First OCR of the season was a great one! This was my first time doing the Blizzard Blast, a 3-4 mile course that takes place at the Shedd Park in Lowell MA, and what a great one it was!
The day started with a moderate sleep in and some pancakes with bacon and sausage. Hey, when you’re racing, you gotta do a carb/protein mix to keep you going – short-term burn and long-term burn (that’s my excuse, anyway). Bestie C. and I packed up the car and the pooch and headed southwards. Lowell is only a little over an hour away and the day was sunny and cool, with temps in the high 30s. It was a nice day to run.
We met my sister, who would be dog handling while we ran, and arrived at the parking area 45 minutes before our wave was due to set off. Unfortunately they had run out of space by that time – I guess there were lots of early runners! – and redirected us to a parking area down the street, which was also out of space. We managed to squeeze into one (and I did my parallel parking for the year) and catch a bus to the check in area. Huge plus and applause should go to the organizers for having so many shuttles available. There was little to zero wait time the entire day.
This race is a little unusual in that there was a parking area, a shuttle to the check in area, and then another shuttle to the actual race. It’s understandable since there is no large parking areas in each location, but still strange. Anyway, we arrived at the check in area, a large bowling alley called Wamesit Lanes in Tewksbury, and received our bibs, t-shirts, timing chips, and balaclavas with rapidity. I’m a little surprised we got loaded down with so much stuff before heading into a race, but there were bag check options and I suppose the t-shirt could have been picked up after rather than before the race. As it was, my sister was a convenient pack animal for all of our unexpected booty.
We loaded on to a second bus to take us to the race. Kyra was extremely popular with the racers and got a head pat or lovings from everyone who boarded. Once we arrived and unloaded, there was a brief pit stop at the bathrooms at the park – something I’m glad I didn’t have to take advantage of – and we managed to squeeze into the 11:30 wave rather than wait another 15 minutes for our officially assigned 11:45 wave time. My sister and Kyra saw us off and then wandered around the park and said hi to pretty much everyone there, from what I’ve heard.
Unusually, there was no snow on the ground over a vast majority of the race, which was extremely lucky for C. and I. It had been recommended to us to buy spiked shoes to do this race but I hadn’t been willing to shell out $150 for some shoes that I wouldn’t wear too often, particularly for a race in which I’d already paid an entrance fee. However if there had been snow or ice on the ground the way there typically is in New England at the end of January, we would have been in serious trouble. As it was, we both wore sneakers and just had to be extremely careful in certain areas where there was ice cover remaining. It was very obvious who were the experienced runners with spiked shoes, and who had never run before in sneakers.
The race began with a series of snow hills (you had to wonder where they kept this snow before bringing it in for the race!), followed on to the stone wall surrounding the park, and then wound around the back of the park and up the hill. There were a few 6-7′ walls to get over and then an attempt at an obstacle with some Christmas lights strung back and forth across the path, but previous runners had obviously tripped on them at some point and tore them down. It was a good thought though! The first real obstacle was climbing through a spiderweb of hoses strung within a gazebo (excellent out-of-the-box thinking there), very fun. The race progressed back up a hill and came to a keg carry. The race is sponsored by Shock Top Brewery and empty kegs feature prominently in many of the obstacles. In this one, we had to carry a keg down the hill a distance and then roll it back up the hill. Surprisingly, I had no trouble with the keg carry – it was relatively light and I put it on my shoulders – but had great difficulty with the keg roll back up the hill. The path snaked back and forth at least a dozen times and there is very little training you can do to prepare for hunching over, pushing a keg, and going uphill for quite a distance. I had to keep stopping because my quads and back were screaming.
Next was a pleasant run and a new set of obstacles – a Christmas tree barrier! There were several of these throughout the race using unbought and leftover Christmas trees, piled on top of each other across the path to make fragrant and interesting barriers. There was an obstacle at the top of (yet another) hill that was a qualifier for the OCR World Championships. The Devil’s Staircase was an A frame with spaced bars that you had to go up and then move across hand-over-hand. I was not interested – I know I don’t have the upper body strength to do that sort of obstacle yet – and simply skipped it.
The run started weaving downhill again and the next obstacle was great fun. There were 10 paintball guns lined up, and we got ten chances to hit some deflated snowtubes that had been pinned up some distance away. I’ve never had a paintball gun obstacle at an OCR before! It was great!
We headed back downhill, around and over multiple bleachers and benches surrounding the baseball field before heading back into the trees and coming into the best obstacle I’ve ever had at a race – a downhill sledding obstacle! You grab a flying saucer from a pile of them and slide down yet another hill, hopefully (or hopefully not) avoiding a large bump in the middle of the hill guaranteed to send you flying. I hit the bump straight on – not intentionally – and cleared several feet of air. My first time sledding in quite a while, and if I thought my butt was up to it I would done that obstacle several more times.
