Sunday, August 7, 2016

24 Hours of Shale Hell

12 hours. 3 laps. 19.5 miles. Approximately 155 obstacles. That's this weekend's 24 Hours of Shale Hell by the numbers. 24 Hours of Shale Hell is an endurance obstacle course event up at Shale Hill, a fixed obstacle course in Benson, Vermont featuring approximately 70 obstacles over a 6.5 mile loop. For those interested in other challenge options, the race weekend also featured a 5K and 10K race and an eight hour option. I took part in the eight hour race last year, really enjoyed myself, and decided this year, I was ready for a little bit more.

I know this might sound ironic, but I would not say I'm an endurance athlete. I have no interest in pushing myself to my limits. I am the kind of athlete who thinks of athletics more as a form of entertainment. I work hard and train hard, but the goal is always to have fun. I applaud people who are endurance athletes. I applaud people who train to go fast. Basically, I feel that racing can be whatever someone wants it to be. For me, the goal is always heading out on the course and having a good time.

With this in mind, I set my distance goal for Shale Hill. At last year's 8 hour race, I had completed two laps. I decided, I'd plan for three this year. I had little interest in racing through the night. I wanted to show up, do three laps in a row, and then head to bed. Perhaps if I was feeling overly ambitious, I would consider doing more, but probably not. This was a matter if inclination more than skill.

To provide myself with an element of challenge, I decided to run the competitive open wave, instead of the penalty free journeyman division. I had raced competitive -- the division with ranking and penalties -- for Tri-Obstacleon and found I wasn't forced to do a lot of penalties after all. I might not be fast, but I am fairly consistent on the obstacles and, thus, my obstacle completion rate is pretty good.

For me, 24 Hours of Shale Hell was going to be an experience more than a race; a fun weekend away in lovely Vermont, with friends, doing something I love.

Friday, I took the day off from work to organize for my weekend adventure. I packed my tent, sleeping bag and pad, awesome solar-powered inflatable camping lamp, and a duffel filled with socks, Icebugs, sports bras, and other race clothing. I ensured I had my SPF 100+ and some Body Glide and hit the road.

I got up to Shale Hill at around 8:15 p.m. I pulled in and parked next to my friend, Matt's truck, glad he had arrived. I figured I'd find him and we could hang out and camp together. My plan was confirmed with I walked up to the hill from the free onsite parking to tent city. Matt waved and directed me to where he had set up camp. With his assistance, my tent was up in minutes. (The process went like this: I removed the tent from the bag and coordinated a pole. Matt did everything else. It was the easiest tent assembly I have ever done.)

We had a couple of hours to relax before bed. Matt and I walked around and said, "Hello," to a few people and then basically just hung out and chatted by our tents amongst ourselves and with some of the other Spahtens who were camped nearby. A little before 10:00 pm, I brushed up and headed to bed.

I slept for a solid 8.5 hours and woke up to lovely clear skies. Already, it was getting warm. The 24 hour race wasn't schedule to start until 10:00 am, so I had some time to kill. Matt and I headed down to the Benson Village Store for some egg sandwiches and coffee. Matt, having a wedding that evening, had to be back home early. He was doing the 10K race, scheduled to start at 9:00 am (along with the 5K and 8 hour). After breakfast, he decided to start the race early and headed out a 8:00 am. I cheered him on his way out.

After Matt left, I headed over to check-in, where I got my bib and a really nice poly-blend 24 Hours t-shirt (unisex athletic cut, which will fit less well than a curvy cut but better than the traditional boxy cut). I dropped off things in my tent and headed over the 8:30 a.m. racers' meeting. Rob explained the rules of the course and told the people taking part in the 24 Hours that the first hour of the first lap would be obstacle free. He then reviewed the penalty structure -- 25 spiderman push-ups on laps 1 and 2, 15 spiderman push-ups on lap 3, 7 spiderman push-ups on lap 4, lap 5 was penalty free, lap 6 was 30 jumping jacks. Beyond that I kind of tuned it out since anything beyond the first few was going to be irrelevant.

