Shale Hill


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Featured Reviews – Weekend Training Camp / 30 Days of Shale Hill /  Relay Challenge / Polar Bear Challenge / 24 Hours of Shale Hell / Tri-Obstaclon

30 thoughts on “Shale Hill

  1. Anyone who knows me knows that I won’t miss a chance to race at Shale Hill. Even if it’s in the middle of February. This year, Shale Hill hosted it’s sixth annual Polar Bear Challenge, a winter race in which participants do as many laps of Shale Hill’s 10K obstacle course as they can in an eight hour period. For me, this was my third time participating and while 2015 wins for the most challenge race with it’s 3′ of snow, this year was definitely the coldest.

    Polar Bear Challenge tends to bring out a larger crew to Shale Hill and some very elite athletes. The race starts bright and early, which check-in from 5:30 a.m. – 6:30 a.m., followed by a breakfast buffet and racers’ meeting. Waves were then scheduled to start at around 7:00 a.m., with elites going first and the non-competitive journeyman division heading out in the final wave at 8:00 a.m.

    I arrived at Shale Hill just in time to check-in. I parked for free about a quarter of a mile from the check-in. The path up was lit by bonfires — one of the most epic entrances in OCR.

    A real perk to racing at Shale Hill is that everyone is treated like family and they know your name. To that end, I checked-in with good friend and fellow Spahten, Niki, and the next thing I knew, I was off to the heated “party barn” to grab a coffee and some eggs and french toast from the buffet. (Bacon was also included for those who prefer pork, i.e. not me; pigs are too smart.) I snacked on my hot breakfast while co-race director, Rob Butler, led the racers’ meeting. He explained the new penalty system where racers competing in the elite and open divisions would have to backtrack one obstacle if they failed an obstacle. For select obstacles where backtracking would be too much of a challenge, racers would instead take a chip and then complete their penalties right outside the barn before coming inside to mark the end of their lap. I had been planning to compete in the open division; however, a mild cold, combined with temperatures in the single digits, made me decide to run in the non-competitive journeyman division this year.

    At the conclusion of the racers’ meeting, the competitive elite athletes soon readied for their wave. It turned out that the course was extremely icy. The newly redone course had racers doing the double log carry as the second obstacle. With the treacherous conditions, people were being forced to go slow. To prevent any back-ups with racers having to wait at this obstacle, the journeyman wave was held a little and we went out at around 8:30 a.m. This was fine for me. It allowed me time to digest my breakfast and spend time with friends. I also chatted with a fellow racer who mentioned that he had read one of my blog posts about Shale Hill, and it had helped him decide to sign-up for Polar Bear. Fame!

    In an interesting twist, this year, the course at Shale Hill had been re-laid-out. The obstacles were reordered, there were new paths, and we tackled some new additions to the course. I really enjoyed the new course. We started out by running through what used to be one of the horse pastures and ended up heading quickly over to the ankle biters and the double log carry. I was fortunate enough to get a good (i.e. not too heavy) set of logs that I could manage. It was a good thing too because it was incredibly icy and hilly over the half mile of the log carry. Even with my Icebugs, I was falling all over the place not just during this carry but throughout the race. Running was almost an impossibility. There was a layer of ice under all the crusty snow.

    From the log carry, we headed along a part of course that more closely matched what I was used to. We did the pond traverse, followed by the gut check, and the tire pull. The tire pull is the only instance in which I found the ice helpful. Pulling the tire along the ice was easier than dragging it through the grass. The entire time the first half hour or so of the race was going on, temperatures hovered in the single digits. In the woods, it was okay in terms of wind, but out on the fields, one began to understand why the phrase “the wind cut like a knife” exists. For Polar Bear, I had wool socks, feet warmers, two layers of pants, four layers on top (a base layer, a mid layer, a fleece, and a coat), a buff, a beanie, and gloves with hand-warmers. All of these items were essential. There were times when I had my buff pulled up to the edge of my hat and only my eyes were free. The air was so cold that I avoided breathing it directly. While it was hard to grip some of the obstacles while wearing gloves, the alternative — taking them off — was impossible on the metal obstacles at this point in the morning. Later in the day, I would selectively take my gloves off for rope climbs or to grip wooden obstacles better, but I had to be quick before my fingers froze to the point of being unable to be effective.

    One of the great things about the new course layout was that it allowed racers to tackle hard obstacles followed by easier obstacles in a non-traditional format. In the former Shale Hill layout, there were lots of hard obstacles towards the end and back-to-back. The new layout was great about spreading out challenging obstacles and hitting some harder obstacles sooner in the course. We got to do the Tarzan Ropes earlier on, for example. While we were supposed to do them backward, I decided to approach them in the traditional direction (journeyman division prerogative) and nailed them.

    We reversed the course from the Tarzan Ropes and headed over to the monkey bars. The formerly uphill monkey bars were now downhill. I have to say they were still impossible for me. The super skinny rope that was designed to help people climb up to the bars was too slick to get a real hand on, especially with the spinning monkey bars spaced so far apart. My wingspan is almost not wide enough for the monkey bars (or the a-frame devil steps called, Bad Attitude at Shale Hill). At the downhill and flat monkey bars I was fortunate enough to run into volunteering Spahtens, Hannah and Christie. With my cold, I was feeling a bit “meh” and some friendly faces were great! Hannah and Christie walked with me from the monkey bars to two new obstacles — both were metal and too cold to grab with bare hands but too slippery with gloves. The first was a set of short metal posts sticking out of a center beam. The posts stuck out in a way that implied they were to be tackled like monkey bars. On closer inspection, it became evident that the center post rotated, meaning that with each swing, you’d be wobbling up and down, side to side as you swung across. In my gloves, I couldn’t get started, but I can’t wait to check this obstacle out again in the warmer months. This obstacle was followed directly but a second new monkey bars or rig-inspired obstacle. This obstacle reminded me of the twister I saw at the Urban Sky obstacle at OCR World Championships but with smaller loops around the central pole. The racers had to grab the loops that corkscrewed around the rotating central pole to move laterally to the far end. Unlike Urban Sky with its nice coated metal loops, the Shale Hill loops were made of rebar. I definitely would need more time with this obstacle to get it down and spending all day there in the 8 degree weather seemed like not the right choice.

    The newly designed course took us out to the main field where the final third of the original course used to be twice. This meant that some of the harder obstacles featured in that part of the course were split up since we went out around the midway point of the course and then again in the final mile. We tackled the wheel barrel loop, the 11′ wall and the 19′ rope climb, and the parallel bars before coming into the woods for the entire “jungle section,” categorized by the climbing obstacles — the abacus, the linkin’ logs, and the ladders. I had good success on all these obstacles. For the 11′ wall and 19′ rope climb, I hazarded to take my hands out of my gloves, which was horrible but also worked. I am a fairly good climber, and the jungle is my favorite part of the course, so I did well there. At this point, I was feeling a bit better and was really enjoying myself, a feeling I would maintain for most of the rest of the race. It didn’t hurt that the temperatures were at least edging into the teens, making things a bit less painfully cold, particularly in the woods where we were protected from the wind.

    I finished up in the woods with the wall traverse — almost impossible with my limited mobility with all my clothing and gloves — the coffins, and the hoist. It was at the great wall where I thought about the big difference that doing the Shale Hill course in the winter is. In the summer, I can fairly consistently do all five panels of the wall with the cross beams. In the winter, with my arms constricted by four layers, my hands covered with gloves, and my joints still from the cold, it was all I could do to make it across one wall. I am a summer athlete — the winter is my off-season. That is a product of when my key races tend to be but it’s also a reflection of the fact that despite living in New England for my entire life, I am very poorly adapted to cold weather. On the other hand, you really won’t hear too much complaining from me over the summer. I trained for my first marathon during the hottest summer on record and while runs in the humidity and high 80s weren’t my favorite, they were nothing compared to how I feel about the cold. I’ll never be competitive at a race like Polar Bear, but I can definitely give it my all at a summer race at Shale Hill.

    Following the section of course in the woods, we continued to follow a familiar route out to the field again by way of the Alcatraz wall and balance alley. We zigged into the middle field to do one of my favorite obstacles, cliff jumper, and double up. I got to Bad Attitude, Shale Hill’s answer to the devil steps and once again marveled at how I had been able to nail this obstacle at OCR World Championships with the closer together steps. (A fun note: At this obstacle I was also passed by The Twins, a set of identical twins in their mid-20s who compete at Shale Hill regularly. To my comment about how much harder Bad Attitude was compared to the obstacle at OCRWC, one of the twins said, “I’ll let you in on a secret — it’s because Rob Butler is an asshole.” We shared a laugh. Ah, Rob, you are the best because you’re the worst. Seriously, this is why Shale Hill rocks!)

