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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: Tough Guy, UK

Andreas of Viking Race in Norway is no stranger to the Spahtens – having moved back to Europe, he was in a position to run Tough Guy in the UK – one of the toughest, and the original obstacle course race out there. He fills us in.



For some reason, I like to write intros to my little reviews here. This race however needs no introduction. But for those of you who are new to the world of OCR, I recommend watching this short intro video:

Actually, everyone should watch that video!


toughguyThe event is held at the same venue every year – South Perton Farm in Wolverhampton, England. My team and I arrived the night before the event and headed over to the farm to pick up our race packets. This was a great idea for two reasons: 1 – there are less people, so you get your stuff immediately, even the event t-shirt. 2 – I got a picture with the man, the myth, the legend – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Willson himself! We also got to meet a couple of the 700 (!!!) volunteers, ask questions about start waves, etc., and we did a quick walk around the area and got to see some of the absolutely gigantic obstacles.

The parking seemed fine to me, but I knew before I left that we’d be taking a taxi so I ignored all the emails on parking. I didn’t hear anything about parking problems – news of that sort usually travel fast at an event in my experience, so either there were no problems, or participants were actually taken to the breaking point that lesser races claim they will take you to, and thus did not care about the troubles of mere mortals – like parking 😉

When we did take a taxi the next day there was a lot of traffic though. Our driver decided to take another route that was actually blocked by police (but I guess taxis were fine to enter), and we got to the venue no problem. I don’t know how long we would’ve needed to wait on the other road, but people left their taxis and just walked the rest. I saw people both run and walk to the venue from our hotel, a distance of probably 2-3 kilometers.

For people who weren’t staying at hotels, there was a huge field just for camping purposes.

The vendors were plenty! There were even burger trucks along the course so spectators could get some food. I was way too cold to stick around for food after the race though. They also sold t-shirts, hoodies, tech wear for the race, all that good stuff. Next time(!) I’ll buy some stuff to show my pride at the office!

* Race Details

I’ve done the Spartan Beast in November rain, but nothing compares to this.

10922481_10153901702870190_4446624739089648415_nI don’t even know where to begin here. Everyone who’s been into this sport for some length of time have heard of this race. I’d heard of it before I got into OCR, long ago. The race always gets some small coverage in Norwegian newspapers. Back then, before OCR was a thing, I’d just blown this race off as something insane people do. Even after getting into OCR, I’d never expect to complete a Tough Guy. I’ve done Tough Mudder, I’ve done the Spartan Beast in November rain, but nothing compares to this. Sure, there’s the Spartan Death Race, World’s Toughest Mudder, etc – but Tough Guy is what we’re used to – a one day event. Completed in 3 hours 30 minutes for my part – hands down the hardest race I’ve done to date.

toughguywaiverTough Guy has been put on since 1987, for reasons different that 99% of other current races. It’s hard to explain, but this race really is the soul of OCR. For me, this is what it’s all about. Tough Guy was not started as a business – it was for people to test themselves.

Ok, I won’t start rambling here. Let’s just say this race had it all:

The race started with a freaking cannon shot! Later there were smoke bombs, gunfire – both single and automatic. Most of the volunteers were army recruits, so they were in their field uniforms, and even they seemed to think we were crazy. It really felt like being part of a huge army exercise. I’ve been to those, with 100s of soldiers, but never 4 000 like here!

The course was 16 kilometers (but advertised as 15k). My goal was to complete it in 2.5 hours – it took me an hour longer than that.

You can take the obstacles you’ve done in other races, and imagine them as being way bigger. Ditches and dirt mounds were deeper and higher. The cargo climbs were monster constructions with names like The Behemoth, The Tiger, The Dragon, etc. We’re talking 10 meters (30-ish feet) tall here, and just as long. You spent good time just completing an obstacle.

Both the course and the obstacles were so big you could choose different paths – both on the course and on the obstacles themselves. More than once after climbing down from one of the mega structures we’d look back and regret not taking another route. For instance, you could choose whether to climb down a rope, roll down a huge diagonally suspended cargo net or climb down another vertical cargo net.

