Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. —William Faulkner

Spartan Shape-Up, Day 567:

The Benson Polar Bear 8 Hour Obstacle Course Challenge 

The NE Spahtens!
It was 5:30 am and I found myself standing upright (barely) in the lobby of the Red Roof Inn in Rutland, Vermont, geared out in numerous layers of Under Armor and wool, deeply questioning what I was getting ready to do. I was about to head out, in 10 degree New England weather (not even counting the wind chill!), pre-dawn, to take on my first winter obstacle course race: The Benson Polar Bear.

Standing with me were a dozen of my teammates and extended Spartan family, found in the NE Spahtens. The hotel lobby was a buzz with mumbles about the weather, hello's to old friends who had arrived while we slept, and rumors of Bacon. Yes. Rob, Shale Hill Adventure's Mastermind, had promised us bacon if we dared to brave his course. And not just bacon... bacon for 8 hours. Spartans are, not-surprisingly, motivated by bacon and we were bringing the team spirit strong, as we mounted our caravan to the wilds of Benson, VT.

A short 25-30 minute drive to Shale Hill found us in the first few rows of cars, parking in the pre-dawn darkness. The moon was still up as my adventure buddy Stacey and I gathered our gear for the short trek up to registration. A sleepy quiet still over us, I pondered a few things, while carrying my gear box in the single digit temperature. First.... WHY? WHYYYY did I find myself out of my nice warm bed, clad in various layers of spandex, wool and microfiber, planning on jumping walls, climbing things and running, all day? Why, on anything that made sense, was I - 30 years old, not in super great shape (yet.) - setting my sights on 2-3 laps of this notorious 5 mile course?

With classic rock tunes broadcasting through the heated barn, inside and out, I stepped into the warm building and immediately had the first of my answers. Stacey and I were greeted almost immediately, by name, by Rob and his wife Jill and given a warm reception by all the volunteers and staff. Registration was a breeze and we were directed to an area to stow our gear boxes and informed that coffee - and BACON - were hot and ready, in the other room. The barn was filled with a steady buzz of conversation, easy exchanges between teammates, excited meetings of new friends and advice dispensed from veterans. Still not quite awake, but taking it all in, I shuffled over to the breakfast buffet to fuel my adventures, before gearing up. Rob bounced from group to group, checking in on everyone, with the excitement of a kid on Christmas Morning. The Polar Bear was his baby, and here it was, off to a grand start. A heaping plate of eggs, bacon, french toast and other tasty things later, I looked around. I adore this community. Smiles were everywhere, people were sharing gear, where gloves or hats were forgotten, and all was right with the world... even though we were all about to put ourselves through many miles of a grueling course. I was here, against the better judgement of my Old Self (who thought that a big comforter, a cup of cocoa and a pizza might be a better way to spend a cold Saturday morning), because the OCR community - particularly this little subset - is encouraging, welcoming, enthusiastic and powerful like no other.

A perky welcome and course overview from Rob and we were grouping up at the starting area before we knew it (I'm still not sure I was entirely awake. It was still dark.). At promptly 7:01am, we were all released onto the course to do our damnedest to battle the Polar Bear. I pulled my wool hat a little lower on my ears, an icy wind assaulting my face as Stacey and I began our warm-up trot, bringing up the rear of the pack through the first field. And so it began...

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