Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Amherst Half Marathon

13.1 in 01002. That's right, my adopted hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts is now also home to the Amherst Half Marathon. Late this summer, I was excited to learn that the Hartford Marathon Foundation was going to be putting on a race weekend in Amherst. The two-day event, would feature a 5K race on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. Hartford Marathon Foundation puts on great events, and this was an opportunity to run a race without travel. I was totally in! I registered for the Amherst Double, signing up for both races -- perks included a small charm to attach to my half marathon medal and a 1/4 zip for signing up early. 

The weekend of running, as I called it, ended up calling for some cool weather. The 5K on Saturday was at 11:00 a.m., allowing for some time for warming and temperatures in the low 30s. About 30 minutes before start time, I headed the 1.5 miles up the road to Amherst College's Alumni House where registration was happening. It was a bit funny to be picking up a pair or race bibs at my workplace, but it was certainly convenient. In less than five minutes, I had bibs for both of my races, a short-sleeved t-shirt (for the 5K) and a long-sleeved t-shirt (for the half). I also had my free 1/4 zip. I quickly dropped things in my car and connected with my friend, Katie, who would be running the 5K with me.

Katie and I jointly decided to run the 5K at an easy pace. The focus here was fun, not competition. We'd chat on the run. This seemed to me the perfect plan what with a 13.1 miler scheduled for the next day. (Plus, I had PRed at my last 5K, the Dakin Toasted Owl Halloween 5K, where I ran 26:43.)

The race started at 11:00 a.m. with some brief announcements. The starting line was directly in front of Alumni House, allowing people to wait inside until the last few minutes. The field was small -- probably a hundred runners, if that, but people seemed to be excited to race.

The course took us quickly along College Street and then back behind the Amherst College campus to the bike path. We ran along a stretch of path through the College's conservation area before turning around right after Fort River. This was a stretch of path I knew well from my almost daily bike commute during the summer. 

Katie and I turned around and doubled back on the path for the second half of the race. It was cool out but sunny, and we were having fun running together. At the intersection with Route 116, we got off the bike path to finish with a quick uphill section. The finish line was situated right in front of the Amherst College Alumni Gym. Katie and I ran through the inflatable arch together with a finish time of 32:17.

Interestingly enough, the finish line was about a half mile walk from the parking lot by Alumni House. This gave us some cool down time as we made our way back to our cars. Overall, the course was flat and fast. It was not the most interesting course ever, and the tight turn was probably a challenge for faster runners, but everything was well organized, and the course was good at accommodating the number of runners who participated. Most of all, I had fun running with my friend! I grabbed an RXBar at the finish line -- there were snacks aplenty! -- and headed home to await the half marathon the next day.

Sunday morning dawned bright and cold with temperatures just edging over 20 degrees. The race was scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. at the University of Massachusetts, along University Drive, right along Hagis Mall, a main part of campus. Knowing that it was forecast to be 24 degrees at race time, I decided a wait in the cold was not what I wanted -- I needed to jump from my car to the starting line with minutes to spare. One of the luxuries of living three miles from the start line is that you can leave late. I hopped in my car at 7:45 a.m., which meant I only had to freeze for about five minutes before the run started.

The Amherst Half Marathon is the first time I'd done a race that covered many areas where I regularly run. There was no area of the course new to me, and many part of the course were along areas where I ran many times a week. In a way it seems crazy to think that I spent $60 to run where I often run, but in another way it's amazing! I was able to support a new race in my hometown and get to see racers from all over New England enjoy roads that I am lucky enough to enjoy all the time. Amherst is lovely, and the course we took reflected that. 

The half marathon started by taking runners up University Drive and off the UMass campus, through downtown. We then ran down Route 116 with Amherst College on our left. At around the mile and a half mark, we passed my office. From there, it was downhill, a regular stretch of road I must run on average two to three times a week. 

 At the bottom of the hill, we turned left onto Shay Street and made our first significant climb of the day. Shay Street is relentless as the hill just seems to continue and continue. Fortunately, I was lucky to run into a fellow Amherst College employee, Anita, on this part of the course. We ran up Shay Street together until we reached the South Amherst Commons. The course then took up downhill along Station Road, where we connected to a stretch of bike trail that I use for my weekly long runs. Anita and I ran together along the bike path, chatting, and generally enjoying ourselves.

We were almost to the six mile mark, and I was feeling good. I had not trained intensively for the Amherst Half Marathon, having focused my summer and fall efforts on preparing for OCR World Championships. Fortunately, I had kept doing long runs as a staple in my exercise calendar, with 9 to 10 milers regularly occurring. (In addition, I also did a virtual half marathon with my friend, Amy, in support of Team Mike McNeil, who fund-raise to fight cancer.) The first two miles had been a struggle to get warm, with feet that felt like blocks hitting the ground and fingers that were icicles. At this point, I was finally warmed up and on my way.

The course had great runner support. I had brought some chomps with me, but was happy to not have to tote water around, as there were water stops every mile or two. There were even restrooms on course, which I found use for at mile six, after which we runners turned off the bike path and on to South East Street.

We ran a ways along South East, until it turned into North East Street. At this point, the course, once again, became quite hilly. We rolled along headed into North Amherst. The Town of Amherst is narrow east to west and longer north to south. We had started in North Amherst at UMass, headed to the South Amherst Commons, and, now, were heading back to the northern edge of town. Though the hills along North East Street were a bit of a drag, the scenery was great. There were panoramic views of farmland and hills covered in foliage that was just passing its prime but lovely nonetheless.

We turned on to Pine Street near what I unofficially consider the North Amherst Commons and then made a quick left onto East Pleasant Street. This was the part of the course I was least accustomed to running. I live more toward the southern end of town. I run around UMass sometimes, but don't normally come past the northern end of the University. East Pleasant Street reminds me why. It's a lovely street but it's also a relentless hill from north to south. At mile 11 in a half marathon, that sort of thing makes you rethink your choices.

All that being said, I was feeling pretty good. Considering how hilly the course was and how cold the day, I was pretty happy to be going along at 10:25 miles. Training for marathons in 2016 and 2017 really did a lot of my endurance. While before a half marathon seemed almost impossible, now it was more like a fun day celebrating my enjoyment of running.

After reaching the top of East Pleasant Street, I knew it would be all downhill and flat for the next mile and a half. We turned right to go back into UMass, past the dorms on the northern end of campus. I picked up speed downhill. At the bottom, I turned onto Pleasant Street for the final run through UMass. I was hoping we'd actually get to run in the middle of the campus, something I like to do during my lunchtime runs, but we stuck to the road -- probably a good idea to keep people from getting lost, practically speaking.

