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Featured Review: Benson Bear Challenge #2

Shale Hill Adventure logo

Last time we visited Shale Hill Adventure Farms, the temperatures varied between 3f and 11f and we were planning on doing 8 hours worth of laps of their unique, permanently installed obstacle course.

You can read more about that experience here – and if you have not, please take a few minutes to click through and watch the race footage so you can get a feel for some of the unique and challenging obstacles Shale Hill will offer you.

This time, we were planning on running the second race of the Benson Bear Challenge (it’s a four race series for 2013) – as many of us were already in the neighborhood crewing or volunteering for the Death Race, taking place less than an hour away.

I’m so glad we did! The weather was perfect for us, and while Shale Hill doesn’t attract the kinds of numbers you see at a big name event in a metro area, the course and the welcome you receive are second to none. Normally, I’d have a GoPro video of the course to show you, but at the start line, my camera wouldn’t start – no wonder, the memory card is sitting in the side of my iMac, staring me in the face as I type. Talk about a rookie move!

Still – it’s worth going into what Shale Hill is about.

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Situated in Benson VT, Shale Hill Adventure Farm is the best permanently installed obstacle course you will find anywhere in the country. Currently spanning around 5 miles of trails, with terrain varying from open fields to seriously treacherous and technical slopes – the obstacles have the luxury of being permanent installs, so Rob Butler, the master mind behind the whole thing, can go bigger than anything you’d seen before. Rob has big plans, and I’ve said it before, if anyone can do them, it’s Rob.

We arrived early so Corrine could run in the elite, 8am wave. Parking is right on the site, and no charge. Spectators are free and have full access to the course – with great views of the start and finish line, and several of the final obstacles – Shale Hill is such a friendly event, they would likely put you on the back of an ATV and run you anywhere on the course you wanted to go, if you like – I know Vince, our camera guy, was tailing us the entire time.

The goodie bag we were provided with rivals that of much bigger events – a nice heavy weight T Shirt, a bunch of stickers for your car and other stuff – a dog tag engraved with their designs – for the finishers another fantastic medal (that spins! and can take an iTab!)


Being a small, friendly event, the waves were small – just a handful of people running the elite devision – Shale Hill sponsored athlete Randy Feely was the winner, with a time of just over an hour, which should tell you how this course compares to something like a Spartan Race or other OCR you may have run before – with finishing times for the meer mortals pushing closer to two hours. One thing was clear, since our run through back in January, Rob had been busy expanding … The remaining Spahtens, and our new friend Matt B Davis (website), ran together later on, with Corrine doing a second lap and ultimately taking third place for the women!


How do you expand an already great course? In January, we walked over a frozen lake … this weekend we were dunked in it. Every bucket carry and sandbag carry was longer, and the terrain slick and steep. New obstacles were present, including Alcatraz, a 16′, 75 degree wall with ropes that it took us more than a few attempts to get up (if we got up at all!). Familiar obstacles like the abacus ladder were slick with mud – and rather than try going over the metal rod at the top, I popped through the top rung.

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We had just as may hay bales to deal with, but they were falling apart this time (and still smiling at us!) – another new obstacle being the two metal rods held up on tall poles (the Double Up?), with the challenge being to get over the top – I have NO IDEA how to do this solo, it took three of us working together to make this one … climbing the firemans pole to a cargo net and wall slide sucked as much as it did in January too.

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Then you come to the final stretch, and things get tougher — the human sized lincoln logs hanging from ropes, the really awekwardly spaced climbing walls, the goddam monkey bars (and the welcome Chocolate Milk stop at the top), the final tarzan ropes, that were tough enough to begin with, now have an 8′ wall at the end – *thanks* Rob!

Then the home stretch – running through the Anaconda obstacle – something that seems so easy – simply run up and down the banks of a raised road – at the end of this race, it’s exhausting, hard work.

Once the race was done, we hung out and chatted – Rob has some really good ideas coming, including some big ideas that are already underway – look forward to hearing about a family friendly OCR resort (yes, exactly what it sounds like) that will be within easy driving distance for most of us, training weekends, and more.

If you haven’t made the trip to Shale Hill – you are missing a gem. This is an obstacle heavy, challenging course – you won’t be driving to VT to run an easy 5k, thats for sure. If you’re looking to take this sport seriously, and want to learn better techniques, then seriously consider taking the drive for one of the Benson Bear races, or staying up there for one of the training sessions (which include instructors from our own elite ranks – Eric Matta) – and watch your skills at these events improve – we can all build up our running on the roads and trails, but where do you get to improve on a real, complex obstacle course? Shale Hill, thats where.


2 thoughts on “Featured Review: Benson Bear Challenge #2

  1. if it wernt for army training!

  2. Awesome review! Brought a smile to my face reliving the obstacles ;> So, on the "double up", if it's what I'm thinking you mean (fireman pole in sight) the ground is higher on the left most side so you can actually get up on the bar – learned that tidbit from my first run through with Rob, after failing miserably to even reach the first bar on the right hand side….

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