This week Sandy, Josh and Paul talk about upcoming and recently occuring OCR events on their schedules – including Josh’s NJ Ultra Beast finish and Sandy’s epic 50 miles at Shale Hill’s newest event, Jill’s Folly – with a 6 hour road trip to the always popular Wason Pond Pounder in the middle!
We also discuss Hobie’s recent noise on the elite scene, Zombie Charge going out of business in New England this year, and controversial BFX rule changes.
Listener questions cover everything from how NES was formed to what being a member of NES means for us – it’s a good bunch of questions!
Thanks for listening! Remember to subscribe in iTunes, on Podbean, Stitcher and soon Google Play. Leave us a comment or a review – and if you have questions for next weeks show, leave them below!
What is the Cliff Jumper obstacle Sandy mentions? Check out Shale Hill’s tutorial video – they make it look easy!
Due to some unfortunate delays with air travel, I couldn’t make my annual trip to Shale Hill to partake in the even that sits right up there with my favorite event’s ever – Polar Bear Challenge. I had no bacon. I didn’t play on The Destroyer.
Fortunately, Niki did – and has written up her experience. Over to you, Niki!
This weekend one of the largest groups yet of Spahtens headed up to Shale Hill to take on the 4th annual Polar Bear challenge, an “as many laps as you can in 8 hours” event on the 6.5 mile, 70(ish) obstacle permanent obstacle course. This year presented a whole new challenge, as ironically, while most of us left a snow storm in southern New England, arrived to a nearly snowless terrain in Benson, Vermont. With the day of weather expected to be 40f and partly cloudy, we were in for an entirely different experience than not only the past, but what was expected for a February race in Vermont.
This was my first Polar Bear Challenge at Shale Hill, although not my first race here, and I can’t deny, that the weather for this year made me incredibly happy. Knowing that Rob took advantage of his downtime between Halloween and now, adding in a number of obstacles, a.k.a. Robstacles, as well as teaming up with Larry Cooper to bring a whole new version of The Destroyer, any advantage, especially a snowless one, was incredibly welcomed.
I arrived around 8:30 Friday night on one of the clearest, most star-filled nights that can only be offered in small town Vermont, to take advantage of the new offering of getting our packets the night before the race in order to make a more efficient morning for everyone. I arrived minutes after my housemates left with my packet for me, but instead was greeted with hugs from both Jill and Rob, as well as wonderful puppy love from Max and Mogul. The most wonderful part of Shale Hill is the amazing way they welcome you in like family. Running at Shale Hill isn’t just a race experience like no other, it is one of the most intimate courses you can ever visit where the owners will care to know your name.
The next day, on a clear cold morning (and another one of those amazing views of the sun rising over the surrounding mountains), we gathered in the party barn, where the Wheel had a wonderful spread for the breakfast buffet, and listened to Rob once more tell us what crazy new ideas he’s thought up for the race this time, what has changed, and what to expect. The pond traverse was closed due to thin ice, but added to the course in the mean time was the Destroyer, with 4 lanes of difficulty; hardest on the far left, easiest on the far right (elites had to go to the left, of course), as well as the new “improved” version of balance alley with rising and falling height of log hops, to the garden, to the a 15′(ish) slack line, and you can’t touch the ground at all in between (thankfully, you only have to repeat the section you fail here and not go back to the beginning like the great wall, if you’re running elite/open), and the obstacle after the fireman’s pole was expanded by two lanes, adding Sinergy fat bars and Sinergy hanging bars. For Polar Bear, failed obstacles collect chips, which are then turned in at the end of your lap where you have to do the penalty listed coordinated with your chip color, as well as roll the die to see how many reps. Penalties this year included sledge hammering a car, lunges up and down the hill with giant logs, and my personal favorite, hugging Sandy Korda (I took this penalty and I was journeyman because this was the bestest penalty ever)!
Compared to previous years, the lack of snow definitely allowed for more laps to be completed this year. The winner finished 4 laps in under 8 hours (last year won at 3 laps). While quite chilly in the morning (only about 25-30* at the start of the race), this actually played in our favor, as much of the course that had previously been mud, was frozen stiff. Also, many of the typically saturated areas on the course was ice. However, if you were one of the brave few who took on this course without Icebugs, this may not have played in your favor. There were many times throughout the day where you could hear “I love my Icebugs” being said around all the course. Seeing as that was what was on my feet, I had a VERY good race! When you finished lap one, you went and checked in with timing where your time was recorded, and you received a bracelet. Then you went out again whenever you were ready (of course you need to hit up the buffet for more bacon and other good treats before heading out again) and you would receive a different bracelet at the end of the second lap. If you were running open or elite, then you had to go to the penalty table, turn in your chips, and do your correlating penalties before you could time out that lap. All penalties had to be completed before the end of the 8 hours for the lap to be counted.
One thing you’ll find at Shale Hill that you’ll likely never find at any other race, is the sincere desire to make their course for everyone. You want a whole new experience that no other course has been able to challenge you with? Run elite. You’re still working on your upper body strength and fear you’d do too many penalties? Run journeyman and enjoy doing everything you can without crazy penalties on the obstacles you can’t. Endurance isn’t for you and 8 hours is too long? Sign up to run Polar Bear for just one lap with the 10k. For all the 8 hour runners, no matter what difficulty, a full breakfast and lunch buffet was included in your registration, provided by the delicious Wheel Inn, which also could be purchased by the 10k runners and spectators.
