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5 years ago, I took a trip up to this place in Vermont that had assured me via email that they had something worth traveling for – and this winter race they were putting on would be something really really great.
They weren’t wrong.
Today was the fifth year of that race – the Polar Bear Challenge at Shale Hill remains a destination event for many OCR enthusiasts, providing far far more than most events on the OCR calendar.
For those who have never visited Shale Hill – it is a property in Benson VT, about 30 minutes outside of Rutland. Primarily, it’s a 10k fixed trail around their property, covering everything from open field to woods – with short sharp hill climbs, a pond and some open running sections. The obstacle count grows from race to race – back in 2012, they had under 50 obstacles, but now, that is more like 75. The obstacles range from the ordinary – walls, crawls, heavy carries – to the famous Destroyer, weaver and gut check – to the wildly unique – and you will have to visit to check them all out. Also, owner Rob keeps adding to the course, with at least two totally new obstacles for this event.
So what makes Polar Bear Challenge a different ball game? Rather than run a lap, cross the finish line, drink a beer, you run for 8 hours. That may simply be a lap, but those so inclined can push for more. Two laps, three laps – or this year it was won by the ever awesome Vincent Larochelle with 4 laps. Don’t have a competitive bone in your body? Then pick the ever popular Journeyman category, which lets you push yourself, try what you would like, and enjoy your experience with no penalties. There’s something for everyone. Including an all day buffet for racers, with rather excellent breakfast and lunch fair to keep you moving.
Of course, it’s not just the obstacles. The weather is the game changer, and the reason you do a race with the name of “Polar Bear Challenge”. We’ve had everything from 3f to 60f at this event, but for 2017 things were a cold 15f to 25f through the day. New Polar Bear sponsor DryRobe were present, and plenty of dryrobes were out and about keeping people warm and toasty when the fires on course weren’t enough (and watch this space, we’ve started talking to them about NES DryRobes …)
For me – I’ve ran enough laps of Shale Hill to not have anything to prove to myself and was out there for some fun, and mostly, friends. I started the lap on my own, knowing that hanging around at obstacles waiting with a large group would leave me frozen – so I set my own pace and being Journeyman, I picked my obstacles carefully. This tactic was great, until I rolled my shoulder on a simple wall (it’s fine today, but was sore for the rest of the race). The pond was frozen solid, so the traverse obstacle was open – and the ground was nice and frozen, so obstacles like tire drags were nice and simple. The Destroyer destroyed me – well, the Destroyer plus cold – and the warm boots I was wearing weren’t biting on rope obstacles – like I said, I picked my obstacles this time around, and many of the more complex ones I’ve done in summer, warmer events were attempted but ultimately bypassed, the benefit of being Journeyman.
When I hit the Great Traverse wall, I caught up with Nicole Sibley who was running in the more competitive Open category – and continued to pace each other through the rest of the race – obstacles she had to complete or attempt before picking up a chip were obstacles I would sherpa her pack through – and in between we matched pace and chatted about life, the universe and everything – as you tend to do when battle buddy’ing through an OCR. The company was appreciated!
Rob’s two new obstacles – one being a large A frame with wooden “steps” that you had to hoist yourself up using your hands only (on the inside of the obstacle), before transitioning to the other “leg” and going back down was a significant challenge, and bumped the difficulty of this obstacle to a new level beyond similar setups at OCRWC or Samurai Sprint – consistent with Shale Hill’s motto – train harder than you race – if you can do this one, you are golden when you encounter the others. I simply didn’t have the grip or upper body strength for it, but appreciated the significant padding underneath, which included several twin mattresses! His second fresh obstacle, replacing the bucket carry with a new wheelbarrow – a large go-cart type type, on a metal frame, with a 45lb plate and concrete block – weighing close to 100lbs this was proving to be a real challenge for many people, but played to my strengths well and I didn’t find it too challenging, although my grip was shot at the end.
I called it a day at one lap – preferring to hang out with friends, make new friends and have some food than go back out for a second lap.
A big shout out to the volunteers! This is one race that standing around in a field or woods all day is particularly brutal – the cold sucking all the body heat from you quickly, and not being able to do much to warm back up. They faced their own endurance event, and like any race – you just can’t do it without them. It was also especially nice seeing many Spahtens out there – getting a welcome smile as you came into their “zone”. Thank you!
