Monday, August 17, 2015

Shale Hill Moss Anniversary / Benson Bear Race

2:44. That's my new PR for Shale Hill, a 6.5 mile obstacle course with 65 obstacles. This personal best came on a day when I failed only five of the obstacles and made it almost 2/3 of the way through the course with 100% obstacle completion. All this on August 16, 2015 at the Moss Anniversary / Benson Bear Race.

Race day ended up having fairly perfect weather. It was less hot than predicted and the humidity seemed low. It wasn't too sunny. The only minus was that it had rained intensely the day before leaving the course fairly slippery.

Around 100 people had turned up for the run. The Moss Anniversary / Benson Bear Race is actually the only traditional race on the Shale Hill calendar for the year. It's racer's sole chance to see how they can do on the course, one lap, as fast as they can. This much have good appeal because the attendance was second only to the Polar Bear 8 Hour,

The race has a great community feel, likely in part because it honors the anniversary of Jason and Heather Moss who had their wedding at Shale Hill in the summer of 2014. Shale Hill has a devoted fan group and those who frequent the course are treated like family by owners Rob and Jill and also come to be friendly faces at races. In addition to the absolutely stellar course, this sense of tight-knit community really sets Shale Hill apart.


After a quick racer's meeting, the event started at 9:00 a.m. with the elite wave going out first, followed by the 10K open and journeyman at 9:15 a.m. and then the 5K group at 9:30 a.m. Here's a map from last summer with the obstacles that existed at the time. (You can read a descriptive write-up on each on my first post about Shale Hill.) Rob, the race director at Shale Hill, has added quite a few obstacles since then, including: The Zigzag of Awesomeness (a set of hanging 2" pipes you must move across with your hands), the coffins (a 16' box you have to pull yourself up via your fingertips), the tire swings / hanging baseballs, and the warped wall.


I went into this race wanting to do my best. I had done quite a bit of training and racing up at Shale Hill during the year and was ready to see the best time I could put up on the course. I was focused, excited to race, and feeling ready to go.

The beginning of the race went very well. I made the pond traverse doing the rope with the heaven's gate obstacle (a large metal ring around the rope). I made it through all five panels of the giant traverse wall. I had even done what I thought I wouldn't do and made it across the Zigzag of Awesomeness, an obstacle with two long 2" metal pipes suspended over the ground on an upward angle, requiring you to creep up the poles using only your fingers. I'd never made this obstacle before but made it with ease. My obstacle completion was at 100%, and I was feel the sense of flow that is so prized in athletics and creative endeavors. It was my day. I wanted this.

Overall, I failed only five obstacles during the day on a course with 65 very challenging obstacles. They were the Alcatraz wall, tire swing, parallel bars, monkey bars, and Tarzan ropes. The Alcatraz wall is one that I have never failed and will likely never fail again. The Alcatraz wall comes at almost the 2/3 point of the course and directly after the muddiest part of the course, a barbed wire crawl. This obstacle requires you to climb an inclined wall of around 20 feet using a rope. Usually I grab the rope and climb right up, getting good traction with my Icebugs. On Sunday, the ropes were beyond slippery. The course was very wet from the rain we'd had the day before and the ropes were not just wet but also covered in mud from people going through the crawl. I tried all the ropes and could not get purchase with my hands. The wall was also slick with mud. I tried to grab the rope by pinching it with my legs, but I was completely unable to get up. I had gotten to this part of the course feeling great, especially with my success on the Zigzag of Awesomeness. The failure on the Alcatraz wall, an obstacle I had never even struggled on, brought me crashing down to Earth.

I was off my game mentally. This was so much the case that I did not give as much of a focused effort as I should have on the tire swings. This obstacle is deceptive. It's a set of eight tire swings on ropes of varying lengths. They are spaced far apart and you have to navigate from tire to tire with your feet without touching the ground. I made it across this new obstacle with a pretty intensive effort during training one day and was hopeful I'd make it during race day, but with my mind unfocused and my confidence a bit shaken from the Alcatraz wall, I was not concentrating like I needed to. I moved on, but I was disappointed in my uneven effort. Through the barbed wire crawl and the log carry, I took time to get my head back into the game. Yes, I was disappointed in my performance, but I had been having a great day, and I was going to reengage and continue to have a good day. I headed over to the loom and completely sailed through it. I nailed it. I was back on track. I hit the Hay Bales from Hell and made it through with much less effort than during the 24 Hour of Shale Hell race. I was cruising again.


I hit a few snags on the last few obstacles of the course. First was the parallel bars. I have yet to master these -- they are the one obstacle that eludes me. I also had a bit of a disappointing turn on the monkey bars when I made it to the second to last rung  and slipped off as the bar rotated underneath me. I knew I had given it a great effort through, unlike with the tire swings.

On Monday and Tuesday the week before the race, I had come up to Shale Hill and, for the first time, had made it across the 12 rope Tarzan swing. I had been looking forward to getting a change to tackle the Tarzan swing on race day. I made it to the obstacle but unfortunately made it only around 2/3 of the way before falling off. I tried again and made it half way. This was a disappointment, but I know I can do this obstacle. (I have the feel for it in my body, as it were.) The goal now is to increase consistency so I can nail it on race day.

I made it to the finish line running as hard as I could considering how tired my legs were and the fact that there's a small hill to finish. 2:44, my best time on the course to date. I was then and remain pleased with my performance during the day and how the race turned out. It wasn't perfect top to bottom, but, overall, the race was a huge success and did a lot to show the progress I've been making over the course of the summer.

This past year I have been running the non-competitive journeyman division. I believe the time has come to move to the open division and become a little more competitive with myself. I was the first person in journeyman to finish at the Benson Bear Race. Furthermore, I have only one obstacle on the course that I have not properly completed at least once, the parallel bars. I can make it across the parallel bars but not without having to stop at least once -- I want to make it all the way across in one go. I have work to do on consistency with around a half dozen of the obstacles -- the traverse wall, the monkey bars, the tire swing, the Tarzan ropes, the 19' rope climb, and the Zigzag of Awesomeness are not guaranteed "completes," and I continue to struggle with the heavy carries.

There is work to be done for the 2016 race season at Shale Hill (and my last races of 2015). I'm hoping to lay the groundwork for this training when I spend a weekend at the Shale Hill OCR adult camp next weekend. Hopefully, I'll come away with a training plan in place and a readiness to work hard and improve.


(Note: NE Spahtens picture courtesy of Vince Rhee. Other pictures from Photography by Benjamin Bloom. Thank you!)

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