We are fresh back from an amazing event held at the Shale Hill Adventure Farm in Benson VT. Shale Hill is “The Worlds First Fixed Obstacle Training and Racing Center” and put on a very impressive race in its first attempt at hosting a winter race. The obstacle race craze has reached a feverish pitch but races in the snow/ice/below zero windchills are still pretty cutting edge. Here are some highlights from the event that Meg and I attended this past weekend.
The race coincided with a very polar like arctic freeze that had broke some records for cold during the week leading up to the event.(remember it used to be cold in the winter), so we were preparing for the event to live up to its name. Coming into the event, I must admit I had some doubts. Anytime something gets too popular, (ie: the obstacle race craze) it’s usually about the time where I’ve moved on and there are already elements of the obstacle racing craze that quite frankly drive me nuts. Events are popping up everywhere and as far as I’m concerned, Peak Races has the market pretty well dominated. But we met Rob Butler, the owner of Shale Hill Adventure and ORTC (Obstacle Race Training Center) at The Spartan Race last year and he seemed very enthusiastic and we really wanted to see what he was up to. Plus, he was very generous in cross promoting for the upcoming race that Meg and I are helping on, called The Brian Bill Memorial Challenge.
We headed down at 4 am from the north through some sketchy roads and VERY cold temps. We arrived in the dark to The Shale Hill Adventure Center which resides on a beautiful horse farm. We went inside and officially met Jill Butler who is one half of this great operation and wife of the owner, Rob Butler. They are really nice people and were very excited that we made the trek. Inside one of the barns is the soon to be finished indoor training facility and we got to see the product of the new company that Rob also runs called Sinergy Obstacle that makes all kinds of obstacle race specific equipment all right here in the USA. Their indoor obstacle training cages are powder coated spectacles of pure beauty and Rob hopes soon to be getting them to more outlets worldwide.
So we get our drop off spot in the party barn together and get ready to head out for a 7 am start. Rob gave some instructions and final info to all the racers and sends us off into the field. The course started out pretty mellow until some obstacles and challenges started popping up including an awesome sandbag carry through some really steep and fun terrain. Meg and I part ways at this point getting into our respective grooves and ready to take it all on. The first rope climb I got to kicked my ass as I miss timed my reach at the top and had to take a penalty chip. Wow, off to a real smooth start… Winding my way through some cool terrain, I settle into a groove and then before too long, I’m some how off course. S^%T! Rob is out there though and gets me turned around and back on track. After a few miles, we hit the “jungle”, which is a tightly wooded part of the property with multiple well constructed and pretty tough obstacles back to back. The wall traverse is super long (like 5 more sections than the Spartan) and most everything is icy and slippery and you gotta take off your gloves to get a good grip on anything. Temps are in the single digits to start the day mind you..Polar Bear Challenge indeed!
The course goes through some really awesome terrain and after some precarious barbed wire, a balance section, up and overs, fireman’s pole climb, cargo net crossing log carry, huge round hay bale climbing that went on and on, a straight wall robe climb and a stone bucket carry…. I then come to the monkey bar section. I get there with Eric, who would come in 2nd for the day and Rob shows up to egg us on. The monkey bars are the longest I’ve ever seen at 140 feet long with one set going straight then another going straight…UP HILL! I put my bare hands on the bars and exclaim to Rob that my hands are sticking to the icy medal…good, better grip! The Jeff Daniels scene from “Dumb and Dumber” comes to mind as I swing across the bars and somehow manage to clean both sections, just barely! That was the last time I would clear the uphill one in its entirety for the rest of the 8 hour race. There is a system setup where you take a chip out of a cup if you miss an obstacle. The color coincides with a penalty that is doled out back at the start/finish area at the end of each lap. Really cool system and one I might have to “borrow” for upcoming races (with Rob’s blessing of course)…spectators loved it too!
The course seems to never let up and the next big obstacle is a 60 foot long Tarzan rope swing that is one of the coolest obstacles I’ve ever seen. All of the obstacles were built really well by Rob whose main profession is as a general contractor….that work paid off for sure! I barely make that one too and somehow find myself in first place as I approach the barn. People are cheering and everyone was super supportive. I hand in my penalty chip and do my penalty which happened to be wall climbs which I feel was such a better penalty than the “industry standard”, burpees, though those were in the mix through the day as well.
(pic courtesy of Shale Hill Adventure)
Not really sure how many laps were in us, Meg and I just planned on going 8 hours and seeing where we ended up. Meg was having a great race too, she is a warrior. We would see each other with each lap as I was heading out for my next lap and she was coming in from hers…big wave across the fields to cheer each other on! At one point she had to do like 80 tractor tire flips as ONE penalty! My little ripper!
After 4 laps and 20 miles, Meg and I turned to eating food and relaxing. Meg took home first for Women! And looked really cute with her finisher medal on! She got lots of cheers from fellow racers out on the course, blown away that she was out there racing on her own, managing to bust out most all the obstacles without a hand. Yup, little ripper! And always smiling! The obstacles at Shale Hill were more demanding than the ones at the Vt Spartan Beast but obviously the steepness of the terrain couldn’t quite match Killington’s 6 mountains. It was amazing though how Rob and his crew made the most of the terrain they had. One feature was called the Anaconda and despite there being hardly any elevation gain in it, the relentlessness of it was very impressive, it never stopped! A very creative use of the terrain to say the least.
Everyone at the race was so supportive and encouraging. There was NO trash on the course anywhere which is rare these days. They also had amazing food for all the competitors too. The place was just pure, class act all around. Rob is seriously the most humble guy despite having accomplished so much in his life. He never seemed stressed as he wore many hats during the day, always smiling. Jill was also amazing, keeping it all organized, tidy and fun as she got to hand out the penalties with a mischievous little smile! Yet another memorable moment was when the last competitor came in and everyone gathered around yelling encouraging words as the DJ, Dave (from Obstacle Racing Magazine, great guy!) played the theme song to Rocky. We also got to meet many of the New England Spahtens which is an obstacle race club that sent some very tough racers to the event, great crew!
Even the prizes were amazing , really unique and the finisher medals were very unique as well. Shale Hill has a feel and vibe all its own that is not just borrowing from the big races, which I really respect. As a course designer myself, I can only hope to get my courses at this level. As a movement coach and owner of Mocean365, I would recommend this race and any others they have coming up. Looks like they have a 4 race series that we are surely going to be hitting to help us get ready for this year’s Spartan Ultra. !
There is a new contender out there in this ever growing sport/craze, of Obstacle Racing and its name is Shale Hill. Its grassroots done right, not hokey at all, super challenging and put on by a great crew. Rob and his crew have plans for big things in the coming years and I can tell the same good vibes will follow him in his endeavors!
Do yourself a favor and get over there for a race or event. Check them out at http://www.shalehilladventure.com/