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Featured Review: Polar Bear Challenge

 Did you participate in Polar Bear Challenge? Leave your own review here! Want to pick up a 2016 Polar Bear shirt? Shop here!

5 years ago, I took a trip up to this place in Vermont that had assured me via email that they had something worth traveling for – and this winter race they were putting on would be something really really great.

They weren’t wrong.

Today was the fifth year of that race – the Polar Bear Challenge at Shale Hill remains a destination event for many OCR enthusiasts, providing far far more than most events on the OCR calendar.

For those who have never visited Shale Hill – it is a property in Benson VT, about 30 minutes outside of Rutland. Primarily, it’s a 10k fixed trail around their property, covering everything from open field to woods – with short sharp hill climbs, a pond and some open running sections. The obstacle count grows from race to race – back in 2012, they had under 50 obstacles, but now, that is more like 75. The obstacles range from the ordinary – walls, crawls, heavy carries – to the famous Destroyer, weaver and gut check – to the wildly unique – and you will have to visit to check them all out. Also, owner Rob keeps adding to the course, with at least two totally new obstacles for this event.

So what makes Polar Bear Challenge a different ball game? Rather than run a lap, cross the finish line, drink a beer, you run for 8 hours. That may simply be a lap, but those so inclined can push for more. Two laps, three laps – or this year it was won by the ever awesome Vincent Larochelle with 4 laps. Don’t have a competitive bone in your body? Then pick the ever popular Journeyman category, which lets you push yourself, try what you would like, and enjoy your experience with no penalties. There’s something for everyone. Including an all day buffet for racers, with rather excellent breakfast and lunch fair to keep you moving.

 

Of course, it’s not just the obstacles. The weather is the game changer, and the reason you do a race with the name of “Polar Bear Challenge”. We’ve had everything from 3f to 60f at this event, but for 2017 things were a cold 15f to 25f through the day. New Polar Bear sponsor DryRobe were present, and plenty of dryrobes were out and about keeping people warm and toasty when the fires on course weren’t enough (and watch this space, we’ve started talking to them about NES DryRobes …)

For me – I’ve ran enough laps of Shale Hill to not have anything to prove to myself and was out there for some fun, and mostly, friends. I started the lap on my own, knowing that hanging around at obstacles waiting with a large group would leave me frozen – so I set my own pace and being Journeyman, I picked my obstacles carefully. This tactic was great, until I rolled my shoulder on a simple wall (it’s fine today, but was sore for the rest of the race). The pond was frozen solid, so the traverse obstacle was open – and the ground was nice and frozen, so obstacles like tire drags were nice and simple. The Destroyer destroyed me – well, the Destroyer plus cold – and the warm boots I was wearing weren’t biting on rope obstacles – like I said, I picked my obstacles this time around, and many of the more complex ones I’ve done in summer, warmer events were attempted but ultimately bypassed, the benefit of being Journeyman.

When I hit the Great Traverse wall, I caught up with Nicole Sibley who was running in the more competitive Open category – and continued to pace each other through the rest of the race – obstacles she had to complete or attempt before picking up a chip were obstacles I would sherpa her pack through – and in between we matched pace and chatted about life, the universe and everything – as you tend to do when battle buddy’ing through an OCR. The company was appreciated!

Rob’s two new obstacles – one being a large A frame with wooden “steps” that you had to hoist yourself up using your hands only (on the inside of the obstacle), before transitioning to the other “leg” and going back down was a significant challenge, and bumped the difficulty of this obstacle to a new level beyond similar setups at OCRWC or Samurai Sprint – consistent with Shale Hill’s motto – train harder than you race – if you can do this one, you are golden when you encounter the others. I simply didn’t have the grip or upper body strength for it, but appreciated the significant padding underneath, which included several twin mattresses! His second fresh obstacle, replacing the bucket carry with a new wheelbarrow – a large go-cart type type, on a metal frame, with a 45lb plate and concrete block – weighing close to 100lbs this was proving to be a real challenge for many people, but played to my strengths well and I didn’t find it too challenging, although my grip was shot at the end.

I called it a day at one lap – preferring to hang out with friends, make new friends and have some food than go back out for a second lap.

