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Monday, April 2, 2018

2018 LBL Challenge

Sometimes opposites attract, and sometimes they just race together. While ostensibly I have less in common with the hairy, hilarious guys of Team Virtus, it's Mickey and I who are truly a study in contrasts. He used to win triathlons, and I used to read a lot of books. When he struggles with something, he works at it until he can do it; I, on the other hand, make a mental note of where I'll need to walk again next time. He's strong and fast on foot and bike; I'm...not. He's competitive, while my frequent refrain is "You know we aren't going to clear this course."

I come from an AR background that values fun over fast, and he thinks that fast is fun. That could be a recipe for disaster, because in adventure racing a team is only as speedy as its slowest member. It's vital that all teammates have similar -- or realistic -- expectations, and we did. We've trained together enough that he wasn't going to be blindsided by my pace, and I fully expected to spend most of the race's 18 hours suffering.

Race eve:

The misery could wait until Saturday, though. On race eve, we got to Land Between the Lakes early enough for a shakedown ride on the Canal Loop Trail. Since my full suspension bike hadn't been ridden since my last AR in December, I wanted to make sure everything was working OK and that I remembered how to shift. Though the LBL area had been deluged with rain in the previous weeks (the canoe leg had been cancelled due to high, unsafe lake conditions), the trail was 95% perfect and super fun.

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Perfecting my selfie game. 
The pre-race meeting wasn't until race morning, so instead of poring over maps and plotting routes, we met our BOR friends for dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant. After dinner, we checked into the hotel and readied our gear as much as possible, leaving the rest until we knew the structure of the course. The forecast, which when the 10-day window first opened had been abysmal, looked good for March: highs in the mid-50's dropping into the 30's at night. The race started at 10:30 a.m. and ended at 4:30 a.m. the next day. With daylight savings time still a week away, we'd be spending a large portion of the race in the colder nighttime hours.

Pre-race:

We got to race check-in plenty early Saturday and staged our bikes and the 5 gallon bucket per racer we'd been allowed for additional gear. Since we'd have access to the bucket after the first trekking leg, we kept about 5 hours-worth of food and left the rest in our buckets along with the fleece jackets we anticipated needing as the temperature dropped at nightfall. I also staged a gallon of water and, anticipating a wet course, an extra pair of shoes.

361 does a fantastic job with their pre-race meetings. They're usually funny, and they're always quick and to the point. By 8:30 we had our maps and course instructions and were plotting points on the hood of my car. After initially misplotting the first two, we straightened ourselves out and mapped the rest with no issues. (Mickey: Um...you know...you don't have to include every detail.)

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Photo credit: 361 Adventures
Without a canoeing leg the course was very foot-heavy, beginning with a 10-point trekking leg that would return us to race HQ. From there, teams would ride to four different bike drops, from which we would do additional trekking legs of different lengths. There was no required order for checkpoints or bike drops; the only rule was that you had to leave your bike and trek to the points once you arrived at the drop. There were also no mandatory points once you returned to race HQ from the initial trekking leg; you could be considered an official finisher as long as you got back to the finish line under your own power and before the cut-off.

Our initial plan was to clear the first trek and then go to the northeast bike drop since it had the most CPs (7). We'd then go to the northwest bike drop and tackle that trekking leg (3CP). Since the southwest drop only had 2 CP we considered skipping it if we needed to, and then we'd finish up with as much as we could at the southeast bike drop (4 CP).

We had two main concerns: first, we'd be spending over half of the race in the dark, and Mickey has limited experience with night nav; second, some of the "roads" Chuck and I rode in this area last year were considerably worse than the singletrack, so I was very leery of trusting any kind of pace projection above singletrack speeds for the road routes. We kept our race plan fluid and wrote estimated times back to the finish from each bike drop in case we had to make changes on the fly.

The amount of time between the pre-race meeting and the start felt positively leisurely. We finished all our plotting and planning, organized all of our gear, ate a second (or third) breakfast, and still had time to organize a group photo of all the SLOC members at the race. Every morning should be so relaxing.

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St. Louis Orienteering Club representing!
Trek 1: CP 1-10, any order. 10.6 miles, 2:56


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Cool way to start the day
The first ten CPs could be attained in any order, but they formed a clear loop. We, along with what seemed like most of the pack, opted to attack them in number order. Despite starting with a run, we lost sight of most everyone by the time we'd punched the first CP.  Once we approached the bag we'd trade passport and maps; he'd punch the passport, and I'd catch my breath while picking out route options to the next CP.

This was a nice way for me to stay in touch with the map and feel a little more like part of our navigational process, but it didn't always go smoothly. We navigate differently; what makes sense to me isn't always as clear to him, and I still don't have enough confidence to stick by what I think when a better navigator questions me. This cost us around 6 minutes on the way to CP7, where I'd chosen the route and knew exactly where we were (as confirmed later by our GPS track) but wavered when he thought we were closer. We ended up finding the point but took a much more roundabout way to get there.

Overall, though, our nav for this leg was clean with a only a couple small mistakes that Mickey quickly caught. This was a big improvement over our performance last May at Mission, where we'd let small errors spiral into huge time sucks. We arrived back at the TA in just under three hours, loaded up everything we'd need for the rest of the race, and headed out on our first short bike leg.

Bike 1: (Race HQ to northeast bike drop) 4.8 miles, 25 minutes

I'd been looking forward to using the tow, but it took me a while to get comfortable with it again, especially on any spots that weren't pavement-smooth, and I dropped off a few times when the roads took us downhill and around turns. I'm much happier when I'm in control of my own destiny, but I know it was annoying to Mickey that I kept letting go, especially since most of those downhills led right into a subsequent climb. Since I hold the tow with my hand instead of hanging it around my stem, it's also nearly impossible for me to eat on the bike. Luckily, this wasn't much of an issue with the minimal bike time.

Since all of the bike legs were short, I'd opted to leave my chamois behind. Any qualms I had about this decision were dispelled a few miles into our ride when we rounded a corner and found the 361 team standing at a submerged low-water crossing.  A jeep was halfway through with water up to its doors. Mickey never hesitated; swinging off his bike he shouldered it, said, "You ready, Kate?" and headed across. I looked at the other team, shrugged, and followed dutifully behind.  At its deepest, the water came up to my hips. The dry socks I'd changed into at the TA had lasted me maybe 4 miles.

361 crossed just behind us, and Mickey teased them a little about getting shamed into going through the water. We then promptly missed a turn and rode up a big hill before catching our mistake, coasting back down and riding into the first bike drop shortly after 361. We punched the CP and then transitioned for our next trek. I had just finished putting on my second pair of dry socks when Mickey looked over. "You know we're going to have to cross that creek again on the trek, right?" Sigh. At that point I just accepted that I was going to have wet feet all day.