    The course then brought us back to the Fireman’s tower and the obstacles that would lead us into the final pass through the far field — the tires, the new Irish Table obstacle( which I love by the way), and the loom (another favorite). Usually at the loom, I am started to get tired and then dismayed at the number of hard obstacles to come. The good news was that with the redesigned course, I had tackled those already and they were done. I had already bested the tall ropes climb, tried my hand at the monkey bars, and been “like Jane” on the Tarzan ropes. Sure I had to go over a few mountains of hay bales and climb a new really steep section of course, but then I was back to right past the Tarzan ropes and in sight of the barn where I knew the course finished.

    We got to hit up the rope ramp, another favorite, before going to the warped wall and winding our way along the very slick anaconda, where I had to sit down and slide to descent the berm. Rob had put his giant rig platform right before the finish line and attached rings. I love rings, but I couldn’t reach from the first to the second due to height. If the ring had just been an inch lower, I would have loved to do this obstacle. Any chance that small adjustment could be made before the summer? As I was at the final obstacle, I ran into some fellow NE Spahtens who had been volunteering. I had an entourage as I headed up the hill to ring the bell at the finish line!

    I finished my lap in around 3:15. There was definitely time to go out again, but I was sapped from my cold, from the freezing weather, and from sliding around on the ice. I had done well with my obstacle completion rate and felt good about my performance and the fun I had enjoyed. This was a race I had come to to spend time with friends and have fun, more than to challenge myself and do “all the laps.” I changed and headed back to the bar where I enjoyed the buffet lunch and spent more time with my teammates before heading out.

    For someone who hates the cold, I can reliably be counted on to sign up for Polar Bear at Shale Hill again and again? Why? Because Shale Hill is amazing! It’s challenging, fun, a community, the best people. Polar Bear Challenge can be whatever you want it to be — it can be a goal race in the off-season or it can be a tune-up to see where your winter training is at. It can be a change to connect with friends you don’t always get to see in the colder months and an opportunity to get to play in the snow. An eight hour race with breakfast and lunch included, it’s a great deal. 2018’s race was fantastic. I love the new course layout and hope that it is maintained for the summer. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up and to get back up to Vermont to hit the course again!

  2. Communication:
    You can find the information, it was first posted on Facebook before I found it coming to my email. I happened upon it while scrolling through.
    With the initial Cancellation of the festival earlier this year followed by the reschedule of this event, I found that they communicated it all quite well.

    Venue & Festival:
    The Venue is beautiful. Nothing compares. The Festival was great, essentially it was a tent city and everyone was hanging out. It was super low key. They had a great bonfire going when it got dark and it went all night. Over all it was exactly what I would expect from an event that was overnight and held for 24 hours. I also enjoyed being able to stay over the night before leading into the event.

    Course & Obstacles:
    This course, these obstacles…. they are challenging and even a bit intimdating. But when you get out there and into it, it’s all about having a good time. Especially if you’re Journeyman. It was definitely a run your own race situation. I never felt uncomfortable having to bypass something when I could not complete it as I do at other races/venues. I did what I could, tried ones I have yet to be able to try, and even did things I hadn’t been able to in the past.

    Swag & Awards:
    The t-shirt is comfy! The Medal is sweet, it’s huge and pretty awesome. I also enjoyed that we got wristbands for the laps we completed, that was a nice addition too.

    Over all, I cannot wait to go back to Shale Hill. It’s such a great place.

    1. Swag, parking, facilities, etc are all great, but what makes Shale Hill is the staff. They check in on racers before, during, and after the race. They genuinely want to hear from you and to know you are enjoying yourself.

      Shale Hill is a dreamscape for obstacle lovers. The ordinary is difficult to find here. Obstacles are bigger, longer, higher, and frequently have challenging/multiple transitions.

      I have raced since 2012. I will never be elite & most likely always race open. Shale Hill is in my top 3 even with the immense number of obstacles I come back and fail year after year. It is my personal improvements on the course that make the trek to VT the highlight of my year. There is nothing like that feeling when you finally conquer it on your own or get further than you had before.

      As for my 1st experience of a 24 hour event? I raced between 10 a.m. and 2:34 a.m. completing 3 laps. I raced with various small groups of Spahtens who supported each other and joked the whole time. I had time for a 4th lap, but not the will or prodding 😉 that may have dragged me from a blissful slumber. No regrets.

      Do not use any excuse to miss out on the Shale Hill experience.

  3. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Shale Hill is my happy place. Rob and Jill have put on another amazing race with 24 Hours of Shale Hell.
    If you haven’t been to Shale Hill, you are missing out. I can’t figure out why people don’t go.
    People complain that it’s too far, but will drive to Killington or New Jersey or farther for another big name race. Shale Hill is less than an hour from Killington. From my house in CT, the additional drive time is only 20 minutes.
    People complain that it’s too expensive. This weekend cost me $150 for 24 hours of racing on their award winning course, plus two nights of camping for free and no extra charge for parking or bag check. Plus, you get the satisfaction of knowing that you are supporting a family run business.
    At NO other race I’ve ever been to has the race director greeted EVERY SINGLE participant, volunteer, and spectator by name. At Shale Hill, you’ll get a hug from your race directors, get to know their son and their dogs, and have plenty of time to chat with them when you’re not racing. They will be there when you arrive and when you leave. Jill will personally check you in and hand you your race bib and t-shirt. Rob will give the pre-race meeting. Both Rob and Jill will be out on the course, even in the middle of the night, checking on the racers. They’ll ask you to let them know if something needs attention. Water getting low? They’ll refill it. Bear poop on the trails? They’ll move it.
    Who was the medic at your last race? Don’t know their name? Never saw them? The medics at Shale Hill are Sandy and Andrew. I know this because they are always there. They’ll take care of all of your boo-boos, they’ll tell stories by the campfire (you should listen – they’ve done some pretty interesting stuff in their lives), they’ll give you a hug when you arrive and when you leave. They’re awesome and you should get to know them.
    Sure, there aren’t a bunch of vendors trying to talk you into buying stuff you don’t need. But if you need some amazing shoes, Jill sells IceBugs. You can demo them at the race and buy them right on site. There aren’t food vendors, either, but you can walk a block away to the general store for breakfast or to the restaurant for any meal, or head across the street for tacos, ice pops, or ice cream. And you should. The people are very friendly and the food is great.
    In short, if I had to choose between any race at Shale Hill and any other race, I would choose Shale Hill every time.

  4. Not my first visit to Shale Hill, of course.

    Communication: The information is there, it’s sent out prior to the race – but if you’re used to “big box” events with huge marketing budgets, it’ll feel a little late. Ultimately though, once you’ve been to SH, you know the drill and can figure things out quickly and smoothly.

    As always, the best obstacle course on the planet with the best obstacles. The 24h format meant two included nights camping, which I used one. Perfect.

    Best medal from SH by far. Awesome shirts.

    Can’t go wrong. From newbies to experiences ultra runners. Something for everyone.

  5. This year marks the 5th Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour, a winter race in which participants are given eight hours to do as many loops of Shale Hill’s 6.5 mile course as possible. I had taken part in Polar Bear two years ago in 2015 when there was around three feet of snow on the ground. In 2015, it took me almost five and a half hours to do one lap (compared with the summer when I can do a lap in around 2:45) and still ranks as one of the hardest races I have ever done.

    No pretense: I am not a cold weather acclimated athlete. I do poorly in the cold. For me, a race like Polar Bear is never going to be competitive. In the summer, I’ll crank out a few laps. In the winter, I’m just going to do my best and have some fun. No goals. For me, Polar Bear is a great time to hang out with friends and get out an play in the outdoors during a time of year when I traditionally have less fitness motivation, less time in the fresh air, and not nearly enough time playing around on obstacles. Polar Bear fills my off season in a most excellent way.

    This year, we were fortunate to have an almost snow-free course for Polar Bear. After 2015, I was supremely relieved! That being said, it was cold. Temperatures at start time, 7:30 a.m., were in the teens and they never got above the low to mid 20s. Obstacle racing in the cold weather is an entirely different thing than in the warmer temperatures. Winter clothing restricts mobility, muscles are cold making everything seem more challenging, and, worst of all, one’s fingers are unable to grasp things. I was either forced to wear gloves, which made my grip almost worthless and removed any tactile sensation from my finger tips, or I had to try to grab things with freezing fingers. After one lap my hands were dead. I couldn’t close my fingers and my palm were raw. For me, there is no fighting this.

    Nor is there any fighting how draining the cold is. One and done was my motto again this year, despite the fact that, in finishing my lap in 3:19, I had plenty of time to do another. I was not competing. One lap was fun. Two would have been a struggle and I would have failed lots of obstacles without my fingers working. I opted for a happy one and time socializing with friends.

