Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Shale Hill Halloween Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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