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Interview: Obstacle Race Training Center, VT

One of the most exciting “finds” since we launched the New England Spahtens, was finding out that right in our own back yard (Benson, VT) was an obstacle course training center.

A *what*?!

Right – a permanently installed, professionally run facility dedicated to obstacle course racing – here in New England. Even better – they hold events at the venue – and the Spahtens will be heading up there for the Polar Bear Challenge in January. Bring Cold Gear 🙂

To get more of an idea of what to expect, I contacted the owner, Rob Butler. I am very much looking forward to the Polar Bear Challenge now.

Firstly, some links for those looking for more information

Secondly, for every New England Spahten that races – you will find a team discount of $5 back in your goody bag on race day – make sure you choose (or start) team NE Spahtens during the check out process! Thank you to Rob for this kindness!


Tell me a about your facility and it’s background?

ORTC at Shale Hill Adventure started out as a training facility for myself to train for obstacle races. When I started building it, people just came out of the woodwork and wanted to join in the fun. I started out with about 8 obstacle training areas and it has grown into a 150 Acre, 5 plus mile long, 35 plus obstacle and challenges course! The course is set up in such a fashion that it gets you warmed up and stretched out and then it starts to challenge your cardio and strength. Everything I have built has a purpose, it works everything you have from your head to your toes!. The final goal for this obstacle course is 50 obstacles in 5 miles. The obstacles vary in difficulty from very simple balance beams and barbed wire crawls to very difficult Funky Monkey bars and Tarzan ropes. (only a handful of people have been able to complete the 60 foot long Tarzan swing and only slightly more people can complete the Funky Monkey bars!) I am in the process of building “The Jungle” which will be a series of tall, very challenging obstacles in a very dense wooded area. My plan for the course is to rate each obstacle using the same system as the international skiers code. Green circle, blue square, black diamonds. I am going to rate each obstacle and also assign each racer an ability level. This system will allow people of all different ability levels to compete and have fun together. For example, If you happen to be a green circle and you are running with someone that is doing the black diamonds, when you reach an obstacle with no green circle, you just keep running! The black diamond person then is forced to complete the obstacle and then push it to catch back up! It works for everyone and helps people to become more fit. This has been very successful with couples of different ability levels (keeps them form arguing so much! They actually find it very rewarding!) I could go on forever about this course, so I will just stop here…OH YEAH, I forgot our penalty! If you fail to complete an obstacle, you are required to to spider pushups!! Very fun and difficult!

Our facility is new and ever expanding. We have the very well marked obstacle course. We are in the process of building an indoor gym with a 32′ long 12′ high and 12′ wide bodyweight training cage that is second to none. It has rings, and ropes, and bars and pulleys and bags and, and and….. you get the picture! We are building locker rooms now and should have them ready by the 2013 season. Currently we have an open run on Saturday mornings at 8 am and wednesday evenings at 5. We are open everyday by appointment and in 2013, we will be open everyday for walk-ins.

Where are you located and what lodging / entertainment is there in the area for spectators / support crews?

In regards to lodging in the area, we have many bed and breakfast type facilities in the immediate area that are very nice and popular with couples that come to run here. The larger chain hotels are a short 25 minute drive to Rutland Vermont. During races, this is where most people stay. We are currently working on a deal with the hotels for a racers discount and should have that in place for our 2013 races! There is a lot of nightlife in Rutland, with some good restaurants and clubs. And the Killington access road is only 15 minutes from Rutland and you can have all kinds of fun there!

It sounds like you have some pretty serious, permanently installed obstacles – can you tell us about them? (Which is your favorite, which is the “hardest”)

