Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ragnar Trail New England 2017

For the second year in a row, I was lucky enough to be invited to be a member of the NES Trail Ninjas Ragnar Trail New England team. Like with the traditional Ragnar road race, Ragnar Trail has teams doing an approximately 24-hour relay race where runners continuously run, switching off each runner after each run. Over the course of the relay, each person on the team will get to run three times. For the Ragnar Trail race, teams are comprised of eight people. Until with the road race, Ragnar Trail has participants camped out at the base of a mountain. All runners complete three loops of runs of varying lengths and elevations. For the traditional Ragnar road race, teams of 12 runners are provided with different length legs (Ragnar speak for "run"), which allows for customization -- you can assign people who prefer longer runs the longer legs and people who prefer shorter runs the shorter legs. In contrast, at Ragnar Trail, each runner is required to complete the same three runs with only the order of the legs differing. The runs are color coded according to perceived difficulty:

  • Red (hard): 6.5 miles and 1,357 feet of elevation gain
  • Yellow (intermediate): 4.8 miles and 845 feet of elevation gain
  • Green (easy): 3.2 miles and 459 feet of elevation gain

The NES Trail Ninjas' 2017 team was comprised with the same group as last year, minus one participant. Since we were running with a team of seven, instead of eight, Jeff ended up running six legs.

NES Ninjas (left to right): Shaina, Josh, Jeff, Bobby, Jess, Nicole (i.e. me), Rodger

In 2016, we had run into some trouble with a late start time and extremely hot weather. This year, we padded our times and ended up with a start time of 11:00 a.m. We ended up finishing the entire race in a very satisfying 24 hours. 

Ragnar Trail New England takes place at Northfield Mountain, which is just over a 30 minute drive from my house in Amherst. I arrived at just after 8:30 a.m. on Friday, dropped off my gear at the gear drop at the top of the hill, parked (paying the $10 fee), and headed back up to get my stuff. Immediately I ran into fellow NES Ninja, Bobby. As we chatted, my wonderful teammates moved my belonging from gear drop to the camping site. By the time I arrived at our camp, everything was already in place. I set up my tent, with the help of Bobby, dropped my sleeping bag, pad, Dryrobe, and duffel inside and joined my teammates for some hangout time. 

By the time I was settled, our team captain, Jess, had already checked us in. We received a bib -- number five -- meal tickets for a free dinner on Friday night, and t-shirt tickets. All of the NES Ninjas headed up to the main festival area to get our t-shirts while sizes were plentiful!

By 10:00 a.m., we were already all settled. The NE Spahtents had sent around eight teams to Ragnar Trail, so I was surrounded by many people that I knew, which was lots of fun. I enjoyed visiting with other NES teams over the course of the weekend. A nice thing about Ragnar Trail is that all of one's team is in one place. This meant, I got to enjoy the company of everyone on the NES Ninjas for the entire race, which the addition of the other NES teams as a bonus.

I was scheduled as the final runner in position eight. According to the Excel worksheet that Jeff had created, using our padded times, I wasn't scheduled to run until around 6:30 p.m. I settled in for a wait. During my downtime, I was able to head up to the festival areas, a short walk from our campground, and welcome in all of the NES Ninjas at the exchange tent. 

The exchange system is kind of nice at trail. Unlike the Ragnar Relay in Cape Cod where you have to drive from place to place, you're stationery at Trail. This is great for sleeping (if people are respectful and quiet during the overnight hours) and convenient for making your exchanges. Ragnar had a timing mat set-up a quarter mile away from the exchange tent. When your runner crossed the mat, the team name would appear on a digital display right outside the exchange tent, letting the next runner know it was time to enter the tent, take a wrist band for the leg they were planning to run, and await the incoming teammate. As with the road Ragnar Relay, our team gave each other chest bumps at each exchange.

I had a lovely day hanging around and cheering on my teammates. It soon became evident that we had been successful in padding our times and were comfortably ahead of schedule. I had planned to have an early 5:00 p.m. dinner before running at 6:30 p.m.; however, I was delighted to find that I was going to actually be ready to run a little before 5:00 p.m.! I was less excited by the weather. It had been lightly raining most of the morning. By mid-afternoon it was raining quite steadily. My tent seemed to be holding off the water, which was a relief. The team had a pop-up tent, which was coming quite in handy. In 2016, the temperatures were in the 90s and the humidity was high. The heavy rain, while a drag, was at least matched by comfortable running temperatures in the mid-60s. 

My first run of the day was the yellow loop -- 4.8 miles and 845 feet of elevation. In general, the yellow loop was probably my least favorite loop last year, and I think it was my least favorite again. While shorter than the red loop with less elevation gain, the way in which you climb is brutal -- two miles all uphill. The first mile is somewhat run-able; however, the second mile is climbing followed by more climbing. As with all the trail runs, the first ascent up the mountain happens for all three courses and utilizes a larger trail and fire road. The last 3/4 of a mile are also shared between all three runs and features a section of somewhat technical trail that meanders more-or-less downhill. The relentless climb of the first two miles without pause is really what gives the yellow loops a bad rap. 

That being said, Ragnar Trail is possible for anyone of a good fitness level who feels they can run 14.5 miles in 24 hours. Your body will take a pounding, but the course is do-able for the average running. There is a lot of walking with Ragnar Trail for the average runner, myself included. I had to walk stretches of the first two miles of the yellow loop, especially between miles one and two. I also did quite a bit of hiking on the red loop. Being comfortable with the expectation that you'll be hiking some major hills and adjusting your pace times accordingly is key for success at Ragnar Trail.

After I concluded my yellow loop and handed off to Jess, Shaina and I grabbed the free Friday dinner from sponsor b.good. They had hamburgers, chicken, and veggie burgers, along with couscous and a broccoli salad with giant chocolate chunk cookies for dessert. It was a solid free dinner. 

After the meal, I headed back to the camp to relax. I had gotten pretty wet from the rain and from my exertions on the yellow loop. I tried my best to clean up and wipe the mud off my legs using my Action Wipes. The wet weather left me feeling moist and sticking. 

My next leg, originally scheduled for 3:30 a.m., was now going to take place a little after 1:00 in the morning. At around 9:00 p.m., I stuck some earplugs in my ears and tried to get some rest. It was, unfortunately, a big noisy, so I cat napped between 9:00 p.m. and around 12:15 a.m. when Jess got me up to get ready for my next run. I was lucky that my night run was just the green loop -- a 3.2 milers with 459 feet of elevation gain. I waited with my teammates until the names NES Trail Ninjas appeared on the display outside the exchange tent. I then went in, got my band, and waited for Jeff, who soon cruised my way and handed off the bib. 

There is no good way to say it: Running in the woods in the middle of the night is kind of crazy. In general, I had only three goals:
  1. Don't fall down and hurt myself.
  2. Don't get lost.
  3. Don't get attached.
Only concerns one and two are very legitimate, but running mostly by yourself in the woods, it's hard not to let your mind wander to option number three. 

Even though the green loop was the easiest of the three, there was still a section of significant elevation gain to start the run, which was uphill for just about the first half. Some walking definitely occurred. 

I was fortunate to get to do my shortest leg during the overnight hours. The rain had stopped but it was still fairly wet on the trails. Without good visibility, I definitely stepped in a mud puddle or two. With the excessively damp weather, my shoes hadn't even really started to dry from the last run anyway. Trail running at night is a totally unique experience. It was fun to be out and about doing something crazy at a crazy time. Ragnar keeps it fun by having a great festival area -- they have firefly lights in all the trees and show a movie. Running through the woods at night is frightening and tiring, but it's also unique in the best possible way and invigorating and empowering. I kept a decent page, exceeding my predicted 15 minute miles to finish the 3.1 miler in just over 39 minutes. I was pleased to be finished with my night leg. 

I headed back to the camp, had a snack, took another sticky "bath" with some wipes, and crashed, sleeping fairly well from 2:30 a.m. until a little after 6:00 a.m. At this point, almost half of my team was completely finished. People were celebrating with b.good for breakfast and early morning beers. I still had one run to go though -- one huge run with the long red loop. I had a conservative breakfast and then headed back to my tent to change into running clothing. 

While we were originally slated to finish around 1:35 p.m. with my final run starting just before noon, we had made up so much time that I was going to be heading out around 9:25 a.m. instead. After limited sleep and lots of running, I wasn't super thrilled to be taking on another 6.2 miles; however, I knew I was the one thing standing between my team and their showers -- I would not disappoint. I am pleased to say that I kept right on pace and finished my run exactly as I predicted I would at between 90 and 100 minutes, crossing the line at 11:00 a.m.

The 6.5 mile loop was quite a haul with its 1,357 feet of elevation. The first mile closely followed the yellow and green loops, allowing for a mix of running and hiking. Unlike the yellow loop which is relentless with its up-and-up-and-up-and-up, the red loop had a good mix of climbing, followed by some short "run-able" areas over the first four miles. I was able to get up a good run right before mile two. The second mile was the most challenging with the steepest climb to date. Basically, it was horrible. There was a bit of a respite right before mile three, followed my more climbing. It was as if the uphills would never end. Finally, right around the fourth miles, I reached a sign that said I had reached the highest point. All down hill from there. After mile two where I averaged 20'49" and mile three where I averaged 16'10, I was ready to run down the fire road and make up some time. There was a beautiful stretch of switchbacks that led down to the area where the red joined up with the other two trails for the last 3/4 of a mile into the festival area. 

I was ready to be done. I bombed into the festival area, where my team was waiting for me right next to the course. I hardly slowed down as I shouted, "Let's go!" and ran across the finish line! Our net time was just around 24 hours on the nose -- 24:00:46.

The final item of the day was to pick up our medals and take one last team photo. Jess, as team captain, coordinated our medals, a cool spork multi-tool, plus an extra medal that we got for doing two North East regional events. My legs were tired enough that I was grateful that Jeff helped me up and down the hay bales for the team photo.

Ragnar Trail 2017 is in the books. I think it might go down as one of my top Ragnar experiences of all time. My team was amazing, logistics went well, everyone was on pace or faster and ran well. I am very lucky to have found a great group with the NES Trail Ninjas (and the NES Ninjas for the Ragnar Relay Cape Cod). I am looking forward to the 2018 event already!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Vermont City Marathon

Every year over Memorial Day weekend, the City of Burlington, Vermont becomes a bustling place as it hosts the Vermont City Marathon. This past October, I participated in my first marathon in Newport. Suffice it to say, wind and rain cutesy of a hurricane that just barely went out to sea, it was perhaps not the most ideal first experience. So, early this winter, when my friend, Amy, asked if someone would run a marathon with her, I agreed.

Let me say straight away that training for a marathon over the winter is folly. The weather is terrible, and it's hard to get in those long runs -- both because of motivation (winter = lazy) and because of the element (ice, snow, freezing cold). So, was it worth it? Yes!

After a string of utterly disappointing, cold and dreary spring weather, the Sunday of marathon morning dawned sunny and temperate. We would be running in temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s, perhaps a bit on the warm side for an elite runner, but perfect as far as I'm concerned. Amy, her partner, Julia, my boyfriend, Ben, and I, had traveled up to Burlington the day before. This allowed us to swing by the expo on Saturday night right before dinner to pick-up our bibs and get a good night sleep. This was all very civilized compared to 3:45 a.m. departure time for the Newport Marathon. I got up at 5:45 a.m., had oatmeal and coffee, and we headed into downtown Burlington to for the race. A little ways from the start line, Julia and Ben dropped Amy and me off. As they went to part, we made our way over to the race start.

The starting area was mobbed with racers for the marathon and the relay. One of the very interesting things about the Vermont City Marathon is that it featured a few relay options. There was a two-person relay, as well as three to five person relay teams. This was really unique and something I would totally be interested in doing in the future. It was also nice to have a race where the course would be full of participants the entire time. At Newport, racers could elect to do the full marathon or a half. Most people chose the later, which meant that the second half of the race, where racers need encouragement the most, felt like an after thought. That was not the case at Vermont City. This was a marathon first and foremost!

Amy and I seeded ourselves near the 5:00 hour marathon pace group with a few minutes to wait before go-time. The place was a madhouse. There was lots of music and thousands of racers. Judging by the final result, over 2,000 marathon racers alone participated that day, plus another 1,600 or so relay teams (all with multiple people). Fortunately, we didn't have to wait long. After only a few minutes it was "go time." Within four or so minutes, we were across the starting line and the race was on!

The Vermont City Marathon has, overall a great course. There is a bit of a cloverleaf effect in play, so that you weave your way out and then come back. We had the chance to run through a lot of wonderful neighborhoods, past some of the universities and colleges that call Burlington home and along the lake. The Vermont City Marathon website has such an excellent description of the course, that I'm going to include it below. 

Our USATF certified course starts at Battery Park, overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. The opening miles are run through tree-lined residential streets and Burlington’s pedestrian Marketplace where an enthusiastic crowd of spectators will inspire you. At mile 3.7 you begin a 4.5 mile out and back section on the Northern Connector, a divided highway which is closed to traffic only once a year – for your race. On the Northern Connector, enjoy beautiful views of the Green Mountains and get a chance to see the leaders and your friends as you cross paths. At mile 8.2, return to city streets for a second pass through the Marketplace and a loop of Burlington’s South End. At the half-way point of the course, enter Oakledge Park. Mile 15 brings the Assault on Battery; 6 blocks climbing Battery Street. You’ll see musicians and throngs of spectators to inspire you up the hill. The next 6.5 miles take you out North Avenue on gently rolling terrain through many shaded neighborhoods. A steep downhill at mile 21.5 brings you to the Burlington Bikepath, which provides beautiful lake views and flat to slightly downhill terrain over the last 4.5 miles. Your finish and all post-race festivities occur in Waterfront Park where you’ll be greeted by thousands of cheering spectators.

The start of the race was excellent. Amy and I both enjoyed running through the neighborhood near downtown Burlington. Even though it was early, people were already out at the ends of their driveways cheering us on.

From there, the course took an unexpected turn around mile four. We began an out-and-back along the highway that lasted for around 4.5 miles. This was, without a doubt, my least favorite part of the course. It was less picturesque than other areas and running along the highway was… odd. Not that there was traffic – the highway was closed – but it was still not super fun to run in the sun along the wide stretches of pavement without any real idea of landmark, especially since the highway was had a distinct camber that made running slightly uncomfortable. Also, Amy's foot was bothering her along this stretch, which was decidedly not fun. (The good news is that her foot began to feel better later on.) Fortunately, there were volunteers along the course and a band or two!From there, the course took an unexpected turn around mile four. We began an out-and-back along the highway that lasted for around 4.5 miles. This was, without a doubt, my least favorite part of the course. It was less picturesque than other areas and running along the highway was… odd. Not that there was traffic – the highway was closed – but it was still not super fun to run in the sun along the wide stretches of pavement without any real idea of landmark. Fortunately, there were volunteers along the course and a band or two!

