Shale Hill is a tough course. No bones about it – it’s probably too tough for some of you. I know there are people scared of it, and people who have done it, and think it’s too hard. Such is life.
So – if you’re not scared off already, you should *seriously* consider next years Tri-Obstaclon. It takes the fantastic physical upper body challenge that is Shale Hill, and adds a leg burning bike and swim portion in front of it. It’s like doing a triathlon, but with monkey bars thrown somewhere in there.
They were offering three options this year. Lite, Power and Elite. The break down was pretty simple – everyone started on their mountain, commuter or borrowed bikes and cycled a fire road, with some technical trails to Lake Champlaign. There, Lite and Power would wade or swim between two bouys, while Elite would go twice. Reverse the bike route to the transition point outside the main barn at Shale Hill, then set off for the course. Lite would do the 5k, Power, the 10k “full” course and Elites would go around twice for 20k.
And like any Shale Hill event, you could run these competitively, with penalties and prizes – or as a Journeyman, which excluded you from prizes and allowed you to skip penalties.
I don’t know how much more accommodating things can be – if you’re still nervous.
Power, Journeyman was my speed.
How do you prepare for a race like this? I’ve never done a triathlon, and I’m not sure how much that would help anyway – almost all of the bike course was on dirt road and trails, the swim could be walked, and was more for fun and annoyance than anything else, and no triathlete ever transitions to a 10k obstacle course. What do you wear? What kind of tires do you have on your bike? What shoes do you wear?
A few weeks before the race, I pulled my bike out of the basement, cleaned it up and started putting on the miles. Not too many – but four or five 7 mile rides, just to make sure I was comfortable on the saddle, and the bike was working ok – I ended up taking it into the local bike shop at the last minute to get my more rugged mountain bike tires installed, new brake pads and to have the chain and gears oiled up to help them shift smoother. I can swim, but I’m not strong at it, but knowing I always had the option of simply walking took away any fear of the water – and I’ve run the course more than a few times now, and I know it’s still going to kick my butt, and leave me sore for days all by itself.
It’s extremely easy to find a place to sleep the night before a Shale Hill event. We stayed at a local guest house, put 8 or so people in beds, and with a lovely coffee and fresh breakfast bagel at the general store, you’re barely out $30 and your morning commute is just a few minutes across sleepy Benson, VT. We unloaded, racked our bikes, stored our gear bins and started shaking hands, exchanging hugs and enjoying the atmosphere. Rob called an athlete briefing, and at 9am we lined up and set off for what ended up being a 7 mile out and back bike ride – initially on the Shale Hill course itself, then to some gravel and dirt roads, before a final stretch of extremely technical terrain down to Lake Champlaign. Volunteers were everywhere, and it would have taken serious effort to get lost. My bike held up great, and bombing down roads at 20mph is a blast, right up until you have to go back up the damn hills … the last 1/4 mile stretch was so rocky, muddy and sloppy that we were walking our bikes to the transition, where a volunteer noted your times and sent you to the swim.
I’m no swimmer – so I was very happy to hear that the lake was chest deep – enough that you could swim if you wanted, or like me, simply wade. 300 yards or so was all, and there was quite simply nothing to be worried about. The water was refreshing.
The ride back was uphill. All the way, it seemed although thats not really true. I added 10 minutes to my ride going back, and I’m sure I ate half the mud that flung up off my tires in this section. Note to self – mud guards next year. That final quad burning push up the grassy hill to cross the finish line into the transition area smoked my legs, and when I dismounted I was convinced there was no way I could manage a whole 10k on the course.
I had chosen to ride/swim/ride in some old Inov8’s – so I swung by the transition area and peeled off my shoes, socks, cycling shorts and jersey and dried off a little. Switching out to new socks, compression calf sleeves, running shorts and a tank – then my Icebug Zeal’s for the running – I also drank copious amounts of water and ate a dry bagel to get some fuel.
Likely, I spent no more than 20 minutes here – it was time to get moving, my legs had recovered. Unusually, I’d decided to run this one pretty much solo. I found some of the obstacles I couldn’t normally do still just as challenging (I never make it through the traverse wall, for example), but I also found some things easier than normal. Carries weren’t a problem this weekend – the split log, the tire drag, the hoist, the log and bucket carry feeling pretty good. I skipped the pond traverse, having had my fill of water for the day – and being Journeyman meant I didn’t even have to feel bad. Nailed the Lincoln Logs and huge slanted wall – but I’m not going to go into the full play by play. I crossed the line running, at 3 hours and 18 minutes (gps time), and had a BLAST. Oh, and I nailed the warped wall – a first for me!
The tri-obstaclon is unique. Shale Hill is a very upper body intensive course – thats well known – but what happens when you smoke your legs before running it? An entirely new experience is what.
Post race, we cleaned up and baked in the sun, which had come out later in the afternoon – the weather was hot, surrounded by friends, belly full from a gorgeous burger and some lovely beers supplied by the local restaurant. I was reminded quite simply – this is why I do OCR. Those were the moments I love. We’d all just completed a tough physical challenge – over coming obstacles and achieving new milestones – and our friends were there to participate, enjoy and experience it.
Thats why I do this. Thank you, Shale Hill, for always reminding me of that.
Register: Shale Hell weekend – 24 hour, 8 hour and 24 hour team options. August 1st 2015