Trek 2: CP 11-17, any order. 7.4 miles, 2:10


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Trek 2. The orange line is our bike route in (from the right) and then out again (to the left).
(Mickey: Now THAT'S a beautiful plotting job!)

Once again you could get the CPs in any order. I voted for any route that avoided the creek as long as possible. Mickey led us directly to 15 and 17; we then climbed a spur and turned onto the doubletrack there, running into Scott and Kevin going in the opposite direction. More taunting ensured, followed almost immediately by a map check and the realization that we were the ones going the wrong way. I think this may have been the first time I suggested a link between the shit talk and navigational miscues.

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Powerline promised land. They are NEVER this clear!
Back on track, we tagged 14 and then followed a blissfully clear powerline cut (seriously, it was like a golf course or something) most of the way to 13. So far, pretty good, but the flat land after the CP was marshy and thorny. We retreated to the powerline, only to find this later section a veritable wall of thorns. Nope. We skipped the powerline and climbed back up to the road. Scott and Kevin, on the other hand, had a very different experience here.

We soon arrived back at the deep low-water crossing. Since my feet were already wet, I wasn't even sad about stepping in, though it felt even colder this time. The absence of our bikes made it easier to get pictures, and standing there in the middle for a couple minutes did wonders for my sore legs and feet.

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Mickey wondered aloud whether we'd be better off skipping 12, which required a not particularly friendly out and back hike. For once, I was the one advocating to go for it. "We're here, and it's still light out." I really wanted to maximize our daylight time since Mickey doesn't have a ton of night nav experience and my forte is blindly following Chuck (regularly occurring conversation after dark: Chuck: "You see how this spur narrows over there?" Kate: "It's dark out...I can't see anything.")

We started up the wrong reentrant on the way to 12 but quickly corrected. I think around here is where we ran into Scott and Kevin (again! Some teams we barely saw during the day, but we saw Scott/Kevin and 361 repeatedly), who'd done some swimming to escape the thorns and now had zero dry clothes as night fell and temperatures began to drop. Popping back onto the road, we ran into Dave and Amy and said quick hellos before tagging 11 and 16 on the way back to the bikes. Night was rapidly closing in, and we discussed what to do next as we changed into bike shoes.

For some reason, maybe because it had the most available CPs, we discussed going back past the TA to the Southeast bike drop. In retrospect, we had plenty of time to go in the race and it made little strategic sense to go there next, but the main reason I was against that idea was that I didn't want to cross that creek a third time and deal with the dropping temperatures in wet clothes. Instead, we decided to head to the northwest drop, where we could punch the TA and one CP that was right off a road before deciding what to do about the other two CPs there. Mickey quickly highlighted our route on the map, and then we took off.

Bike 2: (NE bike drop to NW bike drop) 6.4 miles, 43 minutes

This leg was mostly gravel but also required riding a piece of the North-South trail, some of which I recognized from last year, that was soft and muddy and not much fun. It still takes me a long time to get comfortable riding singletrack at night, and my nerves in combination with conditions made for slow going; if I wasn't walking because I'd bailed on something easy, I was walking because the trail wasn't rideable. The 1.5 miles of trail took us (me) about 16 minutes. I can only imagine how annoying it was for Mickey because I was really frustrated with myself.

I was so, so happy to turn back onto gravel. Back on the road and concerned about conserving battery life with a long stretch of darkness, I turned my bike light and headlamp to their lowest settings, immediately regretting this when we turned onto a muddy, chunky, rutted downhill that now I could barely see in my low light. If nothing else my glacial pace did allow me to spot the detour route around a gigantic mud puddle on the main road.

Trek 3: CP 18, 19, 20, any order. 2.4 miles, 1:03

The CP flag at the bike drop wasn't readily visible, but 361 found it as we finished up our transition, making it an easy grab for us. Scott and Kevin arrived just as we were starting our trek and asked where the flag was. Mickey refused to help, but as I followed him down the road I looked back at the guys and pointed them in the correct direction behind his back. (You mother&$%@er!!!)

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It was too little, too late in the karma department. We didn't walk far before Mickey suspected we were heading in the wrong direction. At first he thought maybe the road was going to turn the correct way; when it didn't, we stopped and looked at the map again. I had a bad feeling. "Were we supposed to..." [go back up to the main road] is what I was going to continue, but before the words were out of my mouth I thought about how we'd had to go off the road to get to the CP flag and that obviously that was the orange that hooked down to the B2 circle and my idea was stupid.

As it turned out, my idea was exactly right, but since I didn't say it out loud we followed the spur longer until Mickey realized what we'd done wrong. Thoroughly irritated with ourselves, we turned around and retraced our steps, confusing some teams at the bike drop. "Is there a bonus CP down there?" someone asked.

"No, just bonus steps."

That error out of the way, we made quick work of CP18 and briefly discussed going after 19 and 20. Still nervous about our night nav inexperience and realizing that I'd somehow lost the clue sheet (which, thankfully, we found on the ground where I'd left it at the bike drop), we opted to skip them in favor of the more easily approached CPs at the next bike drop, planning to spend any extra time clearing the final bike drop. In retrospect, the were clear attack points for both CPs and we had the time to go after them. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

Bike 3: (NW bike drop to SW bike drop) 6.7 miles, 1:25

We'd intended to take the North South trail between these bike drops, but after the miserable first stretch on the trail I asked about detouring onto the slightly longer gravel route instead. The suggestion was made with some trepidation as a similar decision during last year's LBL put Chuck and I on jeep roads that were considerably more challenging than the trail. I was nervous about repeating that mistake, but after the trail conditions we'd already experienced, we took the chance.

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Mickey tossed me the map so I could mark our route while he took care of some issues. Thankfully the roads were much better than I'd feared, because while the route was straightforward on paper it was less so in practice. We played a few rounds of "is this the right turn," and one total detour ("You're not the first team to hit this dead end," remarked the man parked where the road met the lake), and then had one final stretch where I trailed miserably behind Mickey, convinced that we were going the wrong way until our lights hit the reflectors of bikes already at the drop.

Mickey: What? No faith? LOL
Happy to have been wrong!

Trek 4: CP 21 - 22, any order. 1 mi, 48 minutes

We initially started off in the wrong direction, missing the road we needed because the other team at the bike drop was sitting across it, but Mickey almost immediately caught the mistake and we nailed these points. We took the spur to 21, and then instead of going back out to the road (purple line) which I'd have done, he led us straight to 22. We then took the road back to our bikes, quickly plotted our route to the next bike drop while eating, and then headed out.

