Tuesday, April 12, 2016

F.I.T. Challenge VI

It happened like this. I was messaging with friend and fellow NE Spahten, Matt, earlier this winter. We were comparing race schedules. "You doing F.I.T.?" he asked. I replied that, with much sadness, I would be leaving F.I.T. off my spring race schedule. The reason: Saturday 1:00 p.m. graduate school class. Matt was undeterred. He was running the 8:30 a.m. wave. If we left Amherst at 6:15 a.m., we could run, be finished by 10:00 a.m. and back in time for me to have around an hour to get ready for class. Clearly this was ironclad logic. Next thing I knew, I was clicking the "submit" button on the registration page for F.I.T. Challenge VI.

F.I.T. is one of my favorite #racelocal events. (Read my reviews of this past fall 2015's event and the spring 2015 race.) It's a 5K race that takes place at Diamond Hill in Cumberland, Rhode Island. Diamond Hill State Park may have the word hill in the name; however, race director, Robb McCoy, packs a lot of elevation into his course. This year's F.I.T. clocked in at around 3.35 miles. Two days later, my quads are still recovering from the pounding they took running down the hills.

Matt and I arrived at F.I.T. around half an hour before our 8:30 a.m. wave start. Registration took no time at all. The amount of swag was nothing less than epic -- no pun intended (#doepicfit). All participants received a headband, wristband, poly-blend t-shirt, and, upon completion of the race, a finisher's medal.

Even though I was at F.I.T. about two hours before the NE Spahtens' team wave, there was already a Spahtens presence. I headed over to the start line with many fellow teammates.

The course followed an almost identical route to the fall event. This meant that the first part of the race -- the first mile especially -- was a lot of trail running with few obstacles. The obstacles were denser towards the end. This split up the pack and helped avoid some bottlenecks at obstacles. (The one notable exception was the wait at the monkey cargo net.)

Here are the obstacles I recall from F.I.T. In addition to what I list here, here were also a number of walls and over-under-throughs that were places throughout the course, including on top of the hill. There was a lot of running at the onset of the course, so these walls were key to making me feel like the course wasn't too "boring" during the running sections. This sort of attention to detail is a hallmark of F.I.T. and one of the reasons I enjoy this race so much. (Addendum: I apparently did not remember these obstacles in very good order. Check out this YouTube video to see the real order and get a good idea of what the terrain was like.) The obstacles included:

Cargo net: The cargo net was suspended between two trees. Definitely enough wiggle so that you wanted to stay towards the sides as you climbed.
Tires: I first encountered this obstacle at Bone Frog last year. It is harder than one might expect. Tires are hung around a horizontal beam. If you don't get a good enough jump, you can rotate right off.

Wreckbag hoist: This hoist had what I believe were 35 pound and 50 pound Wreckbag options. The rope was quite narrow. I just barely avoided some rope burn.

Floating wall: Aaron Farb, the inventor of the F.I.T. Challenge floating wall, is a bit of a mad genius with this obstacle. It is hard. The floating wall made its debut last F.I.T. and this time a new taller version made an appearance. The wall rotated. A lot. I climbed the wall with one other person and we were almost horizontal (which I will say was unexpected and slightly alarming!). I ended up having him climb down the back first and staying on top to counterbalance. Very cool -- a truly unique obstacle to F.I.T.

Rope wall: A wall of around eight or nine feet, best climbed with a thick rope.
Teeter-totter: Yes, a seesaw. Climb up and down. I saw someone take a serious tumble on a teeter-totter once -- though not at F.I.T. and have been ever-cautious of this obstacle ever since.

Log carry; I was lucky enough to get to the log carry just as a fellow Spahten with a perfectly sized log was finishing up. "Hey, Nicole Sibley!" she shouted and sent me on my way up and down Diamond Hill with a perfect log.
Monkey cargo net: Believe it or not, this was my first time doing and obstacle like this. The monkey cargo net is a challenge, especially one as loose as this. Swinging was not a good option, I discovered right away. (Believe me, I tried.) Like everyone else, I ended up "walking" the net with hands and feet. Regardless, by the end, my grip was tired from moving slowly while holding up the weight of my body. This obstacle was probably the highlight of the day.

Pegboards: Back-to-back strength obstacles! The past three F.I.T. Challenges have featured a pegboard followed immediately by a 15' rope clime. This year, they were directly preceded by the monkey cargo net. As a result, I tried to use my legs quite a bit to help on the pegboard. It helped.

Rope climb: The rope climb after the monkey cargo net and the pegboard was a challenge. It was slow going, but I made it.
Wreckbag carry: I was actually glad to be able to do a carry after all the work on the last three obstacles. I grabbed a 25 pound Wreckbag -- there were 50 pound bags too -- and draped my arms in the loops. Honestly, it was almost a break. Okay, not really, since I was climbing a hill with extra weight on my back, but at least my arms could hang.
Destroyer: The Destroyer was my favorite new obstacle of the fall F.I.T. Challenge, and I loved it once again here. This picture says it all. Climb an inverted wall and then a higher wall on the top. You are high in the air and it's all about having good grip. This obstacle is intense and wonderfully hard to complete.

Inverted wall: A wall angled at 45 degrees or so towards you. I like this because it makes it ever so slightly shorter.

Crawl: Uggg! This was an uphill crawl under what felt like miles of crisscrossed yellow rope. I have some legitimately huge black and blue marks on my knees from this obstacle.

Floating wall: This is a smaller floating wall and the one that debuted at F.I.T. last time. It's also the wall that I got to play at during the Spahtens Labor Day party at Farb's house. At the party, the wall had been hung a bit higher than it was at F.I.T. As a result, Aaron put in a step -- the so-called Sibley Step -- to help the shorter of us get over the wall. When I approached the floating wall at F.I.T. on Saturday, I noticed a certain lack of the Sibley Step. The wall had been hung backwards! Right after I climbed over the wall I noticed Aaron coming over to move the step to the correct side. Naturally, I gave him hell for it as I ran along.
Over-under (with picnic tables): The finish line was in sight but there was still an obstacle-dense section to get through. There was a set of over-unders with hurdles and picnic tables. Note to self: Crawling under a picnic table is not as easy as I anticipated.
Double up: For this obstacle, you have to jump up and grab a log and then pull yourself up a second, higher up parallel log. I enjoy this obstacle. It's a good blend of challenge and fun.
Atlas stone: Lift the Atlas stone up and over your shoulder.
Rig: This Rig from the last race was back. Monkey bars, followed by a horizontal pipe and then a rope climb. Loved it!

Inverted ladder: Just a quick climb up and over and then a quick run across the finish line.

I finished in 1:33:17 with 100% obstacle completion. This was a bit longer than my 1:19 finish in the spring. However, I think, in general, the course times ran a little longer. I finished in the top quarter overall, the top 14% for women, and the top 19% of my age group. These results are identical to the spring's, except that I moved down three percentage points in my age group.

As always, F.I.T. is a fantastic event. It's fun, challenging, and innovative. There is a great attention to detail, a good sense of community, and a wonderful time to be had by all participants. From the first-timer looking for a new experience to the endurance athlete who wants to do as many laps as he can, F.I.T. offers up something for everyone. This fall, I'll be at F.I.T. VII!

(Photo credits: Liz Cardoso for F.I.T. and Vince Rhee for the NE Spahtens.)

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