Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tri-Obstaclon

Tri-Obstaclon is Shale Hill's answer to the triathlon. Honestly, this is one of those events that I never thought I'd see myself at. I'm not a biker. One Shale Hill season pass and a birthday gift of a commuter bike that happens to have hybrid tires later, I found myself lined up at the starting line for today's Tri-Obstaclon race.


Tri-Obstaclon was advertised as having a bike ride of ~5 miles on rolling hills to Lake Champlain where we'd swim 300 yards in shallow water and then ride back. Participants then had the option to do the 5K or 10K 60 obstacle course. (Truly gifted [insane?] athletes could opt for two runs of the 10K obstacle course.) In reality, the ride to and from Lake Champlain totaled more like 13.5 miles. With the swim and 10K course, we ended up tackling around 20 miles for the entire race. This race is not for the faint of heart. You need to be fit! The entire thing, run in the non-competitive Journeyman division (in which you try all the obstacles but don't have to do penalties), took me around five and a half hours, and I believe I finished fairly early in the Journeyman division. 

The race started at 9:00 a.m. The 41 registered participants all arrived at Shale Hill around an hour before to check-in, organize our gear at the transition point, and head over to the 8:45 a.m. racer's meeting. 


I had debated gear, especially what to wear for this race quite a bit. I don't have biking gear, but I do have a bathing suit. Should I opt for the suit under pants for the bike and swim and then change? In the end, I decided to wear my carpri tights and NE Spahtens drill shirt throughout. For the bike and swim, I wore some old Altra minimalist sneakers that were actually designed for tri's and had good drainage. For the swim, I would just take off my drill shirt and swim in the tights and sports bra. On the recommendation of the race director, I kept my sneakers on for the swim -- the shoreline had sharp rocks and clams. For the bike to obstacle course race transition, I switched my socks and shoes, opting to wear my normal Icebugs and Injinjis for the obstacle piece. I used my hydration pack throughout. I had water with MiO Fit, Larabars, and Sharkies Energy Chews (which are sadly pretty much impossible to find now -- too bad because they're the best!). I didn't get quite enough fuel on the bike portion of the race, but my fueling on the obstacle race part was on-point. This turned out to be key.


After sorting out my gear at the transition area in the barn, I headed out to socialize and wait for the racer's meeting. Rob, race director and owner of Shale Hill, gathered up at 8:45 a.m. With the exception of one or two people, everyone had been up to Shale Hill before, so the remarks were brief. 




By 9:00 a.m., we were on our bikes and at the starting line ready to go. I hung to the back. I commute usually around four days a week 3 miles to work and 3 miles back on the relatively flat bike path. I had not taken my bike out for any off-roading prior to the race, and I knew I was going to need to take the bike section slow. In addition, it had rained heavily the night before, making the ground slippery.


The 6.5 mile ride started by taking us out of Shale Hill along part of the course. I actually almost fell off my bike here. The ground was wet and muddy. Along with many people, I found myself walking sections of the course. 


The first technical (in my limited opinion anyway) section was fortunately brief. We soon were out on the main road going along one of the brief paved sections of the course. We quickly turned off onto a dirt road where most of the riding would take place. This part was certainly no problem to navigate on my bike; however, it was hard. Rob had said "rolling hills," which sounds friendly enough. In my mind, rolling hills conjures hills where you can coast down, building up enough momentum to get up the next hill. This was not the case. 


If you were to ask me, I would say that the biking section felt like it was uphill both ways. I was constantly pedaling uphill in gears so low I had never used them before. On a couple of hills, I had to get off my bike and walk a section, again something I had not done before. For much of the bike ride I was DFL (dead f*!king last), minus a person with a bike malfunction, and it was a very odd feeling. Lonely. Definitely not good. (Note: I have so much respect for the back-of-the-packers. They are out there for longer than anyone else and working hard that entire time. Please know that my feeling shared here are more based on discomfort of being in that position for the first time and should not be taken as a negative against anyone. Believe me; I think you guys rock!) The roads were well-marked and well-staffed with volunteers. I wasn't worried about getting lost, but I didn't want this to take all day -- I had carpool buddies I didn't want to hold up. I decided, in the interest of catching up to a few people, to be a little bit less cautious on the downhills. This definitely helped a little bit, and I did catch up with Sandy and Steve, who I did the rest of the ride and the swim with. 

It also taught me why people have fenders on their bike. By the time I got back to Shale Hill after the second bike ride, my face and legs were spattered with mud, and I had some dirt lodged in my right eye. All in all, I was very impressed with my bike, which held up fantastically. It got super muddy, and was treated to a post-race power-washing at the car wash near Okemo on the ride home. 


The relentless bike ride along dirt roads culminated in a section of technical trails near Lake Champlain. The last half mile or so, was so technical that Sandy, Steve, and I ended up ditching our bikes and walking. On our way down to the lake, we saw people coming up from the swim with their bikes and no one was riding. There was deep mud, rocks, and steep hills. I was wearing pretty flat shoes designed for road running and my bike's platform pedals. I was slipping around in the mud and on the hills. 

Once we got to lake, a volunteer took our split, and then we headed into the water. At this point, my shoes seemed genius. They had drainage and were great in the water. The 300 yard swim was actually extremely pleasant. It followed the shore, going first to the right and around a buoy and then back to the left around a buoy and back. You could walk the entire thing if you chose. I alternated between swimming and walking. Lake Champlain was a pleasant temperature, though with lots of grass and weeds. Walking from the transition, doing the swim and walking back was pretty quick, taking around 15 minutes all-in-all. 




The swim was nice to break things up a bit. I really needed some time away from my bike at this point. Soon though, it was back to the bike and back to the dirt roads for the ride back to Shale Hill. Again, it felt like uphill all the way. I did better than time overall though. I was less far back, did better with shifting my gears, felt more confident on the hills, and only got off my bike to walk it maybe once, maybe twice (compared with four times or so on the way out). 


The entire ride back I kept thinking, "I cannot do the 10K after this." My legs felt wobbly. I had been out for a couple of hours and not had quite as many fluids as I should have. I felt spent. I seriously considered dropping from the 10K to 5K option before convincing myself that I would be very disappointed in myself if I didn't at least make the attempt at the full distance. The last hill that I had to get off the bike and walk, I felt as if my legs weren't working. They were gelatin! This was going to be interesting.


I finally made it back to Shale Hill. I dropped off my bike and headed into the bar to change into my Injinjis and Icebugs for the obstacle course portion of the race. I took the time to take in some good nutrition in the form of a Larabar and drank some water. My legs were starting to feel a bit better. Apparently daily three mile bike rides to and from work paired with hour long gym sessions mid-day meant that my legs were good at recovering off the bike. Though I wasn't ready for the technical nature of the bike ride and though I had under estimated the intensity of the bike segment (not to mention the distance -- a little over 13 miles, instead of 10), my legs knew how to recover from a ride fast.

I had not anticipated this. I considered my daily rides of 15 to 20 minutes to the office and 15 to 20 minutes back home to not ever be "real" exercise -- that was just how I commuted. It turns out, in this regard, I was more prepared for a triathlon than I thought. My body was tired, but my legs were okay. This held true, and I was able to run through the entire course. I was overall fatigued but my legs were moving fine.


Because I could run, by which I mean do my normally jog that I call running, I was able to pass a lot of people on the course. I ended up making up a ton of time on the obstacle course and caught up with and passed a lot of people who had been far ahead of me on the bike ride.

In fairness, I should add that being in the Journeyman division and not having to do penalties helped here. The Journeyman division is for people who want to try every obstacle, give it 100%, but not do penalties for failed obstacles. The Journeyman division is non-competitive, meaning you cannot place or qualify for prizes. It's perfect for people who like to go out on the course and challenge themselves and have fun. I do Journeyman because I like to save my strength for the obstacles instead of having to worry about penalties. There are around a few obstacles at Shale Hill that I normally fail (Zigzag of Awesomeness, Tarzan ropes, Great Wall, parallel bars) and a few I sometimes fail (2" rope 19' climb [so thick!], warped wall, and the rotating monkey bars [which are very late in the course]), which for Shale Hill is actually pretty good. I could probably run competitive, but I like the flexibility of Journeyman. It also allows me some adjustments in my carries. I do a slosh pipe instead of the double logs on the Log Split Carry because I hurt my shoulder a bit on the Log Split Carry at the Polar Bear race. I can try multiple times on obstacles, and I do. I give it my all, and Journeyman works well for me. I completely understand people who want to place and who are more competitive doing the other divisions. It's also great for those who are motivated by penalties. I love that Shale Hill offers both options.

Once I hit the obstacle course part of Tri-Obstaclon, I was cruising. (Note: I will just recount the unique aspects of the Tri-Obstaclon race. For a full write-up of the Shale Hill course, visit my blog post here.) Instead of not being able to do the 10K course, I nailed it! It felt fantastic. I only missed on obstacle that I normally make -- the traverse rope across the lake. My overall fatigue caught up with me here, and my legs and arms gave out a little bit. While that was a disappointment, I made all the other obstacles I normally do and actually had some good improvement on some. (At the end of the race, a fellow Shale Hill regular came over to complement me on my work on the Loom saying that I was faster than the last time she had seen me!)



I also, for the first time in a race at Shale Hill, ran most of the course by myself. This meant that I could go at my pace, which in some cases meant I was moving a bit more quickly as I didn't have to wait for people at obstacle -- a natural occurrence when you do any running with people since you all have to take your turn. In general, I love the camaraderie and motivation of racing with others, but sometimes you have to run your own race. This allowed me to be efficient. I was tired from the ride, and I wanted to tackle the course as quickly as possible and get this done. For this race, this strategy worked well for me.



This was also my first time on the course with a few of the new Robstacles (the name for the obstacles created by Shale Hill owner, Rob Butler). It was my first time seeing the Coffins, a 16' narrow box that you had to slide through, uphill, on your back using just your fingers in tiny holes. This obstacle was right after the giant traverse wall and, sadistically, recruited some of the same muscles that were sapped from the traverse. Fortunately, this was one obstacle were being small came in handy. I was able to wedge my feet and knees against the wall and frog-kick my way up as I pulled myself along with my fingers. This was a fun one!

The other new obstacle came right at the 2/3 mark on the course after the Fireman's Pole. It featured three lanes: One with hanging tires, one with hanging baseballs, and one that is TBD. (Here's a link to a video of the new obstacle.) I made it through five out of eight tires before falling off. I think this will be an obstacle I can do in the future though. I just lost momentum transitioning from one tire to the next and got a little hung up. Next time I'm up in Benson at Shale Hill, I'll be sure to work on this one.

I had a great run through the course. While, overall my body was very tired from the bike ride, I was feeling better than expected. Shale Hill is upper body intensive, and my upper half was not warn out. I kept my energy up with good fueling, and my legs had recovered better than expected. The only enemy was the overall fatigue of 2:15 of exercise before running the 10K course, which takes me around three hours. I'm not sure of my splits, but in the end, I think I tackled the course in just over three hours, basically a decently average time for me.


Since I was not running with other people, I got to meet up with people along the way and run with different people for different amounts of time. It was fantastic. My energy was definitely flagging on the last mile. After the hay bales (my least favorite part of the course -- they wear you down mentally and physically), I was ready to be done. I made a valiant effort on the monkey bars before heading up the hill and making my way to the Tarzan Ropes, warped wall [which I made for the first time ever by grabbing the side and then pulling myself up!], and anaconda). On the way, I ran into Rob and found a small bit of energy to razz Rob about the "five mile bike ride with rolling hills." I didn't want to stop moving because I knew if I stopped I would never get moving again.





Finally, the finish line was in sight. I wove my way up and down the seemingly endless anaconda and then up the hill to the finish. My legs could barely move, but I was almost there, and I wasn't going to stop running. People where cheering. I got to the top of the hill, rang the bell, and got my medal!

This was my most challenging race to date, other than the Spartan Beast (which was a type of suffering I really did not enjoy and will never do again) and the Shale Hill Polar Bear race (which was the type of "suffering" I do like, and which I will do again if my schedule allows).


The remarks I posted on Shale Hill's Facebook page say it all, "Excellent race! Definitely one of the more unique events I've done. That bike ride was no joke and really made the 10K obstacle course afterwards feel very different." This race was a challenge. It was also interesting, different, and fun. It brought me out of my comfort-zone with the biking and allowed me to play to my strengths with the obstacle course race portion. Like I just said, this race was hard. At times, I could not image making it through the 10K obstacle course race at the end of the hardest bike ride I have ever done (and, honestly, ever plan to do). I am happy I had the mental focus and physical fitness to tackle the course and do as well as I could. From a race like this, I can see how my obstacle course skills are improving and where my fitness is growing and where I need work.

Tri-Obstaclon is a great race for anyone who wants to bring together some disparate sports and test their mental and physical toughness. As a bonus, it's a fun time with a supportive group of people. Looking for you next endeavor? Tri-Obstaclon might be it. 


(Note: Photos from Shale Hill's Facebook page and MemorEvents. Spahtens photos from Vince Rhee. Thank you!)

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