Bike 4: (SW bike drop to SE bike drop) 5.4 miles, 51 minutes

We made use of the tow and had an uneventful ride, right up until we blew past the turn to the bike drop as another team trekked up out of it. This one was on me, because as we rode by I noticed the white poles marking the pipeline, but I was the one holding the clue sheet and didn't remember for a couple minutes that the clue for the bike drop was pipeline/trail. We should have written the clues on the map as well, I should get in the habit of looking ahead at the clue for our next point, and I should come up with a better clue sheet carrying method besides stuffing it in a baggie and then into my shirt. Anyway, that little oversight cost us 8 minutes.

Trek 5: CP 23, 24, 25, 27 (26 was already punched for all teams), any order. 5.9 miles, 2:52

We took the road to CP24, where we came upon a hilariously big CP flag (I'd left my camera on the bike, but BOR got a picture of it). From there, we retraced our steps back up the road, taking the long way to 23. We'd considered taking the low route along the creek to get there but thought the attack point might be hard to pick out in the dark.

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We initially overshot CP23, ending up one hillside west of where we wanted to be but crossed paths again with 361, who told us we were headed in the right direction. We had a smooth path back up the spur from CP23, back on to the road, and downhill through thorns to 25, which Mickey nailed.

The route between 25 and 27 featured me trailing as far behind Mickey as legal as I fought through thorns and brush. We reached 27 at the same time as 361, who opted to take the pipeline back to the bike drop. In what was arguably our worst decision of the race, we followed the spur back up to the road. The insanely thorny spur. I'm not sure whether I lost more hair or blood to the thorns, but it was awful. I was literally the closest to losing it I've been in a race, including the time I was stung all over by tracker jackers at Thunder Rolls. 361 rode past us after we finally got onto the road.

Looking at the map now, we could have followed the purple line road, which goes directly to the bike drop. We need to work on picking up on those details, especially late in the race when you tend to get tunnel vision. (Mickey: If there's any positive to our route choice, we did an excellent job hitting that spur, even while having to fight through the thorns.) Yes, and we didn't bleed out in the process. Two positives!

Bike 5: (SE bike drop to finish) 7.7 miles, 51 minutes

We met back up with Scott and Kevin at the bike drop. We knew they'd gotten one more CP than us, so unless they got really lost on the way back and came in after the cutoff they were going to beat us. Knowing how strong they are on the bike, I kept waiting for them to fly past us after we left. The trip back to the finish line was all good roads, a combination of gravel and pavement where we could maximize our use of the tow, and they never did catch us.

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We ended up finishing in 16:30, and I think even as we raced we could used that extra hour and a half to clear the course. (Total bummer. That was probably the best chance we'll ever have to clear a full-sized course. I think your previous experience with crappy roads in this area and the caution they caused screwed us.) That said, this is the closest I've come to clearing an 18 or 24 hour course. We made some mistakes, and we'd certainly have had more time if I'd been faster, but overall we did a really good job of managing our race. We made good decision, had smart strategy, and caught our errors much faster than at Mission.

Was it fun? Mostly type 2 fun. Even with a good teammate (which I had), it's hard to be the by far weaker person on a team. I spent a lot of the race frustrated that I couldn't keep up, but I always knew that he'd ease up if I asked and chose not to. While I couldn't go faster, I didn't have to slow down...I just wanted to. Most of the fun here came in pushing myself and being proud of the race we raced and of our results.

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Photo credit: BOR
This was taken during the first trek and the separation was largely because I'd been shedding a layer as I walked, but it's not an inaccurate picture of what the race was like. At one point later in the race, Mickey asked, "Are you going to walk behind me all day?" as if it was intentional. In a mark of my self control (and inability to catch up, and lack of a knife), I didn't stab him in response. 
Lessons? Mickey should stop talking shit to other people because he makes mistakes when he's distracted. (Meh.) Yes, that's his favorite part of most races, but I have to miss out on 18 hours of cheerful chatting because I don't have enough breath to talk.  We all make sacrifices. My main takeaway is to trust myself. Both times I doubted myself on nav I was right and would have saved us some time if I'd had more confidence. And in a similar vein, just maybe I shouldn't be so quick to assume I won't clear a course.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Shawnee bikepack day 1

There is cursing, and than an admission. "I don't have my tent."

We've just driven an hour to drop his Jeep in Elizabethtown and then an hour back to Ferne Clyffe to start our bikepacking trip, and Chuck's tent isn't in my car. I really don't want to drive another two hours to retrieve it, and I really don't want to share mine. Though I know it's not, I hopefully suggest, "Maybe it's in the trunk."  There's no tent, but we find a tarp, and I have extra tent stakes. Chuck has rope. The forecast is clear. Problem solved, for tonight anyway.

That hurdle cleared, I lift my pack. It's ridiculously heavy. Surely there's something I can leave behind. I dig through it and then once more. All I can let go of is a water bottle and a stick of deodorant. Chuck offers to carry some things for me now that he's one tent lighter, but I turn him down, telling him I need to live with the weight of my decisions. It sounds almost profound, but I mean it in the most literal sense possible. Part of this experience is learning what's actually worth carrying and what I can do without.

I think it was in Jill Homer's blog, where she's written extensively about her outdoor adventures, that I read "you pack your fears". Judging from my load, I'm afraid of being hungry, being thirsty, and having wet feet. I carry too much food, too much water, too many pairs of socks. For water purification, I have a Steri-Pen and iodine tablets, just in case. This, as it turns out, is a good thing, but still...My bike weighs 29 pounds. My gear, including the pack I'm wearing, is 30.2.

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Chuck and our loaded bikes ready for adventure!
We finally start, and my legs aren't concerned about any of this. We start to climb out of Ferne Clyffe and I downshift. After a year on a singlespeed this feels like magic, like cheating. I've been saving for years for my Tour Divide bike, but since the ti Fargo I'd finally decided on is unavailable until at least the next model year, I'm making do with what I have. This weekend, I have no complaints. My Trek Xcaliber handles great fully loaded. It's a little bit of a drag on pavement, where Chuck's Cutthroat cruises along, but I feel totally confident on the trails, and with 60 pounds of bike + gear I build up effortless speed on downhills.

The night before we left I stayed up til 2 a.m. making a river to river route on the Gaia gps app, and we pull it out almost immediately when we make a turn too early. This trip will be one long game of "is it a driveway or a road", and we've guessed wrong this round. We have so many maps. Annotated forest service maps downloaded from a River to River hiking blog (one of the main resources I used in planning this), equestrian maps I bought from the Forest Service office in Vienna, a Shawnee region State of Illinois cycling map, and a forest road map. We end up using everything except the forest road map. We spend plenty of time staring at maps and still make wrong turns. It's all part of the adventure.

