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Featured Review: Ragnar Trail New England 2016

ragnartraillogoOver the past three years, I have been lucky enough to be a member of one of the NE Spahtens Ragnar Cape Cod relay teams. This year, I was also fortunate enough to be invited to enjoy the NES Herd of Cats team for the 2016 Ragnar Trail race in Northfield, Massachusetts, a quick 40 minute drive from my home in Western Massachusetts.

Like with the traditional Ragnar road race, Ragnar Trail has teams doing an approximately 24-hour relay race where runners continuously run, switching off each runner after each run. Over the course of the relay, each person on the team will get to run three times. For the Ragnar Trail race, teams are comprised of eight people. Until with the road race, Ragnar Trail has participants camped out at the base of a mountain. All runners complete three loops of runs of varying lengths and elevations. For the traditional Ragnar road race, teams of 12 runners are provided with different length legs (Ragnar speak for “run”), which allows for customization — you can assign people who prefer longer runs the longer legs and people who prefer shorter runs the shorter legs. In contrast, at Ragnar Trail, each runner is required to complete the same three runs with only the order of the legs differing. The runs are color coded according to perceived difficulty:

  • Red (hard): 7.3 miles and approximately 1,500 feet of elevation gain
  • Yellow (intermediate): 4.9 miles and approximately 1,000 feet of elevation gain
  • Green (easy): 3 miles and approximately 500 feet of elevation gain
Boston Trail
Friday morning, I got into my Beetle with my boyfriend, Ben, and a bunch of camping gear to head to Northfield. Just as the Ragnar road race used to do, the Ragnar Trail race required each team to have a volunteer, and Ben had very kindly offered to help out.
When we arrived, things were very well organized. Volunteer directed us to drop our camping stuff at the top of the hill before allowing us to park in the lower parking lot. The parking was free and, I felt, convenient. The lot was probably no more than a quarter mile from the camping area and, even without having the option to drop off things, it would have been no problem. After arriving, I texted our team captain, Jess, who told us that the team area was located in the camping area up in the second field. The second field was located closer to the main festival area, which meant a balance of better access to the going’s-on but also more noise.
It was fairly easy to find the team. We dropped our stuff and began to set up the tent. Fortunately, teammate, Shaina, had brought a large pop-up tent, which allowed us to hang out as a team and enjoy some shade. In fact, shade was key. Through the duration of Ragnar Trail, temperatures for the day climbed into the upper 80s. Heat and the accompanying potential for dehydration proved to be major factors throughout the next 24 plus hours.

We had arrived at around 10:00 a.m., several hours before our expected team start of 2:00 p.m. and a couple of hours before we could check-in at noon. It was mandatory for all team members to watch a brief safety video prior to check-in, so we headed up to the main festival area where we watched a video that provided fairly common-sense but nonetheless important information. (Note: My favorite take-away from the video was the short segment where they said, “Volunteer is Latin and means a person who spends time doing something they do not want to do… for free!”)

Directions signThere was lots of time to be spent hanging out in the tents. This was pleasant — good company of all involved with key — and also very very hot. Soon it was noon. Jess, as team captain, went to check our team in. We each received some sample snacks (such as Kindbars and Half Pops) as well as our t-shirts and a ticket for a free meal. I went to pick-up my t-shirt, a poly-blend very similar to what we got for the road Ragnar with no distinction between curvy and boxy shapes, meaning basically they were all shirts designed with the more common man physique in mind. I miss the tech t-shirts New Balance provided back when they sponsored the road Ragnar.

There was plenty of time to browse the festival area. I was impressed that it was quite a bit more robust that the road Ragnar, probably due to the fact that there was no need to move for a few days.

 

There was a tent where one could purchase Ragnar Trail merchandise. There were sponsor tents for REI, Klean Kanteen, and Solomon, to name a few. Solomon was offering the opportunity for people to do a test run in their sneakers, which was very cool. There were stations where you could borrow a foam roller, something I took advantage of on day two of Ragnar. There was also a place where you could charge your cell phone. Along the running route, there was a set of hammock where people could relax.
There were plenty of beverage and food options. There was also a beer tent where, rumor had it, you could also attend a whisky tasting. With the heat, I had no desire to have any alcohol what with the running I had to do, so I opted out of visit that tent. Though it also had coffee and hot chocolate! (Note: I had a very decent cup of french press coffee from the REI tent on Saturday morning. From what I heard it was a good deal better than the other coffee that was offered. I’m a bit of a beverage snob and even I thought the REI french press was enjoyable.) The mess hall, with food sponsored by B. Good was also in this area. I found the food from B. Good to be mediocre. Their model of local agriculture is admirable but the food was mixed and somewhat expensive ($8 sandwich for lunch, $12 hamburger with pasta salad for dinner and $8 for a breakfast sandwich and yogurt). The dinner was probably the best of the bunch, though bread was stale all around. Lines for the food tended to be long, so this is definitely an area where their might be room for improvement. Having a free meal was great — I wish they had offered this for volunteers too.
One of the things that really impressed me about Ragnar Trail was their focus on low impact on the environment and sustainability. To that end, they had bins for trash, recycling, and composting. They also had a system where water bottles were required — there were no cups either for water at the festival area or on course. Runners were mandated to have bottles with them for runs and for hydrating throughout the day, key in the warm weather. The water station provided in the festival area was excellent with nice tasting filtered water. They kept the water station well-stocked and did their best to keep up with demand.
Ragnar also kept things fun by having events in the festival area throughout the afternoon and overnight. Solomon sponsored and event where people had to do a t-arm raise and hold it with shoes in their hands. The people who held it longest got a free pair of shoes. A record was set when the men did this for an hour — two people tied and both received shoes. There was also a lip sync contest, a dance contest, and a live singing event. Ragnar also showed a movie overnight. There was also a fire pit where one could roast marshmallow for s’mores. I wasn’t really into the events, but I wish I had made it to the s’mores roasting (though at the time it was happening I was too tired to move from my tent).
The festival area also housed the transition tent where runners would switch off. The tent was where one runner would come in after running the green, yellow, or red loop, and meet their teammate going out on the next colored loop. One knew when to enter the transition tent by monitoring a board right outside. The race bib that all runner wore on course, had a chip in it. About a quarter mile out from the tent, you’d pass a sensor which would relay your team name to a display outside the transition tent. When a waiting runner saw their team name appear on the board, he or she would then know it was time to enter the tent.
Transition tent
The order for the legs was always green, yellow, red, so when Roger as runner 1 came into the tent the first time, he was done with his green leg and met me for my yellow run. There were three stations with carpets right in a row and the outgoing runner would stand in the area that corresponds with the run he or she was going to be embarking on. Volunteer would provide a green, yellow, or red arm band depending on which leg a runner was going to be running. This would allow volunteers on course to help provide directions. Ben volunteered in the transition tent from 2:30 – 5:30 p.m., so, when I wasn’t running, I got to spend some time with him keeping him company and watching the operation.

At around quarter-to-two, the team headed up to the transition tent to see Roger off for the first run of the day. I was scheduled to run right after him, and Roger was running the shortest green loop, so I knew I had to be ready soon. After seeing Roger off with much clapping and cheering, I headed back to the tent to change and grab a water bottle. It was, at that point, probably around the hottest part of the day. I was scheduled to run 4.9 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation and wanted to make sure I brought hydration. From there, I went back to the transition tent. It wasn’t long before Roger had arrived and I was off.

