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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tracks n Treads off-road biathlon

I awoke this morning feeling sick to my stomach, not because of something I ate but from nerves. I was singularly unprepared for this morning's race. I hadn't registered, not knowing how I'd feel in the aftermath of LBL (did I mention I just did a 28 hour adventure race?), but I came home from Tennessee feeling great.  More accurately, I guess, nothing hurt, but I've been incredibly tired since getting home, and my one run since last weekend felt much like I imagine running in quicksand must. Still, I'd roped enough people into the race that I felt like I really had to do it. Plus, it's my club's race, held practically in my own back yard.

That explains why I did it, but why was I so nervous? I had no illusions of podium-ing, so there was no pressure in that respect, and I'm very familiar with the trails. It all boils down to lack of confidence on the bike. I've progressed to where casual rides with friends only induce mild panic, but mountain bike trails in a race situation still bring on full-blown nausea (one of the perks of our slow start at LBL was the lack of bikes passing us on singletrack).

Despite the race day jitters, I had a great time visiting before the start.  Lots of tri club friends were out, as were my friend Susan and a couple of cousins.  I also got to meet up with Tori from A Journey to a New Me, who did a great job on her first (I think?) trail race!

With Tori before the race
I set my bike and shoes and stuff up in transition and finally asked what the starting time was.  Right around 9:00 we all lined up for instructions...after singing Happy Birthday to Race Director Robin

Pre-race instructions
I was lined up close to the front so I could hear Robin, and it didn't really occur to me to move back in the pack.  Starting in the front is never a good thing for me, since even when I'm trying not to I end up pushing harder than I should at the beginning to keep up with the fast people.  The first half mile or so was on sidewalks or paved trail, and it was not pretty.  I was seriously thinking I was going to have to walk it before we even got to the trails.  I should really consider warming up before a race so I'm not stuck doing that in the first mile.

Luckily, Chuck was running with his son Jacob.  Since we were all moving at about the same pace, instead of concentrating on how I was about to keel over on the sidewalk I got to hear about Chuck, Robin, and Lori's recent trip to adventure camp and talk all about LBL (my new favorite subject).  The conversation carried me onto the trails, and by the time Jacob needed to dial the pace back a little bit I was feeling much better.

Photo credit: Robin Rongey
The trail portion felt pretty good.  After my first (primarily paved ) 9-something minute mile, the next ones were in the 11 minute range, but I managed to run every step of the run course, something I've never done in the Big Woods before.  Really, the very worst parts of the run were the paved parts on the way out and back.  Running back to the transition area I was wondering what the heck made me want to do the biathlon instead of sticking with the trail run alone.

My transition was just under 2 minutes, and then we were off down the paved bike path to the singletrack.  Luckily Susan had pre-ridden the course and warned me about taking the left turn onto the trails plenty wide and making sure to gear down for the uphill right after the turn.  I gave the two girls near me a heads-up about the spot, but both of them ended up putting a foot down coming around the turn and I was able to scoot by them and make it up the hill.

Any ride on singletrack is always affected by my fear of speed and lousy bike handling, but I felt fairly brave during the first part.  I'd say I rode the trails faster than I ever have before...that's just not saying much.  My cousin Bob was right behind me for awhile, but he passed me when I took a turn badly (too slowly) and crashed.  After making sure I was ok he flew by and I never saw him again until the finish.

For a long time one of the girls from that first turn onto the trails was right on my tail.  I'd offered to let her by, but she wanted to stay where she was.  We were passed by lots and lots of guys, though (there had been some problems with some of the trail markings being taken down, so these guys had run further than we had...it's not that we were that much faster on the run), and eventually when I dismounted to go over a bigger log, she went ahead and passed me, also never to be seen again.

Kate Geisen 02
Photo credit: Jeff Schleicher
Clearly not the face of a confident rider.

Being passed so many times was really frustrating.  Not being passed so much as the fact that I'd be passed and then the other riders were just gone.  I spent the second half of the ride mentally composing whiny facebook posts about how I was never going to get faster on the bike.  (And what's weird is that, while I run way more than I get to mountain bike, being slower on the run doesn't bother me nearly as much as being slow on the bike.)  Waah, waah.  On the plus side, I got through the trails faster than I have in the past, rode all the switchbacks, only walked one obstacle, and only fell once, so I guess it was a pretty successful day.

As I turned back onto the paved trail for the sprint back to the finish line, my friend Jim rode up and provided me with my own personal escort/tow service to the end.  Big thanks to him for helping me finish strong! :)  After the race, I hung around talking for a while, comparing notes about how everyone's race went, and whining about being so slow.  I need to mention especially that my cousin Bob, who runs and rides far less than me, beat me by 5 minutes, and I'm sorry to report that my nemesis once again has the upper hand, not only beating me by 2 minutes but also apparently running a mile more than I did (he's still older and bigger as well, I'm sure he wants me to admit that, but at least I can update my blog regularly).

Anyway, my pity party was interrupted by the awards, and after clapping for several of my victorious friends I was thrilled (and shocked) to hear my name called for 2nd place in my age group.

