Sunday, January 25, 2015

Blizzard Blast 2015 #racelocal

Today, I began my 2015 race season with the first #racelocal event on my calendar, Blizzard Blast. For those of you who didn't read my #racelocal blog post, this is a series put on my the obstacle course racing group I am a part of, the New England Spahtens. The #racelocal website defines the series by saying, "#racelocal is a movement to bring athletes and participants to high quality and proven New England owned and operated obstacle course races." I'm planning to attend around ten #racelocal events in 2015, most of them at Shale Hill. Blizzard Blast, however, was a new event for me.

Blizzard Blast is a 4 - 6 mile obstacle course race that takes place ever January in Dracut, Massachusetts. The venue is Four Oaks Country Club.

The team heat was at 12:40 p.m. I knew that there would be off site parking (cost $10), so I left myself plenty of time to travel. I ended up getting to Eastern Massachusetts in good time. Parking was a snap, and I was able to hop on the bus right away. Immediately, I was surrounded by fellow Spahten. In the spirit of team we all started chatting. I was having fun already. The bus ride from parking to the venue was maybe 10 minutes max, but it flew by. I should say that buses were plentiful, and I never had to wait either coming or going. This was all very well handled.

When I arrived at the event, fellow Spahten, John and I tried to find check-in. We failed totally due to our own lack of paying attention. Soon we were steered in the right direction. Check-in went well. There was a very short line and the volunteers were great. The check-in was in a tent outside, but the tent was well-closed and didn't feel very chilly.

That being said, I should mention though that I way overdressed for this event. It was probably in the mid-thirties, and I was dressed for cooler weather. I had on:

  • NE Spahtens team buff (wrapped around my ears)
  • My favorite Nike thermal base-layer
  • Another thermal mid-layer
  • An L.L. Bean windbreaker / light jacket top layer
  • Tights
  • Snow pants (like for snowboarding / skiing)
  • Darn Tough wool socks
  • Icebugs sneakers (with carbide tips)
  • UA gloves

Honestly, this was too much clothing. I have been feeling like I was getting a cold, but I would have been fine with out the mid-layer and snow pants. I will say that I didn't get cold or wet at all though. I didn't even get any snow in my shoes, so all the gear did it's job. However, I'm doing Polar Bear at Shale Hill in two weeks, and I will have to decide if I want to wear quite so much clothing. I'll probably bring everything just in case and can adjust as needed. 

After check-in, where I got my bib (which I didn't wear) and chip timer (which I did wear), we headed over to get our t-shirts, buffs, and goody bags. I was very excited to see custom "Largest Team" shirts and buffs for the Spahtens. The t-shirt was a long-sleeved t-shirt with Blizzard Blast on the front and the Spahten logo on the back. The buff had both the Blizzard Blast and Spahten logos. This was a very nice touch. 

The team also had it's own room where everyone was able to change and leave their bags. I headed to the team room, where I coordinated myself and changed my shoes. I then quickly headed out to join everyone for the team picture. From there, it was off to the starting line!

I gathered with a few fellow Spahten friends at the starting line. We were given details about how the course was quite slippery from the previous day's snow fall. I had on my Icebugs, so I wasn't too worried, but did make a note to move cautiously. The race, which had traditionally been a 5K (3.1 miles) was lengthened to 5.8 miles this year. With those few words, we were off. 

The race course, which was on what must be the Four Oaks golf course an nearby trails, had some rolling elevation. There were some sections where we were running along trails in the woods and there was quite a bit of spread between obstacles. Overall, the course didn't have a ton of elevation but any rolling hills and wood where you're trudging through the snow is work. A lot of the snow had been patted down over the course of the day, which was both helpful (less wading through snow) and not (more slippery).

I wasn't able to get a course map listing the obstacles, so my recounting of the course is from my own memory. I am sure I'm missing one or two things and have some obstacles, out of order, but this is how I can best recall the day. 
  • Pine Tree Weave: Weave your way under and through hanging Christmas trees. Climb over two side-ways trees. 
  • Sledding: Grab a sled, climb up the hill and sled down.
  • Keg Kingdom: The best obstacle ever! Okay, I needed assistance from Paul to reach the kegs, but after that it was so much fun. There were four hanging kegs. You had to swing from keg to keg, then do monkey bars and then swing from four more hanging kegs. There were hay bales between the kegs and bars, which helped a lot. This was a tough obstacle but very unique and loads of fun.