14095847_1120391418049203_4141897105151470385_nImmediately when I began my run, I knew it was going to be a rough one. The start of the run was steep. I had conceptually understood I would be taking on 1,000 feet of elevation gain, but I didn’t really think about what that would mean for my body on a very hot day. I was hiking. All around me people were hiking. I run a 10:30 road pace (give or take depending on distance), and I think I covered the first two miles of my yellow loop at more like an 18 minute mile. I was pushing it too. I hiked up the hills as quickly as I could; I was huffing, and I am a fit person. It was hot, and over two miles straight uphill was tough. I felt terrible from the physical discomfort, but I also felt like I was letting my team down. I was only a few minutes into my Ragnar Trail experience, and already I was well behind schedule.

The yellow trail started combined with the green and red trails and eventually took a turn off. There was then a section of more technical downhill running. Most of the uphill climbing had been on ski slopes, which were wide and easy to navigate. There was a small technical component on the uphill climb, but that was it. The downhills were almost all gnarly. There were roots and rocks. The red route was stated as the most challenging, but I actually thought that the steep beginning climb matched with the amount of technical running on the yellow loops downhill segment made that the more challenging of the two. I ended up falling twice as I made my way back down. I wanted to go as fast as I could to make up for my lost time, but too much speed was not my friend, since my experience running on technical trails is not as vast as it could be.

14117781_10154519532674468_365637607398641973_nI had been out running for almost an hour and twenty minutes when I made it back to the transition tent — almost twenty minutes longer than expected. At least I had made it. Turns out that I need not have been so hard on myself. As it turned out, everyone was significantly off pace, both with our internal estimates and with the time Ragnar must have calculated to provide us with our 2:00 p.m. start. I was supposed to have my second run at around 9:45 p.m. Instead, I ended up running at 12:35 a.m., almost three hours behind schedule. However, our team was not unique. As I headed out to complete the 10th loop for our team, most other teams were on lap 10 or 11. With the heat and the elevation being more intense than anticipated by most, everyone was behind schedule.

After my yellow run, I was feeling a bit tired from my efforts in the heat. I took in plenty of water and spent a little bit of time with Ben, who was volunteering in the transition tent. When Ben got off his shift at 5:30 p.m., he and I, along with fellow teammates Bobby, Roger, and Josh headed over to get some dinner from B. Good. Dinner was definitely the best of the meals provided — hamburger with pasta salad and broccoli (which I skipped since it’s harder to digest and I was running). We also go a strawberry lemonade.

I thought dinner would perk me up, but I was wiped from the heat. While I feel bad for not being social and enjoying quality time with my team, I ended up lying down in my tent after dinner. Ben and I chatted on and off and mostly I napped since I was feeling a bit woozy. I got up and headed out of the tent at around 9:00 p.m. to check to see when I might be running next. It was going to be a wait with a likely go-time of 11:30 p.m. With that in mind, I headed to the tent and immediately fell back asleep.

When the alarm went off, I was feeling a bit better. I am glad I slept. My only regret is missing time with the team and the s’mores by the camp fire; however, the sleep was necessary for good performance on my next two runs. I wanted to do as well as I could for the team. Though we all knew that, at this point, we’d be running a bit slower than anticipated — everyone had to walk up the hills — I wanted to be able to go as quickly as possible. I was dedicated to working hard.

14051650_1120392058049139_3749544520855159860_nWhen I left the tent, the weather was cooler and my head felt clearer. I quickly changed into running clothing, grabbed my headlamp, and headed out. Jess and Josh were up and together we headed up to the transition tent to watch for Roger to arrive from his run along the red loop. At around 12:30 p.m., our team name flashed up on the board. I had been waiting by the fire since I was chilly. I thanks Jess and Josh for waiting with me and headed to the transition, grabbing my green wrist band.

Roger came in, and I headed out for my 3 mile green loop. The green, yellow, and red loops all begin along the same stretch of trail. In fact, there is quite a bit of overlap between all three loops. Yellow and red share much of the first couple of miles of each and, thus, have similar elevation over the first two miles. Green follows the first bit of trail as well before splitting off. Red and green join up for the last mile of each. All three trails converge for the last quarter mile or so. This means that you get to run the same stretch of trail a few times, in some cases. This has pluses and minuses. I remember thinking as I set of on my yellow run that I was dismayed that I’d have to make the climb I was dealing with more times that day. However, overall, I think that some overlap with the trails was very desirable. It was helpful to have some idea of what to expect, to know where you could go fast and where the trail was more technical, and to be able to pace yourself knowing some of what was ahead.

It was dead dark for my green run; however, it was absolutely amazing. I had a blast! Hills are physical, but they are also mental. In the dark, it was hard to see how steep things were. Plus, I knew I had a very short run planning. I jogged most of the uphill portions. It was slow, but it was faster than my hiking pace. The weather was cooler, and I felt great.

The trail marking were absolutely excellent at night. I actually think that the visibility of the trail markings for night-time running was better than during the day. The three trails were marked with arrows in colored shapes. The green directional arrows were in green circle, the yellow ones were in yellow squares, and the red ones were in red diamonds. This made night-time navigation more easy. Also, there were illuminating markers on each directional sign that fluoresced in the light of one’s headlamp either green, yellow, or red depending on the trail. Marker were frequent proving not just direction but also caution signs that indicated where there might be an especially gnarly stretch of trail. I never once felt unsafe.

I moved along consistently really enjoying my night run. During one stretch, I came upon a stretch of trail that broke through the trees and continued through an open area. Above the sky stretched, punctuated with a vast numbers of stars. I continued onward through the most technical part of the green trail. This part was somewhat technical, which meant that it was also somewhat slow going in the dark.

My headlamp, which I purchased three years earlier for my first Ragnar does fine on road but is not bright enough for the rigors of trail running. I have used it a couple of times for night-time obstacle course racing and was using it now for Ragnar Trail, but I might need to purchase something with more lumens. While this slowed me down a little bit, I was able to keep moving at a decent pace. I was feeling good and have a unique experience. Yes, it was running through the woods in the dark by myself. I saw only three or four people on my run. Yes, I loved it. For me, the woods are a relaxing place. I was in my element.

I finished my green loop in something slightly under 40 minutes. Time was out the window at this point since we were behind by so many hour. I was glad I had not stressed about it. I had run my best and also enjoyed myself. I got back and met up with Jess and Ben who super kindly both got up to meet me at 1:15 a.m.

All three of us headed back to the tent, where I once again went to sleep. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to someone announcing, “Team meeting!” and wrapping on my tent door. I headed outside. The weather continued to be cool. It was also damp. The outside of the tent was wet. Anything that was uncontained was soggy to the touch.

The meeting commenced. We were significantly behind schedule and, at the rate we were going, we would not make the Saturday 4:00 p.m. cut-off. However, Jess had a plan. We were going to be doubling up for the last round of runs and reordering a bit. For the last half dozen runs, we’d consolidate into three groups that would run green, yellow, and then red in order. Josh and Jess would run green together, then Shaina and Bobby would run yellow. I would run red last with Jeff who was going to be running for Stacey. This meant, I was moving from my runner 2 slot to running last. I had never closed out a Ragnar before. While I tend to be somewhat type-A, Ragnar is a good opportunity for me to exercise flexibility. We were in a bind and this was what the team needed for success. I was happy to do it. In fact, we were lucky to have a team full of people who were able to adjust their expectations and do what needed to be done. We all quickly agreed to the new plan and got ready to implement out solution. We were going to finish this thing!

14054223_1120392571382421_5623229259933921707_nWe were not unique, when I had set off for my green loop run, we were starting our 10th run. All the other groups on the sign were on run 10 or 11 too. In fact, later in the day, when I went out for my last run, I would see that pretty much all of the teams on course had doubled up. Ragnar has you submit your 10K road pace for determining start time. Trail pace is a lot different. Fr next year, I’d like to see Ragnar make a big adjustment here. We had a 2:00 p.m. start time, but a 10:00 a.m. time for starting on Friday would have been much better. This is definitely a recommendation I would have for next year. The warm weather and the elevation made for slow times — hopefully, next year this will be taken into account. (Note: Also, the previous year Ragnar was in June, and, from what I understand, the weather was cooler. The intense heat was an unavoidable minus, though I still totally had a very stellar weekend. Moving the race back to June might be a great solution since the weather tends to be more mild then.)