It was cold. It was very cold. I was fakkin freezing kehd! …and I’m Norwegian. Born and raised. Served my mandatory army stint – did the winter operations! I love snow! But swimming in England in February is something else.

There was so much mud and water it was crazy. You were wading up to your knees, waist, and even chest and neck several times. The water obstacles were full submersion – and the one you’re thinking about was the worst. It was horrible. They had a raft type structure floating in the middle of one of the small lakes. You had to swim over to it, and then duck under the entire thing by going under 4 huge logs one at a time, and then popping up on the other side. There’s only one strategy to use here – don’t stop, don’t think, and control your breathing. After the last log I guess I was disoriented. At least I’ve never felt like that before. It was just weird. Balance was off – hearing and seeing was weird. My head was pounding. It was cold. It was very cold. I was fakkin freezing kehd! …and I’m Norwegian. Born and raised. Served my mandatory army stint – did the winter operations! I love snow! But swimming in England in February is something else.

Scott Keneally was also there finishing up his, what looks to become awesome, documentary Rise of the Sufferfests. (Might be getting my 15 seconds of fame too! My team and I were interviewed for the film!). After the race he posted this little snippet that was picked up by Gawker. Want to see what hypothermia is like? Check it out!

After that cold water experience it was all about just finishing for me. I started talking to my feet, because I couldn’t feel them at all. Felt like they’d been switched out and replaced with two bricks. My friend was doing some chant to his feet too!

“People reach a point,…and they’re in between worlds – in between life and death – something you can feel in your mind and in your body. We’ve stripped your mind out completely. You’ve taken your body beyond your normal point of endurance. They’re half way over…but we bring them back.” – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson

10885327_10153857830775190_4318177816009414015_nI don’t remember if that water obstacle was before or after the ‘torture chamber’. This chamber was underground. You had to crawl through thick wooden sticks and electric wires hanging from the ceiling. Then crawl through huge concrete pipes that were dug underground. I used my feet to wriggle through – the last pipe was diagonal, so you had to crawl upwards.

The last obstacle was another swim, followed by pulling yourself up a hill by a rope. The finish line was on top of the hill. The finish line!!!

“In seconds, in absolute split seconds, the whole experience of life comes to them – they will find whatever it is they’re searching for.” – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson

After stumbling across and getting our medals (PRIDE!!!!) we followed the herd to get warm tea, hot chocolate and biscuits. I was shivering and shaking so badly the hot chocolate was just spilling out of my cup and on to my hands, and it actually felt good!

There were on site showers, but they were extremely crowded. People were just huddled together under the running water. We decided to just change and head right back to the hotel. I was so cold I struggled for a long time pulling clean and dry socks on my feet – it felt like a work out just putting fresh socks on!

This is what I was thinking right after the race: “OK! I can cross this off my bucket list. I’m never doing this shit again.”

My thoughts at breakfast the next day: “Hmmm…I’m feeling a bit better now. I’m nice and warm, and well fed. I’ve slept, and my legs are actually loosening up a bit. Maaaaaybe….maybe I’ll do this again?”

My thoughts day 2 after the race: We’re actually all signing up to race again on January 31st, 2016!


This race needs to be on every OCR enthusiast’s bucket list. You can’t even compare this event to other OCRs, so here I will steal a quote from another participant:

“If you’re gonna compare a Hanzo sword, you compare it to every other sword ever made… that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo. The same goes for Tough Guy” – Luke Brice

“We’re all covered in mud. We’re all cold. …and we cling together for survival. – That is what makes Tough Guy.” – Billy “Mr. Mouse” Wilson

…and then, there’s this:

And Spartan World Champion, OCR World Champion and 2015 Tough Guy Champion, Jonathan Albon’s blog post on the race:

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Viking Challenge – team discounts and room rates!

We’ve talked about Viking Challenge before – to refresh your memory, this is an all inclusive, family friendly resort, in the NY Catskills that happens to have had a course built by one of our favorite “Mad man of OCR” evil geniuses, Rob Butler of Shale Hill Adventure Farms.