This year’s finishing medal was gorgeous, and the long sleeve shirts visually appealing. Included in our packet bags were also the cutest beer cozies, stickers, and other awesome goodies. The finishing touch, every NES member got a free training pass for Shale Hill for being a part of the biggest team! And let’s not forget to mention arguably the best part about doing Polar Bear (versus any other Shale Hill event) is the UNLIMITED ALL NATURAL BACON. Yes, UNLIMITED. And it is delicious with the standard (and best ever) chocolate milk received after completing a Shale Hill race.
If you love obstacle course racing, truly love it for the obstacles and the family you create along the way, and you haven’t been to Shale Hill yet, then you’re selling yourself short. You will never experience any obstacles like Robstacles at Spartan (even Norm Koch was there this weekend, and this wasn’t his first visit), and you will never experience a course where the owners want you to become family. This is a course that will help you grow strong, both inside and out. Find a way to get here, and you will never regret the experience.
Do you have an opinion about Shale Hill that you’d like to share? Our community reviews are the best place!
From late September of 2014, Paul Jones and I have been working hard on the 2015 #racelocal Grand Prix. Everyone knows who Paul is, he is arguably, the face of NES. Me? Not so much, mostly by design. I have always been a “behind the scenes” type, this is where my comfort level is. I’m not a stranger to the Biggest Team tent, and a lot of you know me and have met me, but I’m much more involved in areas a lot of you will never know. A “forced extrovert” is how I’ve always defined myself, I’m definitely on the quiet side.
But, boy…have I enjoyed watching this season. Every time someone posted pictures of their medals, every time I saw someone in a #racelocal shirt. Showing up at Killington and having someone race past me in a #racelocal “hoodie.” Reading the reviews of the races, seeing the pictures of the events I wasn’t able to attend, seeing the triumph at the ones I did. Paul and I had so many “behind the scenes” talks about how proud of this community we are, supporting this effort.
As the races signed on and committed, everyone “behind the scenes” became more and more excited. Amazing races like Pounder, Shale Hill, O2X. You know the names. I was stoked about all of them, and started checking ones off the list, what have I never done before? Snow race. Bone Frog. Shale Hill. My “to do” list went through the roof (and a lot of it still remains).
I remember the days leading to this year’s Blizzard Blast. I looked outside and, speaking to a friend on the phone, we both thought out loud “it might be a blast, but there won’t be much blizzard!” It was warm, and very non-snowy, right up until a few days until the event. Boy, did the weather change, just in time!
…and then it wasn’t! More snow than we knew what to do with. It was awesome, and a sign of an amazing season to come! We raced, slipped, slid and slipped our way through six miles of fresh snow (that wouldn’t stop falling all year). And, with that, #racelocal 2015 was off and running!
I’ve wanted to do a Bone Frog for a couple years, this was going to be the year I would not be denied. Setting out with my buddy Rob, I can’t think of a course that pushed and challenged us more. Another unexpected weather day, yes? So much for “60’s and raining,” by the time it was all said and done, we saw mid 80’s that day! #racelocal was certainly an adventure this season. I watched my wife crush Bold R Dash (I was sidelined with injury), same with FIT in April. I was this (-) close to finally getting to Shale Hill (which will not elude me in 2016), only to be derailed by child care issues. And, through all the races, I was able to do my “thing,” watch from the back ground and really enjoy all of your successes.
So, you may be asking yourself how I could have all these cool memories and still have this “strange FOMO.” Last year one of my best friends moved to North Carolina. We planned a time for me to fly down and see him, coinciding with Spartan’s Beast weekend. Bought my plane tickets, booked the hotel and the plan was set. The #racelocal Grand Prix was scheduled to end weeks before this event, there were no conflicts. I figured, great – I get to see a friend, and race. It sounds like a great weekend!
…And then Robb McCoy announced the fall FIT Challenge. Now I was going to be missing something. Now my weekend away wasn’t so clear and easy. Everyone “behind the scenes” would be at FIT, except me.
I had an amazing time with my buddy, we had a great weekend; however it is really hard knowing that everyone it gathering at an event, except you. An event you had a large hand putting together is going to be ending, there will be a lot of smiling faces, awards, laughs, memories…and I won’t be there.
It was a strange feeling, being at a fun event with a great friend and, yet, having this strange FOMO feeling at the same time. While I was running with, literally, thousands (and thousands) of people in South Carolina and doing the exact obstacles I’ve done hundreds of times, my mind was wondering what you folks were doing. I loved being with my friend, I wouldn’t trade that weekend for the world. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit I wasn’t jealous, and I didn’t miss you guys.
I guess that is what #racelocal does to you.
I was glad to have Paul to talk after both races, yours and mine. I loved seeing the pictures of the event, and the prize winners. But, really, aren’t we all “prize winners,” everyone who ran even one #racelocal event? I know that is how I feel.
And next season I am determined to not have the FOMO feeling again. I hope you avoid it as well. How do you avoid it? Pretty simple, something Paul and I have been working on since about October of this year..
Soon, the 2016 #racelocal Grand Prix will be on us. Walls will be climbed, heavy things carried, miles will be run, mountains will be scaled. There are medals to be earned. One of the items we are very excited, and very proud, to announce about ~this year’s~ 2016 Grand Prix is it’s not just for *you* any longer.
It’s time to get the kids into the game!
A few early details for you: Some races will have a minimum age requirement, some will not. Some will have a minimum age requirement, and require the child to run with their parent. But this year your children are going to have the ability to run, crawl, jump, get muddy, and #racelocal right along with you! FULL details are coming very soon!
Along with the registration information, there will be information about how to register your child for #racelocal as well. While you are earning swag for your races, so will your child (or children). Oh, wait…you didn’t think we’d save all the cool stuff for the big kids, did you? Oh, no…we have a lot of very cool things lined up just for the kids division! The more they race, the more they earn!