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Blaze at the first intersection. The dot of the i points the direction of the turn.
Leaving Ferne Clyffe, the trail is the road. We make quick work of the first miles, agreeing that it's much better on bike than on foot.  Information about cycling the River to River trail seems best described as "it's complicated". It's not expressly forbidden anywhere I've seen, and we've ridden parts of it in races permitted through the Forest Service. I specifically asked at the ranger station and wasn't told no (or yes, for that matter). Just because it's legal, of course, doesn't mean it's a good idea, but sometimes bad ideas make for good adventures and Chuck was the perfect partner for such an undertaking. We've raced together enough that I knew the weekend could be a trainwreck and he wouldn't be rattled. Plus, someone had to read all those maps.

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Better than what I expected given the amount of rain the area has had. There was actually a river flood warning until Saturday morning.
Not quite 6 miles in, our route turns from road to "road" and then to trail. Riding our bikes through this pine forest is magical, and we're both delighted we hadn't let the initially sketchy weather forecast scare us away.

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Apparently all these trees were knocked down in a powerful "inland hurricane" several years ago. From the looks of things, they haven't been cleared that long. Good timing on our part!

We follow the trail down from the pine forest over the Dutchman Lake dam, and then along a mix of trail and road to an intersection with the Tunnel Hill bike trail. I want to ride through the eponymous tunnel, so we detour north, taking advantage of the smooth trail to eat sandwiches while we ride.

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Trestle just south of the R2R intersection
Tunnel Hill is a lot like the Katy Trail with different scenery and higher bridges. Though I'd been looking forward to the easy surface, my mountain bike is much less fun on the flat bike trail than the River to River. The miles go by quickly, but the time passes slowly. The tunnel is worth it, though.

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The tunnel is longer than it appears here, enough that you can get a little disoriented and it would be easy to run into the side if you lose focus.

Both the trail and bike maps show the trail intersecting with Gilead Church Rd, which we could then take to reconnect with our River to River route. Simple, just take the trail to the intersection, then turn right, but we never find our turn. After staring at maps and Gaia, we eventually realize that the "intersection" is actually where the road crosses over the tunnel. We pull onto the narrow county highway and cringe our way to the top of the hill. I think about how I promised Jeff we'd be sticking to safe, quiet roads and hope no one hits me and makes me a liar.

Snik...snik...snik...The velcro on my seat tub bag scrapes the inside of my knee with each pedal stroke. I try folding it over on itself, but that doesn't help. I think about asking Chuck if he has any duct tape, but instead I keep riding. Snik...snik...snik... By the time we stop for the night my knee is raw.

Gilead Church Rd. is a downhill delight, and all too soon we reach the turn to get back to River to River. We'd initially routed ourselves away from this stretch of creek-bottom singletrack, but that route is marked on a different map and our forest service map beckons us forward: "nice bluffs here".  How does one skip nice bluffs? One doesn't; this is an adventure, after all. We plunge down the gravel road, Chuck's American flag fluttering in the wind, and turn onto rutted up mud.

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The trail follows a creek bed. There are cool rocks. The bluffs are, at best, nice -- definitely not spectacular. Definitely not worth the 2.5 hours it takes us to push our bikes through horsed up mud and over trees and rocks. We rarely ride more than 50 feet at a time. Bikepacking here, I tell Chuck, is like mule-packing, but you have to push and pull and carry the mule as well. I wonder if I'll be able to lift my arms tomorrow. It's pretty but I don't take any pictures. I need both hands to wrangle my bike.

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We finally escape the creek bottom and manage to ride a little more. I take a picture of my bike with flowers. It looks and feels like spring. For a few minutes this no longer feels like a bad idea, and then the trail drops back down a rocky, muddy slope that's only partly rideable. We finally pop back out onto the road. I'm so over the trail, and that's ok because now we're going to revisit Trigg Tower, which we last saw sometime around midnight in last June's No Sleep 24 hour.

We ride gravel to highway 147, enjoying its nice, wide shoulder before turning onto Trigg Tower Rd. We begin to climb and I notice the huge hills looming to our right. "It would break my heart to look up there and see the tower," I tell Chuck, who tries to tell me exactly which one we're headed to. I refuse to listen, leaving him to bear the weight of that knowledge. I'll carry my own gear; he can keep the bad news.

Two huge dogs spot us and begin to chase. We speed up and they fade back, or so we think. A little further ahead the slope gets steeper and we have company again. One is a Great Dane whose head reaches our grips. Chuck suggests that they tow us, but the dogs prefer to watch us work. If they wanted to eat us, all that would be left is a pile of bones. They walk beside us as we struggle up the climb.
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Trigg Tower
People are already on the tower when we arrive. They show no interest in leaving, and I don't mind because I've just realized that to see the daylight view from the top I'll have to climb it again. The two guys finally come down, but a family has just pulled up and goes up next. The sun hasn't set yet, but the afternoon has already cooled off a lot. I add a jacket and cover my ears. As the family climbs back down the stairs, the daughter asks incredulously, "How are you wearing shorts??" I tell her it was a lot nicer when we started riding, but the truer truth is that I'm too lazy to pull out my leg warmers.

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Our bikes look very small from the tower.

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Me and my new BFF.
The dogs follow us to the top of the tower, which does nothing to soothe my nerves. We take some pictures and then I white-knuckle back down, dogs swirling around my ankles. We look at the maps again. It's nearing dark and time to find somewhere to sleep.

Chuck picks out a forest road off of Highway 147. The highway is signed as a bike route and has a nice shoulder. The few cars are unfailingly polite, giving us wide berth as they pass. The paved miles pass quickly, and we reach our turn. This is more of a road than some of the others, but there are some sketchy places. Chuck glances down at his chain and rolls off the road into a big rut. "What the hell are you doing in that ditch?" I laugh, echoing his taunt years ago when I did something similar.

We pass up a potential campsite to find the creek and treat water. My Steri-Pen's batteries had enough juice to light up when it turned it on back at home but are not, it turns out, full enough to actually purify the water. I'm glad I brought the iodine. Chuck's filter works perfectly and quickly. I think I may be making a new purchase. We push back up the hill to the spot Chuck has picked out, build a small fire, set up our tents (well, my tent and his tarp).

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My JetBoil lights using the igniter, so I don't have to use the lighter that scares me. I make a cup of hot chocolate even before I make dinner, and it's perfect. I cook my heaviest meal (literally the heaviest, a premade rice dish that weighs twice what my Mountain House meals do) and eat both servings as well as some bacon jerky. We sit around the fire and drink some whiskey and I'm in bed before 10 for some well-earned sleep. It's been a darn near perfect day.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

2018 Rocheport Roubaix

Long, long ago (like 2009), when I realized that it was possible to ride a bike more than 20 miles at a time, I did a lot of organized road rides, the kinds with marked routes and SAG and regular food stops. My main riding partners were my brother Jim and his friend Scott, but on occasion neither of them was available and I'd have to decide between staying home and going alone. Maybe for some people that would be an easy decision, but I'm a lot shyer than most people assume, and going by myself was really intimidating.

