* From: Rob Fournier
* Event Details
A few weeks back, a weekend opened up on my race calendar and I had to decide between two local races. The first choice was a “prison” type race, which similar to zombie-style races, involved a flag football belt and “guards” chasing you. The second choice was one that I was not too familiar with but had received good buzz in the obstacle racing community. It was held at a local farm and included a ton of obstacles. While both races where located in New England, they were still a good distance away. The first would be about a 3 hour drive to Connecticut and the second a 4 hour drive to Vermont. After reaching out for opinions about which one I should choose, the overwhelming response was to definitely do the farm race. Once I convinced myself that driving 4 hours for a race was a good idea, I delved a little deeper to see what this race was all about.
The Shale Hill Adventure Farm in remote Benson, VT is touted as the world’s first “fixed location” obstacle training and racing center. While it is mainly a training center, they do offer a handful of races throughout the year. The event that I signed up for was part of the Benson Bear Obstacle Challenge series and was billed as a 5+ mile, 45+ military obstacle race. Having done races that had at most 15 obstacles, the idea of running one with over 3 times that amount was both intriguing and intimidating. With such a long drive, I decided to find a place to crash the night before. Along with some other maniacs (I mean that in the nicest possible way), we rented a guest house the night before that was only a few minutes from the venue. Smart move! I couldn’t even imagine driving up the day of, running the race and driving back home. After a sleepless night filled with excitement and nervousness, we packed up and headed over to the farm. Was the long drive worth it??
Shale Hill Adventure Farm is a 150 acre farm set across rolling terrain. Parking was right on a grassy field next to the farm, a short walk away from the starting line. There was no charge for parking or spectators. This is grassroots racing at its finest. Just a few tents setup and a handful of people preparing for the day.
Registration was a breeze. Simply provide your name and receive your running bib and t-shirt. After registration, we were greeted by the man behind the madness, Rob Butler. His passion and enthusiasm for the sport is apparent the first time you meet him. He is constantly improving on an already insane course. In fact, moments after signing up for the race, he gleefully posted on the community Facebook page that he has since added three new obstacles! (Even more recently, he announced his desire to expand the course to 6.5 miles and 65+ obstacles). And when Rob says he has added new obstacles, he is not talking about simply adding a 5′ wall or a log jump…oh no, each obstacle is bigger and badder than anything you’ve seen. The beauty in having a permanent location is that he’s not limited to creating obstacles that can be easily transported. Rob has built some massive structures and he is only limited by his own imagination. He has big plans for the future and the obstacle course racing community has taken notice. Many of the top athletes in the sport have come to train on the course. That’s how good it is. After a quick briefing about the course layout and tips on how to approach some of the more technical obstacles, it was time to see if it lived up to the hype. We were also instructed of the penalty for not completing an obstacle. For each failed obstacle, you needed to do between 30-50 Spiderman pushups (the harder the obstacles, the more pushups you had to do). Fortunately, unlike other races, you can attempt any obstacle as many times as you wish as long as no one is waiting. For a complete recap of all the obstacles, please check out the video link at muddywarthog.com. Words alone are simply not enough to convey how unique and awesome many of them are.
* Race Details
In a word: EPIC!! The waves were small with about 10-15 people for each one. The intimate nature and friendliness of the staff added to the charm. With a bullhorn, Rob counted us down and sent us onto his evil playground. I can tell upfront that this was the most challenging course I have ever done, bar none! It is the ultimate test of your strength, endurance, balance and fortitude. I learned more about myself from the short time I spent here than anywhere else.
The course starts on an open field with a few log jumps that gives you a false sense of security that maybe this won’t be that tough. That thought quickly fades when you encounter the relentless assault of obstacles still to come. The terrain goes from open fields to some seriously steep inclines and winding trail runs through the woods and everything in between. Due to the sheer volume of obstacles, I will try to touch on as many as I can without boring you to tears.
We leaped over some hay bales and veered into the woods where we were greeted by a couple berlin walls. Next up was the 1/2 mile sandbag carry, taking you over and under walls, over hills and through some thick, energy-sapping mud. One of the newer obstacles was the tyrolean traverse spanning 75′ over a pond. The sag in the rope made crossing extremely tough once you passed the halfway point. About 5 feet from the end, my GoPro slipped off my head and headed towards the murky water below. Luckily, I was able to hop of the rope and grab it before I lost it forever. After a couple barbed wire crawls in some water-filled ditches, we came to the rope climb (sorry no knots to assist you on this one!) We winded through the woods with some steep hills and headed to the abacus climb: a 16′ vertical rope ladder climb with wooden slats randomly placed throughout for support. Across the log balance beams to another original obstacle. Imagine a giant Lincoln Log, suspended vertically from a rope, that you need to climb using the narrow notches cut out of the sides. (Can’t picture it?? Watch the video!) Following that was the wood plank and rope ladder that swung freely making it difficult to climb.
We headed towards another new obstacle, the cliffhanger. After climbing a half wall, you need to use a hanging rope to climb up and over an extended platform. A true test of your upper body strength. Tough one to describe. After a couple wall climbs, we came to the massive traverse walls affectionately called “The Great Wall of Shale”. All other wall traverses pale in comparison. I think there were maybe 4 sections to the entire thing. Also, half way through, you need to cross to the next section by shimmying across a wood plank overhead just using your hands. Up until this obstacle, I had successfully completed every one and was actually thinking maybe I could complete the course with no penalties. I was quickly humbled by the traverse walls. I was only able to make it half way down the first section before losing my balance. Back into the woods for the sandbag hoist (not once but ten times!) followed by an uphill barbed wire crawl through the mud. With sneakers covered with
mud, we quickly came to a large, 75 degree wall with a knotted rope for assistance. Luckily my Inov8’s have great treads! A quick tire drill to the thin, jagged balance beams. Before tackling the massive hay bales, we were greeted by Rob, who offered us a much appreciated chocolate milk. That is another great thing about this course. Rob is very hands-on. He hops in his truck or 4-wheeler and visits all the athletes throughout the course to offer advice, encouragement or even chocolate milk!
The next obstacle was a massive structure consisting of a fireman’s pole that you need to climb up and then cross a cargo net and down a ramp on the other side. For the average athlete, many of these tougher obstacles cannot be completed without some teamwork. We crossed the tire bridge, climbed under another barbed wire crawl and came to log carry. Each runner got to choose their own log for a 1/4 mile trek around the meadow and over a few obstacles. Catch your breath for a moment and head to the seemingly never-ending stretch of gigantic hay bales. Over the 10′ berlin wall rope climb towards another “carry” obstacle. Each runner loads up a bucket with gravel and takes it for a 1/4 run (or more accurately, a walk). After a few ladder walls, we came to the monkey bars. Now, I’ve seen monkey bars and gorilla bars, but these things take it to a whole ‘nother level! We are talking about 140′ of pain. If your fortunate enough to get through that section, you get the added treat of another section, but this time it’s angled 45 degrees uphill! As if it wasn’t difficult enough, the rungs are not welded to the sides, they spin around in your hands. Brutal!! Needless to say, I was quickly reacquainted with the Spiderman pushups.
After literally climbing on “all fours” up a steep hill, we approached the tarzan swings. I think there were about ten or so ropes suspended by a massive wood structure that you needed to swing across from rope to rope. Epic Fail!! I have no idea how to even approach this one!! Even if you somehow manage to get through the ropes, you need to get over a wall at the end. This and the monkey bars may be the two hardest obstacles I have ever seen! Pick-Your-Poison was next which involved choosing between 4 obstacles: 16′ rope climb, 8’ wall, 500 lb. tire flip or bucket hoist. The anaconda challenges runners to weave back and forth a number of times over an elevated dirt road, completing climb-over and crawl under obstacles at many of the turns. One last climb over some stacked hay bales and finally over the finish line. A truly awesome experience!
Along with the t-shirt you receive at registration, you are also presented with a nice medal at the finish (it spins!) There were a grill setup making a few food choices including burgers, wraps and salads. A few vendors were also on site including Another Best Day and Icebug Shoes. It was a relaxed atmosphere with people who are passionate about the sport.
I cannot say enough about how great this venue is. If you are serious about obstacle course racing and are looking for a fun, challenging experience, you simply must visit Shale Hill. Rob Butler puts the “obstacle” in Obstacle course Racing. While other races may bill themselves as the toughest or hardest race around, Shale Hill don’t need such hyperbole. They simply focus on giving you the best race with an unprecedented amount of obstacles. While the location may not be very convenient for most, the experience is well worth it! Please visit muddywarthog.com for pictures and video of this awesome race! Thanks!!