Holding the awesome TnT glass that Chuck, Lori, Robin, Patrick, and I etched after our Cuivre River Run. Clearly this isn't my handiwork because it's not splotchy.
As Patrick put it so eloquently, "If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it."  So true.  Still, despite the supportive expectations of my husband, who asked if there were only two in my age group when I told him I took second (incidentally, I'm now taking applications for #1 biggest fan, since he's clearly out of the running), there were actually 5 women in my age group.  Maybe not a huge field, but that makes it feel like a legit win to me.

(By the way, if you haven't read the latest installment of the LBL Challenge saga--I'm up to part 4--you might check it out.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

It's not karate in the garage (LBL part 4)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

We left the canoe beach sometime after 4 a.m. for our next trekking leg.  There were 7 CPs between us and our bikes, and the remainder of the race was a big question mark because we would get the next set of race instructions when we reached the bike transition. Regardless of what lay before us, we knew that we didn't have time to waste, because we now had less than 7 hours to finish without a penalty.

Time is screwy in an adventure race, especially a long one.   7 hours is hardly a drop in the bucket; for many people, it's a full day's work.  But it's only a fourth of our alotted time, and the grains seem to pour more quickly as the hourglass empties.  Yes, it's significantly longer than it took me to limp across the marathon finish line, but the miles are different in an adventure race, too.  You're at the mercy of the terrain, the maps, waning endurance, and your own judgement.  Oh, and it's pitch black out.

Luke set a blistering pace through the woods, and I focused all of my energy on staying on his heels; remaining upright as we tore through vines, thorns, and downed logs; and preserving my vision from the numerous branches that would catch on the paddles in his pack and snap back at my eyes.  I took to holding a protective arm in front of my face.  Throughout the death march, I was in awe of the way the guys were able to keep track of where we were on the map.  Even when we had to pull up and check our location, their awareness of the terrain features made my jaw drop.  "We could be on this saddle or this one..."  Honestly, all I could have told you was that we were in the woods, in the dark.

Unfortunately, we pulled up one ridge too short and had to backtrack to make sure of our course.  We found the CP we were looking for (22?) and two more, and then it was decision time.  By this point it was around 6 a.m.  We had 8 or so miles to cover before we reached our bikes and then guesstimated an additional 15-18 miles on the bike.  We had around 5.5 hours to get to the finish line.

I bike, and I run, and looking at those numbers it looks like nothing.  8 miles on foot? 18 miles on the bike? Who can't do that in 5.5 hours??  Maybe you think that, too.  So remember a few things: we've now been racing for 23 hours, a large chunk of the hike is off-trail, we're facing a good amount of hills on both the trek and the bike, and one more mechanical or medical issue could crush our chances of arriving on time.

Luke wanted to head back; Casey wanted to get one more CP.

In some ways, I think Casey is the male equivalent of a much stronger, much tougher me.  As I was bouncing down the road to the racer meeting Friday night saying "I can't believe it's finally here!!", he remarked that usually he was the one being laughed at for being so enthusiastic.  I think he'll always be that guy who wants to go for just one more because he's a competitor to the core, and while I faded at the end I swear he and Luke only got stronger.

The upshot was that, after some discussion, Casey took over the navigation and we headed off in search of one more checkpoint.  It was a high-pressure time to take over, for sure, and if someone had tried to hand me the map at that point I'd have curled up into a fetal position sucking my thumb.  The pressure wasn't relieved at all when some asshole was convinced she saw the CP as we crossed a reentrant.  Seriously, I still feel like a colossal jerk about that.

We climbed a fairly steep hill on the side of the reentrant where we thought the CP would be, and it wasn't there.  Casey went, I thought, to look over the back side of the hill.  Bob, whose feet and back had been killing him for much of the night, sat down, and I parked myself next to him to clear out all the crap that my holey shoes let in.  Luke waited with us for a minute or two and, realizing Casey wasn't coming back, went to check on him.

I'm not sure exactly what was said on the other side of the hill, but by the time the guys got back to us things were bad.  They were yelling at each other, and Casey was set to quit the team and start back to New York as soon as we crossed the finish line.  Luke wanted to talk to him about it, and Casey didn't want to talk at all.  While he wasn't yelling at Bob or me, he clearly wasn't interested in conversation...or a hug, though Bob got his way on that one.

So this an interesting situation.  Though I don't typically worry about my safety (from other people...from myself is a whole different story) during a race, the thought had crossed my mind that nobody was going to mess with me while I was surrounded by three big, strong guys.  It had never occurred to me that we'd be out in the woods with them wanting to beat the crap out of each other...which is a little silly of me, if you think about it.  They're brothers, and I have mumble mumble years of experience watching my own brothers fight.

Heading towards the trail while things were still very tense

Nonetheless, it was definitely an uncomfortable time.  It's never fun to watch when people you like are angry with each other, and I'm not a fan of conflict in any case.  Where early in the race I'd played chatterbox to get Casey's mind off his cramping legs, I didn't think this was a good time for those tactics.  Bob and I struck up our own, very obviously diversionary, conversation.

"I like football, Kage.  Do you like football?"

"Oh, yeah, I really like football.  My husband loves it, too.  He's a huge Rams fan.  It's been a tough couple years to be a Rams fan..."

Our conversation segued from pro football to his and my sons' (and despite what the guys will tell you, they aren't that close in age to my kids!!) high school sports experiences.  Since the brothers Lamb were high school athletes, the conversation turned to sports they played, and eventually, slowly, things began to thaw a bit.  You'll notice, though, that there are very few pictures in this segment of the race report, and that's because it wasn't a particularly happy time to be a Virtusan.

