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Monday, July 14, 2014

Tour d'oh(nut)

The Tour de Donut was the first bike race -- in fact, the first race -- I ever entered.  Way back in 2009, I lined up astride my hybrid bike, moderately terrified to be at the start line in a pack of ~1200 bicycles.  It's the first race in which I scored an age group win, scoring second place in the donut adjusted category (you get 5 minutes off your time for each donut you eat) the next year.

I spent a few years banking on donuts to get me to the podium before deciding that the chance (never again realized) of a donut-adjusted podium wasn't worth feeling sick for the rest of the day (and all those calories ingested in vain), and last year I took second place in my AG outright, one of my only podium finishes that wasn't directly related to a small number of entrants.

I approached this year's race with intentions of repeating my AG performance.  I even recruited a friend to be my domestique (a crew which grew to three by race day).  Last year I'd had to find wheels to draft off of; this year I brought my own.  Between this and finally lining up quite a bit closer to the front than usual, I had high hopes for victory.  Of course, one aspect of my race plan that was lacking was actual training beyond what I'd done in preparation for Dirty Kanza, and my morning nerves reflected the fact that I'd ridden maybe three times since May, none of these on my road bike.

I have no game face.
I drove to Staunton with my stomach in knots, met up with my friends Jim and Michelle, ran back to my car approximately 14 times to get things I'd forgotten, and eventually met up with Larry, Bill, and Dave, who I'd planned to ride with behind.

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Bill, Larry, Dave
We set off through town at a decent pace, and while the race is supposed to begin with a neutral roll-out at about 15 mph, we were going faster than that and barely in sight of the lead group.  I didn't really have any intentions of being a part of that front pack...seems like there are always crashes up there.  I don't have a lot of practice riding in a pack, and I was happy to let things play out in front in the beginning while I was safely out of the way.

Larry set a strong pace once we were out of town, and I was chasing to catch back on.  Some friends of the guys dropped a chain on their tandem right around the first hill, so Bill peeled back to help them out.  We flew down the hill, and I was happy with how I felt on the way up the other side; the first hill in any race is usually the hardest for me.  Once back on the flats, I shifted into a harder gear and immediately dropped my chain.  Damn.

"Larry, I dropped my chain!" I yelled ahead as I pulled to the side.  I saw him stopped on the side of the road as I put the chain back in place and started off again.  Immediately I heard a clunk.  Seriously? I looked down and realized my front derailleur was hanging loose on my chain.

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Bad news. :( It's supposed to be attached to the frame just to the left of the water bottle. You can see the whitish spots where the clamp broke off.

As I stood staring at my bike in dismay, Bill pulled up.  "What's wrong, kiddo?" I showed him my bike, and he told me, "You'd have to break your chain to get that off." Normally I carry bike tools, not because I know how to use them, but just in case I have a problem and they can help someone nice enough to stop and help me.  Unfortunately, I'd left my house in a hurry after being up since 5 helping Jeff set up for day two of our yard sale, and all I had with me was a spare tube.

Bill gave me the number for the SAG crew and rode off, and Larry had already gone (I found out later that, seeing me get started again after replacing my chain, he'd started as well, soft-pedaling until I caught up.  When two biggish groups passed him, he caught sight of a blue jersey and thought he'd missed me, chasing to catch up only to discover that it wasn't me. Our biggest failing here was not having a plan for what to do if there was a mechanical or we got separated).

As luck had it, there was a group of friends spectating the race about 50 feet from where my bike broke, and they offered me a drink and a ride back. I took the sweet tea but told them I'd just call the SAG crew.  I made the call and watched as rider after rider passed, some asking if I was ok.  "Yeah, I broke my derailleur," I'd answer sadly as they rode away.  I'm used to riding with friends who can fix my problems, so this was definitely a reminder that I really need to acquire some bike mechanic skills.

The guys spectating the race kept looking at the bike.  "I think if we undid this screw we could take [the derailleur] off," Jeff said, sending his son back to the house for some tools.  He'd taken care of that and was looking over where the cable attached when the SAG guys arrived, having had to follow the back of the pack to my spot, and quickly removed the cable, leaving me unable to shift in the front but still having the range of gears in the back.

They set the chain in the small ring and cautioned me to stay out of my hardest gears lest the chain jump to my big (harder) ring.  I did listen, but not well enough, and within a few shifts I hit one that felt different.  I noticed a little later that...oops, I was in my big ring now.  Well, if I needed to walk some hills, so be it. It certainly wouldn't be the first time I've walked a hill.

By the time the SAG guys finished with me, I was officially in last place.  I was disappointed to have my race derailed so early, but I was also a little relieved.  All that self-imposed pressure was gone; now I could just enjoy the ride.  Well, sort of.  Any kind of win was out of reach, but I still wanted to finish as well as I could, and my location at the very back of the pack (out of sight of the pack, actually) gave me plenty of carrots.

At registration we had the option of selecting whether we were competitive or non-competitive; you received a black or red number depending on your selection.  I began picking off riders within the first mile back and steadily passed through a sea of red numbers.  While it was really fun to pass so many people, my position at the back left me alone strategy-wise: there was no one fast enough to draft off of.  I was stuck doing all of my own work, and I put in a hard effort.  My first 5 miles (counting the time I was broken down and waiting for help) took me 42 minutes and worked out to be a 7 mph average pace; the next two 5-mile intervals took 14 minutes each, a 20 mph average pace.

My speed dropped slightly for the next 5 miles, down to 18.6 mph.  Not sure what was up with that since this segment actually had a slight downhill trend.  Maybe I was just getting tired. I was definitely getting hungry; along with the rest of my poor preparations for the morning, I'd neglected to bring anything with me beyond water and was starting to think about that second donut stop.  Only four more miles til the donut stop, and then just another 10 miles to the finish.  I'd finally started to see occasional black numbers, which was a slight boost.

After a fairly flat 15 mile stretch, miles 20-25 feature more hills.  I was a little worried how that would go with my bike stuck in the big chainring but was happy to realize that the rolling hills gave me plenty of momentum to sail through them with a minimum of struggle.  I still opted to stop for a donut at mile 24, reasoning that my time was already screwed and hey, I needed fuel.

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Mmmmmm...donuts...
In retrospect, I regret stopping because that 5-mile segment was my slowest since my mechanical and that leisurely donut stop cost me about 6 minutes. In addition to lack of training, I also tend to be more competitive about my performance after the fact than during.  What the heck, it doesn't really matter! VS Damn, that cost me 6 minutes! I maybe need to work on that.

Moving on...I maintained a donut-powered 17.6 mph average for miles 25-30 despite the biggest hill of the day (again assisted by a slight downhill leading into it).  I felt like I was crawling up the long grind, but eventually I hit the top.  I also found a temporary partner but after a minute or two of resting in his draft looked at my Garmin, saw a pace in the 16s, and realized it was time to move on.  Incidentally, his donuts kicked in later in the race and he passed me back.

When I finally caught up with Jim and Michelle, who'd started in the wave 15 minutes after me but passed me while I was waiting for SAG, I was delighted to finally have some company.  "Hey strangers!" I called out.  As we rode I told them about the roadside repairs and mentioned how "fun" it was climbing hills while stuck in my big ring.  Jim wasn't having any of that: "Just makes you stronger!"