I was happy when the course turned back towards town. We headed into the main shopping district and were greeted by Ben and Julia who cheered us on near mile nine. It was fun to be back in an areas with some visual interest and great to see loved ones. 

The course then took us along a looped section through some more industrial areas of the city. There was good spectator action along the course here, though the best crowd support was still yet to come. After the run through the South End, we did a quick jaunt through a nearby park. I loved all the running that we did through a few of the parks in Burlington. They were lovely, featured nice bike paths, and quite often were near the water. We hit the halfway point and were both feeling pretty good. The excellent volunteer support and the fun crowds all along the course were great. The best part was getting to run with an buddy and having Ben and Julia there to see along the course. Amy and I passed Ben and Julia before the big hill climb and received high fives.

The hill climb came right around mile 15. It was steep, but it was fast. I think we only had to run uphill for a few minutes. Very manageable. Overall, the course had some rolling hill but was very civilized. Most of the course was what I would consider flat, and we never had more than around 200 feet of elevation change. Also, the hill was packed with spectators who had motivational signs and cheered for all the runners. There was a band urging us on. All of the city streets had people who had come to watch the race. There was not a moment of the day when I didn't feel the fun atmosphere. Burlington loves their marathon and the citizens of the City give it their all in supporting the race!

After the hill, we ran through a number of neighborhoods. This might have been one of my favorite things about the Vermont City Marathon. All of the neighborhoods were jamming with activity. People sat at the ends of their driveways handing out ice pops, bananas, and water. Garage bands came out to play along the road. College students, spending the summer, were dressed up in costumes. People has sprinklers going for cooling off hot runners, a great pick-me-up when I was flagging around mile 21. I have never seen such a supportive group of townspeople or a better group of spectators. The perfect weather and amazing participation of the neighborhoods gave the Vermont City Marathon a sense of fun and celebration. This is what a marathon should be!

At mile 21.5 we took a turn down a hill. Every step was agony on my tired quads and knees. Fortunately, it was a short downward trek and then we were on the bike path. Only a little over four and a half miles to go along the flat bike path, which hugged the lake. 

While I was tired at this point, the run along the bike path was very civilized. It was great to get to finish on flat terrain -- much nicer than the rolling hills that dominated the end of the Newport Marathon. I also tried to enjoy the amazing views of the lake.The views and the cheers from spectators was a big help. In the final miles of a marathon, all distractions are helpful. 

I ran out of water in my hydration pack at around mile 24. At this point, I wasn't going to stop. Not for anything. After running for 4.5 hours, it was easier to keep going than to stop at a water station to fill up my pack. The water stations were plentiful, nearly every half mile at this point, so it was easy to grab a cup while on the run. I was very grateful at the organization of the water stations. They were ever mile or two in the beginning and then more densely packed towards the end of the race as runners needs might increase. This was smart and much-appreciated.

Around mile 23 on the bike path, I noticed that the 5:00 pace group was up ahead of us. At the start of the race, I had been a little concerned when the group of around a dozen and a half sped off ahead of us. I had through our paces might match, but the pacers for the 5:00 crew seemed to be starting out a bit fast. I ended up pacing Amy and myself at a very even 11:17 to 11:25 average pace. This worked because when we caught up and passed the 5:00 pacers it seemed like they had lost all but a member or two of their group. I am really pleased at how well the pacing strategy that Amy and I had was implemented. 

After a few miles along the water, the bike path finally exited the trees and I could hear the finish line. Spectators lined the route. The energy was awesome! Amy and I saw Ben and Julia who cheered us on. Together, we crossed the finish line in 4:26:30. 

This year's Vermont City Marathon was what everyone's first time marathon should be. The logistics were excellent, the volunteers superb, the course engaging, the crowd support amazing, and the weather lovely. It was the marathon I've wanted to run -- a celebration of hard work that culminates in a really fun event. I ran 26.2 miles, and I had fun. Was it hard? Sure. Were there time when I was kind of "done" with running? Of course. But there was lots of support on course from volunteers at race aid stations and the people of Burlington who turned out en masse for the race. Most importantly, it was super fun to see Ben and Julia along the route. I love that the Vermont City Marathon had a course that allowed spectators to view their runners so many times; plus, runner tracking via RaceJoy was a big help.

This fall, I finished the Newport Marathon in 5:19:42. Amy and I finished the Vermont City Marathon in 4:56:30. This was a huge improvement. Training with a buddy helped, as did the fact that I knew I could go the distance and felt I could be "medium conservative" instead of "ultra conservative" in the pacing.

The Vermont City Marathon was a great way to cap off a good 12 months of intensive running. I ran a marathon and had a blast. For now, I will be taking a break from marathon running to concentrate on preparing for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships in Toronto this fall. Next year...who knows? Maybe a fall 2018 marathon is in the cards.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ragnar Cape Cod 2017

It's less than 24 hours since my team, the NE Spahten Ninja, completed the 2017 Cape Cod Ragnar Relay and already I can't wait for next year.

Ragnar is a multi-day 192 mile running relay. Twelve person teams take turns running three times to cover the distance. Each "leg" (Note: Ragnar term for each run) is a different distance. You run every twelfth person, which means you find yourself running at crazy times of the day and night. This year, I was runner eight and ran 10.5 miles, 5.6 miles, and 2.3 miles at around 11:00 a.m., 10:00 p.m., and 8:00 a.m. for a total of 18.4 miles. As a bonus, my 10.5 miler was the second longest run on the team, which was great considering that I was scheduled for a 12 mile long run as I begin to taper for the Vermont City Marathon in two weeks.

This year, for the first time, I was in van 2. For Ragnar, your team divides into two vans of six that each serve to relay members as you leapfrog from exchange to exchange to meet your runners. For the first three years of my Ragnar experience, I was in van 1 (as runner 1, 6, and 5 for years 1 through 3, respectively). Van 1 tends to start running at 5:00 a.m., making for an early wake-up. Van 2, on the other hand, was scheduled to check-in at Exchange 6 at a little after 9:00 a.m. on Friday so that we could watch the safety video before we took over running at around 10:00 a.m.

Our (half) team of six, met up Thursday night at the Best Western Plus in Plymouth. The group consisted of Aaron, Geoff, Sandy, Sarah, Sean, and me. After a luxurious full night of sleep, we availed ourselves of the free hotel breakfast and headed off to meet van 1 at Duxbury Beach.

At Duxbury, things were just getting set-up by the Ragnar crew. We checked-in and walked around the sponsor tents. (I got a cold brew from one tent to save in the cooler we had in the van for tomorrow with breakfast.) Soon, our comrades in van 1 arrived! It was great to see Bobby, Jess, Josh, Paul, and Wes and to meet the new van 1 member, Peter. We took a few photos as a group (minus Aaron who had taken over from Jess and was out running). 

Then van 1 headed off to breakfast, and we in van 2 got ready to meet Aaron at the seventh exchange. I had a quick snack and coordinated my water bottle and chomps for my 10.5 miler. (Note: My leg had van support, meaning that my van could stop and drop off water and words of encouragement; however, they had to handle some logistics while I was out running. As a result, I wanted to be sure that I had everything I would need. In contrast, for my night run, I decided not to take anything and got to take advantage of the van support. Works well both ways!)

