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Shale Hill: The last dance  

Eric Sirois's picture

Shale Hill: Rob Butler's dream come true. A mythical place feared by the best athletes in the sports. Over the years, only a handful of athletes have had the chance to test their abilities on the course that has been crowned several times as the best training center for the obstacle course racing. On February 2nd, was the last race taking place on the Shale Hill ground: The 8h Polar Bear. This race consists of doing as many laps as possible over an eight-hour period. Each round is ten kilometers long and includes about seventy obstacles (also known as Robstacles) all more difficult from one another.

For this edition, about 175 runners made an appointment for one last time. Many regulars, but many new faces also who finally decided to join the party, knowing that there would be no other chance to do it. Mother Nature also told herself that it was time to go through Benson. In recent years, even though the race was held in early February, the terrain was almost like a spring race in the sense that the snow was almost non-existent. While the ice was ubiquitous, but since the organization allows, and recommends the use of crampons, it did not cause many problems. This time around, the winter storm of the past weeks had left a good layer of snow. A light layer of snow covered with ice, on which rested a good eight to ten inches of fresh snow. Some part of the course was a bit packed by snowmobiling, but the unstable surface certainly complicated the lives of the runners.

The course remains the same as the last race with some minor changes. For those who know the course, here are the changes made for the final edition: In the wooded section, we went directly to the traverse wall after the rope ladder instead of going into the field. The obstacles in this section are rather immediately after the balance section. In addition, there was no mountain of haystacks over which one had to climb. Three obstacles are removed from the course for the general runners and two for the elite. The tire flip and the tire drag are not part of the obstacles since they are stuck in the ice. The wheelbarrow is only put into play for the elites. The latter was not convenient because the instability of the snowy ground made the ride particularly difficult. In addition the ice on the handles greatly complicates the task of the runners. The elites also had to climb the rope at the end of the band cutter after completing the rings.

For failed obstacles, a hybrid penalty system was used. For three obstacles on the course including the wobble and spinning monkey bars as well as the traverse wall, the token system was in place. If you failed the obstacle, you could try it again as many times as you wanted, as long as you did not block anyone. In the case where you surrender, you take a chip and a penalty will be awarded at the end of your turn using a roll of dice. The penalties ranged from 25 strokes of battle ropes, 15 pushups on pups, carries, a sleigh ride and a hug from Sandy! Your lap ended only after you finished all your penalties. For the other obstacles, the penalty was to return to the last obstacle, complete it and return to bypass the missed one. Some backtracking could take a considerable amount of time and definitely added to the distance travelled.

The day started fairly early with the breakfast that started at 6:30 followed by explanations and rules to follow at 6:45. The elites started at 7:30, followed by the open / age group at 7:45 and finally the "journeyman" at 8:00. Perhaps the departures were too close given the racing conditions, because there was a big queue at the log carry that was early in the race. This obstacle being one of the longest load carry in obstacle course racing was a little more complicated with the snow and therefore a little longer to complete than in normal times. The beginning of the race was done under intense cold and several runners had frostbite problems. Some even had to abandon the race preemptively. Fortunately, the mercury climbed a little and allowed those who decided to leave for a second round to enjoy a temperature a little more lenient. On the other hand, the wind in the field left no one indifferent!

At the end of the day, no one succeeds in completing three laps. The cold, snow and fatigue will have had the upper hand on some athletes. Some even thought that completing two laps would be easy and that their qualifications for the North American Championship and the World Championship was already in their pocket before they even started. Unfortunately, it was a brutal day for many. Certainly, the buffet provided by the Wheel Inn warmed the hearts and filled the stomachs of runners throughout the day. If you ever come around, go eat there, you will not be disappointed! The event that meant the end of Shale Hill's activities could not end without an emotional charge. Several people shared stories related to the place. Past experiences, funny moments, challenges. Several thanks from the race directors to close the day following the awards ceremony and prizes to the winners.

Of course, those who follow us know that Shale Hill takes a special place in our heart. From our first visit, our team fell in love with the place. Over the last few years, the biannual encounters were a no brainer for many reasons. The unique course is obviously one of them, but even more the family and the atmosphere that reigns around Shale Hill. This course has allowed many athletes to improve, identify their weakness and become better athletes. Thank you Rob, Jill and Karver for welcoming us to your home and for contributing to the development of the sport over the years. The memories will remain engraved forever. As for our big Shale Hill family, this is not a goodbye, but rather a, see you later!