...to be continued...part 5

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bad Moon Rising: LBL Adventure Race, part 3

See part 1 and part 2

We made it in from our second trekking leg right around 7:30, almost exactly 12 hours into the race. By the time we left transition, we were surrounded by night. With our headlamps and bike lights the only artificial light for miles, the sky was amazing. I don't remember the last time I've seen so many stars.My night biking experience is limited to the end of the Deuce and the beginning of the Berryman, so I was relieved that our night bike leg would be spent on roads. "Roads", in a race like this, is a relative term and can refer to pavement, gravel, or jeep/farm roads.

The longest I'd ever raced before LBL was the 14.75 hours Jim and I (or Gemini, depending on how you choose to hear me repeatedly reference my first big official adventure race) spent at Berryman.  12 hours into LBL I still felt great, but I was waiting for the shoe to drop.  I like my sleep, so I fully expected to be hit hard by the sleepless night and was curious how I'd cope.

 The struggles of the day seemed to be behind us.  Casey's legs were cooperating, the bikes were working, and since I attributed Luke's navigational difficulties mostly to the distraction of our problems I figured things were about to get better. We'd had a somewhat rough day, but despite the multiple issues we'd encountered, we were also having a great time.  No one was getting mad (except possibly at themselves), we just kept rolling with the things thrown at us.  After all, nothing could take away the fact that we were finally at the race.

"Hey, Casey, you know where we are?"

"We're at LBL."

I made it about 50 feet down the road from the transition area when I had to stop and adjust my headlamp.  I'd borrowed Casey's extra Princeton Tec Apex headlamp since it's far superior to mine, but I'd neglected to adjust the straps before the race and then we'd loosened it too much at transition.  This is the kind of preventable time suck that doesn't need to happen.  Why exactly didn't I adjust it back at the lodge so all I had to do was slip it on?

(I know I'm going to screw up the order of events on this bike leg.)

Like the beginning of any run I've ever done, the first mile or so on a bike usually feels like I'm riding in quicksand.  As I followed the guys down the gravel their lights illuminated the route ahead of me so I wasn't surprised by ruts or rough spots, and soon we were back on the road...until Luke got a flat tire. He made quick work of changing it until it was time to put the new tube in, and then he ran into a problem.  I honestly wasn't paying too much attention because we all know that only the saddest pit crew would ever want me changing tires, but Bob stepped in to help and quickly identified the problem.

"This is a 26" tube."  Which, you know, isn't too helpful on 29" wheels.  Tire fixed at last, we were back on our way and got the next couple of CPs without any trouble that I remember.

Every other CP had to be reached via a specific mode of transportation, but you could get to Checkpoint A any way you wanted.  We opted to take the bikes, a plan I was happier about before I saw the sketchy gravel hill we had to ride down to reach it.The guys shot down the hill while I crept along, holding my breath through every dip, rut, and washed out area.  Pretty soon Luke and Casey came back my way to light the road a little better and call out tricky spots so I could avoid them or at least be ready for them.  I breathed a quiet sigh of relief, which lasted until I realized I'd have to ride back up.

"Just so you guys know, I'll be walking that," I admitted to my team.  Then, I don't know exactly what happened, but I started first (which I never do)...and then I just kept riding...all the way up the hill.  For a stronger rider, it would be no big deal, but it was a proud moment for me.

The rest of this bike leg is kind of a blur for me, and one where again and again we did ourselves no favors.  There was a lot of pavement, with long, screaming fast downhills where I primarily trusted in the fact that I could see Luke and Bob's headlights in front of me and if they hadn't died I probably wouldn't.  There were the uphills, where the guys effortlessly climbed and I plugged away.  There was the turn onto a gravel road that the entire team missed, culminating in a later wrong turn and Luke (the one team member who hadn't yet fallen) crashing hard in a rocky creek crossing and coming up mad enough that I was afraid he'd been injured. 

Luke goes swimming in Elbow Creek
Photo credit: Casey "my favorite" Lamb

There was the farm road that showed on the map and but disappeared in reality, forcing us to double back. 
And, of course, there was the lesson that you apparently have to learn in every race: don't follow another team.  Well on our way to CP17(?), another team rode out from the point and told us something about it being past a grassy field.  Rather than just following the map, we ended up stopping and searching near two different wrong grassy fields before finally being passed by several other teams and finding the correct spot.

We rolled into the bike/canoe transition area at 11:47 p.m.  The temperature was definitely cooler than in the day, but it wasn't bad at all (high 50's, low 60's?).  The possibility of rain still hung over us, so we opted to put on our rain gear.  Since this is the first time in three adventure races I've actually needed the stuff I had to buy, I was kind of glad to use it.

The air had seemed pretty quiet on our ride, so I was really hoping the lake would be still as well.  Thankfully, it was.  In fact, it was like glass for our entire paddle.   Despite the fingernail moon, there was enough light coming from across the lake that I ended up turning off my headlamp.  It was actually easier to see without it. 

I'm just now noticing that Luke, who convinced me to wear my rain jacket, isn't wearing his.