I made the turn on to University Drive again and ran into Hagis Mall, running as fast as my somewhat tired legs could take me to the inflatable arch.

I crossed the line in 2:16:45, having had a good race and done well on a lovely but hilly course.

I really enjoyed the Amherst Half Marathon. I am so excited to see the Hartford Marathon Foundation bringing races up north to Massachusetts. I hope that the Amherst Half Marathon was a success for them. I definitely plan to sign up for 2018 if it's offered again!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: Team Relay & Charity Open

Sunday, the last day of OCRWC, had two races scheduled, the team relay, and the Make-A-Wish charity run. I had planned to run the former and thought I might sign-up for the latter after assessing how I felt on Saturday after the 15K. It turned out, that I was lucky enough to be able to get a bib for the Make-A-Wish run from a housemate and fellow Spahten who thought that one more race might be one too many considering how he was feeling. 

I don't blame him. Sunday was another wet day, the course was trashed, the rain continued, and I had slept badly for days and was sore. This was going to be a rough one. Perhaps fortunately, there was really nothing to be done about the sheets of rain that came down. Obstacles were un-grip-able, at least for me, and this made it a day that was kind of hilarious. 

The first race of the day was the team relay, which consisted of three sections: endurance, strength, and obstacles (in former years the sections were speed, strength, and agility). The map says it all -- this 7K course was a mixed experience with the endurance athlete having to take an extremely challenging trip up the mountain in highly inclement conditions, the strength person having to do just two carries (worth the price of the registration?), and the obstacles person having little distance but basically the same course as the 3K the previous day.

My team was Tiny^2 + 1 and consisted of me and Niki (both of us tiny), plus Niki's boyfriend and my fellow friend, Steve (+ 1). Niki was going to start off the race with the endurance 5K, Steve would do strength, and I would do the obstacles. This was a pretty natural fit considering where we normally excel; however, with all the trouble I had been having on the rigs, and with my hands cut-up a bit at this point, I knew my chances of keeping a band were slim. That being said, the team race was for fun. At this point in the weekend, we were all exhausted. We'd do our best.

At 10:30 a.m., Niki started our group off while Steve and I cheered. She had a rough 5K that would go up a mountain that had been saturated with rain. She had a rough part of the team course -- probably the hardest -- so I settled in knowing that covering that 5K would take some grit and some time.

Steve and I got me a quick snack, since I was really hungry, before making our way to the transition to wait for Niki. Soon, Niki was in sight and it was time for Steve to head off for the sandbag carry. I knew I was going to have to do the Northman Poles, so I headed over to the transition. Unfortunately, at this point the weather turned even worse than I could imagine. It began to pour. I knew that with the soaking obstacles, there would be no way to keep my band. All expectations went out the window.

Soon, Steve was back after slipping his was down the hill. I headed to the Northman Poles where it was impossible to get any grip. Metal. Soaking. Wet. There was nothing to be done. I slipped all over the place, tried a few times, and handed in my band. I didn't even feel bad. I knew I could do this obstacle in normal weather. I handed back over to Steve for the Wreckbag carry as the rain began to come down even harder.

I moved over to the next transition. I would be hitting up the obstacles from the 3K, minus the rope climb. When Steve can back, I was off. I noticed that the rigs had been modified from the day before. Honestly, in normal conditions, I might have had a shot, even at the rig that bested me in the short course. With the rain pelting down, there was no chance. I tried to make my way across monkey bars only to have my tired fingers fall off again and again. Fatigue combined with bad weather for a race where I failed obstacle after obstacle. 

The floating walls came into view. These were a favorite new obstacle of the weekend. I nailed them and made it to the knot wall where my team joined me. The bottom ropes had been removed for an added challenge, though with the weather, this was hardly necessary. My team boosted me up first and then sent Niki. Steve was left at the bottom, but fortunately, fellow Spahten, Geoffrey stepped in, having just finished his race to help us out. With his help, we got Steve up and over the wall, finishing at a little before 1:00 p.m. 

At the finish line we experienced some bad news. They were out of medals, having overfilled the team race. Bummer! This is the kind of oversight that I would have hoped a world-class event could avoid. The volunteer promised that OCRWC would mail us our medals. (Note: I followed up via email on Sunday and have yet to get a reply but am still hopeful that Niki, Steve, and I will get our medals in the mail. Stay tuned, I guess.)

The Make-a-Wish fun run started at 1:00 p.m., but had regular waves going out until 2:45 p.m. or so. This allowed team Tiny^2 + 1 time to regroup and head to the start line again for the 1:30 p.m. wave. We were joined by fellow Spahtens Geoffrey and Jamie Miller and the group from Shale Hill. The mass of us ended up racing together, which was great fun!

The wait at the start line was a bit lengthy. The MC, Coach Pain, spoke at length, as a result. Unfortunately, the results were less than stellar. In the space of a few minutes, he managed to marginalize and, in my mind, minimize mental health issues. I was glad when we were off and running.

Minus the intros at the start line, the Make-a-Wish lap was hilarious fun. (I know I've used the word "hilarious" a lot -- it was the word of the day.) The course followed the 7K loop from the team relay; however, the rain was really coming down now, and a trip up the mountain was out of the question and really not advised for a fun-do-what-you-like run. 

Never have I seen a group of such fit people try so little! The name of the game was enjoyment. We played. We took selfies using the Millers ultra cool mini cube-shaped camera. We climbed on the obstacles and fell off in the mud. We got more and more soaked and didn't care. Our 7K was more like a 3K, and we had a blast touring some of the technical obstacles on the lower half of the course. Heavy carries? No way. However, having someone lift me up so I could finally try Skull Valley? Absolutely! Hint: Once I got up there, it was a blast!

Near the last obstacles, the knot wall, we ran into the other group of Spahtens that had taken part in the charity run. Together, we all braved the wet and scaled the wall, helping each other. The weather was getting wetter and wetter, and it was getting cold. We coordinated at the bottom of the wall and, from there, made a run to the finish line, crossing as a group to the sound of the announcer saying, "And here are the New England Spahtens!"

We posed for a team picture, before, all cold and wet from the torrential downpour, we headed into change. What a great time, and how lucky to be part of such a cool group of people! The charity race was not what I had thought it would be. There was no real effort, none of the concentration, taxing work, effort to success that I often associate with OCR and especially with the World Championship; however, in a way, the charity run was the highlight of the weekend -- it was fun and camaraderie; it was the nice wrap-up to all those days of hard work on Friday and Saturday that didn't quite work out as I had hoped.

