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Featured Review: Shale Hell 2018

Shale Hell 24 medals

Shale Hill just put on their last summer race, Shale Hell. The weekend of July 7 – 8, up in Benson, Vermont, I took place in the final summer event of the soon-to-be-closing Shale Hill. With one final race, Polar Bear 2019, the fixed obstacle course venue, which has been offering training and races for over six years, will close shop.

I have been going to Shale Hill for training and racing since the summer of 2014. It would not be a stretch to say it’s my favorite place to go for racing, training, and a weekend away. I, in fact, would say that I find Shale Hill to be a meaningful place personally. In my 29th year, I had some significant challenges in my personal and professional life. Going up to Shale Hill to get away and devote myself completely to a physical task, was mindful and a good way to positively deal with the difficulties I was facing. When things got stressful, it was helpful to go to Vermont, spend a weekend camping out in the quiet, run a lap or two of the 6.5 mile obstacle course, and breath the clean air. Memories can be inaccurate, but my clearest memory of feeling peaceful is one of sitting on top of an obstacle in the woods at Shale Hill in the early morning. From what I have read online, I think that Shale Hill meant a lot of things to a lot of people. Personally, it’s been a place where I feel a sense of community, can relax and enjoy my own company, where I experience wonderful physical challenge — I love that the course is always changing so that I can never master it –, and it’s where I have the most fun.

Summer is my preferred season for racing, so I knew going into it that my 24 hour adventure during Shale Hell would be my predominant final memory of racing at Shale Hill. (Note: I will be at Polar Bear 2019 as the media rep for the NE Spahtens, which sounds super fancy. After that event, I will write my final “love letter” to Shale Hill.) I was excited to have a wonderful weekend at Shale Hell. Nice weather was promised, along with good friends, and a fun time. Because, what is better than doing as many laps in 24 hours as you want of the 6.5 mile Shale Hill obstacle course? For those wanting a different experience, there were 8 hour and one 10K-lap divisions. Between all three, the race weekend attracted around 80 participants.

Camping was included in the registration for the 24 hour version of Shale Hell, so I headed up to Benson Friday evening to camp out. I hate to drive. A lot. Anyone who knows me knows this. I basically ride my bike as much as possible. The car is a second-class citizen in my house. Shale Hill is a 2:40 drive from my house, and I go up there multiple times a year. It is the farthest I will go for a race. One time I drove to New Jersey for a race. The race was amazing. The ride was so bad I said I would never drive to New Jersey again. I have never driven to New Jersey again, and it’s been years. I say this because for people who say that Shale Hill is too far away; I feel you. But also, I don’t because if I am willing to do the drive, I feel like most people can.

Shale Hill is a great community. I arrived at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, parked for free onsite, and hauled my stuff the short walk up the hill to the camping area. I dropped my gear and headed for check-in where Jill greeted me by name and handed me my t-shirt and a red ribbon to indicate I was competing in the open division. Shale Hill offers open/competitive racing and a journeyman division for those who want to do the course penalty-free and craft their own race experience. With over 55 ultra-challenging obstacles, the journeyman division is a good option for a lot of folks, and one I often avail myself of; this year, I wanted to challenge myself to have fairly decent obstacle completion, so I opted for open. Only three women were registered to run the 24 hour in the competitive division, meaning I was guaranteed to place.

After checking in, I wandered outside to where Rob was giving the pre-race meeting. He’d give the official meeting on Saturday morning before the main event, but this informal gathering seemed fun, so I grouped up. Rob stopped to say, “Hi, Nicole,” which highlights one of the amazing things about Shale Hill. They know you. They treat you like family. The community that Jill and Rob have created at Shale Hill is hard to explain if you have not been and cannot be overstated. What they give to the obstacle course racing community is legion and when it’s gone, something will be lost. I am glad I was fortunate to experience it. I listened to Rob talk about the obstacles, different race divisions, and penalties. It was starting to get cool, so I grabbed my sweatshirt and figured it was time to set up camp. I assembled my tent and then hung out with folks by the bonfire for a while chatting before calling it a night. I wanted to get some good rest before the long day coming up.

Saturday morning I got up late, at around 6:45 a.m., having gotten a solid 8.5 hours of sleep. Camp was bustling. I said, “Hello,” to a few NE Spahten friends, and we headed down to the Benson Country Store for our pre-race traditional meal of breakfast sandwiches and coffee. We got back to Shale Hill in time for the 8:00 a.m. racers meeting and for those taking part in the 8 hour and 10K divisions to have their 9:00 a.m. race-start. The 24 hour event didn’t start until 10:00 a.m., so I had plenty of time to coordinate my gear and change into race clothing. I might argue that, in fact, I had too much time. I would have been happy to have my race start at 8:00 a.m. to get some time in before the heat of the day.

NE Spahtens team photo at Shale Hell

Unique to the 24 hour format is a rule that says racers can run the first hour obstacle free. This prevents back-ups and allows newbies to get an idea of the course. A loop at Shale Hill is 6.5 miles with 55+ obstacles. (Note: The 55-count groups obstacles together. There are multiple part obstacles like the traverse wall or the balance section where you have multiple obstacles in one. If you look at individual obstacles, your are clocking in more like 75.) The terrain in the woods is somewhat technical with some definite elevation changes. I cannot run the full course in an hour, though some more seasoned and speedy trail racers might be able to. Furthermore, I was uninterested in pushing too much. Last year, at the 24 hour event, I ran journeyman and covered four laps; however, the second half of the last lap I was too tired to do much with the obstacles. I wanted to focus my efforts on quality obstacle completion this year and having fun at the last summer Shale Hill event. My coaches put me down for five laps, but personally, I had stated that four high-quality laps was more likely for me, and more in-line with my “have fun” goal. We would see how things went and go from there.

At 10:00 a.m., I was dressed and at the starting line. Since it would be a fast lap, I skipped taking my hydration pack — I’d take advantage of the five water stations on course, since running with the hydration backpack is a hassle. Rob redid many sections of the Shale Hill course for Polar Bear in February, and I liked the new layout (minus having to do the Zig Zag and Tarzan Ropes reversed, which I don’t enjoy). I was excited to tackle it again. At exactly 10:04 a.m., we were off and running. Let the 24 hour adventure begin!

Starting Shale Hell race

During the hour we had to run the course obstacle free, I focused on cruising along at around a five on the “rate of perceived exertion” scale. I wanted to cover some ground and get pass the hardest obstacles without getting gassed. When the airhorn went off to signal the end of the hour, I was almost done running along the log carry loop, listed as obstacle 46 on the map, with about nine obstacles left to go. Not bad. I should mention for those who have never been to Shale Hill, I am not going to spend much time on this post going through the obstacles in detail — for that information, visit my blog post from the NE Spahtens Shale Hill weekend, where I list every obstacle in detail, and how you complete it!

Map of Shale Hill course

I ran over to the Loom where I started doing obstacles for the first lap. I made my way along at a fair speed, running lightly between obstacles and completing them well. There are large sections of Shale Hill’s course that are in open fields and the sun was already baking down. The temperatures would climb to right about 80 degrees, which doesn’t sound terrible but definitely takes it out of you if you’re in the sun baking hour after hour and working hard.

After about 45 minutes, I made it through the last obstacle on the map, the Anaconda. Naturally, Rob being Rob, that wasn’t it. We had to tackle one last rig with a set of rings. I had mentioned to Rob my frustration at OCR World Championships when I couldn’t reach a few obstacle — the challenge should be completing the obstacle, not getting on it — and he had promised to put the rings at a level I could reach. He was true to his word, and I was able to get on the extremely lengthy set of rings. I made my way along until the last ring, which was super high up. I lost momentum and couldn’t make it. Determined to have a penalty-free first lap, I tried the rings two more times until I made it up to that last ring. 100% obstacle completion for lap 1! I ran up to the top of the hill and the finish line, where I rang the bell to signal the end of my lap and went up to the board to record my time.

Shale Hell board

It was just before noon, and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at around 7:30 a.m., so I headed back to my tent to grab some food and change my clothing. I had a nutbutter sandwich and grabbed my hydration pack. Within about half an hour, I was back out on course for my second lap.

Early on in my second lap, I knew I was in a bit of trouble. I was extremely hot and everything felt challenging. You have moments as an athlete when you have to say, “Today is not my day.” During the first half of that second lap that was me. I had gone out feeling competitive. I had chanced to look at the board and started thinking about the other athletes up there — the two women in my division. For a little while, rounding the first double log loop, feeling crappy, I started to think about how I was falling behind. I forgot about my goals — have fun, do well on the obstacles — and started thinking about other folks. This was a mistake. In addition to feeling tired and weak, I was not mentally focused. I was hot and tired, and this was only hour three of 24.