At 10:00 a.m., I headed over to the starting line. It was quite hot, so I decided to do lap 1, which would be mostly running, in my Spahtens sports bra and capris and Icebug Zeals, which I love for OCR but am not as keen on for trail running. If I had realized about the first lap having an hour of running pre-obstacles, I might have opted to bring my Altra Loan Peaks and worn them for lap 1. I went without my hydration pack. There would be five water stops on the route -- the normal four, plus one right after Cliff Jumper. I have to say that this arrangement was A+, and I'd encourage Rob to keep that extra water station during every race! This was the area where I'd wished I'd had water during Tri-Obstaclon. I'm so glad he added the extra station. Running that first lap relying on the water stations worked well. I ended up bringing some chomps with me.  

I can image the logic behind wanting to give everyone an hour to run the course before starting on obstacles. It spreads out the field. However, given my preference, I would have rather started in on the obstacles right away. It was hot. In fact, over the course of the day, the high would get into the 90s. We started the race late -- at 10:00 a.m. Running for an hour, most of it in sunny fields in the heat kind of felt like pre-fatiguing before the real fun of the race -- the obstacles -- started in. A few people I spoke with felt this way. Start earlier -- maybe around 8:00 a.m. for the 8 and 24 hours folks and 9:00 a.m. for the 5K and 10K group. Have everyone doing obstacles right away. I'd have opted for a couple of 15 minute waves even. 

During the course of the first hour, I ran about 5 miles through the trails and fields of Shale Hill. When the siren signaled to begin the start of the required obstacle portion of the race, I was by the Loom. This was past the 2/3 portion of the course. I had made decent progress, if not had a ton of fun. It was hard to pass by the obstacles and not wish I was attempting them. 

All of the running had made me pretty overheated. I was careful to keep hydrating and ate some chomps to replenish my electrolytes. As a result, my first lap was almost penalty free. I made some challenging obstacles -- the monkey bars, the Tarzan ropes, and, for the first time, the parallel bars. This was my first time making the parallel bars. Now that I've done so, I have successfully completed every obstacles at Shale Hill, with the exception of the uphill monkey bars, which are not usually required for women. Now I just have to string those successes together during one race! During my first lap, the uphill monkey bars were my only failed obstacle. 

I finished up lap 1 at 12:10 p.m., taking an 2;05. I headed over to my tent to eat and change my Zeals, which were pinching my toes a little. I was getting a small blister on my right foot, and I didn't want to make it worse. I had a quick lunch of a slice of wholegrain bread with peanut butter and a banana, along with a couple of Twizzlers. I changes from Darn Tough socks into Injinji and swapped out my Zeals for my Icebug Pytho2's. My sports bra was soaks with sweat. I slather on Body Glide and changed that out too. Because I was going to do the next lap with my hydration pack, I put on a tank so I wouldn't get chafing on my lower back. After taking just about half an hour to do these tasks, I signed out and was back on course at 12:41 p.m.

Lap 2 was even more of a challenge than lap 1. It was the hottest part of the day. I struggled -- not with the obstacles, but with my pace. My obstacle completion continued to be solid. I made the Zig-zag, which often gives me trouble. I was surprisingly slow on the pond traverse, which I usually zip across, but I made that too. I, in fact, did not fail anything until the post hop and Slackline at almost the 2/3 point of the course. I am usually just fine on the post hop but with the heat, I was feeling a bit woozy. My legs were wobbly, and tired from running around 10 miles in temperatures of up to 93 degrees with humidity. I was also eating some chomps that didn't have caffeine, which, for race day, is not my preference. I was bonking. 

Fortunately, I was lucky to have some good company on and off for my second lap. Shaina and I ran a bunch of this lap together, and it was great to have a battle buddy. We both had some rough spots, but we finished. She was good enough to do some spiderman push-ups with me at the Tarzan ropes, despite the fact with was running Journeyman and was totally not required to! Other than that, the obstacle completion on lap 2 was not bad. I made all the rope climbs, the monkey bars, and the entire five panel traverse wall. I consider this a pretty good accomplishment based on how I was feeling. 

The lap took forever though. After the Anaconda, Rob had added another rope climb. Shaina and I both made the climb and then crossed the finish line to complete our lap at 5:11, four and a half hours after we'd set out. This is probably my slowest lap at Shale Hill to date.

