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Featured Review: Ragnar Cape Cod 2019

NES Ninjas team photo

For the sixth (!) consecutive year, I had the privilege of running Ragnar Cape Cod with the New England Spahtens 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 Smuggler’s Beach, Massachusetts. The team of 12 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 2019 was a great group. In van one, #teambreakfast, we had (in runner order): Kelly, Wes, Shaina, Bobby, Pete, and Aaron. In van two, #teamdinner, there was me, Sean, Geoff, Monica, Josh, and Jess. My three legs were 7.8 miles, 6.3 miles, and 12.3 miles, making me one of the runners going a longer (actually the farthest) amount of distance. Our captain, Jess, is great about assigning us our legs, and everyone almost always gets something in their top three choices. Both running long and running short are fun – in truth the real “test” of Ragnar is mental as much as 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 the tip of the Cape.

This year was the second that I was in van 2. The different experiences between the various vans is significant. While my van 1 teammates were pulling themselves out of bed at around 4:00 a.m., the folks in van 2 got to sleep in — we didn’t have to be at the check-in point at Duxbury Beach until 10:00 a.m., which would give us ample time to organize ourselves before van 1 was set to exchange with us around noon.

The weather in May in New England can be a chancy thing, and this year’s Ragnar Cape Cod offered a sample of New England weather at its finest, which is to say the weather was wack. It was cloudy and in the mid-50s when we pulled into Duxbury Beach, and, boy, was it windy. By which I mean it was some next level wind that made it hard to hear people. We clamored out of the van and headed over to the festival area where we presented our safety gear — Ragnar requires all runners to wear reflective vests, a headlamp, and a blinking “tail” light during overnight hours — and watched the brief and eccentric safety video before getting our bibs. We wandered around checking out vendor tents and the merch tent. If you’re a Ragnar regular it is all stuff you’ve seen a million times, but the selection is solid. Reebok is the partner for Ragnar, and they provide a lot of good gear for those who are interested. (As someone who’s lucky enough to product test for Reebok, I am able to get their products for free as compensation for my testing, so I opted out of purchasing anything this weekend.)

Soon, van 1 rolled into Duxbury. Aaron was out on course and soon it would be my turn to kick it off with my first run of 7.8 miles. It wasn’t long before we could see Aaron heading into the transition area. I shrugged off my DryRobe and stood underneath the arch where we’d make the transition. Our team tradition is to do chest bumps at each exchange. I’ll admit it — I am a bad chest bumper (too short), so when Aaron came in for bump I almost fell over and the poor guy had to catch me. Thanks for having my back, Aaron! 

I ran out from Duxbury Beach into a really strong headwind. The 7.8 miler ended up being more challenging than anticipated but an absolutely lovely run — one of the nicest in my Ragnar Cape Cod experience. From Duxbury, I ran across a large wooden bridge that traversed the bay. The wind was so loud that I couldn’t hear, but the views were spectacular. About a mile into the run, we made a turn and were protected from some of the wind by a street lined with homes. The houses in Duxbury are just great. I enjoyed “house hunting” as I ran along. It was nice to have the distraction. The route we took was hilly. Forget anything I have ever said about the Cape being flat because I take it all back. I kept up a decent pace though. I’d predicted I’d run 10:00s. With the strong wind and hills, I was running more like 10:30s, but, all things considered, I thought that was pretty excellent. It also rained a little bit towards the midpoint of my run. I was happy to look out over beautiful bays and enjoy historic homes as I ran through Duxbury. 

After around 80 minutes of running the exchange was in sight. I spotted Sean and ran to pass off. I was glad to be done. My run was fun because of all of the great views and picturesque town, but constant hills and wind had me feeling a bit beaten down. Plus, I still had a 6.3 miler and a 12.3 miler to go. Time to change into dry clothing, eat some snacks, get warm, and rest. 

Van 2 made our way though the the towns right before the Borne and Sagamore Bridges. (Yes, many people say you are technically not on the Cape until you cross the Cape Cod Canal, so I guess the first legs for our team were not really on the Cape.) We would be making our Myles Standish State Park in Carver where we’d have a virtual exchange with Van 1. Basically, they weren’t meeting us there but would be notified by Ragnar HQ when we arrived so they could start running from where they were located at Sandwich High School. Good thing that Ragnar was using some boosters to connect to a signal because Myles Standish was a cell phone dead zone. 

While we waited, we were lucky enough to connect with another Ragnar team of fellow NE Spahtens, the NES Men-ish team’s van 2 group. I think we got to see more of them than of the van 1 NES Ninjas. An odd thing about Ragnar is how little you get to see your fellow teammates in the other van — really only a couple of times when you transition between runners six and seven and runners 12 and one. The only sad thing about Ragnar is I wish I could have seen my friends more. Seeing the NES Men-ish was a great bonus though.

After the virtual exchange, van 2 was off. It was time for some noms. The NES Ninjas and Men-ish teams headed across the Cape Cod Canal to Hyannis and dinner at the Black Cat Tavern. I was really in need of some food having probably not taken in enough calories over the course of the day, lunch being some random bison jerky, nuts, and crackers. In fact, my dinner of shrimp scampi was just what I needed because after an afternoon of feeling pretty drained of energy and slightly nauseous, I was feeling more like myself again. Just in time to run around 6.3 miles.

Our team was running about an hour or so ahead of schedule, so my evening run was slated to start at 8:30 p.m. instead of the originally predicted time of 9:30 p.m. I was pleased to start early — it meant I would be able to get some sleep sooner, and I was feeling tired. We headed to Barnstable High School where I coordinated my safety gear and changed into running clothing again. 

Night running is interesting. When it’s dark and you’re the only runner on the road, it can almost feel like you’re not even moving but instead floating through space. I didn’t quite get to that flow state on this run but had a fine enough run nonetheless. The course took me along some main roads and there were a lot of street crossings, which required some care and lots of attention. They slowed me down a little but fortunately the route wasn’t too hilly and the weather was not overly windy (though instead it was crazy humid — you could see moisture in your headlamp, according to some of my teammates). 

I finished my run in a little over an hour. The weather was warmer than it had been all day and my outfit was very wet from the elements. I changed immediately. I was super beat. I had run over 14 miles and in between sat in a cramped van. Sound fun? I’m not going to lie; some of the deprivations are part of the enjoyment of the Ragnar challenge. Regardless, I had another 12.3 miles coming up in less than 12 hours and was not feeling my best. I needed to crash. I pulled my sleeping bag out of the back, crawled in and immediately passed out on the back seat. 

I am a good sleeper. It’s probably a super power. Regardless, I lay down at around 10:00 p.m. and completely zonked out. Other than a trip to a portable bathroom at some unfortunate hour, I don’t remember a thing until 6:00 a.m. This might sound fairly unremarkable. Perhaps you are a person who often sleeps between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; that’s reasonable. But let me put this into perspective for you. This entire time, my teammates were getting in and out of the van, running their legs, and we were driving all around. I have zero memory of this. Apparently at one point someone even tried to give me information while I was sleeping. Nope. No memory of this at all, though apparently I produced some inaudible phonemes. Pretty much everyone else on my team slept something like 8 minute. 

So for all of that when my 12.3 miler rolled around at 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning, I was hoping to feel my brightest and best self. I wasn’t. I was feeling dead on my feet. It’s ironic too because I had trained for this. I had been doing 13 to 15 mile long runs with a back-to-back run of 70 to 90 minutes the next day for months. The bottom line is that some days are off days and unfortunately the running I did at Ragnar this year was some off day running.

I headed off on my 12.3 miler down the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Eastham. I had a plan to do 4/1 run/walk intervals to make my way through. I was feeling meh but keeping it moving at a steady pace, running sub-10:30s and walking at around 15:00s to 16:00s. Midway into my second or so mile a fellow NE Spahten, Courtney, from one of the other NES teams met up with me. She was doing great; I was struggling. Courtney was a true champ and a pal and kept with me adding some much needed mental support. Another bonus was that at around mile five my team met us on the bike path! The 12.3 mile run was technically no van support, meaning that the running route and van routes did not converge. The Ninjas had made a special effort to meet up with me. They are an awesome group.

A little over half way through the run, we took a turn off the bike path onto a fire road and into Nickerson State Park. This is where the run really went downhill for me. I was beat and using every motivational strategy I had to keep up my pace. With the change to fire roads, trails, and small sidewalks throughout the forest, things got hilly. Really hilly. The last four or five miles were relentless with the ups and downs. I was hurting. I was chaffed, my legs were sore, and I was trying my best to keep moving as fast as I could. I didn’t want to let me team down — more than anything that was my goal. Courtney was feeling great, while I was really flagging. In the last two miles I felt badly enough for holding her back that I said, “Really go. I will meet you at the finish.” I had plans to change my strategy to a 3/2 run/walk but instead decided that I would power hike the hills and run everything else, responding to the terrain instead of a timer. My early miles had all been in the 11:00-range but my pace dropped into the 12:00-range at this point. I was giving 100% effort though; even if it was for 10% results. I had not had such a bad run in a really long time. I still don’t know what my issue was, but I know I was entirely exhausted and doing everything to keep moving as fast as I possibly could. 

We exited the park, making our way up and down in a hilly neighborhood and finally onto a main street. There was just a half mile to go. I gritted my teeth and ran hard as I could up the final hill to the finishing arch. There was Sean waiting to hand me a medal for finishing the longest leg on the course. He handed it to me and took off as I sat down in a heap on the ground. I was done.

I have mixed feeling about my last run of the 2019 Ragnar relay. First, I should say that my team was overwhelmingly supportive and encouraging. On the one hand, I am dismayed that I lost us about 20 minutes with my slow pace. I am disappointed in myself with the performance I gave. But what could I have done? I trained right, and I ran that leg as hard as I could on that day. Usually those two things combine, and they pay off. Sometimes they don’t. As athletes, we don’t always know why we have an off day. Sometimes you run and it feels like flying and freedom, which is a joy. Sometimes you run and it feels like pulling yourself through sand and dragging weighted legs, which is a mental trial. Having the longest leg at Ragnar is a privilege. I wish I could have taken more advantage of it and enjoyed it more. Not every race can be the best race we want; sometimes we just struggle through and do what we can.

A key thing about Ragnar though is being present in the moment — I don’t mean this in a “new age” kind of way; I just mean that you don’t want to dwell on your performance or spend you free time engaged with your phone instead of your friends. So I put my feelings about my long run on the back burner and took the opportunity to enjoy the last Ragnar afternoon with my teammates. I got out of the van at each exchange to cheer people on and to enjoy the beaches of Harwich and South Yarmouth. The weather had turned sunny with temperatures in the mid-60s. After a spring of days of uninterrupted rain, I was going to maximize this time.

Before I knew it we were sending out Jess, runner 12, for her last leg and making our way over to Smuggler’s Beach to meet up with van 1 and finish this Ragnar thing.

The parking at Smuggler’s Beach was crowded, but we found a place where we could quickly clean the marker off the van. (Note: Marking the van is a Ragnar tradition, as is “tagging” other team’s vans with magnets.) We grabbed our gear and headed to the festival area where the rest of our team was waiting for us. 

Prior to this year, the Ragnar Cape Cod event had always finished in Provincetown and, I admit, that I prefer that venue to Smuggler’s Beach. The festival area here was a bit crowded, way too loud, and somewhat lack luster. The joy of relaxing on the grass, having a post-race chowder and beer was replaced with sitting on the asphalt with no beer (the line was too long) and a pulled pork sandwich. (Okay, yes, the food was still pretty good, and the mac ‘n cheese side was killer awesome.) So, yeah, I miss Provincetown but, whatever, because I was sitting in the sun with friends and we had just run almost 200 miles together. Can I complain? Naw.

Six years has turned Ragnar Cape Cod into a tradition. It is legitimately the race I look most forward to year after year. I give 100% credit to the NES Ninjas and our fantastic captain, Jess. There are no other folks I would rather spend 36 hours with and run the length of the Cape. So, same time, same place next year? Oh, yeah, and I’ll take more beer and less miles for 2020. Thanks, all!

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Featured Review: Cinco de Mjolnir Ultra Viking 2019

NES at Viking

I’m a fan of Viking Obstacle Course, a fixed course of around six miles at Sunny Hill golf resort in Greenville, New York. I try to make it there every year for at least one of their several races. 2018 ended up being busy and the races just didn’t fit into my schedule. As a result, I was determined to make it to Viking in 2019. Enter their May 5 race, Cinco de Mjolnir Ultra Viking.

