" on the course, something that I enjoyed since I am not one for carries, and it was not overly difficult. It served as a nice break from all the walls!
24. 4' Wall
25. Over-Unders: The Over-Unders featured a 4' wall and then a log to roll under followed by another wall and log. 
26. Frigg: Frigg was a giant inclined wall of around twenty feet. There was a rope that you grabbed to help you walk up the incline. Then, you got to climb down a ladder on the back. After the obstacle, you had to wade up a swampy area of freezing water to get to the next obstacle.

27. Dragon's Tooth: Dragon's Tooth is no ordinary set of monkey bars! The obstacle featured a set of flat bars, followed by uphill bars, then downhill bars, and finally a last set of flat monkey bars. My arms were still feeling it from the traverse wall, and my hands, which have not yet developed their mid-summer-frequent-obstacle-course-enthusiast callouses were not having it. I made it through the flat set of bars but could not do the uphill ones. The rungs on these do not move (thank goodness!); however, the uphill and downhill bars are fairly widely spaced, making it a challenge for shorts arms. I definitely want to improve the endurance of my grip and forearms, but this obstacle would have been a challenge for my reach on any day (though not impossible -- more work is needed!). First failed obstacle of the day.

28. Old Futz Xing: The crossing has you walking across a pond, guided by a rope. This one wasn't set up yet for the season, so we skipped it.
29. Climbing Culvert Pipes: Here we had to crawl up a small hill through a plastic pipe. The pipe wasn't too narrow or too long. Not too bad. 
30. 21' Ropes: A 21' rope climb this late in the course! I love a good rope climb, and usually consider this to be a strength, but I know from the Beast that a late course rope climb can be a challenge. I made it about half way on this one, making this my second failed obstacle of the day. A killer long climb at a killer place in the course. 
31. Raster Grid: As the name implies, this obstacle is grid-like in structure. It's an open rope construction between two trees that you climb up and over like a rope ladder. At Shale Hill, it's called the Abacus. I wasn't able to find an image from Viking Hill of this obstacle, but here's a picture of the Shale Hill one to give you an idea. I find this obstacle to be a lot of fun, and it's always one of my favorites because I really enjoy climbing. 

32. Valhalla's Moat: Wet! This section of the course has you go under a log into some mud and then navigate through a set of Troll Traps through a very muddy region. 
33. Viking Gate: Finish line! One climb over the a-frame ladder and it's across the finish line.

I enjoyed my trip to Viking Hill immensely. They are going to be doing their first race of the season on June 13, and I definitely recommend signing up. (The price is super reasonable and includes a shirt, medal, food, and free parking and spectators.) If, like me, you're unfortunately busy that day, know that the course is open for training from spring through fall and is a very affordable $25 for the day. It's worth the drive. 

As Matt said, Viking Hill is like Shale Hill's little brother. The course is obstacle heavy, but has around 25 fewer obstacles than Shale Hill. There are tons of walls. If you want to practice some moderately sized walls, go no further. The course had me pretty tired at the end, but it was fun all the way through. We were going at a relaxed pace and stopped to chat with people along the way and still finished the course in just under two hours. (For comparison the 6.5 mile, 60 obstacle course at Shale Hill takes me probably 3.5 hours.) 

Viking Hill has innovative obstacles that will challenge any level of athlete. At the same time, a lot of the course is very approachable for first-timers because of the flat terrain and the fact that you can come and train and spend as much time as you want on any obstacle. You might not get every one on your first time through -- I certainly didn't -- and that is part of the fun. 

As you've seen throughout my post, comparisons to Shale Hill abound. These are more Rob Butler obstacles, so naturally they don't disappoint. I highly recommend a trip to Greenville, New York to Sunny Hill Resort to check out this course. 

(Note: All photos from the Viking Hill Obstacle Race website. Thank you for their use!)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

F.I.T. Challenge 2015

Today, I took part in the third race in the NE Spahten's #racelocalF.I.T. Challenge, an approximately 5K obstacle course race that took place today in Cumberland, Rhode Island at Diamond Hill State Park. It was a fantastically fun day with a great event and course, perfect weather, and cool people to spent time with.

The day started at 8:00 a.m. when fellow Spahten, Matthew, met up with me in Amherst, so that we could head to F.I.T. together for the 10:45 a.m. team wave. Something like over 200 Spahtens were signed-up for this local race! The ride to Cumberland was surprisingly easy, taking just over 90 minutes; plus, I had good company. When we arrived at Diamond Hill, we were greeted by follow Spahten and my Ragnar team member from last year, Marc. Parking was $10 -- pretty standard -- and onsite, which was fantastic. People were having to park in the overflow lot, which was a little bit of a walk away, but fortunately, I was able to parallel park the Beetle into a nearby spot about a three minute walk from the start line.

