Sunday, June 9, 2013

Superhero Scramble

Yesterday, Seth and I traveled to Amesbury, Massachusetts so that I could take place in the Superhero Scramble New England Charger. The race was billed as 4+ miles with 20+ obstacles. I had decided to tackle this race based on an awesome $36 coupon I found on LivingSocial. Obstacle course races can be pricey, usually around $100 so this was a great deal.

We had been dealt a tough deal and there was a massive rain storm that blew threw the area the night before. As a result, the entire event had been postponed by three hours. I was scheduled for the 9:30 a.m. wave, the second heat of the day, but would now be completing at 12:30 p.m.

We arrived at the parking location, a seedy gambling establishment with a defunct greyhound racing track (good thing or I would have had to find the time to picket the greyhound racing around my obstacle course racing). We piled onto the weighting bus to travel around 15 minutes back in the direction we'd come to Amesbury Sports Park, where the race would be held. Check-in at the race went very smoothly, and we easily got my bib and chip and Seth's spectator pass. That's right, this event, and events like it charge people to come and spectate; I consider this a major minus. It was especially annoying to have to pay to spectate because, unlike with Fitathlon, Seth could not follow me along the course. He had to stay down in the main area and could only see the start and finish, about 10 minutes of the entire almost two hour course.

We took a few minutes to walk around. The first thing we noticed was something at the Sports Park, Zorb. Apparently, with this attraction, you get put in an inflatable sphere and then rolled down a hill. Honestly, if I did this I think I would be so sick I'd want to die. No thank you!

We continued our tour of the Superhero Scramble area of the park.There was a band playing and a merchandise booth set up. They were also selling food and drink. Nothing free in sight.

In fact, all we were given upon completing the course was a small cup of water -- no free bottles of water or free food like with most of the road races I've taken part in. I understand that charging for food, parking, and spectating if pare for the course with obstacle course racing, but I have a major beef with this. I think charging people for water and food is unsafe -- after doing a demanding physical activity, you need to refuel. Plus, charging for spectating is lame. People come to support you and you shouldn't have to pay for that. And those people might see the event and get excited to participate. It doesn't make sense from a marketing standpoint to limit the number of spectators as it limits your exposure. While I disagree with paying for parking, I understand this more; the people who put on the event probably had to rent that parking lot and pay for the buses.

At around noon, we headed over to the starting line to see the first heat go off at 12:15 p.m. Nope! Everything was delayed again while they finished up some work on the course. Really? Things were somewhat disorganized. While the organizers were dealt a tough blow with the weather, they know how long it takes to set up the event. It turns out that my wave didn't end up starting until just under 4 hours after my originally scheduled time, meaning Seth and I had to wait around an extra hour at the event. This was a bummer because I had eaten and fueled strategically for a 12:30 p.m. start time, not a 1:20 p.m. start time.

Finally, a little after 1:00 p.m., it was time for me to line up. Seth took a before picture so you can see me nice and clean.

To get into the starting area we had to transverse a wall.

Okay. Obstacle #1 out of the way. I went to line up. 

There were then some brief announcements. For the Superhero Scramble, you only had one chance to to each obstacle. If you failed (or decided to skip it), you had to do 10 burpees and 10 "super hero spins" (put your forehead on a bat and spin around). No thank you! Those spins would make me feel way too dizzy. I resolved to handle every obstacle.

Finally, we were off!

We started by heading up the giant hill. Then down the hill. Then up the hill again. There was major people traffic and I was off to a very slow start. I couldn't have run even if I wanted to because of all the people on the course. 

I soon learned that congestion and no running were going to be par for the course. There was often waiting at obstacles. As for the running, the terrain was a mess from the wet weather making running in most places too much of a hazard to risk.

After scaling the hill we got to the first obstacle. We had to climb a net up high, then across, then down. Easy! We then moved into the woods and began trail "running". Here is where the main disappointment of this course happened for me. A good 90% of the time was just spent in the wood moving along trails. Okay. I could have done that at home. The conditions were very very wet and muddy. I know that mud and water are expected at an event like this, but conditions were very slick and there was almost too much mud. It definitely slowed things down and kept me on the trails longer than I would have preferred. 

Things were very hilly in the wood, which was a good challenge, however, there was no opportunity to run without falling. The event turned into more of a muddy hike with deep mud (sometimes up to my knees) and water (again sometimes up to my knees). I found the ratio of time spend on the trails to time spent with obstacles somewhat unsatisfying. The time on the trails was boring because you had to go so slowly. Even if you wanted to chance running, which I did on a few less wet spots, you couldn't go far because the trails were narrow and there were people everywhere. I also went carefully because there was tons of poison ivy. I was glad I had opted for long pants instead of shorts, as I had originally planned.

There were not very many obstacles on the trails, just one section with tires and a couple of sections were you had to crawl under some wires. Nothing to keep us too engaged.

After the initial net obstacle, there was about a mile of trail running before we came to our next big obstacle, which Superhero Scramble calls Leap of Faith. This obstacle required you to jump off a platform high in the air into a pool dirty water. This certainly didn't require any skill or fitness, just a lack of fear. A few people before me climbed up to the top and then right back down, too afraid of the height to jump.

They were taking safety at this obstacle very seriously (probably due to the death at Tough Mudder on a similar obstacle very recently). People were allowed to the jumping platform in sets of around four and then we jumped in sets of two but only after the previous people who jumped had surfaced and cleared the area. The obstacle was surrounded by a diver and first responders. When my turn came I jumped in without hesitation -- no use being scared. Woah! The water came up hard and with a shock. I went down pretty deep because of the high jump, but easily surfaced. The water was cool but not freezing and felt refreshing after all the running. I had made it!

