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Featured Review: Viking Race at Sunny Hill 2015

10559792_760999400683961_3498744932417223334_nHow did your last race end?

Chances are, you crossed the finish line, had a free beer, bought some expensive festival food and high tailed it from the venue, covered in mud or dripping wet from the cold shower and ran to your kids soccer practice, or home to switch out your irritated spouse, who watched the kids while you did “that thing in the mud with those people” again. Or some variation on that, anyway.

Not me. I was at Sunny Hill, taking part in the Viking Challenge.

Showing up on Friday evening, we missed the evening dinner, but still had plenty of time to check in, park up behind our block and find our room. A huge room, with two Queen beds, full bath and empty fridge I promptly filled up with beer. The balcony at the front of the room had views over much of the property, with four of the nine kiddie play parks within shouting distance. Tennis, basket ball, shuttle court, shuffleboard and more outdoor activities for the kids and adults were right there.

Popping open a beer, we met up with Sandy, Vince, Rob Butler and his family and a few other familiar faces, and settled in.

For those not familiar – Sunny Hill is an all inclusive holiday resort. Their primary business is golf, and they have two 18 hole courses right there. Everything is included (barring alcohol and some sundry sales) – from three good meals a day, comfortable lodging, as much entertainment as you can shake a stick at and childcare. Oh, and if you stay on a race weekend, that includes two adult entries to the Viking Race, which is a Rob Butler designed, 5 mile obstacle course set in some amazing scenery – winding through golf courses and forest trails of upstate New York – truly one of the most scenic races I’ve ever run.


Waking up on Saturday morning for the earlier than usual breakfast at 7:30am, the whole family spent time with Rob, Jill, Vince, Sandy before throwing on the race gear, and taking our mini down to the child care.

Oh, child care is included for resort guests. Thats right, they’ll want the kids for you when you’re running. Nothing extra to pay.

Viking_20150613_091734_294A0109Our 9:20am wave was heading out when we arrived, so we hopped in the 9:40am wave with the larger group of Spahtens. This year, Sunny Hill had a fantastic turn out, with over 200 people – perfect for the venue’s size – and many of those were hitting up the elite waves to try to qualify for OCRWC – mandatory obstacle completion for them!

The goal for this event was to have fun – I wasn’t interested in setting a course record, I was simply there to walk, jog and enjoy the experience. Hooking up with Mama Hen, and Vince in one of his rare outings actually RUNNING the course, and Beth who was sans timing chip and there for the miles only, we took up the back of the bus position, and helped anyone and everyone who needed it.

11140130_760788687371699_632099558588802920_nBeing a fixed venue course, and having been on it twice before, I knew what to expect and when – Odin’s Tables continue to be one of my favorites (and I nearly walked right back down the first table!), and the 20’ rope late in the race continues to be my nemesis – I normally am totally fine with ropes, but this one being so late, and so tall … I’ve yet to hit it up.


Some small modifications, like the water bucket carry are excellent uses of the space, and the super slick balance to tyrolean obstacle was a game changer for the elites – but those of us with the OLX treaded Icebugs had little problem for the most part.





With a great blend of climbing, crawling, traversing – open trail (even golf courses) and boggy marshy swamp to wade, Sunny Hill has everything an OCR enthusiast of any level needs – elites were having a tough time with challenges like the monkey bars – many losing their band there – and us open wave, every day folks were just plain having fun!

1972520_760788227371745_3249404060182300391_nViking Race had a new wave concept in play that several teams took part in – teams of four, with a team flag on a three foot pole – they had to start and finish together, with the flag never touching down. A competitive wave, they looked like they were enjoying the twist immensely as they ran by!

And when we finished our run?

Free beer. GREAT BBQ. As much time as you wanted to socialize, before wandering back to your room to clean up, pick up the kids from child watch, and crack another cold one – because it didn’t have to end there.

Viking Race – if you have kids, put this on your calendar. Save your pennies. Don’t miss this one next time.


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Featured Review: Viking Obstacle Race – May 2014


It’s traditional for Mothers Day weekend that Mom gets to stay in bed, receive flowers and chocolate. To put her feet up, and relax for the day. Maybe she gets a gift to a spa, for a massage and mud treatment.

How boring is THAT?

Well, except maybe the mud treatment …

New England Spahten moms? Well, they’re a little different.

For mothers day weekend, I took my wife, mom to my mini, to Sunny Hill for our second trip – and we raced the Viking Obstacle Race.

And we had a blast. Again.

Oh man, did we have a blast.