Since I wasn’t going to have to run again until the early afternoon, I headed back to bed and slept for a few more hours. Ben and I woke up probably some time around 7:00 a.m. and headed out to get some breakfast from B. Good. We also hung out in the festival area a bit enjoying the atmosphere and having fun. We snapped a few pictures.

Me with Frame
Once we got into having people doubled up on their legs, things began to start moving. Soon it was around 12:30 p.m. and time for me and Jeff to consider getting ready. Jeff had just completed his red loop about an hour and a half before, so this was going to be a big run for him. Fortunately, I run quite a bit slower. It would be a perfect match considering how much running Jeff had just completed.
We were expecting the group running yellow to get into the transition tent at around 1:00 p.m. Ben and I were spending time in the mess hall tent to get some time in the shade. At around 12:40 p.m., I headed out to go and find Jeff so we could get ready for our run. I wandered around, soon finding him and some others from the team over by the hammocks. At around 12:50 p.m., I told the group I was going to check-in with Ben and let him know I was going to wait by the tent. As I headed over to the mess hall, I saw Shaina and Bobby coming into the transition. I called to Jeff who quickly joined me as I clipped on our bib. We were off!
The red loop was almost 1,500 feet of elevation and 7.3 miles, including some rugged trail, which we ran during the hottest part of a day where temperatures were in the upper 80s. It was also an amazing experience. I cannot underscore enough how much of a difference it made to have someone to cover those miles with. The first four miles were mostly uphill with a small downhill section around mile three. Mostly it was relentless climbing. Jeff and I chatted and kept each other’s spirits up. It made a huge difference. The miles passed much more quickly than they would have.
Finish lineThe entire run, we had been focused on reaching the water station at the four mile mark. After that, the run was mostly downhill, plus it was an opportunity to get water. We had both taken handheld bottles with us, but we were pretty much out. Finally, we reached the water station. However — disaster! — it was empty. This was actually a real problem. The idea of running for another forty minutes without water was undesirable to say the least. Fortunately, right as we began to really worry, a truck came up the hill filled with two jugs of cold water. Inside, was one of my colleagues from Amherst who was volunteering with another team. I have rarely been so happy to see someone. Jeff and I helped get the jugs off the truck and the empty jugs on. We took our fill of water and headed back down the mountain.
The back half of the run was an effort against fatigue. We both tried to push it as much as we could, running all the downhills and hiking, as needed, any small stretched of incline. When we hit the one mile mark, we decided to really hit it and go as hard as we could. Despite some cramping that Jeff had, he really powered through and we made good time. We crossed the timing mat and knew we had only a couple of minutes of running left. As we rounded the corner, we saw the rest of the NE Spahtens Herd of Cats team waiting for us.
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I, uncharacteristically, yelled “Let’s go!” as the rest of the team fell in behind and we crossed the finish line. It’s hard to describe how excellent it feels to get to be part of the duo that brings in your team at the end of a 24 hour relay. It was a big effort, and amazing to get to lead the charge.
MedalsRagnar Trail was a great experience. There were difficulties that we overcame, some hot weather, and quite a bit of time where I was concerned about my performance. Dealing with these challenges — coming together as a group and really pulling together to get the most out of each individual — is what makes Ragnar unique. The quality of my experience, which was amazing, is credit to the people on my team. Would I do Ragnar Trail again next year? If Herd of Cats will have me again, then without a doubt. Absolutely.
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Featured Review: Bone Frog Challenge New England 2016

bonefroglogoThis weekend, I took place in my second Bone Frog Challenge. Bone Frog is a 9 mile obstacle course race (with a 5K option and Tier-1, the 9 miler, plus the 5K) that takes place annually at Berkshire East in Charlemont, Massachusetts. At around 50 minutes away from my house, it’s my home town race and one of my favorite races of the year. This race is owned and run by Navy SEALs. A positive vibe permeates the race, which does an excellent job at paying homage to those in the armed forces and, at the same time, provides the rest of us with an enjoyable challenge.

venue

Last year’s race was my favorite individual race of the year. (I say that so as not to compete with the wonderful racing I did at Shale Hill via my season pass last year. Both Bone Frog and Shale Hill are my favorite.) The race featured over 50 obstacles all of amazing build quality, the course was well-marked and well thought-out, the logistics were smooth, and when you crossed the finish line a former Navy SEAL draped a medal over your head. In my mind, those men deserve medals, so it’s an honor or get to meet a former SEAL in person and have them rewarding you for something that, for me, is a hobby. Suffice it to say, this year’s race was no different than last year’s. I had a blast.

Saturday was the prefect day for obstacle course racing. The weather was in the mid to upper 60s, meaning it was comfortable without being hot. The sky was overcast, which while certainly less exciting than a sunny day was helpful for keeping the temperature down and the sunburn at bay. Charlemont is a close drive, about 50 minutes west of my home in Amherst, so I was able to sleep until 7:00 a.m. before heading out for a pleasant drive into the Berkshires. Parking at Berkshire East is a snap. It’s the standard $10 you pay for race parking everywhere, and it’s onsite. No buses needed. Spectators are free at Bone Frog Challenge, which means that unless you purchase swag, the parking fee is all you need to spend for the day.

start

Check-in went very smoothly. There was a bit of a line, but that line moved very fast, and the volunteers were ultra organized. There was one volunteer making sure that everyone had their waver and ID out so that by the time you made it to the front of the line you were organized and the volunteer getting your packet could move like lightning. I couldn’t have waited in line for even five minutes, which is excellent for a race with a couple thousand people in attendance. The other area where the race was well organized was in having a good number of portable toilets. There was a bit of a wait last year, but they increased the number and, again, I only have to wait in line for a couple of minutes. I cannot image how hard these sorts of logistics are to nail down — Bone Frog has my respect for their eye-to-detail and high level of organization.

13243708_1051823098239369_3836953699555823705_oAfter checking in, I headed over to the NE Spahtens team tent. There was no set team wave time for Bone Frog, so I was hoping to find some friends to run the race with. As is so often the case with the Spahtens, my battle buddy was just a friend I hadn’t met yet. I ended up meeting Jennifer Daley who provided an extremely great person to take on Bone Frog’s 9 mile course with. We were very evenly paces and had similar skills on obstacles. Plus, she was a lot of fun!

After getting our gear ready (I highly recommend a hydration pack and nutrition if you’re doing the full 9 mile race or Tier-1), we headed over for the 9:30 a.m. wave. Announcement were brief and at exactly 9:30 a.m., we were off.

 Bone Frog 2016 New England Course Map
The course was packed with 40 obstacles. This was around a dozen fewer than last year. While I will say that I definitely missed having those extra twelve obstacles — they definitely added to the fun and difficulty factory — this is still a top-notch race. Some things that set the course apart from other races are the excellent build and the good obstacle distribution. May races fall prey to having most of their obstacles jumbled at the bottom of the mountain. I get that this is a logistical issue; however, somehow Bone Frog has tackled it, as they have good obstacle distribution along the trails at the top of the mountain too. This is key for a racer’s enjoyment. Bone Frog does a great job utilizing every inch of elevation Berkshire East has to offer. Sure this isn’t Killington, but some of us don’t want to hike uphill all day. The amount of hiking up brutal hills is just enough (actually just a little more than enough) at Bone Frog. This is paired with some really excellent trail running. Miles 7 though 8 are along some especially nice trails. We had a great time running that stretch of the race — it was beautiful and not so technical that the average trail runner couldn’t keep a decent pace. It felt nice to stretch our legs and run along the trails towards the end of the race.