I dragged myself along for several miles. I did well on some obstacles, failed a couple, and took some penalties. I was hot and a bit woozy, walking between obstacles instead of running. A small turning point came mid-way through the course. I had entered a section in the woods, which cooled me down and made me feel a little better. I also nailed the five traverse walls (plus two balance beams and two hanging beams) of the Great Wall Traverse, a very challenging obstacle with a low success rate. This reminded me of why I was at Shale Hell — not to compete with others but to compete with myself, to do my best, to appreciate a place I loved.

I finished my second lap at 4:17 p.m. It had taken me just under four hours, and I was wrecked. I had spent hours under the hot sun and was so tired I felt like I couldn’t take a step more, much less do additional laps of the course. Nonetheless, my penalty count wasn’t bad, with just nine failures. These included the Zig Zag and the Tarzan Rope (which I should add I couldn’t do backward but did complete forward before doing the penalty). It also included the Downhill Monkey Bars, Flip Flop, and Rotisserie — a set of back-to-back obstacles I have never been able to do. I didn’t make Bad Attitude, which is Shale Hill’s version of the Stairway to Heaven or Devil’s Steps. I have had no trouble on this obstacle at other races, but the spacing between the steps at Shale is too large for me. I skipped the Parallel Bars, which bothers a shoulder injury I got at OCRWC. The final penalties were on the tire swings on The Rack and the final rings, which I didn’t want to attempt multiple times to get that last ring again. These nine obstacle would be ones that I would fail in future laps and are some I traditionally don’t have the strength, training, or body for at Shale Hill. I did great on some other challenging obstacles like the Pond Traverse on the rope, the spinning Flat Monkey Bars, the 19′ Rope Climb, Great Wall Traverse, Balance Alley, the pole on the Fireman’s Tower, Russian Table, and the Loom.

I needed to cool down and regroup. I dragged myself over to the hose where I ran some water over my head and wetted a cooling towel. I ate some food and went to the barn to hang out in the relatively comfortable temperatures with the cooling towel over my head. I relaxed and chatted with the medic, Sandy, about his time as a double in the first Star Wars movie (where he filled in as Luke!); I began to feel better.

Following an 1:45 rest, I decided, I was ready to try again. It was 6:02 p.m., and the sun was getting lower in the sky as I headed out for lap three. I looked forward to finishing in the dark without the sun beating down on me.

Lap three was much more enjoyable than lap two. I felt better and was able to run between obstacles much of the time. Sure I was tired from the almost six hours of exercise I had done already, but I was moving. The one bummer was that I had gotten two blisters on my feet. This is a very uncommon occurrence — I almost never get blisters. I had worn my Altra Lone Peaks on lap one and done fine but switched to my Icebug Zeals for lap two. With their carbide tips, Icebugs are great for OCR. Unfortunately, mine are super old and really need to be replaced; plus, my feet have gotten a bit bigger in the last couple of years, and the old Icebugs are no longer the greatest fit width-wise. As a concession to comfort, I wore my Altras for the rest of the race and had no issue with my feet, though I had to be slightly careful about slippery obstacles, especially once there was dew on the ground.

There was a small “wardrobe malfunction” on lap three as well. I had changed back into the NES Ninjas tank I was wearing on lap one for lap three (after having let it dry in the sun). While doing the Pond Traverse on top of the rope, I ran into a snag when the logo on the tank, hot from the sun, basically melted along the rope. I could barely move and, thus, failed the obstacle and ruined my shirt. #ocrprobs

I finished lap three at 9:22 p.m., in 3:20 — almost 40 minutes faster than the previous lap. I had 12 penalties, including the nine from before, plus the Pond Traverse, the Flat Monkey Bars, and the post hop part of Balance Alley. I was tired and needed rest. I had enjoyed lap three but needed some sleep. I also had about zero interest in doing an overnight lap. The idea of tackling challenging trail at the middle on the night on such tired legs seemed undesirable. I was here to have fun and challenge myself and complete obstacles. At this point I opted to go to bed, knowing that meant I would likely not get in five laps total. The plan was to do what I did last year and wake up early for a fourth lap. Maybe, knowing this was the last year, I should have pushed myself to try something new and do an overnight lap. In a way I kind of regret that I didn’t. However, I also stand by my decision because when I got up at 4:30 a.m. to take on that last lap, I was ready.

It was lap four that had done me in in 2017. Midway through, my hands had been toast and I had taken the journeyman’s option and finished by basically running past a lot of obstacles. I was not going to do that again. I was going to finish lap four in 2018 as strong as I started it. Plus, I had penalties, in the form of spiderman push-ups, to keep me focused.

At 4:49 a.m., with first light peaking above the mountains in the distance and fog rising up from the fields of hay and wild flowers, I made my way out for the last lap of the course. It’s a certain kind of magic to be up and moving through the chill of the morning air, eyes fixed on the beauty of nature, and mind focused on one goal. I made sure to take time at the top of each obstacle to quickly enjoy the view. This was it.

The entire last lap was a fantastic experience. My body and my mind were focused. I did well on the obstacles only failing 13 (add on the Great Wall and the Loom from last time, but take out the Pond Traverse). My hard training with the coaches paid off in performance gains I could see. I finished strong enough to question if maybe I could have done an additional lap earlier and really tested myself because, as athletes, are we ever convinced its been enough? I was also satisfied. I had covered 26 miles, done several hundred obstacles, and had quality obstacle completion. I had raced with focus, integrity, hard work, and joy. I would like to think there is no better tribute to Shale Hill than that.

I ended up placing third in my age group. The other two women had done more. I have no idea about their penalties; I applaud their efforts and hope they are excited about reaching their goals. I wish that there was another year of Shale Hell to look forward to. I wish that we had more time. After a great 2018 race, I have new goals I want to strive for next year. New experiences to try. Then again, when will that not be the way? Jill and Rob, thank you for the wonderful race, the years of memories, the amazing community that you created, and the outstanding course that you built that has always challenged me in the best way possible. There is no more fitting tribute I can think of than the experience I had at the 2018 Shale Hell race.

With Rob and Jill getting my medal

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Featured Review: Tough Mudder Boston 2018

Tough Mudder logo

On Sunday, June 26, I took part in my fifth Tough Mudder. After four years of racing at Mount Snow in Dover, Vermont, the Tough Mudder crew moved this year’s New England event to Charlton, Massachusetts and renamed it Tough Mudder Boston.

In addition to a new venue, the course took on a new format. In the past, Tough Mudder has focused their efforts on a 10 mile-course format. Recently, they have diversified their offerings and now offer a 5K version and  a 5 mile Tough Mudder Half option, in addition to the 10 mile Tough Mudder Full. Furthermore, there is Tougher Mudder, a 10 mile timed option, and Toughest Mudder, an 8 hour overnight race where racers do as many laps of the course as they can. To be honest this is a bit much to keep track of. As a person who’s been doing Tough Mudders since 2013, I have a bit of nostalgia for the old days. And I have more than a little curiosity about how all these new distances are working for Tough Mudder and what will stay around. I raced the Tough Mudder Full, and definitely felt like there was an impact on my experience due to the new format. More on that later.

My best friend, Serah, and I arrived at 508 International in Charlton, Massachusetts at around 9:30 a.m. for my 10:30 a.m. Tough Mudder wave. Rule of thumb is that your arrive an hour early. Parking was onsite and walking distance, which convenient. It was a bit disorganized. Honestly, if I hadn’t pre-paid for parking online, I doubt the volunteers would have realized they needed to charge us.

We parked and headed over to the entrance. There was quite a long line because the gates were not open yet, even though Tough Mudder had requested people come an hour before their wave time. I think the original plan might have been to open the gates at 10:00 a.m., but the line started moving at around 9:50 a.m. We moved fairly efficiently, but it wasn’t until after 10:00 a.m. that Serah and I got inside. By the time I used the bathroom and coordinated myself to head over to bag check, there wasn’t time to check my bag before our wave started — the line was just too long. I was lucky to have Serah to help out, but this would have been a big problem if I was running solo and could have been avoided by having registration open at 9:30 a.m.

I headed into the starting area and lined up with my fellow NE Spahtens. I had an interesting focus going into Tough Mudder this year. In recent years, I had taken on this race as a fun event where I hung out with friends, we had a fun day on the course, and I wasn’t too worried about pushing myself. This year, I wanted Tough Mudder to be an early test of my fitness. It was my first obstacle course race of the season (since I don’t seriously race in the winter). I have been training hard with “the coaches” (aka. Hart Strength and Endurance) for months, and I wanted to test my fitness at a low-stakes race. I was curious to see if there were improvements in my grip on upper-body-intensive obstacles and how my endurance would be running the entire course. With that in mind, I hit it hard out of the gate at the sound of the starting signal.