The last 4 miles of the race have a couple of steeper climbs, nothing terrible, but you feel them at the end of a race.  I was a little worried that I'd end up walking them, but on a downhill just before them my chain randomly dropped off. I stopped, frustration mixing with resigned amusement: this bike hates me...I guess I'm meant to ride this race by myself.  Since I was about to hit the last hills, though, I took the opportunity to make things a little easier on myself and smugly placed my chain on the small ring.  At least now the hills will be a little easier.

Two miles from the finish, the course completes a big lollipop and passes a road we'd previously turned on, the one where my derailleur had broken.  I saw one of the men from the group who'd taken me in and waved happily at him.  One of the women who'd also been there recognized me and yelled out, "I know you!! Goooo Kate!!" It was really nice to see them towards the end of a race that had nearly been derailed so early.

So, I finished.  My total moving time of 1:51 was much better than the official 2:21 on the clock, but neither are what I wanted from the day.  Still, maintaining a 18.4 mph average (moving time...my official race average was like 14.4) with no one to draft off of tells me that I'd have done significantly better if my mechanical hadn't broken up my little pack of teammates.  That's at least a small satisfaction.

What did I learn from the day?

  • When recruiting teammates, don't forget to make a plan for when/if things fall apart.  
  • Organize my stuff the night before because I can't be trusted to remember what I need the on race morning. (OK, that's a reminder...I already knew that one)
  • I really, really need to acquire some bike repair skills. (another reminder)
  • I should be spending a lot more time in the big ring because it turns out it's not too hard for me after all 
  • No matter how your race goes, margaritas, pulled pork, and hanging out with friends make for a good finish.
Ribfest!



Thursday, July 3, 2014

Stubborn Mule 30-hr AR



Thanks to schedules and such, my adventure racing schedule was looking pretty empty this year, so when my friend Kelly posted a link to the Stubborn Mule AR in Wisconsin I was all in. I was really excited to tackle another long race; so far, 24 hour races are my favorite, and it seems like there are fewer and fewer of them around us. I was keeping a bit of a secret in the week leading up to race, though.

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That's me icing my knee.
After running trails 10 days before the race, I woke up barely able to walk on my knee and only with a pronounced limp. That boded well for a 30 hour race. If I hadn't already paid for the race, I probably would have dropped, and if we were only a 2-person team I'd have thought hard about trying to find a replacement.

As it was, if I started racing and my knee bothered me too much, the guys could continue on as a 2-person team.  Plus, I have a history of feeling really shitty right up til race time and then being fine as soon as it starts. Plus, I'm always limping sooner or later, so how much would it matter if I started out with a limp.  PLUS, I really wanted to race.  On Monday, I was still pretty worried.  By Thursday, I was cautiously optimistic, which was a good thing because we were leaving Friday morning.

Kelly and Matt picked me up around 11 or so, and we headed north to Wisconsin.  Our drive was featured multiple checks of the Wisconsin-area radar interspersed with laughter over the GPS's repeated helpful instructions: "In 2 miles, keep going straight." The sketchy weather forecast was borne out by a steady downpour as we neared the start location in Tomahawk, so we ended up getting hotel rooms instead of camping as planned.  I actually didn't have much to do to get ready, so I managed about 4 hours of sleep before the 3:15 wake up. That may be a new record, and it vastly surpasses my pre-DK sleep of 0 hours.

Race check-in started a 4:30 a.m., and there were quite a few points to plot before the race started at 6.  This is the first time I've experienced getting maps and plotting the day of the race, and it was pretty stressful, even for me and I wasn't involved in the maps.  While Kelly and Matt plotted points, I did what I could to get our stuff together, and that hour and a half passed WAY too quickly.  We got some last minute instructions and a pre-plotted map for the initial stage of the race, took a group picture, and were off!

Team challenge and land nav (6 CPs) 5.5 miles

Typically, in adventure racing and orienteering racers are given a passport which you punch to prove that you've been to certain checkpoints.  One interesting thing about this race was that for quite a few of the CPs you proved you'd been there by answering questions on the map or race instructions.

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Not for the first section, but it shows what I mean. Our race instructions were pretty battered by the finish.
We started off this segment with a run...and kept running.  This wasn't super good news for my knee or my haven't-really-been-running legs/lungs/everything else.  Kelly said early on to just speak up whenever somebody wanted to walk, but while it wasn't pleasant it was manageable, and I really didn't want to be that person asking to walk 5 minutes into a race.  Once I was warmed up it got a little better, and the first brief walking interludes were actually more uncomfortable for my knee than the running.  That said, when we eventually started walking, I wasn't disappointed.

Kelly: While I couldn’t tell Kate was injured I could sense she was reluctant to run much beyond the first mile or two.  Maybe it was when she said, “We are NOT going to run this entire race are we?”  Phrased as a question I don’t believe it snapped her long race with without complaining streak.  I am pretty sure that is when I told them my story of my very first adventure race when I dragged my bonking race partner “Downhill Bill” for a 12 hour finish.  

I think I actually asked that in the car.  I was getting very nervous with all the talk about Matt's 50K and wondering just what I was in for.



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ATV trail between (or maybe over) a lake (or lakes). Beautiful morning.
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Further down the trail.
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Love the trees. The race, in Wisconsin's Northwoods, was really scenic.
If you read my blog or my race reports, you know how much I love adventure racing.  I'd been looking forward to this race for months, and we were finally there.  I wanted to be there, and yet, as we were running from point to point, in my head I was already calculating how much time was left in the race ("29 hours left" is not a positive thought in this frame of mind) and asking myself, Why do I think this is fun? I've been racing long enough to know that typically, if you hang in there, things will get better.  Granted, I was in a negative mindset before anything bad happened, but if the only thing you need to improve is your thinking, that's a pretty good place to be.

We got 5 out of the 6 initial CPs, skipping one that needed to be plotted using headings from two other points when we weren't entirely sure how to do that (thanks to Boom Boom Pow for trying to help on that), and then checked back in at the race HQ (now TA1).  We didn't need a passport yet because we were going to "punch" by answering questions on our race instructions like for the first trek, but we needed to finish marking up the maps and doing some route planning.  Once that was finished, we headed off on our first bike leg.

Bike (3 CPs) 15* miles

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My hero
This bike leg was pretty much all pavement, with a little chip and seal and maybe some really smooth gravel.  Despite its gigantic tires, my mountain bike flies on paved roads.  It's a thing of beauty.  Another thing of beauty? The saddle my husband put on the bike after last weekend's disastrous race at Indian Camp Creek.

I always joke that if I marry again it'll be to a bike mechanic, but Jeff is pretty handy with replacing saddles, putting on water bottle cages, and adjusting saddle height.  In the background of the picture you can see my cross bike, which I brought in to use as a reference for how high my saddle should be (+2 inches) and how far back it should be (less far than it had been).  Between the different saddle and the adjustments, I was far more comfortable on my mountain bike, even with the heavy AR pack I carried.  Too bad it took me four months to get around to making those changes.

We got off to a fast start on the bikes, and I was delighted to not be running anymore.  We made quick work of the first few roads, and were about to make our next turn when I spoke up.  "Isn't Hwy 8 off limits?"

The guys didn't think so. I was pretty sure of what I thought I'd heard at the pre-race meeting, but I hadn't actually read the race instructions because the guys had been using them to plot the course, so I wasn't bet your life positive or anything. Kelly looked at the map and it wasn't marked off as off limits (there were some off-limits roads we'd had to copy/mark off from a master map), and it was the only route choice that made sense for where the CP was located. Because of those factors and the fact that neither of the guys had heard what I thought I had about Hwy 8, we went ahead and made the turn.

