Shale Hill 8-Hour Polar Bear Challenge Recap


1957645_796914960396852_7972533756894059605_oWinter and obstacle racing in my experience have been two opposite things until this past weekend. After a life spent searching out winter, the change of searching out summer has been a welcome change. Last week I made the trek back to the east coast for the Shale Hill 8-Hour Polar Bear Challenge, my first winter obstacle race. I have bantered back and forth with Paul Jones of New England Spahtens for years about taking time in the winter for an off-season to which he always responds, “there is not off-season.” So last week I found myself leaving the sunny 60+ degree weather of Utah to head to snowy sub-zero temps in New York and Vermont.


The first thing the east coast welcomed me with was a raging cold after a day of travel. Not a great start to a trip but it’s winter and it happens. From Thursday on I was on a special Theraflu cocktail making the prospect of running the 8-hour race extra special. I arrived at Shale Hill Friday morning after just over a day to get use to the freezing temps. One thing must be said about Rob and Jill Butler is they are incredible hosts.



Shale Hill, as I wrote before as the “Field of Dreams of Obstacle Racing” for is a permanent obstacle course in Benson, Vermont off Route 22a. The 100-acre farm has been transformed into an obstacle playground for all levels. Jill Butler had the dream of turning the farm into a horse eventing center, but Rob’s dream of a permanent obstacle race training facility won out, although Jill has three horses on the property and a few jumps of her own.


IMG_0247When I arrived at Shale Hill preparations were well underway for the race. The course was being remarked after yet another snowstorm buried the markers and goodies bags were being stuffed. I was welcomed with open arms and fed some venison chili one of the volunteers had made. Jill had set aside the guest bedroom in the house for me to stay and I dumped my stuff then waited for afternoon registration to start. Registration was a mixture of “old home week” as many familiar faces streamed in, many from the New England Spahtens, whom I would dine with that night at the local and only restaurant in the town, The Wheel.


10967004_10153149174208338_63076654_nSaturday morning came early and still feeling under the weather, and honestly doped up on cold meds, I made the switch from Elite Heat to Journeyman Division. Journeyman Division is a new division for the “just for fun group” and I found myself enjoying a day with Paul Jones of New England Spahtens. Our heat was the last one to go off for the day at 8:30am. The race would conclude around 3:00 in the afternoon.


The course was a just under 7-mile loop in which the goal was to do as many loops as possible in the 8-hours. Within less than a quarter mile I knew for me it would be a one loop day and decided to enjoy my time on the course. Paul and I BS’d around a lot of the race, chatted and took a comfortable pace, it became quickly apparent hiking in the soft new snow would be just as fast as attempting to run. The obstacles at Shale Hill are known for their difficulty. While many were challenging, it was also rewarding to complete a few that at first glance seemed impossible.


10991469_798675676887447_7545750000984535800_oAs we trudged along we found ourselves helping many other racers, chatting, laughing and moving one step in front of the other. Some of the highlights of the day came from not succeeding at the obstacles ourselves but helping those around us, like the guy we helped climb a rope who had been struggling for almost a half hour, or teaching half a dozen racers how to complete “the loom” similar to “the weaver” obstacle at Mud, Guts and Glory or the new Spartan Weaver. While we didn’t have to complete or try any obstacles in the Journeyman division all I watched were giving as much effort if not more than those in the elite division, the only difference is we didn’t have any penalties at the end.




While we didn’t have to do any penalties in the journeyman division the penalties for the race were unlike any other. Butler designed them not to be soul crushing but instead to be time consuming and a little fun. Instead of doing penalties at each obstacle like most races. At the Polar Bear Challenge all penalties are incurred at the end of the course. Each obstacle you fail during the loop you are given a chip, green, blue, or red. They indicate the difficulty of the obstacle you failed. Once at the start/finish you walked up to a table and handed over your chips, then rolled the dice and did the penalty based on the number you rolled. Which were sledding, eating saltines, pole flips, board walks, superman burpees, or pushups with Butlers creation “pups”. Depending on the number of chips and their color the penalties could be vastly different. One woman we talked to had to do 50 sleds down a small hill. Fun at first then tedious. Luckily at all times people were there to encourage one another.




It took us over 4 hours to complete one loop, the winning male would complete 3 loops and the winning female 2 loops for the day on the loose snow. We finished and headed into the barn/garage for a hot meal with a variety of food, then swapped stories.


Shale Hill once again was a great experience and the Polar Bear Challenge is the essence of what racing and obstacle racing can and should be. The race is small and intimate. It is everything that is great about Vermont and New England wrapped into one race. Winter obstacle racing can be really fun. Also along the way picked up a few tips to help you with your own winter race: 5 Tips for Running a Winter Obstacle Race

Margaret Schlachter

About Margaret Schlachter

Margaret Schlachter is Founder of She has been part of the OCR Community since 2010. When not working on the next article she can be found running from race-to-race. She is Editor-in-Chief of She authored the book Obstacle Race Training.
This entry was posted in Race Recap and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to posts:

  •   Hyper Vest SXY and FIT from
  • Instagram

    • Country life... brightened by a few simple tulips 🌷Beauty in simplicity. It’s fascinating the story of the tulip, a simple flower with no scent, and yet at one time caused such a stir
    • Before, during, during, and after. Hours of work, lessons learned, and more hours of work. Restoration Bungalow continues with one more room nearly finished. The moment I saw the house I was inspired to restore it back to its original beauty, one room at a time.  Tons of credit to Forest for all his hard work! Classic colors, furniture, and fixtures. Half the fun is the research and the rest is seeing the vision executed!! All that’s left is artwork and new bedding.
#classicbungalow #lovemyspace #bungalowstyle #bungalow
    • Quiet night in a quiet town living a quiet life.
    • Making a house... a home. Everyday I’m filled with gratitude.
#home #smalltownliving #bungalowstyle #classicbungalow #bungalow #lovemyspace #love
    • Seriously pinching myself while settling into my new home. Being able to walk out my backdoor into a canyon full of deer and jack rabbits, the dogs being able to run free the whole time, and quiet country life waiting when I get home. It’s hard to believe this is life.
2019 is off to a pretty good start! First day of work at my new job is Monday and spending these last couple days working away on the house and taking the dogs into the mountains behind our house.
#bestfingyear #newbeginnings #2019 #countrylife #smalltownliving
    • This year I got the ultimate gift, on Friday I was handed the keys 🔑 to my new house.
We spent the weekend starting to bring her back to her original 1920’s charm. Christmas we woke up in the  house, drank coffee, opened presents, and took a hike out the back door up into the canyon behind the house. I already love being back in a tiny town you’ve never heard of. People have stopped by, given us cookies, fudge, and chocolates. Heard stories of previous families who lived in the house and a few nuggets of the property history.
Beyond excited for the next chapter of life. It’s been a crazy last month and a half. A dream job came to me, bought a house, and now in the process of moving and bringing this little beauty back to life.
The lesson learned in the last couple months is - trust life has a plan for you - things happen for a reason - and life is full of good people.
    • Did you catch the recent podcast episode with @bemorewithless? We talk about living simply and loving life.
Because of the holiday this week’s episode will come out later in the week.
Happy Holidays All!!
    • Rebuilt in the 1599. Still in business today... I love the history of the UK 🇬🇧 and pub names... but mostly the pub names.
#britishpub #pub #england #travels #adventurer #stalbans #worldtraveler #travelhumor
    • Humbled, honored, and shocked. Thanks for this inaugural award from @mudstacle 
#ocr #obstacleracing  #shocked #honored

    Follow Me!