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Arizona Spartan Sprint Review 2/9/2013


The second Spartan race of 2013 was held this weekend at the McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, AZ.  Spartan HQ changed the venue just a few weeks prior to the event for a “more challenging course”.  As a result, logistics also became more challenging due to a 30 mile ride to parking, a 25 minute bus ride (each way) to the venue, and a 45 minute wait to board a return bus.  It was time to STFU!
The 4.7 miles sprint meandered through single-file trails littered with loose rocks of all sizes. Flat ground was rare and there were two steep hill climbs both up and down. My knee-high socks protected my shins from the desert scrub brush and the brutally sharp gravel I encountered on the crawls. The 47 degree temperature chilled my FL bones once I became water-logged during the last mile.


  • Under/Over
  • Over Under Through
  • Concrete carry with 5 burpees (new to me)
  • Walls of 6′, 7′ & 8′
  • Log Hop (obstacle formerly known as Stump Traverse)
  • Monkey Bars
  • Pancake/Sandbag Carry (appeared shorter than expected)
  • Wall Traverse
  • Tractor Pull
  • Spear Throw (my only failed obstacle)
  • Rope Climb
  • Mud Mounds & Water Trenches
  • Cargo Net
  • Mud Crawl under barbed-wire (long on a bed of super sharp gravel)
  • Slippery Wall (no running start due to mud/water trench)
  • Fire Jump
  • Gladiators

I thoroughly enjoyed the desert terrain and panoramic views from the hilltops.  Cloudy skies and the cold temperatures were not ideal, but it’s part of the adventure.  Many obstacles had improved signage with descriptions.  The Reebok name was ubiquitous and omnipresent.  The festival area seemed a little tight and chaotic, but all the usual tents/booths were represented.  Bag check was a total mess.  It was drastically understaffed and many Spartans including me were permitted to retrieve their own.  Growing pains with volunteers at new venues are to be expected.

I’m looking forward to meeting NE Spahtens at the Miami Super, only 13 days away and 30 degrees warmer!



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Featured Review: Winter Death Race 2013

Anyone reading this is likely familiar with the Death Race, or at least the concept. It’s not truly a race, but an event. Folks gather in VT on a Friday night, then do random, unpleasant, painful things until the organizers (who are professional sadists) tell them to stop. This can be days later. Food, sleep, hydration, clothing and footwear tend to be after thoughts.

And there is a Winter version too. Because this isn’t unpleasant enough.

If you were around the Facebook Group last weekend you will also be aware that Nele and Joshua – both well known, loved and respected New England Spahtens – won the damn thing.

I was thrilled when she agreed to write up her thoughts and experience for us – and as you sit at home, with winter storms blowing – don’t forget – this was only one week ago!

Nele won the deathrace

Winter Death Race

Curled up in a warm bed at the Swiss Farm in I was thinking that this would be the last time I would be warm and comfortable for some time. You see it was February 1st and the Winter Death Race was scheduled to begin at 6pm that day.

Trying to be smart Keith, Joshua and I went down to The General Store early to register and collect our bibs (I was #001, Joshua was #100, and Keith was #102). We had then planned to head back to the hotel, get our gear ready, and sleep for a couple of hours before heading down to Amee Farm for 5.50pm to begin the race. We know they make early arrivals begin working before the race actually starts so the idea was to try to avoid that. Little did we know that almost as soon as we had left The General Store they announced the 6pm start time was a lie (the first of many) and the race started at 4pm.

Joshua left the hotel about 5 minutes before Keith and I. We walked the 5 minutes to the farm to find no one there. I had no idea what was going on. We were told the group was at Joe’s house. So we walked/ran the mile or so to Joe’s barn. Empty. We walked/ran back to the farm. We stopped into The General Store to see if anyone was there. Thankfully Don was. He told us the group was at Joe’s house in the basement. Not the barn. We were told to head back to Amee Farm and wait for the group who would be back shortly. Burpees were done to pass the time. A frozen beaver was pulled out. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Just as Don brought over buckets filled with rocks for us to do Turkish get-ups with Andy told us we were going to Joe’s house to join the group. I was finally excited about the race. I had just wanted to be with the group and was frustrated about the whole start time lie. Everyone was in Joe’s basement. It was about a million degrees down there. Everyone had stripped down to basically what was their underwear and were doing squats. I was excited about getting involved. But no, because we were late we had to remain in full gear and continuously hold plank in the middle of the room until everyone had done their squats. I was dripping sweat just standing in that room. I switched between plank, raised plank, side planks, and modified planks. I was exhausting myself within the first hour of the race. We didn’t have water. Michelle, a previous Death Race finisher, came over and held me up in plank while she squatted over me. This was how I met Michelle Roy.

After what seemed like forever we ran back to the farm. The sweat instantly cooled and I was already unbearably cold. Levi from Reload Fitness was there with a gift of supplies! It felt so good to see another friendly face and it was such a surprise. I can’t remember what happened next. The sleep deprivation of the weekend just blurs everything together. I know we chopped and split wood. Cleaned out a barn. Carried 900lb bales of hay over to the barn in teams (we weren’t allowed to roll them). Lots of burpees were done. Again, my memory of that first night is very fuzzy. I remember seeing the sunrise from the top of Joe’s mountain. The view was breathtaking and I remembered why I was doing this. I felt renewed and recharged. It’s amazing what sunlight does to you.

I know at some point, maybe during the night I’m not sure, we split into 3 teams. We were all attached to a length of rope and had to reach the top of Joe’s mountain together as a team. We were also racing against the other teams. I know everything I’m writing is out of order, but that’s what the Death Race does to you. I can’t remember bits and pieces and things I do remember seem so disjointed.

Another “challenge” was the sprints. This happened during the first night. We were told to lay face down on the covered bridge with all our gear on (packs and everything). Initially we were told we would be sleeping here but within a couple of minutes we had been split into teams of five and were told to race the other members on our team and the loser would receive a strike. Three strikes and you were out of the race. This was the first time I felt the pressure of the race.

Those of us that made it through to see daylight on Saturday had the pleasure of pulling a 2,600lb metal beam out of the river. We worked as a team for this. The race had technically started at this point. Strange to start a race with a group activity where no one can take a natural lead, but it worked. Many of us spent a considerable amount of time in the river. I stripped down to shorts and went in like that. I saw others with hip waders and wetsuits. I didn’t have these items so I kept it simple. I knew I had to keep my clothes dry, they had to go. My first time into the water wasn’t so bad. I was laughing and smiling. Sure my feet went numb and I was shaking uncontrollably, but I could handle it. It was my second and third time in when I began to really feel the effects. My legs turned bright red, my teeth were chattering, and I was finding it difficult to walk. Every time I got out to warm up I was back in the water again within 5 minutes. It was no use arguing with Joe. I was sent to the greenhouse on ‘medical’ to warm up because some of the race directors were worried about me. I cried at having to leave the river. I was confused and thought I was out of the race. I had to be told several times I was still in before I would leave. Upon my return I was straight back in the water again. There was no sympathy from Joe. His demeanor actually helped me. If it was left to choice I don’t know how many more times I would have went in, but because Joe demanded it with no excuses I went in time and time again. One time I had re-dressed and he began shouting a 30 second countdown for me to get back into the water. I couldn’t take my clothes off, my fingers were numb and I had so many layers on. My boyfriend Ben was pulling my pants off me as I ran towards the river. I would do anything to stay in the race, I knew that.

