Sunday, October 11, 2015

Run the Gauntlet

My mother's birthday is this Monday and, as a result, I took the opportunity to travel down to my hometown in Connecticut and visit with her this weekend. I knew that while I'd be down in Connecticut the NE Spahtens #racelocal race, Run the Gauntlet, was going to be taking place at Hammonasset Beach State Park. Hammonasset is in Madison, Connecticut, on the shoreline, and about 45 minutes away from my hometown of Bethany. Why not check it out?

I arrived at Hammonasset at around 9:10 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. NE Spahtens team heat. The last time I had been to Hammonasset was when my two best friends, Molly and Clela, and I made a trip there during high school. When asked that classic question, "The beach or the mountains?" I tend to vote for the mountains -- I like to be surrounded and hemmed in by the trees; however, all these years living in Western Massachusetts, I had kind of forgotten the nice contrast of the lovely openness of the beach. Being at Hammonasset was a real treat!

The Run the Gauntlet group did a really excellent job of directing us to parking. This was good since Hammonasset is a big park, and I didn't want to get lost. Parking, like everything else was free. This was a local race supporting the YMCA and had a nice fun small race feel. 

After parking, I went to register. Registration was very well organized and had zero wait time. You got a chip for timing that you had to wear around your ankle and picked up your bib along with your tech t-shirt. For a small local race of around 200 participants or so, Run the Gauntlet has some really top-notch sponsors including Denali, SmartWool, GoPro, and North Face. 

After registration, I headed down to the beach. There wasn't an official bag check, but when I chatted with the person at the information tent, she told me I was welcome to leave my bag with her, especially since I was a Spahten. This is the sort of nice touch that you only get at a local race, and it was really appreciated! 

I had some time to kill before my wave went off since the registration had been so seamless and the free parking so close. I headed out to the beach to enjoy some scenery. Soon, the other Spahtens started to arrive. A lot of them had come early to run the 9:00 a.m. wave and then also do a second lap at 10:00 a.m. I found myself chatting and socializing with a bunch of the other #racelocal regulars. We snapped a quick team picture before lining up to run.

Run the Gauntlet is a beginner-friendly 5K obstacle course race. It's most definitely a race with some simple obstacles, but they are kind of cute and fun. Sure this isn't Shale Hill, and I wasn't challenged, but, overall, I had a good time. Key to this, was the location: Hammonasset. The beach is really lovely and doing a beach race was a departure for me. I am not a huge fan of climbing mountains, and it seems like every third race I do is at a ski resort. It was nice to have a change of scenery and not have to deal with anything other than running on the flat ground. 

That being said, from the moment we crossed the starting line, it was clear that the running portion of Run the Gauntlet would be the challenge. The entire first mile of the race was run entirely on the sandy beach. Let's be clear: Running on the sand is hard work! This was probably the biggest challenge of the day. I was pleased to be able to run the entire time. All that trail running I've been doing is definitely paying off because I was able to handle the unstable surface of the sand better than I anticipated.

As I mentioned before, Run the Gauntlet was a beginner-friendly 5K. The obstacle were not large, but they were cute. I was able to finish the entire race in 38:15 and most of the time was spent running on the sand. Was the race epic? No. Was it a challenge? Not really. Did I have fun? Sure. Everything was well organized, the volunteers were fantastic, and the course along the beach was pleasing. If I had tackled these obstacles on a ski slope (again) I don't think I'd have had nearly the enjoyment I did. Having the race at Hammonasset was key for me. It was the slightly exotic nature of running along the beach that won me over here. The race did a good job of utilizing the area. The obstacles were not the star, and, for me, not a real challenge, but I had a good day anyway. 

Here's a run down of the race's obstacles:

Charlotte's Web: A very short crawl on sand underneath a net that was spread over a wooden frame. 

Into the Drink: While the entire first mile to mile and a half of the race had us running along the sandy beach, we had the option of running higher up in the dry sand or lower, close to the water, for most of the time. For the Into the Drink obstacles, we had to wade into the water a little bit. I was surprised to find that the water was actually really pleasant. I am, shall we say, sensitive to the cold, but this water felt fine. 
Black Hole: This was a crawl under a tarp though a pit of water. The water was a bit cool but overall not too bad. That being said, I couldn't feel my finger too well for about five minutes after this obstacle.
Alligator Alley: I am, perhaps, not the most whimsical person that ever lived. That being said, this obstacle was adorable even to me. There was a pool of water that we had to traverse on a beam. In the pit of water there were three or four inflatable alligators. I had to laugh -- fantastic!
Hammonasset Hurdles: The Hurdles were a pair of orange barriers like you'd see on a road that you had to go up and over. Lately, I've been using the technique I learned at the Shale Hill Weekend Training Camp and more or less rolling over walls. This is efficient and worked well here. 
The First Ascent: This obstacle was a short rope wall with a ladder on the back side. At this point, we were just past the one mile marker and had been running on the sand the entire time. As my post eluded to before; I am not a beach person by result of geography. The last time I ran on sand was for a half marathon a couple of years back, in which the organizers had us do the final quarter mile or so on the sand -- what kind of crazy people are these! -- and I had no desire to repeat the experience. I was happy to see the course head off the sand after this obstacle and move towards other parts of the park.

Prairie Dog: After leaving the beach, we headed off to the grassy area next to the beach. There, we tackled an A-frame ladder wall and some tires before hitting Prairie Dog, a short tube that we had to crawl through. From there, it was onward to another set of tires that we had to run high-knees through before jogging off along the road towards the beach.
Get Over Yourself: Along the road that we took to get to the event, there were a set of obstacle. The first was a short wall of around 4', which I rolled over. Next was a short ladder that we had to climb and then jump down after crossing a platform to the other side. I actually almost fell off the platform, alarming the poor volunteer who was at that obstacle. Fortunately, I was able to correct myself as I jumped down. Oops!
Dodging Ramen: This was another cute obstacle. (I legitimately cannot believe the number of times I have used the word "cute" in this post...) This obstacle featured a balance beam that ran through a set of hanging pool noodles that one had to swat out of the way while traversing the beam. It was entertaining. The pool noodles were dense but very manageable. 
Trek to Basecamp: We headed back to the beach for the next obstacle, Trek to Basecamp. I believe this was a North Face sponsored obstacle. We had to grab a pack of either 20 or 30 pounds and carry it along a small flat out and back loop. I'm not a fantastic athlete at carries, and I lost a little time here, but all in all, this was not too terrible.
Log Hop: After Trek to Basecamp, we were very close to the finish. The course took us up and over a set of very small hills with rocks along the shore. From there, the finish line was in sight. 

The last obstacle was a set of logs set in the sand. We had to jump from one to the other before making a run through the sand to the finish line.

I finished the race with a clock time of 38:15. This was a small, easy, but enjoyable race. I might not trek all the way to the Connecticut shoreline for this race next year, but, if I'm in the area, I would definitely hit it up again. As you all know by now, I am more a fan of the races that challenge me with a lot of technical obstacles. (I've said time and again that racing at Shale Hill is so amazing it's almost ruined me for other races!) That beings said, Run the Gauntlet was well organized and had a nice turn-out from the NE Spahtens, which made the day fun. The weather was great, the venue was stellar, and the race was a fun diversion. If you're a new obstacle course racer or looking for a race to introduce friend or family to the sport, Run the Gauntlet is a nice way to get started.

(Thanks to Jennifer Decker and Daniel Parker for the photos and Run the Gauntlet for the course map.)

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