This particular Polar Bear seemed to get more than normal numbers of traveling athletes – OCR Nation were down from Canada, and OCR Tube was up from Miami. Amie Booth was in from South Carolina and I got to meet several people who listen to The NE Spahtens Show, including many from the Quebec region – if you are from that region, hi! If you’re French speaking, check out their podcast over at 3-Seconds.
Once again, a long weekend with Shale Hill – the race is, in many ways, simply an excuse to go to a happy place – an amazingly good looking venue, with a world leading obstacle course, where you’re always welcomed like family, surrounded by friends – both on the course, in the party barn, and wherever you go to eat or sleep. It’s like a mini vacation from the real world – one that sends you home sore and achy, with bruises in places you didn’t know could bruise.
So you bit the bullet and signed up for 24 Hours of Shale Hell or 8 hours, or some other race where you must go as many laps as possible in a given time period. Your reasoning might have been a desire to challenge yourself to see what you are capable of or you might have been suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) but at this point, the why matters a little less and the how matters a little more.
A 24 hour race takes a little more than just showing up. Many of us can show up and fake our way through a 5k or even a 10k. To go for 24 hours, you must pay attention to your nutrition, you hydration, your feet, and your body. You also have to keep your head in the game.
Set a goal. It gives you something to push towards or something to push beyond. The way you set your goal is your choice. You are going to go as long as you can, regardless of how many laps that gets you. You want to get at least 5 laps or more than 3 laps. You might want to go the entire time and take less than 20 minutes between each. Whatever will drive you forward.
Know your why. This can be a part of your goal but doesn’t have to be. You want to push yourself. You are running in memory or honor of someone.
Head Games. Your mind will try to tell you that you are too tired to go on, that you can’t do it. Find a way to silence that voice. That being said, listen to your body and stop before it gets injured.
Despite telling you to watch out for head games, if you decide you are done and have had enough, that is okay. Just make sure it is a rational choice and not an emotional “I QUIT!”
So now that your head is in the game you need to take care of everything else!
Hydration. Start early. Start now. If you normally drink 3-4 liters in a day, up that should be plenty. If you drink less, up it. While Shale Hill has 4 water stations on course, I encourage you to carry water with you in a bottle, a belt, or a hydration pack. The last thing you want is to get dehydrated while running multiple laps in the hot sun. If you like your water icy cold, bring a cooler with ice, don’t count on a venue to have it. If you like having something mixed in your water, electrolytes, sugars, such as Nuun or Tailwind, you can pre-mix in liters or gallons and keep in your cooler ready to refill.
Nutrition. Keep your tummy happy, don’t try new foods on race day. If you know bean burritos give you an upset stomach don’t eat them the night before or during the race. Make sure to consume calories during your run and in between your laps. This can be in the form of gels and chews while on the course, or via tailwind,
but could also be real food, almonds and dried mangos. When you come in to transition, in addition to refilling your water, make sure you to consume calories. Eight to ten hours into a 24 hour even is not the time you want to bonk. Bring more food with you than you think you will need. Remember, food for fuel and food for happy.
Foot Care. Keep your feet dry and happy. Change your shoes on socks as often as necessary to keep your feet dry. Apply Trail Toes or some other type of moisture barrier. Powder your feet to remove moisture, drain blisters as they form to keep them from getting worse. Blisters are not your own problem, keeping your feet dry is imperative to keeping away maceration. Maceration, if severe enough, can end your race.
Body and Chafing. Lube is your friend. Inner thighs, where the waist pack or hydration pack rubs, shoulders, and especially between your butt cheeks. Finding out you chafed when you get in the shower is not a pleasant experience.
Gear List. Towels, headlamp(s), spare batteries, water, food, gels, hydration pack, water bottle, socks, shoes, two to three sets of running clothes, long sleeve, hat, sun glasses, tent, chair, first aid kit, foot care kit, sunblock, bug spray, and a roller if you want one. Don’t forget a bin or bag to hold it all and keep it organized!
As Spartan add the hardware to their store, and after a few weeks of feedback – I wanted to add a couple of items to this article. Scroll down to find the TRUE, updated cost to getting your Perfect Delta.
What is the Delta?
Spartan’s infographic on the Delta isn’t very clear – so let me try to sum it up as best I can, with the information I currently have available (and thank you to Spartan HQ for fact checking and clarifying this post prior to publication).
12/1/16 update – Spartan HQ got back in touch post publication with some more updates to the pricing – I’ve noted these in the body of this article.
