Shale Hill Relay Race Challenge

relayracemedal* From: Nicole Sibley
* Event: Shale Hill Relay Race Challege
* Date: 2015-06-21

* Event Details
Saturday night, I headed up to Benson, Vermont, home of Shale Hill, for the 2015 Relay Race Challenge. The race was 9:00 a.m. Sunday morning, and I didn’t want to make the almost three hour trip from Amherst to north western Vermont. Luckily, I had been offered a place at the apartment onsite with fellow Spahtens Paul, Beth, Sandy, and Niki. I arrived around supper time on Saturday and was able to spend a nice bit of time relaxing and socializing prior.

After a really excellent night sleep, I woke up Sunday morning for the race. The apartment at Shale Hill has a fully-functional kitchen, so I was able to make my standard pre-race breakfast of Genesis bread toast with almond butter, cherry juice with chia seeds, and coffee. I coordinated my race gear and headed over to check-in at registration.

* Race Details
The Relay Race Challenge divided the standard 10K Shale Hill obstacle course into three segments that you and two other teammates would cover. Paul, Niki, and I had planned to be a journeyman team (aka. the non-contemplative division); due to a last minute injury, Niki ended up swapping to the competitive open division and her friend, Tonya, joined Paul and me in journeyman. The Relay Race Challenge had around 60 registered participants, making it easy to quickly change registration the day-of.

After registration was taken care of, we headed outside to draw straws. This would determine the legs we would run. I drew leg three (considered the most challenging part of the course), Tonya got leg one, and Paul got leg two. We then headed back inside where the race director, Rob, gave us information. The course was very muddy and wet from the heavy rainfall the night before. We were to be cautious on the slippery obstacles (here Icebugs made all the difference), and it was suggested that, since volunteers were limited, we might want to double up and send a second teammate along with the person running each leg of the relay. This would encourage safety. I had already offered to run Tonya’s leg with her since she had a slightly injured abdomen. It was her first time at Shale Hill, and I wanted to make sure she got to have a good time but didn’t have to face any obstacles that would make her recovery time longer. We were also presented with the “baton,” a large metal “key to Shale H
ill,” as Rob put it. The entire thing was about as long as my torso! Rob also told us the exchange points: The Rope Ramp and the Fireman’s Tower.

Tonya and I headed over to the starting line for the 9:00 a.m. start, and Paul headed over to the Rope Ramp to meet us at the first exchange. At 9:00 a.m., everyone was set, and with the sound of the air-horn we were off!

Since I’ve done so much posting about the course at Shale Hill, I am going to go through the highlights of today instead of recounting everything, obstacle by obstacle. For a comprehensive walk-through of the Shale Hill visit:

Tonya and I cruised pretty well through the first leg of the course. There were a few highlights, such as Tonya’s complete mastery of the Log Splitter, the obstacle that Rob replaced the sandbag / slosh pipe carry with for Polar Bear. The carry consists of two stumps connected with a piece of flat cord which gets hauled along the 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile loop that marked the sandbag / slosh pipe carry. I struggled a lot with this obstacle at Polar Bear, and was happy to just walk the course with Tonya and offer encouragement. The route was incredibly muddy and marshy from all the rain. It was even more treacherous than normal; just walking was hard. Tonya did a fantastic job! I was very impressed by her strength as she powered through this carry.

After the carry, we headed over to the pond traverse. The traverse, which entails spanning the pond by pulling yourself along a rope parallel to the surface. I wasn’t planning to do this obstacle with Tonya, but while I was waiting for her to go I got into a conversation with some of the other racers about the technique for doing the traverse on the top, instead of the bottom. They wanted a demo, so I couldn’t say no! (Note, that I might have been showing off a little. I am not proud of this fact — but, hey, in the interest of transparency, I will report out what occurred.)

Tonya and I had a couple more obstacles and then we met up with Paul at the transition. Tonya wanted to see the full course because it was her first time at Shale Hill, and I wanted to do at least some of the obstacles in the wooded section of the course known as “The Jungle.” I hung with Tonya and Paul through until Cliff Jumper, which was great because I was able to “pinch run” that obstacle and Double Up before it. Those are two of my favorites, so I was glad to get the chance to do them and a few of the obstacles in The Jungle. However, I had done a lot and needed to keep something in reserve for my part of the course. While Tonya and Paul headed into the woods for the Giant Wall Traverse, I headed over to the Fireman’s Tower to regroup before my leg. (Note: The one minus of this was that I missed getting to see the new obstacle, the Coffin. Next time for sure!)

While I was waiting for Paul and Tonya at the Fireman’s Tower, I hung out with some other people waiting to run their third leg or having just finished their second leg. This highlights some of the fun of the relay. The atmosphere was light and all about having a good time as a team, at least for me in journeyman. There was great camaraderie. Plus, it was fun to get to go around with teammates for much of the course and aid each other on the obstacles.

Soon, Paul and Tonya appeared over the hill and headed towards me. It was “Go” time!

Both Tonya and Paul followed me around my section of the course as I did my obstacles. Tonya was surveying the rest of the course and Paul was taking some pictures for some obstacle demo videos that he and Rob wanted to do for the Shale Hill website. My section of the course included some of the most challenging obstacles. I started with the barbed wire crawl, then did the log carry with A-frame, and then made my way to one of my favorite obstacles, The Loom.

The Hay Bales from Hell seem to multiply every time I am over at Shale Hill. There was actual a hay bale “obstacle” at Tough Mudder a few weekends ago, and I had to laugh because now only were the bales only two in number, but they were not the huge mounded piles I’m used to from Shale Hill.

My biggest victory of the day was on the 19′ rope climb. This climb takes place right after the 11′ rope and wall climb. A couple of ropes back to back is tough, and these are late in the course. To make matter even more challenging, the 19′ climb uses a 2″ thick rope, a rope so think even elites find it challenging. I had yet to make it up this climb. Today, was the first time I made it. I was able to get a good s-hook with my legs and, because I was fresher than normal, having not run the entire course, I made it up. I burned myself out a little on this because my hands were pretty tired for the monkey bars. Tonya had wanted to try them and did around 3/4 of them, leaving only 1/4 for me to do, which ended up being just fine. My hands were muddy, the bars kept rotating, and I have trouble finding purchase.

Another interesting moment of the day — I won’t quite call it a victory — was on the tarzan ropes. The best I had ever done was make it around half way through. Today, I had a tough time getting started and made my way to the half way point falling off a few times but still keeping trying. However, from the mid-way point, I was able to get a good rhythm going and actually made it all the way to the wall. My hands were toast at that point, and Paul helped push me up over the wall. I was very excited though to make it the second half of the way. This obstacle is all grip strength and cadence. I am hoping to really learn to nail it during my week at camp at Shale Hill in August.

The race finished as it always does, weaving along the culverts along the obstacle known as the Anaconda. At this point I was pretty tired. I hadn’t brought my hydration pack or snacks thinking I’d just cover my two or so miles, and I was ready for some lunch. I ran up the hill and crossed the finish line right after Tonya. We were done! Time for chocolate milk (a Shale Hill staple) and a banana.

The Shale Hill Relay Race Challenge was a fun time. It was a good way for people to get an introduction to the course in a less intimidating way. It was a good opportunity for those of us who love the course at Shale Hill to tackle it as a team. Relays have a different vibe. They feel more communal and supportive. I am lucky that I get to do my races with the NE Spahtens and always have a great group of people to race with and support me. The Relay Race Challenge is a nice opportunity for other people to enjoy that same sense of community.

* Rating


* From: Miles Trudell

* Event Details
This is the 2nd annual Obstacle Relay Challenge at Shale Hill Adventure Farm located in Benson, Vermont. This race is one of the Race Local qualifiers and there is a competitive division and a journeyman division. This review will be from the journeyman point of view. So on to the details, lets begin at the start-We show up and park ay 0815 for the 0900 start, check in, get our t-shirts and bibs. What was cool was-The course designer and owner Rob Butler was encouraging folks to use some of the Icebug shoes from the “loaner” bin. It had rained all night and into the morning, so the course was slick. One of my Teammates laced up a pair Icebugs that fit her. It was then time for me to reconnect with Spahtens I hadn’t seen for awhile, stretch, draw straws to see what leg of the course we would run and just loosen up and soak in the morning and what was about to come. Rob then got everyone together inside to go over the details of the race. These rules were pretty simple-First p
erson runs leg 1 and meets teammate #2 at the transition area approx. 2.2 miles into the course. This person then will run leg #2 and transition to the 3rd teammate another 2.2 down the road. Person #3 finishes the third leg and completes the team’s run. Penalties for missed obstacles was 25 spiderman pushups. Fastest team wins. The baton to be carried was a two foot metal bolt with a rope loop attached to it…Yup you got it… big, akward and a nuisance to carry…I wouldn’t expect anything less.

* Race Details
So our plan for this race was for all 3 teammates to run together. This decision was made based off from a couple of factors. 1)We had a new person, this was her first OCR event and we wanted to assist where it was needed. 2) Lots O rain makes for slips and falls and having an extra spotter is smart…Safety first. 3) lastly we all wanted to run the entire course and try all of the obstacles-Because it’s Shale Hill and here the obstacles are Tough, unique and just plain fun. Our team was in the Journeyman division, which was perfect for the goals we had set for the course: Complete the course together, No injuries, completing as many obstacles as we can. Shelly had leg #1 so the baton went to her and we moved out. We went through the see saws and got a feel for the wet wood on our shoes, it wasn’t too bad, so we felt a little better about speeding up. We then flip tires and move to the horizontal bars. Here is a tip: Blue hawk gloves (get them at Lowes)-the ones dipped in plas
tic-work very well on wet metal poles. I was able to traverse both bars with the gloves with no issues. This was a new obstacle, so I was glad to get through it. We then went through a series of obstacles that we worked through as a team. We loved the logs connected by a strap, which we had to carry up and down the hills about .5 mile. Then it was on to the traverse rope over the pond-Our teammate, Phil completed this while Shelly and I got wet. again along the way several volunteers encouraged us and gave direction-Which really made the day for us. A special Thanks to Jason and Heather Moss, who stayed with us the second half of the course. Their example and camaraderie was remarkable. We transitioned through the course helping each other and showing Shelly the ropes…literally. I have to say one of my favorite new obstacles on the course is called the coffin. It is a box just big enough to fit in. This box is positioned on a hill, so you have to move upward on your back t
hrough this box. There is plastic where your back is and finger holes in front…just big enough for two fingers. get in reach up over your head and move up the hill. It is important to brace with your knees and legs inside the box to transition between finger holds or else lose the gains you have made. I love the mental aspect to it and the amount of strength, flexibility and focus you need to make it out-Killer Rob…Just plain Killer. We continued through the course and attempted/completed all of these obstacles as a team and had a great time doing it meeting fellow Spahtens along the way. We made our way to a third new obstacle-the warped wall…After taking a look I gave it a try and got a hand on the top of the wall and got over…it was a cool feeling until I had to figure out how to get down. HAHA guess I need to work on my rope decent. But that is Shale Hill, it will show you were you are weak, so you get better and that’s all I want to do is improve and perform bet
ter the next time. So we met all of our goals and then some…I always come away from Shale Hill with something extra…something I wasn’t planning for but received and I’m always grateful for it. The medal and t-shirt were very cool and I love the saying on the back “Train Harder than you Race” We will be back to this venue for sure and it is always my personal goal to show OCR to someone new-We are making our plans now to go back with a bigger crowd of first timers. To Rob and Jill… thank you, To all NE Spahtens… thank you and a big thanks to my teammates. Until next time, lets continue living the warrior lifestyle.

* Rating


* From: Nicole Landry
* Event Details
From the minute I drove into the beauty that is Shale Hill, I was smitten. I drove up to the parking field and there was a red Prius stuck in the mud. I threw on my race shoes and sloshed through the mud, introduced myself (the driver’s name was also Nicole) and put a shoulder in to try and get her unstuck (I AM a Spahten!). No luck, so I jogged back to the driveway and told Beth (I didn’t know who she was at the time) that someone was stuck, so I was going to leave my car where it was, and she sent Rob (who I also hadn’t met up to this point in life) back up. He herded the three of us, and then one other late-comer into the jeep and took us over to the meeting. Right from the get-go, everyone was friendly, smiling, and my anxiety over being in a new place vanished. I LOVE this place!

* Race Details
I had never done a relay race prior to registering for the Shale Hill Relay. This was my first visit to Shale Hill, and I had no idea what to expect in the way of obstacles or the course – except a glimpse at a map from the Polar Bear Challenge, which made me nauseous at the time. My teammates had already drawn legs by the time I got there, and I ended up with Leg 3 – which I heard many people say was the toughest leg of the course. Sandy and Brett made me feel marginally better, with Sandy offering to stay with me through my leg so she could help me with the obstacles. We got our “batons”, our keys to Shale Hill…which in retrospect were really f’ing heavy by the end of the race! Then the 2nd and 3rd leggers cheered the 1st leg runners off, and we walked over to our respective transition points.
There were some teams who did the whole race together. I applaud them, and envy them. Since I was the last leg, I walked over to my transition point without seeing the first 2/3s of the course. I regret that, but I’m excited, since there will still be surprises awaiting me at 24 Hours of Shale Hill Hell (yes, I’m a sucker and will be partaking).
I think the hardest part of the race for me was the waiting. I think my teammates took 2 hours to get to my transition. It was nice, though, hanging around with the rest of the 3rd leg, and cheering teammates as they appeared across the field.
I should note that it was raining for most of the morning, and still overcast when we headed out to the course. I knew my portion was only 2 miles, so I decided not to carry my pack, which, sadly, contained my sunscreen. Mistake number 1.
Mistake number 2 was not carrying my pack (because it was only 2 miles), which also contained my water. You wouldn’t think that standing around can dehydrate you. When the day is young and grows considerably warmer by the minute….you get the picture.
When my team got to me, I cheered for them, took the key and we started out on the last leg, as a team. I couldn’t have been more proud to be a part of it.
The first obstacle was under construction, so easy-peasy. The 2nd was barbed wire. I love barbed wire. Chalk it up to my time in the military. I love low-crawling. I stopped loving barbed wire about 1/2 way through the obstacle. That was a LOT of barbed wire. And the ground was soggy. Very soggy.
I don’t remember all of the obstacles, or which order I arrived at them. I remember Brett did all of them with me. 🙂
I remember many bales of hay. And getting a knee up on a lot of them. I love Sandy’s knees. But I did throw myself at a few of them, and was able to get over a few by myself.
I remember The Loom. And Nele and Sandy helping me get under the Unders. Two of them. And they didn’t mock me for quitting after the first two, they applauded me for doing any of it at all. (Still working on my fear of heights).
I remember the three walls before the monkey bars. And going up and over them, shakily, but doing those three walls on my own.
I will never forget the monkey bars. And I love the rain, for making the mud so deep and squishy, because I fell and landed flat on my back, from my tailbone to the base of my neck. I took a moment to make sure I could feel everything still, and took a hand up. That’s the closest I’ve come to having to use an emergency contact. And I got through it, with the help of my team.
I hung on the rope climb, for 3 seconds, then 5 seconds. The longest I’ve ever hung on the rope.
And that damn Anaconda (my anaconda don’t want none if you ain’t got buns hun…yeah, that kept playing in my head). That last obstacle made me want to stab someone….
This was the toughest course I’ve faced since I started running OCRs. I’ve run the Sprint at Amesbury. I’ve run the Super at NJ. They were tough, but Shale Hill took a lot of me – physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’m stubborn and hate asking for help. My teammates were rockstars! They never stopped offering a hand, a shoulder, a knee, a smile, many words of encouragement, and at last a finishing hug.
I can’t wait to get back to Shale Hill and see what the rest of the course holds. But more than that, I can’t wait to get back to Shale Hill and see what people I will meet and bond with. And I can’t wait to run my next race with Brett Metzger and Sandy Rhee!

* Rating

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