It actually turned out that the May 5 race wasn’t ideal for my schedule either — the date was the Sunday before Ragnar Cape Cod, where I’ll be running around 26 miles that Friday and Saturday. As a result, while I was signed up for the eight hour “ultra” race, I decided it made sense to do one fun lap to see how my obstacle fitness has overwintered and otherwise keep this an easy effort. There was an option for a charity 10K the same day as the Ultra Viking, but that race was at around 11:30 a.m., and the ultra started at 8:30 a.m., which would leave more time free in the afternoon for R&R.

My house is about two hours from Greenville, NY, so I got up early and made my way to the race the day-of. There are plenty of places to stay on-site for those who want them, so if you’re traveling from father away, keep that in mind. The race tends to have an intimate field of less than a hundred runners, so check-in in the club house on-site was a breeze. I was able to park my car footsteps from check-in and a very quick walk to the start line.

The day of Viking dawned wet and cool. We’ve had rain non-stop in New England for pretty much all of April and the start of May but the 50 degree temperatures have been on the colder side for this time of year, I think. Regardless, I layered up with long pants and a long sleeved t-shirt. The Viking course is wet in the best of times with muddy sections as well as a pond and a river that are all integrated into the course. I was hoping that race director, Asa, would have some pity and not send us through every water element on the course.

At about 15 minutes before our 8:30 a.m. race start, I headed out of the club house, where I’d been avoiding the weather, to the start line. I stashed my gear in the covered picnic area and checked in with some fellow Spahtens. It was a small but awesome group.

We braved the rain to line up and listen to pre-race announcements at the start from Asa. He explained the penalty system for the race. There were five obstacles that you got a penalty for not completing, which were to be completed at the end of your lap — the rope climb, the Dragon’s Tooth monkey bars (which included up and downhill bars), the five-part traverse wall, the Norse Poles (wood blocks hanging from ropes), and Asgard Skywalk (a balance obstacle with rope traverse). At each obstacle you passed, you’d receive a band to prove you’d completed it and, thus, avoid a penalty. All standard walls and carries were mandatory. Odin’s Tables, where racers climbed up a ramp and then climbed down the rope hanging off the other side, had an on-course penalty if you didn’t complete the obstacle.

At 8:40 a.m. we headed off to begin the race! I was planning just one fun lap but many people were serious about doing as many loops of the approximately six mile course in eight hours as they could. To that I say, “Props!” The weather was wet and the course even wetter. We waded through mud and traversed streams. I was completely submerged up to my shoulders after one river crossing. The weather stayed rainy, which meant that once you were wet — which was immediately — you weren’t getting dry. Plus the course put us through water again and again. The temperatures hovered in the low 50s, but as long as I kept moving I actually felt alright and the cold was less a problem than I thought it would be. Fortunately, the course did not have us doing a swim in the pond and completely submerging.

Viking has a wonderful and diverse set of obstacles, created by Rob Butler of Shale Hill. I have a detailed write-up from Viking with descriptions of all the obstacles on my blog from the past. Since that post, which I recommend reading for more content about the obstacles, the layout for how you tackle the obstacles has changed a bit. Racers now run the old course almost in reverse, though there’s a bit of meandering back and forth to add some miles. Regardless the course is fun, and I love the obstacles there. They are the perfect mix of challenging and achievable. The only obstacle I failed was the Dragon’s Tooth monkey bars, which I find hard always and the wet didn’t help.

Despite the weather, I actually had a blast at Viking. I took it fairly easy on Sunday, keeping a modest pace and focusing on enjoyment over performance. I’ve seen very serious about my athletic pursuits lately and have been training super super hard. In all of that, I have somewhat forgotten that this is play. Taking a step back at Viking and playing instead of beating myself up with lap after lap was a good move for me and great for my mental state. It also gave me the opportunity to bond with teammates, something I haven’t done in a while as I’ve been in a “run my own race” state of mind. I didn’t let the weather get me down and prevent me from having a good day.

Being relaxed definitely helped my performance in some ways too. Though I wasn’t at my fastest, I did well with only one failed obstacle. Winter training for me doesn’t involve a lot of grip work, and I tend to bulk up a little from lifting heavy, so I was glad to have solid results on the obstacles this early in the season. Over the next week or so, I will be switching up my training to work on grip and muscular endurance and should lean down a little going into August and my A-race for OCR, NorAm.

For those who are looking to hit up Viking this season, they have another race coming up on July 27 and have regular training throughout the summer. While I won’t be able to make the July race, I would love to go back to Greenville for training and for a fall race, if they do one for, say, Halloween (hint hint). Fellow, NE Spahtens, I’d love to have some friends to run with, so maybe I’ll see you all there?

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Featured Review: Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour 2019

The temperature gauge on my Volkswagen registered -10 degrees Fahrenheit as  I pulled out of the driveway of the Lake Bomoseen house where I was staying with my fellow NE Spahten teammates. It was 6:00 a.m. and I was headed to Shale Hill for their final race, Polar Bear 8 Hour.

The sky was still dark when I pulled into the parking lot and made my way up the hill to the barn for check-in. The air was the kind of cold that makes your body suck into it self. I huddled in my Dryrobe and walked as close as was safe to the many small fires that illuminated our way. I had done this walk so many times before; there was no way that this could be the end.

At the top of the hill, I hurried myself into the barn to check in. Jill Butler, co-race director, was there graciously managing all the logistics as always. She welcomed me by name as I picked up my bib and dropped of my gear. From there, I headed over to the “party barn” for breakfast, catered by the local Wheel Inn and the pre-race meeting.

Familiar faces met me right away. One element of Shale Hill that I cannot overstate is the sense of community. Racers who come to Shale Hill to train and race often mention the innovative and challenging course and the beauty of watching the sun rise and set from the start line. These things keep people coming back again and again. But the piece that has always struck me as unique about Shale Hill is the community that co-owners, Jill and Rob Butler have built. At Shale Hill, racers tackle the course together, they know each other by name, and they support each other. This is a testament to the welcoming and familial atmosphere that Rob and Jill have created. Shale Hill is greater than the sum of its parts in that most inexplicable way that so many wonderful things are. As someone who quantifies things for a living, it strikes me that I cannot entirely quantify all my feelings about Shale Hill. How can I place an exact figure on the sense of love I have for the place and how its supported me in my growth as an athlete and provided refuge in good and challenging times? Shale Hill has been there for me in and has given me something that I hadn’t even known I needed.

In the party barn, I connected with fellow NES friend, Bobby, and the two of us grabbed some breakfast and coffee. I chowed on eggs and french toast while Rob Butler led the pre-race meeting providing details relevant to the day. The frigid weather has left tires and wheelbarrows buried under snow and glued to the frozen earth with ice, meaning non-elite racers would walk those loops unencumbered. Rob also explained the Polar Bear penalty system, which required racers to run back to the previous obstacle when they failed something. In select instances, where obstacles were quite far apart, racers would instead take a chip and complete obstacles like battle ropes and sled rides at the conclusion of their loop. The goal: As many loops of the approximately 6.5 mile, 70 obstacles Shale Hill course as possible in eight hours.

Did I mention it wasn’t even zero degrees Fahrenheit outside?

I am not a good cold weather athlete. I’ll be fine if it’s 80 degrees, but winter weather is a challenge. Knowing this, my goal for Polar Bear is always to be non-competitive and run in the penalty-free journeyman division. I am quite serious about setting only a small handful of A-races per year during my peak time of the summer. I don’t believe in every race being an all out event, and I am lucky to have coaches that work with me on periodization that makes sense for my race calendar. Suffice it to say, that with temperatures as cold as they were and snow on the ground, I was realistic about planning to do one lap at the 2019 Polar Bear race.

After breakfast, I coordinated myself for the 7:50 a.m. start time of the journeyman wave. Vermont had gotten about 18″ of snow over the past few weeks. The first layer has packed down into an impermeable icy layer. On top of it was another 6″ to 10″ of powder that we’d have to wade through, similar to running along a sandy beach. I put on Icebugs with carbide tips, gaters, two layers of pants, two tops and a jacket, and two buffs — one for my face and one for my ears. I put on gloves and added Bleggmits on top. I stuffed foot warmers into my shoes and hand warmers into my gloves. I was ready to go. Or as ready as I would ever be. At 7:54 a.m., I crossed the starting line at Shale Hill for the last time.

I have spoken at great length in many many blog posts about the obstacles at Shale Hill. If you’re looking for a detailed play by play, I refer you to my write-up from summer 2014 and the NES weekend training. Obstacles have been added since that time, but it will give you a good idea about what we were up against. Rob Butler’s obstacles are no joke. They are innovative, challenging, and a heck of a lot of fun. I am a decent enough obstacle course racing athlete, and yet I have never completed an entire loop of Shale Hill with 100% obstacle completion. For context, I cannot think of any other race series where I haven’t been able to 100% in one or more of their races.

Polar Bear 2019 had its own set of challenges. The cold was mind-numbing. When the wind blew I got a cold headache, like one might get from drinking a bubble tea too fast. My muscles did not cooperate. My fingers did not grip. My hips were locked. Of course, faced with the snow, ever step was effortful and anything more than a little bit of running was off the table for me. It is truly humbling to experience the effects of weather on the body. All of the racers at Polar Bear were challenged in this way. I failed obstacles that are a snap for me in warm weather. The 7′ wall that I consider one of the most manageable obstacles on course was a challenge without assistance. My gloves slipped on the ropes making them impossible to climb. If I tried to take my fingers out of the gloves, they would get numb, making my grip strength exactly zero. Everything was a tremendous effort.

The first couple of obstacles, the split log carry and the pond rope traverse, had some unexpected back-ups. Since I was journeyman, I walked the log loop sans-log. The pond traverse is a favorite of mine and something I wanted to do one last time. As luck would have it, very few people wanted to try the lane was the metal ring around the rope. I opted to tackle that traverse, leading me to get to move ahead quickly. However, the pond traverse was a good example of what was to come in terms of effort. That rope traverse took it out of me. I barely made it to the end and was left huffing and sapped of energy, body almost shaking. Exerting yourself in the extreme cold is no joke.

I was glad to have the company of fellow NE Spahtens on the course to keep up morale. I ran with Bobby for quite a bit, saw Niki and Steve, Josh and Molly, and encountered a few others briefly. Friendly faces helped. I got to meet some entertaining guys from Connecticut who gave me a mental boost in the last mile. It was great to see some photographer friends all over the course to add a smile to a rough race experience.

It’s pretty easy to get lost in the “pain cave” when you’re walking across a meadow into the wind in weather that makes your eyes feel as though their fluids are turning to a solid state. It’s almost impossible not to question how you define fun when you’re on the top of a metal obstacle and feel its penetrating chill. 2019 Polar Bear was mentally challenging. I have never failed so many obstacles in my life. Truly it’s a shame because while I did as much as my body could do in this last race at Shale Hill, what I really wanted was to be able to do everything, something that was impossible for me given the conditions. In a way, I knew this would happen — I am not a winter racer after all. So in many ways, this summer’s 24 Hours of Shale Hell was my farewell effort. Though just as I say that I want to take it back. Because every time I run Shale Hill I want to run it again so that I can try harder, do better, see the moon from the top of a pile of hay bales, watch the sun come up over the mountains as I wrench myself up from my sleeping bag for another lap.

I crossed the finish line after 3:50 out on the course. I was freezing, and I was tired. One and done. I accepted my medal and went inside to change and get a hot drink and some food. I’m not such of a social person, but I love post-race time at Shale Hill. I ate many delicious rolls from the buffet while I chatted with Amy, Bobby, Liz, Niki, and Steve about our love of Shale Hill and various feelings of denial and sadness that it was over. (There was some bargaining thrown in there too — those of you familiar with the Kubler-Ross model may sense a pattern…)

Finally, it was time to go. I said goodbye to my team and then made my way around saying farewell to all the Shale Hill folks I have come to have such affection for. I was especially glad that I was able to see Jill who has always been so generous with allowing me to come up to Shale Hill for training and stay over. I was sorry to not get to say a final goodbye to Rob and thank him for his excellent coaching during training weekends and for building such an amazing course.

I don’t think that I will ever race anywhere else again in the same way that I raced at Shale Hill these past five years. Shale Hill has always been a staple in my race calendar. It’s odd not to have a race to look forward to with them this summer. And I know that while other things may fill my time, nothing will be a replacement. Shale Hill will always be a special place, the years an experience to forever value, and the camaraderie we all found there a testament to Rob and Jill’s efforts.

The truth is, I don’t know how to end this post because I am not quite sure yet how to say farewell to Shale Hill. But maybe it’s as simple as just this: Thank you.

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Featured Review: F.I.T. Challenge XI Fall 2018

November 17, 2018, F.I.T. Challenge hosted their eleventh event at their regular venue, Diamond Hill in Cumberland, Rhode Island. F.I.T. Challenge is always a popular event with me. The (slightly over) 5K course is absolutely the right blend of challenge and do-ability and makes this race both an accomplishment and good fun.

