Monday, July 18, 2016

Tri-Obstaclon 2016

Last year, I called Tri-Obstaclon one of the top three hardest races I had ever done. Obviously that meant I had to do it again this year. Tri-Obstaclon is Shale Hill's version of a triathlon. Participants mountain bike approximately 7 miles to Lake Champlain, do a 300 yard swim, bike back, and then run the 10K obstacle course at Shale Hill. There are options for everyone. If you are looking for a shorter length challenge, you can opt to do the bike, swim, and then 5K obstacle course. If you are looking for even more of a distance to traverse, there is an elite option with a 600 yard swim and two laps of the 10K course. As always, Shale Hill offers both open waves (with penalties of 25 spiderman push-ups for failed obstacles) and the journeyman non-competitive and penalty free division. Shale Hill also offers the option for a relay format (thought I don't think I saw anyone take that option).

For Saturday's race, I chose to do the 10K open wave (with penalties) option. Last year, I ran Shale Hill's races in the journeyman category. I had been encouraged to consider the competitive option. Shale Hill is edging in on 70 obstacles, and there are only a handful that I routinely fail -- time to get "serious."


I borrowed a bike rack and my roommate's car to take my bike up to Vermont. Let me be clear that while I have a bike and use it pretty much daily to commute to and from work, it is not, perhaps, ideal for racing. It's a heavier model, optimized for transporting my lunch and gym clothing with a basket on the back. The gears are not as smooth as I might want and sometimes the chain jumps. However, the bike has hybrid mountain bike tires and is rugged. The mountain bike 14 mile portion of Tri-Obstaclon is mostly on rolling hills along country dirt roads -- my bike would suffice for this purpose. It did last year.

Saturday morning dawned hot. I was staying in Benson (home of Shale Hill) with a few teammates. We coordinated, stopped by the Benson Country Store for some coffee and bagels with eggs, and then headed up to Shale Hill to check-in. As always, registration at Shale Hill is a breeze. This is a place where everyone knows you, where the race director will give you a huge and welcome you, and where the volunteers know your name on course and will cheer you on personally. Shale Hill is really the NE Shaptens home away from home, if you ask me. It's for sale, and so if you haven't made it up to Benson yet, this year is the year to take advantage. It's a special place.

At check-in we got a goodie bag with some stickers for Shale Hill, Tri-Obstaclon, and Team Sinergy. We also got a nice sleeveless tank as our finisher shirt. This is my first memory of Shale Hill providing a shirt that's not 100% cotton. I know a lot of people love tech shirts, so I can only imagine that this was met with excitement. (I'm a cotton and cotton blend person myself since I like to wear race shirts for casual wear or as pajamas instead of at the gym.)

The race was set for a 9:00 a.m. start. Considering the heat, I almost wish that we had started a bit earlier, but a 9:00 a.m. start is good for anyone who wants to travel in the day-of. There was a racers meeting at around 8:45 a.m. where Rob, the race director, outlined what we needed to consider for safety, announced the penalties for the obstacles failures, and told us more about the bike and swim portions. Helmets were required for the biking and shoes were required for the swim since the lake had zebra clams. 

After announcements, Vince Rhee took our lovely team picture and then we were off to get inline for the biking portion.


We began lined up along the fence that runs perpendicular to the barn. At the starting gun, we ran to our bikes and jumped on to begin the ride to the lake.


In 2015 I bemoaned the biking portion of Tri-Obstaclon. This year, I knew the ride would be 7 miles each way, not the 5 to 6 that is advertised. I was more prepared, had tuned up my bike, and had more biking experience, including a brief weekly trail ride to pick up my CSA after work. As a result, I was able to enjoy the bike ride a lot more this time around.


The bike course took us along rolling hills. On the way out to the lake, there was definitely more downhill than up. I don't especially like the feeling of going downhill on gravel and the lack of traction, so this was a good opportunity to practice getting comfortable with that feeling and keeping my bike under good control. In general, I did pretty well. I also limited the amount of time I got off the bike. In general, a lot of the Tri-Obstaclon participants are into OCR foremost and don't do a ton of biking. I am lucky that I bike regularly, if not quickly. I kept reminding myself to not pull up too much on the handlebars when going uphill so as to save my arms strength for the obstacles. I also tried to be smart about using the gears on my bike.