The full Tough Mudder course was (re)designed for 2018 to be two laps of a 5 mile course. The second lap mostly followed the first with some side trails to pick-up new obstacles. This meant more obstacles, but it also meant repetition, which I wasn’t too keen on. We had to do 26 obstacles total. Of those 26, several were repeats, so there were 19 unique obstacles.

More critically, the double laps meant back-ups. Because I ran hard from the starting line, I was able to clear my first lap at Tough Mudder in about 1:18, ahead of much of the pack. No back-ups. Unfortunately, my second lap ran into a snag from the start. At the first obstacle, I encountered much of the 11:30 a.m. wave, which had just started. There were just too many people on the course. This meant that I had to zig and zag to get around folks on the second lap quite a bit. Having the 5K, Half, and Full courses overlap led to way more people on the course and more back-ups. People handle Tough Mudder differently — some people walk, some people run. Having lots of people on the course and having new athletes attracted to the course with the new distanced offered translated to more people walking. Totally great because I love seeing more people at obstacle course races. The challenge was wanting to run and having to navigate around lots of people who were wanting to walk. It ended up being stressful for both me and them and translated to a less fun time.

The double lap course was also not constructive to spectating, as Serah and I unfortunately found out. One of the great things about Tough Mudder in the past is that Serah has been able to have great spectating opportunities. This year’s course was less well organized for that effort. We lost track of each other after the first three obstacles and weren’t able to reconnect until the end, which was sad for us. Having a spectator there is super fun — every time I saw Serah at the beginning I was pumped — and it would have been great if we could have seen each other more.
Feelings about the course layout aside, I was pleased with the obstacles at the Boston 2018 event. There were some great upper-body-intensive obstacles that really challenged me. The new obstacle at the finish line, Happy Ending, was a fun update. Electroshock Therapy, the common obstacle where you run through electric wires at the finish, was moved to mid-course. I went around it. You’ve been shocked once or twice and it’s enough, as far as I’m concerned. I am more interested in challenging my fitness instead of doing unpleasant things to my body at this point. I have done it; I have “proven” myself; I didn’t like it. No need to repeat year over year. (Note: Same for Arctic Enema, where you have to jump into ice water.)
Below are some of the highlights and new obstacles from this year’s event. In between these obstacles were some classics, such as Arctic Enema, Berlin Walls, and Devil’s Beard, plus lots and lots of mud pits and crawls, such as Kiss of Mud 2.0 and Mud Mile 2.0.
  • Pork Soda: This was a new obstacle that had racers crawl up a short mound of mud and then slide into a watery pit.
  • Block Ness Monster: The Block Ness Monster features rotating blocks in the water. You have to “push, pull, and roll [your] way through 60ft of slick, rotating barriers” in the water. It’s super fun to grab the top of the block and have people on the opposite side pull it over, dropping you into the water on the other side.
  • Just the Tip: This was an obstacle “from the vault” (though it seemed slightly altered from the past). Racers had to grab a small 2″ thin bar and move across with only fingers to a set of short poles and knobs. There was then another area of 2″ thin bars to make your way across. I tried this with just my finger tips, moving laterally. However, a volunteer recommended trying with hands on both sides. This worked much better. I am including an image from the internet to give you an idea.
  • Rope-a-Dope: This was another “vault obstacle” and a bit of an odd one. It featured a rope fixed in the middle of a pool of water. The goal was to jump, catch the rope mid-air, and then use the momentum to move the fixed rope ever-so-slightly and get to the other side. Needless to say, this was a failure. I jumped, my hands glanced off the rope, and I belly flopped and swam to the other side.
  • Kong Infinity: This obstacle was a huge challenge. It featured a set of rings hanging from a cylinder. One had to kip to grab the rings up and in front of you to move the cylinder and proceed to the monkey bars. This obstacle was epic, and I was really pleased to complete it successfully. (Okay, okay. I was really motivated because when I arrived I was with this group of men who all made it, and I wanted to prove that I was cool too.) Again, hopefully this picture from the internet helps illustrate what I’m talking about.
  • Funky Monkey — The Revolution: This obstacle was directly after Kong. Two upper-body obstacles back-to-back was a lot of deal with, but, hey, again, I wanted to be at least as good as the men I arrived at the obstacle with. (Competitive? Me?) The updated Funky Monkey features the classic uphill monkey bars with transitions to three spinning wheels and then a pipe. At the Boston event, the first wheel was perpendicular to the bar and the next two were parallel (like in the stock image provided). My arms were tired from the previous obstacle, so I took a minute to collect myself before making it across. Nailed it!
  • The Stacks: What a fun obstacle. The Stacks featured a set of cargo containers stacked up and up and up. Mudders had to climb wooden ladders on the sides of the containers and then walk across. We descended using a cargo net.
  • Happy Ending: A new finish line obstacle. It was nice to mix it up here. Racers had to jump into a pit of green water, climb up a slip wall (which was not too troublesome if you did it in a pike position with your shoes having full contact with the wall), and side down into a pit of water on the other side. My feet went over my head on the side down.

I crossed the finish in 2:57, with a course distance of just over 11 miles. Tough Mudder Boston was a good time. I raced hard, and I did well. It was a good test of my fitness, and there were some fun obstacles. The new format is a big downer to me. Tough Mudder’s signature ~10 mile distance almost seemed like an afterthought. Maybe their data bears out that growth is at the other distances, but as a Mudder of many years, I was a bit disappointed. The double lap was less fun and logistically complicated with back-ups.

I think that Tough Mudder is in a bit of a transition period. They’re trying new stuff to see what sticks. Good idea. I am interested to see where they are in 2019. I have no doubt I’ll run a Tough Mudder again. If that’s in a year or two remains to be seen. I might want to wait to see what the course format will be like next year before committing. Tough Mudder has a good brand. I hope they get some focus back on their traditional distance and bring back the excellent spectator experience of year’s past. If so, you’ll see me and Serah there.

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Featured Review: Dynamic Dirt Challenge

The Dynamic Dirt Challenge is a local race put on in New Gloucester, ME just outside of Portland. It is a family entertainment event with activities for every age. It has been put on for at least 7 years, but it was my first time driving up for it. With a location near Portland and Freeport, it couldn’t be better situated for a weekend away. This is exactly what we did, driving up on Friday and staying through Sunday afternoon. They offer advance packet pick up on Friday at the Lamey Wellehan Running store, one of the sponsors. Lamey Wellehan was also on site Saturday with sample shoes and advice as well as a drop off spot if you wanted to donate your muddy/wet shoes at the end. Other sponsors included sheJAMs All Women’s Triathlon Club, Pineland Farm, WMTW TV, Maine Medical Partners, Dynamics Fitness and Performance, FM 93.1, Shipyard Brewing Company, Ni2 Health, Martin’s Point Healthcare, Poland Spring, Capt’n Eli’s Soda, Oakhurst, and Maine Magazine. Pineland Farm provided the location, Shipyard provided the free beer (with 5 choices!), Capt’n Eli’s provided soda samples (with 7 choices), and Poland Spring provided the end of race bottle of water. Participants were not left wanting in any way.

The event itself was divided up into three categories for everyone to choose from. There was a  4+/- mile course at both a Competitive and a Casual level for ages 14+ as well as a 2+/- mile course for Families for ages 6+. It was an event that encouraged teams, but there were a few teams of only one or two. People were encouraged to dress up for the race and a costume contest was held for both the Casual and Family Fest events. Looking at the very creative costumes was a great way to pass the time between registering and starting, so if you want to vie for the crown in 2019, you’ll need to bring your A-game! Additionally, they announced winners for the fastest Individual Male, Individual Female, and Team (minimum of 4 members), the biggest team (23 for Casual, 13 for Family), and largest team age spread (14 – 70 for Casual, 6 – 74 for Family). This allowed everyone to be included rather than just the fastest few. Since the Family heats allowed for ages 6+, this is a great event to bring your kids who want to participate with you.

Because there was packet pick up available the night before, the morning of process was super quick and easy. They provided you with your bib, safety pins, beer bracelet (after checking for age 21+), and t-shirt. The volunteers were friendly and attentive. Wandering around the festival area prior to starting, there were plenty of Royal Flushes (porta potties) available, a rinse off station, booths for the various sponsors, and sodas to try, Additionally, there was a large shaded tent area if you wanted it. The event benefits a charity each year, with 2018 going to VAST: Veterans Adaptive Sports and Training. They run programs year round for adaptive athletes to participate in and offer everything from snowshoeing and skiing in the winter to archery and biking in the summer. 14 different sports are listed currently and they provide training and equipment for the veterans.