There was a small registration / event area right near the start line. Matthew and I both had our bib numbers written down, and registration took a second. We got our bibs for our chip time, a t-shirt, and a F.I.T. headband. The event area was pretty small. In addition to the registration area, there as a table for Wreck Bag and OCR World Championships (which was also selling Icebugs -- I didn't check that out since I get mine at Shale Hill. Note: I entirely recommend Icebugs for OCR and Shale Hill is the place to get them. [Incidentally, if you click through to the link, the picture is one that was taken by Paul of my foot in an Icebug doing The Loom obstacle at Shale Hill!). The F.I.T. Challenge race was a qualifying race for OCR World Championships -- a neat bonus.

After registration, we headed over to the other side of the park to meet up with the rest of the Spahtens and drop off our gear before the 10:45 a.m. team heat. The weather was really nice. It was the first sunny day we'd had in a long time and the temperatures were in the low to mid-50s, though it was windy. I wind kept things a bit cool, so I opted for a long sleeved tech t-shirt underneath my team drill shirt. I was a bit warm with this combo, but I'd rather be hot than cold. At the team area, I also met up with Kerri, with whom I had run Polar Bear back in February. It was great to see her and the couple of friends she'd brought along, and we kind of made plans to run the race together.

At 10:30 a.m., we took a quick team picture and then it was off to the start line. I had talked with Aaron, fellow Ragnarian, Spahten, and another sort of race director for F.I.T. who told me that the course clocked in somewhere between three and four miles. I was looking forward to it!

There were some brief announcements at the start line. The race was a great one for beginners because it was penalty free. You just tried your best at an obstacle as many times as you wanted and took it from there (at least for the open waves). With a, "Go!" we were off.

The race started with a bit of trail running along a river that winds through that section of the park. Our wave was a bit large, and there was some bottlenecking here preventing me from jogging along as I might have. Things spread out a bit as we hit the first climb. The course took nice advantage of the terrain at Diamond Hill. We did a bunch of trail running and some climbing up and down the hill. It was at least somewhat technical trail, but everything was well-marked and none of the trails were too demanding. We did enough hiking that I felt my legs were getting a great workout but not so much that it felt like a day hiking. There were sections where you might hike uphill for five minutes or so, but nothing more than that and obstacles were fairly well places, though, of course, clustered to some degree at the bottom of the hill and towards the end of the race.

After some up and down on the trails, we hit the first obstacle, a wall of probably around seven or eight feet. It had some nice kickboards, so you could climb up. Using those. I was about to get over the wall without difficulty.

There was a bit of a bottleneck at this first wall, but nothing beyond a couple of minute wait. After climbing the wall, we exited the woods where we did a set of over-through-under walls before heading back up the hill. Part of this was a crawl underneath some rope (instead of barbed wire). It was of moderate length, considering it was uphill, and my knees took a bit of a beating. Coming back down, I believe the next obstacle we tackled a wall climb of maybe nine or so feet with a rope. This wall also had kickboards to help you up if needed, plus the rope.

I don't exactly remember the order of the course at this point, but I do recall that soon we came to what I would consider the hardest part of the course: peg boards and a rope climb. I had seen peg boards at Blizzard Blast back in January and been foiled by this obstacle. When I saw a picture online indicating that the peg board would be back at F.I.T., I knew I had to nail it. This determination, plus warmer fingers, must have worked because I made it all the way up the peg board. It was definitely a challenge to do this obstacle without a board to practice on. I think that technique with the pegs would save a lot of effort. Fortunately, I was able to wrap my legs around the tree, which was key.

Immediately following the peg boards was a rope climb. Diabolical! My arms and legs were already a bit tired from the peg board, so the rope climb was a tough one. I used the s-hook, which allowed me to take a couple of breaks for my arms and, thus, enabled me to make it to the top.

Following the rope climb, was the Wreck Bag carry. I dread carries. I am not very good at them, and as a small person, I have a lot of trouble. However, the Wreck Bag carry was great. They had 25 pound bags, which were a perfect challenge for someone my size without feeling debilitating. Also, the Wreck Bag had amazing handles and a soft exterior. I was able to carry it on my shoulders without chaffing of any sort -- amazing! We did a walk up and down a stretch of hill with the bag. I left my tired arms rest in the straps and supported the weight of the bag with my back, shoulders, and legs.

We dropped off our bags and got some water before heading off again. There was an inverted wall. Like most, the inverted wall featured rungs on the underside that you could use to pull yourself up and over the wall. From there, it was over some teeter totters and back up the hill and through some more trails before coming back to the last set of obstacles that were set up near where the Spahtens had made camp. We had to weave our way through a set of picnic tables before making it to a very obstacle-dense part of the course.