What could be better than spending the day together, racing, and earning cool swag? That’s what we thought, too…nothing! Which is why we’ve put this whole thing (and prizes) together!
Racing should be able to combine all of your passions together, and now it can. We told you the 2016 #racelocal was going to be bigger and better than ever, and we mean it.
Now, look – medals and prizes are fantastic, we all enjoy earning them. We have all crossed a finish line with friends, our battle buddies. Imagine taking on a race with your family! Helping each other on the course, building memories as you finish the race together; those would be memories which would stay with you, and your family members, forever! Ultimately this is the big goal, to bring us all together. #racelocal #strongertogether
We hope you have questions, and we hope you’re as excited as we are! Keep your eyes peeled, more information will be coming soon! All questions will be answered soon!
Editors note: Nicole recently attended one of the first weekend training camps at Shale Hill, and provided an extensive review of the whole experience. If you’ve never been, and you want to improve your game, make it a priority!
This weekend, I spent five hours a day doing obstacle course training at Shale Hill’s weekend training camp. I had come up to Shale Hill for a training weekend with the NE Spahtens last summer — it was actually my first time on the course — and found the experience invaluable. I was excited to get more time on the course training and getting some suggestions for a couple of the obstacles that I have yet to really get down.
The Shale Hill weekend training camp costs $350, housing included, or $250 if you want to train without housing. For the price, you get to train with Rob, the owner of Shale Hill and an extremely excellent obstacle course racer and trainer, from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. daily. As the Shale Hill site says, the camp will cover:
Obstacle technique (efficiency and movement)
One on one time
Training techniques for home use
Running gate assessment and shoe fitment
All training will be custom – based off the attendees goals and abilities. Full access to the course and gym outside hours.
Prior to the camp, the half dozen participants received an email with information and asking one key question: What do you want to work on this weekend? Because I’m apparently impossible at replying to anything with brevity, my reply email (minus pleasantries and logistical information) read like this:
My overall goal with the weekend is to lay the groundwork for my off season training so that I can be in top shape for racing come next summer. One thing I am particularly interested in doing is racing the full 24 hour event at 24 Hours of Shale Hell next summer. I’d be interested in talking with Rob about a training plan for that race. I see the 24 hour race as a goal race that can highlight my increased OCR-related fitness next year. Also, I’m probably looking to do the open division instead of racing journeyman next year — it’s time. Here’s a breakdown of the smaller goals that I see feeding into that bigger goal. 1. With the exception of the parallel bars, I have now made it through every obstacle at Shale Hill at least once. I would like to improve my consistency on a few obstacles: Tarzan ropes (which I’ve made during training but not on race day), tire swings, zigzag of awesomeness, and the 19′ rope climb (which I’m getting better at, so that might come off the list). Any suggestions for technique or muscles to improve so as to get more consistent on these obstacles would be great. I’ll work on doing more dips to get better at the parallel bars. 2. Carries. I struggled with the carries. In fact, my almost complete inability to make it through the log splitter is what’s keeping me in the journeyman division (as I like the option of taking a slosh pipe). I need to get better at this and would like to hear how I can train to be more efficient and effective with my carries. 3. Figure out a training plan for 24 Hours of Shale Hell!
I was ready to head up to Benson and begin the work necessary to set the stage for the 2016 race season.
I arrived up at Shale Hill Friday night. The $350 included two nights (Friday and Saturday). Since I live around three hours away, it made sense to go up the night before. I would be sharing accommodations with the other camp attendees: Barbara, Louise, Wanda, Jim, and Marc.
The apartment at Shale Hill is outfitted with two rooms each containing two sets of bunk beds and two sleeper couches.There is also a full kitchen, so you can make all your food there. When the apartment is not in use for training camps and the like, it can be rented out for $150 a night.
After I arrived on Friday night at around 7:30 p.m., we decided to use some of the daylight left to us to go and look at one or two obstacles on the course. We started by heading over to the Zigzag of Awesomeness. It was Marc and Louise’s first time up at Shale Hill. Barbara had been up a lot. Jim had been up once last fall (so the Zigzag was new to him). Wanda had been up a few times but didn’t tend to race. All of us stood at the Zigzag when Louise gave it a try. I was impressed — it was her first time seeing it, and she made it across.
We also decided to head over to the Tarzan Swing. I’m able to make it through this obstacles with increasing consistency. Rob had provided training tips when I was first up at Shale Hill last year, and after a year of practice, I found I was finally able to make it through most of the time. I shared some of the instruction I had received and did a small demo on the Tarzan Swing. We all took turns trying it out and practiced getting the feel of the movement through the air.
After, we decided to head back for an early night and some rest. We had five hours of training the next day, and we didn’t want to tire our hands out already.
Saturday morning, I got up, went down to the Benson Village Store for some coffee and an egg bagel, and then headed back to Shale Hill to meet in the gym at 9:00 a.m. for day one of training. We were also joined by Sarah, who was coming to train for the morning in preparation for her first Spartan race next weekend.
We started by going around and talking a bit about our goals for the training weekend. The group contained people who were all fit but had varying levels of experience with obstacle course racing. I talked about how I was hoping to use the weekend to set the stage for my 2016 training, to get some take-away’s for training on my own, and to get advice for training for next year’s 24 Hours of Shale Hell race.
After getting a feel for our goals, Rob did a bit of talking about obstacle course racing in general and how to train in the gym so as to gain skills that would help you on the course. He began by detailing the ABCs for approaching obstacles (Accelerate towards the obstacle, use a Burst of energy to get through, and Complete the obstacle). Rob also gave us information about how to do training in the gym with ropes and recommended that we all get some rope to carry around the gym with us for all purposes. Having strong hands and good grip strength and endurance is key to success in obstacle course racing and getting your hands used to having ropes in them is a good first step.