We did the un-thinkable, the beam was out. I thought that was it, no more water. I was wrong. Now we had to cross the rope bridge, do 100 burpees on the bank on the other side, then wade back across the river to receive a tally on our foreheads. Once we had done this we were free to return to the farm to carry on the race. This whole period by the river is when I saw a lot of people drop. It was heartbreaking to see someone push themselves and give it everything but be unable to go on.

Now it felt like a race. After 1000 burpees and 10 river crossings you were allowed to leave to go to the farm. I ran to the greenhouse. I needed to warm up and change clothes. But importantly I needed to start the next challenge. Drag a log up to the top of Joe’s mountain and complete the tasks they have for you up there. Seemed do-able. We were paired with someone for the first ascent. I was paired with Melody Hazi, a strong female competitor. We got lost on the trails on the way up, but we weren’t far behind the leading men. On the top of the mountain we had to saw and split our log, build a 1.5ft mound of snow using just our right shoe (then knocking it down and doing it again with our left shoe), and then complete 6 tangrams (a puzzle involving 7 pieces and you had to copy the image on a card using all 7 pieces). After completing these three things we had to run down the mountain and do it all over again. I finished the 3 tasks alone and had no idea how to get back to Amee Farm. Thankfully Michelle Roy offered to run me down as she knew the way. I will never forget that run down. She talked and it kept me relaxed but motivated. She inspired me and gave me confidence in myself. It was at this point I thought about trying to win. She lit the fire inside me. I felt like I had just slept for 8 hours, renewed and ready to go. The faith she had in me kept me going. I would not let her down I kept telling myself.

I burst into the greenhouse at Amee Farm 5 hours after leaving for the first lap. I needed to rush to keep the female lead. My support crew came through for me. I had a quick turn around and I was ready to go. Then it dawned on me. I would be climbing a mountain in the middle of the night while it was snowing, alone. My heart began to race. What if I got lost? What if I tripped and fell and hurt myself? What if a psycho killer came out of the woods and killed me? What if the Blair Witch got me? Yes, all of these things did cross my mind. But I couldn’t stop. I just went. One foot in front of the other. Every sound I heard I ignored. I hummed tunes to myself to calm myself down when my mind started racing. I tried to think of the race and nothing else. I kept my eyes forward. I didn’t look back once.

I made it up and down the mountain a second time alone. Completing the tasks at the top. My next turn around was faster than the last. I had been told we were to meet at the yoga studio at 5.30am and that our order of arrival into the greenhouse after the third lap would be noted and would give us an advantage at yoga. I saw Olof and Josh getting their logs as I was leaving for my third lap. I arrived at the top of the mountain by myself. There was no-one else there. I had to knock on the hut to grab someone to monitor me while I completed the tasks. “Where is everyone else?” I asked, “You’re the first one up. You’re leading everyone” was the response. Complete and utter shock. How had this happened?

I was on the last tangram when Olof and Josh arrived. I couldn’t recreate the stupid picture of a barn. Eventually Olof and Josh were by my side completing the tangrams. We decided to help each other. I needed their help. We were going to wait for each other and go down the mountain together. After what felt like forever we all finished. Off we went. Running straight down the mountain. Forget the road or the trails, those routes were too slow. About halfway down I lost Olof and Josh. They were fast. Too fast for me. I could see the light of headlamps behind me. I instantly thought it was Melody and Don because they left straight after us. I began to run faster. Suddenly Mark Webb, Jeff, and another man speed past me. It was like they weren’t wearing full packs and hadn’t just climbed up and down a mountain 3 times. I was amazed. I ran the last stretch alone. Exhausted but still with the will to continue. I made it into the greenhouse 6 minutes behind the leaders, Josh and Olof.

I had no idea what time it was. I was hoping I was going to have some time to sleep before 5.30am. I had no time. It was 4am and I had to be ready. At 4.45am Don shouts we need to be in full gear we’re leaving now. We’re not doing yoga, we’re going to go on a 20 mile hike through Blood Route… I almost started to cry. I had been sat down long enough for my legs to stiffen and the pain to set in. My feet were swelling up, I was bruised everywhere, and it hurt to stand. “I don’t want to go” I said to my support crew. But even as I was saying this, and as defeated as I felt, I was getting myself ready. My brain was on autopilot. They made us run to The General Store. We did some PT as a warm-up for the hike. Then we ran again to the yoga studio. We were told how dangerous this hike was going to be and once we started there was no way to get us out of there. I was silent, just listening, looking for signs that this was an infamous Death Race lie. I couldn’t see any.

We began jogging into the woods. I quickly fell to the back of the pack and walked with melody and a volunteer, Dave. I would do this, I would complete the hike, but it would be at my pace. It would take me 12 hours, but that’s ok I kept telling myself. Finally I caught up with Josh. He was as defeated as I was. We both knew we wouldn’t stop. But this wasn’t something we wanted to be doing right now. We would get through it together.

We climbed an incline and rounded a corner and suddenly we saw everyone. Ben, Keith, Patrick, Andy, Don… People who had dropped out. I couldn’t believe it. They were going to see us off is what I thought. It did give me a boost, one I desperately needed. As I walked towards the group Don came up to me, shook my hand and said “congratulations, you’ve finished”. I was in disbelief. I denied it. I kept denying it. It couldn’t be over. But it was. And when that thought finally hit me I cried. And I mean CRIED. I was balling my eyes out. I was hugging everyone. This had been my family since Friday. These are the only people I had seen or spoke to. I had had no communication with the outside world. This was my world. We had experienced something utterly amazing together. We had gone through so much. Highs and lows.

“Go get your skulls” I heard. There they were. 11 perfect skulls placed in the snow. It was beautiful. I picked up my reward. This was it. This is what I had to show for everything I had gone through. Not everyone would understand when I would tell them, but instantly that skull has become one of my prized possessions.

I finished Winter Death race as I started. In The General Store laughing and smiling. Only this time I felt nothing but pure happiness. I was surrounded by people I loved. I had breakfast in front of me, my first real meal in over 40 hours. And sitting in front of me next to my plate was a skull that said “female champion” on it….

I still look at that skull and smile. I will never forget that weekend. I learnt so much about myself. I am more capable than I ever imagined. I saw the good in other people, in a world where you are constantly reminded of the bad. People ask me about the race, but unless you were there or have previously done a Death race it is too difficult to describe. The only thing I can say is that it is life-changing. I already miss it. I miss the pain, the discomfort, the other people, the greenhouse which became my home, the powerbars which became my diet, and the uncertainty of what was going to happen next. But I will return in June to do it all over again, and I couldn’t be more excited or happy by the thought.

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Featured Review: Blizzard Blast 2013

Huge thanks to Spahten and Team Mike McNeil member Mike Hastie for his efforts in co-ordinating the biggest team at Blizzard Blast, and for writing this review!