A little bit down the road we passed a silver pickup truck sitting on the side of the road, and as we rode by I noticed the driver was wearing a blue shirt like the race shirt.  I was pretty sure he was a volunteer.  A little further down the road, there was the silver pickup parked in front of us again. This time he got out.  "I have two things to tell you," he said, "One, you're off-course. And two, you're on highway 8 and you shouldn't be."

When we showed him the maps, it turned out we had CP7 (where we were headed) misplotted, which is why the off-limits Hwy 8 looked like the right way to go.  (Also, since I made a point of saying it wasn't marked off on the maps, I want to clarify that it does say in the instructions that it's off-limits.  We just managed to miss that when I brought it up before making the turn.) Since we were near CP8, we went ahead and got that one and then just moved on towards CP9.

Kelly: This was a major screw up on my part and could have cost us a race if we didn’t have such an understanding race director.  We had CP 7 and 8 plotted correctly but in my haste to pick our route had missed the fact that there was a country road that went directly to CP 7 and then on down to CP 8 on Hwy 8.  I had planned our route down the highway then out a legal major road to CP 7 then on down the country road to 8 but we changed maps right at the same location so I copied the route from CP 8 on the second map.  When we started the bike section I figured I’d be able to hit 7 and then move on to 8 without much trouble.  Getting on the bike I was just cranking down the road and blew past our turn for CP 7 and turned on Hwy 8 when Kate raised the red flag.  I had remembered them saying we could cross Highway 8 legally and use a snowmobile trail on the other side so we crossed and….no trail.  In the end I should have listened to Kate, slowed down and got my head straight.  

I think the lesson here is always listen to Kate, unless I'm wrong, which is probably more often.

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Matt riding down gravel almost smooth enough to be pavement.
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Matt and Kelly getting ahead of me while I document our race. :)

Although Matt has barely ridden a bike lately, he did great.  Kelly hadn't eaten breakfast in the rush to get to the race start and then to plot all those points, and he was definitely feeling it towards the end of the bike leg, but he soldiered through and we rolled into TA2 at Treehaven in good time.

Kelly: I was really not feeling well after this bike section which was probably due to a lack of breakfast, but I also noticed late in the ride that my front disc brake was rubbing somehow and may have contributed to my early bonk. Not cool….especially after telling the story of Downhill Bill.

* The race instructions say the bike leg was 15 miles, but I don't know how our off-course detour changed the distance we rode.  My guess is that we rode fewer than 15 miles, but without looking at the maps I don't know.

Land Nav (11 CPs) 6.3 miles


About to start the trek. (Photo credit: 180 Adventure)
My foot was bothering me a little bit in my bike shoe, so I was glad to be getting off my bike for a while.  In my book it's a measure of a good AR when the legs are broken up in a way that you change disciplines just as you're getting sick of the one you're on and Stubborn Mule pretty much nailed that.  Before we started on the trek I took a minute to change from my bike shorts to my trekking pants: as much as I prefer racing in shorts, pants cut way down on the thorn scratches/stinging nettle encounters, plus I'd treated my pants with permethrin (on the advice of the pre-race update and the voice of experience from Boom Boom Pow) and was looking forward to avoiding ticks, mosquitoes, and whatever bugs lurked in the woods. Plus everything just feels a little better when not encased in bike shorts for the whole race.

This was a really pretty area, but you'll have to take my word for it because I realized after leaving the TA that my camera was still in my bike bag, just far enough back that I wasn't interested in making the return trip.  Matt did the nav for this section, and he was dead on.  It's a good thing, too, because while the trails were nicely cleared doubletrack, any bushwhacking was through thick brush.  The off-trail hiking was complicated by the fact that a knee-height layer of thick-leafed plants obscured all of the branches, holes, and general forest debris lying on the ground.

We'd decided to attack the far points first and then hit the closer ones on our way back.  Route planning had to avoid some areas of private property.  At least one of the CPs was in an area so thick that you had to push small trees and branches out of your way for every step forward. Somehow Matt led us directly to the CP, thank goodness, because we could have searched forever out there. Definitely not one of those cases where you can look around and spot the flag if you're somewhat near.  Partway through Kelly had Matt give me the passport, and while at first I wasn't thrilled, it ended up being a good thing because suddenly I was the one spotting a few of the CPs.  While I hadn't been exactly dragging, it still picked me up some.

Kelly: I was pretty impressed with Matt’s nav on this section.  Kate did a great job spotting two or three flags in a row.  I on the other hand was starting to feel the heat of the day.  I was glad the bugs weren’t bad at the time as I unzipped my shirt half way and pulled the waist of the shirt up to my chest so that I looked like a deranged Jamaican dancer.

It was quite a look, and one more reason to regret having left my camera at the TA.

The forecast high was something like 81 degrees, and I don't know how warm it ended up getting, but it felt HOT (and that's with me coming from temps in the mid-90's around here). With about an hour left in the trek, I emptied my Camelbak and was really glad I'd stuck an extra water bottle in my pack.  We were all really feeling the effects of the heat and being in motion for 8 hours, and that's when we went looking for CP11.  The clue was stream, and while we didn't find the CP, the cold stream water gave us a new lease on life.  Kelly soaked his head, then filled his water bottle and sprayed us.  It felt amazing.

This is where I finally came back to life.  A combination of food and cool water had done the trick.  I was back in the game.  The area was just gorgeous with tall pines, birch and plenty of water. 

I think we'd all have welcomed a rain shower during this stretch, which makes later events slightly ironic. Timing really is everything.

We headed back to the TA after finding 10/11 CPs in around 4 hours.  Not bad.  My one disappointment from that section is that we never saw a bear, though we did see bear scat with muskrat bones in it. At least one racer did see a bear, and volunteers clearing the course the next day found a very clear bear print.

Photo credit: 180 Adventure
Back at the TA, we refilled our bladders and water bottles, got changed back into bike gear, applied some much needed sunscreen, and took off on our next bike leg.

Bike (4CPs) 15-27 miles
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If you look at the tree top directly over Kelly's right shoulder, you can
see how the wind is blowing.
This bike leg was pretty fun, mostly pavement, and I was delighted to be off my feet again.  We started out in full sun with a pretty stiff wind (not Kanza 2013 windy, but it was noticeable).  Kind of like at this year's DK, though, at least it helped keep you cool.

We found the first two CPs of this leg with no problems.  I did fall a bit behind the guys at one point, a pretty good downhill followed by a flat section and then another downhill, when I wanted to see if I could coast the entire section without pedaling at all.  (One of many many reasons in addition to lack of fitness that I'm not cut out for an elite team.)  And yes, I could. :)

Maybe halfway through the bike leg, we encountered a pretty good rain shower.  We rode through it for a little while until some thunder and lightning started.  At that point, Matt, who's not a fan of lightning, found a spot where we could shelter from the rain and wait out the lightning.  I hadn't noticed any mosquitoes all day, but they found us here.  One of the tricks to avoiding them must be to keep moving. Once the lightning moved on, we did too.

As we neared the town of Rhinelander, somehow we got off track.  I *think* the roads have had some changes since the map data was collected, and that threw us off. Matt noticed pretty quickly after our turn that something seemed wrong, but after looking over the maps and everything seeming like we'd made the right turn, Kelly and I pushed to keep going.  In retrospect, we probably should have looked even more carefully, because JMatt was right. Anyway, we ended up some distance out of our way, finally stopping at a Hardees for shakes and directions.  These mid-race stops for "extra nutrition" are starting to become a tradition; however, the boy at Hardees was far less invested in helping us make a quick transition than the waitress at the brewery during Goomna.

