Much has changed in the world of OCR since I last raced at Palmerton’s Blue Mountain. And much has stayed the same. My son and I did a repeat weekend of volunteering on Saturday at the Spartan Super (last time in 2019). Then we ran the Sprint on Sunday. From there, everything was different.
The Friday night trail run was canceled. The double sandbag carry moved down to the bottom of the mountain and became a single. Not only did I volunteer, but I was also an obstacle referee. My hotel room was actually quiet and I got some sleep before the race. I raced Age Group, going for a podium.
Some obstacle failures now required a penalty loop instead of burpees. The dunk wall moved and combined with a full crossing of the snow pond. It rained and the weather was actually tolerable this year with temps only in the seventies. My first burpee-free Palmerton since 2013.
Did I mention the sandbag thing?
For those Palmerton veterans, this caused a huge outrage. This signature obstacle on a double black diamond slope is one big reason why we come back year after year for this kind of…fun. Turns out, the move was a winner. Here’s why.
The initial ascent on the mountain for both races was a new layout. It went straight up for a mile. The last 200m was, yup, you guessed it, the dreaded double black diamond. I commented about halfway up how glad I was not to be carrying the sandbag at the time. After that brutal first-mile climb, lots of legs were gassed. But it was literally all downhill from there. And it flew.
The summit featured the A-frame cargo net followed by a most welcome water station. Then a quick wraparound and right to the Atlas carry. Right after that was the rope climb. After a very short descent, it was the spear throw. So far so good. No failures though for some odd reason I did struggle with my S-wrap on the rope climb. A senior moment, I guess. After that, it was time to bomb downhill through a few slopes and a lot of technical single-track trail. I recognized most of it as the former ascent portion in years past.
About halfway down I expected the stinky dunk wall. Didn’t happen. Instead, there was the vertical cargo net followed by the obligatory rolling mud pits followed by the slip wall.
About three-quarters of the way down came the bucket carry, about 800m back up then down a mild slope.
The bottom featured another gauntlet of obstacles beginning with the water crossing. This included the dunk wall in the middle. Most people did not dry their hands so the rig soon after was rather slippery. I missed the bell at the end and gladly did the penalty loop instead of 30 burpees. Then the helix. Never done that before. Slippery but no big deal. A very expensive obstacle to build without a lot of challenge.
Finally, it was another big bomb downhill to the bottom where the sandbag carry awaited. The carry was done on a very narrow, Spartan helmet-shaped layout on the slope where the bucket carry used to be.
I ended up liking it despite my earlier complaints on Facebook. It was a good challenge on tired legs.
The Herc hoist was next and here I just used my body weight to do the work just in case the rope was wet. A very short barbed wire crawl came immediately afterward where the cameraman swore he was photographing me for the cover of Sports Illustrated. I would have been happy with the cover of Rolling Stone. At the top of that hill was the inverted wall. Then a quick wrap around to the monkey bars.
And this is where I finally noticed one guy who I’d gone back and forth with the entire race. Same age group or close enough based on the gray hair. Suddenly this was a race. I stepped up onto the monkey bars and caught him out of the corner of my eye doing the same. The finish line was only 200m away. I blasted through and hit the bell first then took off running. But not fast enough as I heard him pounding behind. I sped up just as he passed me. He jumped the fire just a step or two ahead I think. It was all a blur as I flew through the finish line and nearly crashed into the fence.
After finishing, I waited over by the sandbag carry to watch my son. He ran in a later wave. I didn’t check my results until much later, wanting to surprise both of us on the chance I had accomplished my dream of an AG podium on my favorite mountain where I started OCR eight years ago.
But first, let’s go back to the Saturday Super. My son and I volunteered as referees. All I will say about that is two things: First, do it. You’ll make lots of new friends. I hung out with the race directors of Sunny Hill Viking and Obstacle Wonderland, two independent races located in the Catskill region of New York. Asa and Gabe, I will hopefully see you later this year.
Second, you’ll make lots of enemies. Turns out Spartan takes their burpees very seriously. After the AG waves were through, my son took the video cameras to the results tent where he reviewed every burpee. The rules were simple. Do the burpee with the right form. Do the right number of burpees. There were lots of additional time penalties levied for failures here. Lesson learned. I had no intention of doing burpees during my AG race on Sunday. And I didn’t.
The full-intensity vibe of OCR is back my friends. Palmerton delivered. Saw lots of old friends again. Everyone showed lots of respect for the mountain–I did not see hardly any trash up there as I have in years past. A huge crowd filled every parking lot. Plenty of volunteers. Plenty of water stations. Free bag check! What more could you want?
Congratulations to my good friend Charles “Jazz” Vassallo for coming back strong after knee surgery to win his age group. Turns out I came in the top 10, too. I was happy. Next year I move up an age group. I checked the stats. Those guys are still wicked fast, but I’ll be back because I love this race. It still gets every star.
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