A Review of the St. Clair Scramble Blackout
I don’t know what it is about Alabama, but two of the best OCR events I’ve taken part in have been there – the Barbarian Challenge in Gadsden and the recently concluded St. Clair Scramble in Odenville. Benefiting the Ian Harper Memorial Scholarship Fund to provide money to deserving student athletes in St. Clair County, the Scramble was a success in almost every way. This year, it was held at night, which gave an already challenging course an extra jolt of uncertainty. It was only a 5K, but damn it took some time. I had a total blast.
The first heat was moved to 7 p.m. to provide natural light at dusk, but by the time the second wave took off 30 minutes later, the only illumination came from the head lamps we were all asked to bring. I decided to run in the 8 p.m. wave and there were at least 30 people in our group.
After volunteering at the Suck Southeast and the Ultimate Suck, I’ve become a big fan of night time trail running. There is something liberating about jumping, scampering, wading and running through the woods at night with nothing but your thoughts, the curses of others and your headlamp to illuminate the way. I was able to get all of that at the Scramble.
The race organizers and coordinators including Chad Crowe and Billy Findeiss took the time to create some totally unique obstacles. The easy way would have been to just put together a race with the usual challenges – a barbed-wire mud crawl, cargo nets, walls, etc. But these folks really came up with obstacles I haven’t seen anywhere else and which gave me a total body workout. There was something mental, almost cerebral about some of the obstacles – I really had to think about the best way to tackle some of them, which provided an additional challenge.
For example, I loved the wall of tires. Cargo nets provide a hell of a workout, but climbing tires was waaaaay harder. The volunteer suggested I climb the side that leaned towards me, but it really took some doing. Climb inside the tire or on the outer tread? I had a similar doubt a few minutes later at the ladder climb, which tilted towards me like the Tough Mudder’s “Glory Blades.” Yes, it was more a ladder than a wall, but I had to really think about the best way to climb up.
The best races have at least one obstacle that makes you challenge your fears. This race had two. I am not afraid of tunnels nor am I claustrophobic. But there is a certain amount of uncertainty that goes through my mind when I’m crawling through a tunnel in the dark and at the end of the first tunnel, I’m in a pool of muddy water, which I have to slither through on my way through yet another tunnel. It was not physically tough, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little anxious.
The same thing happened with the slip ‘n’ slide. I like water rides and water parks, but when you are a big guy like me and are asked to cross your arms over your chest and slide down a one hundred foot plus slide that ends in a not very long or deep pool at the end, well, you get anxious. But I said, “fuck it” and just went down the slide and I am pretty sure, I skipped over the water at the end and almost hit the wall. It was a total rush and absolutely exhilarating, but definitely, a little fear-inducing.
Like the Atlanta Mudder held at the Aonia Motorcross Park, the race organizers managed to find property in Alabama that held every possible type of mud in the Southeast – the kind that makes you slide all over the place; the shoe-sucking, deceptively deep stuff straight out of “The Neverending Story”; and the soupy, foul-smelling mud that we had to cross over at times by climbing over logs. I felt like I was trapped in “The Shawshank Redemption” …
I was so damn tired as I ran towards the light – literally – of the last obstacle until I heard a voice ask, “Is that Shyam?” and I replied in the affirmative, I was greeted with shouts of encouragement from a great group of OCR friends. They were all standing at the final obstacle – Sean Dickson, Tony Cammarata, Ambur Holley and Michael Caudell – and they were all cheering me on like I was about to finish a marathon or something. It was just the push I needed. I didn’t even attempt the first part of the final obstacle – something involving jumping face first on to some barrels – so I just jumped into the waist-deep water and waded to the final obstacle: an ol’ fashioned, Tarzan swing. In retrospect, I probably should have held the rope higher and used some momentum, but I was just tired and wanted to be finished. So I made a feeble attempt at a swing, fell into the water, climbed out with some help, climbed over the final hay stack and got my glow-in-the-dark medal!
This was a great event and one of those local, DIY operations that is professionally managed and offers a great running adventure for beginners and pros alike. The only suggestions I have would be to increase illumination in some of the trail areas because there were a couple of times I wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction, and have some kind of food available for racers after the event. I had high hopes of destroying some BBQ after the run, but was disappointed to see the food tent packaged up by the time I was done. More race directors should follow the model of the St. Clair Scramble if they want to create a loyal following of participants everywhere. Sweet home Alabama, indeed.