Shale Hill Obstacle Race Training Center in Benson, Vermont is infamous among many obstacle racers. It has been called obstacle racing's “Field of Dreams”. The permanent obstacle course sits on the over 100-acre farm of Rob Butler. Many of the obstacles, known to many as Robstacles, are the invention of Butler, an engineer by day and tinkerer at night. Some in the obstacle racing community have stayed away from Shale Hill for fear of these infamous obstacles. Even I got a few butterflies thinking about the race before flying to the east coast for the 8-Hour Polar Bear Challenge. This past weekend Butler and the folks at Shale Hill introduced a new division in their races which opens up the event to all racers of all levels, the Journeyman Division.
My trip to Shale Hill had full intentions of running in the elite division of the 8-Hour Polar Bear Challenge until the winter cold season reared it's ugly head as I traveled across the country. Minutes before the start of the 8-Hour Polar Bear Challenge I switched from Elite to Journeyman and experienced the best Shale Hill has to offer. The Journeyman Division is the brainchild of long-time obstacle racer and New England Spahtens member Sandy Rhee. Rhee has run numerous obstacle races over the past couple of years and is often known as momma bear to many racers. You can usually find her near the back of the pack helping other racers reach the finish line. After several trips to Benson, Vermont and Shale Hill she proposed the idea to Rob Butler of a new division for those looking to take on Shale Hill but intimidated by the obstacles. Butler jumped on the idea and the Journeyman Division was born.
The Journeyman Division is for those who are looking to take on Shale Hill for the challenge but not interested in a finishing place or qualifying for OCR World Championships (Shale Hill is a qualifier course). Participants in the Journeyman Division are encouraged to try all of the obstacles but receive no penalty for walking around or failing an obstacle. This takes away much of the intimidation factor in the race for those who are on the fence. While obstacles are now optional everyone I saw on race day were giving the obstacles a real try not just skirting them. Many tried the obstacles over and over again, one man spent over a half hour at a rope climbing obstacle and with the help of a few other racers was able to complete the course.
I ran the race with Paul Jones of the New England Spahtens and we talked about the new division, as well as dragged our way through the snow! Jones commented while racing on the fact that they have almost 3,000 members and yet only 30 made the trek up to Benson for the race. He said most of the members of their group race for fun and the new division will definitely entice more people to make the trip to Shale Hill. He also noted when the ground is bare the 5K option is also very beginner friendly and cuts out many of the most challenging obstacles. This makes the course and the venue open to all levels of racer.
About Shale Hill
Butler's Shale Hill course is open year round for both racing and training. This year Butler hopes to offer a special 30-day obstacle racing training opportunity for a limited number of individuals to live on the farm and train daily. He also hosts events in the spring, summer, fall and winter ranging from 5K distances to 24-hour races. Shale Hill is also home to Triobstaclon a mixture of triathlon and obstacle race. Shale Hill is also available for private functions, hosting the first OCR Wedding Race this past year where Jason and Heather Moss wed.
Shale Hill is more than a race, it is a place for those in the OCR community at all levels to test their skills, strengths, and possibly for some of the top racers be a humbler. Whatever your motivation to do a mud run or obstacle race Shale Hill should be on your radar. Whether you make a weekend trip, renting out the apartment on the farm or drive up for one of their races, Shale Hill is a destination for the OCR enthusiast.