After hauling my sore butt back up the hill to return the sled, it was a quick jaunt through the woods and down again to the keg swing obstacle, another upper body obstacle in which you had to swing from suspended keg to keg across a distance. Yet again there was no way I was going to be able to do this obstacle (damn my lack of upper body strength!), so I dangled from a keg for 10 seconds or so before letting go and continuing on.
Shortly after was the Christmas tree drag, in which you grabbed a long rope tied to the base of a Christmas tree and dragged it up and down yet another hill. It’s surprisingly difficult and takes a great deal of leg strength; there are portions where you’d swear you were dragging the entire earth behind you. After trying out several techniques I found the one that worked best was simply to wrap the rope around your waist, face up the hill, and plow through it. Over the years in an effort to reach beyond the negative ‘you can’t do it’ thoughts my brain conjures up during these times, I’ve developed the technique of counting to myself as I move forward. I count four steps – 1…2…3…4 and then start over, again and again. As long as I’m counting I know I’m moving. If I start losing count and stuttering, I know I’m getting tired, but hey, I’m still counting, and it gives me a boost. If I can’t count any more, I stop. It’s surprising how well this stupid little trick works! It keeps my brain occupied with counting so that I don’t think of how much work I’m doing or how I can’t do it, it keeps my legs churning because really, how hard can it be to take 4 more steps? And it keeps me motivated to keep going. Since my particular bugaboo while running is going up hills, this technique has saved me more than once.
Once I made it back to the bottom of the hill with my tree, my sister and Kyra were there waiting for us! It was great to have some smiling faces (and barks and yips of eagerness) at the end of a particularly tough obstacle. Once we got some loves from Kyra, C. and I set off again (much to Kyra’s distress, as she wasn’t coming with us) and headed around a playground and some tennis courts. We navigated across a wall using fingers and toes and headed into some tennis courts to do a keg hoist – surprisingly easy to do compared to the Spartan Herc Hoist – and then set off into the back of the tennis courts and on to pavement.
This was where I really started to drag. We were at least several miles into the course already, and straight running without obstacles is not fun to me. My legs were starting to cramp and I was getting quite warm, but there was nowhere to dump my extra layers. I was starting to feel the long break that I’ve had between the last time I ran and now (it’s been several months at least). The course wound around an elementary school and stopped briefly at an obstacle where you had to throw a football through some suspended tires. After another short distance we navigated a brief Christmas tree barrier before getting to what for me was a real groaner of an obstacle. We were given a Christmas tree (no rope this time) and had to drag or carry it up and around and back down the crown of a hill. It was probably a quarter of a mile but felt like an eternity. I started out by dragging my tree (I stupidly chose the first one I came to rather than picking out a better suited one) but quickly realized that it would be very difficult over rough ground and take forever, and stopped to haul my tree over my shoulders. I won’t say this was any easier – Christmas trees are surprisingly heavy! – but at least my legs and shoulders could support the weight differently, the motion wouldn’t be so jerky, and I wouldn’t have the friction of tree vs ground to contend with. I made it, peering through the pine boughs like a creepy forest creature, and gratefully dumped the tree back where we started the circle.
We tackled a relatively easy obstacle next in which you had to scootch up along ropes using bowling pins for grips and then down another side. Further up there was a “through” wall, and then a rope climb that we skipped. There was an excellent forearm workout in which we wound up a rope around a stick from which a mini-keg was suspended. There was another upper body obstacle – a peg board climb – that we skipped and yet another wall that I had to be helped over. After another short run, we emerged from the woods to the main park area again, and I met my sister and Kyra near the trail. Kyra was so nuts that I ended up grabbing her leash and taking her with me for the last quarter-mile or so! The second to last obstacle was an interesting one – you were given two cement blocks and had to use them as stepping-stones (picking up one and putting it in front of the one you were standing on) to cross a muddy patch and back again. It was an excellent squats and arms exercise.
Then we rounded the final bend and picked up a keg for the final carry around a playground and up over several snow mountains to the finish line! Kyra absolutely loved being a part of things and was much applauded (and received MY medal!) at the finish line. The brat seemed very pleased with herself.
There was a brief wait for the shuttle to get back to the lanes and then an immediate hop on to the return shuttle to the car. We didn’t bother with the after-party – we were a combination of sweaty and cold and just wanted to change and eat – and very quickly got back to the car and promptly had a lovely meal at Longhorn once the bestie and my sister had a Starbucks fix.
It was pretty late in the day by the time we got home but it was well worth the travel and the cost. What an excellent race. Next year will greatly depend on how much snow is on the ground and how much spike shoes will cost, but I’d love to do it again!