I've been back home from OCR World Championships for a few days now, and I can safely say that I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I assure you I am not a person given to hyperbole; I absolutely mean that statement in the most literal sense. Did I achieve all the goal I had set out? No. I didn't keep my bands on any race. I am working on coming to piece with the disappointment of that fact. However, I did get a chance to qualify and attend a world championship event -- that's something that I can say is a great accomplishment and, even more importantly, a neat and cool and fun thing. I got to try new obstacles, learn where I had room to grow as an athlete, challenge myself, spend time with friends, and participate in an event with world-class athletes. Not bad. 

It seems likely that the OCRWC will move out of North America next year. This year's trip to Canada may be my one chance to participate in this event. I am glad I didn't miss out.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: 15K Standard Distance

Today was the day to take part in the OCRWC and really embrace the experience. After the difficult obstacles of yesterday, I refocused on having fun and enjoying myself -- no expectations. I would do my best, try hard, have as good of an outcome as possible, but also not beat myself up. This was a world-class course, and I was lucky to be participating.

The women’s 30 - 34 heat went off at 10:35 a.m. The weather was semi-cool at 60 degrees but the much dreaded rain held off for the entirety of my race, making the weather really quite good for a day on the course. To start the day, I headed over to Blue Mountains ski resort with fellow Spahten, Shaina, who is a great athlete, keeping her band on the 3K short course. We had time to watch some of the elite women come through. It had been misting all morning, right up until around when we started, and there were definitely some struggles that we saw.

About half an hour before we were set to race, we headed inside to check our bags, use the washroom (as they call it in Canada) and then make our way to the athlete room. There, we waited until it was go time. Fortunately, the time at the start line was brief, since it was cool to be standing around. We were off at 10:35 a.m. exactly!

The 15K course made more use of the limited elevation at Blue Mountain than I could have even imagined. The course was a huge challenge, though an engaging one. The mountain was muddy from the rain overnight and during the morning. Incredibly so. This made for some of the most difficult climbs I’ve done, where, at times, I was on hands and knees smashing my fingers into the clay mud to try to get a grip and keep from catapulting down the hill. My Altra Lone Peaks were good friends on the course, but it was still slippery, with downhill sections that required a rope so as not to slide all the way to the bottom at a catastrophic pace.

The race started with the same hurdles as the 3K course, though with a few more thrown in for good measure. Instead of taking us up to the inclined wall, the course zagged in another direction, taking us to our first climb of the day. This climb began with the first crawl on the course. All of the many crawls for the day featured actual barbed wire (caution!) and some jacks to keep it at even height. I was immediately coated in mud on my hands and knees.

We scaled some walls before headed up the biggest climb of the day. Here was the climb that required all hands and feet to be engaged in the hill. The women around encouraged each other as we tackled a serious climb. We clawed and mud and slowly made our way up, looking for any grass available on which to gain a little purchase. The final section had some ropes to grab. I was happy to be able to stand at last and make it to the top of the hill.

At the top of the mountain, which we would do two more complete ascents of, there was an over-under-through before a rope drop back down the mountain a ways to another crawl. All of this climbing was more engaging than I would normally find it due to the intense conditions. This was not a death march uphill. This was grabbing at the ground around you to keep from sliding down the mountain. Engaging to say the least.

Down at the foot of the mountain was a much needed water stop followed by a slanted wall with a rope. Everything was so incredibly muddy that the walls were definitely giving people more trouble than usual. Directly after the wall, was a set of quintuple steps, which all of the competitors I saw were treating as two poles to walk across with hands on one and feet on the other.
It was back up the mountain -- this time the trip back up seeming less of a good experience. Couldn’t we be done with the hiking already? At the top, we were greeted with another wall and crawl, followed by another slip wall, and another ramp wall. These were not back to back but instead separated by some trail running, which was a nice way to mix up all of the walls. It was an interesting choice by OCRWC to group all of the walls with the climbing of the mountain and then all of the rigs at the end. It would have been nice to mix it up, but I think this course design was intentional so that the course could be ready for tomorrow's team relay. Following was another quarter pipe (with short ropes at the top) and vert, another inclined wall.

The course next met up with where we had done the second and third obstacles of the 3K the day before. The inverted wall gave me some trouble. My shoes, caught in the clay-like mud were practically suctioned in place, making it difficult to jump and grab the thick ledge of the wall. After a number of attempts, I finally got it, and pulled myself over. It was then back down the hill to the monkey bars. A woman and I completed our two lanes in tandem and stopped to share a high-five before jogging off to the next challenge.

One of the interesting aspects of OCRWC was the difference I notice in the athletes. I spent the first half of the race with more-or-less just the women’s 30 - 34 group. There was lots of chatter among the athletes and words of encouragement. People connected and cheered each other on. Midway through the race, I found myself separated from my female athletes and with a lot of the male athletes in their mid-20s and early 30s. The atmosphere was much more intense and competitive. There was a bit of an “every man for himself” sense with people pushing to the limit. It was great to watch these men give it their all, but the vibe was quite different from how the women athletes were tackling the course. Throughout, it was fun to hear people talking in a myriad of languages and accents (though pretty much everyone from every country seemed to be able to say, “On your left,” in English). OCRWC is a world event, and I got a good feeling for that today as I focused on spending more time appreciating my surroundings.

The course wound its way back to the festival area where there were spectators-a-plenty to watch me tackle the 14’ warped wall. Fortunately, it had dried off a bit since the earlier waves had gone through, and I was able to make it in the first attempt. This led directly into the farmer’s sandbag carry from the day before, this time double the distance and with a mud-soaked course to contend with. Racers were skipping and sliding everywhere, so the crew at OCRWC had opted to have people take one 25 lb. sandbag instead of two. The only rule was that racers could not put the sandbag on their shoulders. You had to carry it. I wrapped my arms around the sandbag and held my wrist to grasp it to my chest. Midway through, my back tired from the effort of the climb with the added weight, I took the opportunity to turn around and walk backwards for a stretch. I was glad I did! The view from the mountain of the town below and the water was a great sight to see (and not to mention a good distraction from my discomfort). I did what you do in heavy carries, and suffered through it, happy to get down to the bottom and drop my burden.

Next up was La Gaffe, otherwise known as the Northman poles. The first set I stepped on had pucks on the second pole that were covered in mud. I slipped off, but got the obstacle without any issue the second time through. It was a trip midway up the mountain to an 8’ wall right into a traverse wall. The first time I attempted the wall, I was faced with block that were so far apart my arms and legs could hardly make the reach. I’m good at traverse walls in general (and can do the entire wall at Shale Hill); however, I fell off this three panel wall. I moved to another wall at a volunteers suggestion and found this blocks more manageable -- I made it to the end.