Still, I'd spent a lot of time during my first marriage unhappily sitting home because no one would go with me, and one of the most valuable lessons I left with was to take responsibility for my own happiness. This time around, if it was a choice between missing out and social discomfort, I usually went,  and I never regretted the decision.

I'm pretty spoiled as far as riding partners now, but I was reminded of this Saturday afternoon when my Sunday plans imploded. I try to save at least one weekend day for family, so I'd skipped riding with Mickey that morning in favor of mountain biking in the nicer weather predicted for Sunday. Now I had no Sunday plan or riding partner, so I pulled up my big girl pants and made a new plan.

I opted to drive 2.5 hours to the Rocheport Roubaix, a 67-mile gravel/pavement hybrid race. While I wasn't stoked about going alone I knew I'd get a challenging ride and a good objective look at my bike fitness compared to my three other trips to this race. The fact that the race also offers SAG support didn't hurt, either.

I had enough time to get myself ready without too much wandering around like a lost lamb. I saw lots of familiar faces, and I got to meet Carrie in person, say some quick hellos, and catch up a little with Joe and Jenny before the National Anthem and the start. The temperature was in the mid-thirties but with it predicted to rise into the 50's I'd opted to start in knee warmers and a jersey over my base layer. I had a just-in-case jacket tucked in my back pocket, but I prefer to be a little chilly over hot. My rule of thumb is that if I'm comfortable before I start riding I'm probably overdressed, and I was definitely not comfortable.

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Rolling out from the start, blissfully ignorant of the slight mechanical issue I was about to discover.
The race begins in downtown Rocheport with about a quarter mile of flat pavement before you hit the first hill. Apparently some people have this little voice that reminds them of things they need to take care of; if that's the case, mine woke up right around the time I downshifted on the climb. Uhhhh, my bad...remember how the bike wouldn't shift into the smaller chainring last weekend? We maybe should have done something about that, huh? This was a slightly bigger issue on the hilly Rocheport course than the flat Katy trail ride of the previous weekend.

I saw my Team Noah teammates Adam and Chuck (not to be confused with my Team Virtus teammates Adam and Chuck) as they -- and basically the entire race -- passed me as I crept up the hill.  Other than the social time it was a pretty demoralizing beginning.

The first turn onto the gravel revealed roads that were rather more wet than advertised, making me more cautious on the downhill, but I soon calmed down and rode normally. Before long I began picking off people here and there, drafting behind others when possible, but usually that didn't last long before I was passing them and back on my own.

My nutrition was thrown together as hastily as my race, so I had one bottle of weak Perpetuem (not out of date but definitely not fresh) and one mixed with a baggie of Roctane I'd found left over from another event. I had a bladder full of water in my frame bag and an assortment of candy and chews to supplement the drinks. The Perpetuem, which I usually like, tasted kind of gross and upset my stomach, so whether or not the it was actually to blame I only drank about half of the bottle before switching to the Roctane.

The day was sunny and cool with a steady 8-10 mph SSW wind. I recognized a lot of spots from previous races, and as the route began to parallel the Katy Trail I realized I was about to turn onto the flat, open section around the big tree, which is always better with company. I chased down two guys who were ahead of me in the distance, thinking "Close the gap"... just like on Zwift and then laughing at myself, and stuck like glue to their back wheels through the crosswind and into a brief tailwind.

We closed in on two other riders, who turned out to be Josh and Carrie, as we left the open area and began climbing a slight incline. My new buddies started talking about the Epic with Josh. At first, determined to take advantage of drafting, I stayed behind them, but I got impatient and struck out on my own again.

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Flat roads along the river on that final outbound loop.
It was kind of fun to head out on the final outbound loop of the course for the first time (after always doing the 50-mile race in the past) but less fun to encounter the gigantic hill along the way. I'd passed a couple with a girl who looked like she could be around my age when they'd stopped to eat, and I kept expecting her to pass me back as I walked uphill. I didn't feel too bad about it, though, because almost everyone around me was walking it as well.

My sole navigational bobble was at the end of the loop. I confidently passed the aid station at the intersection leading back towards the finish line and then got nervous. Was I right to turn there? Not sure, I stopped and pulled out my cue sheet, ascertaining that I was, indeed, in the right place just as the couple passed me back. Damn.

I didn't lose too much ground to them and caught up again as we all turned onto the downhill leading to the timed KOM climb. "I'll probably be walking it," she told me. Having walked a chunk of it last year -- with all of my gears at my disposal -- I fully expected to be doing the same this time as well, but instead I made it, barely outpacing another girl who was pushing her bike ahead of me.

The return trip should have been fun -- ticking off landmarks, counting down miles -- but my legs started cramping badly with around 20 miles to go; I hadn't brought my usual ibuprofen and electrolyte baggie, so my only recourse was to keep drinking and keep my gearing low and spin. The couple I'd been leapfrogging caught me again as we hit Mt. Celestial Road. She mentioned coveting my fender, while I silently envied her company.

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OK, this is basically the same picture as the one above, but I'm smiling, plus you can see from my spotted shirt and glasses that a front fender might have been nice, too.
Making the turn back towards the McBaine flats and the big tree, I clung to her wheel as she drafted behind her husband. My cramping legs were killing me, but I refused to get dropped in the open flats. We added Ron in that section, and he and I rode on when the couple stopped just past the aid station to eat something. "She'd be 30 minutes ahead of me if they'd start eating on the bike," I told him.

Ron's company helped the miles pass more quickly, and I cruised up one hill only to recognize, at the top, that it was the former KOM segment. That seemed way easier than I remembered. Not easier were all the rollers in the last 10 miles. No matter how many times I do this race I always forget that part. Thankfully most of the downhills gave a good enough lead-in that the subsequent climbs were manageable, but I did miss one downshift and end up walking the top of one hill.

The hills exacerbated my cramps, and Ron pulled ahead as I pedaled miserably behind him, reminding myself you'll feel fine once you get to the end, you've only got a few more miles. My self-encouragement eventually failed, and I stopped in a flat section hoping to find a packet of Motrin tucked into my frame bag. Thankfully I did, and while the medicine wouldn't kick in until after the race, I still felt renewed and ready to tackle the last miles. My late-race meltdown is obvious in my strava results, though, where the last 7 miles are completely lacking in PRs.