As I mentioned before, the race featured 40 obstacles. Here’s my standard obstacle-by-obstacle breakdown. The couple of obstacle I have forgotten, I have left blank — sorry.

Bone Frog 2016 New England Obstacles
  • 1. Hurdles: Jump across some muddy trenches.
  • 2. Low crawl: Wire crawl. They used normal wire instead of barbed wire and the ground was not too rocky.
  • 3. 1st phase wall: Lower high wall — probably around 5′.
  • 4. Walk the plank: Walk across a wobbly balance beam. Meanwhile, exercise balls hang encapsulated in nets right along your path.
  • 5. Hell box
  • 6. Rope climb: Standard rope climb. Probably around 12′ to 15′.
  • 7. Ammo carry: Carry an ammo box along an uphill, then downhill loop. The ammo boxes, fortunately, came in two sizes, so the smaller folks, like me, could choose wisely. Also, at the top of the hill was a sign that featured six symbols on it. We had to memorize these six symbols and then recall the at obstacle #14, Mind Games.
  • 8. Night crawler: This obstacle featured three increasingly high “thru” walls. Last year, this entire obstacle was handled a bit differently. The entire thing was covered in a heavy black drape making it dark as night. People had to pass glow sticks along and provide directions so that everyone could make their way through. I was kind of sad to see that gone for this year, since the 2015 obstacle was one of the more inventive I’ve encountered.
  • 9. Stairway to Valhalla: 800 feet of elevation is less than half a mile. This was far longer of a climb than last year hoistand brutal. There were people camped out all along the climb who basically were not making it. One poor woman was dry heaving, another couple of people were felded by cramps. This climb was no joke. It reminded me of the lengthy uphill march at the Killington Spartan Beast. Midway through the climb, there was a net that you had to crawl under.
  • 10. The Kraken: A cargo net climb, then a roll across a cargo net, followed by a net down.
  • 11. Slide for life: We ended up doing the 25 burpee penalty and bypassing this obstacle based on the long wait. Last year I stuck it in there and waited in line, but I just didn’t want to again. This obstacle you have to hoist yourself through a hole in a platform. Once you’ve pulled yourself up and through, you then descend back to the ground via a rope traverse.
  • 12. Reverse wall: Wall at a 45 degree angle towards you. If I jumped high, I could grab it, which was great.
  • 13. Solar walls: Two back-to-back tall walls that you had to climb up and down with a rope.I would say these were pretty tall — definitely 12′ or more.
  • 14. Mind games: Here was where you had to recall the six images from the Ammo Carry. We remembered them and were able to go on to the next obstacle.
  • 15. 31 Heroes:This obstacle memorializes 30 fallen Navy SEAL officers and one K-9 officer. We did burpees for each person, saying his name. I think this obstacle is an excellent example of how Bone Frog does an excellent job honoring our men and women in uniform.
  • 16. 2nd phase wall: Slightly taller than the 1st phase wall. Probably around 7′.
  • 17. Seige wall
  • 18. The Punisher: This was a tall wall that you climbed with the help of a cargo net. At the top was a bar to grab and pull yourself through before going down the other side.
  • 19. Rolling thunder: Tires suspended horizontally on a pole. You had to jump really high to get over them. There were two sets. I am, in all honesty, not very good at this one. I try to stay to the side where there’s a chance of getting to grab the pole that the tires are on. Otherwise, my height tends to be a disadvantage and I roll right off.
  • 20. Mike & Murph: This obstacle seemed new from last year. We climbed up a ladder wall, then down a net. Then we reverse it.
  • 21. Deck of cards: I didn’t recall this obstacle, so I crowdsourced it. Per my NE Spahten friends, this obstacle ended up getting cut from the race.
  • 22. Cargo net: This was a huge cargo net — very tall — probably 20′. There was a bit of a wait at this one, but we stuck it out.
  • 23. Sand bag carry: We had to fill our own sandbag before carrying it on a loop through the woods. Filling a sand bag is kind of a challenge when the dirt you’re working with is just soil dug from the ground. I managed to increase my bag-filling speed by shoveling in dirt from a couple of people who had just emptied their sandbags.
  • 24. Water crossing: Brr! We had to wade across a snow pond at the top of the mountain and then wade back across again. By wade I mean that I had to swim in the middle. Okay, we swam. It was cold.
  • 25. Jacobs ladder: Ladder wall.
  • 26. Window walls: A through wall. This stretch was marked by some nice trail running. It was great to have a few obstacles to break up the trails!
  • 27. Tire roll: This was another set of tires on a horizontal pole. Basically, it was the same as the earlier Rolling Thunder obstacle.
  • 28. Spider wall: A traverse wall. I like this one because it has finger grips. Last year, this was down at the bottom of the mountain, so it was nice to have it here up at the top.
  • 29. Tire drag: These tires were heavy. I actually had to have Jennifer help me. She’s strong from cross fit.
  • 30. Swingers club: Yikes! My first of three failed obstacles of the day. This obstacle was American Ninja Warrior-style. It featured balls suspended on ropes. You had to swing from small ball to small ball. I had trouble reaching these and even more trouble getting going. I was actually disappointed at the number of obstacles I did fail this year. Last year’s Bone Frog was likely more challenging; however, this year I failed three obstacles to last year’s one. I have been doing a lot of running lately, but OCR season is upon us, and I think I need to hit the pull-up bar more.
  • 31. Sprint 31 Heroes: This was the 31 Heroes obstacle for those doing the Sprint length distance. For those doing the full 9 mile challenge, we did not end up doing 31 Heroes again.
  • 32. Get a grip: This was the obstacle I failed last year, and I failed it again. Hanging from poles were ropes with plastic handles attached. You had to swing from one to another to get across. The handles moves a lot. This will always be a tough one. If I was more handy and didn’t live in a condo, I’d say I should build one of these in my backyard.
  • 33. Traverse: Rope traverse across a snow pond at the bottom of the mountain. Like last year, they had you traverse the rope part way and then drop into the water and swim. I may have slightly “cheated” and gone a bit past the half way point on the rope because I didn’t want to get into the cold water.
  • 34. Hell’s gate: This was a great obstacle and new from last year. There were a nine closely packed walls of increasing height. You went over the first and then under the next, as the “overs” got taller and taller. This was a lot of fun. People did get bunched up and I was pretty cold waiting after I just got out of the water, but it was a good time.
  • 35. Water crossing: I was not super pleased to get back into the water; however, it was not an option. We had to wade into the water, which came up to chest height. In the middle there was a large ammo box we had to climb over. I was so cold at this point I was basically inept. In my flailing efforts, I hit my ankle enough to leave a bruise. I get it. Navy SEALS — water. Still. So. Cold.
  • 36. 3rd phase wall: The tallest basic wall yet. I’m putting it at 9′, though with my short person status, perhaps I am over exaggerating.
  • 37. Dead weight
  • 38. Drunken monkey: Instead of standard monkey bars, this featured a board with staggered pegs on either side. I had a blast on this obstacle last year (once someone lifted me up so I could reach it), yet this year, I failed it. Not pleased. Pull up. That’s all I have to say. On it!
  • 13268038_1051921574896188_6954103294714583909_o39. Dirty name: Similar to gut check at Shale Hill, this obstacle had a lower log from which you had to jump and then pull your self over a higher log. In this case, two were stacked. I am waiting for this obstacle to leave the OCR scene. It’s a menace and people are hurting themselves and bruising ribs on it all the time. I climbed up the side supports — hey, I want to live to race another day.
  • 40. Black ops: Very few things scare me. Black Ops scares me. This obstacle had 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. This obstacle is the last one, and it’s smack in front of the spectators. Last year I nailed it — there is video evidence. Still I was scared. I made it up the wall with the rope no problem. A volunteer was ready to lift me up to the monkey bars. I was seriously ready to just roll across the lower netting, but he encouraged me. I made it across, but I was shaking. Seriously, I never shake. I cannot think of any other obstacles in OCR that scare me, and I cannot say why this one does, but it definitely does. I tried for an early dismount and alarmed some volunteers who though I was going to fall back on the platform. I was super happy to climb down on shaky legs, find my battle buddy and run across the finish line!