Casey waiting for Bob to punch a CP
This was my first ever night paddle, and counting coves was interesting in the dark.  We stayed fairly close to the shoreline and turned our lights on as we came to them.  Even so, we missed the correct cove for our the first CP of the paddle leg, CP19 with the interesting clue of "lagoon".  On the map, it looked like you had to come around a little rocky finger on the side of the cove and find the CP.  In reality, there was no boat access to the lagoon.  The flag was floating in the middle of a pool on the other side of a small, rocky hill.  You had to carry a canoe over the hill and paddle out to it (since the guys wouldn't let me wade/swim over).  Tricky, tricky.

Bob at the first lagoon CP

The next point was had a lagoon clue as well, but we were ready for this one and found it without much difficulty, and then it was time to paddle back.    The nice thing was that I felt pretty good paddling; it didn't hurt except for the (many) times I banged my hands against the side of the canoe, but no matter how hard I paddled we couldn't keep up with Casey and Bob unless they slowed way down. While the water was smooth and the night was beautiful, the paddle seemed to take forever.

Thank goodness Luke knew what he was doing, too, because I never would have found my way to the cove where the canoe beach was (and where, I think, we'd put in and taken our for our initial canoe leg).  In fact, though he was dead on, I doubted him right up until we turned into the cove and saw the fire...and even then the stacked canoes looked like some kind of a bathhouse or something and I had a moment of sinking despair before I realized what I was seeing. I guess I can be excused for being a little confused...when we beached our canoe, it was 3:57 a.m.

Bob and I changing out of rain gear and into dry socks. 
Unlike the previous paddling leg, this one was a point-to-point.  Our bikes were back at the beach where we'd put in four hours before, and now we were set to trek back to them, collecting as many CPs as we could in the dark.

By the time we left the canoe beach, we'd been racing for over 20.5 hours and awake for 23.  We were varying degrees of tired, but overall feeling good.  We had faced what seemed like problem after problem, some of our own making and some seemingly the will of spiteful AR gods, and through it all we had persevered, stuck together, and above all, had fun.

"Hey Bob, you know where we are?"

"Huh?...oh, yeah...we're at LB freaking L."

But things can always get worse.  And indeed, before the sun rose, they did.

...to be continued...part 4

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

LBL (part 2)

Read part 1 here...

So we hadn't exactly gotten off to a smooth start, and I was blaming myself a little.  I mean, what was different about this race? Having a girl along.  Even though I knew it was silly and didn't really (entirely) think the guys would see it this way, part of me feared they were all thinking this coed experiment was clearly a bad idea.  They're never going to want to race with me again...

Despite the negative self-talk, which I kept working to push down (and the numerous grandma jokes that are an inevitable part of being the oldest on the team), I was having a blast.   Physically I felt great, and we had all been looking forward to the race for so long that we were determined to savor it.

"Hey Kage, you know where we are?" Luke would ask.  "We're racing at LBL."

One of the cool things about an adventure race is that often, no matter how much you may dislike the next mode of transportation (I'm talking to you, paddling), you're ready for the change by the time you get there.  LBL was different.  Gary, the race director, did a great job of breaking up the different legs.  I was never desperate to move on to the next thing.  Even so, by the time we rolled into the canoe transition, I was almost glad to be paddling.

It wasn't a particularly quick transition.  We all grabbed a little food and changed out of bike shoes.  While the guys were assembling their kayak paddles (you were allowed to bring your own paddles but had to carry them throughout the race), I took the opportunity to use the bathroom.  I climbed up a hill so I'd be out of sight, but when I got to the top I realized I'd basically just given most of the canoe beach a better view of me...but you know, everyone is busy doing their own thing, so it wasn't a big concern.

I did spend much of the race envious of the guys' ability to pee right off the side of the road (or while walking).  Though Bob was kind enough to pick me up my very own Go Girl at Gander Mountain, I wasn't really interested in field testing it in a situation where a misfire would leave me stewing in my own pee for the next 20 hours.  I'll make sure and try it out, since I know you're all dying to find out how it works.

Securing my pack in case we tip
The pre-race info had indicated that we should be prepared to carry bikes in the canoes, but thankfully that ended up not being necessary.  Bob and Casey were in one canoe, and Luke was stuck with me in the other.  He had the double disadvantage of my lack of upper body strength combined with the fact that I didn't have a kayak paddle, so basically he was paddling two strokes for every one of mine.  We were forever pushing to keep anywhere near the other guys.

Note the cloudy sky
The weather to this point had been pretty fabulous, but as we put in at the lake dark clouds were looming.  Luckily the wind was pretty negligible, and we made good time to our first canoe checkpoint.  There was some discussion among other teams whether we were at 9, 10, or 11, but Luke had us right where we were supposed to be, and after punching 10 we headed to 9, which was located on an island.  Very cool.

I think it was on the way to CP11 when I almost flipped the canoe.  I had turned to reach into my pack behind me for a drink, and I don't know if a wave hit us or I leaned too far or what, but the canoe tipped so far that the side was at water level.  Somehow we managed not to go in.  "WHAT was that?!?" Luke asked, clearly wondering how the hell he let himself get stuck in a canoe with someone who can't even sit right.

Sit still, will ya??