    All this being said, Polar Bear is a great competitive race if you want it to be. For this event, Shale Hill draws athletes from all across the US and Canada. It is amazing to be witness to these athletes giving there all. For the rest of us, it’s one or two laps and then one of my favorite race parties in OCR. It’s perhaps an understatement for me to say that I’m not a party person. I, in fact, often dislike parties. For me to say that I like the party at Shale Hill is huge. Why? Because Shale Hill is a close-knit community. I know people. It’s friendly and low-key. Owners, Rob and Jill, treat me like family. Suffice it to say, Shale Hill is a special place. It’s the best fixed OCR course in the country, a unique community I love, and a special place. Polar Bear has an all day buffet with coffee and bacon (for those who eat it — certainly not me!) all day long. In the morning there was french toast and eggs. At lunch time there was soup, rolls, mac ‘n cheese, meatballs ,and ziti. A hot meal before and after spending time in 20 degree weather is the way to go and a huge perk of this race.

    Polar Bear starts bright and early with the 6:35 a.m. racers’ meeting. With the early hour, my carpool buddy and teammate, Amy, and I decided to stop by Shale Hill Friday night on our way into town to register and drop off our stuff. As always, everything was awesome. We received our bibs (which were giant flexible stickers, meaning they didn’t rip off on the course — amazing!) and a goody bag with stickers, snacks, and our race t-shirt. I love that Shale Hill does a long sleeve shirt for Polar Bear. (Note: I left my t-shirt at the house where I was staying and am super lucky that fellow Spahten, Becky, is very nicely mailing it back. I was even more lucky that Jill at Shale Hill would have sent me another one if this one had gone missing. Good people!) Amy and I dropped our gear at Shale Hill before heading to our rental house about five miles away.

    The close accommodations were helpful for our early wake-up. We were at Shale Hill parking a little after 6:30 a.m. and just in time for the racers’ meeting. One of the great things about Shale Hill is that they don’t charge for the extras. Parking, bag drop, and food is all included. Parking is onsite and just a 1/5 of a mile walk up the hill to the heated barn where all the action is happening.

    During the racers’ meeting, Rob went over the rules for the course. I was doing the open division this year, meaning that I would have to do penalties. Shale Hill also offers the penalty-free Journeyman division, which is an excellent option for those doing their first season at Shale Hill’s highly difficult course. Journeyman is also great for the less competitive athlete who don’t want to waste energy on penalties. All that being said, penalties are handled in a special way for Polar Bear. Usually, you do your penalties on the course in the summer, often completing spiderman push-ups for each failed obstacle. During Polar Bear, to keep the racers from stopping and getting cold on course, you collect small chips at each obstacle you fail and then bring them back and do all your penalties at the end right in front of the barn. Depending on the obstacle you fail, you get different color chips which correspond to different difficulty penalties. You then roll two dice to determine how many penalties you have to do and of what type. This year’s penalties included such things as dips, hitting a tire with a sledge hammer, jumping into a box and out, push-ups using PUPs stands, and hugging a stranger while singing a song.

    After the meeting, I quickly organized myself before the 7:30 a.m. open wave start. I put on my Icebugs, layered up, and put a buff around my face. I was ready to go. I ran out the door at exactly 7:30 a.m. and was on my way.

    The weather was cold. At 7;30 a.m., it couldn’t have been much above 18 degrees. I pulled my buff over my face and trundled on. The first challenge I hit was at the NES sponsored obstacle, the Zig Zag of Awesomeness. This obstacle features metal pipes that you have to traverse using only your hands. In such cold temperatures, it was ill-advised to remove my gloves and touch the bare metal. Unfortunately, in my gloves I could not get purchase on the pipe and kept sliding off. After several attempts, I ended up taking my first penalty chip.

    I kept moving with the goal of staying warm. It was cold but at least the sun was out and when the wind wasn’t blowing it felt almost tolerable. I had warmers in my shoes and in my pockets (for my hands), which was a must. I made it to one of my least favorite obstacles, the log slipper carry, which requires racers to carry to logs connected with a nylon cord for half a mile. My favorite logs weren’t there, but I got a good set and was impressed at how I powered through an obstacle that I often struggle on.

    Next up was the pond traverse. The pond was deeply frozen, making this obstacle a “go.” There were some short lines, so I opted for the traverse rope with Heaven’s Gate on it. Heaven’s Gate is a metal ring, wrapped around the traverse that one has to go around. I don’t usually have much problem with it, so I decided to forge ahead. I had taken off my gloves to gain better purchase on the traverse rope, not thinking about how I’d have to touch the metal gate. Touching Heaven’s Gate was like touching the coldest thing in the universe. I quickly made my way around and continued along the rope. My hands were ice and I kept asking Steve, who was stationed at the obstacle, “Am I there yet?” My fingers were hurting! I finally made it and was able to warm up my hands with the warmers in my gloves. I pressed on.

    Rob is perpetually adding to the course at Shale Hill. Case and point, a new obstacle about half way through the course. This obstacle was of a type I am increasingly seeing and have yet to master — the inverted stair / uphill monkey bar. It made my second failed obstacle of the day. I have done research and have a set of exercises (mostly pull-ups incorporating a plyometric element) that I plan to master in order to increase my ability to do these sorts of obstacles!

    I was racing on my own. The winter is not my season and the cold was getting to me. I was feeling somewhat low energy and hoping for a friend to pass my way. Fortunately, as I hit the halfway point of the course on the traverse wall, hope appeared in the form of one Mr. Paul Jones (aka. the most famous person I know). Paul served as my battle buddy (and sherpa for my hydration pack) for the second half of the course. Having his company was key to my enjoyment of the race!

    Of course, one new obstacle on the course wasn’t enough, so Rob created the Shale Hill ATWB, the all terrain wheelbarrow. This demonic new obstacle replaced the old bucket carry and, dare I say it, was even worse. My forearms were trashed and my arms were shaking after taking the ATWB around the old bucket carry loop. Having this obstacle right before the monkey bars was just terrible!

    At this point, I was feeling pretty tired. Fortunately, the end was in sight as we finished up at the Tarzan Ropes and headed over to the warped wall. Two more obstacles and then time to cash in my chips, do my penalties, and, finally, get warm and fed.

    I crossed the finish line and headed over to the penalty table, extracting five red and three green chips from my pocket. I had failed the Zig Zag, the new staircase obstacle, two sections of giant traverse wall, the fireman’s pole (though I had made it to the top, my fingers lacked the strength to pull me through the opening), the 2″ rope climb, the monkey bars, and the Tarzan ropes. For me, this was a bit of a poor showing, but with the cold, I was okay with the results. Apparently, my penalty count for the day was not overly high because I only had to hug a stranger while singing and do 15 tricep dips. Not bad. I finished in 3:19.

    I had time to go back out again. I even debated it for quite a while. I had finished in good time, and I had hours before the eight hour limit would be up. I could entirely do another lap. Then I realized, it wouldn’t be fun, and I was there for an off-season race that day. I was there for fun. I collected my medal, satisfied with my choice. I had the summer, when I planned to peak, for a competitive endeavor. Now, it was time to change into warm clothing and hang out with friends.

    What followed was an amazing few hours. I put on some clean clothing, had some hot food, and then hung out spectating by the fire, toasty warm in a Dryrobe that one of the vendors super nicely let me borrow. (Hint: These things are amazing!) Suffice it to say, I got to enjoy Polar Bear on many levels — as a racer and as a spectator.

    I cannot wait to get back to Shale Hill again. Next up for them is their August festival weekend. I plan to take part in the relay 1 miler, 8 miler (where I do plan to be more competitive and do multiple laps), and the charity relay. Between races, I plan to volunteer and spend time cheering on friends. Hopefully, in the meantime, I’ll make it up to Shale Hill a couple times this spring to get in some training. Already, I can’t wait to be up in Vermont again!

  6. I almost didn’t run – I’m coming off injury and months of little to no activity – but on Thursday, a quick email to Shale Hill, and we left Friday afternoon for a weekend with the whole family in VT – and a lap at night for the Halloween event.

    Some people call the turn out small – I call it “intimate”. Everyone knows everyone and everyone is friends. Some new faces, which was fantastic to see.

    The halloween run is a fun run – it’s casual, it’s one of the few times you get to run Shale Hill into the dark. Headlamps required.

    There were volunteer scarers out there on course – and while I’m not usually caught out, I ran with a fun group of people who are – and it was hysterical to see (sorry Amy!).

    The weather was about as bad as it could be without snowing – cold and wet. Keep moving or you’ll get chills.

    Course was slightly modified due to the dark and the wet – ended up clocking in around 5.5 this time – not sad 🙂

    Ran Journeyman, so I could pick and chose my obstacles – and not sad 🙂

    Great after race pot luck hang out in the gym – and great games of Cards Against Humanity at Falkenberry later into the night.

    Shale Hill brings a world class fixed obstacle course with unique obstacles that will challenge everyone – and a family atmosphere that can’t be matched anywhere. With the choices of events going on that day, Shale Hill was the place to be.