I crossed the finish line in 4:08:34 having had a wonderful time all around. What a great day and a fantastic race!

Beyond what I’ve said already, here are some pros and some things I wish would get adjusted for next year.

Pros list:
– Amazing volunteers. Two people carried our hydration packs and everyone was super encouraging. Bone Frog has the best volunteers of pretty much anywhere. Hats off to these fine folks!
– Back-ups were much improved over last year. I probably spent an hour or more waiting in line last year. This year the lines were limited. We probably didn’t wait for more than 15 minutes total. The only thing that had a line we decided was too long to justify waiting for was Slide for Life. It had a wait last year too. Last year I did make the decision to wait in each and every line, but this year I was less than keen to do that since I had done the obstacles already. Still it’s a bummer since the obstacles are what we come here to do.
– Great finishers medal. Plus getting a medal from a retired Navy SEAL is very meaningful. Bone Frog also had great t-shirts in 2015. They had super soft women’s fit t-shirts. Alas, this year’s shirts were delayed in customs. Bone Frog is going to mail them out to everyone. Since last year’s shirt is pretty much one of the only OCR t-shirts I wear, I cannot wait for this year’s shirt to arrive.

13246407_1051921724896173_5633658379344825917_o

Wishlist for 2017:
– Please add mile markers. We don’t all want to bring a GPS watch, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have interest in how far along we are in the course.
– Bring back some of the awesome obstacles from 2015 that were missing this year. I loved Operation Red Wings from last year. This was a stretch with around eleven obstacles back-to-back. It was basically the best thing ever, and I missed it this year!
– There are a number of obstacles that are kind of high up. I had to rely on the kindness of some taller gentlemen to help boost me up to reach a few of the hanging obstacles. Just a few more inches down would be a big help. I know of other shorter women competitors who felt the same way.

I am already signed up for the next Bone Frog Challenge in my area, the fall Bone Frog Championships on October 29 at Berkshire East. 6 miles and two dozen obstacles — I am looking forward to it.

Want to leave your own review, or see what the community thought? Click here for our community reviews, and contribute your own views!

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Featured Review: Wicked Mud Run

Wicked Mud Run is a central MA based OCR held on the venue used by Elevated Training – we sent Nicole along to check them out!

wickedmudrunlogoThis Saturday, I headed to Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and Ski Ward to represent the NE Spahtens at Wicked Mud Run. It was one of my first media gigs, and I was very excited. Judging by the Facebook event, the team was going to have a small turn-out, but I was planning for fun nonetheless. The sun was shining. It was cool and comfortable. It was the perfect day for a 5K obstacle course race!

I arrived at Ski Ward about an hour before the scheduled team heat. As per the email sent to race participants, parking was free. (Spectators too, which was nice because it looked like some people brought their kids.) Ski Ward is, in the words of the British, “wee.” It’s more of a bunny slope than a ski mountain. In keeping with that, there was a small dirt parking lot in front, and then a small lodge at the foot of the hill that served hamburgers, ice cream, and beer. The parking was steps away from the festival area. You could leave you bag in your car easily. They also provided a free bag check, which is what I did, having no place to leave my car keys otherwise. These nice little perks – free parking, free spectators, and free bag check – definitely provided a good impression.

After getting out of my car, I headed into the festival area to pick up my bib. Here I hit a bit of a snag. The registration and bib pick-up line was long and slow moving. At one point, they even had to take people who were doing the 11:00 a.m. heat and have them cut to the front of the line so that they’d make it to the starting line on time. As it was, the first and second heats ended up starting a few minutes behind, though nothing serious. Spending a fairly long time at registration at a pretty small race is kind of a hassle and could have been avoided by having more volunteers at registration. (That being said the volunteers that were at registration were awesome! Sorry you guys were so overworked.) On the plus side, I got to spent my time in the registration line chatting with fellow Spahten Marc, who was volunteering, so I cannot say that I had anything other than a pleasant wait.

Wicked Mud Run FestivalAfter receiving my bib, I decided to walk around the festival area. It was very small, but the booths that were there were interesting. There was a bag check that was giving out Honest Tea. Zoobells was there – these kettlebells are seriously so cool, and I really want to get some; the koala is extra adorable. There was also a local obstacle course racing gym. The tables were limited, but it was a nice assortment of small and local businesses. The festival atmosphere was enhanced by a live band that was playing on the far side of the starting coral.

 

Soon, they called our wave. I stepped into the chute with a couple of other Spahtens. There were some brief remarks, music played, a horn sounded, and without much fanfare, we were off.

 

The race started with a short wall of around 4’ followed by a climb up the hill. There was a small backlog at the wall but nothing serious. I quickly rolled over the wall and begin jogging/hiking up the hill. Next up was a ladder wall. It was short – probably around seven or eight feet, but it was given some interest by having the rungs on the far side of the ladder wall be on a diagonal.Wicked Mud Run Start

We then entered a stretch of wood with some trail running. The terrain was nice featuring some rolling hills with rocks and logs mixed in. It served to keep things a little bit interesting. In the woods, we encountered an inverted wall with a net attached. I was running with fellow Spahten, Shaina, who is a regular at Elevated Training. She mentioned that normally the inverted wall and the net are two separate obstacles. Today, for Wicked Mud Run, they were conjoined to aid people with the wall and make things more beginner-friendly.

After the climbing the net and sliding down the inverted wall, we headed down the hill to a very short rope climb. The climb was maybe 8’. Max. I did the j-hook and two pulls up and I was to the top. I dropped down and was ready to slalom my way back up the hill.

 

From this point, I do not exactly recall the precise arrangement of the obstacles. I remember doing a slightly taller 7’ wall as well as some short hurdles. I fondly remember doing a set of monkey bars, which served as my favorite obstacle of that day! For this obstacle, there were two lanes. One was just widely spaced monkey bars – around a half dozen of them. The other, featured a horizontal bar, from which you had to transition to around three or four monkey bars. I chose the latter and had a blast on this obstacle. I had to get a good swing going to make it from one wide monkey bar to the other. After the monkey bars, was a taller eight or nine foot wall. All of the walls featured kicks and were very manageable.

Ski WardFrom there, we came upon the traverse wall. The race had two traverse walls. One was a standard short traverse wall. The second was a zig zag traverse wall. I chose the second one. The blocks on the wall were actually pretty far apart and getting around the corner was a challenge. I really liked this one!

Next up was the mud portion of Wicked Mud Run. We had to wade through a couple of muddy trenches that went up to my belly button. This was more water than mud though, and I didn’t get terribly dirty during the race, which is fine as far as I’m concerned. Then, it on to another pair of trenches of similar depth, this time with a pair of logs in each that you had to go over or under – I chose over. Following that was a sandbag carry. I usually dread carries, but this one was a short out-and-back a not very steep section of hill. Plus, the sandbag was probably 15 or 20 pounds at the most. I was happy to be able to jog the down section of the hill.

From there, it was another set of watery-mud pits (which were seriously nasty) follow by a small angled wall with a rope. This wall and rope climb was short – probably around 7’ and fine, even with wet shoes. Next, we headed a short ways back up the hill before descending to a slip-n-slide. I’ve been wary of slip-n-slides since 2013 and the Superhero Scramble’s disastrous slip-n-slide in Amesbury. However, the one at Wicked Mud Run was nothing to worry about. It was short and not that steep. A friendly volunteer with a hose, who was manning the obstacle, told me to run and dive. I apparently didn’t run and dive hard enough because I ended up like a beached whale about midway along the slide. I had to paddle my way forward, as another volunteer recommended soaping the entire obstacle. (Yes, this was entertaining.)