The USGS maps were dated 1986 so the bypass we were on was not on there.  But the shakes and directions put us back on track.  Probably added another 3 miles to the route.

I don't know how many miles we logged on this leg. I think the low end of the mileage range might be if you skipped the CPs along the way (total guess); if that's true, I think we rode in excess of the 27 miles at the high end of the range.  It certainly felt that way; as much as I hate paddling I was thankful that I'd be off my feet and bike.  It was a long bike leg, made longer by our detour, and we pulled into TA4 around 7 p.m.

Paddle section 1 (5 CPs) 11 miles and land nav (3 CPs 1.2k)

This first paddle leg was 5.5 miles up the Wisconsin River and then back down, with a stop for 3 optional trekking CPs.  Because we had to be past the rapids in the second paddling section before dark, we basically had to short course ourselves and skip this paddle section.  We'd already pretty much come to this conclusion before getting there.  Knowing how much I don't love paddling you can imagine that I wasn't heartbroken, and you'd be correct.  While we were there, Kelly did a bike polo challenge to get us one bonus CP, and then we moved on to the next leg of the race.

Paddle section 2 (1 CP) 12 miles and land nav (9 CPs) 4.5 miles

We had to portage the canoe (a super nice royalex one) around the dam at the TA before starting the paddle, and by "we", I mean the guys carried the canoe while I brought down our PFDs, packs, and the drop bag we'd sent to the canoe put in.  We left our bikes to be transported downriver but had to take our helmets/shoes with us in the canoe.  It was about 7:30 (12.5 hours into the race, or not quite halfway through, if you're counting...which I was) by the time we were on the water, and the volunteers had warned us that most teams were taking 2 hours to get to the rapids, a time frame which had us hitting them after dark.

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Matt in the front
Because the canoes only had two seats and we weren't allowed to sit on the thwarts, the lucky middle person (me) had to figure something out. We'd meant to pick up a beach ball to partially inflate and then use as a seat but had forgotten to do so.  Instead, I put my pack in a big dry bag and sat on it, not ideal but workable.  I don't think any of us were comfortable.  It's so nice to be off your feet, but as soon as you sit down leg cramps start to hit.   I know Matt's legs were really giving him fits in the front of the canoe, but there was nothing for us to do but paddle through.

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I'm smiling because I'm not paddling...
Matt and I had kayak paddles, while Kelly had a canoe paddle in the back.  This was my first time using a kayak paddle in a canoe, and I was not skilled at all.  In short order I'd managed to completely soak myself; thank goodness it was warm out! Kelly gave us some pointers about staying in sync with each other, and we made good time down the Wisconsin River, which is really beautiful.

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Kelly does not hate paddling. This nut has done the MR340 (a 340 mile canoe/kayak race) more than once!
The paddling leg was definitely the biggest test of my "no complaining during races" tradition.  I was pretty uncomfortable with my legs awkwardly sprawled in front of my pack and under the thwarts, I was paddling more with my arms than my torso, which Kelly did his best to coach me through, and I was paddling around the widest part of the canoe.  I thought back to something I read once in Emily's blog about how most of the things that bother you in a race will stop hurting once you're finished and did my best to keep doing my part to get us downriver (with a few breaks for photo ops).

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If it seems like there are a lot of paddling pictures, that's because you can't paddle and take pictures at the same time and my arms were hurting. ;-)
 It took us 45 minutes to get to the rapids, so we were moving pretty well despite our fully loaded canoe.  Matt did a great job calling out lines, and Kelly did a fantastic job navigating us through the best spots, but it was a little scary at times.  We stayed calm, kept paddling, and somehow managed to remain upright.

In the interests of getting off the river before it was too dark, we ended up skipping all of the land nav points except for the one at the recommended canoe drop that we could paddle up to and punch quickly.  In retrospect, skipping this nav section was probably a mistake.  Even if we'd only gotten a couple of the CPs it would have broken up the paddle leg and given us a chance to stretch our legs, which might have changed the way things played out downriver.  Lacking that hindsight, we punched that one CP and moved on.

Kelly: A stretch might have been nice but I’m still glad we didn’t stop there.  The river after the trek section had quite a few rocks and stuff to navigate and hitting it after dark was not my idea of fun.  

Further downriver we started seeing lightning in the distance. This had Matt's storm Spidey sense tingling, and it was making me pretty nervous as well.  I don't mind getting rained on, but I wasn't crazy about being on the river with lightning in the sky.  Kelly assured us it was really far away, but we all redoubled our efforts, and we made it to the take out at TA 5 sometime before midnight, taking the volunteers by surprise because they hadn't expected to see any teams for a while (because most teams stopped and did the land nav section).

I’ve done a bit of canoe racing and will have to say this was the fastest I’ve ever done any adventure race paddle section.  We were cranking.

We were SO thrilled to finally make it off the river, but our joy was tempered by Matt's announcement at the TA: "I'm done. My legs are cramping too bad.  You guys can go on without me, but I'm finished."

I won't lie. Rather than dismay, my first reaction was a small surge of hope that we could all quit, quickly eclipsed by the knowledge that I'd given up at Indian Camp Creek and it doesn't take too many such instances for quitting to become a pattern rather than an aberration.  If Kelly was still in, so was I.

Matt and Kelly went to plan out the route for our next bike leg while I got what I needed from the canoe drop bag and put everything else by the truck to be transported back to race HQ.  Taking off my soaked pants and changing into dry socks and shoes was wonderful. Boom Boom Pow had come off the river not long after we had, also skipping the trek, so I talked to them for a little bit before finding Kelly and Matt.  Once they had everything figured out, we set off again.

I pulled Matt up with me to go figure out his ride back to race HQ and go over maps for the rest of the race.  I was hoping to buy a little time and maybe he would feel better and maybe change his mind but no luck.  A bunch of 12 hour racers hanging out at a bar/grill at the takeout ended up dropping him off.  

Bike (1 CP) 20 miles

Though my ride satisfaction was greatly improved by the better saddle, I'd reached the point in the race where nothing was going to feel that good.  We initially missed a turn, but Kelly was on it and corrected before we'd gone a block out of our way.  Down to two of us, I tried to take a little more responsibility for helping with navigation and checked with him on what to expect and what turns to look for.

We were riding on primarily gravel/sand roads, and the rain we'd had so far had probably helped by packing down the surface.  Several of the roads had a bunch of twists and turns, often changing from one name to another and then back again, which got a little confusing...especially after racing for 18 hours.  We got to one intersection and Kelly sighed (or maybe cursed), "I don't know where we are..[my heart sank]...oh...we're here!" Thank goodness all the mailboxes we were facing reminded him of the question for CP44 ("How many mailboxes are on the NE corner?" It was 9, in case you're curious.)

Same old map issues.  Some of the road names had changed.  I was following along and staying in contact with the map but it had been a while since we’d seen a road that matched so when we finally got the intersection and road name didn’t match yet again I might have said a derogatory word in vain. Then I saw the mail boxes.

At 12:30, the rain started again. "I think we need to get on our rain jackets," Kelly said.  Before I'd even set my pack down the shower intensified to a downpour, and I still had to dig out the rain jacket I'd brilliantly packed in the bottom of my loaded pack.  I was freezing and drenched, but once I got the jacket on and started moving, and least the water soaking my clothes warmed up.