When most “normal” people think of exercising/running/racing, they usually count the time from October to March as “off-season”…a time to hit the treadmill and keep their training to the warm & cozy confines of their home or a gym.  I know I’m stating the obvious, but the New England Spahtens have never been accused of being “normal”.  While a group of us spent the weekend in Vermont for the Polar Bear Challenge in Shale Hill, the bulk of us stayed local for the Blizzard Blast 5K Obstacle Run in Lowell, MA.

When I created the team and became the unofficial “Captain” for this event, I certainly did not think it was going to catch on like the plague, especially since there was already the Polar Bear Challenge on the same day.  But as fate would have it, the OCR-hungry Spahtens began registering for this event in droves.

A huge THANK YOU goes out to Fred Smith, the event director for the Blizzard Blast.  He worked and re-worked (and re-worked a few more times) the heats so that all of us (39 when all was said and done) could toe the line in the 12:20 heat.

Race day arrived and I made my way over to Holy Ghost Village, the site of both pre-race registration and the post-race Blizzard Bash.  The venue was very easy to find, and had ample free parking.  Inside, the function hall was huge, and very well marked for waivers, registration, free bag check, and race packet pickup.  The bar was open (a key observation for later), and they were serving hot bowls of chili, clam chowder, and chicken soup.

Outside the rear entrance of Holy Ghost, some vendors had set up small tents and gave out free water, bananas, granola bars, and other assorted goodies.  There was also a free Agility Course set up, in which participants had to make their way up/over/around/through various obstacles while holding a weighted bag.  The man & woman with the quickest time through the course received a prize.

After picking up my race packet and free long-sleeved tee, I met up with the growing group of Spahtens at one of the rear tables.  Spirits were high and excitement was in the air as more (and more…and more) Spahtens joined the group.  Soon it seemed that just about all of us were there, so we made our way over to an open space for our group photo.

Group Photo

The Team readied ourselves, pinning on our bibs and getting our cold gear ready.  Our heat time was announced and we made our way to the school bus that was to transport us to Shedd Park, a quick 1-minute bus ride away.  On the ride over, a Blizzard Blast volunteer gave us the rundown of the event; the do’s and don’ts so to speak.  We arrived at Shedd Park in the blink of an eye and ambled on over to the start line.

On the balcony above the start line, a DJ was spinning tunes and getting the racers amped for the course.  Upon seeing us, he said “So I hear we have some Spahtens in the house” which was followed by loud hoots and hollers from the Spahten Ahmy.  He also passed on a message from the race director, congratulating us on being the largest what? “TEAM!” yelled the Spahtens.  He gave us the 1-minute warning, and we all toed the line and got ready to blast.

We got the word to GO, and off we went, climbing over a small mountain of snow and across the start line.  From there we ran roughly ½ mile on a mix of pavement and trails to the first “obstacle” – The brick sprints.  Simple enough – grab a brick, sprint about 10 yards, drop it, pick up another brick, sprint back, repeat.

After another bout of running came the 3 spider webs, which were easily navigated provided the person in front of you didn’t get stuck.  A bit more trail running led you to the pool noodle and saucer sleds that were hanging overhead.

Next came the Christmas tree drag & throw, one of the more unique “obstacles” this racer has come across.  You were to pick up and/or drag a Christmas tree and make your way up a small hill and around a path to a wall, where you would throw the tree over the wall and run around to the other side and retrieve it.  Drag/carry it back to where you got it and off you went.

The next few obstacles were what seem to be standard OCR protocol – 8ft cargo net, solid wall climb, and vertical ladder wall climb, all with snippets of trail running between them.

Upon dismounting from the ladder wall, the volunteer instructed us to follow the marked path and “go through the bus”.  Ummm…ok.  Sure enough, around the next bend was an old broken down school bus!  Run in through the front door, make your way down the aisle while avoiding the saucer sleds hanging from the ceiling, and out the back door!  Again, very unique!

Some more hilly trails led you to another first for this OCR’er – The dumpster dive!  Scale the outer wall of the industrial sized dumpster, and in you go, greeted by a very giving pile of Styrofoam peanuts!  Climb out, shake yourself off, and off you go into a good distance of running.

This is where the Blizzard Blast really took advantage of the elevation gains of the Fort Hill section of Shedd Park.  A steady incline of icy zig-zagged pavement led you to the top of Fort Hill, where you were greeted by a log balance obstacle.  Jaunt along a series of 2 elevated logs.  Easy peasy.

A short but very welcomed downhill run brought you to a well-type structure, where you simply climbed in and climbed out.  Easy, right?  WRONG.  This is where a good deal of casualties took place due to the icy step on the way out of the well!

If you made it out of the well unscathed, you proceeded up another very icy hill and over to the Spartan-esque “through, under, and over” walls.  Conquer those and you were out of the woods (literally, but not figuratively).


Run your way back over to Shedd Park and over a double series of tires, down an icy path along the outskirts of the park, and over to the bottom of the hill where you grabbed an inflated donut.  Run up the hill and let the fun begin!  A quick plop down, a few shuffle steps forward and down the hill you went!  Toss the inner tube and off you go.

The final obstacle on the course was what is becoming another OCR staple – the tunnel crawl.  Wiggle your way through the tunnel, weave around a few upright foam posts, and it’s a mad dash to the finish line.

Upon crossing the finish line, you were awarded your handsome medal (actual bling, a nice step up from the paper medals awarded at Panic in the Park) and a complimentary bottle of water.


From there you could hang around for your friends and/or teammates, or you could hop on the nice warm bus and head back to Holy Ghost Village for the Blizzard Bash.

The post-race bash was great, with live music and general merriment.  The team got together and shared race stories over a few beers (first one was on the house) and a free bowl of hot chili, clam chowder, or chicken soup.  Some of us opted for the “Caveman’s Delight”, a 4-foot skewer with about 6 slabs on raw meat on it.  You could cook it yourself over the open fire pit out back, or just eat it raw, a la Scott Houghtaling.

When the final results came in, the Spahten team was ecstatic to learn that 2 of our own secured themselves a spot on the podium!  Ned Dalzell took home 2nd place overall, and Mario Da Silva nabbed 3rd place overall.  Other notable Spahten finishers were Casey O’Connor (5th overall) and Robert Bonazoli (12th overall).


And, you guessed it; the New England Spahtens easily took home the honors for Largest Team, with 39 of us braving the elements for this event!  The Race Director presented me with this flag; a very nice token of appreciation and a great addition to the Spahten collection!


Overall, I was very impressed with the entire event.  The folks at SmithFest seemed to have learned a lot after their first event last October, Panic in the Park.  They really stepped up their game in terms of obstacles, which was nice to see.  They used every path, hill, nook and cranny of Shedd Park/Fort Hill to their full potential.  Event organization was stellar from pre- to post-race.  The volunteers were plentiful and very helpful.  The course was set up very nicely, well-marked, with plenty of running room between the obstacles.  They obstacles weren’t very hard for the average racer, but they were very well constructed.  The organizers seemed to be taking a few obstacle cues from the likes of Spartan Race, and adding their own little twist to them.

I’m sure I speak for the Spahten Ahmy when I say that we can’t wait to see what’s in store for Panic in the Park II, taking place on November 2, 2013.