Viking OCR - May 2014 - 0776To recap, for those who haven’t hard of the Viking Obstacle Race and Sunny Hill. Imagine an all inclusive resort – comfortable rooms, three wonderful meals a day served family style, inclusive of child watch – all on a venue that just so happens to have a 5+ mile obstacle course of a quality and standard that makes “The Big Three” look like toys.

You can read the review of the 2013 experience Beth and I had right here –

Going back was a no brainer for us. There is no other race offering the package Sunny Hill can offer. We were joined by several New England Spahtens and their families, and 100 or so athletes from the New York region and beyond joined us.

As with 2013 – Viking Challenge ran waves every 20minutes, with tens of people per wave. They had listened to feedback from the previous event, and moved the start / finish line and festival complex to the huge pavilion in front of their lake, which was not only picturesque, but made a bit more sense – oh, and it also added a loop of about another 1/2 mile to the end, and a few additional obstacles and mud.

The obstacles at Sunny Hill are hard. No two ways to put it. They have built a course that will challenge you and make you fail some things. For some people, this is going to be out of their comfort zone – but if you are into obstacle course racing as a hobby, and would like to develop your skills – this course will challenge you in ways you can’t appreciate until you’ve tried to get down Odin’s Ladder without a fall, or up a 20’ rope when you’re exhausted.

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It’s a big differentiator. When you’re used to running races that are geared towards giving everyone a shot at finishing – regardless of age or ability – or traveling events that bring the same obstacles to a different mountain each season – eventually the OCR fan and enthusiast starts to need something more than laps of a family friendly 5k – and Sunny Hill is less than a three hour drive from my house and can provide that experience in spades.

Thats not to say you need to be athletic, or experienced to have a good time at the Viking Obstacle Race – the course has little elevation change, and it’s terrain varies widely, from open trail to rocks to boulders. The obstacle difficultly varies a lot too – from simple 5’ walls and log carries, to straight forward Viking OCR - May 2014 - 0232ladder walls, cargo nets and crawls, to technical and complex monkey bars or multi faced traverse walls. Some of the obstacles are simple – get on your belly and crawl under a fallen log, hop over some boulders – but the real genius is in the complex, technical obstacles of varying difficultly – Odin’s Tables have you go up a steep wooden slope, then transition to a 20’ rope decent. They have something *like* a Spartan slip wall, but it’s 16’ long and on a really steep angle. Balance beams? Lots of them, with a tyrolean traverse in the middle.

Viking OCR - May 2014 - 0419Because we were coming out of winter, and some heavy rains the course was pretty slick in places – especially on the wooden balance obstacles – one particular log had much of it’s bark stripped off during the elite wave, and for anyone not racing in studded Icebug’s, it was slick enough to send more than one person tumbling, and caused a couple of people head to the hospital for observation (everyone was ok and back at the site the same day, or home the next morning) – the rough and tumble nature of OCR in full effect. It was clear that Sunny Hill has a good, solid emergency plan – the experience of being a resort showing through.

5.5 miles, 35 obstacles and 2 hours later we were back at the post race party, and it’s clear again that the Sunny Hill crew are welcoming everyone into their home. BBQ under a huge pavilion (as much as you like) a free Stella or Bud or wine, a DJ, free professional photos, at least two kiddie play parks within view. I had the chance to run back to my room, shower, change, and get back in time to watch my wife cross the line too. Free kid watch was awesome – and knowing we could leave mini with Sunny Hill staff for a couple of hours while we got muddy made our day very enjoyable!

The course itself is well marked (except I ran past *three* markings for one turn – totally my own fault), and the volunteers are amazing. They are made up of Sunny Hill staff and the family, so they were considerably more invested in the experience than many volunteers we see at races – not only did they offer encouragement for everyone coming through, guidance on the obstacles, but they were enforcing the 25 burpee penalty for people who missed or failed or bypassed something – even helping to count them out if you were tired enough to not be able to count (yeah, me), and the volume allowed. It’s also worth noting that for this event, Sunny Hill put on a great elite race too – those hoping to win had their own wave, rules (well enforced), money on the line and cool engraved hammers for prizes. End result was a photo finish with very little in it for the lead guys! Well played!

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My own slightly less dramatic finish ...
My own slightly less dramatic finish …

So – the Viking Obstacle Race is a great race – and if you wanted to just show up at the venue, run the race, and head on home after you would have a great time. For many though, the Sunny Hill experience goes on for longer – with comfortable accommodation within walking distance, family style dining included for three meals a day (with great food!), entertainment in the main office and during peak seasons on rides they take all over the course – the value of making this an extended weekend away is just awesome.