Because it was warm out, I kept hydrated. The wind of the bike cruising downhill felt fantastic. It was so warm and humid, that after about 10 minutes, I ended up taking off my NE Spahtens drill shirt and raced the rest of the day in my sports bra. This is the first time I have ever done a race in a sports bra, and it was a very nice way to race, as it was much cooler. Any worries I had about scratching up my delicate stomach were unfounded. I had no trouble going over walls, carrying logs, or going up ropes in just a sports bra and capri tights. The only modification I had to make was that doing the traverse rope could not be done on the top. Riding a bike without a shirt was amazing!

The scenery along the bike route was lovely. Soon, I made it to the wooded area bordering the lake. This part of the trail is quite technical for someone like me who really only rides on the road, so I ended up running the last quarter mile or so down to the lake, as I did last year.

All along the bike course and at the lake there were lots of volunteers to keep an eye out for everyone and cheer people on. At the lake, I checked in with a volunteer, as splits were being manually tracked. I had make the ride in less than an hour. With the heat, I was eager to get into the water. When I did, it felt wonderful. The temperature was refreshing but not too cold.

The 300 yard swim was set up for people who are not regular swimmers. The entire way, a person could stand up and have their head above the water. (Note: This is not true if you're especially short like me, but you are, even then, swimming parallel to the shore with the ability to swim in only a foot or too towards the beach and be able to stand.) There were ample volunteers at the swimming section, including a life guard who was in the water with us and following along as we swam. The swim was perfectly lovely, if a bit of work on my arms. I got out of the water refreshed and jogged back up to my bike to begin the ride back to Shale Hill.

The ride back took slightly longer than the ride out since there were more uphill sections. I only had to walk in a couple of places -- one of which was because my chain jumped. All in all, I enjoyed the biking section much more than last year and felt slightly less tired afterwards; though biking 14 miles is work no matter what and gravel roads require much more effort than paved ones.

When I got back to Shale Hill, I took a couple of minutes to eat a Larabar and change my socks and shoes. I had uses my Reebok Spartan shoes, which have drainage holes, for the bike and swim, and I wanted to change into my Injinji socks and Icebugs with carbide tips for the obstacle course portion. I drank a lot of water and put on more sunblock. I decided to skip taking my hydration pack with me, since I had so enjoyed running without it at Viking Obstacle Race last Sunday. This was certainly convenient, but I probably should have taken it. Viking had 4 evenly spaced water stations and was mostly in the woods and took me around two hours per lap. Shale Hill has most of the water stations towards the end and has large portions of the race in the fields, which lacks any protection from the sun. Having my pack would have been nice, since I got slightly dehydrated towards the end of the course and quite sunburned.


Last year, I finished the race in 5:27. This year, I did it in 5:22. I consider that basically the same. My time on the obstacle course was faster last year. This year I did a bit better on the biking. I think that a huge factor in my decreased speed on the course was the heat. I did very well on the obstacle course portion -- that is my main sport -- however, during the last mile I was dragging. Also, doing penalties takes some time.

I failed less than a half dozen obstacles -- Zig-zag of Awesomeness, Slackline, parallel bars, monkey bars, and Tarzan ropes. Of those, I commonly fail the Zig-zag; the Slackline is new (and is something I feel I should be able to do); the parallel bars is the one obstacle I have yet to get at Shale Hill; the monkey bars I have trouble with because they are so late in the course; and the Tarzan ropes I can almost always make in training but can sometimes miss during races since they are the third to last obstacle and require so much grip strength. Suffice it to say, I can do better, and know that if I keep training there will be a time when I get all of the obstacles at Shale Hill.


I did, on Saturday, make a couple of obstacles I find to be hit-or-miss with completion. I did very well on the tire swing, and make the 19' rope climb without too much difficulty. I did well on the log splitter carry too. Those are all obstacles that have given me trouble in the past. I also did the pond traverse very efficiently despite having to do it entirely underneath. (As I mentioned, I ended up running the course in just a sports bra and capris and doing the traverse rope on top, my preferred method, gave my stomach too much rope burn.)


When I crossed the finish line I was exhausted but happy. I had enjoyed my day tremendously. The last mile of the race was incredibly challenging! I was hot and tired and would have signed up for Tri-Obstaclon 2017 in a heartbeat! I put on my finishers medal and headed over to the bar for some tacos and local chocolate milk. What a great day.

Shale Hill is hands down my favorite place to race. Rob and Jill, owners of Shale Hill and co-race directors, always put on a wonderful event. My next race of the season, coming up on August 6 is 24 Hours of Shale Hell, in which I'll try to do as many laps of the Shale Hill course as I can in 24 hours. I cannot imagine how hard this will be and how much fun. I cannot wait to get back to Benson in a few weeks and spend a weekend with the NE Spahtens and other OCR friends hanging out and doing lap after lap at Shale Hill.

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