Video from Jeff:

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Featured Review: Polar Bear Challenge

Shale Hill Adventure logo

When I first got a message from ORTC VT, inviting the Spahtens to an 8 hour obstacle course race, in January on the first permanently installed obstacle course – I admit to a little bit of skepticism. How on earth had we missed such a gem? I’d never heard of him … I reached out to a bunch of folks at Spartan Race, asked around the industry and received a response along the line of “oh yeah, he’s the real deal”.

I was in, and so were several others. We would have had more, but for a scheduling conflict with Blizzard Blast on the same weekend – one that really should have been avoided – poor form for whoever announced their event second!


ORTC VT (Obstacle Course Training Center, VT) is located on Shale Hill Adventure Farm in Benson, VT. It’s a bit of a drive, just shy of three hours from my house, just shy of four from the Boston area – and with the race starting at 7am, most of us drove up the night before and stayed at a hotel in Rutland, just 30mins away from the venue. We actually stopped by Shale Hill Farms on Friday night to leave our gear boxes and do early registration, and thats where I first met Rob Butler – the guy behind ORTC VT and the owner of Shale Hill Farms.


Rob is awesome. Rob is high energy, full of ideas, and as he was describing his obstacles and property and the challenges ahead of us, you could see the gleam in his eye as he jumped from foot to foot. Rob is clearly a fan of the sport, and has some big ideas – coming from anyone else, I don’t believe those ideas would ever come to life – but Rob has what it takes to make it happen 🙂 I will actually do a second article about Shale Hill Farms in the coming weeks – so more about the race itself.

Early checkin was easy, free parking. We got long sleeved 50/50 blend Ts, a bunch of stickers, coupons – all in a classy brown paper bag 😀

Waking up at 5am in Rutland, driving up to Shale Hill Adventure Farms for a 6am race briefing – Rob explained some of the more unique or complicated portions of the course. Some loops were explained and mapped out, his unique penalty system was explained, and the rules for the day laid out. Rob let us know that the course record was set by himself – 7 laps in 8 hours, in the middle of the summer. that wouldn’t even be close to being challenged today – the cold and the snow were going to be killer.

Thanks to James’ webinar, I felt prepared for the cold. My back had been sore all week, so I wasn’t *really* even sure I was going to race, until I found myself standing out at the start line, at 7am, in 3f weather, wearing 4 warm tops, merino wool socks, two pants and a balaclava. Guess I’m running then. The field of runners was relatively small, probably somewhere around 40 folks, but this was no novelty, themed race – the people coming here were serious about obstacle course racing and ready.

Spahtens before the race

No play by play for the course from me – as usual, race brain kicks in and rope climbs blur with tall walls blur with bucket carries. Video at the bottom of this review.

However, many notable things on the course.

Firstly – the terrain – some seriously challenging steep inlines and declines-  made even more challenging by the snow and ice. In summer, Rob has several ponds, rivers and water spots to traverse, but for us – they were mostly frozen solid. At one point on the sandbag carry (a 60lb tube sandbag through some SERIOUS terrain and walls) my foot broke ice and I lost my shoe in the small stream below – a very unpleasant experience putting that back on, but fortunately my body runs hot and after a couple more miles my foot warmed back up and felt ok. Hills you had to slide down on your butt, open fields with biting winds – a frozen pond to cross (that is supposed to be FUN in summer!) – Shale Hill has it all.


Secondly – the obstacles. When I say that Robs obstacles challenge, and in several cases *shame* the big races we’re come to consider gold standards, I do not exaggerate. Rob has the unique and welcome benefit that anything he installs does not have to fit in a cargo container. It doesn’t have to move from venue to venue. He can build it to last an age, and he has. His traverse walls were amazing – four walls, joined with balance beams or overhead shuffle bars … a very unique rope climb … firemans pole towers you climbed UP … some wicked walls, some with ropes to climb, others without. The monkey bars, oh god, the monkey bars! They were long, and the guys were then expected to go up a set that were going uphill on a 45 degree slope – never made it! There was one of the most unique rope net / climbs I’ve ever seen, some evil rope ladders with massive spacing – you can tell a lot of love has gone into making this course a challenge for everyone – new and veteran.


Rob appears to breed hay bails – there were lots and lots of them – and while we’ve all seen hay bails at races, never in this volume, or complexity. Jumping up a frozen hay bail from a downhill run? Yeah. Do it 20 times? Ouch. and they all had those damn smiley faces on them, like they were happy to break you, or something. Damn hay bails!


We had three carry stations – a sandbag right at the beginning, a log of your choice (pick a big one!), and a bucket full of gravel – fill it to the top, folks! each was on a 1/4 to 3/4 mile loop.


All told, the course was just shy of 5 miles, across some amazing terrain, with many amazing, soul crushing obstacles.

Oh, and penalties! No “30 burpees for you!” – at each big obstacle, when you missed it, fell off it or just got so tired you walked by it, there was a little cup full of colored chips. Collect your chip – and at the end of your lap you handed them in and received your penalty card – these varied, and included spider burpees, pushups on the Push Up Pipes, over and under a wall, tire hoist, rope climbs, tire flips – and sometimes, the beloved “free pass” card! All of this was done right outside the heated barn, and provided much entertainment for the warm spectators. There was a cute little girl here who appears to have a mean streak developing – she LOVED to “no rep” you when you did a penalty wrong, or didn’t get the form right. Someone taught her well 🙂

Personally, I was done at lap one and two hours. My shoe was frozen, my gloves and mask were frozen, my back was screaming at me – I finished enough to get a finishers medal and called it a day – then I got to hang out in the large heated barn, with all day buffet of great food and drink, and a never ending stream of amazing people to hang with.

As a team, we had Corrine who hit a full three laps and took third place for the women, Nele who went back out for her fourth lap and took second place – Eric who hit four laps, and called it in second place for the guys – Many of our team took three laps, several took two laps, and a few of us walking wounded were happy with one spin around the course.


With temperatures never getting over 14f, this course was made even more challenging – but don’t think for a minute that a summer race here will be easy – Rob has some unique challenges, and some brutal obstacles, and his penalty system is very *very* good. Fortunately for us, his wife has our backs, and makes him take down the obstacles that only the truly crazy can manage … someone has to be the sane one in every marriage 😀

The smaller turn out, and the incredibly warm welcome by Rob, his family and his staff made this a very intimate event. Rob has big plans, and I fully expect them to come to fruition – he has what it takes. The location may be a bit of a drive, but don’t kid yourself – we’ve all driven this far to run the Beast, or a Tough Mudder, and the events Rob puts on at Shale Hill Adventures are going to be just as much of a challenge, and even more rewarding when you run with a few hundred people, instead of fighting to run with tens of thousands of people. Local hotels run at only $60 a night – and was well worth it.


I’ll be posting more about Shale Hill in the coming days – including some news about their four race event series and more.

If you didn’t make the trip to VT this weekend, you missed out on one of the best, most intimate, most *pure* obstacle course race experience I’ve had in over 3 years doing these events. If you’re the kind of racer who comes out for a challenge, and wants to experience the best obstacles around – this is the place for you.