F.I.T. Challenge also offers a lot of options for racers who really want to push themselves. In addition to the standard open waves, where racers do one lap, F.I.T. Challenge offers an elite wave with mandatory obstacle completion, a multi-lap variant where racers can do as many laps as they want in five hours, and an ultra option where racers push to complete eight laps for a coveted buckle.

I arrived in Cumberland a little bit ahead of my 9:15 a.m. wave start, paid $10 for parking, and walked over to registration. Parking is on-site and so close to the starting line that you can see it. Registration took a matter of a minute or two, and the next thing I knew, I was dropping my bag in the multi-lap area. I had decided, after many years of doing one lap, that I wanted to try my hand at multi-lapping this year. That being said, by November I was easing into my off season and intentionally hadn’t been doing a ton of mileage. For this reason, multi-laps for me meant two laps. That was my goal, and I stuck to it.

At start time, I headed over to the line with fellow NE Spahten friend, Bobby, who was also running the 9:15 a.m. multi-laps. It was fun to have a buddy, and, in fact, F.I.T. Challenge is a great race for this — I saw many NES friends at the race today and have seen many at past event. There were some brief announcements at the start line and then we were off.

One of the challenges of this fall’s F.I.T. was the weather. The Northeast had received about six to eight inches of snow two days before the race, meaning that while temperatures in Cumberland on race-day were in the upper-30s and 40s, the course was a mess. The first waves of the day trundled through snow; the later waves wadded through mud, as racers traversed 1,000 feet of elevation along technical trails.

The course layout was fairly similar to what I had experienced the last time I was at Diamond Hill the previous spring. F.I.T. Challenge is obstacle dense. Race directors Robb and Aaron do an excellent job spacing obstacles well and making sure racers don’t run far without something to do. The main stretches of “just running” take place at the beginning and end of the race. The first half mile or so is mostly obstacle free, in an effort to space our racers and prevent back-ups. While I’ve had some experience with obstacle back-ups at F.I.T. Challenge in the past, it was not a big issue for me this fall for whatever reason — perhaps it was my earlier starting time, the racers at the event being faster on the course, or maybe the field was slightly smaller due to the weather. Whatever reason, this allowed for faster times in my case even with the messy terrain. Conditions were very slick, and I was glad to be running in my Altra Superior 3.0 trail sneakers. I saw some less experienced racers in road sneakers and was worried for their safety.

The best part of F.I.T. Challenge is the epic and creative obstacles. In addition to having all the basics — a carry, a rope climb, a crawl, and walls — F.I.T. mixes it up. The carry also features a set of over-under-thru walls. The rope climb is followed immediately by a peg board climb, right into a suspended cargo net racers hang from and make their way across underneath. The walls are the most interesting part of all. There are two set of hanging walls, which swing off a fixed top, meaning that you’ll be leaning backward as you climb. Best of all, are the two Destroyer walls, a pair of inverted walls with an additional wall at the top. The newer 2.0 version even has a set of balance tires to finish up the obstacle (which I slipped right off in the wet weather). Finally, the already challenging Devil’s Steps obstacle has an “upgrade” at F.I.T. Challenge — the Devil’s Playground obstacle (see image below). I have made it through the Devil’s Steps at F.I.T. before, but I could not make the transition to the top blocks on Devil’s Playground, making it my only real failed obstacle of the day.

 

 

The course also has a number of cargo net climbs, double-ups, a hoist, and hurdles. Between racers and the finish line is a rig with four lanes of difficulty, right into an inverted ladder and a slip wall. The rig is an absolute blast with monkey bars, horizontal pipes, and all matter of other grips. The hanging/swinging section of the rig terminates into a cargo net climb for an added challenge.

As planned, I made my way through two laps at F.I.T. This was my first serious elevation in months, and I felt it the next day. I had fun, I was challenged, and I closed out my season at one of my favorite race series. My laps took me 1:25 and 1:27 each, according to my watch. I took a few minutes between laps for an overall finishing time of 2:55. I definitely would have had time for one more, but I was feeling good and wanted to have fun at F.I.T. more than try for a challenge. I grabbed my medal, a two-lap pin to add to it, and a hamburger from the onsite vendor before heading out.

F.I.T. Challenge reliably delivers a fun time with a well-laid-out course and quality obstacles. Their twice-annual races in April and November start and end the season for many obstacle racers. I am always pleased to attend F.I.T., and it will remain a staple in my race calendar for years to come.

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Featured Review: Bonefrog Boston 2018

Bonefrog logp

This year, for the first time, Massachusetts native company, Bonefrog, took their obstacle race to Carter & Stevens Farm for the September Bonefrog Boston event. My last Bonefrog was at their home venue, Berkshire East in Charlemont, MA. However, I had taken a year off from Bonefrog, a mix of circumstances based on my schedule and personal course design preferences. When I saw that Bonefrog was coming to Barre I was pleased. I like racing at Carter & Stevens. Some folks state that it’s a bit of a ubiquitous venue at this point and has the minuses of being a working farm; however, I am never disappointed when I can tackle a course that involved more running than mountain climbing. Carter & Stevens fits the bill — it’s flat and fast.

Bonefrog offers many different ways of tackling their course. There is the Sprint (3 miles), the Challenge (6 miles), Tier 1 (the 6 mile course followed by the 3 mile course), and the Endurance option (the 6 mile course followed by as many laps of the 3 mile course as you can do before the time cut-off). The Challenge is more or less the “default” option and was what I signed up for. It would allow me to do the full course without pushing too hard, a good idea considering that I’m running a marathon at the end of the month.

I arrived in Barre in advance of my 9:00 a.m. wave start. Parking was offsite with folks getting bused in. I opted to park in non-official parking, walking distance to the venue. I know it’s hypocritical, but I don’t want to encourage what I did because races rely on parking funds. But the bus trip from the parking lot in Barre to the venue has always made me really motion sick, so I did what I did. Parking was $10 (both for the official parking and the non-official parking I selected). Reviews I heard of the official parking were mixed but overall fine. It seemed buses were running reliably. This is a long-established venue, and, as far as I can tell, parking is usually handled sufficiently.

When I arrived at the festival area things were a bit chaotic. I made it through registration in a snap, but the lines for bag check and the bathrooms were significant. There were only a few hundred people running Bonefrog (225 for the Challenge with me). With such a limited field, one would hope lines wouldn’t be an issue, but they were. I was pleased to see that during my wait in the bag check line, Bonefrog staff began to come down the queue to give people bag tags so we could pre-organize and just have to pay at the front. This speed things up a bit. From there, I moved to the bathroom line, where I waited another 10 minutes. Eight restrooms for 225 racers didn’t seem like quite enough. The entire festival area was somewhat minimal with limited vendors — basically just Stone Cow, which is Carter & Stevens owned, providing beer and not much else. The feel was super different than Savage Race, the last event I attended in Barre. Savage felt lively and hopping; Bonefrog seemed a little dead. I will give Bonefrog huge props though for not having annoyingly loud music. Thank you!

My 9:00 a.m. wave was the first general open wave of the day, after the elite waves and Tier 1 and Endurance waves. I went right from the restroom line to the starting line. I was super pleased by a few things: (1) no loud music, (2) no MC!!!, and (3) we started on time. There was zero fanfare, but that’s the way I like it. I hung out with fellow NE Spahten (and best Ragnar Captain ever!), Jess, and we were on our way before we knew it.

The Challenge course measured in at just under six miles with 31 obstacles. The course made up for some of less-than-ideal logistics pre-race. The obstacle placement was good — things were fairly evenly placed and there didn’t seem to be too much unnecessary running for running sake to pad the miles. It’s rare I can say that. Bonefrog made good use of Carter & Stevens. Regulars know what to expect there, but Bonefrog did a nice job of taking us on some routes less traveled, I think. (Though I should note I haven’t done a Spartan in Barre, so perhaps others found the paths more familiar.) Bonefrog has had some issues with course markings in the past — I got pretty lost during the fall 2016 event in Charlemont. The Barre course marking were not perfect either, and a group of us got slightly off course at one point. We zigged where we should have zagged but, fortunately, ended up in the same place — the error was slight and made no difference. As I mentioned before, the course was flat, and, with the exception of a few really muddy spots, I was able to run the entire way. There was some single track that got a little congested, but this was mitigated by the small number of participants. I love a flat and fast course, and appreciate that I can experience this in Barre. I also appreciated that we didn’t have to go through water on the course. I am more into obstacle racing than doing a mud run and with temperatures in the low 60s, I did not want to submerge myself into water.

Bonefrog has some solid obstacles. They are interesting, fun, and challenging. The mix is good, though a bit heavy on the rigs, so if those aren’t your jam, take note. I enjoy rigs, so I tend to be a happy camper at Bonefrog. Fortunately, the open waves are penalty free, so you have the option of giving everything a solid attempt and moving on if it isn’t working out. Interestingly, some of the obstacles on course Saturday were beginning to show their age a bit, which was worrisome at first, until I noticed the care put into doing reinforcements — everything felt sturdy, so I was not concerned about safety.

The main minus of the course was back-ups. With such a small field, this shouldn’t have been an issue, but it was. The first obstacle, Rolling Thunder, had a back-up right away, and I pretty much had to wait a least a minute at a third to half of the obstacles. (Some waits were much more than that, some less.) That’s a bummer and had always been an issue for Bonefrog, perhaps because of the challenging nature of some of their obstacles.

Here’s a bit more detail about the obstacles at the Barre event.

  • Rolling Thunder: This obstacles features tires on a horizontal pole. It’s deceptively challenging and caused a back-up right away. I’m a bit “over” this obstacle which I consider hard and not that fun — unless you love flinging your body at things.
  • Guillotine: This obstacle was neat! A balance log led up to a wall, which you went over before heading down another log.
  • Dead Weight: Classic hoist.
  • 1st Phase Wall: 6′ wall.
  • Normandy: A crawl with jacks and wire (sans barbs).
  • Rope Swing: For this obstacle, you jumped from a platform, only a foot or so off the ground, to a rope in front of you and swung across. Kind of fun.
  • 2nd Phase Wall: 8′ wall.
  • Siege Wall: Slip wall.
  • Get a Grip: This obstacle is a perennial challenge for me. Hanging from the rig were ropes with plastic handles attached. You had to swing from one to the other to get across. That would have been fine — I am good at rings — however, the ropes were looped through the handles meaning that they were not fixed and rotated. I took one swing and the handle rotated right under me sending me down to the ground.
  • Kraken: Cargo net climb to a cargo net up high that you rolled across and a cargo net down.
  • Swingers Club: Another rig, this time with ropes with small balls at the end. I was able to grab above the balls, which gave me the ability to swing across. This was one I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do, but I was able to make it across no problem, which felt great.
  • Cliff Hanger: An inverted runged ladder.
  • Viking Tables: Also known as Irish or Russian Tables, this obstacle is a horizontal rectangular prism that you have to hoist yourself up and over.
  • Red Wings / Extortion 17 / Medal of Honor: These were three PT obstacles that had racers recalling fallen servicemen. We did dips, burpees, and pull-ups while reciting officers’ names.
  • Night Crawler: Low crawl.
  • Walk the Plank: This was a wobbly balance beam, right on the ground. Stakes were low, but I wanted to make it, so I focused and gave it my best balancing effort.
  • Rope Climb: Standard rope climb.
  • Reverse Slant Wall: Classic inverted wall.
  • Ship Boarding: Skinny ladders. I climbed this from the side and found that I had no problem.
  • The Chopper: What a fun rig variation. There was a ring, which led to spinning horizontal 4-barred “chopper” — this sequence repeated twice before racers reached the end. I should mention that Bonefrog has done work to address concerns about height accessibility and had boxes at Chopper and other rigs to help shorter racers be able to get up to the handholds.
  • Brute Force Carry / Dry Hole: A carry with a twist. We grabbed canvas bags filled with around 40 lbs of sand which we had to carry along a short loop with three thru walls of increasing height. Kept things interesting!
  • Mike / Murph: You do this obstacle twice — forward and then backward. The obstacle has a ladder wall with a rope down the back. The first time through, you do the wall first; the second time, you do the rope first.
  • 3rd Phase Wall: 10′ wall.
  • Strong Hold: Another interesting rig! I was actually so short that even with the boxes provided, I couldn’t reach this rig, so instead I climbed the trussing holding up the obstacle. Strong Hold featured a section of u-shaped monkey bars, which transitioned to two sets of straps, followed up another set of u-shaped monkey bars to a final grip and bell. The reach to the first strap was a bit challenging, and I ended up too low down on the straps to be able to make it to the final u-shaped bars. I think this obstacle could be done successfully with a bit of work, and I’d like to try my hand at it again some time.
  • Dirty Name: Otherwise known as “Gut Check,” this obstacle has a lower log from which you jump and then pull yourself over a higher log. I am not a fan of this obstacle, as I’ve seen people hurt themselves on it. I climbed up the side supports — hey, I want to live to race another day.
  • Cargo Net: A huge A-frame cargo net.
  • Black Ops: For reasons I cannot fathom, and despite completing it successfully many times, Black Ops, the perennial Bonefrog finish line obstacle, makes me nervous. This obstacle has you climb up a rope wall and then traverse a set of monkey bars before landing on a platform and climbing down a ladder. Here’s the thing. The monkey bars are really high up and below them is just this net. Did I mention the bar rotate. Oh, yeah, they do. I had to climb up the side truss to reach the bars, but I did it and slow and stead — double-handing each bar — I made it to the end.

