October 24, 2014

Race Report: The Great Pumpkin Haul

On Sunday, I got to head down to Chatfield Garden in Littleton for the Great Pumpkin Haul. I had never been down in that area before, and it was a bit longer of a drive than I was expecting! However, the drive to get there was beautiful, and included some picturesque views of hot air balloons over the mountains. Combine that with some good podcasts streaming over my car’s bluetooth and I’m happy to drive wherever!

There were volunteers directing us to park in rows in a grassy field, and it was pretty clear where to go from there. I had never been to Chatfield Garden before but walking through the grounds, it looked really pretty! I’ll have to get back down there for a picnic next summer. After following the winding trail around for a bit, it opened up to a huge valley with a pumpkin patch on the right, a cornfield in the middle, and an open space on the left where tons of vendors and activities were set up. Volunteers instructed us to head over to the open space to pick up our packets, and then come back to the pumpkin patch once we had our tickets to get our pumpkins.

Yes, race entry entitled you to one pumpkin of any size from the pumpkin patch. But while you might want to “get your money’s worth” by choosing a big pumpkin, you would have to carry that pumpkin over the two mile obstacle course… so it was important to choose wisely! I met up with my friends shortly after I had picked up my packet, so we all headed into the patch together to select our pumpkins.

My friends were looking for reasonable-sized pumpkins… something that would be big enough (and regularly-shaped enough) to later make into nice jack o’lanterns. However, I was really excited by the idea of challenging myself with a really big gourd. I didn’t have any ambitions of doing the “heaviest pumpkin” or “double baler” (where you carry two pumpkins) race categories, but I still thought it would be fun to pick something fairly heavy and see if I could hack it.

My close friends know that I am terrible at judging size (see: in college when I made my 5’10” friend Caitlin stand back to back with me because I was convinced we were about the same height), so it probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that I thought most of the pumpkins in the patch looked about the same size. None of them looked truly humongous… but when I picked up one and then another, my friends with me kept asking, “are you sure?” I settled on one that must have grown while lying flat on the ground, because one side of it was conspicuously flat. All the better to keep that side against my body and have an easier time getting my arms around the thing!

My 33 Pound Pumpkin
Here’s me and my pumpkin! Oh, did I forget to mention that I was dressed up for Halloween in a Supergirl costume?

Next, we headed back over to the open space where there were volunteers with scales to “weigh in” our pumpkins. I guessed that mine was going to be 16 pounds, which to me sounded like a lot. (Guess who hasn’t been diligent about doing her pumpkin haul prep workout?) But it turned out to actually be… 33 pounds. Yikes! I hoped I would be able to handle it.

As kind of a test run, we headed over to the “pumpkin bootcamp” sponsored by Orange Theory Fitness. Basically, take a normal bootcamp workout and add pumpkins wherever possible! My favorite was “pumpkin burpees,” where you do a shoulder press with the pumpkin, then put it on the ground and use it as the base for a pushup… mostly because that was the one exercise that was easier with the big-ass pumpkin, because having a tall pumpkin meant I didn’t need to drop as low for the pushup. Doing lunges combined with shoulder presses, though, was killer!

Pumpkin Bootcamp
Gorgeous day to be doing pumpkin burpees though!

But after bootcamp… that was when the real challenge started. All the participants had been divided up into waves, and while I was in wave 2, my friends were in later waves, so we split up. The first wave started a little late, but my wave started just a few minutes later (so almost on time). To the cheers of the announcer and the spectators, we took off… and after managing to jog for about 100 feet with my pumpkin, I slowed to a walk. This was way too big/heavy to run with! Uh oh, what had I gotten myself into?

We jogged about a quarter mile down the dirt road, passing signs that told us “pumpkins up!” (aka carry your pumpkin overhead) and “pumpkins down!” (carry it however you want). After that, we found ourselves at the first real obstacle: boards forming a tunnel that we had to crawl through with our pumpkins. Unfortunately, due to the late start of Wave #1, there was a huge backup of about 50 people waiting to go through the tunnel, which only had room for two people at a time to go through. This was the first point where I realized that time really didn’t matter in this “race” (you can’t really time a race where you spend ten minutes of it standing in line), and while it was kind of annoying to be standing around waiting in line, I was glad I learned that “time doesn’t matter” lesson early – it made the rest of the “race” a lot more fun!