From there, we headed out on to the course to begin practicing rope climbing and going over walls. We all had a chance to try the s-hook and the j-hook for rope climbing. I use the s-hook for ascending ropes, as I prefer how stable it is; however, it’s not ideal for coming down — the j-hook is designed for repelling and is faster and less likely to give you rope burn. I did a bit of practice on transitioning from the s to the j-hook while we all did our rope climbing.
Rob also showed us the most efficient way to go over a wall. He’s a fan of running at and then up the wall, a technique I had seen before. He also likes to roll over the wall, putting his stomach over and then rolling the legs along the side, instead of sitting up on the wall. I do okay with running at the wall but definitely needed to practice getting over the top without sitting up. This was a good opportunity to do so.
Next up was the Rope Ramp. This gave us the opportunity to do a bit more practicing with rope climbing, something especially useful for the newer folks.
From there, we headed over to the jungle (the area at Shale Hill in the woods with lots of climbing obstacles). We took the chance to talk about trail running and downhill running. Rob talked about his strategy: Look for flattest path between objects on the trail by sighting far ahead for level ground. While Rob emphasized keeping your torso upright and movement minimal when doing most running, when trail running he said it often made sense to stutter step and have arms out to side for balance.
He also showed us the most efficient way to run downhill by planting the foot (not heel) and using your quads. Finally, we discussed the best way to seamlessly vault a log, planting your foot on the side on the log nearest you, instead of directly on top of the log and moving over the log in a crouch, trying to keep your head from bobbing up at down. All of these efforts conserve energy for later in the race.
Up next were the climbing obstacles, the Linkin’ Logs and the Ladders. We more or less just practiced going up and down the Linkin’ Logs, with Rob reminding us how to properly angle our feet in the cutouts and sight upwards, dragging our feet along the logs and feeling for the next grove instead of looking down. I enjoy the Linkin’ Logs, and it was fun to get to play around a bit on them and see everyone else be successful at this obstacle.
At the Ladders, Rob demonstrated a few different approaches for speed and efficiency. There was the option to grab the rope right above the step, put a knee on the first rung and then climb normally. Alternatively, you could climb the side, which would make the ladder move less. I’ve used the sideways technique before with smaller, metal ladders, but I personally doing a more traditional climb to work better for me with the Shale Hill ladders.
From the Ladders, we made our way to the Great Wall, a five paneled six part traverse wall. At Shale Hill, you start on the first traverse wall and don’t touch the ground until you’ve made it across all five panels and the balance beams or overhead beams that connect the walls. In general, you start on one side and stay on that side, alternating between walls that have you holding blocks and standing on blocks and other easier walls that have you standing on a railing and using blocks for handholds. I’ve been pretty successful on the Great Wall lately, so while Rob introduced the wall to others, he told me to go ahead and complete it using the foot and hand blocks side all the way along.
I had to stop and shake my arms out a couple of times, but I made it. Rob then provided instruction about the fastest way to make it across the overhead beams that connect two sets of the traverse walls. He recommended leaning out as far as you could, swinging and almost jumping your hands to the end of the beam. I tried twice, and this is definitely going to take some practice, but you cannot beat this technique for speed.
The Heinous Hoist was up next. I find hoists a bit challenging, and Rob’s pointer on this was very helpful for me. He recommended grabbing the rope high and then dropping down into a frog squat using the entire weight of your body to move the object up. As you do this you almost jump back up and quickly go up the rope with your hands using momentum to help you move the object. This strategy works much more easily than what I had been doing (which was grabbing the rope high and then walking back in a squat to bring the weight up). Rob’s technique uses a lot less energy and is much faster. I will be doing this at all future races.
Our final couple of obstacles before lunch were the Alcatraz Wall and the Balance Beams. We were all pretty successful here.
We even practiced playing around on speeding through the beams at an (almost) run. Plus, some people, though certainly not me, were doing them backwards!
From there, we headed back to the gym for lunch and a quick selfie and team photo with Sarah who had to head back home.
During lunch, Rob took time to do more instruction about how to train at the gym for obstacle course racing success. Some of the exercises and tips he shared included:
Bicep curls where you roll the weight out to fingertips
Farmers carry (for which he recommended using a weight with lip on one side and carrying weight plates almost to failure)
Rope walk downs, in which you stand and hold a rope then lean forward towards the rope and walk your planked body towards the floor
Tricep pull downs with a rope
Putting a regular rope around a dumbbell and doing curls and the like that way
All ropes, all the time
Do hundreds of reps instead of a small number to build muscular endurance instead of bulk
Rob also highlighted the importance of keeping your feet happy and showed us how to wrap vet tape around your ankle and the top of your shoes to keep out pebbles.
After lunch, we headed back out onto the course to hit up the Zigzag of Awesomeness. I struggle on this obstacle a little bit and was glad to get some practice in. We reviewed doing the obstacle the traditional way, ascending the poles, and also did the obstacle in reverse. The purpose of doing the obstacle backwards was to give us a feel for the best way to pendulum our body left and right as we moved our hands along the pole. Rob also emphasized reaching far apart so as to move most quickly.
I chatted with Rob a little bit about how I am not the best at this obstacle and he recommended working a bit on getting my hands stronger. I also think a piece of this is focus. The one time I completed this obstacle, I was super focused and also did not let any doubt creep into my mind. I need to maintain that mentality.