I finished the Bonefrog Challenge in 1:39, good enough for third place in my age group, making this race a North American OCR Championships qualifier for me, which is pretty exciting. My overall impression of the event was that it was solid — overall a middle of the pack experience. It was not overly outstanding, but it was decently good. Some of the logistics could use tightening up. I enjoyed the course while wishing some adjustments could be made for fewer back-ups. Bonefrog is a “sometimes race” for me. If it works well with my calendar that’s great; if not that’s okay too. Bonefrog, I am sure we will meet again at some point. I look forward to it.

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Featured Review: North American OCR Championships 2018 – Team Relay & Charity Open

NES members Nicole, Steve, and Niki at the finish of the team relay

The last day of the North American OCR Championships featured two events, the Team Relay and the Charity Open 7K to benefit the Stratton Foundation. My team from OCR World Championships, Tiny^2 + 1, had once again joined forces for the team race at NorAm. Niki and Steve were good teammates from the Spahtens and excellent friends to do the team run with because we all were on the same page — camaraderie over competitiveness. After two days of racing, we weren’t “in it to win it” for the team relay. We wanted to each do our best and have a good time.

Sunday morning, I woke up to an extremely sore body. I didn’t want to move, much less run another obstacle course race. Additionally, the wet weather from the previous day had continued overnight. The rain was unabated. In a way this was a blessing; I had no notions that I would be competitive on my section of the team relay in the wet. I could focus, instead, on having fun. I find three day of sustained heavy competition to be too much for me, both physically and mentally. I like to race on Sunday at NorAm or OCRWC, but it has to be more a “fun time.”

The team race at the championship races, like NorAm and OCRWC, is designed for teams of three, where individuals can specialize in the areas of speed/endurance, strength, and technical. The speed/endurance section is the longest, and focuses on running and climbing the mountain. The racer tackling the strength portion of the relay will be doing the heavy carries and the hoists. The technical person is the obstacle specialist and does the rigs. For our team, Niki would handle speed, Steve would manage strength, and I would do technical.

After feedback last year about the strength section, it had gotten beefed up for NorAm. There were even some technical elements — La Gaffe and Skitch — , an interesting choice, and a band cutter, considering the rain. Speed was left the most obstacle “lite” though a last minute change made runners have to tackle Dragon’s Back on the speed course, instead of Rolling Thunder. This was a challenging adjustment for sure and made me supremely happy I was not doing the speed section. The technical portion of the course, covered a little over 3K and incorporated many of the obstacles from the 3K course from Friday.

Tiny^2 + 1 was part of the mixed open wave that started at 10:15 a.m. There was light rain as we headed off to the starting line to see Niki off on course. I knew that Niki would be out for around an hour, since she had some significant elevation to cover, and Steve would be out for around 40 minutes. That meant I had plenty of time to hang out before my turn came. While Niki ran, I spent time relaxing in the athlete lounge, basically an empty (but quiet!) room. I wanted to keep warm. It was raining and in the low 60s, which was fine if you were moving, but rough if you were hanging out in just a hoodie for a few hours.

After about 50 minutes, I headed out to the transition area to wait for Niki with Steve. At around 11:40 a.m., Niki arrived, having spent quite a while trying to keep her band at Dragon’s Back, with the weather causing the challenge and, ultimately, making it not a possibility that day.

Steve was off, so Niki and I went in so I could check my bag. Steve’s portion of the race featured an endless Wreckbag climb and the farmers carry, which was all pretty easy to see from the main area, so we were able to track his progress. The rain made La Gaffe impossible — I saw almost no one make it during my wait there — so Steve moved on. I knew he just had Skitch and then it was my turn. I headed out at 12:25 p.m.

I was cold and stiff. My arms and quads were killing me but I made myself move at a light jog. It helped. The first obstacle was Skull Valley. Going into the technical section of the team relay I knew I would not keep my band. It was a function of the weather but also because Stairway to Heaven was on course. I had lost my band there during the 15K before it rained. I had no hope today. That might have been discouraging, but, in fact, for the Sunday race it was liberating. I could have fun and try my best. My arms could barely move, so I would do what I could do — no problem.

With this strategy, I climbed up to Skull Valley. I grasped the skulls and moved along. What had been easy enough on Friday with fresh arms felt like torture, as if my arms were being pulled out of my body. During the monkey bars I decided to give up my band here. I wanted to do it on my terms and not lose two to Stairway to Heaven.

Even though I had given up my band, I wanted to put in a solid race. I did the full rope climb, and made it over the Confidence Wall, where you had to climb a 12′ wall with a rope. Both of these obstacles were slippery in the rain and no joke as a result.

The course then took racers uphill to Stairway. I had thought the climb would be lengthier, like the section of the 15K that brought us to Stairway, but it was a short hike, necessitating only a brief bit of walking. I was determined to run and move along at a decent speed. I cut my losses at Stairway before moving on to the metal ladders. I like to do skinny ladder climbs like this sideways because it uses way less arm strength. It worked like a charm here.

I ran down the hill to trapeze. Just like Saturday, it was soaking wet. I made it about 3/4 of the way through before slipping off. I did a quick ladder wall before running over to the rig with the rings and low monkey bars from the 3K course. I noticed that some adjustments had been made. There were two hanging rings for you to step in under the monkey bars and a t-bar replaced the third ring on the first set of the rig. This meant, there was a section with two rings, a small ball (which you could skip) and a t-grip. Then there was a section with rings hanging below the low monkey bars, and finally there was the section with four ropes, unaltered from earlier races. I was excited to try something new at this point in the weekend — it was a nice mix-up for the mind, plus, I was approaching this from a “have fun” standpoint. I made a couple of attempts and kept slipping off the t-shaped bar, but I wanted to keep at it. If I got past that point, I thought I could do it. I persisted and managed to make it to the low monkey bars. I “walked” through, getting to the first rope, which I s-hooked around my foot and stood up. I transitioned to the next rope, where there was a knot. My arms were tired, so I took the opportunity to sit on the knot for a little and regroup before finishing the rig. Excellent!

There were just a few obstacles left. I ran down to the floating walls and quickly made my way through. Urban Sky proved too much for me at this point in the weekend, and I could only make the first section. I ran on. My teammates were waiting right beyond the car obstacle. We met up and raced over to the final slip wall, The Knot. The wall was so slick at this point, I couldn’t even make it to the rope (which had, of course, been raised so that it was harder to reach). Steve ended up helping me and Niki make it to the top before heading up himself solo — nicely done, sir! We crossed the line at just around 1:10 p.m.

 

 

There was little time to celebrate before the charity run. Technically, the charity 7K started at 1:00 p.m., which was the time that Steve and I had registered for; however, we were promised that we could go off after that — they would release waves every 20 minutes. We grabbed our chips and bibs and headed back to the starting line. There was no one there, and the rain was coming down. It was 1:20 p.m., so we headed out on course.

Much like at OCRWC, the charity run was a do-as-you-like fun run for us. We had covered over a half marathon’s worth of miles over the past few days, and another 7K, with a trip up the mountain wasn’t happening. Most of the charity runners I saw felt the same. This was an opportunity to play as we liked on obstacles and meander around the course.

Steve and I headed out, running into a band of other NE Spahtens mid-way. We walked with them for a while, tackling the inverted wall and watching people play on the Force 5 Rig before heading out on our own again. We goofed around on La Gaffe, which was way too wet to do anything serious on and then walked over to the rig that had been modified for the team relay. There, we ran into Josh and Molly. After playing around on the rig for a few minutes, we jogged to the finish line, having run just over a mile and spending around 35 minutes on course.

I love that the charity open exists for those individuals who are at NorAm with family and don’t want to tackle the full 15K or didn’t qualify. For those of us who are on day three of racing, it’s a fun way to donate some money to charity and have one last good time with friends. Rain and a desire for lunch kept my frolicking short, and that was just right. A nice cap to the weekend.

NorAm was a blast. I loved the course, which was world-class. I appreciated that it was a smaller event than OCRWC. NorAm felt more intimate and was much less stressful to navigate. Completing the 3K with my band was the culmination of almost a year of training. The progress I showed with my physical and mental strength on the 15K was encouraging and makes me want to work for next year. Running with friends during the team relay and the charity open event were a wonderful finish to a weekend spent with some pretty cool folks doing something I love.

NorAm at Stratton was the highlight of a great race season. I am super super super hoping that NorAm is at Stratton again. I thought it was a good venue (minus the pricey food — but parking was great, the mountain excellent, and lodging adequate). The course layout couldn’t have been better; even though we all hate a “death march,” the one on the 15K was at least reasonable. I was so pleased about the adjustments made so that the course was height accessible, that I ran over to race director, Adrian, when I saw him at the venue to personally thank him. In sum, NorAm delivered.

What’s next? The countdown to hear about the 2019 location for NorAm, figuring out where to make my qualification attempt (F.I.T. in November?), and then training for the big event. I hope to see you at the 2019 NorAm Champs!

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Featured Review: North American OCR Championships 2018 – 15K

NES members at finish line

15K. 39 obstacles. Hard core. The 2018 North American OCR Championships delivered on the difficulty with the 15K race, which had over twice the number of obstacles from Friday’s 3K course and what felt like infinitely more feet of elevation.

The women 30 – 34 wave set out early in the day at 9:15 a.m., an amazing privilege, not the least because rain was predicted for the afternoon. The start-of-race experience was much the same as on Friday. Loud music…check. MC…check. The good news was that they didn’t keep us in the corral long before sending us on our way at exactly 9:15 a.m. Unlike with the 3K, we didn’t do a phased wave start but were able to all go out on the course at the same time. We were on our way!

The course took racers up in a short incline in much the same way as the 3K. We faced the 4′ and 6′ walls before continuing up the mountain, in a way decidedly not like the 3K course. The hike up Stratton Mountain was intense, and it was lengthy. We climbed continuously until mile 2.25. The climb was, simply put, a beat-down and exhausting. It was relentless. The saving grace was that the weather was clear and cool and conditions were good. We were able to keep moving at a fairly decent climbing pace. The views were spectacular.

At the top of the mountain, we finally encountered some obstacles. I don’t quite recall everything between obstacles three and five on the map. I know that Log Runner had racers walk up a short inclined balance beam. The ramp wall would have been an inclined slip wall with ropes, I imagine, but I don’t remember that obstacle being at that position. Q Steps was similar to the American Ninja Warrior style quintuple steps, though you were able to put your hands on one set of steps and your feet on the other to move your way though.

I actually think that obstacle six on the map, Pipe Dreams, preceded the previous set of obstacles. Pipe Dreams challenged racers to do a short rope climb to a horizontal pipe, which the racers then had to shimmy along with hands, before a rope down to the ground. (Shale Hill regulars will know that this obstacle is an easier version of the zig-zag obstacle.)

We stayed on top of the mountain for the first rig. I saw a number of folks have issues with this rig and definitely some bands were lost here. I did just fine. The rig featured rings to a horizontal rectangular pipe. There were also some monkey bars and a rope to the final bell.

I grabbed some water from the water stations as I headed down the mountain. The water stations were very intelligently organized for the 15K with many of them being able to be visited twice — both going and coming on the course. As a result, I was totally fine with bringing no hydration, even though I was out on the course for four and a half hours. Moderate temperatures and well-positioned water stations made this possible.

We encountered a barbed wire crawl on the way down the mountain. The map lists obstacle nine as Rolling Thunder, though I recall that obstacle actually being positioned after the through wall. Regardless, Rolling Thunder is an obstacle from Bone Frog that has tires wrapped around a horizontal board, which racers have to roll themselves over. The tires are about face-level for me, so this is a bit tricky, but I managed to wedge myself between the small space between two tires and get over.