If the final paved miles are a gift, the last couple small uphills before that long-awaited downhill finish are the overly-taped wrapping paper, but eventually I was cruising back down into Rocheport, catching Ron along the way: "Come on, the torture is almost over!" Rounding the last corner and rolling to a stop was sweet relief, and my buddy Craig's finish-line commentary made me feel like a star even if the first woman had finished something like 40 minutes before me.

I was 6th woman overall (out of 12) and first in my age group. Of course, I was also the only one in my age group, so I'll just assume that everyone my age would have been slower if they'd showed up. It's hard to treasure a medal you "win" by default, but I didn't turn it down, either.

One one level I'm pretty stoked that I was able to ride almost everything in my big ring, but since that's technically a self-inflicted mechanical I think it needs to go on the "things to work on" side. Also there would be avoiding leg cramps and building some mental toughness. Stopping for medicine with less than 10 miles to go? Lame. Wallowing in misery instead of pushing through and getting finished sooner? Needs improvement.
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Overall I was happy with the race. I stayed focused and didn't make any silly stops (well, other than medicine with something like 5 miles to go). I rode alone but made use of drafting when it was available. Best of all, other than there at the end of the race when my legs were exploding, my day was filled with best times on segments. It was an encouraging report on how my bike fitness compares to previous years, and as such definitely worth the drive.

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Team Noah Foundation representing
 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Too dumb to stay home

“This is stupid,” I thought as I squinted through the curtains of snow replacing those my windshield wipers had just chased away. Driving in the snow is one of a long list of things that scare me, and in deference to that I’d packed my plastic baggie wallet with not only cash, my license, and a credit card, but also my medical insurance and road assist cards. If my slow departure hadn’t doomed me to being late, my overly cautious driving surely would. 

I’d woken up on time and stared for a while at the falling snow before texting Mickey to bail on our planned ride, one which wouldn’t thrill me under good circumstances and was a definite no in this weather. “How about the Katy?” he countered. “How soon can you be there?”

In truth, the roads were fine and the temperature, hovering around 32 degrees, was nowhere near the coldest I’ve raced and trained in this year, but somehow that never matters when it’s time to get out of bed. I’d dithered around trying to decide which layers would be best for a long flat ride instead of the protected trails I’d anticipated. Only after leaving the house for the third time did I realize I should have brought a rain jacket, but I wasn’t going back in again. 

A few miles down the interstate a grudging appreciation for the morning beauty kicked in. I’m a sucker for snow-covered trees, and they lined the first part of my drive. Pulling into the parking lot an hour later I had to smile at the cluster of cars. We were idiots, but we weren’t the only ones. 

I pulled on my riding gear — shirt and wind jacket over my base layer, boots, buff, and gloves — and stuffed extra layers in my pack in case I’d guessed wrong. Waving to the mountain bikers just returning to the lot, I headed down the Hamburg trail to meet Mickey, who’d started ahead of me with plans to double back. I hoped his head start had given him enough bonus miles that he’d hit his intended 50 without me having to ride extra. 

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Snow still falling
I wouldn’t have driven an hour to ride alone, but I liked starting that way, easing into the cold with a few photo stops. Warm weather earlier in the week meant there was no ice under the fluffy snow, so I'd left my fears with my car and moseyed happily down the trail, waiting for the cold to numb my face enough that the pelting snow flakes would stop stinging. By the time I met up with Mickey near the Hamburg/Katy junction, I was comfortable and happy to be out on my bike.

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The swervy tracks aren't mine, but they could be.
We spent a few miles talking about our upcoming adventure race before I began to drop back from our decidedly non-aggressive pace. I'd been excited about the ride; coming off an accidental rest week my legs should have had plenty of zip. Instead, they felt lousy, bad in a different way than normal. 

Sometimes you just need to resign yourself to being uncomfortable and settle in until suddenly you realize you feel fine again. My method of this is generally to pedal at whatever sad pace I want until the better feeling kicks in. I'm not one to push and suffer when I'm already feeling bleak. Is that a good attitude to take competitively? Probably not. Will it change? Also, probably not.

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Wishing I'd brought a cycling cap to shield my face since the sunglasses just got covered in droplets.

"So are you just going to ride behind me all day?"

Probably.

I ticked off the landmarks and mileage on the way to the restaurant. Defiance, 7 miles. Augusta, 13 miles. The stretch of Katy after Augusta is not my favorite, even covered with a light snow blanket, and a paved option was tempting. "If it wasn't so gray out and I had a taillight and wasn't wearing black, I'd vote to ride the road here."

Near Dutzow, Mickey mentioned, "I'd like to get to 30 miles before we stop."

I looked at him suspiciously. "What's your mileage now?" 

It only cost me another four miles, so I didn't put up much resistance. We made the first bike tracks after Dutzow, and we had a scenic bridge as our turnaround spot.

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We left our helmets and wet jackets on the restaurant's porch, and I immediately replaced my damp top layers with the extra shirt I'd packed along. In the process, I dragged the sleeve of the shirt I'd just removed through the toilet. The water was clean, but still...ew. Guess I'm not wearing that back.

The only available tables were between the front and back doors, so every time someone came in a cold breeze hit me. I sat shivering until I realized I'd also brought a fleece jacket. Overpacking, like membership, has its privileges. 

The trail was no less soft on our return trip, but initially I was too distracted by how cold I was to obsess over anything else. Soon, however, I'd warmed enough to regret the (blessedly dry) fleece jacket I'd replaced my damp shirts with.  What pairs best with overheating? In this case, renewed struggle on the soft surface. This makes you stronger, I told myself, it’s good for you to have to work hard. Beneath that positive thought, though, was familiar self-doubt: I thought I was in better shape. 

Trailing far enough behind Mickey to avoid his gravel spray, I gasped out, “Road!” as we approached the Augusta Bottoms intersection. He pulled aside to mess with his taillight. Knowing he’d easily catch up, I kept riding. After 30 miles struggling to hit 14 mph, I sped along the pavement at a near-effortless 17. Relief swept over me;  wasn’t slow— the surface was. That’s right, Katy Trail...it’s not me, it’s you. 

The pavement helped the first third of the ride pass quickly, and when we pulled back onto the trail I was at peace with the sloggy pace. This time it was me stopping at the Augusta trailhead, giving Mickey the time to develop more ways to torture me. "Ok...Klondike Park, Matson hill, or the Lost Valley gravel: you have to pick one."

"None!" I scoffed, but he's pretty good at, if not convincing me, suggesting things I know I should do and then waiting for me to take the bait. I did some quick calculations in my head: Klondike would require a slog through soft gravel at the bottom, Lost Valley would require two wet gravel climbs, Matson was a long gravel climb -- that I'd almost certainly walk -- and then lovely pavement. "Fine...Matson."