Devil’s steps. This is an obstacle I had never conquered before. Always, the steps were too far apart or the transition at the top was too long a reach. I had kept my band through almost ¾ of the course and if the Devil’s steps were the end, well, I’d give it my all. I approached the obstacle and grabbed the first step with my hands. I pulled myself up and grabbed another, and another, and another, until I reached the top and -- what do you know -- the steps were close enough that I could make it across. I reached, grabbed, and worked my way down the platform below, finished the Devil’s steps for the first time. I was overjoyed to say the least! No matter what happened that day, I would know that at the OCR World Championships I had, for the first time, been able to conquer an obstacle that had plagued me.

From there it was time for another crawl, uphill and, thank goodness, to another water station. This climb brought us to a new rig-style obstacle, Urban Sky. This obstacle featured three sections that athletes had to traverse, with three bells to ring. The first section had a trapeze to two horizontal trapezes. While I was unable to make it to the third trapeze the first time through, a second attempt got me through this section. Next up, was a set of rings corkscrewed along a rotating center pole. Beyond that where two wheels with a ring in between. Despite my best effort, I was unable to make it beyond the set of rings. I gave it another few attempts but decided that efforts to do more would only serve to make me unable to continue later on. I walked up to the volunteer and handed in my band. It was sad, and I was disappointed, but I was also having a good day, and had completed some obstacles well. I was satisfied. My goal was to finish and have a good race. I was going to focus on realizing that objective.

Beyond Urban Sky was an a-frame cargo climb followed by the infamous obstacle, Dragon’s Back, which forces racers to scale a slip wall and then jump across an expanse high in the air to grab a pole hanging off a platform. For some reason, I was unable to get up the wall, slick as it was with mud. Too bad, as I know Dragon’s Back is supposed to be a mentally interesting obstacle. Another year perhaps. Right after that was another quarter pipe and an obstacle called big wall, which was a 10' wall that was very thick on the top. Fortunately, it had a few kicks to help racers get over.

The low rig was next. It seemed to bemuse people, as it consisted of a set of short ropes on a frame about four feet off the ground. The ropes alternated between foot and hand holds. I fell off the rig the first attempt because I had yet to figure out how to get my motion going; however, a second attempt ended up being successful. This obstacle was different from ones I've encountered before and quite a fun time. I liked getting to try something new.

From there, we went to the log hop. After doing the log hop at Shale Hill, I was kind of concerned, but this was fairly easy with the logs quite close together making it possible to straddle two with your legs. We then had to wind our way through a section of trails. The trails were slick throughout and featured bridges that were slippery with mud. I took a slide or two and find it hard to imagine how people who took part in the later waves found this section of the course, especially with the rain that took over around 3:30 p.m.

At the bottom of the hill was the rope climb. The end of course was within 2 miles, and I was relieved because I was getting tired and the five hour time limit was ticking down. I was just over four hours and needed to get this done. Fortunately, there was limited pressure because I had lost my band. I was motivated to do my best and kept jogging to make sure I made the cut-off.

The rigs from the 3K race yesterday were up. The first rig was the orange rig with rings, low monkey bars, and ring. Unlike the previous day, there was a cargo net at the end. I had made this rig the day before; however, at this point I was tired and only made it half way through.

I kept moving toward the Wreckbag carry. The carry was the same general format -- 50 lb. bags only -- as the day before but double the distance. I got the bag on my neck with some difficulty and then was not going to take it off until I reached the top of the hill. Despite some slipping, I made it. The way down, was so slick, I opted to sit down and slide along with the Wreckbag leaning against me. A fellow racer zoomed down behind me and stopped until I told him he was welcome to push me along, and off we were to the bottom of the hill. I re-shouldered the Wreckbag and quickly got to the end of the loop.

It was time for the second rig, where I had failed the previous day. I knew it would be a no-go this time around. Fortunately, some modifications had been made and the vertical pipe at the end had been replaced to make it a bit easier for racers. I might have made it through this set-up on yesterday's 3K, which makes me feel a bit better. I got up on the monkey bar section of the rig and gave it a good try but was ultimately unable to make it too far, exhausted as I was.

The final stretch included Skull Valley and Skyline from the day before, followed by the Floating Walls, and finally The Knot wall to take you to the finish. As with the day before, my experience with Skull Valley and Skyline were unsuccessful despite multiple attempts. I would like to see the Skull Valley obstacle be adjusted to allow for greater parity for athletes of differing heights. The challenge should be the obstacle, not getting up on to it, something almost impossible for someone of my height. The Floating Walls are still a favorite, and I made it across without any issue. One try got me up The Knot wall, which was very pleasing. I was so happy to go from there across the finish line. Done!

The 15K course was a brutal test of endurance. The mountain was used more than anticipated (and perhaps more than I would recommend); however, the obstacles were excellent and the experience unrivaled. Room for improvement? Sure. One more water stop would have been ideal, several obstacles really disadvantaged shorter athletes, and I think it might have been nice to have some of the grip-intensive obstacles broken up. (Though I know they were placed this way with the Sunday team race in mind.) The OCR World Championships is the Olympics of our sport. Different from the Olympics, it is for a larger body of racers -- it is not just an experience for a few elite people, but also for the masses, and balances the difficulty of obstacles for elites versus age-group athletes, must be a challenge. It is one that the OCRWC team takes seriously.

Going to the OCR World Championships and having qualified was a great experience. I did not do all that I wanted to do out on the course, and was unsuccessful in keeping my bands on either course. In a way, to me, my medals from OCRWC will always have as asterisk because of this. It is great to see everyone who kept their bands and hear people telling them that their hard work training paid off; I agree. This is a great accomplishment. The hard part, I think for me, is that all that hard training, a year's worth, didn't culminate in the shinning idea of success I had for myself. Maybe qualifying should be enough, indeed in some ways it is; however, I still wish I could have performed just a bit better. And, perhaps, this is the ultimate success of OCRWC -- that it's a race that challenges me in a way that makes me want to be a better athlete. Maybe my 2017 medal isn't the culmination of a year of training but the beginning of a new section of hard work in trying to achieve my next goal.

Friday, October 13, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: 3K Short Course

In my goal to keep my band, the 3K short course seemed like my best shot. The OCRWC promised to be a course dense with rigs and other upperbody intensive obstacles that would be almost impossible in the rain predicted for Saturday's 15K full course and Sundays' team relay. I had trained hard and had hopes of doing well, as an athlete that normally does quite well on upperbody focused obstacles.