The final and most prominent set of obstacles featured two rigs with some small walls, overs-and-unders, and an up-and-over. While the rigs were some of the best obstacles on the course, they presented a real problem. The lines in this section of the course were very lengthy. I think, all said and done, I probably spent around 25 minutes of the race held up because of bottlenecking -- most of that time was spent on this section of the course.

Before hitting the rigs, we wove our way under a set of three picnic tables. The first rig obstacle was a set of monkey bars and then a cargo net. There were two set of monkey bars -- one easier and one harder. I opted to challenge myself with the harder set. Things were going along great until I reached the second to last bar which was way way high up. My arms could not reach -- they were almost too short. Matthew was telling me to try jumping, and what I didn't realize was that he was saying to swing and jump to the next flat monkey bar rung. I made another valiant effort to reach the higher bar and just couldn't make it. I had to drop down to the ground and then tackle the cargo net. My only failed obstacle of the day.

From there, we did a quick roll under one of the big trucks provided by sponsor ABF Mud Run. The next rig proved to be my favorite obstacle of the day. There was huge bottlenecking at this obstacle, and I had to wait at least fifteen minutes in line to try. It was worth it. The obstacle featured a rope climb to a set of descending monkey bars to a set of rings you had to walk along a poll to a rope ladder you had to climb to another set of descending monkey bars to a poll traverse. Right in my wheelhouse. I loved it. Using the rings to "walk" along the first poll traverse was extra fun! Kerri kindly waited for me as my line for this obstacle took way longer than the line she was in.

We did a quick set of over-unders before heading to the next line to wait to do the up-and-over.

The up-and-over featured to logs one on top of the other. The first log was probably around six and a half feet in the air. The second log was directly parallel and on top of the first with around two feet separating them. For this obstacle, one has to grab the first log, pull your self up and then step over the top obstacle. This was pretty much the same as an obstacle they have with metal rungs instead of logs at Shale Hill. I was able to use the same technique to get over. 

From there we jogged over to a set of strength-based obstacles. We had to do a set up frog jumps with burpees, followed directly by an Atlas stone carry. They had varying weights, and I was able to take a 35 pound stone, which worked perfectly. From there, we went directly to an area where you had to clean a 45 pound barbell and then do twenty shoulder presses. No different weights here for people of varying sizes. I did ten presses straight through, then did five and then another five. Made it!

The finish line was in sight. We ran a short ways to the last obstacle, and inverted ladder wall. This was it. I pulled myself over the wall and crossed the finish line in 1:53:07.

I met back up with Matthew and learned that he had qualified for the OCR World Championships! I was in the presence of a celebrity. He asked if we could hang out for the awards, which of course we could. We took a picture by the Shale Hill truck, and I went to change before the ceremony. 

While waiting for the awards, I got as close the the OCR World Championships as I probably ever will when I helped the race directory tidy up the qualifier t-shirts. In all honestly, even that was pretty exciting.

I didn't go away empty handed though.I got an awesome F.I.T. t-shirt, headband, and cool medal. The medal is in the shape of a Wreck Bag and is already looking pretty cool on my medal rack.

F.I.T. Challenge was a fantastically fun obstacle course race. The atmosphere was fantastic. This, of course, was helped by the fact that there were lots of people I was friendly with there and the amazing turn-out from the local OCR community, such as Shale Hill (#OCRUnited).

I really loved the frequency and quality of the obstacles at F.I.T. The course layout was fantastic. There was just the right amount of running / hiking up and down hills without it seeming tedious. The running was balanced well with the obstacles, and the the placement of the obstacles was well-thought-out, overall.

My one caveat is that for those of us in the middle of the pack for the open heats, bottlenecking was a huge issue. I spent a significant amount of time waiting to try an obstacle, especially in the obstacle-dense section towards the end of the course. I waited at least fifteen minutes for the second rig. (Part of this is because of an injury, and I want to make clear that I am 100% not complaining about having to wait because of this. I would have happily waited to insure that everyone was okay, but the other thirteen or so minutes were just general hold-up.) I would love to see this improved for next year, and I say that because this race was a blast, and I definitely would love to come again in 2015, schedule willing.

Bottom line: Check F.I.T. out! It's a really fun course. mixing the perfect level of challenge and fun. First-timers could do it, and for those who are more experiences, there are some neat and original obstacles you probably haven't seen before. The race has great local support from the NE Spahten and local race directors. This adds to the atmosphere. It's family friendly, at an easy-to-get-to lovely location, and is sure to guarantee a fun day.

(Note: Spahten photo credits: Mary Donohue and Ron Steffero)