  7. It had been 18 months since I’d managed to make my way to Shale Hill, I was excited to see the additions and changes to a very challenging course.
    Info for the race was sent out previous to racers heading up, I heard some have issues, but I believe it was all remedied so everyone received the information. Racing 24 hours meant I was allowed to camp the night prior and obviously, during the night of the race. Camping was super convenient – a stones throw to the start line. A market just down the road was good for breakfast in the morning and then after a prerace meeting, off to the course.
    Doing Journeyman was a great option in my opinion, allowed me to attempt all obstacles and not worry about failing. I attempted all obstacles in the first 2 laps, thereafter doing most on each lap, other than the tarzan ropes which I will probably never complete successfully. Obstacles are very challenging and often different than ones seen at almost any other race – a nice benefit to having a permanent install! Basically, if theres a course to challenge your grip, strength, agility or endurance in a relatively flat area more, I don’t know it. I managed to complete 6 laps thru the 24 hours and was happy to hit my goal. Medals are great – Shale does a nice spinner medal that’s different than most you get. The t-shirt is nice and one I will actually wear. Medical staff is on site all night to evaluate injuries, have quick chats to check mental acquity and pull people who shouldn’t be out.
    Minuses for the race? Can we make it cooler next year please?? Some more padding/mulch under some obstacles might be needed and some of the supports are quite wobbly. I KNOW they aren’t coming out, I’m sure they’re buried 8 feet deep in concrete, but when you’re 12′ in the air and the support posts are wobbling, its really disconcerting. Same thing w/ some of the hurdles. The only other issue I have is one I don’t have a real solution to. In the 2 most recent visits to Shale, there have been issues where people allege obstacle or penalty skipping, and I feel it just makes a race more of a drama that it needs to be. I know its not feasible to have marshalls on all obstacles over 24 hours and its not just Shale, recent Spartan posts bemoan the same issues, so I don’t really have a solution.
    Don’t let this discourage you from visiting Shale. The obstacles and venue need to be experienced, Rob and Jill are as welcoming and friendly people as you could want to host a race, and everyone needs to hit a taco stand in the middle of a race! Can’t wait for 24 hours next year!!


    The pre-race email laid out the whole weekend perfectly.

    My only suggestion would be a bigger / more visible sign for the parking, to help those arriving at night.


    Tent city, with a nice bonfire. Walking distance to a local market. Tacos and popsicles available trailside. All great stuff.


    As advertised, this course has boatloads of obstacles of all kinds. Strength, balance, grip, climbing, hanging, carries. Many of which I’d never seen before. For some, getting down was almost as much of a challenge as the ascent.

    A few carry the risk of significant injury with a slip or loss of grip strength. I like the edge for the most part, but racers need to know when to go for it and when to live to fight another day.


    Cool spinny medal, solid t shirt.


    The medic did great work helping the walking wounded stay in the fight as long and as much as possible.

    This was my first trip to Shale Hill after hearing for years about how great it is. It did not disappoint. With all the different length / time options, there’s something for everyone.

    The 24-hour in particular was a unique community-building experience. It’s one thing to day trip to an event, run a lap or three, then clean up and head home. It was something else to sit by the fire, watch shooting stars, be on course for sunset and sunrise, hear the bell ring at all hours, and live in the present.

  9. Communication leading up to the race was a little lacking. There was a post on facebook that the RD letter would be coming and then a bunch of people didn’t receive it. It was quickly remedied by a copy of the letter being posted on the facebook event but I didn’t receive my own letter until Thursday in my inbox. Had I not been on facebook I would not have gotten the information until right before I had to leave for the race.

    Shale hill is an awesome venue to see improvements. It is a tough course but with the journeyman option anyone can go and have fun and try things that they will not see anywhere.

    I love the 24 hours of Shale Hell. Registration includes camping on Friday and Saturday night. Racers bring a tent, set it up, hangout and relax. There was an amazing sense of community in tent city. Everyone was sitting around, enjoying food and laughs. It was really neat to experience. There was a racers meeting on Friday so that people could spend the morning getting ready for the challenge. The race itself consists of trying to go around Shale Hill’s course as many times as possible in 24 hours with both competitive (penalties for failed obstacles) and journeyman (no penalties) options available for the race. In between laps racers went back to tent city, repacked, refueled, rested and went back out when they felt ready. There was 24/7 EMT on site making sure racers were safe and reserving the right to pull a racer from going out for another lap if they were not in good condition. Once a racer decided they were done, they were done. Racers could have crew come with them and hang out in tent city, prep food and keep coolers stocked which was nice to have in between laps.

    There were other options running at the same time, the Benson bear 5K, 10K and the 8 hours Shale Hell which started an hour before. It was great to have so many different racers on the course racing their own races.

    Sunday morning at the end of the race, the race director came around and made sure racers had received a completion medal. Shale 24 was a great physical and mental challenge. If you want to ever do an endurance race, I recommend trying Shale 24. It is so much more than a race, it is an experience every OCR enthusiast should have at least once.

  10. Shale Hill has very quickly become one of my favorite places to race. Here’s why:
    Communication: Emails coming out of Shale Hill have always been a little later than I’d like but this is always made up by the constant communication with them both on our team page and on the event page. They are always a quick email away and will always work to help you figure out what you need.
    Venue and Festival: The festival area, also now known as “tent city” was a gathering ground for racers. While not crazy and busy like you’d see at bigger races, it has a much more communal feel. You can wander around and find people, someone (Ron) is always cooking, and if you’ve forgotten anything, it’s there. There was a bonfire going all night and one of my favorite parts is that since you’re so close to the start and finish lines, there is always someone to cheer you as you come across the finish line.
    Course and Obstacles: Shale Hill is a beast of a course, no matter how you look at it. If you’re willing to push yourself, it is willing to push you right back. I’m still at the point where there are some obstacles that I absolutely cannot get, but I get a little closer every time. My only upset is that some of the obstacles just seem unreasonably high, and I’m not that short of a person. I had particular trouble with the transition between bars on the zig zag of awesomeness, it seemed much further apart than usual. This course has something for everyone, racers of all abilities can do a large portion of the obstacles and having several lanes and varying difficulties at some obstacles (I’m looking at you destroyer) is a big help.
    Swag and Awards: I always love the medals from Shale Hill. I ended up with a non-spinning medal since they ran out of spinning ones and I have a plain ribbon but I’m going to use that space to write my times and race info on it. Also, not a white shirt this time which I really appreciate!
    Overall, Shale hill is a MUST on your race list. Any of their options actually, but this race pushed me in a way that others haven’t. The great thing about 24 hours of Shale hell specifically is that you can built the race to suit yourself. Whether your goal was to hit X number of laps, or push yourself on various obstacles, or just t have a good time, there was something for everyone. You can run competitively or journeyman without penalties, you can take a nap by the pond, whatever you need as a racer, Shale Hill can help.

  11. I’ve been told that Shale Hill is OCR heaven. It did not disappoint. I liked the mix of obstacles and use of terrain. Not your typical festival area. Tent city with your fellow racers makes it more of an intimate setting. Nice t-shirt and a spinny medal.

  12. Shale Hill is one of my favorite local courses to race. I love the atmosphere, the people, the course, and yes, even the obstacles. Every time I run there, I find new strengths and weaknesses, and improvements over the last time I visited. I really don’t have any complaints. My only suggestion is that the “parking” sign be a little more visible…for those of us who don’t really pay attention and end up driving past the entrance every time we visit. 🙂

  13. Pros:
    Obstacle Difficulty and Creativity are 2nd to none.
    Course Marking is the best I’ve ever seen, impossible to get lost
    Swag is as expected for a local race, Great, Medal, Nice T-shirt and Nice Sticker.
    Great Price Point

    Some of the obstacles could have had a safer way to dismount.
    Communication was not 100% accurate and a little slow.

  14. Having the Tri-obstaclon and Relay at Shale Hill in one weekend is new this year. I loved that I could really make good use of a long drive and overnight stay. It is a bit difficult to execute some of the obstacles two days in a row, and the tri really seems to take a toll on me. Maybe I’m just getting old…
    It was a great weekend, and I had a ton of fun. I can’t wait to do it again next year!
    I will say that, as much as I do enjoy the two races on a weekend idea, I do lament that since I can’t make it during the weekend of 24 hours/Benson Bear, I won’t be able to run the 10K course this year as just a standard 10K obstacle race. Everything I can make it to is something special, which is great, but I miss Benson Bear and I wish there were more options to do that.
    Oh, and please, PLEASE find a closer lake. That bike ride is a killer!

  15. This was my first time running the Shale Relay Challenge. What a fun event! Each relay team consisted of 3 people and set out on the 10K course. Each member was responsible for completing 1/3 (~2 miles) of the course. The order of runners was picked out by drawing straws. The relay “baton” was this awkward, heavy metal “key” that you had to have on you as you ran and completed the obstacles.