As part of the 30 - 39 women's age group, my heat was scheduled to go off at 10:30 a.m. I headed over to Blue Mountains ski resort with fellow NE Spahten, Shaina, at around 9:00 a.m. Because we had gotten all of our materials the previous day, the only thing we had to do was bag check our DryRobes and line up in the starting gate about five minutes before our wave was scheduled to go off. We took some time to view the other athletes and milled around. Bag check, when we were ready, was a snap. From there, we headed into the athletes room where we were able to hang out and watch a short OCRWC video that mentioned the rules and regulations for the day.

At 10:25 a.m., we headed out to line up. The 3K course was a staggered start with athlete lining up and each row getting sent out. The start line MC was energetic, though that's not my thing. Fortunately, I was about the fourth person back, which meant that I didn't need to wait too long. This was it.

The course started with a short run uphill. There were tons of cameras, where really lent an epic feel to the start of the race. We turned a corner and tackled the first obstacle, a set of low hurdles. From there, it was a trek up the hill to the inverted wall. To my surprise, the inverted wall gave me a little bit of a hassle. The top of it was very thick and I had to jump a few times before I was able to get my hand grasped around it. (Not having my Icebugs, shoes were tips being disallowed from competition, added to the overall difficulty.) Next up was a set of monkey bars from Sandstorm. They were length but I managed well and was able to move on. I was very sad to see a fellow racer disable on the ground -- how hard to train so long and to be disqualified on the first race due to injury.

From the monkey bars, it was a run down the hill along some slippery sections of the course. I took it easy making sure not to fall. I was planning to run to keep my band, not for time. Additionally, at OCRWC, you are given a time penalty for each obstacle you fail, so it makes sense to make a few attempts at an obstacle if you think you can make it. The time spent retrying might be better than the penalty you face.

The next obstacle as a 14' warped wall. I had been worried about this without my Icebugs, but I got up without incident, reaching the rope at the top and pulling myself over. From there, it was on to a double sandbag carry, farmers walk style, up a section of hill. Each bag was 25 lbs. and somewhat sapped the grip. I took a few stops on the walk up the hill since my heart rate was quite elevated, but it was a suffer-and-carry-on kind of thing, and I persisted.

The course brought me to the next obstacle, La Gaffe, a set of three moving poles, the first and last metal and the middle one wood. All of the poles moves and from there you must transition from pole to pole. At first when I encountered the obstacle, I did the standard thing and tried to get really high up. Of course, that meant that I was too high from the fulcrum to move the pole. With the feedback of teammate, Liz, who was watching me race, I retried it and got it right away. It was interesting to try this obstacle, which is different from anything I've ever seen.

The short course featured not one but two carries. The second was a Wreckbag carry with a 50 lb. bag for both men and women. Yikes! I am usually pretty weak at carries but was very pleased to do quite well on this one. The bag was almost impossible to get shouldered, but once I got it up, I was not putting it down (despite the fact that I had to sit during a steep and slippery section of trail). The bag stayed on me. Was it hard? Yes. It was terrible, but not any more so than the carries I do at Shale Hill and of a very manageable length. I left the Wreckbag carry feeling pretty good.

From there it was onward to Rig #1, which featured rings, monkey bars, square grips, and foot rings. I actually slipped a big as I transitioned from the square grip to the foot ring, which I grabbed so hard to stay on that I tore open two fingers. I kept on the rig though, enough to navigate through a set of very low monkey bars, and up a standing ring to some ropes and the final bell. One try and I made it through a challenging rig. My arms were quite a bit tired, but I was happy with how I did. It was a quick run to a rope climb, which, despite tired hands and forearms I made in one go.

By my GPS watch, I had gone more than a 3K distance already (note that for some reason my watch clocked the 3K at more like 3 miles). The next up was Rig #2. I had heard this was hard, but I was determined to keep my band and was going to try. I approached the green rig where there were people in line waiting in the retry lane. My hands were tired from all the earlier work. I wanted to make this in one try. Really. I climbed up a short vertical pipe to a section of monkey bars. From there, I transitions to a ring, to a rope loop, to a ring, and then to a set of ropes, making it across. Next up was a ring and a vertical long pipe. Then there was only a rectangular bar and the bell. I transition to the vertical pipe trying my best to scurry up and reach toward the bar. I could almost reach it but not quite. I tried to grab the ring behind me, as my momentum had stalled but could not get moving. Fingertips away, I could not make it. I fell on the ground. I had to do this. I had to keep my band. My hands were shaking and my forearms pulsed. I shook from the exertion but got back into the retry lane. I waited and gave it a second try. Again, I fell off. I walked to the end of the rig feeling defeated. I could not do this. I had to do this. The volunteer at the end asked me if I was okay; I nodded. "You're going to try again?" "Yes." I got back in line, waited, shook out my arms, tried again. Fell. I could not use my hands. I could not engage my fingers or more my arms. I walked to the end and silently handed my band to a volunteer. My main goal was not accomplished.

Two grip and upperbody intensive obstacles awaited with Skull Valley and Forces Skyline. Skull Valley had racers use a ring to get up to a set of skull grips, to floating bars, to skull grips. My arms were so tired that even getting up to the first skulls was impossible despite several attempts. I soldiered on to the Skyline, which made you take a zipline down a ramp where you had to jump the glider over two pegs. I attempted several times and was able to make it over the first jump but never the second. My arms gave out and I was on the ground.

I needed to regroup. There were two obstacles left and I was not going to continue my poor streak. I shook out my arms and headed to the Floating Walls, four swinging traverse walls, to a net climb, to four more swinging walls, to a climb down. This was a very different obstacle, visually, from what I've seen before, but it was technically a lot like other traverse walls I've seen. I made it. The rope climb down, I had to wrap my arms through the loops because my hands were shaking so much. The final obstacle was The Knot. This obstacle was a slip wall with three very short ropes hanging from it. My legs were shaking. I had to attempt three times before I was able to reach the first rope. Later on, when it began to rain, the completion rate for this obstacle dropped precipitously with what appeared to be around 2/3 of people unable to get traction on the obstacle.

From there, it was across the finish line where I received my medal. I will be honest, I was not as excited as I could have been, almost feeling like I didn't deserve the medal because I didn't realize my goal of completing every obstacle and keeping my band.

Now, hours have passed since the race, and I'm reframing a bit. The third place elite man, Hunter McIntyre, failed that rig too. I gave the race 100%. Really. It was one of the most physically demanding courses I have done. The number of ultra challenging grip obstacles back-to-back was so challenging. Tomorrow, it will be rainy, and it seem unlikely that I will keep my band. I trained hard this year, and it seems I won't realize the goal I set before myself, but perhaps it's more important to remember the other 362 days of the year instead of these few race days. With this in mind, I am going to focus more on having fun tomorrow and be less hard on myself. This will likely be my one and only OCRWC experience; time to start enjoying it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

OCR World Championships 2017: Prep Day

After a year of preparations, the OCR World Championships have finally arrived. Three days of obstacle course racing: Friday's 3K, Saturday's 15K, and Sundays' Team Relay and Make a Wish charity race (in which I am not planning on participating). 

