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.
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)