Verrrry cautiously turning around for the picture
So far on the paddle the weather had held, and the water in the cove for CP11 was super calm.  As we made our way back into the main body of Lake Barkley, though, things started to get ugly.  The wind picked up to the point that there were whitecaps on the lake, and our canoe was doing a good imitation of a small roller coaster.  The waves made paddling a challenge: sometimes you'd dip your paddle into nothing, sometimes the water was there way early, and sometimes I just had to take a breath and mentally hold on as the canoe dropped down yet another wave.  I wasn't scared, but I was really, really ready to get off the lake...preferably without swimming.

We had a short bike ride to the next trekking section, a 13-point rogaine that looked difficult to say the least.  The suspicion was confirmed when, despite our very slow start, we saw four of the top 5 teams either while we were at transition or in the woods. "How was it?" one of the guys asked Wedali (eventual 3rd place finishers) as they came in from the trek.


We all got something to eat and drink and took the opportunity to refill water bottles and packs.  I changed from my bike shorts into trekking shorts in the hopes of avoiding chafing, using Casey as my wall to change behind. 

At this point, it was around 4:30-5.  There was a 9:00 cut-off for this section of the race.  Given the difficulty the elite teams were having, not to mention our own struggles, we discussed going out for three CPs and then re-evaluating.  The general feeling was that we might be better banking time for later legs rather than taking every possible minute on the rogaine.

We had a terrible time finding the first CP we went after.  Luke was really struggling with the map, and we ended up in the wrong area.  Watching as the guys checked the directions of reentrants and spurs to help confirm we weren't where we thought we were was a great learning experience for me.  At the same time, I felt a little bad because I was absolutely no help.  I'd like to be able to offer more than a sunny disposition.

This is what we think of CPs that play hard to get.
With the first CP found and Luke off his game, Bob offered to take the map for a while.  This is another cool thing about the team.  Rather than feel threatened or annoyed, Luke was all for it, and when Bob proceeded to lead us to the next two CPs, Luke was the happiest one for him.

Making our own trail, which was fun until about 3/4 of the way through when I started wondering about snakes.
Our three CPs found, we headed back to the transition area, a hike that ended up taking nearly an hour.  We packed up the remaining food and gear from our drop bags and changed into some warmer clothes for the nighttime bike leg.  It was after 8:00, we'd now been racing for over 12 hours, and I still felt good.  In fact, I remember thinking that we still had at least 12 hours left and being glad.  I was loving every minute of the race and was nowhere near ready for it to be over.

But night was falling, I was closing in on my longest race time to date, and we still had a long way to go.

To be continued...(part 3)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

She said: LBL Challenge 24-hour Adventure Race (part 1)

With just over an hour and a half left to reach the finish line, we ended a 2.5 hour hike between the last orienteering section and the bikes and flew through our quickest transition of the race.  At least 15 miles separated us from a penalty-free finish, and we desperately wanted to hang on to all of our hard-won checkpoints.  No time for modesty, I ignored the volunteer watching us from his car, tugged my borrowed jersey as far down as it would go, and traded my trekking pants for bike shorts.  26.5 hours into the race, we jumped onto our bikes and sprinted down the gravel road in the hopes of beating an 11:30 deadline.

LBL was a challenge from the minute the guys and I arrived at our arranged meeting place, exactly on time.

A quick call confirmed the fear that struck me when I read "Cracker Barrel?"  It turns out that there are two Interstate 64 exit 9's between Jefferson City and Fairview Heights, both with a Cracker Barrel.  The guys were at one in Missouri, and I was sitting at the one in Illinois.  45 minutes later we were all together and heading down the road.

The weather forecast, which had been progressively more ominous in the week leading up to the race was certainly born out during our drive.

Beautiful day, huh?
There were times it was raining so hard you could barely see.  I was dreading the thought of riding singletrack or being on the lake in a storm and consoling myself with the thought of what a good story it would make in the end.  Eventually the weather cleared, and after a few stops along the way we met up with Casey at Paris Landing State Park in Tennessee.  We checked in and got our race packets; I was delighted with my race shirt and the fact that we wouldn't start until 7:30 a.m. the next day.  Not only would we at least get some sleep, but we'd also be finishing in daylight. 

After hitting up the all-you-can-eat buffet, where I turned in a disappointing performance of one plate of spaghetti (and 1.5 desserts), we headed back to the room to start getting our gear together. 

It looked like a gear bomb exploded
Walking down to the racer meeting, I felt a little sick to my stomach (not, surprisingly, due to the excessive Virtus farting which fell a bit short of the dire warnings I'd received).  Was I really doing this? After all the waiting, it was practically here, and I was definitely nervous.  Once I got the maps (being a consistent loser of the "not it" game), thought, I was reassured by the amount of trekking we'd be doing.  As much as I love the bike, a bike-heavy course, especially on singletrack, would make me more of a liability.  Between the good news about the race and catching a tube of Zanfel off of Casey's head (ummm, sorry about that), I left the race meeting feeling much better.

Photo credit: BLD Jenkins
I helped Luke plot points while Casey and Bob got gear together and put the lights on the bikes.  It was nice to get to help with the map so that I had an idea of what we'd be doing the next day, and I learned a lot watching Luke plan out route choices and use a map wheel to figure approximate distances we'd travel.  Really, I learned a lot throughout the race as the guys worked out attack points, figured out where we were when we were off track, and talked over different approaches.  I'm still a long way from seeing the map the way they do.