From there, it was a very short run to the finish line, which I crossed after around 50 to 55 minutes out on the course. I was handled a very neat medal. (Though no t-shirt – those cost extra.)

Wicked Mud Run Medal

Honestly, the biggest challenge of the day was finding some place to change out of my wet race gear and into clean clothing. With no changing tent and no rinse station, this proved a bit of a logistical problem. I ended up hiding out in some random ski boot rental location at Ski Ward to change my clothing and try to towel off. (I had a lunch date with a friend and had to look at least somewhat like a normal person! #ocrproblems)

This race, appropriately, seemed to attract a lot of first time obstacle course racers. As I traveled through the course, this made sense. The course was, for lack of a better word, friendly. There were no serious climbs, though we went up and down the hill at Ski Ward around four times. The obstacles were small and simple. Only one or two provided any real challenge in my mind. (Note: To be clear, I race at Shale Hill. A lot. My sense of what is normal may be warped by this.) Ski Ward is home to Elevated Training. I would have loved to see Wicked Mud Run partner with them and use even more of the Elevated Training obstacles in the course. Fixed obstacles, like the rope traverse that Elevated Training has, were bypassed in the Wicked Mud Run course to provide a more beginner-friendly experience. Again, I speak of this as a “criticism” only as someone who has done a fair bit of obstacle course racing. For the person doing their first race, Wicked Mud Run is a good bet – it’s not too challenging, the course is well laid out, and everyone is very friendly and encouraging. I cannot think of many courses where I have been cheered on as much as I was at Wicked Mud Run. The volunteers were simply stellar about this.

Wicked Mud Run does need to sort out some of its details. Registration was a big inconvenience. So was having nowhere to change. These sound like small criticisms, but they are key things and need need to be handled well.

Bottom line: This race was not for me. It’s for the newbie obstacle course racer trying their first race. I had an okay time. My enjoyment was enhanced by the cool people on the course. The obstacles, for me, were a bit simple and easy. Yes, I do a lot of obstacle course racing and prefer challenging course, so I am coming at it from that perspective. All that being said, I definitely think the registration snafu needs to be addressed if this race wants to attract a larger crowd. At around $30 to $40 per person, this race is a bargain and good for first-timers wanting a very beginner-friendly race. Would I travel out to Ski Ward for this race again? Probably not. But then again, it’s not for me, is it?

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Featured Review: Shale Hill Weekend Training Camp

Editors note: Nicole recently attended one of the first weekend training camps at Shale Hill, and provided an extensive review of the whole experience. If you’ve never been, and you want to improve your game, make it a priority!

http://www.shalehilladventure.com
http://www.shalehilladventure.com

11891272_10103014698536852_8127605946703771630_nThis weekend, I spent five hours a day doing obstacle course training at Shale Hill’s weekend training camp. I had come up to Shale Hill for a training weekend with the NE Spahtens last summer — it was actually my first time on the course — and found the experience invaluable. I was excited to get more time on the course training and getting some suggestions for a couple of the obstacles that I have yet to really get down.

The Shale Hill weekend training camp costs $350, housing included, or $250 if you want to train without housing. For the price, you get to train with Rob, the owner of Shale Hill and an extremely excellent obstacle course racer and trainer, from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. daily. As the Shale Hill site says, the camp will cover:

  • Obstacle technique (efficiency and movement)
  • One on one time
  • Training techniques for home use
  • Running gate assessment and shoe fitment

All training will be custom – based off the attendees goals and abilities. Full access to the course and gym outside hours.

Prior to the camp, the half dozen participants received an email with information and asking one key question: What do you want to work on this weekend? Because I’m apparently impossible at replying to anything with brevity, my reply email (minus pleasantries and logistical information) read like this:

My overall goal with the weekend is to lay the groundwork for my off season training so that I can be in top shape for racing come next summer. One thing I am particularly interested in doing is racing the full 24 hour event at 24 Hours of Shale Hell next summer. I’d be interested in talking with Rob about a training plan for that race. I see the 24 hour race as a goal race that can highlight my increased OCR-related fitness next year. Also, I’m probably looking to do the open division instead of racing journeyman next year — it’s time. Here’s a breakdown of the smaller goals that I see feeding into that bigger goal.

1. With the exception of the parallel bars, I have now made it through every obstacle at Shale Hill at least once. I would like to improve my consistency on a few obstacles: Tarzan ropes (which I’ve made during training but not on race day), tire swings, zigzag of awesomeness, and the 19′ rope climb (which I’m getting better at, so that might come off the list). Any suggestions for technique or muscles to improve so as to get more consistent on these obstacles would be great. I’ll work on doing more dips to get better at the parallel bars.
2. Carries. I struggled with the carries. In fact, my almost complete inability to make it through the log splitter is what’s keeping me in the journeyman division (as I like the option of taking a slosh pipe). I need to get better at this and would like to hear how I can train to be more efficient and effective with my carries. 
3. Figure out a training plan for 24 Hours of Shale Hell!

I was ready to head up to Benson and begin the work necessary to set the stage for the 2016 race season.

I arrived up at Shale Hill Friday night. The $350 included two nights (Friday and Saturday). Since I live around three hours away, it made sense to go up the night before. I would be sharing accommodations with the other camp attendees: Barbara, Louise, Wanda, Jim, and Marc.

Apartment 2The apartment at Shale Hill is outfitted with two rooms each containing two sets of bunk beds and two sleeper couches.There is also a full kitchen, so you can make all your food there. When the apartment is not in use for training camps and the like, it can be rented out for $150 a night.

After I arrived on Friday night at around 7:30 p.m., we decided to use some of the daylight left to us to go and look at one or two obstacles on the course. We started by heading over to the Zigzag of Awesomeness. It was Marc and Louise’s first time up at Shale Hill. Barbara had been up a lot. Jim had been up once last fall (so the Zigzag was new to him). Wanda had been up a few times but didn’t tend to race. All of us stood at the Zigzag when Louise gave it a try. I was impressed — it was her first time seeing it, and she made it across.

 

Zigzag

We also decided to head over to the Tarzan Swing. I’m able to make it through this obstacles with increasing consistency. Rob had provided training tips when I was first up at Shale Hill last year, and after a year of practice, I found I was finally able to make it through most of the time. I shared some of the instruction I had received and did a small demo on the Tarzan Swing. We all took turns trying it out and practiced getting the feel of the movement through the air.

Tarzan swing

After, we decided to head back for an early night and some rest. We had five hours of training the next day, and we didn’t want to tire our hands out already.

Saturday morning, I got up, went down to the Benson Village Store for some coffee and an egg bagel, and then headed back to Shale Hill to meet in the gym at 9:00 a.m. for day one of training. We were also joined by Sarah, who was coming to train for the morning in preparation for her first Spartan race next weekend.