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Standing in the pouring rain, at 12:30 a.m., 18.5 hours down/11.5 to go (but who's counting).  Nothing to do but laugh and start riding again.  That's what AR is all about.

The next hour or so until we reached the TA was the biggest struggle I've ever fought against sleep in a race. I was surprised to have such a hard time because I'd done three previous 24-hour races as well as 19 hours at Dirty Kanza without any issues, and at this point we were only around 19 hours in.  I'd even gotten four hours of sleep the previous night, which is a lot before a long race.  Whatever the reason, I couldn't hold a straight line to save my life, and a couple times when Kelly stopped to check the maps I probably only needed one more minute to fall asleep standing up.  I kept thinking, I know it's raining, but if I could just lie down on the ground and nap for a few minutes...

Reaching TA 6 and seeing that it was inside a building was a wonderful relief.  One of the volunteers (a 12 year old boy who'd done the 12 hour race with his family and then stayed to volunteer overnight with his dad...too cool!) came out to tell us there was soda and food inside.  Heaven!

Chicken Salad Sandwich….saved my life.

Also inside were our friends from Boom Boom Pow...super nice to see their faces.  We turned in our answer to the CP question, and when the volunteer started to tell us about the map for the mountain biking section, I told him, "We're not doing that!"

You might notice a pattern where I try to get out of things that I don't like to do (paddling), and mountain biking at night in the rain is high on that list.  When the rain started, I'd suggested to Kelly that maybe we could skip the mountain biking leg because it was only 3 CPs and it was sure to be muddy.  I'm not sure he was all on board with that plan, but he was willing to humor me and go along with it.  Jeri and Stacy couldn't believe we were going to skip the mountain biking, and they had a persuasive argument.

Their logic for doing the MTB leg was that even "if" it sucked, the CPs were right along the trail and would be easy to find, unlike trying to do the next trekking leg looking for points off-trail in the dark. We could do the mountain biking, then hang out at the TA until it started to get light.  As much as I didn't like it (and didn't want to sit on my bike again), I knew they were right, and we were reluctantly getting ready to set off on the next leg when WABAR came in from mountain biking.

"How was it?"

"Hard."

Awesome. If those AR machines found it hard, it was sure to be a real treat for us. A couple of us were still bundled up in our rain jackets, and Andrei warned us that he'd ridden in long sleeves and was still feeling too warm, so we lost the jackets...thank goodness, because once we were on the trails we were plenty warm.

Mountain biking (3 CPs) 6 miles

I am a huge chicken, and the reason I'm so forthcoming about that is so that when I'm humiliated by my wimpiness at least I don't have the added embarrassment of not living up to some false badass image that I've cultivated.  And much of the mountain bike leg was pretty humiliating.

One positive was that the trail was such a mix of dirt and sand that we didn't encounter the kind of mud and ruts we'd have to deal with riding local trails in such wet weather.  There were several sections I'd have been walking even in dry, daylight conditions, but overall I think it would probably be a really fun trail.   I really struggled at night, though.  Early on, I didn't even have a chance to slide on wet rocks and roots because I kept bailing.  I walked a lot.  Everyone else was way more comfortable than I was, so I was constantly behind and near tears.  I didn't like myself very much; what a big baby.

Six miles isn't much on a bike -- or on foot, for that matter -- but distance expands on singletrack, and we were out there for a long time.  About halfway through it started raining again, but the trails (and we) were already so wet that it wasn't much of a change. I never felt super comfortable, but at some point I realized I was riding more than I was walking, and occasionally it was even a little bit fun.

Another bright spot was that the bike riding discomfort was minimal because we were off our saddles so much, and I was no longer sleepy at all. Yea fear! We found the first CP really soon, but the second and third took for-ev-er.  After what seemed like a really long time (because it was) we made our way back to the TA, where the volunteers now had a fire burning in the outdoor fireplace. Hurray! That meant semi-dry clothes for the bike back!

This bike leg was epic.  I was miserable, wet, dark, hot…and we were riding way over our heads.  I loved it.  I had purchased Matt and I some 1700 lumen helmet mounted bike lights before the race and kept mine on low for the entire road section.  Since Matt dropped after the canoe I had grabbed his battery just in case and decided to use my light on bright for the singletrack section.  If my battery petered out I still had his unused one to last me an hour or so to sun up.  So I go blazing into this trail loving my light.  It looked more like a light sabe than a bike light.  About ¾ of the way through my light drops down a level and I switch batteries. Nothing.  Battery is dead.  Probably got wet in the paddle section and was completely done.  Matt would have been hating life if he had decided to go on.  For me, I turned on my backup handbar light and added my regular running headlamp and squinted my way through the last of the trail. Lesson learned.  Conserve.

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Obviously I wasn't the only one to have that idea.
 We hung out for a while at the TA until it got light, Kelly grabbing a quick nap on the floor while I failed to fall asleep on a bench, and then we headed out on our final trekking leg.  I think it was around 6 a.m., and our plan was to get whatever we could and then be back at the TA by 9:30 or so to make sure we had plenty of time for the ride back to the finish.

Who ever thought that a cold concrete floor would sleep so good.  It actually felt good on my back after paddling and biking.

Land nav (26 CPs) 8 miles

We once again ended up on the heels of Boom Boom Pow as we all went in search of the first CP.  We got split up as we went one way and they went the other.  We ended up finding it first and then went after our next point. Kelly followed his compass to the ridge...no CP.  We walked more.  Nothing.  "I'm not sure where we are..."

When one navigator is struggling, that's the point where it helps to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and help get things back on track.  Unfortunately, I'm not that someone. My navigation skills have gotten far better, but thinking things through on a map still takes me a long time, and I had barely seen the map all day.  I wanted to help but figured it would probably just make things worse; what could be more fun than one sleep-deprived person trying to walk another sleep-deprived person through where they might be on the map, right?  Instead I just followed along and tried to be encouraging.

We walked a LOT.  Up and down hills, across side slopes.  I wasn't sure what we were doing, but my policy has always been don't second-guess the navigator because I surely couldn't do a better job.  Finally, Kelly turned one way, looked at his compass; turned another way, looked at his compass; turned again, looked, exclaimed, "This compass is [screwed up] (PG edit :D)"

Ahhh, this is a problem I could help with: "Here, use mine!"

He got started and then told me, "This one is messed up, too."

The look on her face when I questioned her compass was like “Oh no you didn’t!"

My compass has never had any issues before, and I thought it was a little weird that two compasses were malfunctioning.  "Do you have any magnets on you?"

Sure enough, Kelly's new pack had a magnet on the front strap to hold his camelbak mouthpiece, and it was interfering with the compass.  That darn new pack had sent us scurrying in circles!  Once we'd figured out the problem, Kelly got us to a road, and we trekked back to the TA.  By the time we got there, it was 8:30, and neither of us really had the heart to go struggle for any more trekking points.  We went to check back in with the volunteers and get credit for our whopping one CP...which is where I realized I'd lost the passport.

I'd zipped (or obviously, thought I'd zipped) the passport into my pants pocket after punching the CP we found, but after digging repeatedly through every pocket I had to accept that I'd lost it.  I felt terrible about it; I mean, it was only one CP, but still! We'd spent so much time on the trek with nothing to show for it. Thankfully Kelly was very cool about it.  I was warming myself by the fire getting ready to head back to the finish line when the END Racing/Yogaslackers team (check out their video and race report!) came in from the trek and asked a team sitting at a table, "Did you lose a passport?"

