Sunday, June 21, 2015

2015 Shale Hill Relay Race Challege

Saturday night, I headed up to Benson, Vermont, home of Shale Hill, for the 2015 Relay Race Challenge. The race was 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning, and I didn't want to make the almost three hour trip from Amherst to north western Vermont. Luckily, I had been offered a place at the apartment onsite with fellow Spahtens Paul, Beth, Sandy, and Niki. I arrived around supper time on Saturday and was able to spend a nice bit of time relaxing and socializing prior.

After a really excellent night sleep, I woke up Sunday morning for the race. The apartment at Shale Hill has a fully-functional kitchen, so I was able to make my standard pre-race breakfast of Genesis bread toast with almond butter, cherry juice with chia seeds, and coffee. I coordinated my race gear and headed over to check-in at registration.

The Relay Race Challenge divided the standard 10K Shale Hill obstacle course into three segments that you and two other teammates would cover. Paul, Niki, and I had planned to be a journeyman team (aka. the non-contemplative division); due to a last minute injury, Niki ended up swapping to the competitive open division and her friend, Tonya, joined Paul and me in journeyman. The Relay Race Challenge had around 60 registered participants, making it easy to quickly change registration the day-of.

After registration was taken care of, we headed outside to draw straws. This would determine the legs we would run. I drew leg three (considered the most challenging part of the course), Tonya got leg one, and Paul got leg two. We then headed back inside where the race director, Rob, gave us information. The course was very muddy and wet from the heavy rainfall the night before. We were to be cautious on the slippery obstacles (here Icebugs made all the difference), and it was suggested that, since volunteers were limited, we might want to double up and send a second teammate along with the person running each leg of the relay. This would encourage safety. I had already offered to run Tonya's leg with her since she had a slightly injured abdomen. It was her first time at Shale Hill, and I wanted to make sure she got to have a good time but didn't have to face any obstacles that would make her recovery time longer. We were also presented with the "baton," a large metal "key to Shale Hill," as Rob put it. The entire thing was about as long as my torso! Rob also told us the exchange points: The Rope Ramp and the Fireman's Tower.

Tonya and I headed over to the starting line for the 9:00 a.m. start, and Paul headed over to the Rope Ramp to meet us at the first exchange. At 9:00 a.m., everyone was set, and with the sound of the air-horn we were off!

Since I've done so much posting about the course at Shale Hill, I am going to go through the highlights of today instead of recounting everything, obstacle by obstacle. For a comprehensive walk-through of the Shale Hill course, click here.

Tonya and I cruised pretty well through the first leg of the course. There were a few highlights, such as Tonya's complete mastery of the Log Splitter, the obstacle that Rob replaced the sandbag / slosh pipe carry with for Polar Bear. The carry consists of two stumps connected with a piece of flat cord which gets hauled along the 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile loop that marked the sandbag / slosh pipe carry. I struggled a lot with this obstacle at Polar Bear, and was happy to just walk the course with Tonya and offer encouragement. The route was incredibly muddy and marshy from all the rain. It was even more treacherous than normal; just walking was hard. Tonya did a fantastic job! I was very impressed by her strength as she powered through this carry.

After the carry, we headed over to the pond traverse. The traverse, which entails spanning the pond by pulling yourself along a rope parallel to the surface. I wasn't planning to do this obstacle with Tonya, but while I was waiting for her to go I got into a conversation with some of the other racers about the technique for doing the traverse on the top, instead of the bottom. They wanted a demo, so I couldn't say no! (Note, that I might have been showing off a little. I am not proud of this fact -- but, hey, in the interest of transparency, I will report out what occurred.)