I then moved immediately to the next obstacle. Most of the obstacles were clustered together in sets with the long trail runs in between, probably for convenience. (I also heard later that some of the obstacles that were planned were cleared from the course for some reason. I even saw a transverse lateral rock wall that was pulled from the course as I ran by it. Bummer.)

The next obstacle had up swimming under wires in medium depth water. We all coordinated here. Most of us floated on our backs, our shoes buoying us up, and carefully passed the wires from one to the other so we could pass them over our heads. Since we were already wet, the added water hardly mattered. 

After a bit more running, we came to a set of rings suspended over a pool of water. I grabbed a ring, got some momentum and shifted myself from ring to ring all across the water. I was the only one in the group of people I was with to make it all across. I cheered! The photographer at the obstacle said, "Way to go girl!" I jogged off as everyone else did burpees and spins. 

It was then woods, woods, and more woods with mud, mud, mud. I almost lost a shoe on one very sucky patch of mud, but was able to keep moving, slipping and sliding the entire way. On the downhills, I crouched low and occasionally had to move on my backside for safety. I did not want to be sliding and falling. It would be all to easy to twist and ankle here. 

I came across a cleaning in the woods and the next two obstacles. We had to drag a cinder block on a chain around a circle of sand. Okay. This reminded me of the heavy chain pull at Fitathlon. We then had to grab and bag of sand and run with it. Only, wait, we had to run with it and ford a river. Twice. Oh man, that water was deep -- up to my waist. Since I am pretty small, the block and bag of sand were somewhat heavy for me, but I made it.

More trails and more trails. Up hills. Down hills. Past the three mile marker. Through more mud. Through more water. I was happy when I finally exited the woods into a meadow of tall grass with a mowed trail which slalomed along. I jogged along the wet grass, shoes squelching, and came face to face with the next set of obstacles. 

Walls. A tall wall to go over, a short one to go under, a one with holes to go through, and another tall one to go over. Walls are definitely a weakness for me because of my height, however, supporting myself using the a-frame along the side of the wall, I was able to get over the tall walls. Yay! No burpees and spins. 

I dragged my soaking wet shoes to the next obstacle where I could see I would be getting even wetter. Piles of mud and rock with pools of wet water between them. I climbed four set of mud and wadded through four pools of water that came up as high as my chest. The wet mud was slick, and it was a challenge getting out of the water and up onto the piles of mud, but I made it.

The next obstacle followed right away. Here you were supposed to walk across a board, suspended over a pool of water. People were falling left and right. (And then having to swim out and do spins and burpees.) I decided a needed a strategy. Slow and steady I sat myself down and just scooted slowly along my beam all the way to the end. Slow, but not as slow as having to do a penalty.

I jogged off and past the four mile marker. Almost there. I saw right away that the next obstacle was right back at the same location as the first. There was a pool of muddy water with ropes hanging down into it. The ropes were hanging from the net obstacle that we handled first. There was a pile-up of people here, but everyone was helping everyone else by holding the ropes as people climbed. Dragging my tired body up the rope as not as easy as I remember from elementary school gym class. Close to the top my muscles were almost done, but I finished and climbed down easily. 

Immediately the next obstacle was there. Belly crawling through muddy water under wires. Not hard, and I was totally soaked now anyway. Who cares!

When I pulled myself out of the muddy water, I found myself at the top of the first hill we had tackled, faced with a trip down on a giant slimy slide. I would have to say that this was the only obstacle that really gave me pause because I was worried about it's safety. (And apparently rightly so. A lot of people were complaining about getting hurt on this obstacle on the Superhero Scramble FB page. I think they normally have the slide as a free standing structure that goes into a pool of water instead of just some tarps laid on a hill. Probably they should stick with the structure.) The slide was super fast and just ended, depositing you onto muddy, rocky, grass. For the second time that day, I was glad I had worn long pants. 

The slide was unpleasantly bumpy, but I fortunately made it down the hill without incident or injury. There were only a couple of obstacles left to go. I could see the finish line.

First, I had to tackle quite a tall and slick wall. My arms were beat from just having done a rope climb and my shoes kept slipping. Fortunately, there were a pair of the most super awesome guys ever. As I approached the top they pulled me up and then over the wall. I definitely could have not made it without them. Thank you, thank you!

I climbed down the back of the structure and towards the finish line. I had to make it past two people who blocked my way. (They were nice and didn't go hard. They smiled as me as I dogged them.) Finally I made it! I collected my finishers medal and t-shirt.

Here's how I looked after around 4.5 miles of trails and mud and an hour and forty minutes of racing. (My face says, "What the $#*! just happened to me!")

I headed over for a "shower", basically just a fan blowing water. Serious!? They could do better. I did my best to get at least clean enough to get into a car and changed under my towel into clean clothing for the trip back home. 

All in all, I'd give the Superhero Scramble a B-/C+. The level of organization was less than it could have been (thought I know weather played a part in this). The course was just okay. All the trails were dull and had to be taken slow. I also thought in certain places, such as the slide, they could have done more to make things safe for participants. There were definitely not 20+ obstacles and at times I felt like I might as well have run through the woods at home in the wet. The obstacles that they did have were definitely a big challenge through and very memorable. If I was to rate the course on obstacles alone I would rate it much much higher. I will definitely remember the obstacles (and feeling of squelching muddy shoes) for a long long time.

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