To start the race, you first took off your shoes and staged them at the end of the first obstacle. It was a large inflatable with a number of different elements such as climbing, crawling, dodging, and sliding. Once you exited, you put your shoes on quickly and proceeded to the water slide. To keep these first two obstacles from backing up, they started two people side by side every 15 seconds. This made for a constant level of entertainment and excitement as the start line announcer was very funny and interactive. Spectators were kept amused and the wait for your go time was entertaining. The course itself is great for beginners. There were a variety of obstacles that included the aforementioned inflatable and water slide. runs through both mud and water, teeter-totters, balance beams, sack races, ladders and cargo nets to scale, tubes to crawl through, tires and barrels to go over, hay bales to jump between, a dizzy dash (forehead on a bat and spin!), and a cool teamwork activity that involved milk crates to create moving stepping stones to cover a set distance and back. That obstacle could be done on your own, with your own team, or by jumping into another team. None of the obstacles was exceptionally difficult, but some did take a bit of mental grit to complete. Scared of heights? The vertical cargo net might throw you for a loop. Worried about how far you can jump? The leap between hay bales looked WAY too long when you were on top looking down. However, I witnessed a number of people jumping and surprising themselves when they made it easily. A good lesson in how your imagination can keep you from trying if you let it. There were a couple of obstacles on the map that I didn’t see on the course, but they weren’t missed. The course had a good variety of terrains with running on both service roads and trails. There was a decent amount of mud without being too much. The very last obstacle was a dumpster full of water that served as a nice clean off right before the finish line. This was well played and appreciated! The finish medals were nice and they had separate medals for the long and short courses. Unfortunately, since I was one of the very last to go on the long course, they had run out of those medals before I finished. I don’t mind and wouldn’t have even known there were different options if someone hadn’t commented on it after I finished. This is the line they have to calculate since the race is for a charity and I think they did the very best to estimate correctly and fell just a few short. Personally, I don’t think they should be faulted for this.

After the race, each 21+ participant was given a free Shipyard beer. Even though I don’t ever drink them, I know my husband appreciated the good beer selection and I mean that in both ways – whose beer it was and how many they brought to choose from. Additionally, they had an option during sign up to order and pre-pay for a lunch after the race. You could pick between ham, turkey, and PB&J. Those also came with a pickle and a bag of chips. This was a great option as they knew exactly how many of each to prepare and since they were prepaid, you didn’t need to worry about cash. I think this is something that more races could run with in order to improve their level of service. I just ordered one for my husband and myself at sign up time and didn’t have to worry about it. The line was short and pick up was easy as they had a master list to simply check off. Pineland Farm also runs their own market, so it would have been easy to walk over and get food there too.

The Dynamic Dirt Challenge was included in #RaceLocal for the first time this year, and I hope they will be back again next year. It’s an excellent low key race that felt like a family and community strong event much like the Wason Pond Pounder. I look forward to doing it again and hope that I won’t be the lone Spahten there next year. The only thing I’ll be sure to do differently is to bring bug spray!  Emoji

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Featured Review: Bonefrog – Charlemont

Bonefrog Challenge is a smaller race series hosting events in the Eastern United States. This past weekend they held their New England event in their home venue of Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont, MA. With four race length events going on at the same time, there is something available for athletes of all levels. The Sprint course was about 4 miles, with about 22 obstacles; the Challenge was approximately 7 miles with 36 obstacles; Tier-1 is the Challenge course followed by the Sprint course; and finally for those gluttons for punishment the Endurance was Tier-1 followed by as many Sprint laps as possible in the time allotted. Being owned and operated by Navy SEALS, and run at a ski resort, the combination of military inspired obstacles and rugged terrain with significant elevation pushed many course runners to their limits.  As a smaller race series, and part of the #RaceLocal Grand Prix, it is clear that the race organizers had listened to criticism from past events and implemented changes in an attempt to improve the overall experience, which for the most part worked, although there are some things still to be ironed out.

Communications:

Upon race registration, the confirmation email included the selected wave time. The morning before the race, another email went out with a reminder of the overall preparation for race day. There was a scheduled early packet pick up as well as spaghetti dinner on Friday night, but due to the remote location, I’m not sure how well attended it was.  In the reminder email, it was recommended that we should arrive at least one hour and fifteen minutes before the starting wave time, and as it turns out it was definitely needed.

Arrival Logistics:

Parking for the event was on site for $10, and was within ¼ mile of the registration tents. Traffic flow entering the venue was smooth and guided well by volunteers. Upon arrival, there were tents outside for packet pick up. Due to the limited area and volunteers available, and the popularity of the race, the line quickly extended for packet pick up. For most people, filling out the waiver online beforehand helped the process a bit, but the check-in process could still be streamlined more. Next to packet pickup was the bag check area which was available for $5 per bag, but due to the close onsite parking, many people chose to forgo it.

Festival Area:

With inclement weather coming in, the two-floor lodge was open for racers and their families to use to stay warm and dry, as well as to mingle before and after the race. Music was pumping out via PA system to get the racers and spectators alike pumped up. With the festival area and lodge at the base of the mountain, several obstacles were visible, including their signature obstacle, Black Ops: a rope wall climb up to a platform to inclined monkey bars in front of a giant American flag. Food was available for sale from the outdoor grill, including hamburgers, sausages and hotdogs.

Race:

Each portion of the course provided a sufficient challenge for athletes of all types. Being on a ski resort, there was plenty of elevation gain, with technical trails through the woods, smooth grassy slopes, and some flat areas to really open it up. Strength based obstacles included heavy carries such as the Ammo Can (Challenge only) and the Brute Force sandbag carry, as well as a hoist obstacle called Dead Weight. Plenty of agility and grip strength obstacles were on the course as well, including some classics like “Get a Grip”, “Swinger’s Club”, and their signature final obstacle, “Black Ops”.

As a smaller race series, they seem to have more flexibility in innovating obstacles, and several newer ones were on the course. These included: Guillotine, an inclined log that one needed to balance on climbing up to a wall with a relatively narrow opening at the top, then back down an inclined balance log; Strong Hold (which was named Sway Bars at its debut in the 2017 event), a two sets of U-shaped monkey bars, with a ring transition in between and a mock grenade instead of a bell to complete the obstacle; and Ship Boarding, a set very narrow cable ladders that had to be climbed in order to reach a bell. With the addition of new obstacles, it often means that older favorites end up getting removed, sometimes for the benefit. The “Slide for Life” was removed, and while it is a difficult and fun one, it was notorious for causing bottlenecks so probably for the best that it was shelved. The “Drunken Monkey” was another that was not used on this course, but may be considered redundant because of the similar obstacles with “Strong Hold” and “Black Ops” filling the niche of monkey-bar type obstacles. Also along the lines of innovation, sometimes a new obstacle or feature does not work, and they were quick to adjust for it; for example, the Grenade Toss that was new last year became a logistics nightmare and lead to many backups, so it did not return for this event.

Another unique aspect of Bonefrog is that being a Navy SEAL owned and operated race, most of obstacles are military training inspired, and several pay homage to service members lost in the line of duty. “Mike” and “Murph” were simulated ship boarding obstacles named after Navy SEAL Medal of Honor recipients Michael A. Monsoor and Michael P. Murphy, respectively, who will have commissioned Navy guided missile destroyers carrying their namesakes. A set of three obstacles were set up to pay respects to lives lost in military operations, with one rep of an exercise done for each life lost in their respective operation: 20 reps of parallel bar dips for Red Wings (this operation was portrayed in the recent movie “Lone Survivor” starring Mark Wahlberg); 31 burpees for Extortion 17, for those lives lost when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, the worst loss of US military lives in a single incident in the whole campaign (formerly the “31 Heroes obstacle from previous events); and 8 pull ups for Medal of Honor recipients. The unfortunate thing about this obstacle is that it was on the Challenge course only, so Sprint racers did not experience this; from a logistics standpoint though this would have caused significant backups if all racers went through them.

It seems that based on much of the negative feedback they had received from last year’s event, many things had changed in an attempt to correct issues. Course markings were much better than previous events, and there was less “bush whacking” through un-groomed trails, making it easier to follow the course correctly. The course was limited to one water crossing, and this was a welcome change as being on a mountain course, and with the late arrival of spring this year, the water was extremely cold. Lifeguards were stationed on each bank, and there was a diver in the water in a dry suit to ensure safety. As cold as the water was, many people struggled to catch their breath, leading to the divers and lifeguards assisting swimmers out of the water.

Penalties for failed obstacles were removed for non-elite racers (still mandatory completion for the elites) in an effort to reduce bottlenecks at obstacles. While this helped, there were still a number of backups at some of the obstacles, particularly later in the day as the Sprint and Tier-1 racers were on the course at the same time.

There were sections of climbing that were cut out, which also meant that one of the obstacles that had really been a challenge for many people but I thought was one of the highlights, Solar Walls, was not used.  Another big complaint from last year was that the trusses used for the rig type obstacles were too high for many racers; this year, different trusses to make the rigs more in reach, and boxes were placed to make it easier for shorter athletes to reach.

Post-race:

One of the disappointing things was that after the race, the free post-race refreshment was limited to water; even a banana after finishing would have been very welcome.