I arrived in Blue Mountains, Ontario, Canada on Wednesday evening after a 10 hour drive. This allowed me Thursday to check-in and organize. This proved to be a crazier day than anticipated. I have seriously never waited in so many lines in my entire life!  The house where I'm staying is located about a 25 minute walk from the Blue Mountain ski resort whee the race is taking place. We headed over there at around 9:30 a.m. in order to arrive for 10:00 a.m. athlete check-in.

The room was packed. I got in line at 9:50 a.m. and as able to check-in for the 3K and 15K course in about half an hour. Then, I have to get into another line for the team race check-in. My team, Tiny^2 +1, Niki, Steve, and me, lined up -- another half an hour was spent. In the check-in packet there was a traditional time chip and a bib with my name on it. The coolest stuff though was an athlete badge with my name and the bands for each event (which I will lose if I fail an obstacle -- I really really want to keep my bands).

From there, we got into a third line for the t-shirts (three identical ones for the three races, curvy fit). That line was fast moving at least. Unfortunately, at that point, I noticed that one of my registrations said "jouneyman" on it, which meant a trip back into the crazy busy registration room. Fortunately, it was just a misprint and my timing chips and everything else where all set for me to run age group.

At that point, we'd been hanging out in packed rooms and waiting in line for a couple of hours. There was another huge line for merchandise, but it was also noon and we were hungry, so Niki, Steve, and I got a quick hamburger before joining the merchandise line at around 12:15. We were in that line for around an hour before getting into the room. The place was picked over, which is crazy because the race doesn't even start until tomorrow. By the time people are at the starting line, there will be nothing left to buy! The options were somewhat limited, but I was able to find a pull-over hoodie, which I got. It's a size small but quite a bit big on me. Still, it will be good for layer and the hoodie zips were huge (and the nice jackets that they had fit great but cost $185, which is crazy!).

In between everything, we walked around a bit. It was fun to see people from all over the place and to hear a lot of other languages being spoken. A really nice fellow racer from some place in Europe took a team picture of Tiny^@ +1 under the finishing line arch.

There were some obstacles at the bottom of the mountain that I was able to check out. They looked very cool. There were some floating walls, a set of swinging poles, a half pipe, to name a few. I am very much looking forward to tackling the course tomorrow. Especially good to keep in mind is that tomorrow is going to be the main dry day of the weekend, so it will definitely be my big chance to keep my band. (Note: Racers get to keep their band if they complete all obstacles.)

I also got to have some poutine with Niki and Steve. We had a quick snack before walking back to the house. From there, an early night. The big 3K is tomorrow. Time to try to keep my band!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rugged Maniac New England 2017

If you ask people in the OCR space what their first obstacle course race was, often the answer will be Rugged Maniac. A New England based company with their first-ever race in nearby Southwick, Massachusetts, made it big on Shark Tank, and now has races across the country.

I came to run Rugged Maniac this year in a somewhat surprising way -- because of work. While the NE Spahtens sent a nice contingent to Rugged Maniac, and I formally sign-up with the team (and socialized with them before and after the race), my invite to run Rugged came from the head strength and conditioning coach at Amherst College. As a result, my first even Rugged Maniac was in the company of fellow Amherst College employees -- both Coach and the Chief of Police (the latter of whom was kind enough to drive us to and from Southwick in his ultra-cool orange Mini convertible!).

Rugged Maniac is a 5K course, and this Sunday's race fit this expectation measuring in at 3.5 miles. The race is a fun OCR and thus is only clock timed and features obstacles more focused on fun than intensive physical challenge. That being said, you can absolutely challenge yourself at this race. It's 3.5 miles of running at a motocross. The entire course lacks the huge climbs of a mountain, but running up and down the motocross mounds is no joke when it comes to cardio.

We arrived in Southwick at the venue at a little after 9:00 a.m. and in plenty of time for our 10:00 a.m. start. Parking was onsite and cost $10. It was about a two minute walk from the car to the main festival area, where check-in was a snap. I showed my waver and ID and got a bib (for photos -- no timer, as you may recall) and a finishers t-shirt.

The festival area has about a half dozen vendors, bathrooms were plentiful, and there were nearby changing tents for post-race. Rugged had let the Spahtens set up a team tent. I headed over right away to say, "Hello" to folks and quickly change my shoes. Rugged utilizes both inflatables and lots of black tarps for water pits, so my regular Icebugs were out and my Reeboks were in. Fortunately, the Reeboks were the shoe for the right shoe for this race. They drained amazingly well, gave me enough traction on the dirt of the motocross, and mercifully did not cut up my heel this time, like they did at Savage Race. (The shorter distance may have been a factor here.)

At around 9:50 a.m., we headed over to the starting line, where we did something that I don't routinely do -- we lined up at the front. Note to self: Lining up at the start is awesome! The signal to go occurred, and I was able to head off at a good clip without having to weave around other racers. I love that everyone runs at their own speed but today at Rugged, I wanted to push to run as quickly as a could and as glad to be able to get in front of the group. This translated to zero waiting at any of the obstacles and an overall course time of 42:32 (12:09 minutes / mile), which I'm happy with for a course will obstacles and rolling hills.

As I've mentioned before the 3.5 mile course was spread over a motocross, which meant that we were constantly working our way up and down small hills. This was definitely a good deal of work, especially cardiovascularly, if you wanted to run the race. I kept up a good pace, especially in the first mile as I tried to keep up with Coach, but he was too fast, and in the second mile, I definitely lost him. (Note: Coach finished in around 37 minutes and Chief finished in 51 minutes, so I was in the middle with my 42 minutes. Not bad.)

