If you had only one race that you could do for the rest of our life, what would it be? For me, the answer is Shale Hill's Halloween Fun Run. Friends, my favorite obstacle course, and a post-race potluck that cannot be beat! Bonus points for amazing volunteers who jump out to scare you (and then remove their masks to encourage you as you climb over the next obstacle). More bonus points for the unique experience of running Shale Hill at night.
While driving home with Amy Lillis after this weekend's race, she hit the nail right on the head. "If I have to miss a race I really love, I'm sad. But if I have to miss a race at Shale Hill, I'm devastated!"
The Halloween Fun Run is a great way to go out and have some low-key fun at Shale Hill. The race does have a competitive division -- I placed 2nd in the women's division -- however, most people coming for the Halloween Run choose to do the non-competitive, penalty-free journeyman division. About half of the field at the Halloween Run were NE Spahtens and most of them chose to run journeyman together. By all accounts they had an absolute blast.
Saturday's 5:00 p.m. race was rainy with temperatures hovering right above 40 degrees. Not ideal conditions to say the least. The racer's meeting was held in the barn and race director, Rob, was clear to emphasize the main points of the evening -- be safe and have fun. The bucket carry and the second log carry, both in the last third of the course, were removed for the Halloween Run. The teeter totters, gut check, and balance logs (over the ravine) were closed due to the slippery conditions. Everything else, including the pond traverse, was open. The penalty for all failed obstacles was 15 spiderman push-ups, which apparently Rob thinks is an easy penalty, stating, "Only 15 spiderman push-ups. We want to have fun out there." I had the distinction of getting to demo the penalty during the meeting.
It was an intimate group so we were able to all start together at 5:00 p.m. It was still light out. I was able to make it about half of the way through the course until I needed my headlamp, which I turned on at the traverse wall. I was surprised by a number of volunteers and given a few good scares. Let me be clear, the scare factor of this race is not high. I do not like scary things. I never see horror movies and would not be caught dead in a haunted house. The scares at Shale Hill are more funny than alarming. Sure, I started a few times when a volunteer jumped out or when the creepy chainsaw guy revved the chainsaw's motor. A volunteer dressed as Thor got me pretty good twice. But really the scares were modest, and volunteers always asked, "How are you doing?" afterwards and kept an eye on you while you did your obstacle. There were over a dozen volunteers and I saw people on the course, including Rob, very frequently. This was great since it was dark and I was running alone. It made me feel safe.
Shale Hill has around 60 obstacles including some of the most original and fun obstacles you might encounter. The wet conditions definitely made for a challenge, and I did more penalties than usual. Of the 60 obstacles at Shale Hill, I'd say there are around four that I might routinely fail. Wet metal and ropes made that number skyrocket. I failed some things I can routinely make, such as the Tarzan ropes, fireman's pole, and the monkey bars. Indeed I couldn't even grab onto the pole or the bars. Yet on a scale of one to ten, my enjoyment level was a definite ten. When did I last have so much fun? Probably the last time I was at Shale Hill.
At the end of the race, I headed back into the barn to tell race director, Jill, my time. I received a medal and a wristband, in addition to the t-shirt I had gotten at registration. (Note: I should add that registration at Shale Hill is always a breeze and parking and spectators are free.) I changed in the locker room and then headed into the potluck.
The post-race party was great! I hung out with friends and enjoyed amazing food, delicious desserts, and an atmosphere that cannot be improved upon. The people who go to Shale Hill are something of a family where everyone knows everyone and we are always happy to catch up and talk about obstacle course racing. One would not say that I'm a very social person, yet I can say that the amount of fun I have socializing at Shale Hill is part of the reason I love racing there. The course is amazing, Rob and Jill are the best race directors ever, and the community that they have built is second to none.
All of this to say: Yes, if I could only do one race for the rest of my life, it would definitely be a Shale Hill race.
(Note: Photo credits Jennifer Paquette Eaton -- thank you! It was awesome seeing you on the course.)