A big change for the race was that the shirts are now distinct for the different event that was completed (Sprint, Challenge, Tier-1, and Endurance); they are a soft poly-cotton blend that is very comfortable, but seem to run a bit small (I went up a size from medium to large anticipating a small amount of shrinking due to the cotton). The medals were redesigned instead of being a repeat from previous years’ medals (another common complaint). The Endurance medal, unlike last year’s debut event, is now larger than the Tier-1 medal.

 

For a post-race meal, the outdoor grill was open serving up hamburgers, cheeseburgers, sausages and hotdogs (veggie burgers for a meat-free option), with chips and a beverage for around $10.

Summary:

Overall, this race was a very challenging event, due to the terrain and the numerous obstacles which tested many aspects of physical and mental fitness. The tribute to the fallen service members was a very important touch to the flavor of the event. While this year’s event did improve on a number of issues from previous years, there are a few minor changes that can still be made to improve the overall experience.

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Featured Review: Terrain Racing 2018

Terrain Racing is a nationwide brand hosting events all over the United States. This past weekend they held their New England Event at Thompson Motor Speedway. It is approximately the length of a 5k, advertises fun obstacles, mud, and a good time. On course, this promise is delivered. Off course, there were a few hiccups.

First off, Terrain Racing is well known for having affordable pricing. It’s cheap enough that you could get your whole family in for the price of what you might pay for yourself at other nationwide brands. They offer a timed competitive wave, open waves going off every fifteen minutes until 1pm, as well as a multilap option at select locations. The New England event was a location did offer unlimited laps. There is also a kids event which is called the Mini Monkey half mile.

Thompson Motor Speedway is a location that some may find boring or too easy. I personally enjoy this location. It’s flat, there is some running on asphalt, as well as the occasional backtracking to get the mileage.

Parking was a breeze and within easy walking distance to registration and the festival. However, parking was expensive. Leading up to race day on the racer info page, parking was listed to be between $15 to $25. When someone questioned it on the Terrain Race: New England 2018 facebook event page, Terrain Racing responded that it was a venue set price and not something that they could always control. Upon arrival at Thompson Motor Speedway, parking was indeed $15. This was a bit of a downside having the parking fee be so high.

At the registration tables, runners had to be ready with a paper waiver and the QR code that was emailed to them. It was simple enough and the line moved rather quickly. The festival area had a clear view of both the starting line as well as the final obstacle and finish line. There were two trucks offering food for sale as well as a beer tent. One thing to note, there was no free beer at the end of this race. The festival area also included a merch tent as well as gear check and a booth for professional photo ops. New England Spahtens had access to the Biggest Team tent where there was a cooler of water and cups was available. One drawback to the festival area was the loud ka-pow to start each heat. It was reminiscent of a gunshot and continuously startled spectators and runners alike in the festival area.

Something that I really enjoy about Terrain Race is their obstacles. They have a variety of obstacles that range in difficulty. Not only do they have the usual walls or rigs, Terrain Race also incorporated a lot of strength obstacles as well. The first obstacle comes before participants even cross the start line. There are three pools for people to start in. Other obstacles that participants would find were a variety of rigs. There was one similar to a tarzan swing where you had to start on a short rope, go to a long rope, to a ring, then back to a short rope. Another rig set up had balls and pipes to traverse across. There were a few different sized walls, including one to climb up with a rope then swing over and climb back down like a ladder. A couple of the different obstacles that could be found included cargo nets. The first being where participants climbed up the apparatus on pipes, then traversed across the top of cargo netting before climbing down the cargo net to the ground. The other was the final obstacle which incorporated a balance beam up to the cargo net to then crawl across before having a pole to slide down.

As mentioned above, Terrain Race also incorporated a variety of strength based obstacles. These types of obstacles included but were not limited to a tire flip, yolk carry, and crochet with tires and sledgehammers. Having these types of obstacles was a nice break from the typical upper body, grip, or technical obstacles.

Upon completion of the race participants received an angry monkey medal and a shirt. This year the medal was also a magnet, however the race name was on the same side as the magnets which was an odd design choice. It also features two bottle openers, each ear of the monkey is one. The ribbon is dated with 2018 which is something that I personally appreciate. The t-shirt was black this year, which is better than the white of last year. However it is a heavy cotton. For those who participated in unlimited laps, they also received pins to commemorate their extra laps. The pins were quite nice being enamel.

Over all, Terrain Race offers a fun course with a great assortment of obstacles. They fall a bit flat on the shirt quality and parking fees. Some may even say the lack of a free beer is a shortcoming too. However, for the price of their event they do offer a fun time for the whole family. There’s a bit of something for everyone, whether you’re a competitive racer, someone who enjoys multilapping, or are looking for an event to take the whole family to.

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Featured Review: Ragnar Relay, Cape Cod 2018

For the fifth consecutive year, I had the privilege of running Ragnar Cape Cod with the New England Spahten Ninja team. For those who have not participated, Ragnar is a 12-person relay race that covers approximately 200 miles. Runners take turns running “legs” and hand off from person to person. Each runner runs three times over the course of around 36 hours as the team makes its way from Hull to Provincetown, Massachusetts. The team of twelve is divided between two vans, with runners one through six in van one and runners seven through 12 in van two. As a team, you are running continuously, which means there is always a runner out on the course. Generally, this means that each runner has one overnight run. You are just as likely to be running at 5:00 p.m., as you are to be running at 2:00 a.m. Each runner is assigned legs of different distance, and the captain of your team can customize who runs what based on interest and capability. This year we were lucky enough to have a team of reliable runners who were all a blast to be with.

The NES Ninjas team for 2018 was a great group. In van one, #teambreakfast, we had (in runner order): Bobby, me, Pete, Wes, Shaina, and Kelly. In van two, #teamdinner, there was Sean, Geoff, Paul, Josh, Jess, and Aaron. My three legs were 5 miles, 3.6 miles, and 4.5 miles, making me one of the runners going a shorter amount of distance. Our captain, Jess, is great about assigning us our legs, and with most of the people on the team interested and able to do long distances, this year I was assigned some shorter ones. (Note: Last year, I had some high mileage and one of the longest legs to run.) Both running long and running short are fun – in truth the real “test” of Ragnar is mental and not physical. Going 36 hours with irregular food and few hours of sleep and then having to wake up for a 3:00 a.m. run is the real challenge. The main focus is on being a good teammate, supporting the group, and running without drama. I cannot overstate how important having a good team is to the Ragnar experience. The NES Ninjas are so lucky to have a group of super cool folks who I am always pumped to spend 36 hours with unshowered and under-rested in a van winding our way towards Provincetown.

The NES Ninjas Ragnar experience began at 3:00 a.m. on Friday when we pulled ourselves out of bed in the hotel where the six of us stayed for the night before the race and dragged ourselves to the start line for a 4:00 a.m. check-in, an hour before our 5:00 a.m. start. We pulled into Nantaset Beach in Hull almost beating the Ragnar crew. Things were not set-up, and the safety video was experiencing technical difficulties. We, in fact, ended up having to go over and get our bibs and other registration items before the video got organized. Though we were an hour early, Bobby ended up running to the start line just as the announcer was sending folks out because of the lack of coordination of the Ragnar team for check-in. If racers are coming to check-in for 4:00 a.m., I would hope everything can be in place in time. Ragnar being a bit behind in getting exchanges set-up was a bit of a theme for the weekend and something that ought to be rectified for next year.

Regardless, we weren’t going to let Ragnar’s lack-of-organization spoil our fun. Bobby did a great job getting out in time. The rest of our van took a few quick pictures in Hull, as the sun came over the horizon. We grabbed the first of many coffees at Dunkin’ Donuts and headed on our way to meet Bobby at the first exchange.

I was up next for a 5:45 a.m. five miler through Hingham. Bobby arrived a couple of minutes ahead of schedule, we did our traditional team chest bump, passed off the slap-bracelet that served as a baton, and I was off. The weather was great for running. The sun was just up and temperatures were mild, in the 50s. I started by running through some nice neighborhoods. I cruised along at a comfortable 9:45/mile pace, feeling good and doing some “house hunting.” With a couple of miles to go, the course sent me down a dead-end road which led into Wompatuck State Park. I ran along an access road through the woods. It was a beautiful run, and I enjoyed myself entirely. The leg terminated with a final short hill. I rounded one last corner and came into the exchange where I passed off to Pete for his “Wicked Hard” leg, an 11 miler. I had felt good about my run. I enjoyed myself, saw some sights, and easily maintained my pace. I had put myself down for 10:00 miles, knowing that would give me some flexibility. Ragnar, for many of us, is not a race. It’s an experience, and I wanted to run well – reliably – for my team while also having a blast.

