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Polar Bear Challenge 2014 – interview with the Butlers

Shale Hill Adventure logo

Shale Hill Adventure Farms landed in the OCR scene only one year ago, and immediately impressed everyone who was at their innaugural race, the 2013 Polar Bear Challenge. They had something special – unique obstacles, a serious challenge, never ending bacon and big promises.

Rob and Jill Butler changed the game, and have continued to do all the way through 2013 – the four race Benson Bear Challenge may never have pulled in the kind of numbers you would get at a big, flashy traveling event – but the incredible obstacles, friendly welcome, chocolate milk on demand and heated hose pipes to wash off with were fantastic.

With the 2014 Polar Bear Challenge coming up in just a few weeks, and space limited to just 200 participants, I wanted to reach out to Rob and Jill and ask them a few questions. They have big plans for 2014, and my gut reaction when I first met Rob continues – if anyone can do it, Rob can.

EURO - Polar Bear- resize

Q) Who in their right minds thinks 8 hours in Vermont in February is a good idea?

Rob: Well, ME and of course! If your going to make the trip up here, you might as well spend plenty of time out on the course!

Jill: Only Rob Butler thinks this is a great idea….however, I like the element of snow/ice/frigid temperatures adding an element to the challenge. The 8 hour venue allows us to host a more unique and personal experience. I believe some of the best people we’ve met in OCR we have gotten to know since they came to our last Polar Bear race a year ago.

Q) The Shale Hill course has become much better known since last years Polar Bear – how many people would you estimate have been through the course in 2013?

Rob: We have had about 1000 people through the course (not counting repeat visits). Our growth in the middle and high school market is incredible!

Jill: Between 700-1000 visitors in 2013, almost double since 2012!

Q) It seems Rob is always tinkering with the course – new obstacles, new challenges, new layouts – what are some of the biggest changes you’ve added recently?

Rob: First of all, Rob does not tinker! 🙂 The most note-able change for the Polar Bear is the distance of 6 miles this year. I have added quite a few new items like the towering teeter totters and the parallel bars (they are only 24′ long , no worries!) . We have the traverse ropes over the frozen pond this year and a new layout for the sandbag, slosh pipe, stone carry loop!. I have also added a little treat after the pond traverse (you will see!) and then a rope tire pull to really test your arms after the traverse! 🙂 ON ANOTHER POSITIVE NOTE: WE WILL HAVE 3 FIRES AROUND THE COURSE FOR WARMING UP!!! (Im getting soft as I get older)

Jill: If Rob has his way and an unlimited budget, the entire farm would be covered in obstacles! Rob is always figuring out how to take a basic obstacle and re-invent it! For example, adding 8′ walls to the end of the Tarzan Swing…an obstacle that is already very difficult to impossible for most folks.

Q) This is a competition event, with penalties – what penalty system do you plan on using this year?

Rob: The Penalty Box system will be in full effect and we may offer a couple of twists in that department to spice things up a bit.

Jill: The same idea as last year. Fail an obstacle, take a chip from that obstacle. They do the penalty at the “penalty box” you draw for that chip up at the barn for ALL to see! One thing for sure, there will be no “skipping” obstacles and taking chip if you know you cannot do it. You must try it each time. If you fail, at least you gave it an honest try. But, if you chose to skip…that’s not really fair because you are then shaving time off your lap and the energy you were supposed to use to do it. We WILL be enforcing this and skipping will not be tolerated….especially if you are a contender in the running for a top prize.

Q) Shale Hill is part of the Obstacle Racing Training Center program – tell us more about it?

Rob: ORTC™ or Obstacle Race Training Centers is a company that is uniting all fixed location obstacle courses in the country to work together toward a common goal. Among other things, ORTC will be producing the countries first national racing circuit using only fixed location courses. ORTC will also be working to develop new courses, new training gyms and so forth. All gyms and courses involved will operate under their own names and utilize the ORTC licensing and branding under their name. These will not be franchises, just certified facilities and sanctioned events. I am also putting together a competition to be held at the ORTC gyms throughout the country. This competition will be a virtual “race” and all data, nationwide, will be collected and winners will be announced with national prize money!! I am just touching on this here, there is a lot more to it. So we will have the racing aspect covered and the gym aspect covered! FUN STUFF!!

Another quick note: Having the ORTC-USA system in place will allow for the assignment of national racing numbers! You will be able to register for your national racing number and use the same number indefinitely!! This will allow you to have uniforms made up, post to your blogs and be instantly recognized in photos, ads, etc etcetc… This will also make race registration much faster and easier! Imagine that, just like a real sport! 🙂

Jill: As you know, we not only host great down to earth competitions with a heavy emphasis on “obstacles” as well as racing, we are also a fixed-obstacle training facility open year round to the public. You can come train as an individual, run with one of our weekly guided runs, or schedule your school, group, or corporate outing for a unique team building experience. We also host OCR camps for youth and adults. Like us, we want to help others build the “outdoor gym” on their properties offering valuable advise on course design, construction, and building costs along with a membership to ORTC-USA that oversees all of it’s partner gyms to establish a high level of service, community, and consistency across the nation. If you go to an ORTC sanctioned event or training facility in Arizona, you will get the same great service and quality to excellence on their outdoor course as you will see here at Shale Hill. This also includes a sanctioned race series that will be held among all ORTC affiliated facilities around the country with it’s own numbering system, OCR governing rules, points tracking, and National year end championships. We are currently looking for self-motivated, hard-working, fitness based individuals/entraupenaurs to open up their own ORTC affiliate facility.

Q) I had the fortune to run at Sunny Hill in NY in 2013, also an ORTC sanctioned course – how many more ORTC course’s do you expect to see in 2014?

Rob: I expect that 2014 will show about 8 courses on board and probably about 20 gyms nationwide. By the end of 2015, I expect to have an international sponsor and approximately 50 courses in the U.S. and about 200 gyms. We will be expanding in 2015 to worldwide with interest currently in Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Germany, and Russia among others…

As a side note: Sunny Hill will be holding two races this season and will be open for monthly training memberships just like Shale Hill Adventure!!!

Jill: We are hoping to have about 3 – 7 courses sign on with us this year. And, once we are established and people see we are here to stay (and it works), that we’ll double or triple that number in 2015!

Q) Looking into 2014 – what are the biggest changes Shale Hill will see? Will it get even more challenging, or open up to “regular joe’s”?

Rob: Shale Hill will never get easier . I have built this place to challenge the best obstacle racers in the world. That being said, we are going to be offering a 3.1 mile Benson Bobcat course that will offer about 22 obstacles and challenges and the 6.2 mile Benson Bear with 60 obstacles and challenges. The Bobcat will be ideal for beginner/intermediate racers and the Benson Bear will challenge the best of the best to see what they are made of. When the Benson Bear is complete, it will be an amazingly difficult course with some obstacles that have never been seen before.

Jill: Well, there is no doubt that the “expert’s” course will always be evolving, changing and growing…especially with Rob behind the hammer and chain saw!! With his background in Engineering and as a timber-frame builder, you can always count on solid built obstacles that are unique and challenging, mentally and physically. However, we are going to have a 5K course for beginners and intermediates this year to introduce people to the sport of OCR 🙂 Also, we will be adding the TRI-OBSTACLON™ to the race roster this year!! This is a moderately easy 5 mile mountain bike ride to Lake Champlain; swim in the lake (length based on level entered); return to SH via a “not so easy” 5 mile uphill bike ride; and then finish with a lap on the Benson Bear Obstacle course!d

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