Hope began to rise. I asked, "Is it team 144?"  Yes, yes it was.  Even though it was just one CP, at least we had credit for it. :)  Thank you SO much to them.  Our heroes!

I was actually thought she might have lost the passport on purpose to make me feel better about leading us all over creation.  Luckily she lost it near the checkpoint because where we went afterwards, I can guarantee you no other team followed.

Bike (2 CPs) 15 miles

Except for the mountain biking section, all of the biking to this point had been on pavement or nice packed gravel roads, so this last 15 miles should be a piece of cake...at least as much of a piece of cake as possible when the last thing you want to do is sit on a bike.

Yeah, not so much.  These roads were primarily sand (with just enough rocks to keep my hardtail bashing my rear on a regular basis), saturated to the point that they were no longer packed firm but getting soft and mushy.  That made for some fun riding.  On top of that, any time you stopped, the mosquitoes swarmed, as I discovered when I stopped to stuff my jacket into my pack. I spent more time swatting bugs than putting away the jacket, finally leaving my pack partway open so I could get moving again.  The permethrin coating my clothes seemed to have lost its effectiveness (that said, I don't think I had more than one mosquito bite from the weekend, so I guess it was more effective than it seemed on that final bike leg).  I was so thankful we hadn't had to deal with bug swarms on the previous day as well.

After we'd found the first CP, we were riding up a hill when Kelly groaned, "Flat tire!!"  Normally that's just an inconvenience, but with the mosquito situation it was pretty awful.  I put my jacket back on, slathered on more bug repellent, and made like the Tasmanian devil swatting at bugs while leaving Kelly to take care of his tire (perhaps not my best "team" moment").  He dealt with the mosquitoes by walking back and forth while he pumped up the tire, and before too long we were rolling again.

That was the fastest I’ve ever changed a tire and it still felt like forever.  THE MOST MISERABLE I’VE EVER BEEN IN A RACE.  And if cursing doesn’t count as complaining…I never complained. 

Cursing most definitely doesn't count as complaining; it's just stating a fact emphatically.  

We just had to grind out the rest of the bike leg (longest 15 miles ever), and finally hitting pavement was sweet relief. I was delighted to hit the road that the HQ was on but somewhat less overjoyed at the fact that the road just kept going and going with no finish line in sight.  By the time we passed the volunteer taking photos, I was over the whole bike thing and so happy when she told us, "Almost there!"  Of course, at that point "almost there" really needed to mean "around the corner", and when it wasn't my mood took a bipolar dip.  I was pretty much ready to sit down on the road and let someone come pick me up when Kelly said, "There it is!" and suddenly all was right with the world again.

Finishers! (Photo credit: 180 Adventure) 

The Stubborn Mule was tough, probably the toughest race I've done, though on the surface it really doesn't seem like it should have been. The area was beautiful, the volunteers were plentiful and amazing, the course was well-designed, and the race offers a long course in a time when it seems like there are fewer and fewer of them around.  I'd definitely recommend it, and though my thoughts at the finish line were more on the lines of "never again", I'd even go back and race it again. 

Big thanks to Kelly and Matt for letting me race with them. Racing with a new team is always a little daunting...you aren't sure how team dynamics will be or if you can keep up (on the run and mountain bike, that was most definitely a no), but I had a good time.  They got a bigger dose of "quiet Kate" than most people experience, but who knows...that may have been a plus in their book!

Definitely one of the tougher ones I’ve done.  Had a great time on and off the course with Matt and Kate.  Kate is a true ambassador of the sport and had a kind word for everyone she met. (Quiet Kate my Ass)  I can be a bit growly at times on a race course (especially if/when I screw up) but it was cool to have a super cool group to race with that just enjoyed the day and did what we could and sometimes a little more than we could.  I do hope to come back and race this one again next year.  Maybe we can talk some more Team Virtus into a road trip.  I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Pop quiz, hotshot (ICCP "9" hour race report)

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On the podium with my friends Kate and Judy, who actually earned their trophies
So let's get this out of the way early: I took third place in the women's solo 9 hour division of the Indian Camp Creek mountain bike race this weekend, and it was pretty embarrassing.  Not because I came in third, because both of those ladies are worlds better on a bike than me; not even because I came in third out of three, because a big part of winning sometimes is just showing up and being willing to do something that other people aren't.

No, it was embarrassing because this race was more of a DNF for me than any other race I've done, saved only by the fact that you couldn't DNF this division.  I like to think of myself as, if not always mentally tough, at least foolishly stubborn, and this race disproved that.  Plenty of bad decision led to my lousy showing, though, so in lieu of a full-fledged race report, I'll just test you to see if you'd do any better.

1. There's an upcoming mountain bike race. How do you train for it?

a) Rest on the 200 mile gravel ride you did three weeks ago.
b) Ride 5 miles of singletrack with your ten year old.
c) Occasionally consider taking your mountain bike out on the trails.
d) Actually log some quality miles.

Answer (if you're me): a, b, and c.  Since Dirty Kanza, I've had one double-digit bike ride and a few short rides with Jacob.  I wanted to get out on the trails, but between weather and having Jacob home with me and kind of being a wimp about going out mountain biking alone, I never really managed to.  I definitely hoped that my DK training would at least leave me with some decent bike endurance.

2. The mountain bike race has three solo options (3/6/9 hour) as well as a team format.  You haven't really ridden your mountain bike on singletrack since April. What do you do?

a) 3 hour solo. That'll be plenty.
b) Find some sucker and form a team. Alternating laps might help make up for your lack of fitness.
c) Stay home and nap.
d) 9 hour solo!

Answer: d. I knew it would suck.  I expected to enjoy it for about 5 hours and suffer for the next 4.  Even so, I typically like the longer races and the fact that the last few hours feature few passes because so many fewer riders are left on the trails.  I went into the race looking at it as a good chance for me to build confidence by riding the same loop over and over again.

3. The saddle on your mountain bike has caused serious chafing and discomfort every time you've ridden on it. What do you do?

a) Replace it with the much better saddle on your old mountain bike.
b) Adjust the position in the hopes that it'll help.
c) Stay home and nap.
d) Make no changes, assuming that this time it'll magically be comfortable.

Answer: d. I'm so stupid...why would I not change the saddle??

4. After an unseasonably cool beginning to summer, the heat has kicked in.  What do you do to cope?

a) Stuff your sports bra with ice.
b) Fill your camelbak with ice.
c) Go home and nap in the air conditioning.
d) Realize that everybody else is dealing with the same heat and suck it up.

Answer: a, b, d.  Oh that ice felt so good, but I only did that after the second loop. Would have been much smarter to keep doing it or to have made some ice-filled socks to put in the back of my jersey like the Cyclery team.  The heat was no fun, especially during the exposed sections of the course, but the shaded sections were better and at least on a bike you make your own breeze.  

5. Midway through your third lap your chafing reaches a new level of discomfort.  What now?

a) Try adjusting the saddle. Hey, better late than never!
b) Call your husband and ask him to bring the good saddle. It's only a 70-minute drive.
c) HTFU. It's just skin.  Well, it was; now it's more like raw hamburger.
d) Stay off the saddle as much as possible and then let your imaginary teammate take the next lap while you move your car to a closer spot, walk around, and talk about how stupid you were to sign up for a 9 hour race.