    This was a fun way to compete at Shale Hill. I think this is a great way for someone new to come to Shale hill and get a taste for the course.

    The one thing I would like to see different would be the relay baton. I got clunked a couple of time while coming off of obstacles and have some bruises as memories.

  16. Last year, I called Tri-Obstaclon one of the top three hardest races I had ever done. Obviously that meant I had to do it again this year. Tri-Obstaclon is Shale Hill’s version of a triathlon. Participants mountain bike approximately 7 miles to Lake Champlain, do a 300 yard swim, bike back, and then run the 10K obstacle course at Shale Hill. There are options for everyone. If you are looking for a shorter length challenge, you can opt to do the bike, swim, and then 5K obstacle course. If you are looking for even more of a distance to traverse, there is an elite option with a 600 yard swim and two laps of the 10K course. As always, Shale Hill offers both open waves (with penalties of 25 spiderman push-ups for failed obstacles) and the journeyman non-competitive and penalty free division. Shale Hill also offers the option for a relay format (thought I don’t think I saw anyone take that option).

    For Saturday’s race, I chose to do the 10K open wave (with penalties) option. Last year, I ran Shale Hill’s races in the journeyman category. I had been encouraged to consider the competitive option. Shale Hill is edging in on 70 obstacles, and there are only a handful that I routinely fail — time to get “serious.”

    I borrowed a bike rack and my roommate’s car to take my bike up to Vermont. Let me be clear that while I have a bike and use it pretty much daily to commute to and from work, it is not, perhaps, ideal for racing. It’s a heavier model, optimized for transporting my lunch and gym clothing with a basket on the back. The gears are not as smooth as I might want and sometimes the chain jumps. However, the bike has hybrid mountain bike tires and is rugged. The mountain bike 14 mile portion of Tri-Obstaclon is mostly on rolling hills along country dirt roads — my bike would suffice for this purpose. It did last year.

    Saturday morning dawned hot. I was staying in Benson (home of Shale Hill) with a few teammates. We coordinated, stopped by the Benson Country Store for some coffee and bagels with eggs, and then headed up to Shale Hill to check-in. As always, registration at Shale Hill is a breeze. This is a place where everyone knows you, where the race director will give you a huge and welcome you, and where the volunteers know your name on course and will cheer you on personally. Shale Hill is really the NE Shaptens home away from home, if you ask me. It’s for sale, and so if you haven’t made it up to Benson yet, this year is the year to take advantage. It’s a special place.

    At check-in we got a goodie bag with some stickers for Shale Hill, Tri-Obstaclon, and Team Sinergy. We also got a nice sleeveless tank as our finisher shirt. This is my first memory of Shale Hill providing a shirt that’s not 100% cotton. I know a lot of people love tech shirts, so I can only imagine that this was met with excitement. (I’m a cotton and cotton blend person myself since I like to wear race shirts for casual wear or as pajamas instead of at the gym.)

    The race was set for a 9:00 a.m. start. Considering the heat, I almost wish that we had started a bit earlier, but a 9:00 a.m. start is good for anyone who wants to travel in the day-of. There was a racers meeting at around 8:45 a.m. where Rob, the race director, outlined what we needed to consider for safety, announced the penalties for the obstacles failures, and told us more about the bike and swim portions. Helmets were required for the biking and shoes were required for the swim since the lake had zebra clams.

    After announcements, Vince Rhee took our lovely team picture and then we were off to get inline for the biking portion.

    We began lined up along the fence that runs perpendicular to the barn. At the starting gun, we ran to our bikes and jumped on to begin the ride to the lake.

    In 2015 I bemoaned the biking portion of Tri-Obstaclon. This year, I knew the ride would be 7 miles each way, not the 5 to 6 that is advertised. I was more prepared, had tuned up my bike, and had more biking experience, including a brief weekly trail ride to pick up my CSA after work. As a result, I was able to enjoy the bike ride a lot more this time around.

    The bike course took us along rolling hills. On the way out to the lake, there was definitely more downhill than up. I don’t especially like the feeling of going downhill on gravel and the lack of traction, so this was a good opportunity to practice getting comfortable with that feeling and keeping my bike under good control. In general, I did pretty well. I also limited the amount of time I got off the bike. In general, a lot of the Tri-Obstaclon participants are into OCR foremost and don’t do a ton of biking. I am lucky that I bike regularly, if not quickly. I kept reminding myself to not pull up too much on the handlebars when going uphill so as to save my arms strength for the obstacles. I also tried to be smart about using the gears on my bike.

    Because it was warm out, I kept hydrated. The wind of the bike cruising downhill felt fantastic. It was so warm and humid, that after about 10 minutes, I ended up taking off my NE Spahtens drill shirt and raced the rest of the day in my sports bra. This is the first time I have ever done a race in a sports bra, and it was a very nice way to race, as it was much cooler. Any worries I had about scratching up my delicate stomach were unfounded. I had no trouble going over walls, carrying logs, or going up ropes in just a sports bra and capri tights. The only modification I had to make was that doing the traverse rope could not be done on the top. Riding a bike without a shirt was amazing!

    The scenery along the bike route was lovely. Soon, I made it to the wooded area bordering the lake. This part of the trail is quite technical for someone like me who really only rides on the road, so I ended up running the last quarter mile or so down to the lake, as I did last year.

    All along the bike course and at the lake there were lots of volunteers to keep an eye out for everyone and cheer people on. At the lake, I checked in with a volunteer, as splits were being manually tracked. I had make the ride in less than an hour. With the heat, I was eager to get into the water. When I did, it felt wonderful. The temperature was refreshing but not too cold.

    The 300 yard swim was set up for people who are not regular swimmers. The entire way, a person could stand up and have their head above the water. (Note: This is not true if you’re especially short like me, but you are, even then, swimming parallel to the shore with the ability to swim in only a foot or too towards the beach and be able to stand.) There were ample volunteers at the swimming section, including a life guard who was in the water with us and following along as we swam. The swim was perfectly lovely, if a bit of work on my arms. I got out of the water refreshed and jogged back up to my bike to begin the ride back to Shale Hill.

    The ride back took slightly longer than the ride out since there were more uphill sections. I only had to walk in a couple of places — one of which was because my chain jumped. All in all, I enjoyed the biking section much more than last year and felt slightly less tired afterwards; though biking 14 miles is work no matter what and gravel roads require much more effort than paved ones.

    When I got back to Shale Hill, I took a couple of minutes to eat a Larabar and change my socks and shoes. I had uses my Reebok Spartan shoes, which have drainage holes, for the bike and swim, and I wanted to change into my Injinji socks and Icebugs with carbide tips for the obstacle course portion. I drank a lot of water and put on more sunblock. I decided to skip taking my hydration pack with me, since I had so enjoyed running without it at Viking Obstacle Race last Sunday. This was certainly convenient, but I probably should have taken it. Viking had 4 evenly spaced water stations and was mostly in the woods and took me around two hours per lap. Shale Hill has most of the water stations towards the end and has large portions of the race in the fields, which lacks any protection from the sun. Having my pack would have been nice, since I got slightly dehydrated towards the end of the course and quite sunburned.

    Last year, I finished the race in 5:27. This year, I did it in 5:22. I consider that basically the same. My time on the obstacle course was faster last year. This year I did a bit better on the biking. I think that a huge factor in my decreased speed on the course was the heat. I did very well on the obstacle course portion — that is my main sport — however, during the last mile I was dragging. Also, doing penalties takes some time.

    I failed less than a half dozen obstacles — Zig-zag of Awesomeness, Slackline, parallel bars, monkey bars, and Tarzan ropes. Of those, I commonly fail the Zig-zag; the Slackline is new (and is something I feel I should be able to do); the parallel bars is the one obstacle I have yet to get at Shale Hill; the monkey bars I have trouble with because they are so late in the course; and the Tarzan ropes I can almost always make in training but can sometimes miss during races since they are the third to last obstacle and require so much grip strength. Suffice it to say, I can do better, and know that if I keep training there will be a time when I get all of the obstacles at Shale Hill.

    I did, on Saturday, make a couple of obstacles I find to be hit-or-miss with completion. I did very well on the tire swing, and make the 19′ rope climb without too much difficulty. I did well on the log splitter carry too. Those are all obstacles that have given me trouble in the past. I also did the pond traverse very efficiently despite having to do it entirely underneath. (As I mentioned, I ended up running the course in just a sports bra and capris and doing the traverse rope on top, my preferred method, gave my stomach too much rope burn.)

    When I crossed the finish line I was exhausted but happy. I had enjoyed my day tremendously. The last mile of the race was incredibly challenging! I was hot and tired and would have signed up for Tri-Obstaclon 2017 in a heartbeat! I put on my finishers medal and headed over to the bar for some tacos and local chocolate milk. What a great day.

