Sunday, November 15, 2015

F.I.T. Challenge: The Epic Fifth Challenge 2015

What can I say, I am a fan of #racelocal. Local races are the place where I feel like I see real innovation with interesting and diverse obstacles. They are the place where you can bring friends for free and where everyone knows your name. Local races are where you can chat with the race director, where you can give feedback, where you see people who want to make your experience as a racer as good as it can be. They also tend to be more affordable, allowing people to take part in more events per year. For someone who likes to race once a month, or even more in the summer, these cost-savings are key, since OCR can easily add up. In sum, to me, F.I.T. Challenge is the highlight of what #racelocal is all about.

F.I.T.'s fifth race took place on Saturday at Diamond Hill State Park in Cumberland, Rhode Island. This is my second time going to Diamond Hill, the first time being this April for the fourth F.I.T. Challenge. I had such a great time at that event, that I was very glad when graduate school classes did not conflict and thus allowed me to attend the fall event. Diamond Hill State Park is a great location for F.I.T. in my book. When I arrived, I was quickly directed to the onsite parking, which cost $10. The cost for parking is the only additional charge at F.I.T., again something to be appreciated. F.I.T. is also very family friendly. When I arrived I exchanged hugs with many fellow NE Spahtens. The team had put up a tent right near the parking lot and just a few steps away from my car. (I got the best parking ever -- maybe fifty feet from the starting line!) Right next to the Spahtens tent was registration. I handed in my waver and received my packet with my bib and timing chip. This took seconds. No lines and everything was perfectly organized.

It was a cool day with cloudy skies, gusts of wind, and weather in the low 40s. I kept my hoodie on until the last possible minute. At around 10:40 a.m., the Spahtens headed over to the starting line for a team picture.

Race director, Robb, shared a couple of super quick words and then we were off through the inflatable F.I.T. arch and on our way!

Diamond Hill offers the opportunity for surprisingly rocky and hilly terrain, making for a challenging course. This fall's F.I.T. clocked in at just over 5K in distance, and the park was well-used. In April, I had started more towards the back of the wave and found myself having trouble getting past people on the single track course at the beginning of the race. This time, I started at the front and had a much better time. I had a few waits, probably totaling less than five minutes at some of the obstacles throughout the race, but it was much much less than last time. The course layout made racers tackle a lot of hills early on, which did a great job spacing out the pack.

The course started with a couple of small obstacles -- we had to run over a pair of wood bridges. It was then on to the first climb of the day. The air was cold and my lungs were burning immediately, more than my calves and glutes even. The tried to climb quickly in order to warm up and also to increase my spacing from the pack. As I mentioned before, this was fairly successful and compared with April, the waits were limited.

I ended up running a portion of the race with fellow NE Spahten Ninjas Ragnar teammate, Bobby. Running with others is something I tend to enjoy, so this was a nice diversion from having to navigate some fairly technical rocky areas of trail.

The obstacles at F.I.T. were numerous, interesting, and a good balance of challenging and do-able. I am not going to remember all of them or their order, but I will do my best. The obstacles were well-spaced, something that I appreciate since it keeps the race interesting. The F.I.T. team gets top points for an interesting course with a good use of Diamond Hill's elevation, excellent layout of the obstacles, and for the quality of those obstacles.

After the first bit climb up the mountain and some time in the woods going through rocky, fairly un-run-able sections of trail, we came upon a vertical cargo net climb. There was a little bit of a wait here, but probably only a minute. When I got to the net, I zipped over and then ran off along a stretch of train that was smooth enough to actually have some running take place. There was also a small wait at a section of trail where you used a rope to climb down a stretch of hill between two rocks. F.I.T. offered the option to go around, but no way I was missing this fun.

