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Featured Review: Blizzard Blast 2014

http://blizzardblastrun.com/

Last year, we were THRILLED when we took forty some people to Blizzard Blast (http://blizzardblastrun.com/) – a winter themed obstacle course race.

We were THRILLED when they made us a flag (which I still have today!), and gave us a space at the event.

That event was fun, not too challenging, but they did a lot of things right, for their first year.

So, it’s 2014, and if you missed the memo, we got bigger, and Smithfest Events has held other events that we enjoyed very much, and oh – 120+ people this time.

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That’s a lot of Spahtens, and Fred Smith, owner of Smithfest and Blizzard Blast had a big reputation and bold claims to live up to.

Blizzard Blast 2014 was hosted by the Four Oaks Country Club, an easy to find venue in Dracut, MA. Parking was a short bus trip away and cost a meager $5, and for my experience, checkin was super easy, in a big heated outdoor tent. I signed my waver, gave them my last name and ID – was handed a packet with everything in it and pointed to the T Shirt table to pick up my white cotton long sleeved Blizzard Blast shirt – and perks of being on the biggest team, we also received a pretty special NE Spahten embroidered scarf – which Fred had his family up until 2am ironing Blizzard Blast and Panic in the Dark patches on! We said it at the last race, but Smithfest LOVE to look after their biggest supporters, and the custom Panic in the Dark T Shirts, and now the custom Blizzard Blast scarf go a very long way to building raving fans. Race Directors take note. We can be bribed.

The Four Oaks Country Club was pretty packed – Blizzard Blast had attracted over 700 runners and their friends, and the place was pretty packed – with a nod to the cold temperatures of the season, everything was indoors (fortunately!), with the main ballroom having a bar, band, Edible Endurance (run by Elite New England Spahten, Joe Benoit) and schwag table (that I never made it too! boo! I wanted a Blizzard Blast beanie!) – I didn’t see much of this room, because another perk of biggest team was a reserved room, with its own bar, fruit basket and giant chocolate signage. See? We can be bribed. This room was quickly getting packed as more and more Spahtens arrived, and we started to layer up for the team wave at noon.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADespite the packed space, we manage to find a spot for one of the more epic team photos we’ve had to date – HUGE thanks to the staff and crew of Grazie, the public restaurant attached to the country club – the owner not only consented to letting over 100 Spahtens use her space, but also got up on a chair with the camera and took our photo for us!

Our time came around, and we crossed the street to the start line. Being such a big team, we had been split into two waves running a few minutes apart – and I was very much looking forward to this. Promises of it being much tougher than last year, recent snow falls, and a longer than promised distance were all ahead.

It’s always happy news when I write one of these reviews and say they delivered. The course was 4.3 miles long, according to my GPS, the snow was fresh, and off the already trampled trail was a good ankle deep powder that was hard work to slog through.

Smithfest stepped up with the obstacles. We saw some very traditional obstacles – rock hops, a couple of walls, a through wall – and some nice themed variations, including a Christmas Tree tunnel and marshmallow toss.

But what really works well here are the unique, Blizzard Blast special obstacles. We had two sled hills – get from top to bottom on plastic saucer sleds, then back up again. A TON of fun, and nothing like you’ve seen anywhere else! Snowpocalypse was hardly an obstacle, but a fantastic tie in with the other Smithfest property, Panic in the Dark. Some very good zombies jumping out on people, with some nice gory blood streaks in the snow. Props to the ice skating Zombie!

map

There were also obstacles that stepped the difficulty up – they had built out and setup a very nice variation on the traverse wall – traditional blocks in the wall, which transitioned into a cargo net, which transitioned into a wall made of tires. Slightly worrying when you approach an obstacle and a fellow racer is on the ground with a dislocated limb … he did manage to pop it back in and carry on – a nice reminder that even something as simple as a traverse wall can be perilous if you aren’t wary! Blizzard Blast also installed a very unique variation on the monkey bar – a bunch of hanging metal beer kegs, suspended by the handle on one side, you had to swing from keg to keg to planks – three or four times.