    Shale Hill is hands down my favorite place to race. Rob and Jill, owners of Shale Hill and co-race directors, always put on a wonderful event. My next race of the season, coming up on August 6 is 24 Hours of Shale Hell, in which I’ll try to do as many laps of the Shale Hill course as I can in 24 hours. I cannot imagine how hard this will be and how much fun. I cannot wait to get back to Benson in a few weeks and spend a weekend with the NE Spahtens and other OCR friends hanging out and doing lap after lap at Shale Hill.

    (More on my blog:

  17. First, let me say that I love Shale Hill and that Jill and Rob have done an outstanding job of designing a course and making everyone feel at home. Jill’s Folly was a new adventure for Shale Hill so there was definitely a learning curve.
    Communication: Shale Hill does tend to fall a little short on pre-race communication. I like to have things planned out well in advance and I would have liked a racer’s email a little further toward the beginning of the week. Jill is great at answering questions on Facebook, but it would be nice to have certain things answered without having to ask – such as the actual distance per lap.
    Venue and Festival: Shale Hill is a beautiful property and the “festival” area is always kept clean and welcoming. Jill and Rob were very accommodating by allowing us to set up our tents inside the party barn since it was expected to be cold and rainy overnight. I’m sure this detail saved my race, since I was able to sleep in a warm, dry space. There were just a few of us, so there wasn’t a real festival, but there was plenty of camaraderie and fun to be had.
    Course and Obstacles: I had so much fun just running this course! I’ve never been able to go through Shale Hill without worrying about the obstacles, and it was great to get a feel for how much faster this course can be. The biggest complaint for most people, I think, was the obstacle completion for bonus miles. On the first day, some people were able to earn up to 20 miles, while I only earned 2 miles. It was simply a matter of who bumped into course marshals and maybe a matter of details not being thought out well enough. Needless to say, the rules changed on the second day so that each athlete could only earn miles once per lap.
    Swag and Awards: The medals were amazing! Jill baked her grandmother’s almond cake into small torte pans that were hung on the ends of the lanyard. A Jill’s Folly sticker finished it off. The cake was delicious and the medal looks great on my rack. The shirts are fine, but I’d really prefer a tech shirt to a cotton one. Since the race was on Mother’s Day weekend, all moms were gifted a flower, which was a very nice touch. Everyone who made their goal mileage – either 50 or 100 – with running miles (not counting bonus miles) earned a $10 iTunes gift card. Other prizes were given to the first three racers to make the 50 or 100 miles. The packages are very nice and contain lots of things I’ll bring to Jill’s Folly next year.
    Overall: For me, Jill’s Folly was a success! I didn’t think that I could really run 50 miles in 48 hours, but I made it with plenty of time to spare. While there are details that need to be worked out for next year, I would certainly return for another go at this one.

  18. This weekend 17 people took on the inaugural Jill’s Folly; a 50 or 100 mile personal or 3 person relay race around the infamous Shale Hill course with optional obstacles in a 48 hour time frame. It was a weekend full of great weather, rainy weather, pushing physical and mental limits, as well as experiencing almost every emotion possible.
    Let’s break down the scoring and then I’ll do a short recap of my experience.
    A solid 8. As seems to be a bit usual with Shale Hill, the race e-mail arrived quite late in the week of the race, however once we got the first e-mail, we had gotten many e-mails to clarify any lingering questions. Also usual with them, however, is their availability to answer questions at almost any time about the race via facebook or e-mail, which, to me, makes up for most of the late race e-mail issues.
    Venue & Festival:
    Quintessential Vermont location. Plenty of parking. Very short walk to great food. I love being here. Because of the rain, Rob and Jill opened up the barn for those who wanted to set up their tents up inside, which was so very welcomed. Plenty of water and other goodies constantly floating about. A grill provided to cook on. A fire roaring at night. I much prefer this homely closeness to my fellow racers over any large loud music festival.
    Course & Obstacles:
    In the past I’ve always concentrated on the quality and difficulty of some of the obstacles Shale Hill provides, where the course has always sort of taken a back seat. This weekend I got to get a really good understanding of how the course is, and I found that there are parts of the course that are seriously difficult. Because of all the rain the past week or so, many parts of the course were flooded. There were deep messy mud traps because of the rain as well. There is really only one hill at Shale, which is not very tall, but gosh is it steep and it is well used. It is a very challenging course without the obstacles. Of course, the obstacles are still top rate and I had fun taking on a number of the obstacles this weekend for bonus mileage, including 2 I have never completed before.
    Swag & Awards:
    The awards from Shale are always top notch. Icebug, Synergy, and Shale gear always seem to make it into the awards. For those who hit at least 50 physically ran miles also got an iTunes gift card, regardless of where you placed. All the mom’s present got a small pot of flowers to take home. The medals were one of the most thoughtful genuine medals I’ve ever received, as they cut holes into the top of a tart pan, and Jill baked her grandmother’s almond pound cake in the pans before wrapping them up and putting them on a lanyard. After the cake is eaten, the tart pan is easily converted back into a medal to remember the event by. Truly amazing. I only took away a half point due to the t-shirt. I understand that for such a small crowd, an overly sized varied offering of sizing may not be the most cost efficient, but the small unisex shirt is still way too big for me and uncomfortable for me to wear, and will likely end up in my race t-shirt quilt instead, even though I love the graphics.
    I’m going to dig a little bit into my experience here. I headed to Jill’s Folly with the intent of getting 50 physical miles and as many bonus miles from completed miles as possible. I’m ecstatic to say that I completed my goal. I did it in just over 34 hours. It was a long emotional weekend. I took along a unicorn, Violet Sparklepants, for Hannah. I felt so many emotions out there. I gave it everything. I was taken care of by Sandy, the medic. I made a life long friend in my battle buddy, Steve. And it was a race I’m 100% willing and wanting to attempt again, just in hopes of better weather.
    Overall, this was another top notch event put on by Jill and Rob. It wasn’t without a few hiccups and the Saturday morning change to the bonus mileage was a little surprise, as it became a bit less beneficial for me, but it was new to everyone and we all took it in stride and understanding. Jill and Rob are just amazing people with big hearts. I get hugs from everyone there. I play with their dogs. Talk about life, the race, anything. This is one of my favorite places to be. I cannot recommend enough getting to Shale. And I cannot recommend enough to get out of your comfort zone and try this race. Even if you don’t make the 50 mile mark, you’ll still learn a whole lot about yourself and truly enjoy an amazing race experience.

  19. I’ve spent a lot of time at Shale Hill since my (and their) first Polar Bear in 2013. I reiterate every positive statement made by everyone else. There’s a reason runners are so complimentary of the people, the venue, the festival, and the obstacles – it’s because they all really ARE. THAT. GOOD. Very few other race directors and venues can compare. My only reason for the 9 score on Swag & Awards instead of perfect 10s across the board is the 100% cotton t-shirt. It just isn’t soft and comfortable as a blend would be. Of course, if I have to nitpick that far to keep it from 100%, they are doing oh so much right. I look forward to my next four years of Shale Hill and Polar Bear events.

  20. Everyone says “Do Polar Bear! It will be fun!”. This year I said “sure why not”. I had only been to Shale Hill once before so I knew a bit of what I was getting into. Registration the night before was great. It was quick and painless and you got a nice swag bag full of stickers, a nice long sleeve t-shirt, a very awesome icebug buff, and a few other odds and ends. We were able to drop off our race “box” the night before which ensured we got a good spot in the changing area.

    This race had something for everyone. You could run the 5k, a 10k single lap, the 8hour as open, elite or journeyman (no penalties). I signed up for the 8 hour challenge and wanted to get 2 laps (journeyman) completed before the end of the race. Shale Hill is an AWESOME course. Spanning 6.5 miles with ~70 obstacles it definitely challenges you in every possible way. There are the physical demands of the obstacles as there are in all of the race but Shale Hill forces you to face some mental obstacles. A lot of the obstacles are a little harder, a little higher, a combination of techniques you have never had to put together at the same time. My personal highlights of the day were completion of the Destroyer, the Abacus, the giant ridiculous slip wall and completing 2 laps in ~6.5 hours. I came out of this race having learned a lot more about myself and what I can accomplish.

    One of my favorite things about this race and racing at Shale Hill in general is Rob and Jill. They are great. There were at least 10 times throughout the day where you saw or heard Rob on the course checking up on racers and making sure everyone was doing okay. When we got back to the party barn after finishing Jill was walking around talking to everyone. It is a very welcoming family feel and makes you want to come back and race again.

    The medals were great and for each lap completed you received a wrist band which was a nice touch. The race registration included a buffet with some absolutely amazing food. Altogether this was one of my favorite all around race experiences.