 

Group

 

We started by going around and talking a bit about our goals for the training weekend. The group contained people who were all fit but had varying levels of experience with obstacle course racing. I talked about how I was hoping to use the weekend to set the stage for my 2016 training, to get some take-away’s for training on my own, and to get advice for training for next year’s 24 Hours of Shale Hell race.
After getting a feel for our goals, Rob did a bit of talking about obstacle course racing in general and how to train in the gym so as to gain skills that would help you on the course. He began by detailing the ABCs for approaching obstacles (Accelerate towards the obstacle, use a Burst of energy to get through, and Complete the obstacle). Rob also gave us information about how to do training in the gym with ropes and recommended that we all get some rope to carry around the gym with us for all purposes. Having strong hands and good grip strength and endurance is key to success in obstacle course racing and getting your hands used to having ropes in them is a good first step.
From there, we headed out on to the course to begin practicing rope climbing and going over walls. We all had a chance to try the s-hook and the j-hook for rope climbing. I use the s-hook for ascending ropes, as I prefer how stable it is; however, it’s not ideal for coming down — the j-hook is designed for repelling and is faster and less likely to give you rope burn. I did a bit of practice on transitioning from the s to the j-hook while we all did our rope climbing.
Wall
Rob also showed us the most efficient way to go over a wall. He’s a fan of running at and then up the wall, a technique I had seen before. He also likes to roll over the wall, putting his stomach over and then rolling the legs along the side, instead of sitting up on the wall. I do okay with running at the wall but definitely needed to practice getting over the top without sitting up. This was a good opportunity to do so.
Next up was the Rope Ramp. This gave us the opportunity to do a bit more practicing with rope climbing, something especially useful for the newer folks.
Rope ramp
From there, we headed over to the jungle (the area at Shale Hill in the woods with lots of climbing obstacles). We took the chance to talk about trail running and downhill running. Rob talked about his strategy: Look for flattest path between objects on the trail by sighting far ahead for level ground. While Rob emphasized keeping your torso upright and movement minimal when doing most running, when trail running he said it often made sense to stutter step and have arms out to side for balance.
He also showed us the most efficient way to run downhill by planting the foot (not heel) and using your quads. Finally, we discussed the best way to seamlessly vault a log, planting your foot on the side on the log nearest you, instead of directly on top of the log and moving over the log in a crouch, trying to keep your head from bobbing up at down. All of these efforts conserve energy for later in the race.
Downhill
Up next were the climbing obstacles, the Linkin’ Logs and the Ladders. We more or less just practiced going up and down the Linkin’ Logs, with Rob reminding us how to properly angle our feet in the cutouts and sight upwards, dragging our feet along the logs and feeling for the next grove instead of looking down. I enjoy the Linkin’ Logs, and it was fun to get to play around a bit on them and see everyone else be successful at this obstacle.
Linkin' Logs
At the Ladders, Rob demonstrated a few different approaches for speed and efficiency. There was the option to grab the rope right above the step, put a knee on the first rung and then climb normally. Alternatively, you could climb the side, which would make the ladder move less. I’ve used the sideways technique before with smaller, metal ladders, but I personally doing a more traditional climb to work better for me with the Shale Hill ladders.
Ladder
From the Ladders, we made our way to the Great Wall, a five paneled six part traverse wall. At Shale Hill, you start on the first traverse wall and don’t touch the ground until you’ve made it across all five panels and the balance beams or overhead beams that connect the walls. In general, you start on one side and stay on that side, alternating between walls that have you holding blocks and standing on blocks and other easier walls that have you standing on a railing and using blocks for handholds. I’ve been pretty successful on the Great Wall lately, so while Rob introduced the wall to others, he told me to go ahead and complete it using the foot and hand blocks side all the way along.
Great wall
I had to stop and shake my arms out a couple of times, but I made it. Rob then provided instruction about the fastest way to make it across the overhead beams that connect two sets of the traverse walls. He recommended leaning out as far as you could, swinging and almost jumping your hands to the end of the beam. I tried twice, and this is definitely going to take some practice, but you cannot beat this technique for speed.
Great wall 2
The Heinous Hoist was up next. I find hoists a bit challenging, and Rob’s pointer on this was very helpful for me. He recommended grabbing the rope high and then dropping down into a frog squat using the entire weight of your body to move the object up. As you do this you almost jump back up and quickly go up the rope with your hands using momentum to help you move the object. This strategy works much more easily than what I had been doing (which was grabbing the rope high and then walking back in a squat to bring the weight up). Rob’s technique uses a lot less energy and is much faster. I will be doing this at all future races.Hoist
Our final couple of obstacles before lunch were the Alcatraz Wall and the Balance Beams. We were all pretty successful here.
We even practiced playing around on speeding through the beams at an (almost) run. Plus, some people, though certainly not me, were doing them backwards!
From there, we headed back to the gym for lunch and a quick selfie and team photo with Sarah who had to head back home.
 Selfie
Balance beamDuring lunch, Rob took time to do more instruction about how to train at the gym for obstacle course racing success. Some of the exercises and tips he shared included:
  • Bicep curls where you roll the weight out to fingertips
  • Alligator crawls
  • Farmers carry (for which he recommended using a weight with lip on one side and carrying weight plates almost to failure)
  • Roll-outs
  • Rope walk downs, in which you stand and hold a rope then lean forward towards the rope and walk your planked body towards the floor
  • Tricep pull downs with a rope
  • Putting a regular rope around a dumbbell and doing curls and the like that way
  • All ropes, all the time
  • Do hundreds of reps instead of a small number to build muscular endurance instead of bulk
Lunch
Rob also highlighted the importance of keeping your feet happy and showed us how to wrap vet tape around your ankle and the top of your shoes to keep out pebbles.
After lunch, we headed back out onto the course to hit up the Zigzag of Awesomeness. I struggle on this obstacle a little bit and was glad to get some practice in. We reviewed doing the obstacle the traditional way, ascending the poles, and also did the obstacle in reverse. The purpose of doing the obstacle backwards was to give us a feel for the best way to pendulum our body left and right as we moved our hands along the pole. Rob also emphasized reaching far apart so as to move most quickly.
I chatted with Rob a little bit about how I am not the best at this obstacle and he recommended working a bit on getting my hands stronger. I also think a piece of this is focus. The one time I completed this obstacle, I was super focused and also did not let any doubt creep into my mind. I need to maintain that mentality.
Zigzag 2
Next up was the Tarzan Swing. I had done some demonstrating on this obstacle the night before, so Rob let me go first and show him what I had told the others. I made it all the way through. Others then took turns practicing as Rob gave pointers and showed the different methods you need to tackle the obstacle when you use the knotted versus unknotted ropes.Tarzan swing 2
We had taken a while with lunch and also spent a good amount of time on the Tarzan Swing, since it’s a very challenging obstacle for people. It was time to head back.
Warped wall
After taking some time for some R&R, the training group decided to take advantage of our time at Shale Hill and access to the facilities there and head back out on the course. We hit up the Loom and the Tire Swings for about an hour and a half and played around. We went back to the apartment in time to all take showers and then get ready for the cookout over at Rob’s house that evening.
The cookout was a great way to wrap-up the day and enjoy some socializing and downtime. As always, Rob was an amazing host. We had plans to do a bonfire and roast some s’mores but ended up being tired and decided to head back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep before our next training day on Sunday.
Day two of training, I awoke to a second day of perfect weather. Rob had intimated that we’d be having some “celebrity” trainers coming. I had been excited to learn that it would be none other than Jason and Heather Moss, both members ofTeam Sinergy, experienced obstacle course racers, and all around fantastic trainers and athletes. I have done a bit of training with Rob at this point, so getting to train with Heather and Jason was a fabulous opportunity to get a different take on some of the obstacles and learn different techniques. Benefiting from the expertise of a variety of different athletic trainers proved to be likely my favorite part of the training weekend.
Again, we met up in the gym at 9:00 a.m. Jason started us out with a boot camp inspired warm-up and then Heather led us through a stretch. It was very nice to see their two different coaching approaches, which worked to complement each other very well. Jason has a no nonsense “Just do it” approach, which I really enjoy. Heather offers a more encouraging take. The balance of the two is really effective. They are both great at showing you various approaches for tackling obstacles. Jason is tall and can take advantage of that on some of the obstacles. Heather is more around my height, and I found it extremely helpful to get advice from her as a result. Techniques that work for taller athletes like Rob and Jason are sometimes a bit more of a challenge for shorter athletes like me, and so Heather’s versions of things proved very useful.
We started our day on the course out at the wall and rope again and had a chance to practice our skills. Heather also modeled a different approach to getting over the wall — instead of running at the wall, she stands next to it and jumps to reach the top before walking up and then rolling over. I had some success with the running method, but it’s not 100%, so Heather’s approach was great to see and will be what I do in future races.
Next up, we headed over to the Pond Traverse. Jason demonstrated the below the rope technique and Heather showed us how to do the traverse above the rope. I tend to favor both methods — doing the top technique to the middle of the rope and then transitioning to below. I practiced both ways. I very rarely fail the rope traverse. (The only time I’ve failed in the last year was at Tri-Obstaclon.) I am definitely getting faster though. Honestly, going as fast as possible makes this obstacle easier. Limit your time on the rope was the key message.
Pond traverse
After the Pond Traverse, we headed down to Gut Check. Of all the obstacles, I think this one gives me most pause. I always just climb up the sides, which is not the proper way to do this obstacle at all. One is supposed to jump from the lower log to the upper one, like you can see Heather doing in the picture below. Heather talked with me a bit about this one and how to really power off the bottom log. For the first time, I did both Gut Checks (that’s right there are two of them) and made it over. I had to scramble a little bit to pull myself over the top log and scraped my arm a bit, but I now understand now key it is to jump hard off the bottom log. This will never be a favorite obstacle, and it will always make me kind of nervous with the potential for bruises and scrapes, but if I keep practicing technique, I should be able to do it properly soon.
Gut check
We headed over to the Rope Ramp where we did a bit more rope climbing and talked about running form some more. Jason talked about mid-foot striking and how proper running form will help with endurance. He also reiterated some pointers from earlier about hill climbing and downhill running. For climbing hills, you want to keep your torso upright and act as though you are climbing stairs. For running downhill, he mirrored what Rob said the day before about the importance of sighting ahead.
From there, we headed into the field where we got to do some work on the Double Ups and the Cliff Jumper. Everyone did really well on the Double Ups. Some people even modeled a fancy dismount with a flip.
I really like Cliff Jumper, so I was excited to get to look at this obstacle. I have no trouble getting up, but I am fairly Double upsinefficient coming down, since I use a rope on the back of the obstacle, do an s-hook and slowly lower myself. Jason showed me how to just lean off the top and climb down the wall on the other side without the rope. This looks surprisingly easier than what I was doing. Good tip!Cliff Jumper
We headed back to the barn for what was supposed to be a quick lunch but ended up being an hour of chatting about OCR World Championships in Ohio this October and the sport of Obstacle Course Racing. It was a good time to socialize and digest, but it took away time from training. I’m hoping that for next year, the Shale Hill camp considers doing training from 9:00 a.m. – noon, breaking an hour for lunch, and then training again from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. As it was, with the 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. training window, we really only ended up training for four hours instead of five because of lunch. Splitting things up might allow for a less compacted afternoon of training and time for chatting during lunch.
Once lunch was finished, we ran the approximately one mile out to the Loom. We had practiced some there the other day, and I am pretty efficient on the Loom, having spent a good amount of time on this obstacle at our NE Spahtens training weekend last year, so I could have skipped this one. However, it was a good opportunity for others. I ran through the Loom a couple of times because it’s always good to repeat and train.
Loom
It was almost 1:30 p.m., so we made a quick trip to the 11′ wall and the 19′ rope climb. There is no real trick to the 11′ wall, according to Jason — just walk up and over. We had done a lot of rope climbing at this point. I did a quick trip up and down. Some others did the same. A few people had kind of roughed up hands at this point and decided to save their strength for the next obstacle, the monkey bars.
Wall and ropeSince everyone in the group was able to make it across the horizontal rotating monkey bars, a lot of time was spent on the uphill monkey bars. I had never reallyMonkey bars devoted any time to them since they are not required for women running in the open division. However, it was great to see how people worked on this obstacle. The key seems to be doing them backwards so as to use the strength of your back to lift yourself up and along. The rungs are pretty widely spaced, so for someone with a shorter wingspan, you find your self almost doing a pull-up. Heather did an amazing demonstration and a number of people in our group made it impressively far on the uphill monkey bars. I decided to try, and was able to make it to the third rung. While this isn’t an obstacle I think I’ll ever have to do, it’s always fun trying new challenges and getting the feel for new things. I might come and play around on this one more in the future.
The day was winding down, so I asked if it would be possible to go over to the Log Splitter Carry. One of my goals for the weekend was to get some work in with the heavy carries. Jason said we could, so we headed over there.
The Log Splitter is my nemesis and part of the reason why I have been running in the journeyman division. Since this had to change, I needed to figure out a solution for the Log Splitter. This was my chance to get some pointers for how to select a log, do the carry, and train for success.
Log Splitter
Heather gave me a great demonstration for the carry. She told me how to select the longer, thinner logs for a slightly lighter log but also emphasized the benefits of taking slightly shorter logs which I could holder underneath with my hands. (The thinner logs, while lighter are quite long and you cannot grasp them underneath.) She demonstrated how to stand the logs on the ground with the strap separating them and then how to squat down to pick up. To do this, you put your head under the strap and then stand with a flat back using the strength of your legs. The band between the logs should be positioned, as much as possible, on the meaty part of your upper shoulders and back instead of on your neck.
Log splitter 2
I tried with the thinner logs and then the thicker shorter logs, until I got the feel of it. Getting the logs on my back properly and efficiently made a big difference. The other two women in the group decided for their last activity of the day to go and do the Tarzan Swing again. Heather took them, while Jason and the other two men joined me for a loop of the Log Splitter Carry. This was my second time doing the carry, and I was much more successful than at Polar Bear. Not only did I not hurt myself, but I managed the weight well, kept good form, and kept moving at, what is for me, a descent pace. At the end of the carry, I thanks Jason for letting me practice. This was what I came to training camp for — to get solutions to the obstacles I struggle with the most.