I headed back to my tent to regroup. I, again, had a piece of bread with peanut butter and a banana. I had some Twizzlers. A fellow Spahten came around and gave me a cocoa rice treat, which was basically the most delicious food ever. I swapped out my socks and headband. I'd left my Spahtens sports bra out to dry while I was on lap 2, and changed back into it, keeping my tank on. I stuck with my shoes, which were feeling okay. I drank water and began to feel a little bit better. At least I was full of sugar and calories. Forty-five minutes later, I was back on course. I was tired but I was determined to meet my three lap goal.

It was getting cooler when I headed back on course at 5:56 p.m. I was a bit woozy still through the Zig-zag, which my tired hands failed. I was tired at the Pick Your Poison obstacles (where you choose between a 7' wall, a rope climb, or a tire hoist -- I always choose the wall). I was dreading the Log Splitter, a half mile carry with two logs connected with a bit of rope. Ironically, it was during the Log Splitter, one of my least favorite obstacles, that things started coming together for me. I had been uncomfortable for so long that the discomfort of the heavy carry barely registered. The weather was cooling down. I had eaten a few caffeine powered chomps. I  was feeling better. 

I made it to the Rope Ramp, and make my climb. I was finally feeling good. This is what I had waited all day for. The only minus as that this rope climb had finally opened a small abrasion on my ankle. I use an s-hoot technique for climbing ropes. It works great, until you're at hour 10 in a race and your unprotected ankles finally determine they've had enough friction for the day. Next year I'm getting some calf sleeved. 

The last four or so miles of the course were my favorite of the day. I nailed the five panel traverse wall for the second time of the day. I had fun on all the climbing obstacles in the wooded area termed "the jungle." I enjoyed the obstacles out in the field because I wasn't baking in the sun. I had good company again. I spent some time running with Steve and Jason. The former was a Shale Hill regular who often did guided training runs and was trying for three laps penalty free; the latter was an ultra runner who did a couple of OCRs a year. I spent the last third of the lap with Jason, and we both made sure to stay safe in the dark. 

We were about a mile and a half from the finish at the bucket carry when we had to take our our headlamps. This meant a torrent of bugs attacking, but at least we could see. The last mile of the race was my most failed obstacle section. I failed the 19' rope climb -- my leg hurt too much to s-hook and my arms were too tired to do anything else. I failed the parallel bars, the monkey bars, and the Tarzan ropes. I wasn't feeling as tired or as weak as when I was suffering from the heat but my skin was abraised and when I jumped down from the one billionth hay bale I'd climbed it felt like hitting ground with my feet -- a normal thing -- was a trauma. My body having gone around 19 miles and doing 150 or so obstacles was tired. 

Jason and I hit the last rope climb at the bottom of the hill with the finish line in sight. A bonfire was burning at the top of the hill. I was feeling good. I was having fun. I decided to make this my last lap of the night. I had hit my goal. My hands were tired. I knew that, even though I was feeling good at the moment, if I went out again, soon, I wouldn't be having fun. Plus, I'd be doing more penalties than obstacles as my hands got more and more tired.

I wrote my time of 9:29 on the board. I had finished my third lap in 3:35, about a hour faster than my second lap. After 12 hours of racing, I was calling it a night.

24 Hours of Shale Hell is a fantastic race. It can be whatever you want it to be. I saw people push themselves to do a half dozen laps. Some people, like me did fewer. I opted to compete in the open division and do fun laps where I knew I could complete all but a few obstacles in a quality way. I did my penalties, and did well on the obstacles. I am pleased. Three laps was fun. Three laps in cooler weather and without that first hour of running would have been even better. 

For 2017, I will definitely be at Shale Hill for this weekend again. I'm on the fence about if I prefer the 24 hours or the 8 hour. Honestly, what I really want is what I did -- the 12 hour race. Signing up for the 24 and then doing what I did might be the best option for this. My other option would be to do the 8 race more competitively. Last I looked at the board, it seemed that for the 8 hour, most women completed two laps. Some went out for a third, but none of those were finished in time. It might be fun to see how I stack in that division. Time will tell. I can say this with certainty though, Shale Hill is and will always be my favorite place to do OCR because of the amazing course, care of the race directors, and the wonderful community of people who play there.

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