What I recall before Rolling Thunder is obstacles ten through thirteen. The quarter pipe was steep enough that I had to run at it twice. A volunteer encouraged me that I really needed to commit to racing up the incline and leaping to grab the top. To get down, racers had to roll across a cargo net and then climb another net on the other side.

The next obstacle was Dragon’s Back. At OCR World Championships, I hadn’t been able to get up this obstacle because it was so wet. At NorAm, conditions were dry, and they had added a rope. I climbed up. “I’m not afraid of heights,” I thought, “This will be no problem.” And I promptly freaked out.

How to describe Dragon’s Back? The obstacle is almost entirely mental and requires racers to leap off a platform, onto a board, angled away, and grab a pole. If you really want to understand, I recommend an article I found called, “Dragon’s Back Open Letter” (Content note: swearing, discussions of mental health issues). I do not kid you when I say I was up there unable to move. I have never really been afraid of anything during my time as an OCR athlete, and I had no idea what to do. I was extremely lucky that my OCR friend, Niki, came along while I was stalled. She encouraged me, told me I could do it, demonstrated by doing it herself. I really really really didn’t want to lose my band here. This obstacle was mental, and I didn’t want to lose my band on something mental. Something physical, something where my strength gave out? Fine. This? Not fine.

I had many false starts. I almost jumped and didn’t. Until finally, I did. And I made it. And there was one more jump to go. It was farther. How could I make it? I was going to miss and end up splattered on that wall and it was going to be terrible and I definitely shouldn’t and okay I could do this, I would do this because I wanted my band and I couldn’t lose it this way and and and…I jumped, and I made it. And I burst into hysterical tears while Niki hugged me. To anyone who has stood on the top of Dragon’s Back and not made the leap, I understand.

I pulled myself into some semblance of decent shape and moved over to the low rig, a super low structure with hanging loops that requires racers to move through without touching the ground. You have to keep yourself suspended with feet in loops and arms supporting you as you move forward. But I was back in familiar territory with this obstacle, pleasantly so, and I made my way through without too much difficulty.

I jumped a quick through wall on the way back down the mountain. In terms of mileage, we were around half way through. The next section was going to be terrible though — a hoist, a farmers carry, and a Wreckbag carry with a crawl. (Note: The hurdles listed on the NorAm 15K map were definitely not on the course.) The hoist was pretty standard, with racers having to use a pulley to lift a 50 pound Wreckbag. The rope was skinny, which was annoying, but I used the technique that Rob Butler, owner of Shale Hill, taught me at one of their summer training camps, and was able to get it up. For the farmers carry, we actually only had to take one cloth bucket of sand, so I alternated between hugging it in front and balancing it on my shoulder. I survived, but I was felt myself tiring. The 50 pound Wreckbag carry was twice the distance of the 3K and one of the most horrible parts of the NorAm experience. I struggled. I weigh 120 pounds, so the Wreckbag was 42% of my body weight, a significant increase in mass. My shoulders and spine protested as I trudged super slowly up the mountain. I almost didn’t make it to the crawl, but I did. The bag came off my shoulders as I turned to go downhill and under the crawl. Unfortunately, after dragging the bag through the crawl, a new problem presented itself; how would I get the bag back up? I writhed around on the ground, while racers walked by sympathetically offering encouragement. Somehow, I managed to get the bag shouldered and my body moving again. I walked down with a guy who distracted me with pleasant talk. Carries over. Thank goodness. Never again.

I was beat, but there were some technical obstacles up next, and I had to maintain my focus. I ran downhill and vaulted over the inverted wall before heading into the tent to the Force 5 Rig. I had done well on this during the 3K and hoped to do well again. Fortunately, I did. The underhand grip on the rectangular blocks worked well once more, and I made my way through with focus and intentionality.

Next up was La Gaffe and the low crawl up to Skitch, just like on the 3K. I had some time for trial and error on Skitch on Friday and was able to fly through during the 15K without any issue.

I was feeling optimistic at this point in the race. Most of the challenging upcoming obstacles were ones that I have managed the previous day. Up next were a couple other obstacles from the 3K, Skull Valley followed by the rope climb. The 15K course then diverged from the 3K course to take us up to a tall wall with a rope. The top of the wall was significantly thick for added difficulty.

I jogged along lightly uphill until I came along to Stairway to Heaven, an a-frame with steps that you have to ascend with your hands. I had been pleased to do well on this obstacle at OCRWC and hadn’t given it much thought since then since I had been doing similar / enhanced training. When I approached the obstacle I felt a bit of concern. The steps that had been easy for me to reach at OCRWC, so I was displeased to see that they started quite a bit higher and that the angle of the steps seemed adjusted with more space at top and between steps. The volunteer was telling racers that we could use our legs to get started. I braced myself against the two boards with my legs and shimmied up until I got my hands around the first step. I did a series of pull-ups to move up the stairs with my hands until I got to the top step. I went to transition and couldn’t make it. The reach! Back down to the ground. I couldn’t believe it. I had my band. I had done a bunch of really hard obstacles. I had done this obstacle before without any issue! Many times in fact.

I stayed at Stairway to Heaven and tried again and again and again. Over time, my body began to shake with fatigue. I took a break for water and tried again. Then it started to rain. At this point, I made the decision to move on. It was a difficult choice, but, I think, it was the right one. I felt sad as the volunteer cut the band off my wrist. I had done a lot of hold onto this band. I was at around the 12K mark and had obstacles that I had completed before ahead of me. However, with the rain, I knew things were going to get hard. I was exhausted, and I needed to finish. A fellow racer gave me a pat on the back and said, “Good job.” I super appreciated that lady’s support!

I trekked uphill. I was spent, but I kept a positive mental attitude and moved forward, though I couldn’t believe we had to walk up the mountain again. I just wanted to keep moving. After what seemed like ages and ages of climbing, I came to two obstacles. The first was Z-man, a set of horizontal board making a z-shape, shifted 90 degrees. I climbed over no problem and ran over to the next obstacle, top shelf. This obstacle had racers climb to a board using a rope and then climb over a board right above it. Both of these obstacles were fine, even in my tired state.

I ran along until I reached a wall with a rope. I had done something like this at Shale Hill many times, so I confidently made it over the wall. Following that, the course map had stated we’d come to a cargo net, but I didn’t see it on course. I continued onward running as best I could on super exhausted legs. I just wanted to finish. I came to the caving ladders, which I quickly ascended.

I knew that from there we had about a mile and a half to go. I had to do this. We met back up with the 3K course, so I knew what to expect. I headed over to Trapeze. At this point the rain was really coming down and the rigs were all soaked. I had made it through Trapeze with zero problem during the 3K but with the rain, I kept rolling off the monkey bar section. I made it about 2/3 of the way through, tried around three times and decided to move on to the rope climb, which proved just fine. Next up was the second rig. The first set of rings went well, but the low rectangular bars were super slick, and I couldn’t make it to the ropes, despite multiple attempts. I wanted to save something for the team relay the next day, so I moved on to the floating walls, which I was able to make my way through, slowly but steadily.

I came up to Urban Sky where I made, again, multiple attempts before deciding I was too exhausted and the rig was too wet for my efforts to have gains. I had only missed four obstacles on the entire 15K course, and I had given it significant effort. I was satisfied. I ran up to Car Jacked, rolled over the cars, and up to the final obstacle, The Knot. I ran as best I could at the slip wall, which was wet. I slid down, re-tried, and made it to the rope. I pulled myself up and over and ran across the finish line. I was so relieved to do done!

I finished the 15K course in 4:31 with only four obstacle failures — one of which I had done last year and three of which I had done the day before in better weather. I had put forth a significant effort and showed improvement. When I had failed an obstacle, I was able to keep a good attitude and motivation and move on. I also recognize that there are definitely some areas for improvement next year. When I posted my results to the tool that I use with my coaches I finished out my post-workout comments by writing, “Brainstorming 15K NorAm 2019 goals… How do you feel about pull-up negatives? ;-)” 2019 NorAm Champs? I can’t wait.

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Featured Review: North American OCR Championships 2018 – 3K

Shaina and Aaron at NorAm OCR Champs start

The story of my 3K race at the North American OCR Championships begins with the past. In October 2017, I traveled to Canada to participate in the OCR World Championships. I had trained hard. I thought I was ready. But I wasn’t. The course was harder than I anticipated and the difference between my expectations for my success and reality were mentally challenging. I had been convinced I would keep at least one of my bands — the symbol for having 100% obstacle completion. I was so focused on this goal that, in some ways, I let my enjoyment of the experience slip me by.

I came back from Canada convinced not to let that happen again. My thoughts were two-fold. I wanted to train smarter (since I was training hard enough). I also wanted to adjust my expectations. To this end, in December, I recruited professional help by enlisting Hart Strength & Endurance Coaching. I got a training log and started recording all my workout meticulously. I also did mental work around goal setting and making sure that the goals I created were not too singular. There had to be many definitions around success and incremental levels to track growth.

My target race was the North American OCR Championships. I had qualified for both this race and the World Championships in August at F.I.T. Challenge but with OCRWC traveling to London, I was going to focus on a more local effort. I wanted to do well at the NorAm Champs and put in a performance where I felt I had given 100% effort. I wanted to race and feel good about my results.

The 2018 NorAm Championships are taking place as I write this in Stratton, Vermont. Stratton is only a 105 minute drive from my home, meaning I was able to drive up Friday morning before my 9:45 a.m. wave for the 30 – 39 women. I arrived at Stratton in plenty of time, which was a good thing since it was a bit challenging to figure out where I needed to be. I ended up driving around and asking for directions. The NorAm Champs main area was located right near the heart of the Stratton ski lodge. I found parking and walked around until I found check-in.

Unlike at OCR Championships, the check-in was entirely stress-free. Not only was I able to walk right up to the registration area, but friendly faces were behind the counter in the form of fellow NE Spahtens, Niki and Sandy. I had registered for the Friday 3K, the Saturday 15K, and the Sunday team relay and charity races. I got four bibs and three bands for the 3K, 15K, and team relay.

After getting my packets, I went over and got my t-shirts. I was excited to find that we got different ones for each race. I have three identical shirts from OCRWC, plus one different one for the OCRWC charity run. From NorAm, I’ll have four unique shirts with different colors, all marked with their distance. Because registration had been so smooth, I had plenty of time before my wave. I chose to take the time to organize the items I had gotten at registration, try to relax, and check my bag. I am not usually nervous before I race, but this was a race where I wanted to do well, and the result was some stress. I wanted to channel that feeling to keep focused and energized on the course.

A little before 9:45 a.m., I headed over to the starting area. One thing I have never liked is how loud music at the starting gate is at races. It’s painful (and bad for people’s hearing). I was happy to see that Coach Pain had been replaced with a new starting line person. I am not one for getting amped up with an MC at the starting line, but I was happy to not have to be offended by Coach Pain, who struck me as a bit of a misogynist at OCRWC.

The 3K was designed so that sets of around a dozen people went out at a time, meaning that the entire wave would start over the period of ten minutes or so. I was fortunate enough to be in the first set of 12 at the starting gate. I was ready to get moving and pleased when announcements were over and we were sent out on the course.

The 3K (1.8 mile) course started with a modest climb. (Note: I logged the course at more like 2.5 miles, but maybe I just did a lot of back and forth?) I was not particularly fast out of the gate, but I persistently jogged uphill passing a few folks. I was in this to complete obstacles, not to worry about my time. I will never be the fastest athlete, but I wanted to have quality obstacle completion. The weather was perfect. It was cloudy with a little bit of a breeze and temperatures right around 70 degrees. It felt like the first nice day in weeks, and I was pleased to be outdoors doing something I enjoy. Soon, I hit the first set of obstacles, a 4′ wall, and then a 6′ wall a little farther down the course. From there, it was a bit of a downhill jog to the Wreckbag carry. I am not a fan of carries, which I always find super challenging and, which tend to slow me down. It took me a while to shoulder the 50 lb Wreckbag, but, once I did, I wanted to move as efficiently as I could so as to get it off my back. The Wreckbag carry was long enough while still being manageable.

I was a bit tired from the carry, but two obstacles were immediately up next. First, there was an inverted wall. Because it was downhill, I was able to get a good running start and jump to grab the top without too much issue. From there, racers proceeded into a tent where we would face our first technical obstacle of the day, the Force 5 Rig. On my way over to the starting line, I had watched a few of the men come in and tackle this obstacle, and was a bit concerned at how challenging it appeared. It would definitely make or break a lot of people’s attempts to keep their band. The Force 5 Rig featured a t-shaped grip that transitioned to a flat rectangular wide grip. From there, racers transitions to a wildly swinging wheel before moving back to a t-shaped grip and then a flat wide grip.

