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24 (or 8) hours of Shale Hell

“This is a racer supported event! Look after each other out there, especially at night!”

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Rob was doing his pre-race athlete briefing before the second annual 24 hours of Shale Hell (with 8 hour option new this year), and this was the serious bit. 24 hours is a long time, and the Shale Hill course is as tough, and challenging, and technical, and draining as they come. People were going to be out on the course in the dark, after many miles and it was important to watch out for each other, buddy up, and leave no one behind.

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Why on *EARTH* would anyone want to do 24 hours on what is amongst the toughest courses in North America? I don’t really know, but with the spectacle that is Worlds Toughest Mudder being the closest analogy (24 hours, one bad ass obstacle course), I knew I wanted to be there this year.

Of course – the scale of events is very different. WTM brings thousands of participants, and Tough Mudder are a monstrously huge organization. Shale Hill had 55 runners, and obstacles are built literally in his back yard.

But if you showed up thinking the event would be any less challenging, you’d be wrong, and you’d be in a world of hurt mere hours in. The 24 Hours of Shale Hell was something to be survived, not conquered, and you’d better be ready for it.

20150731-IMG_0703For those who may be new to the scene – Shale Hill is a fixed 10k course in Benson, VT. With 60 – 70 *real* obstacles (things tend to grow there), they are a mix of tough upper body strength obstacles and devious versions of obstacles you may have thought you had nailed down. Rob Butler, the evil mastermind behind the venue welcomes everyone as family, and offers competitive and non-competitive options at every race – so you can go head to head for time, or simply put yourself against the course to see how you fair.

The 24 hours of Shale Hell (and it’s 8 hour brethren, that I ran) is simply as many laps as you can, starting at 9am, and wrapping up your last lap before the 9am deadline the following morning.

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It was glorious. Rob let people pitch tents at no cost the night before, and we met athletes from Canada (running the Relay option), athletes with Ultra Beast belt buckles, several WTM T Shirts, local “farm strong” Vermonters and a dozen or so New England Spahtens who made the short drive to VT. There were many first timers in the crowd who weren’t quite sure what to expect, but were game for a challenge.

Friday night was a blue moon – great visibility and great company. People hit the sack early, knowing they wouldn’t be getting much sleep the following day, and by the time I’d finished a morning coffee run to the well stocked Benson General Store, the day was ready to kick off.

My only goal was to do two laps – then babysit our mini while Beth crewed overnight – and my mission was complete! With a 3:10 first lap, completing most everything, but dealing with a bugging knee problem, I took about an hour to break, change shirt, change shoes, socks and compression sleeves – and throw down a couple of bagels – before heading back out for the second lap.

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That second lap was an odd one. I barely saw another soul on course, so spread out we were. My knee felt ok, but the days temperatures were well into the 80’s and I was combatting dehydration constantly. The lack of social contact meant I moved much quicker than usual, but the heat also meant I skipped a few really basic things, just because I was so exhausted. My 2h 40min finish has a big fat asterisk next to it, because I don’t feel it was legitimately earned, regardless of my Journeyman status, but I still covered 13 miles total, and am happy with that.

My racing was done. Cleaned up, sitting by the tent, I could watch as others assessed their bodies after each lap, talked to team mates, buddied up in the dark and generally felt a very cool, unique atmosphere you don’t get at a race with thousands. People helped their competitors. People paced each other. People repaired torn hands, shared nutrition, passed around cookies and stayed warm at the bonfire.

It wasn’t without incident – 24 hours is a long time to keep climbing, running, swinging … we had a couple of injuries, and a couple of DNF’s, several people didn’t meet the goals they had come in expecting, and some of the ripped open palms were considerably painful looking (and feeling!) – but even so, spirits were high, community was strong and friendships established and developed. When you see people in the dead of night, achieving something they never thought possible (or failing something they expected to be able to accomplish), you learn about them, and become better friends for it.

Really – thats why I go back to Shale Hill. Thats why I want all the people in the OCR world that I care about to come to Shale Hill. It’s not just the course – although that is the toughest course most will ever hit. It’s being with them when they concur something on the course. It’s getting to see their face when they nail the monkey bars at mile 5.5, or when they take an unexpected dunk in the pond. It’s the conversations shared in the bucket carry, and the tips and tricks shared when you hit Rope Ramp.

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Shale Hill is a place that communities get forged. Over horrible, heavy long carries. Over insane traverse walls and ridiculous tarzan swings. You see the best in people. At 4am, when someone wants to do yet another lap, or they’re so beat up they can’t manage the final lap they want – you sometimes see the worst in people too. And you become better team mates, better friends, and form a stronger community as a result.

We come for the obstacles, but we come back for the people – this is the mantra that many have used with OCR, and it’s especially true for venues like Shale Hill.

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Featured Review: 24 hours of Shale Hell

Shale Hill – one of our favorite venues for obstacle course racing and training recently held their very own endurance 24 hour event. As many laps on the 10k course as possible in a 24 hour window – which boggles my mind. Hannah Hawley participated, and below is her recap!

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10589687_605939556684_1450642774_nWell, I have had my first DNF, technically speaking.  If only in the manner that I couldn’t go continuously for 24 hours, nor could I finish my fourth lap.  Thank you 24 Hours of Shale Hell for that!

The start and finishing for each lap of the 24 Hours of Shalle Hell (Hell) was the first Pick Your Poison and the finish was at the Tarzan Swing.  This was a bit different than their other events that either start in the center field or up at the barn and start with the Oxfords and Teeter Totters. As the Benson Bear Challenge #3 was currently taking place, we did register down in the center field.  We were able to park (free as always) next to the Tarzan Swing, set up tents, canopies, and whatnot; we had access to porta-johns, a grill; the medic was stationed here and a fire was started at dusk that was kept going all night.  This was also where your support crew was set up ($40 registration fee per crew member).

I opted to camp Friday night, the drone of the race track down the road lulled me to sleep without a coyote howl to be heard.  With a mornings worth of time to fill, I opted to help Jill stuff bags for the Benson Bear Challenge #3, registered a few of the Hell racers, and then was stationed out at the sandbag carry to direct 5k and 10k racers on the correct loop.  Was a beautiful day for a race and I was able to see Sandy and Michael on course.

It wasn’t long before I had to start getting ready for my event and made my way up to the tent.  Before too long had passed, Rob was pulling all ten of us racers together for a meeting.  The rules were simple:
10351254_541614379297384_8299694786119451725_n– As many laps as you could manage safely in 24 hours.
– The Tyrolean Traverse would be closed from dark to sunrise.
– Penalties would be normal the first lap and scaled for each lap as follows:
Lap 1 – 30 Spiderman Push-ups (every obstacle, not 25 for most and 50 for 4)
Lap 2 – 15 Spiderman Push-ups
Lap 3 – 15 Spiderman Push-ups
Lap 4 – 20 Jumping Jacks
Lap 5 – 10 Inchworms
Lap 6 – No Penalties
Lap 7 – 5 Lunges
Lap 8 – 10 Flutter Kicks
Lap 9 – 10 Arm Circles
Lap 10 – Balance 15 seconds on left leg, repeat on right
Lap 11 – We shall see
– We were to help each other, if someone was down and hurt, if they were on course and weren’t being safe/smart, etc
– That we were to check in and out on a white board after every lap and let the medic know when we went back out on course.

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Rob suggested a first lap of sticking together with a 2:30 lap pace, especially for the people who had never been on course.  I know I spoke up immediately and said I knew the course and wouldn’t be able to keep that pace, I was fine alone.  I did start my lap with another female racer, Serena, a Shale Hill veteran and high school classmate!  I spent the second half of the lap with the other two female racers, both elite racers out of Canada, Jen and Sara.  I was able to give them some tips on several of the obstacles!  Can’t wait to see them again in September at the Killington Beast.  After my first lap, Sandy, Michael, and Adam decided that I wasn’t going to do any additional laps on my own, of which I am very greatful.  I had the pleasure of Michaels company on my second lap, someone whose racing and attitude inspire me.  My third lap, Adam accompied me and other than my slip on the loom that resulted in a small panic attack, I never seemed to stop laughing.  The taco’s Sandy got me were the best food I ate all weekend, if you do a race at Shale Hill, volunteer, or are just in the general area, West Coast Taco (I think thats the name) is worth a stop, cash only!

10561646_541614355964053_8122930209907970690_nOver the course of my 3 full laps, I was able to scale the 8 foot wall, climb the HUGE slant wall, walk the top of the loom, and more.  All things I had either never done before or just learned the previous weekend at a NE Spahtens training day.  I will be honest, other than a few Spiderman Push-ups in my first lap, I didn’t do any penalties.  I wasn’t there to beat myself up with penalties, just to see how far I could go in 24 hours.

There were very few volunteers stationed on course but there were plenty around and mobil on course.  They were great at keeping the on-course fires burning, candles burning, and refilling the water stations when they were told they were empty.  There was a crew stationed at the Bucket Carry with a fire that definitely lifted my spirits.

The decision was made about 3:30 to close the course due to heavy fog that left runners with no visibility beyond the few inches in front of their noses.  Incredibly smart decision!  This was just after I got back from my decision to stop less than a quarter of the way into my fourth lap as my left hip flexor was not happy and I couldn’t lift my leg over even the smallest of obstacles.  The medic seconded my decision but also respected my decision to rest, see if stretching would help.  It didn’t.

1896787_541614325964056_7927272582114913561_nRob was called away as he finished his second penalty free lap due to a family emergency but was able to call in at the finish to congratulate us all.  What a race director!

OH! SWAG! There were prices for the top three females and top three males (top male finished with 8 laps, top female finished with 5), and every racer got a special Hell shirt, Hell medal, Shale Hill sticker, and a $10 gift certificate to The Wheel House in Benson.  Even the crews got a special Pit Crew shirt.

All in all, this event was small, intimate, and incredible.  My one and only suggestion would be to build the cost of one crew member into the registration fee as I could not imagine, personally, being able to do this race without someone there as support.

I cannot wait to see where I can go in a year!