 

Of course, with the difficultly and increased chance of failure, there was a penalty – snow angels! A cold and seasonal variation on the burpee – it was no less exhausting to do in our winter layers. Fail an obstacle, drop, do a single snow angle – stand and repeat. While this was barely enforced (this was a fun event, after all), it was absolutely hysterical to watch groups of grown adults doing snow angels 🙂

To finish the event off we had the signature Christmas tree carry … all sizes of Christmas trees to pick up and hike a 1/4 mile loop – Corrine and I ended up buddy carrying the biggest one they’ve got through the loops, which was fun! Once you dropped the tree, you wriggled through some tunnels supplied by the Zombie Charge boys, over some nice and icey snow piles and over the line!

Blizzard Blast handed out a pretty medal, water and fruit right at the finish line, where we also had to remove our Racemenu shoe tag – and back into our reserved space for a free beer and to enjoy the food and entertainment.

 

Blizzard Blast was the first OCR of the 2014 calendar, and kicked things off well. They really work well with, and listen to the community, adding some challenges to the course beyond the winter/snow themed stuff they were already known for and keeping things moving forward. These days, it’s not enough for an OCR to shoot for “easy” and throw a couple of walls on a 5k running course, and without a solid identity and theme – and a challenge that keeps people interested and engaged you won’t be putting races on for very long.

I expect Smithfest Events and Blizzard Blast to be a staple of the race calendar for many winters to come.

Smithfest Events also host the Musical Chairs World Championship – check out their other events here: http://smithfestevents.com/events/

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Blizzard Blast 2014 – an interview with Fred

http://blizzardblastrun.com/

Blizzard Blast is approaching! Only a few weeks away, it’s close enough that Fred Smith, of Smithfest events is looking at the sky and starting his snow dancing …

Last year was the first Blizzard Blast, and we were handily the biggest team there – kicking off our amazing year in some chilly, but great style – and scoring our first team flag in the process. Mike Hastie and the Team Mike McNeil boys led the charge and coralled the troops, and I believe we brought around 40 members.

You can check our reviews from the crew here and here

Blizzard Blast 2014 also launches the first of the #racelocal Grand Prix races – this will be your first chance to log some points and get on the leader board for the Grand Prix series, lasting 6 months, 6 races and giving Elites and Open division runners chance to earn a cool medal, support local racing, and win some cash prizes too. More information on the Grand Prix here.

Team Mike McNeil and the New England Spahtens at Blizzard Blast 2013
Team Mike McNeil and the New England Spahtens at Blizzard Blast 2013

 

Q: Blizzard Blast is one of a few winter OCRs on the calendar, why pick winter as a theme?
A: We are always looking for different types of events and there are lots of road races in the winter but it seemed like the OCR races ask their patrons to take on all types of adversity but they seem to be running from the cold weather of New England with their events so we decided the OCR community deserved to have something in the dead of winter.

Q: Roughly how long do you expect the course to be, with how many obstacles?

"Through" style walls
“Through” style walls

A: The length is usually about 5k but we have had some changes with some terrain concerns and it will be closer to 4 miles most likely.  We are also looking at an area to add some more length for the elite runners.  The number of obstacles will vary from 15 – 25 depending on how much the snow will allow us to get certain equipment on the course the week of the event.  We have two plans in place but if we have a good amount of snow, that alone is going to be very difficult to deal with as a runner!

Q: Some of your obstacles are winter themed, do you have fun new obstacles for us this year? If so, can you share details of them?
A: As you know we are not big fans of giving out secrets as we think as we move into future years we will leave some things for the mind to wonder what the SmithFest Crew has up their sleeves this year.  But we will have a sledding hill, maybe 2 is we are lucky with snow and will will once again have the famous Christmas tree carry! 

Q: How many people do you expect to brave the elements?
A: We hope to have over 1200 out for the event! 🙂 (Editors note: Almost 100 of those will be New England Spahtens! Join the biggest team!)

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The first snow mound of 2013’s race

Q: Blizzard Blast is a little more competitive than Panic in the Dark, tell us about the elite competition you have lined up?
A: We have added the elite heat to add some a new competitive level but even at the open level this will offer a very competitive race.. It will have more running and tough terrain than Panic. The snow, trails and terrain will offer a major obstacle in itself.  On a difficulty level I would much rather run in mud than snow any day if I was looking for the easy way out, but we are not hear to give out hugs so be ready for a difficult race that will definately test you on all levels!! 

Q: Smithfest has given back to the community many times in the past – what are your plans for this event?
A: Well recently we have teamed up with The “Children’s Tumor Foundation” So now if you can raise money for a great cause and if you raise over $150 we will give you a free future race to Panic in the Dark or Blizzard Blast! 