It starts with a flat piece of steel – called a “Circuit”, with space for three pie pieces, and three Delta Icons (more below). The pyramid – the Delta – you see in all the photos seems to be THREE of these Circuits, leaning against each other on a round base. You do not earn a single, solid pyramid. You probably have to buy the Circuits too – but details aren’t available on the cost.
You’re supposed to build your Delta with three Circuits – one for each of three types of Trifecta (Race, Endurance and Training) – but of course, feel free to fill it up with any pie piece you want, in any combination. They have cute names for some of the combos – if you have three Race Trifecta’s, then it’s a 3T Trifecta. If you have three Endurance Trifecta’s then it’s a Masters of Endurance Trifecta.
Those corner tab pieces (the Delta Icons) you’re supposed to be able to earn at each venue – but at time of writing, the help article describing these is poorly written to the point I have no real clue what they are or how you get them. Neither did HQ! Expect more information to come on these in the future.
If you have three Circuits – one from each type of Trifecta – this is called the Perfect Delta.
Lets analyze this Perfect Delta, and how much it’s going to cost you.
Note: I’ve given the cheapest prices we could find at time of writing, and listed our source.These will go up, of course, and worth noting, it doesn’t have to be done in a single calendar year. This can be picked up over multiple seasons.
Each “Delta Icon” is now listed at $5 each. $45 for a Delta’s worth of Icons, picked up at a venue (so, no shipping)
Also, the Delta hardware is now in the Spartan store and you can get it for the low low price of $125 – photos courtesy of Jeremy Reid, who got his in recently.
A Sprint, Super and Beast. We’re familiar with these. Sprint pricing starts at $79 (Sunday in MA), $109 for a Super in MA and $159 to get your Beast in NJ.
You can get in cheaper with a regional season pass for $259, or volunteer and get free codes. Of course, you can make three Circuits up with Race Trifecta’s, and call it the 3T Trifecta, if you like – but thats not the Perfect Delta.
Total cost for a Race Trifecta: $259 (for the regional SP).
Update 2/24/16– I was given feedback that I should include insurance costs in this total. Even if you use a season pass, you are on the hook for $14 per race insurance. So, $42 insurance too.
A Hurricane Heat, 12h Hurricane Heat and an Ultra Beast.
Hurricane Heats are $25 add-on’s to your regular heat, or $100 if you do it totally solo. Most people simply add this on to their existing race weekend though. $25 it is.
The 12 hour Hurricane Heat, if you can travel to one, will run you $150 (Taken from the Vegas event)
The only Ultra Beast on the calendar today is in NJ, and it starts you at $175 (if you want to run Women’s Elite, oddly, this is the cheapest wave – Opens and Male Elite were more).
No season pass for any of these events. You’re paying $350 for this trifecta, minimum.
Update: Season Passes CAN be used for Hurricane Heats – but there are “gotcha’s”. You can ONLY use a SP once per weekend. That means you can use it for both the Hurricane Heat and the 12H Hurricane Heat, but not the same weekend you do a race. To get a race, a HH and a 12H HH, you will be visiting Spartan on even more race weekends. Still. Included in your SP. $free
Ultra Beast – I’ve been assured by HQ that the Season Pass also qualifies you for a 55% discount on Ultra Beast, bringing the cost to $96.25 at a base minimum cost. I can’t find this documented on the Spartan website at time of writing, however.
So – IF you have a Season Pass, and IF you go to a race weekend for your Hurricane Heat, your 12H Hurricane Heat, and EACH of your three Race Trifecta events – you can get an Endurance Trifecta for as little as $96.25
To get your Training Trifecta – the most expensive step on the Perfect Delta, you need to go through two courses, and one endurance event.
SGX training has been around a while now. To earn your piece of the Delta pie, you need to take a Spartan approved class. Coming soon is a single day, Spartan Obstacle Specialist class, for $395, that will be the simplest, quickest way to earn your piece of the pie. No prior personal training experience needed. Thanks to HQ for helping clarify this, it seems to be the most confusing piece of the Delta story.
SpartanX is something new, and appears to be an online course that will cost you $199 to complete (and you have to test out of it – I assume you need to pass that test). It’ll help you prepare mentally to be a Spartan.
Lastly, the Agoge – the “not a Death Race”, event. Offered in various time lengths, all appear to start at $375, but a Season Pass will get you $75 off this – again, I can’t find documentation of this perk, but HQ assure me it’s the case.
$669 for the Training Trifecta.