My run started in and ended in Carver, while occasionally taking me across the town line into adjacent Plympton. The first two miles of the route contained some serious rolling hills! The hills persisted throughout but were most extreme in the beginning. In my head I thought, "What is this! The Cape is supposed to be flat!" The entirety of the 10.5 miles was through some residential areas, often along semi-busy roads. Since our team had started so early, there were few other Ragnar runners on the road. I was passed by three other runners, and we shared friendly greetings. All-in-all, it was a fairly standard run. I felt fine about the distance -- I ran 20 miles last weekend in my final really really long run for my marathon training -- and moved along consistently. I averaged 10:29 miles, a pretty good pace for me, and an excellent pace for me considering the distance. The coolest part of the run was seeing a helicopter that was hovering over a farm doing some agricultural work. I texted my team a mile out and was greeted by the team at the exchange. It's always fun to run in and have someone to hand off to (and chest bump in the case of our team -- it's tradition). Our group is also great about coming out and cheering as a runner comes in and the next goes out. What better way to finish a 10.5 miler than to the cheers and well-wishes of your friends!

After the run, we headed back to the van. My teammates generously allowed me time for some stretching and a quick peanut butter sandwich and change of clothing. It was around 1:00 p.m. at this point, and I was hungry. I was glad we had ample snacks in the van. I refueled with the sandwich and some jerky. (I also might have indulged in my favorite race treat, Twizzlers!) I was lucky to have purchased a Dryrobe, an ultra-warm changing robe, that arrived just a day before Ragnar! The weather for Ragnar was cool this year. Temperatures were always in the upper 40s or low 50s. While this was great for running, it was a bit cold for standing around, especially for someone like me who is prone to feeling cold all the time anyway. I wore my Dryrobe pretty much all of the time when I wasn't running, and even slept in it a couple of times. Being cold for a couple of days would have been miserable -- Dryrobe to the rescue!

Our van continued dropping off runners and leapfrogging them from exchange to exchange for the rest of the afternoon. I couldn't believe how different the schedule felt from van 1! In van 1, at this point, I would have been super tired from getting up at 3:00 a.m. and would be napping (for ages and ages) while waiting for van 2. This time I was part of van 2, and I had gotten a good full night sleep, eaten at normal times, and was feeling my normal level of "active-ness." This made me probably a bit more engaged at exchanges, which was fun!

On our way to meet our Sean at exchange 12 in Buzzards Bay, we accidentally took a wrong turn that left us going the wrong way. This wasn't a problem -- we realize right away -- however, on our detour, we ran into a runner who had accidentally strayed several miles off course! Sandy quickly pulled over and Sarah jumped out. The poor guy had run over 10 miles (much of them uphill on a major road and in the wrong direction!) for his planned 9.6 miler. We quickly collected him and brought him with us to the exchange to meet his team. We were, sadly, late to meet Sean as a result. Fortunately, van 1 was there to cheer him on. We quickly collected him and were off to grab a 5:00 p.m. dinner at the British Beer Company before having to start our next set of runs around 10:00 p.m.

After a solid dinner, we headed to the next exchange where van 1 would hand off to us at around 9:30 p.m. Following a disappointing trip across the street to a Dunkin' that was already closed (at 7:00 p.m.! Seriously!) We all did some light resting / napping in the van. At this point, we were about half an hour or more ahead of schedule, so around 9:00 p.m., I got up and began or organize myself for my night run, which would start around 10:00 p.m. (instead of the originally scheduled 10:30 p.m.). During your night runs at Ragnar, or any time during the evening that you're out of the van, it's necessary to wear a reflective vest for safety. Headlamps are also mandatory for the night legs. Leg 20, my night leg, was 5.6 miles through Yarmouth.

In the past, I have had a kind of floating feeling on my night legs. This year, however, I felt much more grounded (better sleep?) and was pretty mindful as I ran. I was able to keep up a good pace as a result, at 10:30 per mile again. The marking were not as good as one might have hoped on this leg. As a result, I was very grateful when my team met me at around the 2.5 mile mark to cheer me on and give me some water. It was wonderful to see them and good to know that I was on the right track. I finished my night run in just under and hour and must have then gone into the van and crashed because the next thing I remember was that it was 2:00 a.m. and we were stopped, apparently having just passed off to van 1! More importantly, apparently there were showers to be had.

Shower! What? I woke up quite a bit when I heard this, especially since I had recalled learning there would be basically no shower service during Ragnar this year. (To which I had mentally replied, "Nooooo!") I hadn't brought a towel, but my teammate, Sandy, super super generously allowed me to use her towel after she had showered. After running 16 miles, I can assure you a shower is most welcome. I also grabbed an extremely delicious cup of soup from one of the volunteers at the school where we showed. Yum -- a 2:00 a.m. snack!

From there, we headed to the next exchange in Eastam where van 1 was scheduled to pass off to us for the final six legs at 7:00 a.m. When we arrived at Nauset Region High School, I decided to head into the gym to sleep. For all my past Ragnar races, I had crashed on the bench in the van. Other on my team has spread out on the long benches this time. (The same benches I had no doubt slept on during much of my team's legs over the previous hours.) My hip flexor was feeling very tight, and I didn't want to sleep scrunch in a chair, so I tagged along with Aaron and headed to the gym. There I caught a few hours of excellent sleep on the gym floor. It was chilly with the doors open, but it was great to stretch out. After that, I definitely felt better!

When I got up, I learned that van 1 was running a little bit behind. They had arrived at one of the exchanges to find that it was disorganized and lacking in volunteers. As a result, they had been delayed for 15 minutes. Other matters delayed them a bit further, meaning that I'd be running my final leg closer to 8:00 a.m. than 7:30 a.m.

At this point, we were getting farther out on the Cape. Beaches and dunes were in evidence. I was tired but certainly much less so than during other Ragnar races, mostly in part of having had a good night sleep Thursday into Friday.

My final leg was 2.3 miles in Wellfleet. It ended up most definitely being the most lovely run of all three legs of Ragnar 2017 for me. With such a short distance, I ended up running fairly quickly and finished with an average pace of something like 9:29 per mile. The run started with some rolling hill with the ocean on my right. It ended with a third to a half mile of downhill running, which let me run quite quickly into the finish. What a blast! "Comin' in hot" to finish my last leg of the relay was such fun. I passed off to Sandy and my running was done.

Van 2 still had a bit of running before we hit Provincetown. Aaron was schedule to run the last leg. Over the past three years, Josh had always run that leg and it was time for us to mix it up. Aaron kept up a good pace, even while running into a strong wind while carrying the American flag for the last four or so miles. Meanwhile, van 2 headed into P-town where we parked and went to meet up with van 1 and wait for Aaron to head in.

Josh and I headed down the road a little bit so that we could see when Aaron rounded the bend. He ran up the hill and the entire team joined together so that all twelve of us could cross the finish line together!

As always, Ragnar was an amazing time. Key to success is having an amazing team, and I'm lucky in this regard. How fortunate that the NE SpahtenNinjas took me on! I am already excited for our Ragnar Trail New England event next month and Ragnar Cape Cod 2018.

(Note: Photos are courtesy of Paul Jones and Josh Chace of the NE Spahtens. Team photo from Vince Rhee. Some are even taken by me!)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

F.I.T. Challenge VIII Spring 2017

Since I took part in my first F.I.T. Challenge in April 2015, this race has been a staple of my calendar. April 2017 was no exception. 

I showed up in Cumberland, Rhode Island's Diamond Hill Park at around 10:10 a.m., about 30 minutes before the 10:45 a.m. NE Spahtens team wave. Parking, as always, was $10 and onsite. Not a bad deal. I had to park in the second parking lot, which is about a three to five minute walk from the main venue area. Once I arrived, I was able to register. As always, registration was a breeze. (And, as a bonus, I got to see teammate, Marc.) I got my small unisex t-shirt and a timing chip -- I was good to go. 

I had a few minutes until race time, so I headed over to the NE Spahtens team tent where I did some visiting with Bobby and Paul, lusted after Paul's DryRobe (Yes, I'm going to cave and order one), and changed into my Icebugs. 

At 10:40 a.m., it was go time. I headed over to the start line with my fellow NES teammates who had not already started the race as multi-lappers or in the elite wave. (Seriously, I never see anyone anymore; so many of my friends from the NES multi-lap or run elite!) The announcer did a festive job and at 10:45 a.m. we were crossing the line to tackle the 3.5 mile F.I.T. Challenge course.

As usual, race director, Robb, packs in as much elevation as he can at Diamond Hill. We did approximately 1,000 feet of elevation, which included some gnarly descents. The course was more-or-less reversed from the last few races and featured some nice sections of trail. Compared with last year, we actual got to start on a less steep section. The past couple of F.I.T. Challenges have begun with a very steep climb; however, for this April's race, that climb was moved to later in the course when I was more warmed up. I think that this was a better move. 

There was a fair bit of trail running to start the race. Many of the F.I.T. Challenge courses start this way, in what is, I believe, an effort to spread out the pack. The weather was modestly sunny but not overly warm. It was in the low 40s and a bit windy. I had kept on a base-layer tech t-shirt under my NES drill shirt and was glad that I did. 

It was especially key that I had layered up because this spring's F.I.T. Challenge was slow. My main theme of the race was waiting. I would estimate that I spent almost half an hour in total waiting at various obstacles. This was quite a disappointment, especially since the obstacles were so fantastic that I wouldn't skip them even though I could. F.I.T. Challenge is an obstacle course race, and I was there to do the obstacles. I ended up waiting over 15 minutes at the hanging cargo net, about five minutes each at the two Destroyer walls, and a few minutes more at a cargo climb. Not ideal to say the least. The stopping and starting meant that I got cold and definitely interfered with the flow of my race an my enjoyment of the experience. I think that the abundance of multi-lap athletes (to whom the rest of us always had to give right-of-way) might have contributed to these back-ups. Fingers crossed that this is adjusted for the next event. 

The obstacles themselves were excellent! F.I.T. Challenge features a variety of unique obstacles, all of them fun. This year, they featured an obstacle that was much like the devil's steps, a set of upside-down stairs that one must ascend by one's hands. I still have yet to master this obstacle. While I did a bit better getting up the steps on the first side, I was unable to transition to the next half (even while using my feet, which I know is illegal). I have to work to get this down before OCRWC in October. 
There was also the hanging cargo net that caused such a back-up. I was much more efficient on this obstacle than last fall. I went backwards and used my hands and feet to move along quite quickly. I was pleased with my revised technique and improvement. 

As always, Robb had the rope climb back-to-back with the peg boards. This year, we had to do the climb first and the peg boards second, as opposed to last time when the process was reversed. 
There were also a variety of floating walls -- both a skinny one and a thicker one, the latter of which moves....a lot. When I first saw the thicker floating wall at the last F.I.T. Challenge, I was alarmed at how much it moved when I was at the top. This time, I was more prepared and I kept my body much closer to the wall as I climbed and traversed over. 

One of my favorite obstacles is always the Destroyer wall. This obstacle features an inverse wall that transitions to a high-up wall with grips. Creator, Larry Cooper, has now created a second version, the Destroyer 2.0, where the top wall is angled away from the climber. After climbing up the Destroyer 2.0, I was surprised to find a set of balance tired on the back side. Having trouble reaching the first, I basically draped my body across it, then tried to stretch to the second tire. I promptly fell off, had to pull myself back up, and then traversed the tired on foot as designed. Paul and Vince had a riot making fun of me on this one. (May the video Paul took never see daylight.)  

Another obstacle that I consider a highlight at F.I.T. Challenge is the rig. I especially loved the rig this year. It was the perfect balance of challenge and fun. The rig started with a horizontal pipe, transitioned to a few monkey bars, back to a pipe, and then to a cargo net climb. It was fantastic! There were also a couple of lanes where the horizontal bars were replaced with hand grips to up the difficulty. 

After the rig, it was a few short obstacles to the finish -- an inclined wall, an atlas stone lift, and an inverted ladder wall. I finished in 1:48:45 (though I've been subtracting time in my head due to all the back-ups).

F.I.T. Challenge is a great #racelocal event that features a course that's a fun length at 3.5 miles and loads of obstacles that are fun and unique. They do a great job combining a race that many people could do with a race that is competitive enough for the seasoned OCR athlete. (Hunter McIntyre ran F.I.T. in the elite wave this April. I cannot believe I missed seeing him -- so cool!) While this April's F.I.T. was not my favorite due to all the waiting around, I still had a lot of fun. I think I might want to consider the elite wave for the next event so as to avoid the lag time. Either way, it's always great to hit the trail, climb and swing!

(Note: Photo credits Daniel T. Parker and Vince Rhee.)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour 2017

This year marks the 5th Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour, a winter race in which participants are given eight hours to do as many loops of Shale Hill's 6.5 mile course as possible. I had taken part in Polar Bear two years ago in 2015 when there was around three feet of snow on the ground. In 2015, it took me almost five and a half hours to do one lap (compared with the summer when I can do a lap in around 2:45) and still ranks as one of the hardest races I have ever done.

No pretense: I am not a cold weather acclimated athlete. I do poorly in the cold. For me, a race like Polar Bear is never going to be competitive. In the summer, I'll crank out a few laps. In the winter, I'm just going to do my best and have some fun. No goals. For me, Polar Bear is a great time to hang out with friends and get out an play in the outdoors during a time of year when I traditionally have less fitness motivation, less time in the fresh air, and not nearly enough time playing around on obstacles. Polar Bear fills my off season in a most excellent way.

(Note: Video taken by OCRTube.)

This year, we were fortunate to have an almost snow-free course for Polar Bear. After 2015, I was supremely relieved! That being said, it was cold. Temperatures at start time, 7:30 a.m., were in the teens and they never got above the low to mid 20s. Obstacle racing in the cold weather is an entirely different thing than in the warmer temperatures. Winter clothing restricts mobility, muscles are cold making everything seem more challenging, and, worst of all, one's fingers are unable to grasp things. I was either forced to wear gloves, which made my grip almost worthless and removed any tactile sensation from my finger tips, or I had to try to grab things with freezing fingers. After one lap my hands were dead. I couldn't close my fingers and my palm were raw. For me, there is no fighting this.

Nor is there any fighting how draining the cold is. One and done was my motto again this year, despite the fact that, in finishing my lap in 3:19, I had plenty of time to do another. I was not competing. One lap was fun. Two would have been a struggle and I would have failed lots of obstacles without my fingers working. I opted for a happy one and time socializing with friends.

All this being said, Polar Bear is a great competitive race if you want it to be. For this event, Shale Hill draws athletes from all across the US and Canada. It is amazing to be witness to these athletes giving there all. For the rest of us, it's one or two laps and then one of my favorite race parties in OCR. It's perhaps an understatement for me to say that I'm not a party person. I, in fact, often dislike parties. For me to say that I like the party at Shale Hill is huge. Why? Because Shale Hill is a close-knit community. I know people. It's friendly and low-key. Owners, Rob and Jill, treat me like family. Suffice it to say, Shale Hill is a special place. It's the best fixed OCR course in the country, a unique community I love, and a special place. Polar Bear has an all day buffet with coffee and bacon (for those who eat it -- certainly not me!) all day long. In the morning there was french toast and eggs. At lunch time there was soup, rolls, mac 'n cheese, meatballs ,and ziti. A hot meal before and after spending time in 20 degree weather is the way to go and a huge perk of this race.

Polar Bear starts bright and early with the 6:35 a.m. racers' meeting. With the early hour, my carpool buddy and teammate, Amy, and I decided to stop by Shale Hill Friday night on our way into town to register and drop off our stuff. As always, everything was awesome. We received our bibs (which were giant flexible stickers, meaning they didn't rip off on the course -- amazing!) and a goody bag with stickers, snacks, and our race t-shirt. I love that Shale Hill does a long sleeve shirt for Polar Bear. (Note: I left my t-shirt at the house where I was staying and am super lucky that fellow Spahten, Becky, is very nicely mailing it back. I was even more lucky that Jill at Shale Hill would have sent me another one if this one had gone missing. Good people!) Amy and I dropped our gear at Shale Hill before heading to our rental house about five miles away.

The close accommodations were helpful for our early wake-up. We were at Shale Hill parking a little after 6:30 a.m. and just in time for the racers' meeting. One of the great things about Shale Hill is that they don't charge for the extras. Parking, bag drop, and food is all included. Parking is onsite and just a 1/5 of a mile walk up the hill to the heated barn where all the action is happening.

During the racers' meeting, Rob went over the rules for the course. I was doing the open division this year, meaning that I would have to do penalties. Shale Hill also offers the penalty-free Journeyman division, which is an excellent option for those doing their first season at Shale Hill's highly difficult course. Journeyman is also great for the less competitive athlete who don't want to waste energy on penalties. All that being said, penalties are handled in a special way for Polar Bear. Usually, you do your penalties on the course in the summer, often completing spiderman push-ups for each failed obstacle. During Polar Bear, to keep the racers from stopping and getting cold on course, you collect small chips at each obstacle you fail and then bring them back and do all your penalties at the end right in front of the barn. Depending on the obstacle you fail, you get different color chips which correspond to different difficulty penalties. You then roll two dice to determine how many penalties you have to do and of what type. This year's penalties included such things as dips, hitting a tire with a sledge hammer, jumping into a box and out, push-ups using PUPs stands, and hugging a stranger while singing a song.

After the meeting, I quickly organized myself before the 7:30 a.m. open wave start. I put on my Icebugs, layered up, and put a buff around my face. I was ready to go. I ran out the door at exactly 7:30 a.m. and was on my way.

The weather was cold. At 7;30 a.m., it couldn't have been much above 18 degrees. I pulled my buff over my face and trundled on. The first challenge I hit was at the NES sponsored obstacle, the Zig Zag of Awesomeness. This obstacle features metal pipes that you have to traverse using only your hands. In such cold temperatures, it was ill-advised to remove my gloves and touch the bare metal. Unfortunately, in my gloves I could not get purchase on the pipe and kept sliding off. After several attempts, I ended up taking my first penalty chip.

I kept moving with the goal of staying warm. It was cold but at least the sun was out and when the wind wasn't blowing it felt almost tolerable. I had warmers in my shoes and in my pockets (for my hands), which was a must. I made it to one of my least favorite obstacles, the log slipper carry, which requires racers to carry to logs connected with a nylon cord for half a mile. My favorite logs weren't there, but I got a good set and was impressed at how I powered through an obstacle that I often struggle on.

Next up was the pond traverse. The pond was deeply frozen, making this obstacle a "go." There were some short lines, so I opted for the traverse rope with Heaven's Gate on it. Heaven's Gate is a metal ring, wrapped around the traverse that one has to go around. I don't usually have much problem with it, so I decided to forge ahead. I had taken off my gloves to gain better purchase on the traverse rope, not thinking about how I'd have to touch the metal gate. Touching Heaven's Gate was like touching the coldest thing in the universe. I quickly made my way around and continued along the rope. My hands were ice and I kept asking Steve, who was stationed at the obstacle, "Am I there yet?" My fingers were hurting! I finally made it and was able to warm up my hands with the warmers in my gloves. I pressed on.

Rob is perpetually adding to the course at Shale Hill. Case and point, a new obstacle about half way through the course. This obstacle was of a type I am increasingly seeing and have yet to master -- the inverted stair / uphill monkey bar. It made my second failed obstacle of the day. I have done research and have a set of exercises (mostly pull-ups incorporating a plyometric element) that I plan to master in order to increase my ability to do these sorts of obstacles!

I was racing on my own. The winter is not my season and the cold was getting to me. I was feeling somewhat low energy and hoping for a friend to pass my way. Fortunately, as I hit the halfway point of the course on the traverse wall, hope appeared in the form of one Mr. Paul Jones (aka. the most famous person I know). Paul served as my battle buddy (and sherpa for my hydration pack) for the second half of the course. Having his company was key to my enjoyment of the race!

Of course, one new obstacle on the course wasn't enough, so Rob created the Shale Hill ATWB, the all terrain wheelbarrow. This demonic new obstacle replaced the old bucket carry and, dare I say it, was even worse. My forearms were trashed and my arms were shaking after taking the ATWB around the old bucket carry loop. Having this obstacle right before the monkey bars was just terrible!

At this point, I was feeling pretty tired. Fortunately, the end was in sight as we finished up at the Tarzan Ropes and headed over to the warped wall. Two more obstacles and then time to cash in my chips, do my penalties, and, finally, get warm and fed.

I crossed the finish line and headed over to the penalty table, extracting five red and three green chips from my pocket. I had failed the Zig Zag, the new staircase obstacle, two sections of giant traverse wall, the fireman's pole (though I had made it to the top, my fingers lacked the strength to pull me through the opening), the 2" rope climb, the monkey bars, and the Tarzan ropes. For me, this was a bit of a poor showing, but with the cold, I was okay with the results. Apparently, my penalty count for the day was not overly high because I only had to hug a stranger while singing and do 15 tricep dips. Not bad. I finished in 3:19.

I had time to go back out again. I even debated it for quite a while. I had finished in good time, and I had hours before the eight hour limit would be up. I could entirely do another lap. Then I realized, it wouldn't be fun, and I was there for an off-season race that day. I was there for fun. I collected my medal, satisfied with my choice. I had the summer, when I planned to peak, for a competitive endeavor. Now, it was time to change into warm clothing and hang out with friends.

What followed was an amazing few hours. I put on some clean clothing, had some hot food, and then hung out spectating by the fire, toasty warm in a Dryrobe that one of the vendors super nicely let me borrow. (Hint: These things are amazing!) Suffice it to say, I got to enjoy Polar Bear on many levels -- as a racer and as a spectator.