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Coming in from my third lap and only smiling for the camera. Thanks to Jim and Michelle for coming out to spectate! Photo credit: Jim Woodson.
Answer: d.  In all seriousness, I was more uncomfortable 16 miles into Indian Camp Creek than I was 150 miles into Dirty Kanza.  In my last-minute arrival at the race I'd left my tube of Chamois Butt'r in my car (luckily I had one "single serving" pack in my bag, so after my third lap I grabbed a margarita out of my cooler and walked the quarter mile or so to my car to get the chamois cream. Then, seeing a closer spot, I moved my car and spent the next 40 minutes or so drinking and talking to people.  I got a lot of "What race did you do?", to which I answered, "Oh, I'm still racing, can't you tell?"  I also noted that, while I'd expected to have a rough time towards the end of the 9 hours, this was more like 2 hours of fun and 7 hours of regret, a satisfaction ratio similar to that of my first marriage.

6. You've been sitting around the race HQ for over an hour. Your nine hour race still has about 5 hours left. What do you do?

a) Take this one lap at a time.
b) Make yourself ride at least one more lap, then you can quit.
c) Give away your bike. Mountain biking is stupid anyway.
d) Go home and take a nap.

Answer: b. It may have been slightly (a) when I started riding, but it quickly became (b). My saddle was killing me, and the way I had to sit on it made my back hurt, too.  Every downhill section, when I could get off my saddle, I'd reconsider quitting ("This is fun! I can do this more!!")...until I had to sit down again.

7. You're on your fourth lap and it feels like your chamois has been replaced by sandpaper. What do you do?

a) Spend 8 miles contemplating how long it'll be before your husband can touch you below the waist.
b) Try adjusting the saddle now. You know that whole "definition of insanity" thing?
c) Stop halfway through and hang out with the volunteers.
d) Cut the lap short and ride back to the start/finish on the road.

Answer: a and c. I considered d more than once, but it wouldn't have saved me all that much riding and would have been way less fun and pretty darn lame.  I did stop for a nice long time at the volunteer table and complain about my saddle, prompting Cory to observe, "The nose is too high, and you need some ventilation." Ventilation wasn't going to happen with that saddle, but it's too bad you can't adjust the saddle angle...oh wait, you can.  Well, too bad I didn't have the right tool in my pack to make the adjustment...oh wait, I did.  Sigh. I think at that point I figured the damage was done and just wanted to get back to the start/finish and off my bike.

8.  You rode two good laps followed by two pretty miserable ones, and the 6 hour race isn't even over yet. What do you do?

a) Alternate long breaks with painful loops.
b) Accept that this just wasn't your day and go home.
c) Keep going...you rode 19 hours in Kansas, you can ride 9 here!
d) Spend the next few hours sitting in the shade, talking with friends, and contemplating going back out.

Answer: d. What I should have done was a and c, but maybe this was just God's way of telling me, "Hey dummy, a 9 hour mountain bike race is a pretty lousy taper for next weekend's 30 hour adventure race...oh, and maybe switch saddles!"  I did thoroughly enjoy hanging out with the Momentum crew, who were nice enough to take me in when I showed up at the race start feeling like a little lost lamb with no idea where to set up (I'm used to finding Chuck and Lori's tent, but they weren't there).

9. Your "fun training ride" turned out to be pretty disappointing. What's the consolation?

a) All that misery was probably enough to make sure that you finally change out saddles before next weekend's Stubborn Mule adventure race.
b) You still rode 32 mile of singletrack, and you felt more confident and comfortable than ever before.
c) Hey, no crashes!
d) You spent an afternoon hanging out with a really nice, fun group of people.

Answer: E, all of the above. Sorry, that was a trick question. Indian Camp Creek is rated beginner/intermediate, which doesn't mean I can't still struggle there.  I crashed pretty hard (twice) during my last outing there. This year I had no crashes, and I only had to put a foot down once on something that made me nervous because a couple of people were stopped there. The next time I passed that spot, I'd ridden over it before I even realized it was the "scary" spot. Overall, I felt much more comfortable and confident on the singletrack than ever before. That's awesome, and it's also one of the most disappointing things about the day: I was riding better than I have in the past and was derailed by dumb mistakes.  But hey, I seem to learn best by learning the hard way, so those lessons should be well cemented now.

Extra credit: Name the movie my title references.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Goomna guest race report

Despite the fact that it takes place less than a half hour from my house, I've never managed to do the Goomna adventure race in Highland, Illinois.  This year was going to be no different until I got a message from my friend Brian Friday morning: "Our female racer dropped out for the Goomna. Are you interested?" 

I'm always interested in adventure racing, and after a quick phone call to my husband I was in, with one caveat. See, Brian also did the Frozen Feet half marathon when I did, and thanks to the out and back nature of the course I had numerous opportunities to see just how much faster he is than I am...and that was when I was running more.  Not wanting to slow them down, I warned him how little I've been running and offered to be on standby if he couldn't find someone faster.

He declined my offer, and just like that I was a temporary member of Epic Machinery.  The 24 hours before race time left me plenty of time to vacillate between excitement about racing and anxiety over racing with a different team.  When you're a regular part of a team, there's a camaraderie built on shared experience and a comfort in knowing that your teammates have your back no matter what kind of day you're having.  Guest racing is a little like dating again after being married for a long time; you're not sure what to expect or what team dynamics are like. I'm pretty much a go-with-the-flow type of girl, though, and Brian assured me that they were just in it for a good time, which sounds an awful lot like my own team.

We met up at race HQ, the Korte Recreation Center, almost 2 hours before the race start.  That gave us plenty of time to check in, pick up our race shirts (nice, though a long-sleeved shirt is an interesting choice for a summer race), transfer the checkpoints from a master map, get our race stuff together, and strategize.

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Brian marks the map while Al supervises
If you look at the map above, you might notice the four orange flags. Those mark the four checkpoints we were given.  The checkpoints could be found in any order, and once we'd completed those, we had to return to race HQ for more information.

Pre-race team pic: Al, me, Brian

Knowing that previous years' races had included some special challenges at checkpoints and assuming that the southern points would have these challenges and wanting to avoid a bottleneck at these, we opted to start with the northernmost checkpoint.  Because you could attack the course in any direction, the start line was pretty funny with some teams facing one way and some facing the opposite.

Getting ready to start

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And they're off (in all directions)! Photo credit: Carrie Sona
We had one slight navigational bobble on our way to CP1 (the points had no numbers, so I'm assigning them one in order that we hit them) but quickly corrected and found the volunteers at a shelter at Silver Lake  park.  They told us to drop our bikes follow a 260* compass heading for .4 miles.  Easy, right? Shoot a bearing and go, so that's what we did.  Brian and I were wearing bike shoes, but with such a short run we opted not to change into our running shoes.

We shot off in hot pursuit of the Mich Ultra team who'd reached CP1 just ahead of us, but soon several teams were wandering around looking for our next CP.  You couldn't just follow the bearing straight ahead because it crossed a finger of the lake.  As we neared it, I realized, "Oh, I guess in retrospect we should have lined up the bearing on our map and plotted it so we knew our end destination, huh?"

No matter, we got there, and since Brian got there first he got to start doing the 60 team box jumps we had to complete before punching that CP.  You haven't lived until you've tried doing box jumps on a concrete box while wearing bike shoes, let me tell you.  Luckily Brian was a box-jumping machine, and Al and I provided a little supplemental assistance (and moral support).