Next up was the Tarzan Swing. I had done some demonstrating on this obstacle the night before, so Rob let me go first and show him what I had told the others. I made it all the way through. Others then took turns practicing as Rob gave pointers and showed the different methods you need to tackle the obstacle when you use the knotted versus unknotted ropes.
We had taken a while with lunch and also spent a good amount of time on the Tarzan Swing, since it’s a very challenging obstacle for people. It was time to head back.
After taking some time for some R&R, the training group decided to take advantage of our time at Shale Hill and access to the facilities there and head back out on the course. We hit up the Loom and the Tire Swings for about an hour and a half and played around. We went back to the apartment in time to all take showers and then get ready for the cookout over at Rob’s house that evening.
The cookout was a great way to wrap-up the day and enjoy some socializing and downtime. As always, Rob was an amazing host. We had plans to do a bonfire and roast some s’mores but ended up being tired and decided to head back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep before our next training day on Sunday.
Day two of training, I awoke to a second day of perfect weather. Rob had intimated that we’d be having some “celebrity” trainers coming. I had been excited to learn that it would be none other than Jason and Heather Moss, both members ofTeam Sinergy, experienced obstacle course racers, and all around fantastic trainers and athletes. I have done a bit of training with Rob at this point, so getting to train with Heather and Jason was a fabulous opportunity to get a different take on some of the obstacles and learn different techniques. Benefiting from the expertise of a variety of different athletic trainers proved to be likely my favorite part of the training weekend.
Again, we met up in the gym at 9:00 a.m. Jason started us out with a boot camp inspired warm-up and then Heather led us through a stretch. It was very nice to see their two different coaching approaches, which worked to complement each other very well. Jason has a no nonsense “Just do it” approach, which I really enjoy. Heather offers a more encouraging take. The balance of the two is really effective. They are both great at showing you various approaches for tackling obstacles. Jason is tall and can take advantage of that on some of the obstacles. Heather is more around my height, and I found it extremely helpful to get advice from her as a result. Techniques that work for taller athletes like Rob and Jason are sometimes a bit more of a challenge for shorter athletes like me, and so Heather’s versions of things proved very useful.
We started our day on the course out at the wall and rope again and had a chance to practice our skills. Heather also modeled a different approach to getting over the wall — instead of running at the wall, she stands next to it and jumps to reach the top before walking up and then rolling over. I had some success with the running method, but it’s not 100%, so Heather’s approach was great to see and will be what I do in future races.
Next up, we headed over to the Pond Traverse. Jason demonstrated the below the rope technique and Heather showed us how to do the traverse above the rope. I tend to favor both methods — doing the top technique to the middle of the rope and then transitioning to below. I practiced both ways. I very rarely fail the rope traverse. (The only time I’ve failed in the last year was at Tri-Obstaclon.) I am definitely getting faster though. Honestly, going as fast as possible makes this obstacle easier. Limit your time on the rope was the key message.
After the Pond Traverse, we headed down to Gut Check. Of all the obstacles, I think this one gives me most pause. I always just climb up the sides, which is not the proper way to do this obstacle at all. One is supposed to jump from the lower log to the upper one, like you can see Heather doing in the picture below. Heather talked with me a bit about this one and how to really power off the bottom log. For the first time, I did both Gut Checks (that’s right there are two of them) and made it over. I had to scramble a little bit to pull myself over the top log and scraped my arm a bit, but I now understand now key it is to jump hard off the bottom log. This will never be a favorite obstacle, and it will always make me kind of nervous with the potential for bruises and scrapes, but if I keep practicing technique, I should be able to do it properly soon.
We headed over to the Rope Ramp where we did a bit more rope climbing and talked about running form some more. Jason talked about mid-foot striking and how proper running form will help with endurance. He also reiterated some pointers from earlier about hill climbing and downhill running. For climbing hills, you want to keep your torso upright and act as though you are climbing stairs. For running downhill, he mirrored what Rob said the day before about the importance of sighting ahead.
From there, we headed into the field where we got to do some work on the Double Ups and the Cliff Jumper. Everyone did really well on the Double Ups. Some people even modeled a fancy dismount with a flip.
I really like Cliff Jumper, so I was excited to get to look at this obstacle. I have no trouble getting up, but I am fairly inefficient coming down, since I use a rope on the back of the obstacle, do an s-hook and slowly lower myself. Jason showed me how to just lean off the top and climb down the wall on the other side without the rope. This looks surprisingly easier than what I was doing. Good tip!
We headed back to the barn for what was supposed to be a quick lunch but ended up being an hour of chatting about OCR World Championships in Ohio this October and the sport of Obstacle Course Racing. It was a good time to socialize and digest, but it took away time from training. I’m hoping that for next year, the Shale Hill camp considers doing training from 9:00 a.m. – noon, breaking an hour for lunch, and then training again from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. As it was, with the 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. training window, we really only ended up training for four hours instead of five because of lunch. Splitting things up might allow for a less compacted afternoon of training and time for chatting during lunch.
Once lunch was finished, we ran the approximately one mile out to the Loom. We had practiced some there the other day, and I am pretty efficient on the Loom, having spent a good amount of time on this obstacle at our NE Spahtens training weekend last year, so I could have skipped this one. However, it was a good opportunity for others. I ran through the Loom a couple of times because it’s always good to repeat and train.
It was almost 1:30 p.m., so we made a quick trip to the 11′ wall and the 19′ rope climb. There is no real trick to the 11′ wall, according to Jason — just walk up and over. We had done a lot of rope climbing at this point. I did a quick trip up and down. Some others did the same. A few people had kind of roughed up hands at this point and decided to save their strength for the next obstacle, the monkey bars.