Sunny Hill offers a course that will give you a challenge at any experience level, but welcomes the entire family in for the weekend. You will be fed, entertained and run ragged on the course. They plan a fall event for 2014, and it’ll be going on the Jones calendar!

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Photos courtesy of Bob Mulholland –

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Featured Review: Viking Challenge at Sunny Hill

It’s fairly common knowledge that the world of obstacle course racing is competitive, and races – most especially the entry level “easy 5k” races are busy canibalizing each others business to the point that they are starting to go bankrupt and fail, or having to reschedule their events to get more numbers.

So, when Sunny Hill Golf Resort in the Catskills of New York wanted to put an obstacle course on their property – they were smart to try something different to the pack – and I am very happy that they did.


The Venue – Sunny Hill is very unique place. It’s not hard to find, 3 hours from my home, and just a little way off i90 as it goes through New York state. Their usual business is golf – and they provide a great resort for people who want to get out into the mountains and swing a club. But, golfers don’t like to go off green – and it’s rare for them to step into the woods – and Sunny Hill has lots of woods and trails – so the owners decided they really wanted to add something new – and an obstacle course was born.

As a resort – Sunny Hill is pretty much the perfect place to have an obstacle course race. You can be in your rooms in a hot shower minutes after crossing the finish line. Your kids can be in a daycare and entertained while you race (and Dylan was waiting at the finish line for us too!). You get to sit down at a dinner table with your fellow racers in the evening and catch up on life, the race and anything else you want. The meals are included, the food was fantastic (they were able to cater for Beths gluten issues too!) and there is so much more to do – at night we rode in the back of a humvee on the trails – or in the cab of a monster truck – and around the roads on a train – they have fireworks, music, plenty of play parks and gazebo’s if you want to do your own thing.

If the race was only “ok”, I think the venue alone would be enough for us to give this a hearty recommendation – especially for anyone with family in tow. I’m very happy to report back that the race was more than “ok”  – it was excellent.

The course itself weighed in at close to 5 miles – and what it lacks in elevation change, it makes up in challenges. Rob Butler, one of our favorite evil geniuses of OCR designed the obstacles and course – and while there are a few familiar obstacles to anyone who has spent time at Shale Hill Adventure Farms – there are also unique obstacles. In keeping with the Viking theme – they all have Norse names and themes to them.

So – a challenging obstacle course of a safe and secure design, on a beautiful venue, with childcare, meals, accommodation and entertainment included?


Sunny Hill Viking Challenge


We started the race on the side of the lake (which has a viking ship in it) – a very low drama affair, with waves going out every 20mins, and tens of people per wave – I heard they had a couple of hundred participants for their first event, which is pretty good, considering the course isn’t going anywhere – we were launched with an air horn blast and right into the woods.

The Viking Challenge was on. This was a pretty obstacle heavy course – with some of our Shale Hill favorites in attendance – but there were several very cool unique obstacles too. Because the venue is new, there are still some wide open spots for runners to get their legs stretched – but despite being “only” 5 miles, it still took the elites the best part of an hour to make it through – us mere mortals were considerably longer.

Penalties were 25 burpees per obstacle – and the elite wave in the AM was enforcing this – with at least one leader being DQd for leaving his burpee penalty early – this is something that we’ve seen people complain about at the bigger events, and it was fantastic to see that even a smaller, first time event was upholding these standards and enforcing them. For the non competitive runners, you were welcome to modify as needed – with several people opting for air squats or walking lunges to save on smoked or injured shoulders.

The obstacles were relentless. Walls were usually in sets – 4′, 5′, 6′. The over and unders were typically logs, making the “overs” a little tougher.

If you’re interested in an obstacle walk through – check out the video below – 8 minutes, and many of the smaller obstacles and chains of walls had to be cut … this is an obstacle heavy course, folks!


Lets cover some of the standout obstacles, the order is from memory, so I may be out of sync.

Loki’s Ladders – these are a familiar item to me – a rope ladder, with wooden steps. A welcome modification is that these are tied down with a bungee, so they still swing freely, but not so bad you can’t stay on. When I reached the top, I had such a death grip on the rope, I had to headbutt the bell!

Odins Tables – Steep wooden climbs to a rope down. If you have good rope climbing technique, these were pretty cool to do – if you fall off ropes, don’t try it 🙂 Two of these in a row.

Cargo Net – This was huge, and solid. The rope wasn’t moving at all, and the entire structure was rock steady. Really enjoyed that, over the more typical wobbly frame and loose netting that bites your fingers!