Shale Hill GPS LogFull Garmin GPS Log Details

Many more photos

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Featured Review: Extreme Wolverine Challenge 2013

We’ve blogged about the Extreme Wolverine Challenge before – a Stratton Mountain based charity obstacle course race that was launching off the winter OCR season for New England. We are very fortunate that Tara Roch was able to represent the Spahtens at the race – and has written a review for us.

This is going to become a regular series, so I hope as the weather warms up and more folks come out of hibernation, we can support and race this one more frequently!

Extreme Wolverine Challenge “Arctic Blast”

Stratton Sunbowl Jan 12

Today I had the pleasure of participating in the inaugural 5 mile Extreme Wolverine Challenge.  This race was put on by The MCD group and the group supports two charities: Forever Our Heroes foundation and Stratton Mountain Foundation.  You can read about the Charities here :

This was MCDs first race and I think they did a stellar job.

Pre Race – Registration was easy enough online through race wire.  The price was a bit steep at $85, but when charities are involved I never feel  bad about the race fee.  About 10 days prior to the race, I got a call from the RD saying that my son and I were both randomly chosen to get fully outfitted by Wolverine Boot and Apparel.  This gift included boots, socks, hat, henley shirt, pants, hoodie, and coat.  I wondered how my son and I were both lucky enough to both get selected especially since we have different last names, but I realized we were the only two registered under the NE Spahtens and they were choosing people on teams -WINNING!.  I gave the RD, Brian Mattei,  our sizes and he had our gear ready  for us at registration. That was such a nice bonus and they asked us to pose for photos in our Wolverine hoodie and hat and I wish I had the Spahten flag for this to represent!

Parking was a breeze.  Stratton is a big resort and the race was held at the Sun Bowl which is down the road a bit from the main lodge.  I read the race info on the website because I’m a nerd and I study every detail before every race, but if you’re not like me there was plenty of race signage pointing you in the right direction.  We made our way to the Sun Bowl and we parked a stone’s throw away from the start line for FREE.

The race info did say that they would email you heat times two weeks prior to the race and when I didn’t hear anything I emailed the RD and he responded within hours with my start time.

I’m not sure if there was a bag check because we didn’t need it as we parked so close but the registration desk and bib pickup was right there in the ski lodge where there were plenty of lockers, cubbies and bathrooms.

Race pack pick up was easy.  This was a small race of only 67 racers that showed up of just under 100 that registered, but they did offer Friday evening pick up as well as day of pick up.  Race bib had timing chip in it and event was timed by

Schwag – Tshirt, stainless steel water bottle, Wolverine wool socks, beer coozie, and coupons.

Race – We were in the first wave of about three with about 20 people per wave starting at 9:30.  The course was a good mix of hard and soft packed powder and some deep snow.  There were 16 obstacles:

Tire Wall Climb, Tire Stomp, Sled push(around a small track), Keg Carry(around a track), uphill and down hill snowy running, two 10 ft walls that had assistance blocks built in to help so you didn’t need much help, military crawl under non barbed wire/string that was a breeze crawling on snow compared to Spartan knee crushing rocky crawls, Dumpster dash that was two long dumpsters you had to climb in and out of, 10ft ladderlike wall of 4x4s, 4×4 beam carry that you needed at least two –four people to complete, more up and down hill snowy running, snow mountain, crawl through wolfs den, and finally the Monkey Keg bars.  The last obstacle was the only one I couldn’t complete along with several others.  It was empty kegs chained to a wooden structure and you were to use the keg rims as monkey bars and make your way across them.  IMPOSSIBLE and I don’t know if anyone was able to do it.  Genius!  Because this was a timed race the penalty for failed obstacles was 20 pushups.  I did 20 pushups.

Race Map

There were two water stations along the route and volunteers at every obstacle.

I found this race to be exactly what I was looking for.  I wanted to gradually break into winter obstacle racing and I wasn’t ready to commit to a 8 or 12 hour race in the cold and I thought 5 miles was just my speed.  The location for me was key as its only 2 hours from my house so an easy day trip with no overnight stay required.  The obstacles were all very manageable and I found the hardest part to be running in the snow much like running on the beach.  The weather was perfect and I was warm after the first 2 minutes.

We were done in just over one hour and the awards ceremony was scheduled for 3:00 and we couldn’t stay that long, but the awards for top finishers were monies given to the racers chosen charity.

Race wire sent me a txt by 5pm with my results which was nice.

Overall I was really happy with this race.  The course was great and being a small race there was no wait at obstacles.  The RD was humble and responsive.  The obstacles were not much of a challenge for me, but I’m a seasoned Spartan and Mudder and for my first cold winter race this was just my speed.  The uphill snowy running was definitely a challenge.

It was well organized and I really love supporting smaller organizations like this trying to break into the growing sport of OCR.

There are two more races scheduled for May 18 and Oct 19 and I definitely recommend checking at least one of them out.

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Superhero Scramble Race Review #Miami January 12, 2013

The Superhero Scramble set up camp at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah, FL, which I consider to be the Amesbury of Miami.  It has become the venue of choice for the 3-6 mile obstacle course events.  There’s onsite parking ($10) just off the entrance, which provides a very short walk to the festival area with car access if you need it.  The various lakes, open fields, and extensive mountain bike trails provide the necessary terrain for quality runs.

Registration and bag check ($5) appeared smooth for those who used them.  I took advantage of offsite packet pickup, which always speeds up race day.

The festival area included sponsor tents, merchandise, a live band, and access to the final handful of obstacles.  I did not take advantage of the bevy of local food trucks, but was impressed with their menus.  Grass-fed beef & bison burgers and other gourmet fare were available.  The large shade tents provided for spectators were both smart and effective.

The Superhero Scramble did not disappoint those who came to see costumes.  They were ample.  My kids liked Gumby most and everyone from the Hall of Justice was represented.  There were also a few villains and many teams in non-hero themed matching outfits.

The race kicked off a midst a green smoke grenade.  Here were the obstacles I conquered:

  • Barbed wire crawl
  • Pile of tires to traverse
  • Water crossing via tunnel
  • Leap of Faith jump into lake
  • Water crossing via wire balance
  • Rock climbing walls 10′ or 5′
  • Net climb up a trail hill
  • Pair of 8′ walls
  • Over under through walls
  • 5 gallon bucket of water carry
  • Rope climb with thick rope and generous knots between a pair of double stacked shipping containers
  • US Marines section with 10 burpees, low crawl, baby crawl & 15 reps of ammo box press
  • Cargo net suspended by a pair of double stacked shipping containers
  • “Hell Freezes Over” small fire jump immediately followed by a low crawl through freezing water
  • Steep angled wall climb with knotted and unknotted rope (your choice)
  • Water slide into green slime with questionable viscosity
  • Mud crawl under very low barbed wire
  • Run into a US Marine holding kickboxing pad

I had a wonderful time running with an unofficial team of veteran runners and first timers.  The Superhero Scramble course was not outside the box, but was loads of fun.  I strongly recommend you add the Superhero Scramble to calendar in 2013.  They look like they are gaining traction in the OCR world.  Go experience the scramble for yourself June 8th in Amesbury.

photo 2photo 3photo 5

photo 4

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Featured Review: Warrior Dash, South Florida

The Warrior Dash recently roared into South Florida with tremendous success.  Thousands of Warriors lined up to conquer bad-ass obstacles during an “insane” day.  The atmosphere was festive as evidenced by the costumes, team shirts, thumpin’ music and ample eye candy.   Loads of friendly staff were available to get warriors checked in and off to the starting gate.