F.I.T. also had a few strength-based obstacles. After the first climb, we encountered an area were we had to take a barbell and do shoulder presses -- 20 for women and 30 for men. This was an obstacle towards the end of the course last year, and both times, I have found it a challenge. Also, both times, a very encouraging volunteer has made all the difference. Hopefully these ladies know how much I appreciate their kind words! We also had a Wreck Bag carry. There were a variety of weights; I believe 25 lb, 45 lb, and 70 lb bags. I struggle with carries and took the 25 lb bag, which was more than heavy enough to go up and down the hill for a modestly long-enough  stretch. The final strength-based obstacle was an Atlas stone, which we had to lift and toss over our shoulder five times. This was odd but went fine and different weights were provided for men and women, which, as a small woman, I tend to appreciate.

F.I.T. also brought back one of my favorite obstacles from the April race -- a peg board climb, immediately followed by a rope climb.  In April, I struggled on the rope climb after the peg board. This time, I had no problem with either the peg board, which I was able to do using my legs and arms, or with the rope climb. There were a set of knotted ropes and an unknotted rope. I scurried up the unknotted rope with the s-hook and transitioned to the j-hook to speed down. Right after that was an obstacle just like Double Up at Shale Hill. We had to jump up and grab a log, pull ourselves up, and then go over a second round log on top. I enjoy this obstacle and was glad to see it at F.I.T.

The highlight of the day for me was and obstacle called The Destroyer. This is the first obstacle that has scared me in quite some time. I was able to get over it by myself, but I was happy to have a volunteer spotting me just in case, and I would not have made it over without the coaching that the volunteers at this obstacle provided. The Destroyer was an inverted wall where you had to use a kick (and in my case the side of the obstacle) to get up to a tiny grip. From that grip, one grabbed the top of the inverted wall. On top of the inverted section of the obstacle was another wall that went straight up. This, for me was the hardest part. I had to transition from where I was to another block up on the flat wall. The reach from the lower grip and the section where the walls met to the higher block was a far one. It was here that the volunteers' cues came into play. Once I got the higher block, I was able to pull myself up and dig my shoes into where the two walls met and climb over. The transition from the inverted wall to the higher straight wall was a bit of a scary one. I slipped a bit at one point and was glad that the volunteer was spotting me and that I have good grip strength. I was very excited to get over this obstacle!

Another favorite for me was The Rig. I always love a good Rig. This wasn't one of the most challenging, but that was good in a way since it was the second to last obstacle and, at that point, I didn't want to wait for more than a couple of minutes. The Rig had a set of monkey bars, which transitioned to a horizontal bar. That led to a couple more monkey bars which you had to use to swing to a cargo net that you climbed up and over. Super fun!

Throughout the course, there were a lot of walls, many around four or five feet, including at least two inverted walls. I consider these "medium height" walls to be my favorite variety, and really enjoyed them. I'm also a big fan of the inverted wall, so having them there was popular with me. There was also a taller wall of around eight or nine feet with a rope. Towards the end of the course, was a F.I.T. original -- the floating wall! This wall was suspended between two trees. Aaron, one of the race directors, had built this wall and had it at the Spahtens' Labor Day party, which took place at his parents house. At that point, I had battled the wall and more or less lost. As a result, Aaron has put a kick step on the wall -- the so-called Sibley Step. I was glad to see the Sibley Step still attached to the wall, as I took full advantage of it. Fortunately, the wall was hung quite a bit lower than at Aaron's, and I was able to get over without any trouble.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was that the very final part of the course was on trails that you could actually run! After all the up and down of Diamond Hill, it was great to have a stretch of groomed, less rocky trail where I could move quickly and stretch my legs out.

After the Rig, it was a short run to an inverted ladder wall and then across the finish line. I finished in 1:19:01. Good enough for 127/489, 30/214 (top 14%!) for women, and 15/93 in my age group. This was true, despite the fact that I had to wait a little bit at some of the obstacles, and I find this to be an exciting result.

As I said before F.I.T. is a highlight of what #racelocal should be. This is 100% a race I want to do again. (I am super disappointed that the April race conflicts with my spring grad school class and that I won't be able to make it.) The F.I.T. team puts on a fantastic event that emphasizes what a great local race can be. If you live anywhere in New England and can make it to the next F.I.T., I highly recommend that you do so!

(Note: Photo credits NE Spahtens -- Daniel Parker and Vince Rhee.)

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