  • Under and Over: Go under a wall and then over the next. The second wall was probably around six feet. 
  • High Wall; This wall had kick boards, but I still needed a boost from Steve!
  • Paintball Target: Grab a paintball gun, put on your safety goggles and try to hit a target. Yes, I failed all three tries.
  • Peg Boards: So neat! For this obstacle there were peg boards attached to a tree. You had to take pegs and, using just your arms, climb the pegs up the holes in the boards to get up the tree. Hard! I made it about a third of the way up. I think I need to lobby to have the gym at work add peg boards so I can practice this skill. Very cool. Jess, who I was running with, completely nailed this obstacle. 

  • Sledding: Second bit of sledding for the day. I may have let my feet drag in front of me and gotten a huge face full of snow...
  • Christmas Lights Crawl: Like a barbed wire crawl but with Christmas lights! How festive. I really liked this one too. It's way more enjoyable to crawl through the snow under some dangling holiday lights than to roll across rocks under barbed wire. 
  • 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. I actually preferred this to a traditional hoist.
  • Teeter Totters: Climb up and down a see saw. I actually skipped this obstacle. The only OCR related injury I've ever seen was when a teammate fell off a wet teeter totter and busted his ankle. Half of this obstacle was already closed down, and the see saws looked wet. I took my penalty of 10 snow angles instead.
  • Tunnel Crawl: Crawl through a short metal tunnel. 
  • 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. As I stepped onto the block positioned at the finish I slipped off. Fortunately, the volunteer said I had made it. 
  • Kegs: There were kegs positioned at intervals through the next part of the course. We thought we had to step from keg to keg. Apparently, judging by this photo-evidence, we could have just weaved our way through. I did the first half stepping from keg to keg, with a bit of help from Aaron (thank you!) and then slalomed my way through the second half because the kegs were farther apart than my legs were long.

  • Ankle Biters: We had to make our way across an icy bridge criss-crossed with ropes at ankle height.
  • Football Throw: Take a football and throw it at a tire attached to a tree. While I didn't quite make it to hitting the tire, I did hit the tree right above the tire. Since I haven't thrown a football since high school gym class, I will consider this satisfactory. I throw like an uncoordinated person. 
  • Traverse Wall: This traverse wall was fantastic. We had a three panel wall and then a panel of tires. Everything was slick with snow, but I made it. I am back in my groove with the traverse wall after my awful one-time-only failure at the Spartan Beast.

  • Christmas Tree Carry: I usually am not one for carries, but I really enjoyed hauling this tree around. I was able to find a petite Charlie Brown-style sad tree that was just the right amount of challenge. I am still smelling the pine. I found bonus tree pieces nestled in my sports bra when I went to shower after getting home. 
  • Snow Mounds: After the carry, it was a quick jog over two mounds of snow and on to the finish line!

(Note: All of these images are taken from the NE Spahtens and Blizzard Blast Facebook pages. I was too busy running the event to take an photos. Some day, I'll have to get a GoPro...)

Blizzard Blast was a lot of fun. The course featured unique obstacles that I have not seen anywhere else. For people who have done more than a few races, such as myself, variety in obstacles is the most enjoyable part. There was a good winter-feel to the race; they kept with their theme well. Overall, the spacing of the obstacles was fairly good. My one bit of feedback would be that I think the race would work better as a 5K instead of a 5.8 miler. I would have liked to see greater density of obstacles -- parts of the course felt like a bit of a trail run; there was a section where we definitely went around a mile without any obstacles. I think if the race had been a 5K it would have felt much more obstacle-rich and overall been more enjoyable. The obstacles that were there were great, I just wish that they had been closer together so it didn't, at times, seem like we were just running through the woods without end.

The bottom line: This is a unique local race. I had a great group that I was running with and that really made the day fun. The race director did such a lovely job personalizing the race for the Spahtens. The devil is in the detail, and the details here were spot on. Everything on and off the course went smoothly. The venue was great. Though I didn't stay long to socialize it looked like people were having a blast at the after party. The course, the most important part of the day, was a blast (no pun intended) with a lot of attention paid to the winter theme. This made this race standout from the summer races I normally do. I wold definitely add Blizzard Blast to my 2016 calendar next year.

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