Points plotted, it was back to the room to finish loading our packs and drop bags.  Because the area is so remote and devoid of services, we had two separate gear drops where we could restock our food and water, which was wonderful.  Figuring out what all to send in the drop bag, though, was harder.  I'm so not used to making sure I have enough calories; usually the problem is the opposite. 

Wearing my beard so I can fit in. (L-R) Kate, Bob, Casey, Luke
I had offered to take the floor since I was the one who threw off the whole bed situation, but the guys wouldn't let me.  Even with my very comfortable bed, though, I had a hard time falling asleep.  It wasn't just the snoring; my mind was racing with the weirdest combination of trepidation and confidence.  On one hand, I have two successful adventure races (and one fantastic non-race) behind me, and I know I'm strong; on the other, I had no idea how I'd do racing for 24+ hours.  Eventually I nodded off, and the 5:00 alarm came way too soon.

Team Virtus ready for LBL.  Notice Casey and Bob each sporting 1/2 beard.
As we stood at the start line singing the National Anthem, I had the familiar realization that I had no idea where we were going from there.  Luckily, I wasn't the one navigating.  At the start, we jogged down the road past the cameras and then settled into a fast walk onto the trails.

Trek 1: ~5 miles

It was an absolutely beautiful morning.  Photo credit: Bob "Renaissance Man" Jenkins

If the weather gods smiled on us early, the AR gods were not so kind.  Barely 7 minutes into the first trekking leg, Casey's legs started cramping up.  He's had problems with this in the past and had actually considered pulling himself out of the race so a flare-up wouldn't spoil things for the team.  The problem had seemed to resolve itself, though, so its early resurgence was a blow to him, and while the rest of us were cool with taking a very easy pace until the cramps worked themselves out, I can't say that I'd have been any less stressed out than Casey was if I was in his situation...and I had some similar moments later in the race myself.

Bob punches the passport
Remembering how much better I felt during labor when someone was talking to me, I set out to distract Casey from his hurting legs.  It was kind of a win-win situation if it worked: while I've had a lot of time to get to know Luke and Bob over the past year, I'd barely exchanged more than "nice to meet you" with Casey until this weekend, so it was good to get to know him better as well as hopefully making him feel better.  An easy pace and some ibuprofen seemed to do the trick, and the leg cramps began to lessen.  We got the first three CPs without much trouble and then missed a turn on the way to 4.  Taking an alternate route did make for some good photo ops, though.

Lake Barkley in the background, but honestly I'm just posting this because I like the way my legs look.

Adventure racing makes you hungry!
By the time we made it to the bike transition, there was only one other set of bikes still there.  We talked to the volunteers, who were absolutely wonderful, and got into our bike gear.

Bike 1: ~ 8 miles

This bike leg was primarily singletrack, and due to all the recent rain in the area there were some really muddy spots.  There was a hill and a creek crossing I had to walk, and I was definitely slower than the guys, but it was fun.

Walk of shame...not quite as fun as the college version.

This is such a great team to ride with, totally supportive and encouraging without being patronizing.  Someone almost always rides behind me so I'm not dropped, and when I hit a sideways log wrong and flew off my bike, I'm pretty sure Casey made sure I was OK before laughing.  In fact, I don't remember him laughing, though it probably looked pretty funny.  It was a good fall; I landed on my hip and rolled--didn't even end up with a bruise.

Yeah, I know...it's just a baby of a log.  More of a stick, really.

While Casey's cramps had ceased to be a big issue during the trek, we didn't do ourselves any favors on the first bike CP.  That creek crossing I walked? Bob and Casey had stopped there to take pictures of Luke and I riding across, I walked through it, and Luke rode it...and somehow all of us missed the fact that the CP was right there.  This cost us some additional time as we rode further past and then stopped to decide if we'd gone too far; it also cost Bob some skin lost when he fell onto Casey's bike.

Apparently Bob's first fall.

I don't know if it was the mud on the trails or what, but my bike--the bike I had just had tuned up so I wouldn't have any bike issues during the race!!--was misshifting all over the place on hills.  It made it difficult to get any kind of momentum going.  Very frustrating.  Bob switched bikes with me to see if he could get mine adjusted better, and when he took his bike back and went to raise his seat again, the seat post clamp wouldn't work right.  Despite taking some time to fiddle with it, the best we could manage still left him on a seat far too low to be comfortable.  Every time I thought about it for the rest of the race, I blamed myself.

To recap: we'd already suffered cramps, navigational missteps, and two mechanicals.  I was thrilled to be racing as part of Team Virtus and was having a great time despite the problems, but I worried that they might regret bringing me.  Rather than being an asset to the team, I was starting to wonder if I was more of a bad-luck charm...and it wasn't even noon yet.

....to be continued....on to Part 2

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

LBL on the horzion

Not so very long ago, I brought you the exciting news of my adoption into the Team Virtus family, and now our first race together looms large on the horizon.  Seeing as you'll be hearing even more about them, I thought I'd introduce you to my teammates for the LBL Challenge Adventure Race.  Because I have little room in my brain for anything that isn't obsessing over the race, I took the liberty of stealing the blurbs from the always entertaining Virtus blog, but I've been assured that it's ok because now it's my blog, too.