The obstacles at Rugged Maniac were fun. Water crawl abounded, but on a day with hot temperatures -- it was in the mid-70s even at 10:00 a.m. -- water was welcome. There were over 25 obstacles in all and while the challenge level was modest, there were some really fun inflatables, two great slides, and a few innovative obstacles -- think trampolines -- that I hadn't seen before. Here's the breakdown as best as I can recall:

1. Quad Burners: Quick rolling hills in rapid succession. 
2. Barricades: A short wall -- think 4'. At the top, there was a rolling piece of pipe to add some interest.
3. Jacob's Ladder: Ladder wall.
4. Guillotine: This was interesting! Think of the walls that people on American Ninja Warrior have to lift and then roll under. This was like that.
5. Jump Start: Another ladder wall but this time with a traditional wall below, causing racers to have to jump to grab the first rung.
6. The Trenches: Three or four trenches in succession. For best result, I tried to jump over as many as I could.
7. Swing shot: For this obstacle, you had to grab a bar and swing across water the other side. I actually had a bit of a mishap on this obstacle, landing wrong on the dismount and twisting my right ankle. This had me limping along to the next few obstacles, after which, I was able to shake things out and get back to running along with a more normal stride.
8. Claustrophobia: Crawl through covered trenches. These were tall enough, I could almost walk through very bent over for speed. 
9. The Gauntlet: Very interesting. We had to run across a floating pad on the water and try to avoid swinging bags. A balance challenge to be sure.
10. Pull Your Weight: This was a hoist with a chain on the end. It was no problem, even for me, in terms of weight.
11. Tipping Point: Two sets of teeter totters.
12. Frog Hop: Another interesting one, where you had to jump from floating platform to floating platform without falling off. Another balance challenge.
13. Fenced In: Racers had to crawl through a water obstacle that was covered with a fence. This reminded me of  a similar obstacle at Tough Mudder, though with more clearance and with shallower water.

14. The Crag: In Rugged's words, "To conquer The Crag you have to climb steep inflatable cliffs and then squeeze your way through the logs on top before climbing down the other side." This was a fun one! The logs at the top did require some maneuvering to get through.
15. Antigravity: Trampolines! Racers had to jump there way along a pair of trampolines to a wall where you climbed up and over.
16. Bang the Gong: This obstacle required jumping to hit a gong suspended over water. They were high, and I totally had no chance, but I did get to cool off.
17. Pack Mule: This was a short carry with a 25 or 50 lb. Wreck Bag.
18. Accelerator: The first of two water slides, and it was a fast one!
19. Commando Crawl: A barbed wire crawl through water.
20. Pipe Dream: Crawl through a large pipe.
21. Pyromaniac: This was one of the best fire jumps I've seen! It was not one but three and they were all really blazing. Fingers crossed for an epic picture. Eh, I am squinting too much -- need my glasses. 

22. The Ringer: This was a set of rings over a water pit. The rings were quite tall, almost out of reach, but rings are my jam, and there was no way I was missing these. I barely reached the first and started kipping until I got a good swing going and was able to make it across.
23. Head Scratcher: A barbed wire crawl through water.
24. Leap of Faith: This was jump a jump into water, but it was no high -- just at ground level.
25. Let's Cargo: An a-frame cargo climb.
26. The Warped Wall / Mount Maniac / Accelerator 2.0: This was a multi-part obstacle right at the finish line. I ran up the warped wall and was grabbed and pulled over my a team that I had been exchanging places with for the last mile. Nice guys. From there, it was up a quick inflatable ladder and down another water slide that took me to the finish line.

I tried to push myself with the running as much as possible today. In the hot weather, it definitely allowed me to create a challenge of a course that featured fun and manageable obstacles. My verdict. If you're looking to introduce a friend to OCR, Rugged Maniac will be a great choice. It's fun and friendly. It won't scare them away and at the same time offers a fun change of pace for a regular racers. If you want to push yourself you can. It's a runners' course, so allow this to be a time to work on speed and cardio. Rugged was a fun time -- I liked the opportunity to work on my running, partake of OCR with some new folks, and enjoy some wacky inflatable obstacles. Do it again? Sure!

Monday, August 28, 2017

24 Hours of Shale Hell

Shale Hill is my favorite place for OCR, hands down. So no one will be surprised to learn that when they announced they'd be doing a low-key version of their annual endurance race, wit24 Hours of Shale Hell. That's right, 24 hours to do as many laps of the 10K course at Shale Hill as possible. As with the past few years, I was in!

In 2015, I competed in the 8 hour version, doing two laps. Last year, I signed up for the full race, and ended up racing for around 12 hours in brutal heat to complete three laps. This year, my goal was to do as least as much as last year, but if I was was being real with myself, I was hoping for four laps. Good news -- perfect weather, combined with some nice folks on the course to keep me company resulted in 4 laps during the 24 hour period of the race.

For 2017, Shale Hill's 24 hour event was casual, but still packed a punch. There were multiple divisions: mandatory obstacle completion, competitive and journeyman 24 hours, and an eight hour option. The competitive eight hour allowed people to qualify for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (by doing two laps and finishing top five in age group) and the competitive 24 hours let people qualify for the OCRWC 24 Hour Enduro Championships in Australia in 2018 (again for top 5 in age group). For me, I had already done my OCRWC qualifications for Canada this fall, and I had no plans to travel to Australia in 2018, so Shale Hill's event was a chance for me to challenge myself. With this in mind, I elected to run the non-competitive journeyman category.

The 24 hour event began at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. For the $150 fee (a bargain!), Friday and Saturday night camping was included. I opted to spend Friday night in Western Mass where my boyfriend, Ben, cooked me a fantastic dinner, and where I could sleep in comfort. I got up bright and early Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m., to make the drive to Benson, Vermont. I arrived at Shale Hill a little after 8:30 a.m., which gave me ample time to check-in and set up my tent.

About 50 people were onsite for the event, and probably half of them were NE Spahtens. This meant that friends abounded. I checked-in quickly with Jill, co-owner of Shale Hill, with fellow race director, Rob, and then was lucky enough to have teammate Amy help me pitch my tent. From there, I headed over to the 9:00 a.m. racers meeting where Rob told us about the rules for the self-supported race. There were a couple of special things to note about penalties (irrelevant to me since I was running the non-competitive penalty free journeyman division) which changed each lap. The penalties started as marked along the course -- mostly 30 spiderman push-ups, went to half the amount marked for lap two, jumping jacks for lap three, and so on. The race was to be self monitored with racers using the boards in the bar to check in and out, thus tracking their laps. Additionally, to mix it up, the third lap was to be run in reverse, with the obstacles done in reverse as well! As with the previous year, racers in the general 24 hour race were allowed to run for the first hour obstacle free. Unlike in 2016, I had planned for this by bringing my favorite trail sneakers, Altra Lone Peaks, and by setting a goal. In the extreme heat last year, I had made it just past the loom and to the hay bales, which I had to complete. This year, with perfect temperatures in the low 70s for a high on both Saturday and Sunday, I hoped to make it about 4.5 miles into the 10K course and past the 19' rope climb, a couple of obstacles past the hay bales.