When I approached the Force 5 Rig, I tried to focus and calm myself. I’d been doing a lot of grip strength intensive exercises, and this is where that work could pay off. I climbed the platform so that I could reach up and grab the t-grip. It was a stretch but possible, which was a relief since looking at the rig before I was unsure if the reach would be too far for me. I was happy to see that it was not. In fact, NorAm did a fantastic job making it possible for shorter athletes like me to reach everything. (Note: I am 5 feet tall.) I give race director, Adrian Bijanada, and the OCR Champs team huge props for this. Thank you. I greatly struggled getting onto obstacles that I could have completed at OCRWC. At NorAm Champs, I was given the chance to test myself on these obstacle because the height was not a hindrance.

I took a decent swing, and I was on the rig. I opted for an underhand hold on the rectangular grip, an approach which had seemed to have the highest level of success. It worked. I swung immediately to the wheel, not wanting to lose momentum. From there, I grabbed the next t-shaped hold. I was a bit shaky, so I took a moment to steady myself and kip to get a good grab of the final, most challenging, rectangular grip. I held on with all my worth and smacked the bell. I had done it. I had completed an obstacle I legitimately did not think was possible for me. I felt weak with relief and so drained that I was nauseous for a spell. I walked and tried to regroup. This was still just the beginning of the race.

Up next was La Gaffe, an interesting obstacle with poles that racers had to hang on and move with the weight of their body. I had found this obstacle to be different and interesting at OCRWC and was glad it was at NorAm Champs. I got through without difficulty, knowing from experience, that the obstacle is a lot easier if you keep your center of gravity low on the pole.

I ran over to the low crawl that went up the hill. No fake barbed wire here — this as the real stuff but not too low. I was quite curious about the next obstacle, Skitch. It had been the focus of much social media attention. I had carefully watched a video in which the NorAm crew talked about technique. Skitch featured two horizontal rods. Racers had to take hooks with straight handles and work them down one pole, while hanging from below, then transition to the second pole and move along it to a bell. In the video on the NorAm site, this obstacle seemed “do-able” but when I came to the obstacle, there was a mass of people in the re-try lane. The transition from the lower to the upper bar was quite challenging, and I had to give Skitch multiple attempts. I kept having my hook on the lower bar supporting the transition slip off. It was fairly hard getting both hooks off the high-up poles at my height, and I was worried about them crashing into my face. I tried Skitch about a half dozen times before I successfully made the transition — practice made perfect, I guess. Rumors are that there were some injuries at Skitch, such as pinched fingers and people getting hit by falling hooks, so I might guess that this obstacle gets adjusted for tomorrow.

Next up was Skull Valley. This obstacle had bested me at OCRWC based on issues of height accessibility. As a result, I was beyond pleased to see that for NorAm Champs Skull Valley featured a low ring that I could step into so as to access the main Skull Valley obstacle. Turns out, Skull Valley, if you can get on it, is super fun and not too bad. I had a fun time swinging from skull-shaped hand-grips to some short monkey bars to another set of skull grips. Good times.

I was starting to feel as though I might have a chance to keep my band. All I needed was some focus, luck, and persistence. I still had some tough obstacles to go. I had a job to do. Up next was Trapeze, a fun rig featuring a trapeze, uneven monkey bars, and another trapeze. Just the kind of rig that I enjoy. I breezed through.

The stress of wanting to do well at this race had me breathing heavy, so I took a few minutes to walk and recollect myself as I headed to the rope climb. This was your standard rope climb, so I did the s-hook and worked my way up. From there, I headed over to Rig 1, which featured rings and a rope to low monkey bars to another set of four ropes, two of which had knots at the bottom. I took a brief rest on one of those knotted ropes to breath before swinging my way to the final bell.

From there I quickly came to the Floating Walls. This had been my highlight obstacle from OCRWC — super fun! I made my way through.

As I came down the cargo net on the back on the Floating Walls, I saw Urban Sky. This was the last complicated rig of the day, and it was a doozy. Urban Sky had three sections, with breaks in between. The first section was a wheel to a ring to an angled wheel to a rope. I swag my way across and stopped to shake out my arms before doing the cork-screw section. The last section was the most challenging with a trapeze to two horizontal levers that angled with the weight of your body. I kipped to make a long reach to the last trapeze and hit the bell. I had done it. Urban Sky had bested me at OCRWC but this time it was no problem. I was so pleased. I knew I was going to keep my band, the culmination of almost a year of goal setting and training. I don’t consider myself an emotional person, but I felt a bit choked up.

I raced over to Car Jacked, where I rolled my way over two wrecked cars. The last obstacle was in sight, The Knot, a slip wall with a rope. I dashed up and across the finish line. I couldn’t believe it as the announcer shouted out about how I was a racer who had kept my band and finished 100% of the obstacles. Other than Skitch, I’d gotten them all on the first try.

Athletics loves to celebrate stories of people who have hard work pay off. It’s great when that happens. That’s what happened at the 3K race at NorAm Champs for me this year. But shouldn’t we also celebrate the process? I learned a lot from the hard work that didn’t pay off at OCRWC last year. Some days you win and some days you lose. The wins are great. The loses are not, and the kind of learning it provides isn’t fun, but it can pay off. It helped me become very intentional this year with my training, something that I’ve found to be a joy throughout the process because the effort I put in feels like growth.

Tomorrow, I’ll race the 15K course at NorAm Champs. Maybe it will be my day. Maybe it won’t. But I’m excited, focused, and ready to give it my all.

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Featured Review: Ragnar Trail Vermont 2018

Ragnar Vermont 2018 medals

“We experienced some next level Noah’s Arc shit this weekend, so how is it even possible that I have a sunburn?” I posted on Facebook to the NES Ninja Trail group page the afternoon after getting home from Ragnar Trail Vermont. My teammates agreed — nothing could sum up the weekend better.

2018 was my third running Ragnar Trail with the NES Ninjas (and the team’s fourth year in existence). This year, for the first time since Ragnar Trail came to New England, the event was not at Northfield Mountain in Northfield, Massachusetts but instead at Mount Ascutney in West Windsor, Vermont.

Ragnar Trail is much like the road relay version. You put together a team of your friends — eight folks in this case (versus 12 for the road version). Over the course of around 36 hours, you’ll all take turns running. For the road relay, you do a point-to-point race, with different racers running different distances based on ability. The nice thing about Ragnar Trail is that there’s no point-to-point aspect. Instead of following your runner in a van, you’re camping out. However, each runner has to run the same distance. There are three different loops of trails that each participant must tackle — a red long loop, a yellow mid-distance loop, and a green short loop. The elevation change and degree of technical trail running tend to correspond to the color of the loop as well, with red having the most elevation and technical elements and green having the least. For Ragnar Trail Vermont, the red loop was around 1,782 feet of elevation and 7.2 miles, the yellow loop was 1,064 feet of elevation and 4.5 miles, and the green loop was 731 feet of elevation and 3.1 miles. Based on a runner’s order they ran on their team, which trail they tackled first would vary; however, everyone had to be able to run 14.8 miles, total, and tackle all that elevation. In terms of the order I would run, I was tackling red, yellow, then green. The last two years I had run yellow, green, red, making this a nice change.

Many members of the Ninjas opted to head up and camp out Thursday night because of the 8:00 a.m. start time. I chose to wake up early on Friday and make the hour and 45 minute trek. On my way in, I nearly drove past the parking lot and had to double back. Parking was a bit of an odd situation, occurring in the yard in back of a person’s house. The volunteers seemed a bit confused since I had arrived early before any word from Ragnar HQ. I soon realized that the parking was not as close to the venue as we were used to in Northfield, where I could park and easily walk my gear up the hill. Nope; not here. I was going to have to drive over to the venue, drop off my stuff, drive back to park, and then take a shuttle back to the venue again. Kind of a drag, but it worked. I dropped for my tent, sleeping bag, and bags at base camp, said a quick, “Hello,” and headed back to parking. There I paid the $10 fee, parking my car towards to the top of the hill. At that point it was after 7:00 a.m. and shuttles were running and volunteers had been briefed. This worked fine for me but didn’t work so well for my teammates that arrived super early on Friday so as to get organized before the race started. Ragnar HQ had moved everyone’s start time up and hour, in anticipation of bad weather, but the parking situation was not adjusted. This meant that members of my team were forced to trek on foot the distance from the parking lot to the venue. Not cool.

The set-up in Vermont was a fair bit different than what we were used to from Massachusetts. The main Ragnar transition and festival area was located at the top of a small hill, with the camping area arranged in what must normally be a gravel parking lot located below. The camping area was all dirt, not grass like in Northfield, and a bit more cramped than we were used to. Nevertheless, Ragnar HQ had been kind enough to give the multiple New England Spahtens teams that were at Ragnar Trail a shared area reserved just for us. Pretty good. I had been super lucky that fellow NES member, Amy had put my tent together while I was away sorting out my car. I merely had to drop my gear inside, and I was all good to go. My team had done their check-in while I was away, since I was the last to arrive. The group was fairly similar to last year, comprised of Jess, Jeff, Shaina, Josh, Roger, Bobby, Kelly, and me. Kelly was a new addition, and a welcome one — she was fantastic on our Ragnar Cape Cod team in May. Jess’s brother, Geoff, was there as our official volunteer. He was also filling in on one of Josh’s runs. Alas, Josh had gotten himself a stress fracture during a recent half marathon attempt and was on the DL. Jeff would be running Josh’s long red loop, Geoff was doing the middle length run, and Josh planned to try his shortest run on the green loop.

At around 7:45 a.m., all of us organized, the NES Ninjas made our way up to the main festival area to see off our first runner, Roger. He was running first because he had to leave early on Saturday to make a wedding. The walk up to the festival area to cheer on Roger was my first time seeing how things were arranged. It struck me immediately how much more cramped everything was compared to Northfield yet again. The tents were fairly close together, and instead of having everything in a wide circle, there was a bit of a congested section with tents on either side. Over the course of the weekend, the area ended up not being quite as congested as I had feared, but visually the area was a bit less pleasing than Northfield. Other than that, the layout was similar. There were vendor tents from brands like RxBar and Salomon. There was the main transition tent where you’d go to switch out runners. Like usual, outside the tent was a screen where you’d get information about when your runner was a quarter mile from the transition area. (The trail had a sensor mat about a quarter mile out and a chip in the bib, which is how this information was transmitted). There was also a campfire area, a place to fill water bottles, a Ragnar merch tent, and a beer tent. Unlike in Northfield, the food was not part of the main area but was instead up another smaller hill. Portable bathrooms were beyond that.

Roger entered the transition tent and the rest of the team lined up along the outgoing trail to cheer him on. The race started promptly at 8:00 a.m., and we were on our way. The weather was super humid and overcast with some light rain — more of a sprinkling at this point — so we expected Roger in from his run in a little over half an hour.

I was scheduled as runner six this year, which meant that I wasn’t slated to start running until around 12:50 p.m., if we stayed on pace. I had plenty of time to kill. I walked around the festival area a bit, and headed back to camp to organize my stuff in the tent and unpack the food I had brought to share with the team — deluxe things like Cheez-its, peanut butter M&Ms, and Twizzlers. Our team’s area was a good mix of spaces that allowed for group interaction and as-needed quiet time. Each member of our team had brought their own personal tent and Shaina had brought a large pop-up tent under which my teammates had arranged some chairs for sitting and chatting and a large table for us to store our shared food items.

I spent much of the morning hanging out and walking up to the transition tent now and again to welcome back folks after their runs. At about an hour before the time for my first run, I began to organize myself for the longest run of the weekend. I can knock out seven miles at at 9:45 pace fairly easily on the road, but on trails I was anticipating more like a 15:00 pace. That meant being on the trails for only a little under two hours. I wanted water and a snack for the journey. I changed into running tights, a tank, my good Darn Tough endurance socks, and my Altra Lone Peaks. I grabbed Nathan my hydration vest, threw some chomps in a front pocket and made sure to fill the water jugs that went on the front. (Forgive the pun but they are literally jugs that rest on your jugs if you’re a women and have this hydration vest. The aesthetic leaves something to be desired, but the Nathan vest I has solved the chaffing problems of my former hydration backpack. It’s comfortable and effective.) I had my gear, I was dressed appropriately, I’d had a light lunch. I was ready to go.

I headed up to the transition tent with my team. Right at the anticipated time, our team name flashed up on the board indicating that Jeff, who had run before me, was on pace. I went into the tent, grabbed a red wrist band to indicate I was tackling the red loop, and soon Jeff was there. We did our celebratory #teamchestbump, and I was on my way.

