Monday, July 31, 2017

8 Hour Ultra Viking

Last July, I took part in the Viking Hill Obstacle race, doing double laps of their 5.5 mile course in just over four hours. This year, I decided to forgo the traditional race in favor of the new 8 Hour Ultra Viking being held the day before the race. This was a "race" -- more of a big training day where we could serve as guinea pigs for the newly designed course while testing ourselves in the process. Bonus for a t-shirt and plaque for participants.

I arrived at Sunny Hill in Greenville, New York about half an hour before our scheduled 9:00 a.m. start. Viking Hill obstacle course is located at the Sunny Hill golf resort in the Northern Catskills. The course is fixed, so I've been there a few times to train, in addition to going there for races.

Around 30 people were in attendance at the 8 Hour Ultra Viking. There were some very fit individuals who appeared to be training for World's Toughest Mudder and other ultra-elite races. There were also some more basic athletes like myself, making for a nice mix. With the new longer course, I ended up doing two laps -- the first penalty free (with around three dozen obstacles) and the second with only two penalties (20' rope and the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars). When I checked out the leader board, it looked like there weren't any women who did more than two laps. There were some male athletes who managed four and five laps. Impressive.

We lined up for a pre-race pictures, got some announcements from Asa, a Viking Hill regular and course managers who was in charge of the day, and then were off. The race was self supported, so I made sure to bring water and snacks. I ended up running much of the course with fellow Spahten, Sam. It was great to have her company and someone to chat with when the miles go long.

The Ultra Viking course ran almost backward from the traditional course from year's past. (See map below for traditional layout.) There were pro's and con's to this; however, overall I would say I prefer running the course in the more traditional direction. The main benefit there is that all the wettest sections are saved for later in the course, which is more comfortable for racers and allows for more running early on. That being said, some of the more challenging obstacles, such as the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars and the 20' rope climb, are in the second half of the course. It was great to be able to tackle these earlier on when I was fresher. 

Furthermore, we were not using elite rules for our race. This meant that we were allowed to use our legs on the Dragon's Tooth monkey bars and climb the uphill segments like a ladder. For me, it's almost impossible to get from bar to bar swinging because of the distance between the bars. I had never considered being allowed to use my feet. For me, this was a game changer, and I was able to make it through this obstacle -- the only one that I failed during Viking Doubles last year -- and have 100% obstacle completion during my first lap. 

Compared with previous years, and the traditional layout, the revised course was over 10K in length. (Sam's GPS put two laps at just around 13.4 miles if I'm remembering correctly.) New sections of trail had been bushwacked. These sections crossed with more established trails, making the marking somewhat confusing at times. (Though, as I understand it, modifications were made before the official Viking Hill race on Sunday.) I am not a huge fan of extra miles created by bushwacking and back-and-forth running, so I would opt for the more traditional 5.5 mile course -- which I consider the perfect distance -- for next year.

As always, the obstacles at Viking are lots of fun. They are challenging without being impossible, well-placed along the course, and interesting. There are more balance obstacles at Viking than anywhere else I can recall. For example, they have Skywalk, which is a massive set of balance logs with a rope traverse that is well over a hundred feet long. They also have the Hull, an inverted wall to a ladder. Finally, there are Odin's Tables, which feature a ramp to rope descent. I cannot think of any other place with these obstacles. I love coming out to Viking to tackle them! For a complete obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown, you can read my write-up from 2015.

All said and told, I completed two laps with Sam in 6:22 (plus, 15 minutes between laps to change shoes and eat a sandwich). The first lap took three hours and the second took just over that. The cut-off to go out for a final lap was 3:15 p.m. Since we arrived at 3:26 p.m. that was definitely out of the question. Regardless, I was tired and my hands were hurting. I got my t-shirt and custom plaque and was set to go!

The Ultra Viking was fun, a good deal, and great training. It lacked some of the fun bonuses of a real race day -- less participants, less food, less fan fair. It was great to get to be the first people to test the new course, but that also had some drawbacks. Overall, I prefer the traditional 5.5 mile course layout. I also felt like I "missed out" a little by not coming for the real Viking Race on Sunday. Next year, I want to make Viking part of my race season, and it will definitely be the traditional race day that I will choose to attend.

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