After getting the scoop at the racer's meeting, I headed over for a quick team photo and then back to my tent to organize for my first lap. It was in the upper 60s, and, with an hour of running and five water stations on course, I opted to not take my pack. I should be back in under two hours for sure.

(photo credit: Vice Rhee)

A little before 10:00 a.m., Rob announced that we should make our way to the starting line. I headed over and at 10:00 a.m., we were off. The first hour of running went quite smoothly. The weather was nice, and, being prepared to run, I was in a good place physically, gear-wise, and mentally. This was much better than last year when the hour of running was kind of sprung on us at the race. At about 10 minutes before the one hour mark, I realized that if I ran fairly hard, I might make it past the wheel barrow carry, two obstacles past my goal. I increased my speed and passed right by the wheel barrows right before the klaxon went off to signal that we were to start completing obstacles. I was extremely pleased to make it 4.7 miles into the course and well passed both where I finished the run last year and my goal. 

After recovering by walking the wheel barrow loop, I jogged over to my first obstacle of the day, the ladder walls and then the monkey bars. Rob had said that we were all to attempt the uphill monkey bars -- women half way and men all the way. On lap one, the uphill monkey bars were my only failed obstacle, as I made it past some of the other obstacles that often challenge me and had fresh hands for the Tarzan ropes. I finished lap one in just over 90 minutes.

It was around 11:30 a.m. at this point. Having had an early breakfast and running for the past hour plus, I was hungry, so I headed back to my tent for a sandwich and to change into my OCR shoes and grab my pack. By noon, I was back out on the course for lap two, my first complete obstacle lap.

(photo credit: Paul Jones)

The first half of lap two ended up being a bit of a struggle. For whatever reason, I was kind of "out of it." I felt unfocused and a little spacey, despite the amazing weather and the fact that I felt I was fueling appropriately. Races had their ups and downs, so with that in mind, I persisted and kept moving. After about the half way point of the first lap, at the traverse wall, I began to spend some time running with other racers, chatting, generally feeling better. I finished lap two in a respectable time at 3:39 p.m. with only four failed obstacles -- bad attitude (better known as Devil's steps), the parallel bars, the uphill monkey bars, and the Tarzan ropes. I made it across the pond traverse, along the entire five panels of the great traverse wall, across the balance obstacles, up the firemen's pole and had success with countless others of the almost 80 obstacles that make up the course. Though journeyman is a do-what-ever-you-want division, I was playing it pretty strict, and doing all the carries and obstacles. My thought was to be as strict as possible based on my personal preferences. I love how everyone can do their own thing in journeyman and make it their own race.

The main excitement of lap two came towards the end at the penultimate obstacles, the warped wall. I had just run up the wall when I noticed a wasp to my left. I'm not one to panic, and certainly wasn't going to get into a state about a wasp while hanging over twenty feet from the ground my my fingers. "Ignore it, and it will go away," I thought. No such luck. The next thing I felt was my left tricep being stung -- ouch! After concentrating on not letting go and plummeting to my death, I made quick work on getting myself over the top of the wall and down the rope to ground level. Once back at the barn, the EMT, Sandy, was kind enough to rub some Purrell on the sting to make sure it was clean...clean-ish. (I turned down his offer of Benadryl, not wanting to sleep for the next 48 hours -- I had a race to run.)

Having done about five hours of intense fitness, I was a bit tired when I got back from lap two. I opted to spend around 90 minutes in my tent refueling and getting really ready for the next lap. I had to do at least three laps after all -- I couldn't do less than last year!

I headed out for lap three at around 5:00 p.m. Knowing that it would take me around 3.5 hours, I took my pack and a headlamp. During the third lap -- the backwards lap -- I met up with fellow NES, Taylor and Stephanie, and ended up running part of the course with them. I felt pretty good on lap three and followed them in the competitive division rules, even opting to do the penalties. Running the course and doing the obstacles in reverse definitely mixed things up. It was fun to slide down the coffins or the firemen's pole. It was interesting to climb up the ramp and go down the rope for the rope-ramp. Running the course in reverse also meant that some of the familiar way points along the course were reverse. I had to constantly keep checking myself to figure out where I was. Running in reverse was a fun mental challenge and a great way to mix it up. I had been dubious about running the course in reverse -- I am a person who likes routine -- but it was nice to tackle the last part of the course, which I consider more challenging, at the onset. I hope that this is a change that Rob sticks to for 2018. During the third lap, I felt fairly good and had very decent obstacle completion, failing the four obstacles from the previous lap, plus the zig zag, the tire swing, and the flat monkey bars. 

I got back to the main area at around 8:30 p.m. I had finished in the dark and was completely tired. I had finished three laps, meaning that my goal of keeping up was last year was complete. I decided to call it a night. I headed back to my tent, had some food, and was asleep by 9:15 p.m. However, before going to sleep, it nagged at me that I could do better than last year. I knew that I was too tired to go out again at the moment, especially because I'm not a night person. First light was at around 6:00 a.m. With that in mind, I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. Could I bring myself to do a fourth lap?

At 5:00 a.m. the sound of my alarm roused me. I was tired and sore. I was also determined. If I did four laps that would be just about 25 miles -- over 24 miles in 24 hours, it would be better than last year; I had to do it! I snagged a snack, got dressed, and by 5:24 a.m., I was checked-out and on the course, running solo in the black with only the bob of my headlamp to keep me company. After around half an hour on course, while in the middle of one of the many fields of Shale Hill, I was able to see the light start to peak above the horizon. What a welcome sight.

(photo credit: Vince Rhee)

Lap four was two experiences rolled into one. When I challenged myself to go out for lap four, it was with the understanding that I was tired and would take advantage of my journeyman status. While I covered the entire course, the plan was to avoid some of the more draining carries and focus on the obstacles. I quasi kept to this, jogging the half mile loop for the log slipper carry sans-log. Everything else, I did in earnest. And everything, I mean everything was hard. I was bruised and sore, my arms had trouble extending, and my fingers were like the claw from that machine in Toy Story -- they couldn't open or close fully and were kind of bent. By the time I made it about 3/4 of the way through the course, I was spent. It was all I could do to keep moving. From the new obstacles, the Russian table, and onward, jogging was all I could do. Making it back was my main priority. I failed obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. When I saw the final stretch and the anaconda I was beyond relieved. I wound my way up and down the burn, climbing the walls as well I could, until I was able to jog up the final hill and ring the bell. I was done. Shale Hell 2017 was in the books.

No place challenges and rewards racers like Shale Hill. It's a place where everyone is friends and the owners know your name. The obstacles at Shale Hill are the best, without compare. It's a place where you can set new goals over and over again -- there is always room for improvement. So the only question is this: Do I try for five laps in 2018?