    1. I need to be clear that to me, Shale Hill is an obstacle challenge, not a race. It’s about the obstacles. I run an 11 minute mile on good days. Shale Hill this year took me over 4 hours. It was awesome! I went with the intent of conquering more obstacles than I did at last year’s Polar Bear. I went with my sister & her boyfriend for battle buddies. We stuck together the entire course and work and reworked obstacles that were impossible last year.That’s what battle buddies are for. You go and you conquer together. If we wanted to spend 20 minutes trying to conquer the Destroyer (or any obstacle) it was no problem. Simply step aside when other runners come through.

      Shale Hill has enough obstacles that strike my intense fears. These fears are truly a matter of self-trust. Do I have enough strength in me to make it to the top, to make it over, to make that jump, to not let go, to keep going. Yes, I screamed out, “I’m scared!” more than once this year. I meant it from the bottom of my toes. But that heart thumping adrenaline rush of “I DID IT!!!!” from the other side of an obstacle is what will keep me coming back to Shale Hill as often as I can. This reaction is seen all over the course by journymen racers. It is amazing to share in the excitement.

      The most important factor in Shale Hill’s awesomeness is Rob’s genuine care for every person on his course. I’m a weekend warrior with dreams of waking up Wonder Woman someday. It doesn’t matter to him where you are on your athletic journey. He stopped multiple times to give us and those around us tips to handle an obstacle in a better way, to check that we were still doing alright. He checked in again later in the barn to see what we had thought about the race that day.

      2016 wins best shirt design to date! This thing looks awesome!

      Note for 2017: ’16 had no snow on the ground. Ground was frozen solid with many ice patches. Ice bugs were awesome. I was 1 layer short due to wind and had 2 times on the course when the cold got the best of me. Based on the temp I raced in UnderArmor pants, underarmor top and my Akuma long sleeve. I needed a wind stopper top. I also feel I could have done better with fueling along the way. Planned snack intervals would probably help me on this course.

      Final thoughts: jump in on a house rental with Spahtens. Spending Friday and Saturday night with a crew is such a good time. 2 years in a row we spent Saturday night by a fire, foam rolling, stretching, laughing well into the night.

  21. This was my second trip up to Shale Hill and my first Polar Bear. In the summer I only did the 5K, so half of the course was brand new to me.
    I went into this race with a few goals. Some of them were met, others were not, but I had a fabulous time.

    Obstacles: The obstacles at Shale Hill will challenge you. One of my goals was just to make it halfway through a certain one that I hardcore failed last time (I met that particular goal). I had never done Rob’s version of a traverse wall, and holy crow. If you can defeat that thing, I want to shake your hand!! It is super long, however, there are different sides of it that you can use to either challenge yourself or ease the pain….slightly. Right after that was the Coffin. This one stand out in my head for many reasons. I normally hate tight spaces so I thought this would mess with me a lot more than it did. According to my battle buddies, I made a lot of crazy sounds in there, but I did it! (The coffin is a rectangular tunnel that is super slick on the bottom and goes up hill. You essentially have to lay on your back and stick your fingers in these holes on the top to pull yourself up to the top.)

    The Bacon… I mean festival. Polar Bear is a unique event in that there is a BUFFET at the end. Seriously. The food is ridiculous and there is BACON involved.

    The Awards: I loved the medals for this event. Great design! Even more, I loved the wrist band that you earned with each lap. These are like a portable medal I can wear to work for bragging rights with my students. Awesome addition!

    Another thing that I truly appreciate about going up to Shale Hill is Rob and Jill. They are both great people, Jill is always super helpful with any questions (not to mention all the awesome ICEBUGS!) and Rob always gives really helpful information in his racer’s talk at the beginning. He also comes around on the 4-Wheeler throughout the race and interacts with the racers which gives us the chance to talk to him….. and curse at him for the difficulty of some of the obstacles. HUGE shoutout to Rob and Jill!!

  22. Shale Hill is one of my favorite places. When I arrive at the farm, I feel like I’m home. Rob and Jill are always very welcoming with a big smile and a hug, and they try their best to make everything run smoothly and to keep everyone happy.
    Polar Bear is a great race! With 8 hours to tackle as many laps as possible, I went up for the third year in a row with a goal of 2 laps. Since the weather has been so unusual, there was no snow on the ground and most of the terrain stayed firm throughout the day. Two laps, baby!! Woohoo!!!
    There was a new obstacle at Shale Hill for Polar Bear – The Destroyer. I’ve seen this one before at FIT Challenge and I didn’t conquer it there, so I was pretty afraid of Rob’s version. He has made 4 lanes on it, and I got over the easiest lane without much trouble. I mean, it was scary, but I made it. My personal goal is to work up to level 3 – hopefully by the end of this year.
    Rob has also added to Balance Alley. What used to be a relatively simple balance beam is now a long log hop, transition to balance beam, then transition to a slack line. While I was able to complete the log hop, I’m so short and the logs are so high that I did have to have help just getting onto the first log. In my opinion, there is no need for these to be quite so high off the ground. It would be possible to cut the top 8-12 inches off each log and have a safer obstacle with the same level of challenge.
    All in all, I had a great day and I am really proud of myself and my battle buddies for completing two laps. We definitely earned every bite of bacon, macaroni and cheese, and brownie!

  23. The 2014 Shale Hill Halloween Run was one of the most enjoyable races on my calendar. When 2015 rolled around, it was one of the first races that I knew I wanted to commit to. What I didn’t know, was that this race would be my brother’s first obstacle course race.

    The Shale Hill Halloween Run is, in some ways, the most ideal race for first timers to obstacle course racing. The race has a small field of around 50 people. The attendees are Shale Hill regulars, which means that everyone is like family and the environment is friendly and comfortable. The Shale Hill course is tough, but people will stop to demo obstacles for you. Because there are a small number of racers you can try an obstacle more than once. Also, Shale Hill features the penalty free Journeyman division where you can test yourself on the course without having to worry about doing penalties for obstacles you cannot complete. Finally, the Halloween Run is a fun run. It’s a time when parents bring their kids and new people come to have an enjoyable race that’s about having a good time more than competing for prizes.

    The Halloween Run is also unique. It starts at around 5:00 p.m. Since it takes the average person a couple of hours to complete the course at Shale Hill, this means that people end up doing a good portion of the race in the dark. Along the course, there are volunteers who are dressed up in costume and will jump out and scare you. If, like me, you are not too keen on horror movies and the like, don’t worry — it’s not really all that scary. While the man with the chainsaw might be a bit of a starling character, most of the monsters are children dressed in costume. (Note: When they ask, “Did I scare you?” The right answer is, “Yes! You got me.”) All in all, this is a cute race that people can bring their kids to and use to introduce family members to the course of obstacle course racing. The one caveat being the added challenge of the dark.

    My brother, Greg, and his fiancé, Grace, had been mentioning for a while that they would like to try some obstacle racing with me. Both are very fit individuals. My brother is one of the most kinetically gifted people I know – for example, he learned to ride a bike when he was three – and Grace has always been an athlete. I convinced both of them to sign up for the Halloween Run, so this race at Shale Hill was one that I had been looking forward to even more than usual. This was combined with the fact that after a summer of going up to Shale Hill to race or train about every other weekend, I hadn’t been up in around a month and a half. The fall semester had started for graduate school, and I had been too busy with that and work to make the almost three hour trip up to Benson, Vermont. Suffice it to say, when Greg and Grace came to pick me up for the ride up to Shale Hill, I was excited and ready to go.

    We chose to head up a bit early to Benson. I wanted to show them the course and give them a little preview before the race, especially since it would be done in the dark. Unfortunately, the only damper on the weekend was that Grace had badly twisted her ankle and would be unable to participate. Fortunately, the Shale Hill crowd was able to hook her up with some volunteer work. She was an expert cheerer and also took a number of great photos (that you’ll see in this post). I know she was disappointed not to get to race, so hopefully we will all be able to go up and race or train together soon.

    We arrived at Shale Hill around 2:00 p.m., which gave us plenty of time to look around the course before the 5:00 p.m. race start. We checked out some obstacles for about an hour and a half, headed for a quick snack at the Wheel Inn, and then came back to Shale Hill for the 4:00 p.m. check-in. At this point, a number of the NE Spahtens had arrived. We did some visiting, and I introduced Greg and Grace to some of my friends on the team. Shortly before 5:00 p.m., we finalized our registration, got our goodie bags and t-shirts and then headed outside for the racer’s meeting. Grace snapped a quick picture of me and Greg. The weather was cool — in the low 40s — and we are bundled up. (See my blog for pictures.) In the image, my fingers are hiding in my sleeves and my torso is spherical from the three layers I was wearing. The NE Spahtens also took the opportunity to take a quick team picture. This was definitely a better showing than the approximately a half dozen people who came from the team last year.