10′ walls – Ten feet, straight up with a rope. My Icebugs gave me TONS of grip to get to the top, but I couldn’t make the transition – first burpees of the day for me.

Asgard Skywalk – A balance obstacle with a difference! Three really long tree trunks to balance on – before a transition to a tyrolean traverse – then a drop down onto a last final balance log. Really really awesome.

The Norse Poles – Known as human Lincoln Logs at Shale Hill, these are climbs up a beam of wood – before a short rope climb to ring a bell.

The Hull – A combo obstacle! Starting with an inverse wall (with no beams to put your feet on), you slid down the back of it to a slightly leaning wooden ladder wall that took you pretty high, then the climb down was leaning backwards slightly. Nice and challenging to get your butt up the wall!

Tree Bob – a fairly straight forward balance obstacle on logs. Except the logs were underwater. No problem for Icebugs, but sneaker wearers were screwed 🙂

Traverse Wall – Shale Hill is known for it’s evil traverse wall – and a similar variation on it appears here – you have three wall segments to navigate, before a balance beam to a fourth segment, before a hand over hand shuffle to the last segment – for the first time, I nailed this one – it was a big help having a TON of grip, and not being covered in mud 🙂

Frigg – a 16 foot, maybe more, sloping wall to get up, with a rope for aid. We all made this one – again, inhuman amounts of grip from my shoes helped massively here. Ladder to get down the other side.

Dragons Tooth – a set of killer monkey bars with a large uphill/downhill section in the middle. Not as evil as the ones at Shale Hill, but I still came off these and back to burpees.

Old Futz Xing – Tyrolean Traverse over a lake. Rather than try and secure the rope with steaks – they simply tied them off to some of the old army transport vehicles, and backed them up until the rope was tight – made for an awesome sight, and you KNEW you weren’t getting dunked in the lake!

21′ ropes – The longest rope climb I’ve seen, and by this point, my arms were toast and I had no grip. I think the ropes were narrower than we usually deal with too – as I could get NO grip on the damn things. First rope climb I’ve burpee’d on in a couple of years!

More photos to come when the official photos are released

Of course – in the middle of all of these were countless walls, natural obstacles like ponds, streams, crawls, pipes (uphill!), boulders and balances – with 33 official obstacles in total.

One of the most impressive things for me was the volunteer staff. This is where most first time races fall flat on their faces. If you don’t have enough volunteers, you don’t have a good, safe race. Sunny Hill had a volunteer at every single obstacle, and everyone of them was engaged, encouraging and motivating. They also knew to enforce penalties and which number obstacle they were at. There were two water stops that I recall – both had plenty of water and people – with one water stop providing some cheerleading to keep you going 🙂 Twice on the course, a medic on a gator pulled by to ask if we needed anything – bandaids, wounds cleaning – and talking to the race director after, they had a great system in place for every volunteer to be able to reach a central co-ordinator who could dispatch a repair crew, medic or simply aid anywhere on the course.

This sounds so simple, but it’s one of the big tripping points for many new races – a solid volunteer plan and staff is essential. Sunny Hill proved that, with a flawless event (although, I’m sure if you ask the RD she’ll tell you all the little niggly things that didn’t go as planned – they never showed).

Course markings were great – although a couple more barriers and arrows in key spots would have helped keep us on the course when it veered off the road or trail we were on.

After the race finished – there was fantastic food in a pavilion nearby, right on the lake front – with a free (good) beer provided also. Kids had yet another playpark to be entertained with, while the adults caught up and hung out in the shade. Schwag as a nice T Shirt, with a sponsor list on the back – and a really unique wooden medal. T Shirts with no sponsor listings (in a different color) were also available in their resort gift shop for $15, and we bought those too.

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Should Sunny Hill have put on an easy race, that was accessible to 99% of people? No. They did right by putting on an event that is challenging, even if some people will be turned off by it. By putting on a challenge, they guarantee that people will come back. I’ve only ever done one Warrior Dash, because frankly, it’s not worth my money. Yet, I’ve driven 3.5 hours to run at Shale Hill three times in the past year alone – and I still can’t wait to go back. By providing a challenging course, they have made certain that we will always keep them on our race calendar, and always come back to do better, or faster. Smart move.

Clearly, we had a great time, as did our four year old. For as much fun as local races offer, and as good a time we have when a traveling race series passes through our region annually, we are lucky that we’ve got access to some of the best outdoor, permanent installations in the country – from Shale Hills constantly evolving challenge, to the Sunny Hill experience on a fantastic resort – even indoor facilities in Rhode Island at Unleashed – New England is one of the best places to be an OCR fan.