I cannot wait to get back to Shale Hill again. Next up for them is their August festival weekend. I plan to take part in the relay 1 miler, 8 miler (where I do plan to be more competitive and do multiple laps), and the charity relay. Between races, I plan to volunteer and spend time cheering on friends. Hopefully, in the meantime, I'll make it up to Shale Hill a couple times this spring to get in some training. Already, I can't wait to be up in Vermont again!

(Note: NE Spahtens photos courtesy of Vince Rhee. Shale Hill pictures from Jennefer Paquette Eaton. Thank you!)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Blizzard Blast 2017

There is no better way to say it: Blizzard Blast really stepped it up this year. New OCRWC qualifier status. New venue. New obstacles. Same great attention to theme and focus on fun.

This year, Blizzard Blast took place for the first time at Shedd Park in Lowell with the festival at Wamesit Lanes, a brand new bowling alley and family fun center. Race day logistics had all participants parking at the Ocean State Job Lot about ¼ of a mile down the street from Wamesit Lanes. Buses then transported people to the bowling alley. Another set of buses provided transportation to and from Shedd Park. Prior to the event, I was a bit hesitant about all this busing. I am not a busing fan, plus the buses were a bit slow at last year’s Blizzard Blast . I need not have been concerned. Logistics were well ironed out and ran smoothly, as far as I could tell. I parked my car at the Ocean State Job Lot and then decide to walk the quarter mile to Wamesit Lanes since it was so close. The walk took me no more than five minutes – it was just as close as some places where I’ve parked for other OCRs and not had the benefit of busing.

Registration and check-in was at Wamesit Lanes, along with the post-race party. In sum, Wamesit Lanes was a good place for a party. Personal caveat: I’m not much of a post-race celebrator and I found Wamesit Lanes to be way too loud for my personal taste; however, it was really perfect for what, I think, Blizzard Blast was looking for, and I bet most racers loved it. There was cheap food and drink, large areas to hang out, and plenty to do. It was a bit of a drag that the festival and the course weren’t at the same place, as in year’s past, but the new location was definitely better suited to the number of people at the race, and SmithFest did a great job providing convenient transportation.

Check-in at Wamesit Lanes went very smoothly. I was given my chip and bib. I was able to go and pick-up my free long sleeve t-shirt (love the long sleeve option!) and buff and then proceed to check my bag for free. Excellent all around! I then went to the bar area to hang out with the other NE Spahtens as I waited for the bus for the 11:30 a.m. team wave. The busing was ultra-organized with the DJ telling us when it was time to depart.

The course was, for the first time this year, at Shedd Park in Lowell. The race location was excellent. One reason it was so great was that Fred, race director of Blizzard Blast, did a great job integrating existing elements in the park with the course. Examples: We got to run along a wall that bordered the park, many elements of the race had us using the tables and playgrounds within the park, and finally for traverse walls the race utilized a couple of walls already in existence at the park. This was a really creative approach and added to the number of obstacles on the course.

This year’s Blizzard Blast was, for the first time, an OCRWC qualifier. As such, they really upped their game. In past years, I’ve commented that Blizzard Blast can be light on the obstacles. Last year’s course was a 10K and sparse with the obstacles, making it feel more like a trail run than an OCR. Not so this year! I would say with 100% confidence that this was the best Blizzard Blast yet. There were more obstacles than the past and less running. The course was 3.5 miles in length, and you didn’t run more than a couple of minutes without hitting an obstacle. The length and number of obstacles was spot on!

Blizzard Blast had all the classic obstacles from past years along with some new and innovative ones. To begin a discussion of the obstacles, it’s important to acknowledge that Blizzard Blast is great at keeping with their winter theme. As such they had pine trees aplenty. We had to climb over pine trees, run through pine trees, do a pine tree carry, and do a sled drag with a tree (new this year). There was also sledding. Kudos to Fred on getting some snow out there. Even more kudos because when he heard that the sledding was getting a bit too fast, he adjusted to have us sled from farther down the hill to avoid injury.

The other main themed aspect to Blizzard Blast is kegs. The race is sponsored by Shock Top, a beer company, and the kegs seem to proliferate each year. The signature obstacle at Blizzard Blast is keg kingdom, one of my favorite obstacles. It’s a Rig with hanging kegs that move unpredictably making this one lots of fun. Keg kingdom is one of my favorite obstacles in OCR. There was also a keg hoist, a mini keg raise, and two keg carries – the first of which required racers to roll the keg half of the way (uphill of course!). Inspired by the new festival venue, there was also an obstacle where racers had to walk along slacklines using bowling pins suspended overhead for balance. While not very challenging, this new obstacle was innovative and super fun!

Blizzard Blast featured one new obstacle that was a great new test for racers, Devil’s staircase. This obstacle was a giant metal a-frame with rungs spaced far apart to be ascended by swinging as if doing inclined monkey bars. Super hard for me, and the one obstacle I did not make. These inverted climbs are always a struggle for me and definitely an area where I need to do some training. (Note to self: Talk with my coach.)

Naturally all the traditional favorites were there: walls, under-over-thru’s, a peg board climb, and a rope climb. All of these elements were well placed on the course. I was very impressed by how little running took place between each obstacle. It made the course every enjoyable.

I crossed the line in 1:14:19 (28/116 in my age group and 256/705 overall for open, to provide context). I was given a medal which featured a bottle opener and a little OCR racer who moved back and forth across a mini keg kingdom. So cool!

Blizzard Blast really had a tremendous event for 2017. They nailed the race, integrating new obstacles and creating an engaging course that was challenging for seasoned racers while still be very approachable for beginners. The new location is stellar. Logistics were well handled. (Though the post-race chowder would totally have been enhanced by some oyster crackers – get on it, Fred! Jk!) All around, I was very impressed with what I consider the best Blizzard Blast yet. I look forward to the 2018 race. I plan to be there.

(Note: Photo credits to Vince Rhee of the NE Spahtens. Thank you!)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


What do you know -- it's 2017. I'm feeling pretty enthusiastic about 2017 in terms of my personal life. This is the year that I'll be finishing up getting my Master's Degree. (93 days to go until I finish my last class.) That means I'll have more time to devote to a lot of the things I care about. I'll have more time to devote to the volunteer work I've been doing on the Friends of Forbes Library Board of Directors, which is a great experience so far. I'm eager to use my education to take on new challenges at work. I'll have more time for leisure activities, such as reading, knitting, and keeping this blog, which have fallen somewhat by the wayside as I've worked on my studies.

I am also very excited to have more time for racing. Even with the busy schedule I keep working full time and volunteering, fitness has been a real priority for me, so I would say that my training has not fallen by the wayside. This past year, I took the time to train for a marathon, and I qualified age group for the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships (OCRWC) in Toronto, Canada this October.

With the new year, it's natural to start thinking ahead around planning for 2017. My big race of the year will definitely be OCRWC in October. I am very excited to have qualified and am looking forward to my first visit to Canada, my long distance trip in ages (since I have been spending my money over the past almost decade on school and improvements to my condo). I will plan to have my training "peak" around this event, though I have a few other things on the calendar that are sort of goal races and a few more items on the calendar that I signed up for with fun in mind.

As of the writing of this post, my calendar is as follows:

  • Blizzard Blast: Blizzard Blast is an OCR around 3 - 5 miles in length. It takes place during a rather fallow time of year on the racing calendar and tends to offer a fun time. I love their Keg Kingdom obstacle, which has you swinging from suspended kegs. Definitely not a goal race. Instead it's a fun time to see some of my NES friends during the "off season."