Mickey peeled off to ride through Klondike as well, and my easy pace left plenty of time to enjoy the view and appreciate just how beautiful this part of the Katy is, sandwiched between towering bluffs and the river. My pace also left him plenty of time to catch me before Matson despite his extra miles, probably in part because he didn't fully trust me to take the detour.

I walked part of the hill, getting off the bike even before I absolutely had to. I can't remember if I've ever made it all the way to the top without walking. I should make that a goal for this year, should stop avoiding things that are hard, should stop hiding from my trainer and binge-watching old episodes of Modern Family...

We rode a few more bonus miles and then splashed our way through the lower part of Hamburg.  The subsequent climb was nothing after Matson Hill. We rolled back into the parking lot with bikes camouflaged in layers of gravel spray and a little over 50 miles for me. All in all, it was a pretty good day, especially considering I almost stayed in bed.

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I just got these things cleaned from last year's Land Run! Also, my feet got soaked.
What got me going? It used to be the joy of going out in what many people would consider stupid weather. Today my main motivation was commitment and resignation. I'm not sure if that means I'm growing up or just getting old. Regardless, I'm glad I went.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

January recap

Races: Little Woods trail race and the Frozen Feet half marathon, both of which have their own race reports.

Frozen feet half
Frozen Feet
I also went to an orienteering meet at Babler State Park and managed to clear the red (most difficult) course with time to spare. That was a particularly good feeling because Babler was the site of my first (disastrous) attempt at orienteering solo.

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My favorite control location
Training: This year I set both mileage goals (for bike and on foot) and time goals (for strength training and yoga). I did the same thing last year and fell pitifully short, but over Christmas break I got a new smart trainer (thanks, Christine!). That, in combination with Zwift, has contributed to me logging about twice my typical January bike mileage. Since this trainer can adjust resistance to simulate hills and Zwift has a number of available workouts, my indoor rides feature a lot more intensity than in the past.
  • Bike goal: 5,000 miles. January mileage - 330 (6%)
  • Foot goal: 500 miles. January mileage - 51.1 (10%)
  • Strength training goal: 50 hours (basically an hour a week, not counting the first two weeks of Jan. before I set the goal). January hours - 1:07 (2%...ouch)
  • Yoga goal: 26 hours. January hours - 1:36 (6%)
With Tour Divide creeping ever closer (2.5 years!), I'm feeling the pressure to add mileage (and hills! And get some actual bikepacking experience!), but it's important to me to still maintain some semblance of running ability. I'm hoping that some regular yoga will help return some flexibility to my increasingly stiff body. The strength training goal is the one that feels the most counterproductive. I love getting stronger and the way I feel after I've lifted weights, but if I lift too close to a bike ride, my legs are fried. That makes fitting in all the workouts challenging.

All the weather: Temperatures ranged from -2 just before the start of the Little Woods race to the mid 60's on one Sunday gravel ride.

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Recipes: I got an Instant Pot electric pressure cooker for Christmas, and it's added some spark back into my relationship with the kitchen. I love to eat, don't mind cooking, and hate having to come up with all of the meal ideas. Having a new toy has been fun, and I've made probably ten new recipes since Christmas. Some favorites: loaded baked potato soup, Mongolian chicken, stuffed pepper soup, and beef stew.

Books: The Passenger (really enjoyed it), Behind Closed Doors (awful), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (liked it, didn't love it).

Family: We're planning a vacation out west, which will certainly involve hiking, this summer. That's given Jeff and Jacob a little more motivation to done some training of their own. Towards the end of the month we hit Don Robinson State Park, one of the newer state parks in Missouri, for an afternoon hike.
Don Robinson SP
Adding a friend to the mix always makes the kid (who somehow is now my height) more cooperative.
 Such a beautiful park! We hiked into and along a sandstone canyon on a four-mile loop trail that would be a great place to run. I would have loved to explore along the other trail, but daylight and my 14 year old were fading. I can't wait to go back.

What's up for February: There's an orienteering meet at Meramec State Park, a possibility of bikepacking, and maybe I'll do the Rocheport Roubaix again. Other than that, lots more miles on the bike as I prep for May's Coast to Coast gravel race.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Frozen Feet 2018

It's like all of a sudden this turned into a running blog. Three consecutive running-related posts? I don't even know who I am anymore.

Though two out of my three brothers consider my racing endeavors excessive if not flat out ridiculous (to be fair, probably all three agree with the excessive part), they somehow chose significant others who are more on my page. Kristy was actually the instigator of my first 5K, and Katie has run all kinds of half marathons. That gave us a ready-made little running group.

Though complicated by busy schedules (and my resistance to early-morning runs), we've managed to hit the trails on a weekly basis since September. While that doesn't sound like much, it effectively doubled my weekly running rate.  Once such run came after Katie had gone out of town to meet friends for a race, only to have most of the group drop down to the 5K. A 7 hour round trip for a 3-mile race was hardly worth it, especially when you've been looking forward to longer miles with friends, and she was a little salty about it when she got home.

"We should pick out a half marathon," I heard myself saying. "I'll run it with you."

Source
And that's how I found myself at LaSalle Middle School on January 20, waiting until the very last minute to head out to the starting line. In fact, because I'd misjudged when our wave would start, we actually crossed the parking lot just in time to see the final group of runners take off. We reached the start as the few race volunteers and spectators were heading back into the school. "Just go ahead," one of them muttered as we slunk by.

Frozen feet half
Thanks to my friend Dave for showing up pre-race to hang out with us and get this picture of our start.
While this was hardly the first time I missed my starting wave, it was the first time I've missed all of them. I wasn't even bummed. When you literally start last, there's pretty much nowhere to go but up. We quickly caught the walkers, and then a few runners.

Our first mile was in the 10:15 minute mile range, but we reined that in a bit as we hit the Al Foster trail. I'd worn my Garmin but mostly ignored it, running by feel and whatever Katie wanted to do. Well, unless she wanted to quietly listen to her music. She'd mentioned having her ipod charged for the race, but we kept up a steady conversation instead. This isn't the hashtag race report, but #sorrynotsorry. It's so rare that my training partners are close enough to talk to that I savored every chatty moment.

The temperature was just below freezing at the start and warmed to about 50 by the end of the day, so it was perfect running weather. Trail conditions, other than the frozen ruts on the mile of singletrack, were really good, and the paved trail was clear of ice. We passed mile 4, and a dark shadow of a thought passed over me -- 9 miles left...9 miles sounds like a really long way -- before I pushed it aside and committed to no more math until mile 10 or so.