The Warrior Dash is an extremely well run and fairly priced event, but the obstacles are reasonably easy and rather tame.  This company has ample experience in the obstacle course race business and executed over 40 events during the 2012 calendar year.  From an organizational and event planning point of view, they are far superior to most local mud runs.  The Warrior Dash is a terrific opportunity to introduce new people to the sport who can participate in an entry-level obstacle course race.  One of their strengths is they know exactly who they are, which is a 5K event with approximately a dozen diversified obstacles.  To date, the Warrior Dash has not attempted to clone other OCR companies.  They have stuck to their formula and they do it rather well.

I arrived at Amelia Earhart Park outside of Miami an hour prior to the first wave.  Parking was a stiff $20, but check in was easy and bag check was complimentary.  I ran the 10:00AM wave as well as the 11:00AM wave.  During my second wave, I was approached by many fellow warriors commenting on my insanity.  I explained to them that I joined a team on Facebook called the New England Spahtens, who welcomed me in and accepted me as one of their own despite my home zip code.  I further explained that New England Spahtens are a pack of challenge junkies who share a passion for obstacle course racing.  The obstacles I encountered were:

  • Junk Car Traverse
  • Two Water Crossings (one with logs, one with a capsized catamaran)
  • Incline Wall
  • Wall Traverse (giant hand holds and a ledge for feet)
  • Three Crawls  (two with mud and barbed wire, one with sand)
  • Mud Mound
  • Giant Trench
  • Cargo Net
  • Two Rows of Fire Jumps

Although it was not the “craziest freakin’ day of my life”, I had a fantastic time simply having fun, while burning calories and getting filthy fit.  The Warrior Dash has a partial 2013 schedule that can be found here:  Expect a full 2013 schedule to released soon.  When the Warrior Dash comes to your town, be sure to sign up, take a few friends and indulge with reckless abandon.

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Featured Review – Renegade Run

One of the founding goals of the New England Spahtens was to promote, grow and support local races as much as we do the big national series – if not more so. This runs risks of course – a small event isn’t going to have the big production values of a Spartan Race, and the course and obstacles won’t always be as challenging, as grueling or as epic. Regardless, we’d always give them a chance, work with the race director, provide our input and suggestions where welcome – and always provide our feedback.

Type One LLC on Facebook
Type One LLC Renegade Run website

So, when Type One LLCs inaugural event – Renegade Run – hit the radars, I reached out to the race director Tyson, and asked him if he’d be open to a large group of Spahtens showing up, running his race, and showing our OCR love.

Not only was he all about it – he got us a great deal on race entry, and was super flexible when the 10:30 heat sold out, getting several NE Spahtens in anyway. This was what made me really excited to work with Type One – they were super responsive, engaged in a pre-race interview, helped us out with registration costs, and seemed to be genuinely interested in what we were doing. Oh, and we raised money for an excellent cause too.

Type One was founded with the sole purpose and objective to increase public awareness and to find a cure through research for Type One Diabetes.

Race day came around, and it looked like we would have a good showing of Spahtens in the 10:30 wave. I was bringing my wife and father along with me, and Google Maps claimed it would be close to a two hour drive, so we hit the road early. Google lied, and it took us more like an hour and 20, and Wompatuck State Park was super easy to find. Being so early, we had no trouble finding a parking spot either, and we could literally spit on the start line from our parking spot. Oh, and parking was free, which is increasingly rare at bigger events.

Type One LLC had scheduled this event over thanksgiving weekend. In New England. That means it was going to be cold at the very least, and of course, it was cold. Like, really cold. Happily, registration was indoors – broken into alphabetical lines by last name, they flowed really quickly – we were in and out in minutes, clutching a baggy with our race bib, pins, voucher sheet and a really nice tech blend T with the event logo on the front and some sponsors on the back. In my usual tradition, I’m wearing it on the following Monday back at the office, and it’s a nice shirt – it’ll go into my “regular wear” rotation (which is more than I can say for some much much bigger events shirts …)

10:30 rolled around, and we headed out from our warm corner in the building to the start line in the parking lot. It was clear, quickly, that the New England Spahtens had almost locked out the 10:30 wave – we had Spahtens on the start line ready to run for time, and Spahtens at the back jumping up and down trying to stay warm. Type One had a team of cheerleaders doing their thing for us (and looking very cold doing it!), music, an MC – a shout out to our own Shannon Lynne who was running on her birthday – a quick countdown, and we were out.

I made the mistake of trying to keep up with the front runners! I’m still recovering from a bad sprain I picked up at Fenway, and was running in my trail shoes (Inov-8 x-talon 190s) – and the first half of the course was all nicely paved path – one comment from another Spahten was that I sounded like a horse, clomping along in my cleats! We already knew that the obstacles weren’t there to break us, just to slow us down – so when we hit the collection of normandy walls, we hopped over the middle and were through. Next up, a nice series of wooden horses to duck under, and crash barriers to climb over – this was where I aggravated my ankle for the first time, and lost the front runners.

We then had a series of smaller obstacles – some balance beams with ropes across them (really liked this one!) and a series of webbing ropes to navigate – also an unofficial obstacle of some dog walkers, who hadn’t realized they were walkin head on into a pack of crazed Spahtens, before we turned off the pavement and into some trails – cue rolled ankle #2! I really backed off the throttle now – no race is worth aggravating an injury for.

The trails turned out to be a ton of fun – some steep hills, some tunnels to pull yourselves through, some pretty technical terrain – then we were crossing a road – throwing yourself over a big pile of soft hay bails (are you reading this, Rebel Race? SOFT hay!), then the finish line, where I met a bunch of the guys I’d been tailing for the first part of the race.

My finish time was quick, and a check with the GPS watches showed that the total race length was more like 2.8 miles – maybe a generous 5k, rather than the 4 miles advertised, and if I had one piece of criticism, this would be it. We had expectations of fun obstacles coming in, but certainly front runners were expecting to pace for and hit 4 miles, so to be finished so quickly was a bit of a disappointing moment for them.

I turned around and started walking back up the course to find my dad and wife – and run in with them – my dad passed pretty quickly, then my wife came in with another Spahten – she lost a contact at the second obstacle, and basically ran the whole race 1/2 blind, and with no depth perception – hard core! Of course, I immediately rolled my ankle AGAIN and had to hobble back in 🙂

The post race party was the spot that Type One showed they mean business. They had some excellent caterers bring in brats, burgers, mac and cheese, ribs, more cookies than the entire event could eat and some good hydration choices. They also had this served in a heated tent, and opened up a large meeting room for folks to hang out and stay warm – hugely appreciated, and the reasons so many folks hung out.

Tyson read out the awards, and top 5 men and women won pretty good prizes – the Spahtens represented well here too 🙂

In conclusion – Renegade Run isn’t going to test your limits, nor is it going to bust your balls – but it has the pleasure of being the last race of the season, run in the cold weather (and maybe worse conditions in the future?) and is the perfect price to bring out the large groups. Extremely well run, and apart from the hiccup of the distance being under delivered – something I strongly suspect won’t happen in the future – this is going to end up being a permanent fixture on the New England Spahten calendar, simply for the fun factor. Good job, Tyson, and the crew at Type One! See you in 2013, and thank you for hosting the Spahtens!