From there we had to run back to CP1, where we were now directed to follow a new heading on our bikes. After the mile or so we'd just run in bike shoes, riding my bike felt pretty awesome.  Pulling into the next checkpoint, we were told our team had to catch a fish in order to punch cp3.  I've fished plenty, but I won't touch worms. Luckily my teammates and the volunteers took pity on me.

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This is what playing the girl card looks like. Photo credit: Carrie Sona
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Brian trying his luck...
I started off with the first fishing pole and quickly lost my bait to a fish and sent my line (and hook) flying through the air with my overeager yank.  Oops.  Thankfully, the awesome volunteer (this race had a ton of volunteers, and every single one of them was really positive and friendly) re-baited my hook, after which I found a spot where I was less likely to put out someone's eye.  In almost no time, I had a fish on my line.  Yes! I contributed!

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Success!!
We next had to run (more running...not the happiest news for a girl whose long run in the past two months is 3.5 miles) to a CP .6 miles due north.  This heading took us to the singletrack trails by the lake.  Once again we'd left our bike shoes on ("just .6 mi"), and no one thought to remove our helmets or hydration packs.  Recent rain had left the trails muddy in spots, but it was easier to just step through the mud than to try and avoid it.  The guys were clearly better runners than I was, slowing down so that I could keep up/catch up.  All we had to do to punch this fourth CP was to find the volunteer waiting down the trail, and then we turned around and ran back to where we'd left our bikes.

With all of the challenges at the Silver Lake area CPs completed, we rode off to the next mapped CP, at Highland Middle School.  From there we had to run (that word again) .3 miles to the hospital.  Still in bike shoes -- but having finally remembered to lose the packs and helmets -- we crossed the street and ran over to the hospital parking lot.  Even though it was a short run, it brought back memories of when I started training with faster people...I'd fall behind, the guys would slow down to a walk so I could catch up; I'd catch up and start to walk, they'd start running again.  It's a great way to build endurance.

Ah, yes....that could explain my poor running fitness.
In the hospital parking lot, we completed a relay of sorts.  While one teammate wheeled a weighted wheelchair a distance (100 feet? 200 feet?), the other two had to do burpees and a plank for the entire time.  I volunteered to drive the wheelchair, leaving Al to plank and Brian to do the burpees. It turns out that one high school wheelchair basketball experience 20 years ago was not sufficient practice to be wheelchair proficient.  It was hard keeping that thing going, especially because the parking lot had a gentle slope to it.

Once I got to the stopping point, the guys had to run up and then one teammate (me again) had to be carried on a spine board (at which point I'm sure they were both wondering why they hadn't picked up some tiny girl for their substitute).  Incidentally, being carried like that is a little scary.  Next we had to cross a balance beam while holding a length of pvc pipe with water sloshing around in it, and finally we had to unscramble a word.  The letters were written on soup and vegetable cans of varying sizes.  We made quick work of the puzzle (the word was REVERSE), and then we had to spell reverse upside down by stacking the cans.  

This was a bit harder, but we eventually got them to stay for a moment, and then we had to do the whole relay in reverse.  Back across the balance beam, back on the stretcher, and this time Al took a turn in the wheelchair while I planked (much easier!) and Brian burpeed.  When Al got to the end, Brian and I ran to join him, and then we all ran back to our bikes and rode towards our next mapped checkpoint, Merwin Park, where we were directed to run to Highland Primary school.

Having seen Mich Ultra heading back as we rode to the park, we had a pretty good idea of how far our next run was going to be, and this time we did change shoes.  I had to untie my shoes from my pack and was the last one ready, giving Brian an early lead in the race within a race.  Though this was our longest run so far ( ~1 mile each way), wearing running shoes instead of bike shoes felt like running on clouds. So much better! At the school, we were given the very unwelcome news that we had to do 45 chin-ups.  If it had been up to me and my noodle arms, we'd still be sitting there.  Instead, Brian knocked out a ton of them really fast, Al did most of the rest, and I struggled/jumped to do 4 of the saddest approximation of a chin-up ever.  You could barely even call them a scalp-up.

Chin-ups finished, we ran back to our bikes, where Brian got his shoes changed first again and went up 2-0 in our race, and then we rode to our last mapped checkpoint at Spindler Park.  There, while Brian got our passport marked, I hurried up and smashed him in the shoes-on-first competition.  We ran .7 miles to the Weinheimer athletic center, where we had to each shoot three free throws.  For each missed free throw, you had to jump up on the stage and do five push-ups and five sit-ups.

I was pretty stoked about this. I mean, I played 8 years of organized basketball; this is something I can do! My stoke lasted through about the first total miss. Basically, while Brian and Al knocked their free throws out in no time, mine took me forever.  It was a little humiliating: it's one thing to suck at things like box jumps or chin-ups that I never do; it's much worse to completely fail at something you used to be good at.  On the plus side, I got a lot of push-ups and sit-ups done.  I had one free throw done and kept missing on the others until Brian came up and did a little coaching: "Bend your knees and look at the back of the rim."  I sank the next two and we were FINALLY out of there, running back to our bikes and riding to race HQ.

Riding back to race HQ...with one quick stop.  Al ("You don't have a last name like 'Beers' without liking beer") had discovered through his pre-race research that Highland has a brewery, one which was conveniently located near our last checkpoint (a fact which may have factored into the way we opted to attack the course). Of course we had to stop!

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Bike parking! How cute is this place?
The Railshake Brewery had a great patio), and as we parked our bikes and found a seat the waitress asked, "Is this a Goomna stop??" Unfortunately we couldn't convince her that free drinks were part of the race, but they were very understanding of the fact that we were on a tight schedule.  According to Brian's timer, our entire stop was 6 minutes...possibly our most efficient transition of the day!

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"We don't always stop at bars, but when we do it's during a race."
Back at race HQ we had three new checkpoints to add to our map, making a 21-mile bike loop to finish out the race.  The nav wasn't complicated here, just a matter of grinding out the time on the chip and seal roads.  We saw Alpine Shop finishing up the course not long after we headed out and got a chance to cheer for them, and we were able to pass a few teams on the bike leg, which was a good feeling.

Since my running this year suffered at the hands of Dirty Kanza training, the bike leg should have been a piece of cake.  It wasn't great, but I just focused on trying to hang onto the guys' wheels.  About halfway through, Al started struggling a little.  The day was warming up quite a bit, and he had the opposite training issue from me: all running, no bike.  It was his turn to hang on like I had to during the running portions, and he did so while also handling the nav.  Pretty tough.

We had one team slip away from us, but we stayed ahead of all the others we'd passed and came into the finish in 4 hours 43 minutes for tenth place.  Without our 6 minute brewery checkpoint we'd have been in 8th place, but the memory of a beer stop during a race is totally worth a couple places in the standings.  Plus it's a way better reason than my slow running or inability to shoot free throws!

All in all, it was an awesome guest racing experience. Al and Brian were great, and Goomna was a lot of fun. It was definitely a lot different than the adventure races I'm used to, but it's good to try new things...and if I was in danger of getting cocky, now I have a whole list of areas where I need to improve.

Big thanks to the race director, the city of Highland, and especially the volunteers.  I think it was the most volunteers I've ever seen in a race, and every single one of them was friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. I would definitely go back and race again, especially with a year to work on upper body strength!