Since everyone in the group was able to make it across the horizontal rotating monkey bars, a lot of time was spent on the uphill monkey bars. I had never really devoted any time to them since they are not required for women running in the open division. However, it was great to see how people worked on this obstacle. The key seems to be doing them backwards so as to use the strength of your back to lift yourself up and along. The rungs are pretty widely spaced, so for someone with a shorter wingspan, you find your self almost doing a pull-up. Heather did an amazing demonstration and a number of people in our group made it impressively far on the uphill monkey bars. I decided to try, and was able to make it to the third rung. While this isn’t an obstacle I think I’ll ever have to do, it’s always fun trying new challenges and getting the feel for new things. I might come and play around on this one more in the future.
The day was winding down, so I asked if it would be possible to go over to the Log Splitter Carry. One of my goals for the weekend was to get some work in with the heavy carries. Jason said we could, so we headed over there.
The Log Splitter is my nemesis and part of the reason why I have been running in the journeyman division. Since this had to change, I needed to figure out a solution for the Log Splitter. This was my chance to get some pointers for how to select a log, do the carry, and train for success.
Heather gave me a great demonstration for the carry. She told me how to select the longer, thinner logs for a slightly lighter log but also emphasized the benefits of taking slightly shorter logs which I could holder underneath with my hands. (The thinner logs, while lighter are quite long and you cannot grasp them underneath.) She demonstrated how to stand the logs on the ground with the strap separating them and then how to squat down to pick up. To do this, you put your head under the strap and then stand with a flat back using the strength of your legs. The band between the logs should be positioned, as much as possible, on the meaty part of your upper shoulders and back instead of on your neck.
I tried with the thinner logs and then the thicker shorter logs, until I got the feel of it. Getting the logs on my back properly and efficiently made a big difference. The other two women in the group decided for their last activity of the day to go and do the Tarzan Swing again. Heather took them, while Jason and the other two men joined me for a loop of the Log Splitter Carry. This was my second time doing the carry, and I was much more successful than at Polar Bear. Not only did I not hurt myself, but I managed the weight well, kept good form, and kept moving at, what is for me, a descent pace. At the end of the carry, I thanks Jason for letting me practice. This was what I came to training camp for — to get solutions to the obstacles I struggle with the most.
So who should attend the Shale Hill training camp? The short answer: Anyone interested in obstacle course racing. The long answer: I would highly recommend the camp for anyone wanting to go to Shale Hill for the first time. I think it’s very helpful to go to Shale Hill and do a couple of days of training where you can get a feel for the obstacles before doing a race there. Sure this is not a requirement by any means, but the obstacles at Shale Hill can be technical and having someone run you through them with detailed instruction is very helpful. The camp is also great for anyone new to the sport of obstacle course racing. Rob is an experienced, patient, and detail-oriented teacher. He will teach the proper technique that will allow you to be successful in the sport. Learning good skills early-on is key for building a good base.
For next year, I’d love to see Shale Hill offer “leveled” camps for beginner, intermediate, and advanced training. This would provide a great opportunity for athletes at similar places in their training to work together and learn from each other. It would also mean that people who are learning techniques for the first time would be grouped together and not feel rushed as they practice skills. Similarly, it would allow people who have already mastered the basics to spend more time working on more technical areas and improving skills in the margins to improve speed and efficiency. No matter your level of experience, Rob has something to teach you, and he is good at customizing training to the individual once he sees your level of experience. Having the training weekends (or weeks!) broken out by experience will allow athletes to have a more catered experience.
I got some good training tips from the Shale Hill camp — the weekend in Vermont was a great investment — I look forward to talking with Rob more about a training plan for next year and to begin training for a good 2016 season. I think the training weekend, plus the training I’ve done up at Shale Hill on my own this year, has resulted in some nice improvements. I plan to do some scaling back of my training this fall (to coincide with the start of my classes for my Master’s) and then will begin training in earnest again in early winter with some base building and then more systematic training in the spring. I look forward to having a good plan to do that and think the training weekend has gotten me off to a good start.
Sandy recently completed an amazing experience that is only offered once a year. She lived, breathed and trained – daily – on the Shale Hill course for 30 days straight. This is her story.
30 Days of Shale Hill. I finished it more than a week ago and have been planning my write-up in my head ever since. Not sure why it is so difficult for me to do this. I think that it’s not that I don’t have anything to say, but that I have too much to say. No one wants to read a novel, and I really don’t want to write one. So, let’s see how this goes.
First, this was an incredible opportunity that I passed on the first time it was brought up. I couldn’t fathom being away from Vince for a full 30 days (sue me, I like his company!), I had no desire to get up every morning at 4:00a, and it meant time away from work. It was actually Vince who talked me into it. He knew how much I really needed it and how much I wanted to do it despite the drawbacks. He was willing to let me be away for 30 days despite what that meant for him and made his own sacrifice to encourage me to do so. I love him even more for it.
When I went, I had several goals in mind. First and foremost, I wanted to kick start some weight loss. I had been working on doing so for several years, but needed to be removed from my normal environment and pushed to really get going. Second, I wanted to get stronger. Third, I wanted a reset of some habits and, like the weight loss, I needed to be in a fresh environment to do so.
Shale Hill is not for the faint of heart. It is an incredible course that has the ability to chew you up and spit you out. (**For those who want to go try it but are frightened/intimidated to, please be assured that there are plenty of options for all levels – I’m talking about doing it 100% and being as close to 100% successful as possible.) Before the 30 days, I knew what I was going into. I knew what obstacles I found easy and doable already and I knew those that were still out of reach, but doable eventually. While there, the repetition allowed me to create a spreadsheet of all 65 (*current as of 8/1/15 – I’ll post a second time with the current list) obstacles and indicate whether I had been successful on them already or not. Prior to going, I was able to complete 54.5 of them. That sounds like a lot. However, of those 54.5, 10 of them were only with help or great difficulty. That really means that I was successful with some degree of ease and consistency on 44 of them. (*The half is the fireman pole you have to climb up. There is an option to climb a cargo net in order to then complete the rest of the obstacle’s parts. I could get up the pole with help, or the cargo net on my own.)