So – that Perfect Delta means you will almost certainly have to live the Spartan lifestyle – as it’ll cost you $1,653 at a barest minimum.
So – if you align all the stars correctly, and commit a full race weekend to a Sprint, Super, Beast – AND the Hurricane Heat and 12H Hurricane Heat – AND all five of these events happen to fall in a single region, then you COULD make your Regional Season Pass work hard, and get a Perfect Delta for only $1,024.25 (at present, I don’t see a single region with all these events – and the Spartan website doesn’t note some of these discounts – worth noting, this doesn’t include insurance, parking, gas, tolls, beer money, bail money and other sundry expenses)
UPDATE 2/24/16 – Plus $212 to buy your hardware and get your insurance! New total: $1236.25
As they say in the Delta description – Total commitment is the only true starting point.
I’ll be honest, when I started this exercise, I thought the end $ cost would have been much higher. While I used barest minimum pricing, I think the knowledge that this can be earned over multiple seasons reduces the impact of the financial cost considerably. I think the biggest take away about the Delta is that you don’t actually earn a solid stainless steel pyramid – you earn panels – then assemble them at home. There’s going to be some disappointed fans out there …
We live in New England. We are able to drive a short distance – just a few hours – and be at the foot of a venue like Killington. We have companies like Spartan Race who will come out, and setup a challenge that is physically demanding and mentally draining. We are fit and able enough to line up, and challenge that mountain.
In recent years, I’ve had my fair share of constructive feedback for Spartan HQ (some may call it whining, or complaining – but thats never the intention), and lets be clear, there will be some of that after this race – but it’s important to remember the bigger picture.
We got to go to Killington and compete in the VT Beast – and barring a few injuries here and there causing some DNF’s – for the most part, we were successful.
We’re *SO* very lucky.
This was the fifth VT Beast – my fourth – and other than year one, this is the first time Spartan were not holding their World Championships at the event. This was also the first time the VT Beast was given the designation of being a founders race – indicating they would be going back to their roots, and steering clear of the big build outs and complicated (and expensive) constructions – and staying a little closer to what made them so successful in the first place – namely, physical challenges to test strength and endurance.
Both of these changes caused much chatter, much speculation and much guesswork into the reasoning, and what this means for the future. Will all future Spartans be this gritty, back to the roots, carved out of wood style – or is this an outlier, and the future will return to big digs, large constructions and flashy banners? Time will tell.
The New England Spahtens were everywhere – taking biggest teams for both Beast days, the Sprint and the Ultra Beast – with over 400 registered runners – we were the community to be with, and welcome to every single new member who joined us at our biggest team tent!
Most of us know Killington. I was staying at a motel a short drive away with Erick, and all parking was at the base lodge – getting there early was key to getting a half decent space – 6am on Saturday, 7am on Sunday meant I was always able to park close, and each day was the now common $10 charge.
Registration was going on right in the parking lot, and the biggest team tent was right there as you came in – nice and easy to find, but far away from anything happening at the race festival – pluses and minuses. Storms on Saturday night blew the whole thing away, so Sunday was a chilly affair – Spartan staff were apologetic, but you can’t change mother nature. The huge merchandise trailer was also in the parking lot, and after learning my lessons in previous years, I bought my venue specific shirt as soon as I checked in.
Once you walked through the venue, you saw why so much was moved out into the parking lot – since we were last here in 2013, the entire base lodge has had attractions installed – a rope maze, rollercoaster and more – it made the festival grounds cluttered and crowded – the finish line and complex tucked off to the right, with the start line and kids course across the street (accessed by a tunnel). Bag check was indoors, and for the biggest team, we enjoyed free VIP bag check – and the main lodge with it’s cafeteria was open both early in the AM and late at night, which was hugely appreciated.
Of course, we can’t talk about the venue without a discussion of the main pond and bridge – and the conspicuously absent rope ladders and Tarzan swing. This obstacle is a particular hatred of mine – not being strong in either upper body *or* swimming – and I was personally not sad to see it missing – but I do understand many people’s disappointment with what was a personal nemesis or challenge – looking at the festival layout, I wonder if it was simple logistics that kept them away – it was hard to route a race course there, with the roller coasters and such – or if it was simply a case of that obstacle not fitting the “founders race” feel they were shooting for. I didn’t miss it.