Our most serious obstacles to date are the Funkey Monkey Bars and The Tarzan swing. My monkey bars are a series of two, one pretty straight forward 50′ long section immediately followed by a 60′ uphill section that is super steep, the bars spin and they are 2′ apart. These separate the men from the boys. Out of all the people that have come to do the course, I can still count on two hands and a foot, the number of people who have completed them. They will also be growing in length this winter as I am planning another 50″ up down bar section! Another really difficult obstacle is the Tarzan Rope Swing. It stares at you at 4 1/2 miles into the course. It is a large, intimidating looking structure with 3 lines of ropes spaced 5 feet apart and dangling from 13 feet in the air. One line of ropes has knots in the ends for people who just don’t have the grip strength yet. The other two lines are set at different heights for different height people. The object is to jump onto the first rope and transfer rope to rope over the course of 60′ without touching the ground. Most people can get about 2 maybe 3 ropes in and they drop. We had had about 8 people that can get through this and about 100 that can’t wait to try again and again and again. It is a timing thing, once you get it, it is not quite as hard. My most difficult obstacles are the ones that I am building right now. I have a salmon ladder and press wall combo that is super tough. I have a series of traverse walls that is over 130′ long. I am building a floating log climb that is downright scary! These will all be in “The Jungle” and they come in at about the 2 1/2 mile mark at which point you are muddy, wet and a little weary as you have already done 12 obstacles at this point! (one of which is a 1/2 mile sand bag carry with obstacles!) Another one of my favorite obstacle is my Hay bale area. We have all seen hay bale obstacles on different courses, but this is of epic proportions. It is an uphill run with stacked large round bales (over 100 of them). The total length is about 1/8 mile uphill and these come in at about 3 1/2 miles. They will absolutely bury your cardio! They are followed up by a much needed water station! The last obstacle that is encountered on the course seems to be the worst for most people, it is the Anaconda. It is a constant weaving up and over a ridge with a challenge at the top of the ridge every time you get there. It is so difficult because you can see the finish line, but just can’t get to it!

What kind of races do you currently offer, or have been offering?

In 2012 we held just one race, The Benson Bear Obstacle Challenge. It was our first race and was successful. Everyone had a great time. We don’t charge for spectators so we had quite a few. The national guard was there with a giant inflatable obstacle course for the kids. We had vendors, and of course food!

What are your short term goals for the facility into 2013? (Whats next?)

For 2013 we are holding a 4 race points series as well. It is called The Benson Bear Obstacle Challenge Series. This points series offers a $1000 first prize to the top man and $1000 first prize to the top woman finisher in the series!! The cost for the series is $280 total ($70 per race). You can buy a season pass for $280 and it comes with 8 free training days on the course! ($80 value!). We will also have a Team division and the winning team will chose a charity and we will make a donation to that charity in there name!

Our other events for 2013 are a Non-Traditional Triathlon, a duathlon, two High school challenges and a college grudge match! The Triathlon is very unique in that you start on your bike, ride an easy 5 miles to the lake, swim 1/4 mile, ride 5 not so easy miles back to Shale Hill and finish with the obstacle course! We will also be offering an elite triathlon for people who want to bike a total of 20 miles, swim 1/2 and run a 10 mile obstacle course! Please keep an eye on our website as we are currently upgrading it! I hope it will be ready soon!

Everything that I have listed above falls under short term goals. One of our long term goals is to establish solid relationships with the schools in the area and get obstacle racing as a varsity sport. We currently are working with 5 high schools and they are coming out once a week with a team and training on the course! I would like to see this happen with about 20 schools in the area including colleges. This type of workout is so complete and the teamwork and camaraderie are unmatched by any other sport! Other long terms goals are to open our zip line course and our 3 paintball courses as well as our gravity mountain bike park and pump track and equestrian center. I want this place to become a family destination so there is something for every member of the family to do while they are here.

Where do you see the sport of OCR going in the near to mid term future?

I believe that it is very important for OCR to have an infrastructure in order for it to not only survive but to thrive. Without a place to train, without a place together on a regular basis, I am afraid obstacle racing could become a 10 year flash. How successful would soccer be if there were no fields to play on except every weekend in a different location, who know how far away from where you live? I would love to see ORTC franchise and go nationwide. I feel it is important to set a standard that other courses are built on so that everyone is competing on a similar level. You wouldn’t be able to compare athletic capability of baseball players or hockey players if they didn’t compete on the same size field or ice, right? The one thing that I hope never changes about obstacle racing is the thrill of not having too many rules and regulations. In the world we live in, so many rules and regulations are thrown at us on a daily basis, so many Safety devices forced upon us. It is a breath of fresh air to have an event that is edgy, offers some risks, and challenges your inner self! It is very important that thesecharacteristics remain! These are just some of my thoughts on that!

Thank you to Rob for taking the time out of building the facility to answer my questions. I’m going to be running this event (even if I manage only a lap or two) – and it sounds like we have several interested Spahtens. Check our the Spahten events page to get more information, arrange ride shares and lodging, and hope to see you there!

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