After making it through the first tunnel, we ran about 200 feet and then went through a second. This one didn’t have nearly as long of a backup, probably because the first one had served as kind of a filter to spread us out in time for the second. For the rest of the course, I didn’t have any difficulty needing to wait for others before being able to complete an obstacle, so maybe the organizers could take this into account for next year and have the race start with an obstacle? That would presumably thin the crowd to where there would be no waiting.

After the tunnels, we had a “bob and weave” section where we had to dodge some hanging ropes, and then there was a nice long section of trail for us to just carry our pumpkins on. It took us through a wooded area and past a stream, and was really pretty! However, I spent this section getting passed by a ton of people since I still hadn’t figured out a good way to run with my pumpkin. My arms started getting really tired in here, and at one point I stopped to “tie my shoe” (which had legitimately come untied)… and perhaps also set my pumpkin down and try to figure out a new way to carry it. However, I actually hit on a great position and ended up using it for the rest of the race.

Pro tip: turn the pumpkin on its side and then use both hands to hoist your pumpkin up to one shoulder, so that the stem is facing away from your head. Use your head/neck to anchor the base of the pumpkin, and then use your outside hand to hold the pumpkin stem and hold it in place. (There will be a picture at the end of this race report.) This position is really comfortable, since your shoulder supports most of the weight of the pumpkin, and it has the added bonus of freeing up your opposite hand for whatever else – which actually makes it possible to run. I will win this (untimed, non-winnable) race next year!

The next few obstacles were scaling hay bales that blocked the path (easy), and then bear crawling across a bridge that had webbing about two feet off the ground, forcing you to stay low (also easy). So when a volunteer told me that I was “more than halfway done” (not “almost there!”), I was a little surprised I wasn’t closer to the end, but also confident that I could get through this, poor choice of pumpkin be damned 🙂 We headed through some “spider webs” (ropes that you had to climb through without getting tangled up), squeezed through some giant balloons, and then came to what I thought was the toughest obstacle at all: a stream that you had to wade through, that was about 8 inches deep. I weighed my options (it seemed there was a way to go around if you didn’t want to get your feet wet, but it looked like it went way out of the way), and decided to man up like a good Colorado outdoorsy gal and just plow through. Yes, I realize that’s dumb, but I’m proud of myself for doing it 🙂

And then we were heading across the field to the finish, with just one obstacle left: another round of “pumpkins up!” and “pumpkins down!”. Despite finding that (reasonably) comfortable carrying position, my arms were really sore, and I was definitely grimacing as I tried to run the 150 or so feet with my pumpkin held high over my head! I ended up balancing my pumpkin on my head like a tribal woman for part of the way, but then when it came to the final stretch (pumpkins down!), I went back to my standard sideways-on-the-shoulder posture in order to be able to run the last few yards to the finish line. Onto the beer tent!

Pumpkin Haul Finish
I did it! And while my arms were really sore/shaky, I was still able to lift a beer 🙂

Since the race seemed to be really targeting families with little kids, the cordoned-off beer tents had plenty of beer and plenty of room to hang out. I was especially excited to see Big Choice Brewing there – they are a brewery that’s only a few miles from where I live, and I had just been to their taproom the day before! (Going again this Sunday for their pumpkin carving event, if any readers would like to join.) The two beers they were serving were ones I hadn’t tried the day before, and their Poblano Porter was incredibly amazing – it was very peppery, but had no heat whatsoever. So unique and delicious! I wished I had encouraged more friends to come with me, because it would have been fun to have a big group and just hang out in the gorgeous grassy field sipping beer all afternoon 🙂

Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any timing happening for the race, which I hadn’t realized going into it, so I decided not to stick around for the awards ceremony. I knew I had carried a reasonably heavy pumpkin, but I had seen a guy carrying a 42 pounder, so I knew I wasn’t in the running for that award. WOW, amazing! But the point of an event like this isn’t to run a fast time; it’s just to have fun. And I definitely did that! I am really looking forward to making this an annual tradition and running it again next year… maybe even with a more ginormous pumpkin 🙂


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