So who should attend the Shale Hill training camp? The short answer: Anyone interested in obstacle course racing. The long answer: I would highly recommend the camp for anyone wanting to go to Shale Hill for the first time. I think it’s very helpful to go to Shale Hill and do a couple of days of training where you can get a feel for the obstacles before doing a race there. Sure this is not a requirement by any means, but the obstacles at Shale Hill can be technical and having someone run you through them with detailed instruction is very helpful. The camp is also great for anyone new to the sport of obstacle course racing. Rob is an experienced, patient, and detail-oriented teacher. He will teach the proper technique that will allow you to be successful in the sport. Learning good skills early-on is key for building a good base.

For next year, I’d love to see Shale Hill offer “leveled” camps for beginner, intermediate, and advanced training. This would provide a great opportunity for athletes at similar places in their training to work together and learn from each other. It would also mean that people who are learning techniques for the first time would be grouped together and not feel rushed as they practice skills. Similarly, it would allow people who have already mastered the basics to spend more time working on more technical areas and improving skills in the margins to improve speed and efficiency. No matter your level of experience, Rob has something to teach you, and he is good at customizing training to the individual once he sees your level of experience. Having the training weekends (or weeks!) broken out by experience will allow athletes to have a more catered experience.

I got some good training tips from the Shale Hill camp — the weekend in Vermont was a great investment — I look forward to talking with Rob more about a training plan for next year and to begin training for a good 2016 season. I think the training weekend, plus the training I’ve done up at Shale Hill on my own this year, has resulted in some nice improvements. I plan to do some scaling back of my training this fall (to coincide with the start of my classes for my Master’s) and then will begin training in earnest again in early winter with some base building and then more systematic training in the spring. I look forward to having a good plan to do that and think the training weekend has gotten me off to a good start.