Immediately out on the trails I noticed a difference compared with Northfield Mountain. In Massachusetts, the trails that we had tackled where mostly designed for hiking with some mix of larger fire roads. The trails at Ascutney were all designed with mountain biking in mind. The big difference was that the hiking trails at Northfield went straight up the mountain, while the trails at Ascutney had lots of switchbacks and zigged and zagged up the mountain. This meant that I was able to keep up a decent pace along the first mile of the run, even as I was gaining elevation. Because the elevation was gradual via the switchbacks, I was able to trot along at a 13:20 pace for the first mile — pretty good considering that we really climbed the mountain. At this point, the red and yellow trails were running in tandem, making me happy to consider that this section of trail seemed “do-able” for when I would run my overnight leg.

The red trail wandered into the woods, at some point splitting from the yellow loop, and took a steep turn up at the 2.5 mile mark, slowing me down from mile two to three. The section in the woods was lovely though with runners going past a small waterfall and across bridges. The trail continued relentlessly upward with switchbacks in a way that was starting to get a bit tiring. Unlike in Northfield, the trail never seemed to reach a peak and then descent along fast fire roads. Instead, we were on single track through the woods until almost the end.

At around the five mile mark, the light rain that had been keeping me from overheating for the entirety of the run turned heavy, and I could hear the pounding on the forest canopy. Soon the trail was wet, and seriously slow, enough to slow me down a bit in the last mile in the woods. I was also tired of all the switchbacks and stress on the ankles at this point. The trails were technical, followed by technical, followed by technical, making it hard to really make up time. I was thus immensely happy when we emerged from the trees and had a section of slight downhill through a massive meadow. The rain was really coming down, but I didn’t care as I ran through the meadow at a 9:15 mile. I wanted to push and make up some time. I had posted that I would run 15:00 miles, and I was just a few seconds shy of that goal. I wanted to get my time down, and here was where I could do it. As I got wetter and wetter, I imagined how nice this section of trail would be in clear weather during an overnight run when the stars would be in evidence.

The red loop rejoined the yellow loop a little over half a mile out from the exchange. We did a few road crossings before heading back into the woods to make our way along another set of switchbacks (endless switchbacks). I skidded along on the wet ground. Where the trails joined and there was lots of traffic, things were already getting muddy. Fortunately, the end was in sight. I raced up the last hill, crossed the finish line, and made my way into the exchange tent having averaged 14:55 miles, despite adverse conditions.

There was Shaina, but, in her Dryrobe, she didn’t look ready to go out for any trail running. A volunteer handed me a card. It turned out that while I was on out on the trails experiencing all the rain, a halt had been called to the race due to lightning that was spotted in the area. We were all told to clear out of the main festival area and wait two hours at our campsites. We would start again based on when we had come in, making our team off course until around 4:45 p.m. Major bummer.

I made my way back to the Ninjas’ camp. I was soaked and hungry. Water was gushing down from up above and the camp had already become a flood. My tent was mercifully dry inside. I changed into clean clothing and left my muddy sopping wet shoes outside. At least the rain could wash the mud away. I put on flip-flops unwilling to sacrifice another pair of shoes at this point but grabbed my Dryrode so as least everything but my feet would be dry.

My team was hanging out in the pop-up tent. I snagged a chair and the box of Cheez-its and snacked while I watched my team hang an extra tarp up for additional sheltered area. The other ladies on my team also did some trenching to divert the water from the campsite. I am not sure if their Army Corp of Engineers-style labors paid off, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Everything was moist. Water cascaded off the top of the tent in sheets as we waited.

4:45 p.m. came slowly, but at least I had the best people to hang out with. We passed the time chatting and snacking, staying sort-of dry under the tent. The rain continued. At the appointed time, we headed up to the transition. The all clear had already come. It was impossible to discern the nature of the announcements that Ragnar HQ made up at the festival from down at camp and there was basically no cell service for the Ragnar text updates, so we intuited this information based on seeing folks back on the trails. Ragnar had begun by releasing the teams whose start times were delayed by the hold, and we got to hold our place in lined based on my finish time.

After seeing Shaina off on her first run of the event, the rest of the team headed up the hill a ways to get our free Friday dinner. There were a number of food trucks serving items like mac ‘n cheese, bean and avocado bowls, crepes, BBQ, and pizza. Definitely more options than at the Massachusetts event, where we were subjected to the subpar food of B.Good. I opted for a delicious black bean, quinoa, avocado bowl from Goatacado, which was so much better than what I had gotten at Ragnar Trail the past two years. We had also gotten coupons for free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but the ice cream truck had gotten delayed by the weather — no ice cream yet. I came back after 6:00 p.m. with Jeff to get a s’mores ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s folks after they arrived.

With the continuing rain and heavy foot traffic, the festival area was getting to be a bit of a mess with mud everywhere. Hanging out down at camp in the tents and not in the rain seemed desirable. Plus, it was getting late, and I was tired. I had gotten up before the sun and thought I’d get some rest before my yellow loop run. Originally scheduled for a little after 10:00 p.m., with the delay, I knew I wasn’t going to be running until after midnight if we kept on pace. I headed to my tent to get some shut-eye at around 8:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the deep bass of the music playing up at the festival was super annoyingly audible down at the camp and kept me awake for a little while. Knowing that people will take the opportunity to sleep when they can at irregular hours, I wish that events like Ragnar would keep the music at a minimum or, at least, at a more discrete level. When quiet hours started around 10:00 p.m., I fell asleep.

I got up a little before midnight to change and get ready for my night run. When I emerged from my tent to the continuing rain, I also received the news that we were behind schedule. Way behind. Trail conditions had gone from bad to worse. We were consistently losing 15 to 30 minutes per runner. Bobby was out on his long red loop and Jeff still had a green to go before I ran. I was looking at a start time of a little before 2:00 a.m., though things were pretty variable at this point. Nothing to do but wait.

As I waited, news trickled in. The yellow loop had gotten so bad a section had washed out, and the trail required a re-route, removing a quarter to a half mile of loop. At this point I didn’t care. The rain continued, the conditions were abysmal. Any notion of keeping pace was out the window for me. I had to race the following weekend — my goal race for the year, the North American OCR Championships — and the new focus was on getting it done at Ragnar Trail and, most importantly, not getting hurt.

My team trekked up the mud slick that was the hill to the transition area to welcome in Bobby and see out Jeff. Time slowly ticked by. My rain coat leaked water. My feet squelched in my sopping sneakers.

The NES Ninjas were fortunate in that no one on our team got hurt during Ragnar Trail. Bobby came in safely and Jeff went out, vowing to do the green loop in just over half an hour, something which, I am aghast to report he succeeded in doing. I have no idea how. My turn was up. Time for an hour run in the woods at 2:00 a.m. in the rain through the mud. This was crazy.

I headed out along the section of trail that winded its way up the mountain. I slid like a skater on ice. All of the switchbacks were slightly angled, running perpendicular to the mountain, and I kept sliding down to the lower side of the trail. Moving at much more than a jog — sometimes moving at even a walk — was incredibly challenging. I was relieved to enter a section of woods where I could do some light running. Visibility was poor as the rain reflected in my headlamp, meaning I see the ground right in front of me and not much more. I kept the pace slow. At any moment one could hit a patch of mud and go flying or slip and fall down off the trail.

Because runners had been held, the trail was much better populated than what I was used to in Northfield, a welcome change considering conditions. With the poor visibility, I am uncertain of exactly what terrain I covered or where the re-routed section of trail was, though there was a bit of trail that seemed more leaf-covered than the rest and less heavily tracked. With about a mile to go, the yellow loop headed into the field where I had been able to speed along on the red loop. The yellow loop had a set of switchbacks through the field, which slowed thing down a bit, as did the increased mud, but I was able to make my way along at around 10:15 miles for a spell. I just wanted to get this done safely, and was happy to tick along some distance at a decent pace. I was averaging something like 17:20 miles. Considering I was going to run a bit less than anticipated distance wise, it would all even out.

I merged onto the joint red and yellow trail section that comprised the end of the loop and took a complete wipe-out into the mud. I wasn’t hurt, but I was entirely covered in wet earth. Could be worse. I made it across the finish line in just over 55 minutes, pleased to be done and uninjured. I told Shaina to take it easy; conditions were far from ideal.

We headed back to camp where I cleaned up the best I could with wipes, changed into pajamas, and got into my tent. Everything felt moist beyond belief, but the tent wasn’t leaking, and I was as dry as I was going to get. I fell asleep at around 3:45 a.m. and slept until a little after 6:00 a.m. when the sound of even louder pounding rain on my tent woke me up. Additionally, there was activity going on at the Ninjas’ campsite. I emerged from my tent to see Jeff running through the downpour to the pop-up.

Ragnar had issued a new plan. Teams were falling farther and farther behind and trail conditions were getting worse and worse. Similar to 2016 we would be doubling, even tripling (!), up to run our loops. Rodger was out on his last loop. From there, Jeff, Jess, and Kelly would all tackle the red loop. Then it would be time for the green loop crew. I had been planning to run Josh’s green loop for him, as he couldn’t participate in such adverse conditions with his stress fracture. However, I couldn’t double up with myself, so Jeff and I would be running together. Finally, Bobby and Shaina would bring us home with their last pass of the yellow loop.

Other teams took other options. Apparently, Ragnar HQ told teams that at 9:00 a.m., if they wanted, they could say, “We’re done,” pick up their medals, and leave. I can see the appeal of this. We had been suffering through the most persistent terrible weather for the last day and a half. But the NES Ninjas wanted to finish what we started. We were going to run our legs, each person covering all the distance we had set out to cover. With doubling and tripling up, were were on schedule to finish a little before 1:00 p.m., only about an hour after our originally predicted finish time. In fact, according to post-race reports, only one team managed to finish the race without any doubling or tripling up of runners.

As the Ninjas sent out Jess, Jeff, and Kelly, other teams were beginning to pack-up. With this new development came some distressing news. People were unable to get their cars out of the field where they had parked the night before. Roger had gone to get his car immediately after finishing his last run, having to get packed and to eastern Massachusetts for a wedding. An hour went by and then two, and he had not returned. Cars trickled into the camping area to pick up gear. After two and a half hours or so, Roger finally reappeared. The parking lot was a disaster. Construction equipment had been called in to lay down gravel, but it was just sinking into the mud. There were multiple tow trucks trying to drag cars out of the ground. It had slowed people getting out of the parking area to a sluggish rate. We helped pack Roger up and get him on his way. Now there was nothing to do but finish the race and hope that we could get out of the parking lot later. At least, with other teams leaving early, we’d have an easier time of it and less traffic.

Soon it was time to head up to the transition area for my last run of the race, the green loop with Jeff. He and I had a tradition of running together at Ragnar Trail after our epic run of the red loop in 2016, and I was looking forward to, if nothing else, running with Jeff again. The threesome of Jess, Jeff, and Kelly arrived on schedule. At this point the rain has mostly stopped leaving damaged trails but at least the promise of a dry run (minus my feet, spending their third run in my soaking wet shoes — I had brought multiple pairs, but it would have made zero difference if I changed because the course was incredibly wet, so I opted to not trash a second set of sneakers).

The NES Ninjas headed into the transition tent, dropping off Jess and Kelly. Jeff and I were off. We headed out at a modest run, slipping on the trail. Jeff had just run for a few hours and was going to be tackling yet another run. I was impressed at his endurance and mental focus. We chatted as we headed up the mountain. The course was absolutely demolished, necessitating a lot of walking. My feet and ankles ached from the constant uneven terrain and dragging myself through the mud. It was nice to have company for the final trudge.

The green loop meandered up the mountain opposite the red and yellow trails, more or less staying on the front of the mountain along the open slopes instead of delving too deeply into the woods. The small sections of woods were pleasant with small streams. In better conditions, I can imagine Ascutney is a nice place to spend time.

In our last half a mile or so, we headed down the mountain and looped around the camp site, almost circumnavigating the area (and — super weird — coming upon a woman allowing her toddler to defecate directly to the side of the trail with the excuse that the child “didn’t like porto-potties”). At the very end, the green loop met up with the other two trails, coming in from the opposite direction and took us up the hill to the transition where we handed off to the last group, Shaina and Bobby. I was glad to be done and couldn’t wait to change into some dry shoes.

