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!

OCR Buddy

If you are reading this post, it's likely you race. A lot. Keeping track of all these races can be a bit of work. Figuring out when you're racing, where, and what weekends are free (so that you can sign-up for more races) requires some logistics. Yes, you can use your Google Calendar, but it's kind of a hassle to organize everything so that you can query for all your races at once. Plus, how do you know where your friends are going to be?

Enter OCR Buddy, an app designed for tracking and organizing your race schedule, plus it lets you know which of your friends will be at whichever race you're planning to attend. For $1.99, it's a must for any racer serious about organizing their race season.

OCR Buddy fulfills two main functions -- it's a personal race calendar, and it's a database. When you open up the OCR Buddy app, the home screen gives you a sense of the primary functions of the app. There are areas for finding an event and then a "My Events" area for viewing the races you've RSVPed as attending. The app features social aspects as well. You can join a team (i.e. NE Spahtens) and then see the members of the team for easy friending. You can also view a list of your friends under the "My Buddies" tab.

Have a free weekend and want to know what events are available? Here's where the race database in OCR Buddy can be an asset. Click, "Find an Event" and you're off and running. You can browse through the dates or search based on specific criteria. Select a date and all the available races are displayed at the bottom of the screen. You can scroll through them or just click on a dot to skip to a specific event. Races that your buddies are attended are highlighted with a heart to allow you to give them priority. If browsing isn't your thing, you can search events by brand, country, region, state, length, and other criteria. If the race you are looking for isn't listed, you can add it, thus making it available on the calendar for all other OCR Buddy users.

Once you click on a race, you get to view more detail about the event, including discount codes and a link for registration. There is even a space to add notes. As a bit of a futurist, I love that the app includes a countdown tracker at the bottom of each event. (16 days until Shale Hill's Polar Bear Challenge -- yay!)

Hands down my favorite part of OCR Buddy is the "My Events" section. This is where you can see all the races that you've RSVPed for in the app. When I'm thinking about signing up for a new race I like to take into account not just what weekends are free on my personal calendar but the time between races, as I'm not keen to travel too many weekends in a row. Having all my races listed together in an easy-to-view format is a great way to plan for any additional races and to figure out my key races so as to sync my training schedule.

OCR Buddy just received an award from the 2016 Best of OCR: Runner Up in the category of 2016 Best New Product. The award is well-deserved. For $1.99, why haven't you downloaded OCR Buddy yet?