First up is Bob, who I first met last March at the Deuce.  Since then we've gotten to bike together a few times and hang out before and after the last couple adventure races (and I guess during, too, at times).

Then, there's Casey, who I finally got to meet in person at September's Berryman after months of commenting on his blog posts...and titles (or Luke's titles, depending on who you believe)...and spelling...

And, finally (alphabetically, anyway), there's Luke.  I first met him last February at the Castlewood Cup 15K, and then he was my tour guide to the wonderful world of maps at the Deuce.  He's also had the dubious pleasure of biking with me, most notably taking one for the team by being my partner in the Tall Oak Challenge.

I still am kind of pinching myself that I get to race with this team, some of the nicest, funniest, hairiest people I know (and that goes for the whole Virtus team, not just the ones I'm racing with this weekend). I have some awesome local friends who have their own adventure racing team, so it's really nice to have a team where I belong (and even have my own Tenacious D-inspired nickname!) rather than having to sit around and hope somebody needs a teammate.

LBL will be my first 24-hour adventure race.  The website tells us our race "will consist of 40-60 miles of mountain biking on paved and gravel roads, jeep roads and single track trails; running, trekking and bushwhacking 15-30 miles and paddling 15-25 miles".  The course is unmarked and teams navigate with a map and compass to checkpoints located along the way.  Teams with the most checkpoints in the least amount of time win.
Source: http://www.zazzle.com/peeing_your_pants_is_the_coolest_tshirt-235999864114692791
We leave in two days for Tennessee.   Two days.  It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads my blog that I'm practically peeing my pants with excitement.  I've spent the last two weeks daydreaming constantly about the race, getting my gear together, obsessively checking the weather forecast, and doing my best to not email the guys 10,000 emails a day about how many minutes until the race.  Thank goodness for the teaching job that demands my attention.  While my kids are in the classroom, I'm focused on them (except for when they ask me about the race) and can give my system a brief respite from the adrenaline surge.

The guys aren't much better, though.  Luke sends us regular countdowns while looking into paddle options and trying to corral the other three of us into making decisions, Bob is reading race reports from previous LBLs and staring at maps trying to guess how we'll start, and Casey is researching the canoes it looks like we may use (rereading the blurb under his picture might give you a hint why).  A quick look at my email shows at least 28 LBL-related emails in the past week, and that doesn't count my responses or anything I may have deleted.

As is typical for me as a race looms near, I'm transitioning from simple excitement to bipolar mood swings between hyperactive puppy and hyperventilation.  What am I nervous about?
  •  The mountain biking, in particular at night, though at least I've been on the singletrack at LBL and felt comfortable.
  • 24 hours of racing.  Wow, that's a long time.
  • Slowing the guys down.
  • 24 straight hours of racing
  • Hoping that having a girl along doesn't cramp their style
Judging from the emails and comments like this, though, I think we'll do just fine.
I'm not really worried worried about all this stuff.  I know there will be times that it's wonderful and times that it's awful, but through it all will be the joy of doing something big in a cool place with awesome people.  Bonkhard Racing puts on fantastic races, I'm looking forward to meeting some new friends in person, and I completely trust and enjoy my team.  I guarantee we'll have more fun than anyone else out there. 

Unfortunately, once again there's no online coverage for you all to be able to check in and see how we're doing, but I'll update the SuperKate facebook page/twitter if I can or you can follow @teamvirtus on twitter or "like" Team Virtus on facebook. 

Two more days.

I can't wait.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Run + bike

After deciding to opt out of the Double Chubb 50K in favor of the CAC non-race, I was disappointed to find out that despite having someone who badly wanted my number AND an extensive waiting list, I couldn't sell my entry.  It's their race, and I guess they can make whatever rules they want to, but I sure prefer the way my club does entries for its Pere Marquette run: if you aren't able to do the race, you can do a bib transfer and sell your entry to someone who can.  Oh, well, I'm secure in my decision to non-race and will now have the distinction of being the only competitor who paid $50 to participate in this free event.

With that decision made and no big running race on the horizon, though, all of my running motivation evaporated.  Well, I wanted to run, but it was hard to drag myself out of bed before work when I didn't have to.  How hard was it (TWSS)? So hard that it took me until Friday to actually get up and run...a measly 2 miles run that felt like I'd never run before.  I was a little disappointed.

At least I was able to appreciate the weather.
Just because I have no straight running race doesn't mean there's nothing looming on my horizon, of course.  I leave this Friday for the LBL Challenge adventure race.  Being as the foot portion is my strength, it wouldn't do to suck there, so I really can't afford to stop running.  I need to be able to bring something to the team besides my sparkling personality and argyle socks, especially when someone is going to have to share canoe-portaging duties with me and my paltry arm muscles. That realization was enough to get me back out on Saturday morning for another run.

J had a 10:15 soccer game, and the soccer fields are 4ish miles from my house.  Between the fields and the house is the Big Woods, some of my very favorite trails.  Instead of driving to the trails to run, I decided to run to the trails, run the trails, and then run over to the soccer fields in time for the game.  That way we could all drive home together.  I didn't get out of the house quite as early as planned, but that's ok because it meant I got a chance to run a mile or so with Mike.