  • Polar Bear Challenge: Those who know me are well aware that I need little excuse to want to travel to Shale Hill in Vermont. Their February 8 Hour Polar Bear Challenge is a staple race, which challenges you to do as many loops of their 10K course as you can. This is February in Vermont. I have, to date, only been able to take part in this race once, two years ago. (Last February I was unable to attend because I had a Saturday graduate school class.) It was one of the hardest races I have ever done. The course at Shale Hill usually takes me around 2.5 hours. One lap in February 2014 took me almost 5.5 hours. This year, I'm hoping the weather cooperates and I don't have three feet of snow to contend with. This would make two laps a possibility. Honestly, I am not a cold weather person. Any winter race, especially one on a course as challenging as Shale Hill is not going to be a goal race for me. The main aim here is to go our, play, challenge myself, and have some fun 

  • O'Hartford 5K: My dad and I both celebrate our birthday in March. Two years ago, Dad, my stepmom, Lisa, and I ran the O'Hartford. It was a lot of fun! This year, Dad and I are again planning to celebrate our birthdays in this manner. Dad, Lisa, Ben, and I all plan to have a fun time doing this festive 5K run before enjoying lunch with Mom. A great way to celebrate turning 32!

  • F.I.T. Challenge: A perennial favorite F.I.T. is a race that I never miss. I love that it kicks off the "race season," as I consider the summer months traditionally my peak time for OCR. I usually make a decent effort at this race. It's a barometer for me for how I'm coming into the season fitness-wise and what a great way to get things started!

  • Ragnar Relay Cape Cod: Way back in 2014, Ragnar Cape Cod was my first event with the NE Spahtens. Four Ragnars later (three road and one trail), Ragnar Cape Cod holds a special place in my heart. 200 miles, three runs -- one at night. This is always a signature event in my calendar. This year, it will fall a few weeks before my May marathon, meaning that I should be able to say, for the first time, "Give me any legs to run; I can do the distance."

  • Vermont City Marathon: Last October's Newport Marathon was my first attempt at 26.2. I had the joy of spending lots of summer hours enjoying the outdoors, logging miles. The day of the big race, I was faced with some of the most undesirable weather one could have: driving rain, wind, and temperatures just above 50. It was cold, wet, and windy. Despite it all, I had a great time. When my friend and colleague, Amy, asked who would join her for her first marathon, the Vermont City Marathon, taking place over Memorial Day weekend, I thought, "Why not?" Wouldn't it be nice to run a marathon in nice weather? The challenge here is going to be motivating myself to log long runs in winter temperatures. I'm a summer person and my energy and desire to be outside flags in the winter. Hopefully, training for May's marathon will be the motivation I need. Training begins next week!

  • Ragnar Trail New England: Last August, I attended my first Ragnar Trail. Again, I was lucky enough to be on the NE Spahtens Ninjas team. (This is the NE Spahtens sub-team that I'm a member of for the Ragnar races.) It was a tremendous experience -- a great display of teamwork and a definite physical challenge. There is no way that I would pass up the opportunity to do this event again this year. Bonus points for the fact that it takes place less than 40 minutes from my house!

  • Tough Mudder New England: I've done Tough Mudder three times. Last year, based on the expense and bad timing in my race calendar, I passed up doing Tough Mudder at Mount Snow, Vermont. Honestly, I missed it. Tough Mudder is a blast. It's an experience, not a race. It is very different from anything else on my race calendar. The obstacles are unique and innovative. Tough Mudder is less about the physical challenge of obstacle course racing and more about overcoming fears and putting yourself in interesting situations. I love how Tough Mudder mixes it up and am looking forward to adding this race back onto my calendar for 2017.

  • Savage Race: Formerly a race brand mostly devoted to the southern region, Savage Race is making its way to New England. I, for one, could not be more excited. Savage will be at Carter & Stevens Farm in Barre, less than an hour from my house. I cannot wait to check out the new obstacles they have.

  • Viking Obstacle Race 8 Hour Ultra Viking: Last year's Viking Hill Obstacle Race where I did the Viking Double (i.e. two laps of the course) was one of my favorite events of the year. For 2017, I was planning to do the Viking Double again; however, as luck would have it, they are offering two options for race weekend. The traditional Viking Race (with doubles, elite, and open waves to name a few options) is taking place on Sunday. On Saturday, an eight hour option is available. I actually thought really hard about this one. To forgo the race is somewhat sad for me; however, I plan to do an eight hour race at Shale Hill in August, and I think that doing the eight hour option at Viking will prove and excellent tune up. Also, I think there is the option for me to actually be more competitive in the eight hour race, which features penalties instead of mandatory obstacle completion. I still am not confident I can make the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars, and to lose the Viking Double again for one obstacle would be sad. Let's see how the eight hours go. (And, yes, it's a goal of mine to eventually get Dragon's Tooth!)

  • Shale "Hell" Obstacle Festival: Could it get more exciting than a weekend at Shale Hill. No, it could not. This year, instead of having many races spread over the summer, Shale Hill is offering a mega race weekend packed with a schedule of events. Basically, I want to do pretty much everything (other than the 72 OCR and 48 hour ultra run), but I had to pick just a few. I ultimately decided on three things. First, the 1 mile lottery relay on Friday, since it would allow me to check out their completely new 1 mile sprint course at a very reasonable price. Second, is the big event for me, the 8 hour race. I'm doing the open one and not the mandatory obstacle completion version. I'm a bit sad to not be doing the 24 hour race, but realistically, I would probably only do 12 of the 24 hours with good obstacle completion anyway, and I won't do more if I'm just running and not completing many obstacles. As a result, the 8 hour is perfect. I know I can get in two laps. I'd like to start out for a third -- if I make it in time great; if not, I'm happy to have that lap not count in my totals but would like to try to finish it anyway "for fun." We'll see. The final race I'm doing is the Sunday charity relay. I'll have plenty of downtime between my three events, and I plan to camp out both Friday and Saturday nights and spend the time between races volunteering, supporting other racers, and just relaxing. This event is not for many months, and I am already in countdown mode. Can't wait!

  • Obstacle Course Racing World Championship: Blue Mountain, Ontario, Canada. This year, I qualified to race age group in the OCR World Championships. I have qualified for journeyman before, but this is the first time I've been able to qualify for age group. It's also the first fall that I won't be in school. OCRWC started in the fall of 2013. I started graduate school in fall of 2013. Hence, I've been unable to attend. 2017 might be the last time that OCRWC is in North America, and it's a fall when I have no graduate school obligations. I cannot be more excited. I have signed up for both the Friday 3K short course and the Saturday 15K standard distance course. (I have not signed up for the team relay on Sunday, thinking that I might sight-see that day, especially if my boyfriend, Ben, comes with me to Toronto. Also, I have never been to Canada and seeing some locations beyond Blue Mountain might be fun. Though doing more OCR could be fun too -- I'm of two minds on this!) OCRWC is most definitely my goal race for the fall. It features a unique system of required obstacle completion where when one fails an obstacle one loses a band. I'm hoping to come back from Toronto next fall with at least one band around my wrist.

I'm hopeful that 2017 will turn into a personally rewarding year. I'm currently laying the groundwork for what I hope to be a memorable and fun race season. Fingers crossed!