Goal #2 was to get stronger. I’m pleased to say that by the end of day 30, there are only 3 obstacles I cannot do (Tarzan Ropes, Uphill Monkey Bars (which women aren’t required to do anyway), and the Fireman Pole). There are 4 that I have done at least once, but aren’t what I consider to be easy yet (Warped Wall (I get up every time, but not by running), Parallel Bars (these completely jack my shoulders up), the new obstacle going across the tires (done twice now but still not easy), and the Zig Zag of Awesomeness(which I got for the first time at the 24 Hour event)). All those others that I needed help on or struggled with can now be done with ease. Needless to say, I’m considering Goal #2 to have been met. On top of that, my speed increased as well.
For Goal #1, I’ll post my first day, 16 day, and 30 day photos below. I think it’s pretty obvious that I met that goal as well. In total, I lost 10 pounds and 10 inches in 30 days. And, every bit of that happened in the second half. Now, it’s my job to continue the process.
For Goal #3, time will tell better. I’ve fallen back into some old routines, but am conscientious of it and know what to do to break the habits for good. Vince will help if I ask.
All in all, this was an incredible experience. I absolutely would do it again if the opportunity arises. If anyone is thinking of doing it when it is offered again, I will happily share more specific information and lessons learned if you simply ask. A month is a long time, so if you can’t make it for that full amount of time, I also highly recommend the week long and/or weekend training sessions offered. It will make you stronger and a better obstacle course racer.
Photos are Day 1 – Day 16 – Day 30 from left to right.
“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 is a tough course. No bones about it – it’s probably too tough for some of you. I know there are people scared of it, and people who have done it, and think it’s too hard. Such is life.
So – if you’re not scared off already, you should *seriously* consider next years Tri-Obstaclon. It takes the fantastic physical upper body challenge that is Shale Hill, and adds a leg burning bike and swim portion in front of it. It’s like doing a triathlon, but with monkey bars thrown somewhere in there.
They were offering three options this year. Lite, Power and Elite. The break down was pretty simple – everyone started on their mountain, commuter or borrowed bikes and cycled a fire road, with some technical trails to Lake Champlaign. There, Lite and Power would wade or swim between two bouys, while Elite would go twice. Reverse the bike route to the transition point outside the main barn at Shale Hill, then set off for the course. Lite would do the 5k, Power, the 10k “full” course and Elites would go around twice for 20k.
And like any Shale Hill event, you could run these competitively, with penalties and prizes – or as a Journeyman, which excluded you from prizes and allowed you to skip penalties.
I don’t know how much more accommodating things can be – if you’re still nervous.
Power, Journeyman was my speed.
How do you prepare for a race like this? I’ve never done a triathlon, and I’m not sure how much that would help anyway – almost all of the bike course was on dirt road and trails, the swim could be walked, and was more for fun and annoyance than anything else, and no triathlete ever transitions to a 10k obstacle course. What do you wear? What kind of tires do you have on your bike? What shoes do you wear?
A few weeks before the race, I pulled my bike out of the basement, cleaned it up and started putting on the miles. Not too many – but four or five 7 mile rides, just to make sure I was comfortable on the saddle, and the bike was working ok – I ended up taking it into the local bike shop at the last minute to get my more rugged mountain bike tires installed, new brake pads and to have the chain and gears oiled up to help them shift smoother. I can swim, but I’m not strong at it, but knowing I always had the option of simply walking took away any fear of the water – and I’ve run the course more than a few times now, and I know it’s still going to kick my butt, and leave me sore for days all by itself.
It’s extremely easy to find a place to sleep the night before a Shale Hill event. We stayed at a local guest house, put 8 or so people in beds, and with a lovely coffee and fresh breakfast bagel at the general store, you’re barely out $30 and your morning commute is just a few minutes across sleepy Benson, VT. We unloaded, racked our bikes, stored our gear bins and started shaking hands, exchanging hugs and enjoying the atmosphere. Rob called an athlete briefing, and at 9am we lined up and set off for what ended up being a 7 mile out and back bike ride – initially on the Shale Hill course itself, then to some gravel and dirt roads, before a final stretch of extremely technical terrain down to Lake Champlaign. Volunteers were everywhere, and it would have taken serious effort to get lost. My bike held up great, and bombing down roads at 20mph is a blast, right up until you have to go back up the damn hills … the last 1/4 mile stretch was so rocky, muddy and sloppy that we were walking our bikes to the transition, where a volunteer noted your times and sent you to the swim.
I’m no swimmer – so I was very happy to hear that the lake was chest deep – enough that you could swim if you wanted, or like me, simply wade. 300 yards or so was all, and there was quite simply nothing to be worried about. The water was refreshing.
The ride back was uphill. All the way, it seemed although thats not really true. I added 10 minutes to my ride going back, and I’m sure I ate half the mud that flung up off my tires in this section. Note to self – mud guards next year. That final quad burning push up the grassy hill to cross the finish line into the transition area smoked my legs, and when I dismounted I was convinced there was no way I could manage a whole 10k on the course.
I had chosen to ride/swim/ride in some old Inov8’s – so I swung by the transition area and peeled off my shoes, socks, cycling shorts and jersey and dried off a little. Switching out to new socks, compression calf sleeves, running shorts and a tank – then my Icebug Zeal’s for the running – I also drank copious amounts of water and ate a dry bagel to get some fuel.