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The Spahtens rocked Blizzard Blast!

Q: What feedback from last year have you most taken to heart this time? What are the biggest changes?
A: We are always trying to improve in all our areas but we have really focused making it a great experience for everyone including all the spectators.  I think it is tough to take care of the spectators at Panic with safety in mind so we have really tried to make this a great spectator event close to the main area especially.

Q: Smithfest is also known for rocking parties – what do you have lined up for Blizzard Blast?
A: The set up at Four Oaks Country Club offers great views from a top a hill that will set a great backdrop for large windows, outdoor patio and heated tent that will have an awesome Acoustic show inside, Dj Music outside, Food and drink provided by the venue along with our agility competition and possibly a Keg throw competition as well.

You can sign up for Blizzard Blast 2014 here: http://blizzardblastrun.com/

and prices go up on January 10th. Nespahtens5 will save you $5 off the cost of entry, and remember to join team NE Spahtens for a wicked cold time!

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Featured Review: Blizzard Blast 2013

Huge thanks to Spahten and Team Mike McNeil member Mike Hastie for his efforts in co-ordinating the biggest team at Blizzard Blast, and for writing this review!

Blizzard-Blast-logo

www.blizzardblastrun.com

When most “normal” people think of exercising/running/racing, they usually count the time from October to March as “off-season”…a time to hit the treadmill and keep their training to the warm & cozy confines of their home or a gym.  I know I’m stating the obvious, but the New England Spahtens have never been accused of being “normal”.  While a group of us spent the weekend in Vermont for the Polar Bear Challenge in Shale Hill, the bulk of us stayed local for the Blizzard Blast 5K Obstacle Run in Lowell, MA.

When I created the team and became the unofficial “Captain” for this event, I certainly did not think it was going to catch on like the plague, especially since there was already the Polar Bear Challenge on the same day.  But as fate would have it, the OCR-hungry Spahtens began registering for this event in droves.

A huge THANK YOU goes out to Fred Smith, the event director for the Blizzard Blast.  He worked and re-worked (and re-worked a few more times) the heats so that all of us (39 when all was said and done) could toe the line in the 12:20 heat.

Race day arrived and I made my way over to Holy Ghost Village, the site of both pre-race registration and the post-race Blizzard Bash.  The venue was very easy to find, and had ample free parking.  Inside, the function hall was huge, and very well marked for waivers, registration, free bag check, and race packet pickup.  The bar was open (a key observation for later), and they were serving hot bowls of chili, clam chowder, and chicken soup.

Outside the rear entrance of Holy Ghost, some vendors had set up small tents and gave out free water, bananas, granola bars, and other assorted goodies.  There was also a free Agility Course set up, in which participants had to make their way up/over/around/through various obstacles while holding a weighted bag.  The man & woman with the quickest time through the course received a prize.

After picking up my race packet and free long-sleeved tee, I met up with the growing group of Spahtens at one of the rear tables.  Spirits were high and excitement was in the air as more (and more…and more) Spahtens joined the group.  Soon it seemed that just about all of us were there, so we made our way over to an open space for our group photo.

Group Photo

The Team readied ourselves, pinning on our bibs and getting our cold gear ready.  Our heat time was announced and we made our way to the school bus that was to transport us to Shedd Park, a quick 1-minute bus ride away.  On the ride over, a Blizzard Blast volunteer gave us the rundown of the event; the do’s and don’ts so to speak.  We arrived at Shedd Park in the blink of an eye and ambled on over to the start line.

On the balcony above the start line, a DJ was spinning tunes and getting the racers amped for the course.  Upon seeing us, he said “So I hear we have some Spahtens in the house” which was followed by loud hoots and hollers from the Spahten Ahmy.  He also passed on a message from the race director, congratulating us on being the largest what? “TEAM!” yelled the Spahtens.  He gave us the 1-minute warning, and we all toed the line and got ready to blast.

We got the word to GO, and off we went, climbing over a small mountain of snow and across the start line.  From there we ran roughly ½ mile on a mix of pavement and trails to the first “obstacle” – The brick sprints.  Simple enough – grab a brick, sprint about 10 yards, drop it, pick up another brick, sprint back, repeat.