For the rest of the morning, we jumped from exchange to exchange dropping off runners and picking them up. In a great show of success, we managed to make each exchange perfectly without having anyone waiting. Getting lost (vans and runners) and missing exchanges totally happens in Ragnar, and it’s good to be prepared for things to not go perfectly, but who can complain about success.

Our last runner of the morning, Kelly, headed off for a four miler, and the van headed to the first major exchange at Duxbury Beach, where we’d trade off to van two. The weather was amazing. It was sunny and around 60 degrees. Our team had started in the first wave of the day, even though we had a solid team of runners. We had to keep an eye on the clock to make sure that we didn’t reach the exchanges too early and risk being held back. Fortunately, we were just after the cut-off time for Duxbury when Kelly ran in. We cheered her on with our van two mates. It was great to get some time with van two. The one sad part of Ragnar is that even though you’re part of a team of 12, you basically only even see the six folks in your van. Major exchanges are always festive because you get to group up and say, “Hello,” to everyone.

From Duxbury we headed off for breakfast. It is a van one tradition from the first year of Ragnar to head over to The Blueberry Muffin for giant pancakes while van two runs, especially because van one has about five hours off. This year, as always, breakfast did not disappoint. We had been up since 3:00 a.m. and all done some running; we were hungry.


In past years, after breakfast, we would head over to the next major exchange in Sandwich. However, this year, there was a gap in the relay. I heard a number of reasons proposed for this. People said it was because of construction or an alternate event taking place in the area. Another theory was that the towns in this area had opted not to participate due to an incident last year where a female runner was assaulted by a man in the area. (Note: As I understand it, the female runner was not physically harmed and was able to complete the race. Ragnar implemented an optional buddy system for 2017 in response.)

The gap in the course map in Sandwich meant that the teams would be doing a virtual exchange. When van two arrived at their exchange in Carver, Ragnar HQ would radio to exchange 13 where our runner would be waiting and then Bobby would head off.  To add an additional complication, the areas where the exchange was to take place was different from where we were designated to wait, plus, the exchange wouldn’t open until 4:00 p.m., which was also the end of the hold time, and when we expected our exchange to happen.

A well-fed #teambreakfast, headed over to the Pop Warner field in Sandwich for a few hours of napping and relaxation. Mostly we napped, read, and generally chatted and hung out, enjoying the sun. At around quarter to four, we hopped in the van to head a mile and a half down the road to the virtual exchange point, at a nearby school. When we arrived at 3:50 p.m., the volunteer turned us away stating that the exchange hadn’t opened yet, despite the fact that runners should have been allowed out at 4:00 p.m. and we were expecting Aaron in around that time. This meant we had to drive around for 10 minutes, since the Pop Warner field rest area was filled with vans that were taking their break.

We arrived back at exchange 13 at 4:00 p.m. and were allowed to park. It was clear, once again, that Ragnar HQ was not organized here. Our runner had arrived, and we should have been allowed to have Bobby head out, but the exchange was not set-up, and we ended up having to wait while volunteers organized. Finally, at around 4:20 p.m., 20 minutes after runners should have been able to go out and after our runner had arrived, people were allowed to begin running. The runners were oddly sent out in waves seemly at random, but at least we were up and moving again. The virtual exchange was somewhat disorganized and having it meant that we missed an opportunity to bond with our van two teammates, so I am hopeful that we will be back to the old arrangement for 2019.

My next run, a quick 3.6 miler, was fast approaching for around 4:50 p.m. With Bobby out on the course, the van headed to Mashpee where I would start. Again, the weather was nice. It was sunny and in the 60s. When Bobby came in I headed out at a 9:35/mile pace down the main road that made up a lot of the course to the next exchange.

While my second run wasn’t very scenic, it was festive. Since I was going down a main route there was lots of traffic and a bunch of people waved and cheered. I think it was because I was wearing my extra festive NES running tights, an item of clothing so highly decorated that my boyfriend, Ben, refers to them fondly as “dazzle camouflage.”

Half way through the run, I turned off the main road. The next bit of course was a bit lacking in markers, and when the final turn came for the run up to the exchange, I would have missed it were it not for a fellow runner coming out of the exchange who directed me correctly. In a few other instanced members of my team mentioned that clearer course markings would have helped. Particularly confusing where instances where Ragnar wanted the runner to cross the street but instead of having a crossing sign and then an additional directional sign (i.e. straight), there were signs that said right and then left and the like. Fortunately, I made it into the exchange without incident and Pete headed off. Van one finished up this set of legs fairly quickly, since the only longer run was Shaina’s 6.5 miler. We were afforded some time on Craigsville Beach while we waited for her. I allowed the Atlantic to kiss my toes. It was frigid. I hastened back to my socks and shoes and curled into my Dryrobe and, in that manner, enjoyed the beach.

Kelly had the last leg, into Barnstable High School in Hyannis, and was scheduled to arrive around 8:45 p.m. She ended up being in a little later than anticipated since she was misdirected by a well-meaning but incorrect crew in another van. They had told her she was going the wrong way when she was in fact going the correct way.  They then brought her back a ways and mistakenly pointed her in the wrong direction. They soon realized their mistake and came back to pick her up and put her on the right path again. To Kelly’s extreme credit, she took this with a great deal of equanimity and was totally chill about it. She had them drop her back off and finished her leg only a few minutes past the time she was expected to arrive. Kudos.

Our van was off until 1:30 a.m. so we quickly headed off to exchange 24, Harwich Community Center where, it was promised, there would be showers. One advantage of running really far ahead…I was the very first person in the locker room and had the entire place to myself to shower. It was amazing to wash away a day’s worth of sweat, sunscreen, and dirt. I felt amazing. I was the best shower ever. Then I brushed my teeth, and it was the best time I ever brushed my teeth. Then I got to wash my hands, and that was the best too.

I also felt tired. We’d been up since 3:00 a.m. It was time for some much needed shut eye. I grabbed my sleeping bag from the van, told Bobby where I was and to come wake me when he was ready to roll and snagged a spot on the gym floor where I promptly passed out for the next three and a half hours. I woke up when Bobby came to get me, fell asleep for a few more minutes, and then dragged myself up so I could brush my teeth again in the locker room and change into running clothing before we left.

Bobby had a 6.6 miler for his night run, so I had some time for a quick snack before my 4.5 miles in Brewster. The night was cool with temperatures in the lower 40s but less humid than in past years, so visibility was good. I was waiting when Bobby arrived and headed out, maintaining a 9:52 pace for my night run and feeling pretty decent for someone who’d dragged themselves out of bed and decided to run for 44 minutes in the middle of the night.

In the past I have really enjoyed my night runs at Ragnar because they are such a unique experience. This year, thinking of the assault that occurred during this event last year, I was a bit more on edge than in the past and very mindful of my surroundings. In past posts I have written about night running saying that it feels like floating in space. It’s fun to run at night, look up at the stars now and again and totally dissociate and just enjoy the wild experience of it all.

With the events of last year in my mind I found I couldn’t really do that. I was 100% focused. Being a woman, and a small woman at that, I am conscientious about running alone and while I don’t generally run feeling fearful and don’t consider running to be dangerous, I am always mindful. I was fortunate that my night run went well. The course was well marked, I saw a runner or two from Ragnar but was untroubled, and I went along feeling good and at a decent pace. I should note how appreciative I am that the course had very frequent markers along the night leg. In the past this has not always been the case, but it was this year, and it was welcome. My run finished at an elementary school where I passed off to Pete. I was done. I changed into pajamas and napped on and off as the van made its way along the course.

Our van was slated to finish up a little after 6:00 a.m. The sun came up as we waited at Cooks Brook Beach in Eastham while Shaina ran. I enjoyed some coffee from a group doing a local fundraiser as we cheered Shaina’s arrival and Kelly’s departure for the last three miles van one had on the course.

The van made its way to Nauset Regional High to join van two. We hung out and chatted; before long Kelly had arrived and passed off to Sean. Van two was live, and we were done. Time to change and head to Provincetown for breakfast at our second traditional breakfast location, Post Office Cafe. There were four plus hours to kill before we could expect van two to finish-up. We grabbed some Dunks on the way out to P-town, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to get into the restaurant until after it opened at 8:00 a.m. This gave us time after we arrived to nap. We grabbed a delicious breakfast and then headed over to the beach for a #teambreakfast photo in the world’s largest chair (unverified).

With a couple of hours left to go, we took time to clean the marker off the van and prowl the festival area. Ragnar has significant merch, though I find it to be a bit of a high price point, especially considering that Reebok is their sponsor, and one of Reebok’s virtues is their general affordability. I decided I was all set with my free race shirt and opted out of grabbing any other items in the store, as usual. We convened with the van two crowd and waited for Aaron to finish his final leg. The wait wasn’t long. Our team has either gotten seriously faster or I’ve gotten much better at how I feel about the downtime during Ragnar. (Perhaps five years has made me better at managing unstructured free time, which, honestly, in my post-graduate-school-life I realize is a gift. How often do you get to sit around outside and do nothing for hours? Not often, and it’s pretty good.)