Sunny Hill is planning a 2014 event, early in the Spring before their main business of being a golf retreat kicks off – and I am planning on being there, with the entire family – watch this space for dates.

The scary bit – the price tag – I’m here to report that if you wanted to show up and race on race day, with none of the frills of the resort, you had to pay the grand total of $50.

Wait, what? $50 for a race of this quality is a STEAL. Try and find race day sign up for ANY regional OCR in that price range. With free parking. No spectator fee. Awesome wood medal.

Of course, you *can* add the resort experience onto it. You get accommodation, three meals, child care, all the entertainment your little ones can handle – and the race is included in the package price – we worked it out to approximately $150 per adult, per night if you shared – which I firmly believe is ALSO a steal, considering some races have price tags close to that just to race.

Thank you, to both Tinker and the Sunny Hill crew, and Rob Butler and the Shale Hill crew – we had a blast, we will be back.

Good times, good friends.
Good times, good friends.
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The Viking Obstacle Race is coming!

So – what do you get when you take an all inclusive golf resort with plenty of land, family activities and the kind of “getaway” feel you last saw in the movies, then merge it with the evil genius behind our favorite Shale Hill Adventure Farm obstacle course?

You get the Sunny Hill Resorts first annual Viking Race, held on September 28th. Click the image to register.


It’s worth pointing out – this is NOT a fluffy, light weight course – you will be challenged (but, of course, new racers will be totally welcome!). Rob Butler of Shale Hill is designing it – and they are planning 5 miles and 20 obstacles. If you’ve been to Shale Hill, you’ll be aware that we’re not going to be coddled. You will be challenged, and you will be rewarded for it at the finish!

Sounds pretty amazing. Check TripAdvisor, check Facebook – they *are* amazing, with a 98% approval rating and over nine decades in business. I asked the Race Director to tell me a bit more about her event (she also owns the resort – her family has for 94 years)


Sunny Hill is celebrating our 94th season this year. It was a working farm purchased by my great grandparents. They came over to America from Norway (hence the name Viking Obstacle Course) and slowly took in boarders from the city and eventually turning the farm into a vacation destination in the Catskill Mountains. We are now in our 4th generation of Nicholsen’s partaking in the family business. We are 2 hours north of NYC, 3 hours west of Boston and 30 minutes south of Albany.

We are an All-Inclusive family friendly resort. All 3 meals are included and served family style in our dining room overlooking the Catskill Mountains. We have a pool, junior pool and splash pad. There are 7 playgrounds located on the property. A full list of daily activities including shuffleboard, lawn bowling and ping pong tournaments for both kids and adults. We have tennis courts, volleyball, a large lake with fishing, kayaks and paddleboats. We provide transportation for the planned daily excursions. There is nightly entertainment including live bands, DJ’s, Bingo and our own version of Horse Racing. We have scheduled times that we bring out our rock climbing wall, inflatable obstacle course and Cliff Hanger inflatable slide. The highlight for many is our evening “Just for Fun” rides. These rides include a Monster Truck, fire truck, road train, a collection of military vehicles including a tank, the doodle bug and bumble bee. We have an 18 hole resort style golf course, driving range and day spa. Next to the Sunny Hill property we have a second 18 hole championship style golf course called Thunderhart.

Race entry will include a T Shirt, Medal, beer ticket, lunch and an after party by the lake. Top 3 elite wave male/female prizes, age group (under 55 and 56+) prizes, and a team based prize (all teams must be co-ed) – and of course, a costume content. No parking fees, no spectator fees, rides for spectators to visit the obstacles mid-race – and if you stay at the resort, free childcare too!

We have several style hotel units available with varying rates. We will be offering a 5% discount on rooms to registered racers. As resort guests and racers you will receive all of the amenities that the resort has to offer. Kids 4 and under stay for free and we have a kid friendly menu available in the dining room.

Rob Butler designed our course and used his notoriously devious obstacle building skills to come up with some creative and challenging obstacles. The course itself is carved into the woods and fields that surround the resort. We used a lot of our natural rocky terrain and beautiful landscape for the design. Between Sunny Hill and Thunderhart we have about 800 acres of land. The course is 5 miles long and we plan to add distance and more obstacles in the future. The majority of our 20 obstacles are permanent and we plan to use the resort and course to hold several training camps and corporate challenges in the spring and fall.

We are so excited to introduce this course. We are proud of what our tough Norwegian ancestors began 94 years ago and hope that we continue to embrace that Viking spirit and warm hospitality.

Check out the venue’s promo video – and just imagine an OCR right there? I can’t wait!

Who’s skipping Rugged Maniac for this?