Tonya and I had a couple more obstacles and then we met up with Paul at the transition. Tonya wanted to see the full course because it was her first time at Shale Hill, and I wanted to do at least some of the obstacles in the wooded section of the course known as "The Jungle." I hung with Tonya and Paul through until Cliff Jumper, which was great because I was able to "pinch run" that obstacle and Double Up before it. Those are two of my favorites, so I was glad to get the chance to do them and a few of the obstacles in The Jungle. However, I had done a lot and needed to keep something in reserve for my part of the course. While Tonya and Paul headed into the woods for the Giant Wall Traverse, I headed over to the Fireman's Tower to regroup before my leg. (Note: The one minus of this was that I missed getting to see the new obstacle, the Coffin. Next time for sure!)

While I was waiting for Paul and Tonya at the Fireman's Tower, I hung out with some other people waiting to run their third leg or having just finished their second leg. This highlights some of the fun of the relay. The atmosphere was light and all about having a good time as a team, at least for me in journeyman. There was great camaraderie. Plus, it was fun to get to go around with teammates for much of the course and aid each other on the obstacles.

Soon, Paul and Tonya appeared over the hill and headed towards me. It was "Go" time!

Both Tonya and Paul followed me around my section of the course as I did my obstacles. Tonya was surveying the rest of the course and Paul was taking some pictures for some obstacle demo videos that he and Rob wanted to do for the Shale Hill website. My section of the course included some of the most challenging obstacles. I started with the barbed wire crawl, then did the log carry with A-frame.

I then made my way to one of my favorite obstacles, The Loom. Fun as always!

The Hay Bales from Hell seem to multiply every time I am over at Shale Hill. There was actual a hay bale "obstacle" at Tough Mudder a few weekends ago, and I had to laugh because now only were the bales only two in number, but they were not the huge mounded piles I'm used to from Shale Hill.

My biggest victory of the day was on the 19' rope climb. This climb takes place right after the 11' rope and wall climb.

A couple of ropes back to back is tough, and these are late in the course. To make matter even more challenging, the 19' climb uses a 2" thick rope, a rope so think even elites find it challenging. I had yet to make it up this climb. Today, was the first time I made it. I was able to get a good s-hook with my legs and, because I was fresher than normal, having not run the entire course, I made it up.

After the victory on the ropes, it was on to the bucket carry. This is always not a favorite, but with journeyman, I am able to self-pace and determine the right weight for the bucket for me (in my case not all the way full). I was able to fill the bucket a challenging, but not abusive, amount, something I appreciated it. Go journeyman division!

I burned myself out a little on this because my hands were pretty tired for the monkey bars. Tonya had wanted to try them and did around 3/4 of them, leaving only 1/4 for me to do, which ended up being just fine. My hands were muddy, the bars kept rotating, and I have trouble finding purchase.

Another interesting moment of the day -- I won't quite call it a victory -- was on the tarzan ropes. The best I had ever done was make it around half way through. Today, I had a tough time getting started and made my way to the half way point falling off a few times but still keeping trying. However, from the mid-way point, I was able to get a good rhythm going and actually made it all the way to the wall. My hands were toast at that point, and Paul helped push me up over the wall. I was very excited though to make it the second half of the way. This obstacle is all grip strength and cadence. I am hoping to really learn to nail it during my week at camp at Shale Hill in August.

From there it was a failed attempt on the warped wall. (Again, I plan to go and see if my Spahten friend / Ninja Warrior expert, Matt can help with this.)

The race finished as it always does, weaving along the culverts along the obstacle known as the Anaconda. At this point I was pretty tired. I hadn't brought my hydration pack or snacks thinking I'd just cover my two or so miles, and I was ready for some lunch. I ran up the hill and crossed the finish line right after Tonya. We were done! Time for chocolate milk (a Shale Hill staple) and a banana.

The Shale Hill Relay Race Challenge was a fun time. It was a good way for people to get an introduction to the course in a less intimidating way. It was a good opportunity for those of us who love the course at Shale Hill to tackle it as a team. Relays have a different vibe. They feel more communal and supportive. I am lucky that I get to do my races with the NE Spahtens and always have a great group of people to race with and support me. The Relay Race Challenge is a nice opportunity for other people to enjoy that same sense of community.

(Note: Amazing photos are all credit of Paul Jones of the NE Spahtens. Thank you, Paul!)

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