A big shout out to the volunteers! This is one race that standing around in a field or woods all day is particularly brutal – the cold sucking all the body heat from you quickly, and not being able to do much to warm back up. They faced their own endurance event, and like any race – you just can’t do it without them. It was also especially nice seeing many Spahtens out there – getting a welcome smile as you came into their “zone”. Thank you!

This particular Polar Bear seemed to get more than normal numbers of traveling athletes – OCR Nation were down from Canada, and OCR Tube was up from Miami. Amie Booth was in from South Carolina and I got to meet several people who listen to The NE Spahtens Show, including many from the Quebec region – if you are from that region, hi! If you’re French speaking, check out their podcast over at 3-Seconds.

Once again, a long weekend with Shale Hill – the race is, in many ways, simply an excuse to go to a happy place – an amazingly good looking venue, with a world leading obstacle course, where you’re always welcomed like family, surrounded by friends – both on the course, in the party barn, and wherever you go to eat or sleep. It’s like a mini vacation from the real world – one that sends you home sore and achy, with bruises in places you didn’t know could bruise.

And what more could you ask for in life?

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Winter is coming …

10629393_798675933554088_8871261640807198930_oand so is the winter obstacle course race season.

Wait, what?

Spartan Race recently announced that they will be holding their first winter focused event – and the social media space got all excited.

Spartan Race, in the snow? I mean, holy crap right? Crawling in the snow? Running in cold-gear?

I’m here to break the news to you that while I think this is an awesome move on their part – they are late to the party.

New Englanders have been running in the snow for four or five years now.

Blizzard Blast – January 29th 2017 – Lowell MA. While the snow doesn’t always co-operate, this is a ridiculously fun event, and last year, we ran in onsies. That non co-operative weather? 50f.

Join Us.

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Polar Bear Challenge – February 4th 2017 – Held on the world class course at Shale Hill, snowy and challenging – you want to push yourself, this is where you should do it. One lap, or 8 hours worth of laps.

Join Us.

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BoldrDash – March 4th 2017 – A Rhode Island staple, this Winter Dash was a blast!

Join Us.

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and of course, now a Spartan Race. Held in central New York state, a 6 or so hour drive from Boston. If you’re excited for this, check out the other much more local options too – because after all, there is no off season!

Join Us.

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(and here’s to there being *snow* this winter!)

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Featured Review: Frigus

10887264_1619465784948111_4202685732232091291_oFor the second time in my life, I let Andy Weinberg talk me into doing a race that I was convinced was beyond my capabilities.

The Endurance Society‘s second event.  Frigus.  A winter race with the options of a 10k, 30k, or 60 snowshoe; 10k, 30k, 60k back-country ski; 5k sled run; and combined, 30k ski, 30k snowshow, 5k sled run.

I wanted to sign up for the 10k snowshoe.  I ended up signing up for the 30k snowshoe.

Taking place at Blueberry Hill Inn in Brandon, Vermont, with packet picket offered Friday evening in addition to Saturday morning.  While a room could be booked at the Inn, it was rather pricey.  They also offered space in the upper loft of the ski lodge where we could drop a sleeping pad and sleeping bag.  We had access to bathrooms and running water and a place to sleep that couldn’t be closer if we tried to the start for $12.  Arriving early meant that time could be spent with other racers and the race directors.  I couldn’t imagine starting the race any other way.

10974727_1627509224143767_5408604746780086258_oWith packet pickup, we were provided with our bib, a t-shirt (reminded me of our NE Spahtens shirts in the male cut) that were unisex size but super soft.  We signed waivers, confirmed our distance and were given the option to change it, and were reminded of our start times.  They had the finishers medals on display, as well as the winners certificates, and the winners Endurance Society etched maple syrup bottles.

A great evening of visiting with friends, a decent nights sleep, and it was morning and the air was buzzing with the energy for the day.  The morning was spent visiting, hugging, feeling nervous about the race!  The temperatures were in the single digits when we started with the highs promised to be in the low twenties.

All the skiers were to start at 7:15, all the snowshoers were to start at 8:15, and the 5k sledders at 9:15.  Andy called out that all heats would be starting on time.  10 minute and 5 minute warnings were given, that a brief meeting was to be held before each heat started and they wouldn’t be waiting if you weren’t there.

10506838_10155223366425357_4869254861594683998_oAndy instructed everyone to get behind the start line for the skiers, a combination of 10k, 30k, 60k, and combined racers.  They were given there briefing and off they went.  An hour later, the snowshoers were given the same.  We had 2 miles of gradual up, 2 miles of steep up.  We would have one aid station at approximately the halfway point.

And we were off.

Neely Fortune, Mathieu Lo, and I decided to stay together, walk the course, have fun, push ourselves to finish.

The first section of the course was for all 3 distances.  At some point the 10k would turn off and we would continue on.  It was incredibly inspiring to watch Mark Webb crutch his way up the hill, taking on the 10k.  I was able to have a glass of wine with Amy Parulis and her father as they were doing a party lap 10k to celebrate his birthday.  I tackled Mathieu, my way of passing along Ilene’s hello.  Got a hug from the fantastic Richard Ricciardi.

10676158_627406416924_7211098258695582779_nThe course was beautiful.  Mountains, streams, lakes, snow.  We went uphill, downhill, flats, up and down.  We passed my next home, crossed some bridges, saw some skiers out for a jaunt, snowmobilers, and we were at the aid station.  Greg Tappin was there with a smile and my chocolate milk and gluten free pretzels for me!  While we were there, we were lapped by a 60k skier.  He was flying!

We were told we were approximately halfway.  On we went.  We would get passed by more 60k snowshoers, Drew lapped us on his way to a 2nd place finish, listened to music, and start to feel our bodies breaking down.  Hip flexors, knees, chafing.

It wasn’t long before the finish line was in sight.  My own personal cheering section was waiting for me.  I hurt.  I wanted to cry. I did it!  I hugged Lisa Klinkenberg, looked at the ground, and laid down.  I was exhausted.  I was given my medal and mustered the energy to stand up and get inside where there was chili and warmth.

10801600_10153062948853903_839463310116814731_nThere was a fire outside to enjoy and racers still on course.  We enjoyed the fire, the sunset, and cheered racers as they came through.  Since the course didn’t close until midnight, there was a bit of time left to wait.  Having been in the back of the pack too many times to count, whenever possible, I like to be there to greet finishers.

We took a trip up to the aid station in hopes of catching friends and cheering them on.  We missed Amanda and Billy, helped out Ryan with encouragement to keep going since if he finished he would be the 2nd place finisher for the combined, cheered on Shannon and Doug, visited with Jane and Ted, and heard from Eric that he hadn’t passed Liza and Jordan.  Worried that they were headed back to base, we headed back ourselves.

The fire needed stoking, racers were finishing, and eventually we got word that Liza and Jordan were still on course and would be finishing close to midnight.  It was an amazing atmosphere.

Overall, The Endurance Society nailed it.  There seemed to be no issues at registration, they didn’t run out of medals, race directors were visible and available.  No one got lost, the event started on time, everything that was promised was delivered.

My Official Results: 8:04:05 for the 30k Snowshoe
Next year: make my first lap faster than this year… and still go out to finish the 60k!!!

I cannot wait for Infinitus!

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What off season?

The much anticipated Spartan Race at Fenway Park is now just a few short days away. The 2012 season ending Renegade Run is taking place over Thanksgiving Weekend (and you just missed out on the chance to get in for the NE Spahten special pricing – sorry!).

Time to relax, rest up, heal, and drink yourselves silly on eggnog all winter, and wait until the sun and heat comes back before hitting the races again!

WRONG.

This is New England, and a little snow won’t slow us down. Sub zero temperatures just means you need to wear long pants.

January 1st, New Years Day – check out the NE Spahten team for the Hangover Classic in Salisbury. A 5k and 10k road race, ending in a dip in the ocean.

http://www.runthecircle.org/hangover.htm

January 12th, The Extreme Wolverine Challenge – a 5 mile fundraising event – and there will be plenty more information to come on this one!

http://www.mcdchallenge.com/calendar/

January 26th, The Polar Bear Challenge – again, plenty more to come on this 8 hour endurance race on the Shale Hill Farm OCR course. I’m going.

http://www.shalehilladventure.com/obstacle-adventure-training–racing.html

Also on January 26th, a much more tame 5k Blizzard Blast in Lowell – check them out

http://www.blizardblastrun.com

And thats just January!

Welcome to the off season!