I ran on Saturday in the biggest team wave at 8am. We were 230+ strong for that wave alone, and all you could see in the starting coral was a sea of blue shirts – it was pretty amazing to see, and be involved in helping that happen! Being so early, we were right after the elite men and women, and the course was going to be pretty wide open for us.
As is usual, I won’t do an obstacle by obstacle break down. The course will never be the same, so whats the point? Highlights and lowlights.
In 2014, towards the end when we were beat and tired and down – they directed us straight up a slope lovingly called “the death march”. My GPS track tells me this was right up the K1 Express gondola, and you cover over 2,000’ of elevation gain in a very short distance. We did this almost immediately – and made it up considerably quicker, with considerably less swearing – but it was still a brutal, hard climb that let you know that Founders Race or not, you were in for a day of suffering.
In 2012, we did an ugly crawl / scramble up the side of the mountain where there were very few trails. We did that too. All in, I think we did five really tough, really technical climbs, with their associated decent – and Killington once again showed why it chews people up – if you entered this race with a pre-existing injury in your ankles or knees – you reduced your chance of completion considerably.
The whole concept of the Founders Race is that we go back to basics on the obstacles – and that was certainly the case on the heavy carries – already famous for it’s incredibly difficult terrain for carries, this year we had even more. Two heavy log carries up the side of the mountain, one sandbag carry, one Spartan pancake carry, one extremely devious bucket carry – throw into that the atlas stone carry, the new farmers log carry and a heavy log carry (same style as the atlas – point to point with five burpees in between) – we spent a lot of time carrying heavy shit.
We also saw a lot of walls. Some were early on – with an Over Under Through and a couple of short and taller walls – one noticeable wall early in the race was simply not build properly, and the center point was moving far more than I would be comfortable with. The volunteer was asking racers to stay to the sides near the supports – but I would be interested to see how this particular wall faired as the day and weekend progressed. Also interestingly, all the walls were of the old design, with wooden supports and thinner lips at the top – unlike the MA events that saw walls with thick lips (too thick to get a hold of easily), and cargo strap supports negating a foot hold.
Somewhere around mile ten, we hit a parking lot area that had tons of walls – of all kinds – several tall, several small – something I hadn’t seen much before were invisible walls – simple suspended logs to get over, with nothing underneath to catch – plenty of them. By the end of this section, my legs were cramping, and I never wanted to see another wall again (but of course, we did!).
Throw in at least two vertical cargo nets (one of my least favorite climbs, based on how unstable they feel), we climbed a lot of stuff.
It wasn’t all carrying and climbing – we had three really nicely done barbed wire crawls. The first was pretty flat – the second, late in the race was uphill – but the last was right before the finish line, and felt not only exceptionally long, but given how tired everyone was, I was done with crawling at this point – this one felt like hard work!
What Spartan would be complete without Spear Throws? Love it or hate it – it’s there and we had two. At the summit, in the cold mist, with winds gusting – the hay bales were low to the ground for a change, and given our banana shaped spear, I stuck it close enough for a “pass” from the staff member managing the obstacle. The second was right at the finish line. RIGHT FRIGGING AT THE FRIGGING FINISH LINE. You could smell the smoke, and still had to nail a traditional spear man obstacle – not only torturous for people who missed and had to do burpees, but a great spectator spot too. Oh, more invisible walls right there too – fortunately I got them, despite pressure from the spectators 🙂
We went up too – two “back to basics” rope climbs, that were over regular terrain, and really short – at 6’, it wasn’t a stretch to get one or two leg locks in, and tap on the bell – while these are a far cry from the 15 or 20’ cargo container constructions – they were in the woods, in trails where people didn’t expect them. Upper body strength was tested with two Spartan style rigs – both of these were my burpee makers for the day – the second one was only accessed over a tall wall – with a second wall as your exit – new touches to a nasty obstacle.
While the bridge was closed for business, we did enter the water, but only for a short while – a nice wade across the area that used to house the tyrolean traverse was refreshing more than challenging – considering the weather, I would have LOVED to go in there more than once!
A frequent criticism I heard this weekend was how “weak” the obstacles were. Thats not one I agree with. OCR has recently entered something of an arms race with obstacles – Tough Mudder put out all the stops with massive constructions, and Battlefrog brings an extremely difficult Platinum Rig to races these days – and when you go head to head with that, you end up losing what makes your race great in the beginning. Spartan was never about having the hardest variation on monkey bars, nor was it founded on the tallest rope climbs – it has always been about getting out on the mountains and trails and testing your strength and endurance, for time. They achieved this in spades – and the biggest obstacle – Killington itself – was never easy, and was never dialed down.