With Shaina and Bobby slated to be out on the trail until a little before 1:00 p.m., I took the next 1.25 hours to change, pack my gear, and eat a super yummy vegetable crepe from Skinny Pancake. The rain had finally finally finally stopped, and I was going to make the most of the time I had to organize myself. Kelly and Geoff had to depart early, like Roger, leaving Jess, Jeff, and Josh with me to welcome in Shaina and Bobby. We were getting ready to head up to meet them for the finally group run across the finish line when I heard a shout from up the hill. Ack!!! Shaina and Bobby had arrived ahead of schedule. I off-roaded in my attempts to get up the hill as fast as I could to join them, with the rest of the team along with me. Together, the group of six of us ran across the finish line for the last time. We had faced the most displeasing of conditions but had persisted and organized as a team. We had done it!

I am pleased to say the next bit of this tale is a bit anti-climatic. Following our finish, the group of us were easily able to get shuttles to the parking lot where I got my car out without any difficulties. There were several tow trucks and construction equipment laying gravel when I arrived. This seems to have made things better. The field was dug up from the cars trying to get our earlier — trashed like the course — but with the decreased vehicular traffic, there was no problem getting out at around 1:30 p.m. I quickly packed my car and said my good byes to the team.

We had experienced quite the adventure over the last 30 hours, run many miles, endured miserable weather, slept a limited number of hours, and were still friends. Was Ragnar Trail Vermont the most excellent experience I wanted it to be? Certainly not. There were logistical issues, though I think Ragnar HQ tried to do their best under challenging circumstances. Regardless, the new venue seems a step down from Northfield, where I hope Ragnar Trail can return in 2019. But would I do the race again? 100% yes. And that’s entirely because of the fabulous members of the NES Ninjas. As is the case with Ragnar under all circumstances — ideal or not — , the team makes or breaks your experience. I’m lucky to have found some folks that I enjoy having around year after year. So, yes, the countdown to 2019 is on.

(Photo credits: Jeff Wohlen)

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Featured Review: Savage Race Boston 2018

NES Ninjas Savage Race finish photo

Fun! My goal for Savage Race 2018 was to have a good time and chill with my NE Spahten friends. Check and check. I already have plans to register for 2019.

Team photo at Savage Race

 

Savage Race came up to New England for the first time in 2017. I had been eager to check it out and, if you read my blog post from that race, it didn’t disappoint. Savage Race prides itself on having the best obstacles and being the perfect distance. Well, this is somewhat true. Savage has some great obstacles and does an amazing job of blending challenging obstacles that will make the pro’s work hard with obstacles that are downright just for hahas. Think crazy inclined monkey bars juxtaposed against a mammoth water slide, and you have some of an idea of the variety here. All of Savage’s courses are 5 – 7 miles in length. Both of the times I’ve run, we’ve topped out at just over seven miles, so a little on the longer end. It’s enough to be an adventure while still being attainable and not too much of a beat-down for your average athlete.

Saturday morning of Savage Race dawned cool with clouds and temperatures in the mid-60s. Not bad considering that the race venue, Carter & Stevens Farm in Barre, Massachusetts, is wide open fields. I was happy. I hopped in the car and drove the 40 minute drive to Barre. Official Savage parking was $10 with a shuttle bus to the venue. The parking + bus combo is a real “no” for me. Fortunately, Barre has tons of local parking from $5 to $20, all within walking distance to the venue. I opted for the cheapest $5 parking, which was about a quarter mile away from the farm and totally walkable. I was pumped to avoid a motion-sickness-inducing bus ride.

At Carter & Stevens, the Savage team had everything organized. I quickly checked my bib number on a sign adjacent to registration, signed my waver, and got in line to get my timing chip and bib. The wait couldn’t have been more than a minute or two. From there, it was a quick walk over to the NE Spahtens tent, right next to the finish line in the heart of the festival area.

Savage Race does the festival area right. Heavy on food options, light on the overbearing music. (Seriously, I really dislike it when the festival areas have earsplitting music. Thank you to all the races that do not do this. It’s very nice to be able to actually talk with our friends at the races and hear one another and not be overwhelmed with sound.) Savage had a merch tent, which you had to pass through to get from registration to the festival area. Sponsors, such as Rxbar, were in evidence. There were three or four food trucks, including a pizza oven. Carter & Stevens own Stone Cow Brewery was providing the post-race beers. There were changing tents, hoses, and ample portable bathroom, including a sink with water right outside.

Last year, Savage Race, was an unofficial reunion for my Ragnar Cape Cod and Ragnar Trail Team, the NES Ninjas. I was pleased when a few days before this year’s race, many members of the team indicated they’d be at the 2018 Savage Race. A trip over to the NES tent to coordinate my gear pre-race didn’t disappoint. All of the best people were there! (Almost…we were missing a couple.) I was excited to join forces with fellow Ninjas Jess (our captain!), Bobby, and Shaina, plus a couple of brave significant others.

After the elite wave went off at 9:00 a.m., the NE Spahtens team wave was next. We headed off to the start line. There, we experienced the normal OCR-style pre-race announcer fanfare before heading onto the course.

NES group at the start line getting amped up

Carter & Stevens has the benefit of being a fairly flat venue, which is something I enjoy. That being said, the terrain is pretty uneven, with areas that are not unlike Swiss cheese. Ankles beware! The course was mercifully dry this year, which made it much easier to navigate, unlike the marsh that was last year’s course. Similar to last year, my group adopted a strategy where we ran most of the flats and downhills, if the course wasn’t too uneven. (We called this “green light.”) We walked really technical sections or anything even close to being considered uphill. (We called this “red light.”) This “strategy” ensured maximum fun and allowed us to finish in around 2:41, aka. by noon / lunch time.

Many of the obstacles from last year were back for 2018. Savage Race did some permanent build at Carter & Stevens in 2017, meaning that the larger obstacles were similarly placed. It’s a huge testament to Savage that the course nonetheless felt totally fresh. The order of the other obstacles was varied and the trails were adjusted a good deal. Nothing felt stale.

Map of 2018 Savage Race Boston course

Of course, the main focus in OCR is the obstacles. Here’s a rundown of the course.

1. Low Crawl: Like it sounds, a crawl under barbed wire. Unlike some races where crawls are no longer under barbed wire, Savage retains the spiky stuff, so be careful!

2. Squeeze Play: For this obstacle, we had to squeeze our way under three sets of swiveling barrels that were set close to the grounds. Being smaller was definitely a benefit here.

3. Barn Doors: Ladder wall.

4. Backscrather: Alternating five foot walls and short crawls. I seem to recall three walls and two sets of crawls.

5. Blazed: Fire jump. The flames were not too high, so it was just a matter of being mindful and taking a good leap. Naturally, this is a premo photo op, so we paired off to make the most of it. I’m pretty sure that Jess and I will be looking down at our feet in our picture just to make sure we aren’t burning our toes.

6. Shriveled Richard: Ug! This obstacle had participants jump into a container of ice water, submerge below a divider and then edit out the other side. Over the last couple of years, I’ve feel emotionally done with obstacles like this for the time. (I skipped this obstacle last year and Arctic Enema at Tough Mudder the last two years.) Shriveled Richard was the only obstacle that I skipped.
7. Big Cargo: 20 foot A-frame cargo net climb.
NES Savage Race on cargo net
8. Slippery Incline: Your classic angled slip wall with a rope. This one was probably around 12′ high.
9. Lumberjack Lane: Log carry with a piece of lumber. This was the only carry of the race — yay! — and was a totally manageable weight, even for someone as small as me. Really kudos to Savage Race for having their obstacles be real obstacles instead of just lugging lots of heavy things around.

10. Mad Ladders: This obstacle featured a common rope ladder, followed by a rope with rungs, a cargo net, and then another set of rope with rungs and rope ladder. I recalled that last year, this was actually a bit more tricky than I thought it would be, especially with how the second rope rotated a ton. I did better this year by staying up high and not spending much time on the rope with rungs.

11. Mud N Guts: Muddy barbed wire crawl.

12. Wheel World: This obstacle was awesome! It consisted of four horizontal wheels that you had to grab and spin from one to the next. Grip strength required. This obstacle was pretty high up — a complaint of mine from last year, when I needed a boost to get onto the first wheel. I managed to climb up the scaffolding to get onto the wheel this time. Last year, a lot of people slipped back into the water on the dismount, so this this time they had added a rope. This was great, and I was able to make it the entire way through. Also, no back-ups at this obstacle this year (compared to a 10 minute wait last year) — well done, Savage Race, for making this adjustment.

13. Davy Jones’ Locker: 15 foot jump from a platform into the water below. I’m not afraid of heights, so this proved no problem, but I definitely can see how this might give people pause. I will say, that if I were to hover looking over the edge it would be harder. I climbed up and went for it — fun times.

14. Great Wall: Eight foot large wall. I was able to grab the slide and use it to stabilize and jump for the top, where I could pull myself over.

15. Twirly Bird: Twirly Bird was the only obstacle I failed at my first Savage Race, and it bested me again this year. It was a rig where you have to “swing from your standard ring grips to a mop-like cluster of rope strands without touching the ground.” The rope strands were extremely hard to manage. I tried twice before realizing that I’d need some coaching around technique to get this.

16. Big Cheese: A neat twist on a common theme. This is not your standard wall. Instead, it’s a quarter circle with little cheese-sized wedges cut out for you to climb.

17. Me So Thorny: Another crawl. This one had enforced lanes with barbed wire on both the top and the sides! The volunteer at this obstacle was hilarious and made my day. He kept saying, “Eight obstacles to go. Unless you just arrived — then it’s nine. Or 8.5 if you’re in the middle of this one.” Hehe.

18. Battering Ram: This obstacle was new this year, and to be honest, I’m a bit “meh” about it. The obstacle featured a hand grip hanging around a pole. You have to kip to move the grip along and then transition to a second grip where you do the same thing over again. Below is an image from Savage to illustrate. I found it hard to get the ram to move at all but perhaps more time would have perfected my technique. As it was, I got about a quarter of the way across before abandoning ship. I tried again, and found the one on the new lane pretty jammed. I’ll try again next year.

19. Block Party: Pull a cinder block on a rope up a short incline and then carry it down again. Bonus: Half of the cinder block was filled with concrete. The block was heavy without being impossible, and I was able to move it without too much difficulty.

20. Savage Rig: This rig was awesome! I love a good rig, and the Savage Rig was an especially good one. The rig started with a couple of rings, a rope, and a low ring to step in. You then transitioned over a horizontal bar. From there, next up was another rope, followed by a ring. I opted to grab the rope from my seat on top of the horizontal bar and swing for all I was worth, smashing the bell. Nailed it!

NES member Aaron on the Savage Rig

21. Colossus: This two part obstacle starts with a 16 foot quarter pipe. You then have to climb a ladder before descending from the 24 foot structure via an almost vertical water slide. This entire obstacle is kind of insane! I loved the quarter pipe (which has ropes at the top, so it was no problem to pull myself up). I don’t adore slides, but I manage. Kudos to my teammates Jess and, especially, Shaina who are afraid of the slides but both did awesome. The slide was well constructed and so fast that I hardly remember going down it. I recall sitting at the top and then smashing into the water. Crazy.NES member Sandy on the slide

22. Holy Sheet: This is another new obstacle for Savage. Here, you are hanging from a sheet that you move along using only your hands, before transitioning to a set of small ball grips to swing to the end. Yikes. This was a tough one. I made it along the sheet and went to transition to the small ball and completely missed and ended up hanging just from a danging piece of sheet. Not good. Nothing to do but call this on a miss.

23. Nuttsmasher: This obstacle is a set of kind of wobbly balance beams over water. We legit saw a racer almost seriously smash his nuts when his foot slipped near the end. (For those who are worried; he was okay — he hit his knee.) Yeesh.

24. Sawtooth: Monkey bars with a twist! Sawtooth is one of Savage Race’s signature obstacles and one I loved last year and was excited to do again. The 35 foot span starts with uphill monkey bars and transition to a “tooth” where you have to kip up to a higher bar. From there you transition to downhill monkey bars. This obstacle, according to Savage Race, has a 40% completion rate. I enjoyed completing it on my first try again this year. (Bonus: The bars started down low enough that I could reach on my own!)

25. Pedal for the Medal: I am going to give this sponsor-themed obstacle a bit of a meh, definitely a meh considering it was the final obstacle. Racers had to lay on their backs and pedal their feet on a giant wheel to pull in a tire. It was interminable and a bit of a let down for the final obstacle considering the other epic offerings!

We crossed the finish line, clocking in just over seven miles and 25 obstacles in around 2:41. What a fun event!

NES Ninjas Savage Race finish photo

I availed myself of a free post-race beer from Stone Cow and some Mediterranean food from a truck. (Though I totally missed the Baby Berk food truck from last year with their tatter tot poutine!)

Once again, Savage Race will go down as one of my favorite events of the year. Why? Because it’s so darn enjoyable! Good friends, engaging obstacles, a challenging but do-able distance. What’s not to like. See you back there next July.