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Featured Review: Spartan Race Fenway Park 2012

The Spartans are coming! The Spartans are coming!

To Fenway Park?

Spartan Race have been promoting and talking up the Fenway Park stadium event for some time – this was a two day “Time Trial” event, entirely contained in the confines of the oldest baseball stadium, on the year of their 100th birthday, and I’ll admit, right up until I saw the feedback coming in from the Saturday runners, I was skeptical. See, I’m an expat, and have zero relationship or history or interest in baseball, the Red Sox or Fenway – to me, it sounded cramped, busy and gimmicky.

I am happy to say, I was wrong. Spartan did this one right. I ran Sunday, and brought my wife and my dad along, and met up with a good group of New England Spahtens, both before, after and on the course. I ran 1 and three quarter laps – with my first 11:30am heat finishing with a 54min finish time, and my second 1:30pm wave ending when I rolled an ankle on the jump ropes – sending me on my first ride to the medics. Ice pack, ibuprofin, and I can walk on it today – seems to be just a sprain.

The Venue

Fenway Park – clearly very easy to find. Less easy to park. We took the Riverside green line into town – and in both directions it was easy, reliable and got us where we wanted to be with far less fuss than I expected. Once you arrived at Fenway – they had the check-in booths and merchandise stand in a parking lot across from Gate D, which helped keep one of the big bottle necks of the weekend away from the event itself. For us, it was a simple process – running very smoothly. They did have the wrong names on our packets, but the bib numbers were all that mattered. Right here we also found the innov-8 stand, merch stand and race day info tent.

Once we were bibbed up, we headed over the street to Gate A – they did a bag search, tagged us, and let us into Fenway. This was my first experience in the ballpark, and my first thought was how cold it was – the concrete surrounding us had kept the ambient temperature lower than it was outside, in November, in New England. We got walking to warm up, checked out the start line, finish shoot, and a few spectator viewing spots, before heading up into the stands. It was clear immediately – Spartan had made great use of the venue. Every inch of stairs, seats, viewing platforms, warm up tracks … all working well as an OCR. They had a very professional setup with multiple wireless cameras broadcasting to the jumbotron, so they were able to cut around the different obstacles and show you plenty of live footage.

My one big “huh?!” was that they didn’t (most likely *couldn’t*) use the grass itself. This huge patch of field, the iconic “baseball stadium” landmark was half covered, fenced off and unused. I’m sure this isn’t Spartans fault – they could have easily put some low impact stuff out there that wouldn’t have torn the precious grass up badly.

Given the obvious limitations of being in a cramped venue – Spartan did a great job of utilizing the space they had and marking the course well.

The Course

We all knew going in that this wasn’t going to be a typical Spartan Race. Information in the weeks prior had been confusing / limited – likely by design. Was it going to be a one mile race, or a full 5k sprint? How would they provide mud and water obstacles? How was the time trial start going to happen?

Lining up for the start, it was already clear this would be unusual. They were pulling folks out, ten at a time and lining them up. Some burpees or jumping jacks or other PT while they got the previous wave up the ramp – then you were off. This worked fairly well, and I definitely didn’t see a single bottle neck during two laps – but one complaint would be that the first obstacle – a ramp up with some low ropes to go under – the starting MC had folks at different times of day doing different things .. sometimes he let them run up, other times I saw two person “wheel barrows” – others, bear crawls. This needs to be consistent, especially considering the competitive nature of the Spartan series.

As usual, I won’t attempt an obstacle by obstacle review here – you can watch Jeff’s GoPro footage if you need reminding.

If I had to describe the obstacles though – it was like  Crossfit met Spartan. We went from PT style stations – row 500m’s in 2mins, do 20 hand release push ups, atlas stone carries with 15 burpees in the middle, ball slams – all the way through to very recognizable Spartan obstacles, the spear throw (missed both times), traverse wall (nailed it both times! first time ever!), cargo nets, big walls, the longest herculean hoist I’ve ever seen and the shortest rope climb I’ve ever seen.

Mostly, these PT stations went really well – the volunteers did a great job explaining them to folks who didn’t know what a hand release push up is, or how the ball slams worked – but there were some sticky points. The rowers were set to all kinds of different difficulties – I don’t know how someone was expected to hit 500m in 2mins when the resistance was set to 1 or 2 – and no one was moving down the line resetting them all to a much more sensible 5 or 6 (I did that myself the second time through, and got it with TONS of spare time). The ball throw – there simply to incorporate baseballs – was a carnival game, but you didn’t win a fluffy animal. I personally got taken out by the jump ropes – and heard from the medics that a lot of other folks had joined me that day – it was probably the most casualty causing obstacle all day, purely because it was such an easy obstacle to be injured by – one mis-step and you were rolling your ankle in ways it shouldn’t go, and game over.

Of course, Spartan put on great obstacles and place them well – for those who made it through the ropes you immediately faced the most epic Hobie Hop ever – up 5 or 6 flights of stairs … there were many folks walking this one in the end! The over / under / throughs that bracketed the rope climb and hoist were really well placed, and another Spartan staple.

Of course, the obstacle I loved to hate for the day – the damned sandbag carry. These were true sandbags, not the pancakes we’ve gotten used too. The route you had to carry them was long, winding, and went through the stairs, chairs, up and down – I had to rest more than a few times when I went through. Oh, and it was placed right at the end. Nice call, Spartan. nice call.

The Schwag

Of course – for many folks the race is as much about what you earn at the finish line and take home. Bragging rights.

There was an awesome medal – right up there with the quality of the trifecta medals, and above the quality of the usual finishers medal – it looks great on my medal holder 🙂

The finishers T shirt – finally, Spartan have learned from feedback and provided a race specific shirt, and it looks awesome. Quality feels nice, but my XL is a bit of a frankensize – fits great in the shoulders, fits loose everywhere else. Still, I’m wearing it to the office – my “monday after a race” tradition 🙂

One real oddity – the race bibs included a beer ticket. Usual Spartan Race stuff … except the folks at the beer counter wouldn’t honor it – saying it was illegal to give away alchohol in the state … um, it’s not being given away – Spartan are buying. Of course, I’m sure the $8:50 per beer price tag had something to do with this …

Special mention to the Race Menu team – they had booths setup with touch screens to look up your times, then print them off immediately. This was awesome. So much better than the “piece of paper on the side of a tent” method! I really hope we see more of this.


This was a very *very* well run event. The whole day was slick, the time trial format worked well, the PT stations blended in fairly well with the usual Spartan obstacles. Rumor has it that there will be a specific Stadium Series for Spartan Race in the future, and judging by this, the very first one, it’ll be a huge success. It opens up the world of OCR to a new crowd (I saw many folks only there because of the venue, who loved the OCR itself in the end). Some small changes to the operations of some stations and this will be a huge draw for Spartan, and something their competition isn’t doing (yet) …

I’m going to give this event a four and a half out of 5 Spahten rating 🙂

Also, check out our Team Reviews – and submit your own!