    Race director and Shale Hill owner, Rob Butler, took time during the race meeting to give us some modifications. In the interest of time, two carries were eliminated from the back half of the course. We didn’t have to do the log carry in the last third of the race or the bucket carry. I was pretty excited about not having to do two heavy carries, since they are not my strength. However, I wish that the longer Log Splitter carry, which is over half a mile, had been eliminated instead of the shorter log carry in the latter third of the race. Still, this was a definite positive and helped speed things along during the end of the race when running in the woods was a near impossibility due to the dark.

    After announcements, we lined up and at around 5:10 p.m. did a single wave start. Greg and I were off!

    Despite my several years of obstacle course racing experience, Greg is a decidedly superior athlete. We had, however, decided to stick together. This was a fun race and to be a family affair. Plus, I was the only one with a headlamp. A fair warning here: Do not be distressed when the balance of this post is about how awesome racing with my brother was and how great of an athlete he is. You have been notified.

    Shale Hill is, without a doubt, one of the most (if not the absolute most) challenging courses around. The reason that I recommend it to beginners anyways is two fold: You can go there and train at your own pace and the atmosphere is so friendly that you will not feel intimidated or unsafe.

    I won’t go through an obstacle by obstacle breakdown in this review. (If you are interested in that information, you can find a list of the obstacles with their descriptions on my post from last summer about Shale Hill. For the purposes of this write-up, I’ll just list my highlights.

    The first highlight was at the Zigzag of Awesomeness. This is an obstacle that the NE Spahtens sponsored. We have our banner on it, and it is still one of only a handful of obstacles at Shale Hill that I cannot reliably clear. When Greg and I arrived at the obstacle, the fourth in the course, I was pretty cold. I did a great job handling the first half of the obstacle, as the video Grace took attests to, but unfortunately fell on the transition. My fingers were too cold, and I lost my grip.

    The video that I wish I had was of Greg, who, after using gloves on the obstacle the first time and then falling off, tried a second time and completed it in such record time that 30 Days of Shale Hill attendee, Rita, commented on it with amazement. It was awesome to watch!

    The next highlight of the night was the Pond Traverse. The traverse was optional during the Halloween Run, mostly because of how cold it was. Greg and I watched the person in front of us fall into the lake. There was no way that we were allowing that to happen — it was too chilly! I had showed Greg the way to do a traverse on top of the rope (instead of below). I find it a lot easier since you are not holding you bodyweight up with your fingers and legs. We both traversed that way fairly quickly and without much issue. Fellow Spahten, Nicole, took a video of me finishing up the traverse. (Again, see my blog if you’re interested.)

    Other highlights of the course were getting to see my brother succeed on some very challenging obstacles. Some of them he managed just by being strong. For example, I tried to show him the j-hook and s-hook for the Rope to Ramp, which he ended up just muscling his way up. That works for him, but I would be hard pressed to replicate that.

    Greg had also mentioned being not very excited for the Loom; however, when we got there, he had a really fun time on that obstacle. He also did a great job on the 19′ rope climb with the 2″ rope. I had a less than successful attempt at this obstacle, getting to around 2′ from the top before being so tired that I couldn’t make it. I hung in there for a while, but my legs were too tired to propel me up even with the s-hook. This was a bit of a disappointment and served as an interesting reminder of how quickly we can lose fitness. I had been training at Shale Hill pretty regularly over the summer. My grip strength was good, and my upperbody was strong. After six weeks away, I noticed a very decided difference in my endurance on the obstacles. I definitely got tired a lot easier, especially with my grip, than I did over the summer. For example, while I managed all five panels of the Great Wall, my arms were pretty dead afterwards, where as, during my peak fitness in the summer, I was able to do that without feeling too tired.

    Greg also did an amazing job at the monkey bars. After doing the flat monkey bars, he decided to do the uphill monkey bars. I don’t know that they were required for the Halloween Race, since they are normally just for the Elite Men; however, it was incredible to watch Greg go all the way up them on his first try. This is the only time that I have ever seen someone do those monkey bars straight through, and it was a first-time obstacle course racer who did it.

    One of the unique challenges of the Halloween Run was that it was at night. After less than an hour on the course, everything was pretty much pitch black, and we were moving through the wood with only my one headlamp to light us. (A headlamp that was, I’ll note, not entirely effective for such lighting needs — either that or I’ve gotten spoiled by my awesome headlamp on my bike.) Shale Hill did have solar lamps lining parts of the course. Unfortunately, a lot of these didn’t seem to be working, which meant that it was hard to find the turns. For this reason, it was kind of critical to be out on the course with someone who knew it well. At one point, after the Tarzan Ropes, I even got lost and was lucky that Grace was there pointing the way, as she had done in her volunteer role with many other racers.

    Throughout the course, there were helpful volunteers and buckets with candy. The main theme of the night was fun. As I mentioned before, the course was packed with kids jumping out to “scare” you and adults in costume. The entire feel of the race was that of a family event where everyone out on the course and at Shale Hill was part of a great community.

    Greg and I finished the race in around two and a half hours and finished probably in the first half of racers. The fact that it was so dark that we couldn’t run in the woods during the second half of the course definitely slowed up down, but we kept moving pretty consistently and, I think, put up a fairly decent time.

    We got medals at the finish line and then headed into the gym to enjoy the potluck dinner. There was ample food and lots of deserts. Greg, Grace, and I all enjoyed some snacks and socializing with the Spahtens before heading out for the night.

    The Shale Hill Halloween Run remains one of my favorite races. It is entirely fun and, this year, was made even more special because I was able to share the race with my family. As always, I enjoy and appreciate the community that Shale Hill has built with their incredible hospitality. You are always welcome to bring guests and children, and many people do. The inclusivity that Shale Hill promotes is part of what makes it so special. The Halloween Run’s focus on getting out there and having a good time fits well with my ethos. I race because I enjoy it more than I do to compete. I like to challenge myself, but I always want to be having a good time. The Halloween Run is just that — a good time. It’s also unique for being one of the only races of the year that is done in the dark. That added feeling of excitement and novelty is something I enjoy.

    I did a lot of racing this year, and I would say that the Halloween Run is probably a top favorite race for me, along with Shale Hill’s Benson Bear Race, Bone Frog, and Ragnar. I am already signed up for Bone Frog and Ragnar for 2016, and as soon as Shale Hill posts their 2016 calendar, you can count me in for Benson Bear, 24 Hours of Shale Hell (which will be my keystone race of the year when I get Rob’s training program), and the Halloween Run. I can’t wait for 2016 to do the Halloween Run again!

    (Videos and pictures on my blog:

  24. Last minute plans saw me, my wife and my kid heading to Shale Hill to spend the night, race the dusk to dark halloween race, and have fun at Shale Hill – as is typical at shale hill, you’re welcomed as family, and treated to simply the best obstacles on the best course in the country. Due to an ankle injury I ran the 5k distance this time (except I did the full 10k distance of the “log splitter” obstacle), and had the opportunity to see my 6yo son in his Hulk costume several times on the course, screaming and scaring and having an incredible time!

    I’ve said it many times – if you don’t go to shale hill, you’re doing OCR wrong.

  25. This was my second time to Shale Hill, the first time just running through on a weekend with a friend, so this was my first event there.

    The property itself is fantastic. Rob has managed to get just about every inch out of the place as possible. Many of the obstacles here, you won’t find at the bigger events. Many of them like to mess with your mind just as much as your body. Having to do them at night was a good experience, and even made some of them easier since I couldn’t see as well to be terrified of something. I did a little better than I had done the first time I went, and that was good enough for me at this stage in the game.

    I was wondering when we were going to get the pre race email, which we did get early in the day on race day, warning us of shut down obstacles due to daylight constraints. That was nice.

    The atmosphere at this race is pure fun! Most everyone was in costume, and in my opinion it was a gathering of people participating in an OCR for whatever reason they got into it in the first place. Not super competitive, people just having fun and laughing (while crying on the inside) going through Rob’s obstacles. Rob has a 5k and 10k option. Either course is packed with obstacles, and they both challenge your technical skills.

    The swag was pretty good, tshirt and medal (the medal is pretty cool), headband and wristband.

    The post race gathering was awesome. A big pot luck dinner/dessert with delicious items. It was in the gym area where people were testing themselves on the giant rig. The camaraderie in the room was great. Lots of laughter fun etc. I had a 3 hour ride home so I left about 9, but I saw Jill putting together prize bags for men, women, and best costume.

    All in all a fun experience, I wish shale hill was closer so I could go more often!

  26. Shale Hill is “the field of dreams” for OCR.

    The venue isn’t the flashiest, but the welcome is the warmest.
    The swag isn’t the biggest or brightest, but the achievement is the biggest.

    Rob has built a 10k (or 5k) course with simply the biggest best obstacles you’ll find. From highly technical physically challenging rigs – to brute strength lifts – to simply damn fun stuff, like balances or tire flips or crawls. Shale Hill really does have it all, and just a few hours from Boston.

    Get comfortable on the Shale Hill course, and nothing you’ll see at any other event will intimidate you.

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