I missed the first Haunted Halloween Obstacle Race at Shale Hill in 2013, and was kicking myself for it. I thought I was going to miss this years too, as O2X was being held at Loon Mountain and my wife was running that (review to come).
But, the stars aligned, the 3.5 hour drive in the middle was negotiated, and I had my ticket for another spin of Shale Hill in my grubby little hands (well, my email inbox – but close enough).
It’s really hard to talk about Shale Hill and not sound like you’ve taken a sip at some chocolate milk flavored kool-aid … but, just in case you’ve missed the memo … Shale Hill is home to simply the best, most challenging, most FUN obstacle course in North America. It’s in VT and an easy drive from the Boston region. Local accommodation is plentiful and cheap if you don’t mind sharing with some friends, and you won’t get a better, more friendly welcome than you will from the owners, Rob and Jill Butler.
It’s not my first time up there, of course. I love the place, and can’t say enough positive things about it – but this particular race was a first for me, in that we were running the Halloween event. Costumes, headlamps and running into the dark – along with volunteers who got into the spirit of things by dressing up and scaring you half to death at points, decorations all around the course, and being fairly remote VT – a perfectly black night sky, and nothing but natures noises in the background.
I’m not so good with costumes … so I showed up in a skull mask and top hat long enough for the photos, but knew I wouldn’t be able to run in them and dropped them in my car before we head off. I’d decided I only wanted to do the 5k lap this time – I’m still nervous about my ankle, and my old lower back injury has been bugging me this past week – so, take it easy I told myself. Just go have fun, I told myself.
I ended up battle buddying it with Nicole and Stephen, and they were planning on the 10k loop – so I set off with them, and figured I’d stick with them until the course split … this happens once you’ve gotten through the teeter totters, the pick your poison wall, some of the woods and you get to the evil sandbag carry from hell … 5k goes straight through, 10k goes on a 3/4 mile cross country scramble, then they meet up. So, ok, I’ll go do that bit – *then* I’ll go back on the 5k course.
Following the sandbag, we moved to the pond traverse. It was at this point that we discovered Rob had hidden candy in little pots at all the obstacles. Candy! Sorry traverse, I was more interested in the tootsie rolls at this point 🙂
We moved on. Climbing over obstacles, getting awesome bruises and road rash at the gut check, sprinting out the tire pull (that thing got longer!) and nailing the rope climb to the platform – which apparently the 5k loop only has to go up the rope … hmm, that 5k option is getting longer.
Hitting “the jungle” we moved through some climbing, balancing, climbing things and got chased down by a guy revving up his chainsaw – the volunteers up until now had been encouraging and nice, this guy was mean and scary and he REALLY nailed the chicks who came through after us – got them good 🙂
Moving out into the field after the jungle, we made the call to cut about a 1/2 mile of forest out and use the 5k section. It was dark, I wanted beer, and Nicole and Stephen got dragged along 🙂 Sorry guys! They immediately got me back after the tower, as we decided to get back on the 10k course and do the loom, may as well do the log carry while we’re there, right? I made it up the first section of the loom for the first time, but had to bail at the ropes as I couldn’t get my shoes to grip, and I was feeling very wobbly – still, small victories!
More freaking hay bales. They’re breeding again. Then onwards to the final woods and the monkey bars (hah) and rock scramble to the field with the tarzan ropes (hah), then onto the VERY slick and slippery anaconda to the finish line (ps. We gave Rob an awesome idea for the Anaconda that, should be chose to implement, will make your life horrible. You’re welcome!)
When we crossed the line together and Jill asked us which course we did (meaning 5k or 10k), we had to try and explain that, despite intending to do the 5k, or the 10k – we ended up doing the Special K. My GPS has us at 5 ish miles, so we dropped a little over a mile on the 10k loop somewhere, but picked up over a mile on the 5k loop. Oh well, we had a BLAST in the process, even if we drive Jill crazy when she has to figure out how to place us on the timing sheets 🙂
With Shale Hill, it doesn’t end when you cross the line. Being a themed race, we had a gathering in the gym/barn and shared a potluck, post race dinner. We caught up with Heather and Geoff of Relentless Forward Commotion who had just experienced their first visit to Shale Hill (spoiler: they loved it) and hung out all night. By all night, I mean that three of us were sitting around a camp fire enjoying some beers at 2:30am, before finally heading off to sleep.
Hats off to the volunteers – I know it’s always tough to get volunteers for a race, and when that race is running into the night I can only imagine it’s even tougher – yet they were out there, with a well timed “boo!” or a revved chainsaw and zombie mask … they jumped us from behind hay bales, from bushes and the sides of trails .. many we saw more than once as they moved back and forth on the course to keep you guessing too. Thank you for being out there, and thank you for making the event so much fun!
Shale Hill is a gem in the OCR world. It’s in our back yard. When you register for a race at Shale Hill you directly support one of the hardest working, most committed and nicest OCR businesses, who truly appreciate both your business and participation. In this age of the OCR lifecycle, when more and more people are looking for alternatives to the big box circuses, you should come out to Shale Hill and check them out. I can promise you won’t be disappointed.
See you all at the Polar Bear Challenge!
(Also, thanks to MemorEvents for free photography, posted before the weekend was over!)