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Rebel Race in the Rearview

When I was in the Army I saw a t-shirt that said “Happiness is Fort Bliss in the rearview mirror.”  This statement pretty much covers my thoughts on the Rebel Race.

Rebel Race has a polished website and registration page.  They for all appearances look like a well organized race, worthy of the cost of the race and their place in the OCR community.  Putting an “S” on your chest does not make you Superman however.  Rebel Race registrations start at $50 and top out at $85 and about $20 more respectively if you choose to do the 15k version.  I’m not sure how many people raced this weekend but the only people who got their money’s worth were the folks at Rebel Race.

Every story needs a beginning so I will simply start mine at the parking lot.  Kimble Farm, an actual working farm in Haverhill, MA is located just above the Merrimack River.  Honestly you really couldn’t ask for a more scenic location.  When I arrived at 10am they had staff working the single file queue to get in and were collecting the now standard $10 parking fee.  I feel the parking must have been run by Kimble Farm staff, who host multiple events at this location, because these were the only organized people at the venue.  Parking was ample at this time and multiple staff members on hand were directing cars efficiently.

And then it all fell apart.  Changed and ready to go, this not being my first OCR, I headed to registration.  I had to make a registration transfer and couldn’t do it online so I went looking for an information tent.  I’m still looking for it.  However I met some NE Spahtens and jumped into the chaos which was the registration tents.  Like most things it wasn’t as bad as it appeared; it was about a 20 minute wait but people queued pleasantly.  Arriving at a nice volunteer she seemed to understand what I was needing to do.  However, I feel all she did was take my email print out and hand me the bib, t-shirt and rebel bag (which will become a Spartan training sandbag covered in duct tape).  At no point was I asked for a waiver.  I so should have gotten hurt!

The starting line.  Large start box, tight little timing line to go over.  A choke point and wait right at the beginning?  Not good.  The opening flat stretch is actually billed as 1 of the 26 obstacles: “Sergeants Sprint”.  Really, flat open ground is an obstacle?  So here is a list of other “obstacles”  which were marked with good, professionally done signage.  In no particular order:  Run Backwards, Fire Drill (roll on the ground for no apparent reason), Creepy creek (a muddy portion of a trail), Shuttle Run (run sideways), Drop and give me 10; Push-ups, leg lifts and some other exercise, Military Mud Pit;  Never even saw this one, Mystery???(yep still a mystery to all of us)  None of these had a volunteer directing you or even informing you that this was in fact an obstacle.  Just a small 2 foot by 16 inch sign.  Again a really great looking Kinkos sign.

So, those were the headscratching obstacles.  Next come the frustrating obstacles.  Slip and slide was easily a 20 minute wait to go down a slip and slide.  The cattle just queued up and waited.  NE Spahtens however were not waiting.  We cut across to the next obstacle but we’re Spartans so we burpee’d!  Some other racers joined us, and this is where Spahtens led the way.  The other racers who joined us just started knocking out burpees.  Eventually, one asked a Rebel volunteer how many they had to do.  The Rebel volunteer was clearly still suffering from the shock and awesomeness of NE Spahtens and had no answer.  At the end of mine I looked at the other racer and told her “You don’t have to do any, were just crazy.”  Clearly confused, she laughed but stopped and moved on.  She’s ready for Spartan Race she just doesn’t know it yet.  Another headscratcher was Prison Break, the single, 6 foot wide wall that was supposed to be covered in barbed wire causing you to go under.  Well, most of the very little barbed wire was missing so most people just stepped through the wall. On top of that was the verbiage which alluded to being cautious about the possibility of sodomy while doing the obstacle. Don’t drop the soap when you bend over. Really?  Is that necessary?

Now let’s take a look at the clearly dangerous obstacles.  Monkey bars. Broken crossmembers, missing hand holds, unstable construction.  Tyrolean traverse.  This one was clearly the worst out of them all.  First, there were four ropes of 5/8 inch diameter yellow polypro rope.  This is the cheapest line available.  It’s weak and has little tensile strength for endurance.  The traverse was about 30 feet and the line was raised about 11 feet above the ditch, which was a rocky ravine filled with large hay bales.  Not fluffy decorative hay ride bales but large dense feed bales.  They have about as much give as concrete.  Unfortunately while the NE Spahtens were waiting at this obstacle (which was also an unmanned water station with runners pouring their own water) not one but two people fell from this obstacle.  One was knocked out cold from the fall and the other had the rope catastrophically fail and collapse sending him to the ground and then to the Emergency Room with what appeared to be a fractured wrist.  We like racing and personally, I have an aversion to hospitals, so this ended up being the 2nd “skipped” obstacle.

So you might ask was there anything good at Rebel Race?  Yes, the venue.  A rolling farm with lots of hills really good for a cross-country run.  The weather.  The NE Spahtens to run with.  Obstacles?  They had a well done spider web.  Thoughtfully designed and constructed.  Solidly fastened to the trees to endure thousands of runners without collapsing.  Under and Over pipes in a small water filled ditch.  That water was cold and you really did have to get fully submerged.  Drain pipe crawl, simple and not very exciting, but fun.  And last, an uphill tire field to high step.  The last little stretch to the finish line had obstacles no more than 10 feet in length that were designed and constructed by a local Cub Scout troop.  The fire pit to jump over was smaller then the holiday fires I light in my fireplace.  Finally, the finish line was another unstaffed area that had our “dog-tag” survivor key chain.  If it wasn’t for other NE Spahtens who had finished before us (one of whom who took 1st place over all) we wouldn’t have even known they were there.  They were unceremoniously tossed on a table between the bananas and the water and still in their factory shipped plastic bags.

Rebel Race ran 3 races in 2011:  New York, DC and Indiana.  In 2012 they list 10 races, all sold out.  But as of this writing, the last 2 races in 2012 are coming soon.  I see nothing for 2013.  Their races start around $50 and tap out at $85 for the 5k and $70 to $105 for the 15k which is simply 3 laps of the 5k.  Without insight into the company, its organization, or how it’s run, I have to give this race a solid 2 out of 10.  I wouldn’t recommend this as an intro to Obstacle Course Racing because to do so may turn people away from other races of quality.  For return on investment, it’s a 0.  For swag, I give it a 1.  For organization at the festival area, it’s a 5?  Their web presence would lead you to believe they are a large professionally run organization.  Their product does not.  Rebel Race does not belong in the same arena with TM, Spartan Race, or even Warrior Dash.  They charge the same amount as other events and nowhere near deliver.  If they dropped their price point to max out at $35, invested a little more in the quality of the obstacles that they did do well, don’t advertise natural course features as obstacles, and dropped the body weight exercises entirely they might recover and become a worthwhile race.  Not an Obstacle Course Race but an adventure, mud, fun run.

If you’re reading this, this is why NE Spahtens was formed.  Anything, no matter how bad, can be fun as long as you’re with good friends.  I got to meet up with old Spahtens and new Spahtens.  Some I have raced and trained with and some I have only met online.  We will continue to run races and review them as openly and honestly as possible.  We will do this to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to salvage a great time even from a bad race.

-editors note – modifed for spelling/grammer 🙂