Aaron cruised up the hill and we joined him for a final run across the finish line. Ragnar 2018 was in the books.


As always, Ragnar is all about your team, and I am so lucky to have a great group with the NES Ninjas led by a terrific captain, Jess. These are folks who I can spend a few days with having little sleep and enjoying the entire time. We’ve really upped our running game, as a team, and can now be reliably counted on to get some decent running done – a bonus to be sure. Ragnar is a must do race for me. Five years ago, it was my introduction to the NE Spahtens. I don’t think I even realized my luck at the time to get to meet this fantastic group in such a cool way. Ragnar 2019 will be on my race calendar for sure. See you there fellow Ninjas.

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Featured Review: Savage Race MD 2018

I had the opportunity to venture the 360 miles down to Savage Races Spring race two day event this past weekend at Hopkins Game Farm Kennedyville, Maryland. Location was easy to find, parking was plentiful and onsite for $10. At its farthest point the parking was about a five minute walk to the entrance/check in area. There was also a premium parking option for $20 and this got you within 100 feet or so of the entrance. Checking in was easy, with no large backups, and then you are directed through the merchandise tent to the festival area. The festival area was a perfect size for the approximate 3200 finishers and their spectators that were there throughout the day Saturday. However, it felt almost empty on Sunday with only about 650 finishers and respective spectators of the inaugural Blitz race. Looking around you had the start line, a small platinum rig, the awards stage with a DJ/emcee, and last obstacle/finish line at one end, then at the other end you had the port-o-johns, two BBQ vendors, a healthy/nutritional food truck, and a shaved ice vendor. To fill in the outer perimeter of the festival, in between these two ends, were the beer tent, an AIR FORCE table, Maryland National Guard table, a Maryland Air National Guard table, the Savage Syndicate tent, future race purchase tent, and a gear drop off tent. In the open area was found numerous round tables with chairs to sit at. The area was well thought out and funneled everyone’s attention to the far left in the direction of the start/finish and the DJ.

Our start time was at 10:20am, and we had three New England Spahtens make the journey to race. We were let in the starting corral about ten minutes early and they had a hype man get everyone ready for the race. After a warm-up, hyped out speech, and a 10 second countdown, we were sent off to tackle the course. The terrain is not what most from New England would expect, open flat fields, very few single tracks thru the woods. We ran for about half a mile before we encountered our first obstacle and never went that far in between after that. One thing this course does have that we do not is slow flowing river beads. These were used on several occasions. The full race clocked in at around 6.5 miles on my Garmin, just as advertised. Not too long and not too short.

The obstacles, thirty in all, were all well built and sturdy. We got to see many of the obstacles that were in Massachusetts last year including Shriveled Richard (HEHE), Big Cheese, Saw Tooth , Twirly Bird, and Davy Jones Locker among others. We also got to experience three new obstacles just introduced this year. Holy Sheets, literally a rolled up sheet traverse to four hanging balls. Pedal to the Medal, a tire drag with a twist, you lay on your back and using only your feet you “roll” in the tire. When done drag it back out to the line. And battering ram, which was the obstacle in the finishing area, and I find this obstacle is hard to explain, but as best as I may, you are suspended from a pipe via a handle and you need to shimmy down the length of pipe to make a transition to another handle and then do it all over again to a bell (which you could kick). After completion, this brought you to crossing the finish line to get your Savage race medal, which is a new design for this year, your finisher t-shirt, water, and a Trimino protein water.

We hung around for a while watching the start line, cheering on finishers, and generally listening to the music. We cleaned up, had our beer, three options were available with your participant ticket, Coors, and for a $1 up charge you could have a Blue Moon or Dos Equis. We left with smiles on our faces, knowing we were returning the next day to participate in the first of its kind race, the Savage Blitz.

When was the last time you got to do an inaugural race? When we arrived at the venue on Sunday we got to do just that. We were two of 640 participants in Savage Races new series called the Savage Blitz, a shortened version of their course. We arrived a little later than we did on Saturday, knowing that there would be less people. While getting ready we saw the top three males and the top female cross the finish line. After that, we finished getting ready and went out with our 10am start time. The Blitz race wound us around the venue in a new way than Saturday, much to my surprise, and it was fun doing some obstacles backwards from the previous day. It made you really have to wrap your head around the technique first, at least for me. The course was just over three miles by my Garmin, and it was perfect. This being what appears to be a gateway into the full Savage Race, most of the big daunting obstacles were missing, like Colossus and Davey Jones, but you did get to run by all of them and see what could have been. The three new obstacles were still on course and fun again.

Crossing the finish line for the second time in two days was amazing. Picked up our new Savage Blitz medal, Blitz specific finishers t-shirts, a water, more Trimino, and headed over to the Syndicate tent to pick up our huge (did I mention HUGE) Syndicate medal and state Axe pins. Grabbed our beers, watched some more people finish the race with huge smiles, cleaned up and made the seven hour ride home to Massachusetts.

This was one hell of a weekend! The full course was fun, and challenging at the same time. The Blitz course was great. Hopefully they will roll this out at all venues next year. Savage Race does a great job at paying attention to what racers want. Sam Abbitt, one of the cofounders of Savage, is very active on the Syndicate facebook page and is listening. I give both Races an A+, for fun factor and quality.
So New England where will you be on July 14t​ h​? I know where I will be, at Carter and Stevens Farm, running the Savage race. I hope to see you all there.

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Featured Review: Wason Pond Pounder 2018

Wason Pond Pounder has been a part of Race Local since the beginning. It’s a small race located at a beautiful park in Chester, NH. It’s not the race with the biggest attendance, toughest obstacles, or steepest hills, but it’s a great 5K and features 24 obstacles. The best part, in my opinion, is that 100% of profits are donated to local charities.

Like most races, parking is not allowed on site. The parking lot is about 2 miles away, with shuttle buses running fairly regularly. The check-in process was smooth and fast, with volunteers who were polite and smiling. Bib numbers were posted at the entrance, a table was provided for signing waivers, bibs and timing chips were obtained at the next table, and t-shirts and swag bags were at the last table. Multilapping is allowed for $10 per lap, and even has its own table to make it a very easy process. Bag check is free and there are several vendor tables. The local fire station sells burgers, which smell great even at 8:30 am. There is no medal at this event. However, you’ll find water, several types of fruit, and cheese sticks at the finish line. There are plenty of porta-potties and there is a large changing tent. The swag bag was actually really impressive. Now, I usually peek into a swag bag, see that it’s mostly flyers and maybe a sticker, and throw the whole thing in the recycling bin. This bag has a few flyers and stickers, but it also has a cooling towel, 3 pens, a pad of paper, one of those sticks that has the anti-itch stuff that you can use on a bug bite, and a set of ear buds. Seriously, this is the first swag bag I was happy to open for a long time!

Although it is a very small race, the first wave is competitive and offers a cash prize to the winners. After that, waves go off every 20 minutes, including the final 3 waves which are considered family waves. Bring your kids as young as 8 years old! The waves were on time all day and the course was rarely crowded. In fact, the only time a crowd tends to form on this course is when a large group is trying to stay together. I’ve found that these groups tend to be very happy to let smaller groups pass by.

While the obstacles aren’t generally as tough as at some of the bigger races, there are some challenges on course. There is a set of monkey bars, an overhead pipe traverse, a sandbag carry, and an inverted wall.

They have an option of climbing a rope or a cargo net, with the rope climb being made a bit more difficult by being just after a water crossing. They have an obstacle called “wobbly docks”, which is four or five small docks roped together across a shallow bit of water. They look quite tricky, and people do fall in, but they are completely doable as long as you keep moving. While there is no real mud on the course, there is a water crossing where you’ll get wet above your knees, and there is a slide into the water where you’ll get completely wet. There is a crawl through the sand earlier in the race, though, so you’ll be happy to wash some of the sand off in the pond. Every obstacle was well built and sturdy, and there was at least one volunteer stationed at every obstacle. There is one water station placed strategically so that racers will pass by twice. The course does zig-zag a lot, so it’s easy to spot friends on the course even if you’re not racing together. Altogether, the gently rolling hills through the beautiful woods and the fun obstacles make this quite an enjoyable race.

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Featured Review: Tuff Scramblers – May 2018

Tuff Scramblers in Rehoboth, MA is a challenging, fun, and unique event. It is a 5k course spread over 140 aches with over twenty natural and man made obstacles that offers an experience you’re not likely to find at other events.

This race is a bit of a drive for me, but it’s a drive I’m willing to make because it’s such a great time. It is easy to find, clearly marked by signs directing athletes to the field to park. Parking was within a stone’s throw to where the Registration tent was.

There was a long back up at registration. It was very slow moving and when I got to the table, I was able to see why. There was only one person running the registration table. This meant that she was dealing with bib pick-up, wristbands, t-shirts, day of registration, and any questions. She was trying to be as efficient as possible, but it was clearly overwhelming for her. It is possible that volunteers slated for the Registration tent had not come, however it is something that maybe a volunteer from another location could have been pulled at least for the early morning rush.

From the registration tent, athletes followed along the dirt road into the festival area. To the left was the changing tents and showers followed by an area where larger teams had been given space to set up a meeting place. To the right there was a man creating chainsaw sculptures that were for sale – he was also responsible for making the pretty epic first place trophies for the elite wave. Also to the right was the makings of a bonfire, though wind deterred the Tuff Scramblers team from igniting it. There were tables set up by the Army,Air Force, and National Guards. There was also a large tent where participants could go to exchange their food and beer ticket then hang out while spectating other runners. The festival area is a low key setup, however it has excellent access to a bunch of the fun obstacles for spectating.

Tuff Scramblers has a course unlike any other I have ever seen. It incorporates trails that at times become single track, weave through the woods, through streams, then back out to the open layout near the festival. In the woods is where participants find most of the natural occurring obstacles. There are plenty of rock formations to scramble over, streams to trudge through, and rocky terrain to hop across. For the most part the course was well marked with pink flags, tape, and paint. However, there were a few who got turned around or missed a turnoff and accidentally cut a small portion of the course. I believe that it was early in the race around the first two hills in the woods, but after that point all the course markers were easily located. There were two water stations on course and the volunteers there were cheery and engaged with the runners as they made their pit stop.

As advertised, you will not find the typical rope climbs and walls at Tuff Scramblers that you may find at other races. Participants will find large sand and clay piles as well as two boulder piles to crawl over. There are walls and an a-frame made of large PVC piping, as well as concrete pillars to jump across. Much of the obstacles that can be found at Tuff Scramblers are created using construction materials. Another thing that should be noted that on this course you will get wet and you will get muddy. Whether it be through a pool of muddy water, of climbing some of the obstacles that have water spraying down at you. The race ends, bringing the participants through a small brook, with about thigh deep to waist deep water. Once you climbed out a bit down the way, there were two options to finish the race. Participants could choose to swim across the pond or take the land route. The pond had a downward slope before it got a bit deep. For someone of average height you could not just walk across. It then had a small incline back out and brought you straight to the finish line.

The shirts from Tuff Scramblers are one of my favorite race shirts. It is a soft tech shirt sporting the Tuff Scramblers name on the front. On the back has the date and location of the event as well as a statement that they proudly support the various branches of military and the EMS team that was present at the event. The medal ribbon displays the date and location of the event, which is always a nice bonus.

After runners finished they were treated to food and drink. You could use your Beer ticket to exchange for a beer or non-alcoholic beverage. As someone who does not drink beer, I appreciated this because I could exchange my ticket for an iced tea. Those who do enjoy beer had a variety of Narragansett beers that they could pick from. Runners get quite the treat when they finish Tuff Scramblers because they also get post-race food included in their registration. We got two sliders with either pulled pork or sausage and peppers, a salad, and a choice of two different types of baked beans. The food was excellent and really hit the spot afterwards.

Over all, despite a few very minor kinks between registration and course marking, this is still one of my favorite events. It offers such a unique experience and atmosphere. The shirts being my all time favorite, is simply a bonus.

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Featured Review: FIT Challenge X

The team at F.I.T. Challenge has become known for their top notch small venue events, each one becoming bigger and better. F.I.T. X was no different. Their events feature innovative obstacles, challenging terrain, and elevation all spread a bit over three miles.

When registering for F.I.T. X, Participants had a choice of three different levels of racing. There was a one lap option that had both an elite wave as well as many open waves. Second, they offered a five hour multilap where a runner could complete multiple laps in a five hour window. The third option, being their newest, offered a twelve hour Ultra.

F.I.T. Challenge has taken the concept of multilapping and continued to build upon it. The idea to offer a multilap feature may seem daunting to some race directors, but this is something that Robb McCoy had flourished with. In the past F.I.T. Challenge has offered variations on multilapping, but this April they unveiled an Ultra. It consisted of running as many laps of their 3.3 mile course in twelve hours.

The F.I.T. Challenge Ultra participants, identified by Ultra Bibs, had a unique experience compared to the regular Multilap option. They received a total of three laps obstacle free. The first being their second lap, followed by two more at some point throughout the day. As long as they were wearing their orange armband, they could pass obstacles for that entire lap. After 6pm all obstacles were shut down, leaving the remaining two hours and fifteen minutes obstacle free as well.

Leading up to race day, there were nearly a thousand runners registered. This alone attests to the reputation that the F.I.T. Challenge team has worked to build.

F.I.T.X took place in Cumberland, Rhode Island, at Diamond Hill State Park. Robb MCoy and his team expertly use the terrain to their advantage. With multiple climbes and descents an elevation of 1000 feet is squeezed out of Diamond Hill throughout the 3.3 mile course. There is a mix of technical, rocky, trrails as well as some single track sections. But the most important piece to note is how well marked the race is. The trails are marked with green tape, flags, and arrows. It is near impossible to get lost on a track that this team has laid out. Spread throughout the course athletes found over thirty obstacles.

There is a wide range of obstacles for all skill levels. From low crawls and heavy carries to the Destroyer series and the newly unveiled Devil’s playground. The minds behind some of their devilishly innovative obstacles keep athletes coming back for more. Other obstacles that could be found on course included floating walls, an upside down cargo net you must climb a rope to reach, peg boards, and a teeter totter. There is absolutely something to challenge everyone.

As mentioned above, a new obstacle made its debut this past weekend. From a concept Aaron Farb introduced with the swinging steps on their Devil Steps obstacle at a past event. After a discussion with Larry Cooper the design that was debuted at F.I.T. X was born, including the adjustment where the athlete had to start from the ground. Devil’s Playground was a terrifying delight for runners. It is a metal apparatus that has swinging steps that the athlete must climb up. There were four lanes, one for Elite runners and three for Open Wave runners. The athlete had to start from the ground, grabbing each swinging step up the a-frame then back down. The swinging steps upped the difficulty of an already challenging obstacle. You are only allowed to touch the green parts, touch the black and you had to go back. The difference between the open lanes and the elite being that the elite had a smaller hold to grip on each swinging step.

Outside of the course, F.I.T. Challenge had a buzzing festival area. There was merchandise available for purchase as well as outside vendors. Some of the vendors that could be found in the festival area included Sage Nutrition and Warm-Up Nutrition, both locally based companies. OCR Beast was also present. Baystate Physical Therapy was onsite to offer stretching and massage to help athletes throughout the day. Food was also available for purchase onsite presented by Boru BBQ.

The team at F.I.T. Challenge take safety quite seriously. There was one section of technical terrain that race director Robb McCoy was monitoring closely. For the sake of the athletes participating in this event a decision was made to shift the course slightly. While it took a strenuous and technical piece of course out, the transition was seamless and gave no interruption to the main event. This did not appear to remove or add any mileage to the course.

As a whole, the F.I.T. Challenge team obviously cares about their runners. They work to ensure that problems are dealt with in a timely manner. Whether it is leading up to or on race day, they put forth the extra effort to reach their full potential. Not only to the athletes who train and make this type of event their whole lifestyle, but the casual athletes as well. There were many runners at F.I.T. X who had participated in F.I.T. or Obstacle racing before. However, there were many first timers. No matter who is in attendance F.I.T. X delivers.

Communication is a strong point to note for F.I.T. Challenge. Leading up to F.I.T. X the team provided ample communication across social media platforms and email. If you follow any of their social media accounts you were also able to see the fun being had at volunteer shifts for build days as well as sneak peeks of Devil’s Playground.

Something else that F.I.T. Challenge is known for is the race day swag they offer. Not only for purchase, but what you get for participating in their event. F.I.T. X upped the ante. At this event participants received a nice tech tee, buff, and F.I.T. X medal. Those who multilapped received a numbered pin to commemorate the number of laps completed. If a multilapper completed three or more laps of the course, they were also awarded with a block that prominently displays their achievement. Those blocks have become a long standing goal for many who participate in any of F.I.T. Challenge’s events. Participants in the 12-hour Ultra event received all the same perks as well as some Ultra specific swag. They had customizable bibs to identify on course as Ultra, a 10 ounce sweatshirt, and an Ultra tech tee. For those who completed at least 8 laps also received a belt buckle.

Overall, it is understandable why F.I.T. Challenge is a fan favorite and F.I.T. X did not disappoint. Robb McCoy and his team continues to present OCR Athletes reason to return to F.I.T. events. Not only were athletes presented with an amazing race, swag, and experience, they are in the hands of a race director and team who truly care about the athletes.