Likely, I spent no more than 20 minutes here – it was time to get moving, my legs had recovered. Unusually, I’d decided to run this one pretty much solo. I found some of the obstacles I couldn’t normally do still just as challenging (I never make it through the traverse wall, for example), but I also found some things easier than normal. Carries weren’t a problem this weekend – the split log, the tire drag, the hoist, the log and bucket carry feeling pretty good. I skipped the pond traverse, having had my fill of water for the day – and being Journeyman meant I didn’t even have to feel bad. Nailed the Lincoln Logs and huge slanted wall – but I’m not going to go into the full play by play. I crossed the line running, at 3 hours and 18 minutes (gps time), and had a BLAST. Oh, and I nailed the warped wall – a first for me!
The tri-obstaclon is unique. Shale Hill is a very upper body intensive course – thats well known – but what happens when you smoke your legs before running it? An entirely new experience is what.
Post race, we cleaned up and baked in the sun, which had come out later in the afternoon – the weather was hot, surrounded by friends, belly full from a gorgeous burger and some lovely beers supplied by the local restaurant. I was reminded quite simply – this is why I do OCR. Those were the moments I love. We’d all just completed a tough physical challenge – over coming obstacles and achieving new milestones – and our friends were there to participate, enjoy and experience it.
Thats why I do this. Thank you, Shale Hill, for always reminding me of that.
After wrapping up the Saturday at the MA Spartan Race Super and enjoying a beer, I headed home to pick up the family and we jumped in the car to head north, and 3 hours later we arrived at Shale Hill.
Shale Hill is like mecca, for obstacle course racing enthusiasts. We’ve talked about it at length, and I’m a huge fan, but in case you’re coming here for the first time …
Shale Hill is a fixed venue obstacle course in Benson, VT. An easy 3 hour drive from my house (4 from Boston) – the star attraction is a 10k course packed with over 60 well constructed, challenging and technical obstacles – and it’s not designed to be a course that you complete in full – in fact, the owner and designer, Rob Butler, specifically adds things that are hard to finish – with a tag line of “Train harder than you race”, if you can get even slightly comfortable on the Shale Hill course, there is quite literally nothing on the OCR scene that will scare you.
This particular visit was for the 2nd Relay Challenge – a three person attack on the Shale Hill course. Co-Ed teams could sign up as competitive or not (Journeyman division), and with a baton, you broke the course into three segments, and had at it.
Now, for comparison – if you’re new to Shale Hill. There are a lot of obstacles. On Saturday, I ran 7 miles and had roughly 20 Spartan obstacles. On Sunday, I ran 1.3 miles officially, and hit as many obstacles – and they were significantly tougher obstacles too. This was an exhausting weekend, to say the least!
As is common for the venue, parking is free and a short walk from the main registration barn. We had stayed onsite the night before in the apartment so our walk to registration took seconds, and once we had our teams sorted out and shuffled – with Nicole, Tonya and myself making up a Journeyman team – we drew straws to pick our legs. Tonya (Shale Hill newbie) got leg 1, I got leg 2 and Nicole got leg 3 – each one being roughly 2 miles.
Rob explained the rules – with the heavy overnight rains, obstacles were going to be slick. Many people chose to go out in pairs with their team mates for no other reason than to ensure runner safety – then he handed out the relay batons.
Gee, thanks Rob. Heavy, long bolts with short loops of rope were handed out. While this was better than the pool noodle and balloons of last year, the bolt was long and heavy enough to be a pain, and the rope short enough many of us couldn’t loop it anywhere convenient. Typical Rob shenanigans 🙂
Tonya and Nicole took on leg 1, and I headed over to the rope tower obstacle to wait for them to come through, along with a group of other slightly nervous leg 2 runners …
and here they come! They had to complete the tower before they could hand off, and we made the snap call to all go on together. Nicole still needed to get to her transition and Tonya hadn’t seen the course yet – so into the woods we go.
This leg of the course is short – but full of extremely technical obstacles. I got the rope ladder, abacus rope wall, lincoln log and others – falling off every single section of the damn traverse wall, and those damn coffins proved too physically and mentally tough for me, that day. Moving through to the hoist – which while *technically* not heavier than the Spartan hoist the previous day, I had to do it 6 times, and the footing was incredibly slick – I found the best technique to be locking the rope around my wrist, then walking it backwards, rather than actually pulling with my spent and burned arms.
And, that pretty much burned me out. I couldn’t keep my grip on the tall slanted wall, couldn’t keep my grip on the double bars – and I didn’t even get on the tower. For me, it was now a case of simply getting to the transition and handing off – I was very happy to finish the cargo net towers, slide down the ramp, and get rid of the bolt to Nicole for her third leg.
At this point, I grabbed my camera bag from my wife, who was volunteering, and trailed after Nicole and Tonya who were absolutely beasting the course – all the way to the finish line.
Shale Hill is a challenging course – no doubt about it – but that challenge is the reason I keep going back. I’ll never complete every obstacle, and thats why I go back – it’s been a long while since I did the lincoln logs – but I nailed it this time. It’s been a long time since I failed the two bar over obstacle, but I didn’t have it this weekend.
As is usual after a race here, chocolate milk was flowing, people were hanging around and chatting – with it’s more intimate numbers, Shale Hill is the most social venue I’ve run into – and time with friends post event is always special.
With a 2015 calendar full of cool races (a triathlon with an OCR? Halloween race?) and a bunch of week long and weekend training programs going on – I can only encourage you again to make the trip and visit Shale Hill – it’s worth it!