There is criticism to be leveled though – and that is in the handling of the water stations on course. If there are corners to be cut, money to be saved, things to be dialed back – it is NOT in the on course stations at a venue like Killington.
I set off with a 3l pack. I sweat a considerable amount and knew I would easily need one refill – it not two – or risk problems. There were 6 listed water stops, and we were in the first non elite wave to go out. Water stop one told us to fill our bladders at the next one, which was fine – and for us, the second stop let us refill (thanks for volunteering here, Dennis!). Third stop said to refill at the fourth – and the fourth was around mile ten, with a heavy log carry, and this is where disaster struck. Noticing a line for the table, which didn’t have any jugs available for bladders, we spotted a group using a hose to refill. I’ve been around this block a few times, and we managed to get a couple of our bladders full again, before a staffer commandeered the hose – and started to inform people that we weren’t permitted to refill bladders – go back to the table, where there was now a reportedly hour long line for cups … we had a couple of team mates in visible distress here – empty bladders, and long lines for cups – and we were forced into a situation where we had to share what we had and get them to the next stop – hopefully where they could refill and move on at their own pace.
I’ve heard from the volunteers at the earlier tables that they were later informed that they should not allow bladder refills at all.
It was a very hot day. Killington’s very nature is that people are out there a considerably long time, and putting out a lot of exertion. Dehydration is a very simply, cheap thing to help alleviate. The arguments of Killington being a self supported race is fine, but the 2015 athlete guide (rather surprisingly to me) showed hydration bladders to be OPTIONAL (unlike headlamps). This was a simple planning fail – and a potential catastrophic one. Coupled with some hot tempers and verbal sparring, it was a way bigger problem than it needed to be.
Update – on Sunday, Joe and Spartan HQ put out a video owning the problems and asking for people to reach out, making a commitment to fix them, and not repeat their problems again. You can choose to believe this, or not, but in my five years of Spartan Racing, this is a first.
Joe Addresses Spartan Race IssuesHey Spartans – Joe De Sena here. This weekend saw 5 races in 4 countries. But when I heard about the issues we were having in Killington, I immediately left the Ft. Bragg race to come deal with it personally. The issues in water, medals and lines are unacceptable and I’m going to work with the Spartan team to make sure it never happens again. And don’t think we aren’t listening to the complaints – I love hearing them! And as anyone who knows me can attest, I want to hear them personally so I can respond. Email me at email@example.com with your feedback. This was a massive weekend for Spartans but I won’t rest until we learn from our mistakes and come back stronger. – Joe
The 2015 Killington Beast – despite it’s lack of World Championship status, despite the water stop issues – ultimately ended up being one of my personal favorite events of the calendar – something 2014 could not say. I was out there for 9.5 hours, and will be walking funny for a day or two. I had amazing company with my battle buddy, Jessica, and we hit our one and only goal – finish in the daylight and don’t use our headlamps. The sweetest sight of the entire day was sitting at the base lodge, looking out over the mountains, and seeing headlamps wink on as dusk fell – while stuffing our faces full of pizza and fries.
Killington isn’t for everyone – don’t take it lightly. Spartan continue to struggle with some simply logistics (they also ran out of venue shirt mid Saturday *again*, and for those hunting multiple trifecta’s, they were out of medals too), but seemingly despite themselves, they continue to attract legions of fans.
If the longer format of the Killington Beast is more your preference over shorter sprints – check out Bonefrog in MA next May, and some of the longer format endurance races at Shale Hill in 2016.
For me? I’ll be back at Killington in about 12 months. Hope to see you all in the team tent again.
“This is a racer supported event! Look after each other out there, especially at night!”
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.
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.
For 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Well, 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: – 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.
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!
Over 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.
Rob 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.
Based in Beson VT, the OCRTC is a permanent obstacle course training center, about 3 hours out of central MA – and they host everything from OCR’s, to tri’s and other races too – they are based on 150 acres, they have 35 obstacles – and they mean business – for 2013, there will be a 4 race series bringing in cash prizes and points for the super competitive folks out there!
Next January, they are hosting the Polar Bear Challenge … this looks interesting – an 8 hour endurance event, in the cold and ice of Vermont winter! The event will be a competitive race, for loops of their course. Food and drink will be provided, as well as a heated barn for folks to hang out, play games … check them out: