Fortunately, a couple of months out, Rob and Jill of Shale Hill added an 8 hour and Relay Team options for the 24 Hours of Shale Hill race. I had enjoyed (Is "enjoyed" really the right word for that sort of suffering?) doing the Polar Bear 8 Hour race back in February; however, I had only managed one lap, which took me 5:26. In the summer months, I can usually do a lap in just around three hours, give or take ten minutes. I had always wondered what I would be able to do if Polar Bear had been in the summer. As a result, when the 8 hour option was offered, I jumped at it. This suited my interests much more than the 24 hour race, which, as this point, I did not have the training time (what with graduate school) or the inclination (24 hours still seems too long to do any one thing) to tackle at this point in my life. I was hoping to get through 2 laps of the 6.5 mile, 60 obstacle course during the 8 hours of 24 Hours of Shale Hell.
I had decided to camp out the night before the race. I am outdoorsy, but I am not a camper. I had a sleeping bag but had to borrow a tent from a coworker. Fortunately, I was able to get the 2-person Coleman tent assembled, though apparently not without looking desperate since the gentleman camped next to me, upon seeing my lack of skill, asked if I needed help (though in a way that implied a level of disappointment at having to share space with someone so lacking is basic tent-related aptitude). Fortunately, I managed and got the tent up.
It was fantastic. The 2-person tent was perfect for camping by myself. The inside was an entire little world. Super camping person that I am, I had brought an air mattress, which I inflated using the outlet in the barn at Shale Hill. Carrying a full twin-sized air mattress and then trying to stuff it through the door of your small 2-person tent is not recommended by the author if you ever plan on feeling anything less than profoundly uncool ever again. Still, I'll give myself props because I slept very comfortably, falling right asleep and sleeping straight through. There was even unexpected rainfall during the night, and I stayed completely dry. A camping success. I really enjoyed myself and plan to camp out again at Shale Hill the night before the Benson Bear race in two weeks.
I woke up at 6:45 a.m. to sun and some humidity. I had a couple of hours until the 8:30 a.m. racers' meeting and the 9:00 a.m. start of the 24 Hours of Shale Hill. I knew I had to get home right after the race, so I packed up my tent and supplies before heading to the country store a quarter mile down the street for a bagel with egg and cheese and a cup of coffee ($5 and the perfect pre-race blend of carbs, protein, and fats). I headed back to Shale Hill and checked in at registration where I got my bib number, 49. I inked my digits on my arm with a permanent blank marker, along with an 8 (for the 8 hour) and a J (for the non-competitive penalty free journeyman division), put on my Icebugs, and waited for the racers' meeting. I also took a quick trip over to the board where all the racers' names were listed. This was to be a racer-supported race. We were to record our laps, along with start and finish times, on a board in the barn. The list was divided over several boards for the approximately 55 racers doing the 24 hours, relay, and 8 hours.
The racers' meeting took place in the barn. Rob quickly went over the logistic of the penalties, which would change each lap. (Note: For all the 8 hours laps, the penalties were 30 spiderman push-ups. For the 24 hours, it started with the spiderman push-ups and then went to other exercises like jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and singing your national anthem.) We then discussed how the race would be athlete-supported, how we should watch out for each other, and how we'd be recording our laps ourselves on the boards in the bar. From the racers' meeting, it was about ten minutes until the race start: time to use the restroom, coordinate my hydration pack, and make it to the starting line a few steps away.
I lined up towards the back as usual. I was hoping to do a couple of laps and targeting around three hours per lap, a doable average pace for me if I mostly jogged and did a little bit of walking. At 9:00 a.m. sharp, Rob grabbed his bullhorn and sounded the siren that meant we were off.
Lap one of the course ended up taking me 3:16 -- a little bit longer than expected. (Note: For a complete write-up about the course at Shale Hill, read my blog post containing the full course walk through. It's a good read if you've never been to Shale Hill.) I alternated between running with people and going off on my own. I did a bit more walking than I had hoped to do. To be entirely honest, I was not feeling it. My legs were a bit heavy and my technique was a little bit off.
We've all had amazing days where things feel effortless or where we exceed our expectations -- my performance on the obstacle course part of Tri-Obstaclon being a good example of a great day on the course where I exceeded my expectations. We're all had days were we felt lousy -- such as how I felt during the Spartan Vermont Beast. This lap, I felt somewhat in between. I didn't feel bad per say, but I was off my game. My legs were kind of heavy and not wanting to move; my technique on some of the obstacle was off.
Suffice it to say, I was not having as much fun as I normally do. I usually fly through the Loom, but that day it felt like work. The Hay Bales from Hell kicked my butt! There were new bales and they were tall and unforgiving. I had to run at one five times before making it over. The hay bales are without a doubt my least favorite obstacle on the course. (Yes, more than the Anaconda.) This time there were more of them, they were higher, and they were harder. I managed to scratch my legs and arms up significantly on the hay bales. They are my nemesis, and, because of that, I made sure to scale each one. Damn if it wasn't hard though. Also, my legs from the knees down now look like an army of cats uses them for scratching posts.
I did pretty well on some obstacles through. I made it through four out of five of the panels on the Great (Traverse) Wall. I made it to the transition from the first to second pipe on the Zig -zag of Awesomeness. I got to see Christine do the most persistent crossing of the pond traverse that has ever happened. I made it almost all of the way across the Monkey Bars (and I would have made it more of the way across if I had been more mentally focused -- minus points there).
Lap two proved, surprisingly enough, much more fun than lap one. Interestingly enough, even though my hands and fingers were exhausted, I actually felt like I had more energy than on lap one. I also did this lap with a battle buddy, an Air Force member (and reader of one of my Shale Hill reviews, which convinced him to sign up), named Sean, I believe (race brain!), who I met on course. We raced from right before the Log Splitter to the end together.
It was great this time around to have company and motivation, even though I was feeling better overall. My hands were definitely the most tired now. The Coffins, which I had not considered a huge challenge on past laps were torture on my extremely tired fingers. I couldn't even get moving on the 19' rope climb on the 2" rope.
Other than that, I did about the same as I usually do on the obstacles, but my hands were red and sore. I felt excited though that I would have the opportunity to complete two laps at Shale Hill for the first time. That powered me through until the end. I finished the second lap in 3:22, only slightly slower than my first lap. My fingers were so tired that my penmanship logging my lap on the board was shaky.
I can truly not imagine how the people who did four or five laps in the 24 Hours version of this race did it. 13 miles and 60 obstacles in the two laps around the course in just under seven hours was enough for me. I really enjoyed the challenge, and I got to do the race that I wanted to do -- one in which I got to challenge my endurance for a period of time that my training and interest supported.
The 8 Hours option of the 24 Hours of Shale Hell is like the Polar Bear 8 Hour of the summer. I'm definitely a warm weather person, and I love Shale Hill to death, so this was a great race for me. So far, this year at Shale Hill I've done Polar Bear, the Relay Race Challenge, Tri-Obstaclon, and now the 8 Hour 24 Hours of Shale Hell. If I was told I could only do one of those races in 2016, this race is the one that I would pick. I liked the long format, and I liked that for that entire time we were on the course at Shale Hill because, of all things, that is my favorite thing to do. For me, two laps in the summer was less grueling than riding a bike and doing a lap or doing one lap in the winter despite, in that case, doing double the distance and double the obstacles. I didn't have a stellar day, but this race played to my strengths and love of the summer weather.
In the afterglow of a race weekend, I even think, "Maybe I should do the 24 Hour some time?" That would require a lot of training, including some consultation with people about what training should look like, and a lot of time. I'm not sure I'm ready for that sort of challenge yet, but this race planted the seed. A year ago, I couldn't have imagined doing two laps at Shale Hill. What might the future hold?
(Note:Photos from MemorEvents.)