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.


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.


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

Machete Recon XII Seattle – 12 Hour Overnight Endurance Event

Machete Recon XII was held at Golden Gardens/Shilshole Beach in Seattle, WA on February 18-19 from 8pm to 8am. The Machete team drove all the way from Southern California to put on this event. Some of the members of the local “Beasts OCR” team assisted as well.

Going into this was exciting, but made me nervous at the same time. I’ve completed shorter endurance events, and knew what to expect for the most part, but never one that lasted 12 hours, let alone overnight. Here it was…..Go Time! There were so many thoughts running through my head. Can I last that long? Will I get too cold (it was 40 degrees and predicted to go to 35 overnight)? Am I packing enough or too much? Will I be able to stay awake? I was about to find out!

We met in a parking lot and proceeded down a dark forested trail to the beach. We brought headlamps but only used the red lights when there were stairs or other obstacles. We were given a sand bag and instructed to write our names on it and NOT lose it no matter what. A 5 gallon bucket with no handle was on our gear list. These two items would be used throughout the night for our black ops style missions.

We were divided into two teams. One of our first missions was to run down the beach and find one of the leaders. The sand was loose and half ways down the beach it got very rocky. I’m not sure which was harder to run in. We reached the leader and did some PT and then filled our sandbags. Half way for women and full for men. Then we raced back with our sandbags to the start.

The Puget Sound waters are about 45 degrees year around. Hypothermia can set in in as little as 12 minutes. I’m mentioning this because we had various options and missions to complete in order to stay out of the water; however, there were a couple of times we did go in. Once was carrying a very heavy log into the water about knee deep. As a team, we pressed it overhead until we had hardly anything left to give.

The other water mission was challenging as well. We took our buckets and dug a trench about 2.5 feet wide, a foot and a half deep, and 30 feet long. We were all sent to the water to fill our 5 gallon buckets completely full and transfer it to the trench. Bucket after bucket came and the trench filled with very cold water. Team 1 army crawled through it, then team 2. We then laid diagonally in the trench and the other team ran back and forth with more icy buckets of water and proceeded to pour them on us. After both teams enjoyed this refreshing adventure, we ended up burying team 2 as a penalty from earlier. Some of the buriers got creative with the buryees.

There were several team challenges including a two mile run over rocks and pavement and a two-mile sandbag run. The team who came in last had to complete a “penalty lap”. The lap included a rock staircase going uphill through the forest until you met a trail (still uphill) and came down some cobblestone style rock staircases. It was a good distance, about 200 feet of elevation gain, and tiring. We would end up completing this many times before the night was over.

Several hours into recon, we were heading down the beach again. We were requested to pick up firewood along the way in the pits the locals make beach fires in. We reached one of the pits, when the leader said we had 5 minutes to make a sustainable fire or we were going in the water! We saw an ember in the pit and worked fast and furious to build it up. Some of the team went to look for twigs to use as kindling, one pulled out a piece of paper we could use, and I did 10 burpees to earn some kleenex for tinder. With just a little time to spare our teamwork paid off and we got it going and it turned into a beautiful blazing fire! We all took a little break at this point and circled around the fire and told our story. One by one we learned about each other’s struggles, dreams, and goals. A group of individuals became a team of brothers and sisters.

There were so many challenges and PT opportunities that I can’t put them all down, but we ended with a big one. With about an hour left, we ceremoniously cut our sandbags and emptied them back onto the beach. I felt like yelling and cheering as loud as I could, but figured that might put the team “in the water”…noooooo! We disposed of the empty bags and were instructed to tape our buckets to our backs. The sun was beginning to rise which seemed to give everyone a boost.

We went to the start of the “penalty lap” and bear crawled our way up. Once we were past the rocks, where the trail started, we received new orders which included walking lunges and inch worms with a pushup. That made for a long long long trail, especially because we could see our cars in the parking lot. We were so close, yet so far. Once we reached the top we still had 30 minutes to go. We finished with tabata style PT. Burpees, pushups, jumping jacks, high knees, it felt like it would never end.

Then, we were told to stop. We had successfully completed our mission and we did it with all of our team members in tact. Every single one of us persevered, gritted it out, and achieved something together that we will never forget. Our names were called one by one and we received a shirt, patch, and wrist band. Items that have so much meaning behind them. We gathered for one final photo, our group picture.


I wore my shirt the next day and felt such a sense of accomplishment. It’s not just a shirt, but a symbol of what we earned and the amazing memories we will all have of Recon XII. I will wear it with pride every time I put it on! Thank you to the Machete team for making the trip to Seattle, the Beasts OCR members who assisted, and all of the others who helped to make this event a huge success. Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!

Photo credit: Machete Madness, Dustin Garrett, Adam Birgenheier, Kim Collings