After another bout of running came the 3 spider webs, which were easily navigated provided the person in front of you didn’t get stuck.  A bit more trail running led you to the pool noodle and saucer sleds that were hanging overhead.

Next came the Christmas tree drag & throw, one of the more unique “obstacles” this racer has come across.  You were to pick up and/or drag a Christmas tree and make your way up a small hill and around a path to a wall, where you would throw the tree over the wall and run around to the other side and retrieve it.  Drag/carry it back to where you got it and off you went.

The next few obstacles were what seem to be standard OCR protocol – 8ft cargo net, solid wall climb, and vertical ladder wall climb, all with snippets of trail running between them.

Upon dismounting from the ladder wall, the volunteer instructed us to follow the marked path and “go through the bus”.  Ummm…ok.  Sure enough, around the next bend was an old broken down school bus!  Run in through the front door, make your way down the aisle while avoiding the saucer sleds hanging from the ceiling, and out the back door!  Again, very unique!

Some more hilly trails led you to another first for this OCR’er – The dumpster dive!  Scale the outer wall of the industrial sized dumpster, and in you go, greeted by a very giving pile of Styrofoam peanuts!  Climb out, shake yourself off, and off you go into a good distance of running.

This is where the Blizzard Blast really took advantage of the elevation gains of the Fort Hill section of Shedd Park.  A steady incline of icy zig-zagged pavement led you to the top of Fort Hill, where you were greeted by a log balance obstacle.  Jaunt along a series of 2 elevated logs.  Easy peasy.

A short but very welcomed downhill run brought you to a well-type structure, where you simply climbed in and climbed out.  Easy, right?  WRONG.  This is where a good deal of casualties took place due to the icy step on the way out of the well!

If you made it out of the well unscathed, you proceeded up another very icy hill and over to the Spartan-esque “through, under, and over” walls.  Conquer those and you were out of the woods (literally, but not figuratively).

Wall

Run your way back over to Shedd Park and over a double series of tires, down an icy path along the outskirts of the park, and over to the bottom of the hill where you grabbed an inflated donut.  Run up the hill and let the fun begin!  A quick plop down, a few shuffle steps forward and down the hill you went!  Toss the inner tube and off you go.

The final obstacle on the course was what is becoming another OCR staple – the tunnel crawl.  Wiggle your way through the tunnel, weave around a few upright foam posts, and it’s a mad dash to the finish line.

Upon crossing the finish line, you were awarded your handsome medal (actual bling, a nice step up from the paper medals awarded at Panic in the Park) and a complimentary bottle of water.

Medal

From there you could hang around for your friends and/or teammates, or you could hop on the nice warm bus and head back to Holy Ghost Village for the Blizzard Bash.

The post-race bash was great, with live music and general merriment.  The team got together and shared race stories over a few beers (first one was on the house) and a free bowl of hot chili, clam chowder, or chicken soup.  Some of us opted for the “Caveman’s Delight”, a 4-foot skewer with about 6 slabs on raw meat on it.  You could cook it yourself over the open fire pit out back, or just eat it raw, a la Scott Houghtaling.

When the final results came in, the Spahten team was ecstatic to learn that 2 of our own secured themselves a spot on the podium!  Ned Dalzell took home 2nd place overall, and Mario Da Silva nabbed 3rd place overall.  Other notable Spahten finishers were Casey O’Connor (5th overall) and Robert Bonazoli (12th overall).

Mario

And, you guessed it; the New England Spahtens easily took home the honors for Largest Team, with 39 of us braving the elements for this event!  The Race Director presented me with this flag; a very nice token of appreciation and a great addition to the Spahten collection!

Flag

Overall, I was very impressed with the entire event.  The folks at SmithFest seemed to have learned a lot after their first event last October, Panic in the Park.  They really stepped up their game in terms of obstacles, which was nice to see.  They used every path, hill, nook and cranny of Shedd Park/Fort Hill to their full potential.  Event organization was stellar from pre- to post-race.  The volunteers were plentiful and very helpful.  The course was set up very nicely, well-marked, with plenty of running room between the obstacles.  They obstacles weren’t very hard for the average racer, but they were very well constructed.  The organizers seemed to be taking a few obstacle cues from the likes of Spartan Race, and adding their own little twist to them.

I’m sure I speak for the Spahten Ahmy when I say that we can’t wait to see what’s in store for Panic in the Park II, taking place on November 2, 2013.

 

Video from Jeff: