Shale Hill Polar Bear 8 Hour Challenge

OCR season is beginning all over the nation again, and although other races may have been run prior, the Northeast OCR season doesn’t truly begin to me until the 8 hour Polar Bear Challenge at Shale Hill. Shale Hill is consistently ranked as the best permanent obstacle facility in the United States, and it has attracted international OCR attention in years past and with sponsors. Title sponsor IceBug and new sponsor Bleggmitt helped to bring one of the most memorable events of the year back to the frigid town of Benson, Vermont.

On the nearly 6 hour drive to the rolling hills of Shale Hill Adventure, I had a lot of time to consider the rough time leading up to this week. Besides the hours of driving, a 70 hour work week and stress about several personal issues certainly aren’t a perfect lead-up to any event, but I felt confident regardless. I was determined to improve upon my 6th place performance from the year before.IMG_3200

Arriving the night before and grabbing my packet, I was happy to see that Jill and Rob Butler were still just as efficient as ever with their operations. The staff was kind enough to let me grab bib #19 (my number from The Selection) when I saw that the next bib on top was 14, and that made my weekend right there. The bibs were a new type and material, almost plastic with the back made of a tape like adhesive. Also new this year was a system of identifying what type of racer everyone ones by red, blue, and green fabric bands tied around onto the person. Red were for elite, and I am uncertain the rest of the colors. With good vibes and spirits, I drove over an hour back to where I was crashing for the night and headed right to bed.

4:30 a.m. came too soon, but the excitement made it easy to get up and hit the road at 5. Conditions: about 0 degrees Fahrenheit upon departure, and I was wearing flip flops. Delays on the road took away the time that I had planned to change into proper race and footwear before the racer’s meeting at 6:30 a.m., so I ran the quarter mile from parking to the barn in flip flops and a light jacket, drawing a myriad of confused looks. Even more looks came on the way back, and I brought my race box to the designation space indoors and changed into my Newbsanity top, cold gear, and lined up at the start on the hill.

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For those who are unfamiliar with Shale Hill, it is a roughly 6.5 mile loop that packs a whopping 75+ obstacles per lap. The course record in the summertime for this course is still approaching 70 minutes, so for their endurance events like this, it is wise to plan carefully which penalties you can afford to take, and which obstacles you should make sure you complete. Some of the more unique and challenging obstacles on the course, just to give you an idea of what the level of difficulty here is, include rope traverse over a frozen lake, two sternum checkers, Larry Cooper’s full version “Destroyer”, and that’s all within a half mile of each other! Further on in the course is a five stage traverse wall, 45 degree uphill, spinning monkey bars, a rig, a weaver, a warped wall ninja style, and Tarzan ropes. New this year was a take on devil’s stairs/stairway to heaven, with the stairs much steeper and more narrow than I have been used to before (think skipping a stair between layers at the OCRWC), and a heavy carry that was a 45 pound plate and cement block attached to a homemade wheelbarrow like contraption with fat pole handles.

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The first lap started much fast than I remembered, although maybe it was subconscious to try to keep warm in the 8 degree morning. Everything was going to plan, except for breaking my vest and water bottles on the first sternum checker, leaving me a little cold, wet, and dehydrated. I felt confident and pretty good early, taking penalties only at the balance gauntlet (which I will every time), the last few walls of the traverse, the stairs, and the uphill monkey bars. I also failed the Tarzan ropes one too many times for me to feel that retrying was worth it. I could have completed the obstacle, but I didn’t want to waste any more time as I was cutting it awful close to my 1:50 minute goal per lap. I finished the lap in 5th place, with a steady pace and only minutes out of higher places. The second lap however, I finally felt the results of all of the adversity of the past few weeks.

The combination of excessive work hours, lack of sleep, and mental/emotional stress was first noticed on lap two when I got to the first wall obstacle, “pick your poison”. As I went to roll over the wall, I realized that unlike most races where my grip or legs would tire out first, my biceps and back were completely devoid of all strength. It was very abnormal, and as I wound through the woods I realized something else bizarre for myself; I was shivering. The second lap slowed significantly, and my penalties went up dramatically. The lap left me walking to the finish, well off of my goal pace, looking forward to my penalties to get warm again. I finished my penalties and the lap after over 2.5 hours, and in bad shape. I headed into the barn to try to save my day. IMG_2777

Shivering and exhausted, I knew calories and trapping some body heat was a must. I had the old windbreaker I used at WTM 2017, and after I threw it on, I switched my hat to a dry one, and force a blueberry bagel (my race favorite) into my system before packing some caffeinated Clif Bloks for the final lap. Time-wise, my last lap was slower than my second, but I actually took the same number of penalties, and felt much better. My heart rate and body temperature began to return to appropriate levels halfway into the lap, and my body felt nice from the calories of the bagel. At this point however, I had given up on catching anyone in front of me, and without knowing where the 6th place male was, my goal became to not get passed. I managed to do this successfully until the very end of the lap, where male winner Vincent Larochelle finished his fourth lap at essentially the same time I finished my third (and he was the only 4 lap finisher of the event for the second year in a row). 5th place overall for myself this year.

Rounding out the podium for the males were twins Travis and Jared Rawson, and for the females it was Marcia Coelho, followed by Danielle Ryzer and Kristen Mann. The race had some great competition, but one of the best things about this event is that it isn’t just about the race at the front, but the challenge all the way through. Shale Hill draws numerous individuals to all of their events, because the entire thing top to bottom is spectacular. From Rob and Jill, to the location, the obstacles, and the atmosphere, and especially that all day warm food buffet and that amazing local chocolate milk, the day is about as pleasant of an experience as you can have with hundreds of strangers in sub-freezing temperatures. With the conclusion of the 5th annual Polar bear, OCR has now arrived for 2017 in the Northeast, and if the events continue in this fashion it will be a great year! Next year I will give this event more focus, and better prep leading into it for sure. Third time’s the charm! 5/5

All photo credit belongs to VT Grit and Grace as found at https://vtgraceandgrit.smugmug.com/Shale-Hill-Adventure-Farm/PolarBear2017/

Beyond The Trifecta

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The Spartan Trifecta, completion of a Sprint, Super, and Beast, in one calendar year is a proud accomplishment for many OCR athletes. However, now that it’s been around for a couple years, many athletes are looking to go beyond the trifecta. Others have found their own variant of the Trifecta called the Mountain Trifecta, which is the completion of a Trifecta on all mountain courses or an EffNorm Trifecta, which is the completion of a Trifecta on all Norm Koch courses. Recently, Spartan announced the Delta, which requires the completion of 9 different events, which is great, but what if you like other events more than Spartan, do not have the several thousand dollars to commit to a Delta, or do not live close to a lot of their events?  If you are still looking for a new type of challenge that spans beyond the reaches of an all Spartan world, here are a couple suggestions you can use to push your body to new limits through multiple events.

Pushing yourself to new limits is all about getting out of your comfort zone.  If you are always doing the same race series, you probably are not getting that far out of that comfort zone because you know all the obstacles and you know what to expect.  It is time to try something new where you do not know the name of every obstacle or the ability to recite the hype man’s speech by heart.

WEEKEND CHALLENGESChallenges Completed on Back to Back Days

The Ancient Warrior Challenge: This is a good option for beginner OCR athletes looking for a new challenge. This simply requires completion of a Warrior Dash and any distance Spartan Race in one weekend. This is definitely a good challenge for those wanting to dip the toe in the world of back to back racing.  Get in touch with your ancient combat spirit with this challenge for beginners.

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SOF Weekend or the Modern Warrior Challenge:  Special Operation Forces (SOF) is a broad term that encompasses all of America’s Special units including but not limited to Navy SEALs, Special Forces, Marine Special Operations, Air Force Special Tactics Squadron and more.  SOF weekend is the completion of two different special operations military events in one weekend. An example is doing a BattleFrog on one day and the Green Beret Challenge or a GORUCK the next day.  BattleFrog is inspired by Navy Seals and Green Beret Challenge along with GoRuck are inspired by Army Special Forces.  GORUCKS also occur at various times, which allows for the possibility of doing BattleFrog and a GORUCK within the same day.

Muti-Lap Mudder: This requires a Tough Mudder event that spans two days. The idea is to complete as many laps as possible on each day. Saturday the course is typically open longer so more than likely you will have time to finish two or maybe more on Saturday.  Sunday there is typically only time for one lap.  Either way, with a 3 lap minimum covering 30 miles or more, this is a challenge for those looking to extend their training volume or prepare for one of the longer OCR events.

YEARLY CHALLENGES OR SPANNING MULTIPLE YEARS

The Touch of Death: This one is tricky because it requires completing multiple events and then hoping that a couple of them eventually meet the criteria for the Touch of Death. While no one hopes that OCR series go under, it is a fact of the business that several events have shown up and disappeared just as quickly. To qualify for The Touch of Death, it requires completing three events that eventually go under. This shows that you have the mental fortitude and physical strength to stick with OCR despite the rise and fall of companies.  So if you were at Super Hero Scramble, Hard Charge, Atlas Race, Hero Rush or any of the other events that folded, then congratulations, you have the Touch of Death.

The 24 hour Triple Crown: With only a handful of reoccurring 24-hour races for OCR in the world this is a challenge worthy of any ultra-distance athlete.  This can be accomplished all in one year if you are aggressive or spread out over several years.  While most people are satisfied with one 24 hour race in their lifetime, the Triple Crown requires completion of three different race events.  So if you did World’s Toughest Mudder three times, that still counts as only one for the Triple Crown.  To earn this accolade, you are going to have to branch out to events like 24 Hours of Shale Hell in Vermont, Battlefrog Xtreme 24 in Florida, Enduro 24 in Australia or Viper 2 Four in Malaysia.

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US Ultra-OCR: Let’s say the 24-hour Triple Crown is currently above your reach, but you still want an ultra distance challenge.  The US Ultra-OCR requires the completion of four ultra-endurance competitive OCR events.  Finishing events like Spartan Ultra-Beast, World’s Toughest Mudder, Battlefrog Xtreme, BFX 24 or Shale Hell (8 hr or 24 hr version).

World Championship Contender: Instead of arguing, over which world championship is the most legitimate or which is the hardest, why not put your money where your mouth is and race them all.  Currently, this requires the completion of the OCRWC, Spartan World Championship, BattleFrog World Championship and World’s Toughest Mudder.  Want to up the difficulty? Do them all in one calendar year.

The Pentagram of Suffering:  To reach the pinnacle of pain, completion of five selection type events is required.  This includes, but is not limited to: GORUCK Selection, Death Race, Fuego y Agua, SISU Iron and Agoge.

If you think these challenges are still below your level, try adding your own requirements like trying to qualify for the OCR World Championships at every event included in the challenge or trying to podium at every event included in each challenge.

If you like these ideas, then comment below or on Facebook to tell Matt B. Davis to get off his ass and make virtual race medals (in addition to the Cranky Bastard) associated with completing these feats of strength.  Post on which ones you like the most so Matt can get busy designing the race medals and you can get recognition for your accomplishments that span multiple companies.