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!)

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