Frozen feet half
When you're at the back of the pack, there's plenty of time to get selfies and few people to block while you're posing.
The climb up the paved Rock Hollow trail was as long and annoying as ever, but at least it's pretty and I was able to point out lots of points of (debatable) interest from December's Castlewood AR. I always endure the climb with daydreams of how lovely the descent will be, only to remember on the way back down how not fun running downhill with sore knees is. On the other hand, by the bottom we had less than three miles left, and that was a nice consolation prize.

I'd done a much better job of eating and drinking than at Little Woods, so while my feet and knees were sore from the unaccustomed mileage, I felt pretty good overall. We plodded out the remaining miles, still doing a combination of running and walking until we reached the final stretch. One runner stood between us and the finish line.

"Let's catch him," I told Katie, " The distance between us began to shrink. "I think we can do it!"

"I'm trying not to throw up," she hissed in reply, to which I helpfully suggested that the finish line wasn't that far away and would be a great place to throw up or fall over, though hopefully not in the same spot.

As we closed in on him it was quite apparent that we could indeed catch him. Because he was walking.

When we made the pass, I glanced over to say something friendly, either hello or nice job. Tall and thin, he looked considerably older than my mom and was startled to see us. Breaking into a jog, he said, "You aren't going to beat an old man, are you?"

"We're certainly going to try," I replied.

He picked up the pace, crossed the finish line just ahead of us, and walked proudly away. We let him savor the moment. What he didn't know can't hurt him, but as I whispered to Katie, "We totally beat him. He started way ahead of us."

In truth, I thought he was awesome. I hope I'm outsprinting runners 30 years younger than me when I hit my 70's, but for the time being I'll savor my tiny victories where they come.

Frozen feet half
Finishers! And while the clock behind us doesn't reflect our actual time since we started in (after) a late wave, our finishing time was a personal worst for us both. But not a bad day of training at all!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Little Woods 2018 #racereport

This was my fifth year running in the Little Woods Progressive Ultra. Set up in a last man standing format, participants run a 4ish mile trail loop each hour until only one runner is left. The race may be ultra, but I am not, so for me it's just (free) reason to get myself out of bed on a cold January morning and run some miles. #motivation

Just like last winter, my last and first events of the year were trail runs. Unlike last year, I won't have another 11 months before my next foot race. I'm signed up for the Frozen Feet half marathon next weekend, so I wanted to run 3 laps and at least have run double digits once before the race. #training

I've been running on a semi-regular basis with my friend Katie and my sister-in-law Kristy ("#Squirrel") and convinced them both to sign up for Little Woods as well. "Convinced" is maybe an overstatement because it didn't take much more than mentioning it to them. It's a good thing they both signed up; it would have been really easy to look at the temperature on race morning and roll back over in my warm bed, but I couldn't be the one to bail. #peerpressure

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Temperature a half hour before the start
The 2017 starting temp was 3 degrees, so I knew that I'd be fine once I got moving. I checked back at my training log to see what I'd worn and basically copied that with the exception of different running tights since I've somehow lost the pair I wore last year (likely somewhere in my house). #disorganized

Each of us had a different attitude towards the weather conditions. Kristy was the most excited, I was more resigned, and Katie was questioning every life choice that led her to this point.

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Unsurprisingly, I was the last one of our trio to arrive, and I had to smile at the packed parking area. 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, negative temperatures, and a full house. I wasn't the only one who took note of the crowd.

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We got checked in, dropped off our food at the smorgasbord-style aid station, and lined up as late as possible at the start. In fact, the RD called out 3 minutes to go as I was on my way to the portajohn for that last-minute bathroom stop, but at least this year I made it out in time for the start. #timemanagementyo

Lap 1: #Ican'tfeelmyface

The three of us held back until most everyone had gone by and then stuck with a pretty casual pace, fast enough to make it back in time for the next lap, but slow enough that we wouldn't have long to stand around. The first mile or two were really cold. I'd worn thin knit gloves, and they were not sufficient. I tried slipping on my lobster gloves as I ran but couldn't get them on and settled for just tucking my fingers inside. #brrr #manhands

After mile two I felt better, never actually warm but no longer freezing. We ran and walked and chatted and laughed about how stupidly cold it was. Having spent a lot of time running on these trails, I played tour guide some.  And of course we stopped for a group selfie.

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The girls both have frosty faces, and my braid iced over.
We made it back with about 5 minutes to spare, just enough time to use the bathroom again and grab a quick drink before starting off again. #thatwasntsobad

Lap 2: #ifcomplainingisasportdoesthatmakemeaduathlete

I'd planned to run 3 laps, Katie had planned 2, and Kristy was going to do 1, but we all lined up again at the start when 9:00 rolled around again. Finishing this lap would be Kristy's longest run to date, and we celebrated when she reached her new distance PR.

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Christmas Eve snow still hanging around on January 7.
There was little to celebrate besides Kristy's new accomplishment. Even around mile 6 my legs -- which had held up just fine for longer on the much more difficult Pere Marquette course -- were getting pretty cranky. So was Katie, which brought out my (annoying) first grade teacher/cheerleader side until she explained that she wasn't really (that) crabby, she just enjoyed complaining. We did a bit more walking on this lap, making it back juuuust in time for me to hit the start/finish and turn around for my final lap. #ThisiswhereIusuallymentiongettingmoreraceformymoneybutthisonewasfreesoooooo

Lap 3: #everythinghurtsandI'mdying

I initially thought I'll run this faster and then be back home in a hot bathtub that much sooner, but I quickly regretted this plan. Carried along by the self-inflicted peer pressure of the group of people around me, I hung in for the first mile and then stepped off the trail when we reached the uphill at the beginning of trail 3.

The rest of the loop I alternated between (get it over with) running and (my legs are killing me why do my legs hurt so much) walking. Eventually it occurred to me that maybe they weren't so much sore as cramping. I'd opted not to carry a water bottle and only had a couple of sips after lap one. It's been so long since I've done any kind of distance running that I kind of forgot about all kinds of important stuff, things like drinking during the race and body glide before it. #amateurhour

I survived the last couple of miles by rationing walking steps (OK, that's 50 steps, you have to run now) and finished with about 12.3 miles, my first double digit run in two years. While it wasn't particularly confidence inspiring, it felt good to have a longer mileage run on my legs before the half marathon, and hopefully I'll make fewer bad decisions with the mental tune-up. #yeahprobablynot

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Starting temp: 0 degrees
Finishing temp: 11 degrees?

What I wore: Under Armor running tights (not enough...my legs were numb the whole time), thin wool liner socks with thicker wool socks, Salewa trail running shoes, thin l/s base layer shirt with 2 l/s tech shirts, fleece hat, buff, knit gloves (too light for the first couple of miles but fine afterwards).

Everything but my pants worked fine for the conditions.