Register here

While the date is unfortunately overlapping with Rugged Maniac – those of you with families will appreciate that you can stay one or two nights, with kids, and have all of your food and entertainment included – alcohol will be your only purchase while you’re there.

Oh, and the course is looking amazing – check these new photos out!

Want in?

  • SPAHTEN13 will get you $30 off the top of your race registration if you only want to come out for the race itself – but if you want to stay over, they’ve put together two awesome “stay and race” packages for the team!


Race & Stay Packages
September 27-29, 2013

Event Package – $499 (3days/2 nights) or $299 (2 days/1 night)**

        • • 2 free race registrations*
        • • 2 adults
        • • All meals
        • • Golf – free greens fee (cart not included, Sunny Hill-only)

-Minimum Double Occupancy per room 

(Add up to 2 adults- $150/pp/night – includes race registration )

Family Event Package – $499  (3days/2nights) or $299 (2days/1 night)**

        • • 2 free race registrations*
        • • 2 adults
        • • Kids 17 and under stay free (up to 3 per room)
        • • All meals
        • • Free childcare 8am-12:30 on race day
        • • Golf – free greens fee (cart not included, Sunny Hill-only)

All Packages include:  meals, hay wagon rides, apple picking, fun adult and kids rides, fishing, golf, entertainment, basketball, shuffleboard, tennis, and more.

All Race Registrations include: Viking t-shirt, finishers’ medals, lunch, beer/ beverage ticket, and after-party. Prizes for top finishers.

*Race registration is deducted from your bill at resort check-out.
**This special introductory rate is valid only during race weekend and cannot be combined with any other offers or discounts.

Reach out to with any registration questions!

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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?

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Viking Race 2013

When you hear “Norway”, do you immediately think obstacle course races?

Viking Race _Logo_3


Viking Race is wanting to change that. Race Director, and Boston resident Andreas Dietzel is looking to put on an event in August, in Scandinavia – and he’s got the backing of the local tourist board to support it too. Initially, a 5k low key affair, but he’s got plans for bigger things, more countries, winter events (beat *that*, winter death race!).

Check out their press release and website 🙂

Oslo, Norway – April 4, 2013 – Viking Race brings Obstacle Course Racing to Norway this summer.
Inspired by the Viking Age and Norse mythology, Viking Race – the first ever Norwegian obstacle course race – will be held in Oslo this summer on Saturday, August 24th.
Viking Race will feature a variety of obstacles including OCR regulars such as 3 meter walls and climbing ropes, as well as Viking-specific obstacles involving tree trunks, fishnets, and more. Participants will have to use a combination of brute strength and cardio endurance to be able to excel in this roughly 5k long race.
“Even though some of the obstacles will be on the tougher side of the scale, this is still something that everyone can participate in,” says Viking Race Co-Founder Andreas Dietzel. Viking Race will be challenging for both weekend warriors and elite athletes, and will be an event where both of these groups can compete side by side. The organizers are inspired by the Viking Age and Norse mythology and are consequently creating a Scandinavian historical theme around the race in collaboration with the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (The Viking Ship Museum).
Viking Race has selected to support the international children’s Right to Play ( Right To Play’s mission is to use sport and play to educate and empower children and youth to overcome the effects of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities. The Viking Race organisation will seek to raise money from the event to support Right To Play’s important work with children.
About Viking Race
Viking Race was founded in 2012 by Andreas Dietzel and Ena Babic. Inspired by the Viking Age, Norse mythology and the growing trend of obstacle racing, the Viking Race will test participants’ strength, endurance, mental toughness and general vikingness over a roughly 5 kilometer long course in the Norwegian forest. The first ever Viking Race will be held in Oslo, Norway on Saturday August 24th, 2013. For more information, please see the Viking Race website and Facebook-page.
Any questions or requests for additional information can be directed to Andreas Dietzel,, or +1 (617) 717-9782.