Heading down one of our local bike trails to the woods.  The fog was burning off by now.
My first couple of miles were pretty slow; of course, I spend part of one walking and eating my breakfast.  The third mile was around 8:30, though: pretty fast for me.  Mile 4 started with a hill (walk) and then a jog across the grass and behind the dorms to get to the trail entrance.  Once I hit the trails, though, I had to stop and take a couple pictures.  It was so beautiful there.  The pictures truly don't do it justice.  Spring is most definitely here, as evidenced by the mossy edge of the trail and the green buds on the trees and bushes.  I had such a feeling of gratitude that we have such a wonderful place to run so close.

Tracks n Treads runners, this area is where the run portion of the race will be

Mike caught up with me on the trails, and we had a nice run together until we got to the path down to the soccer fields.  I ended up with about 6 miles for the morning.

J's soccer game was pretty awesome.  He's played with the same team for a few seasons now (spring and fall), and they're starting to play pretty well.  He had several chances to score and finally kicked in the team's first goal of the season.  His team ended up winning 3-1. (Even though they don't keep score, we do. :D  It's funny...when N was in soccer, I can remember several games where his team got their butts kicked, but he remembered the score as quite different...which was fine with us.)

The day's temperature was in the low 80's, absolutely gorgeous, and I suggested it would be a great day for a hike.  Jeff didn't agree, wanting to get some yard work done.  Being as I spend an awful lot of time doing what I want to do, and knowing that if it wasn't for my husband our house would be falling down around us (it must be very difficult to be an ant married to a grasshopper), we did things his way.  Turned out to be a good choice as we got hit by some major rain an hour or so into the yard work...right when we'd have been getting to the park to hike.

N came out to help but spent more time playing with J, who apparently can't get enough soccer.
If Saturday was the day of the run, Sunday was the day of the bike. The Bike Surgeon, a bike shop about 30 minutes from my house, was hosting Women's Ride Day.  I had to work children's church registration an hour away, and I wouldn't be getting out until after 11, which made making the noon ride time a sketchy proposition at best.  But instead of getting discouraged, I wore my bike clothes under my church clothes and had my bike loaded up so I could drive straight there.

I just made it.  The women were all on bikes and listening to instructions as I pulled in.  I pulled off my skirt (shorts underneath) and boots, threw on my bike shoes, switched my church shirt for a bike jersey, and got my bike out of the trunk and set up in time to run in, register, and get to the group before they left. There were three different ride options: 10 miles, 20 miles, and 30 miles. 

I can ride 30 miles no problem, so I'd planned to go with that group, but when the guy explaining the options added that the 30 mile ride was probably going to ride at a 20 mph pace, I wavered.  I can ride that fast, but I've never ridden that far at that pace.  In addition, my bike is once again stuck in the big ring though I just had it at the bike shop because of that, so I wasn't sure how I'd do on any hills.  I ended up deciding to stick with the 30 mile option, though, and I'm glad I did.

It was another beautiful day, sunny, and in the 80's.  I knew quite a few ladies in the group from Team Revolution events and from races, so it was fun to visit with people I hadn't seen for a while as well as meet some new people.  I felt great riding, and my torture chamber bike seat wasn't too bad.  The route had some hills to it, and since I was stuck in a big gear I ended up standing in the pedals a lot to climb...which probably helped extend the time before I was saddle sore.

We were maybe halfway through the ride when I heard a pop from my front tire.  A flat.  I've been pretty spoiled, because I think I've only had one other flat during an organized ride, and that was back in 2009.  Most of the women kept going, and one of the ride leaders stayed with me.  Despite the fact that I never learned how to change a car tire, I have actually put some time into learning how to change a bike tire, so I wasn't totally at a loss.  I'm slow, but I had everything finished but the airing up when Kube and Carrie came back to check on us.  Carrie, who races professionally and can change a tire in no time, finished airing up and putting back on my tire while I put the levers and stuff away.

We pushed the pace a little to catch back up with the group, and I was still feeling good.  The hills were tough, but hills are always tough, and I was making it up them.  The roads were pretty smooth, and I'd gotten my flat tire dealt with without too much drama.  And then another pop, again from the front tire.  WTF...two flat tires in a row?  And I'd felt all inside the tire the first time to make sure there was nothing still stuck in the tire.  Either I missed something or just had bad luck, but my ride was finished because I'd only brought one spare tube.  The ride leader was about to call for the SAG wagon when Carrie saved the day again. 

She switched out our front wheels, sent me on my way, changed my tire, put the wheel onto her bike, and then caught up with us.  How awesome is that??  She's a Team Revolution member (founder?), and this is so characteristic of the Team Rev ladies I've met. She's this amazing, fast cyclist, but when she comes out on a ride like this, she's much more about making it a good ride for other women than going out and hammering it and trying to show anybody up.  Big thanks to her.

I'm pretty lucky, because that attitude is pretty typical of everybody I ride with on a regular basis.  Out there, wanting to be the best they can be, but also invested in the people they're riding with.  I've had the benefit of a lot of different peoples' patience and advice as I've spent more time on group runs and rides, and I really hope that's something I never forget.  If more people got to ride with the kind of people I get to ride with, there would be a lot more cyclists because the ones I'm talking about are the best possible advertisements and ambassadors for the sport.  And I want to be just like them when I grow up...or, more to the point, get better myself.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I have a family. Sometimes I even see them.

Saturday was awesome.  The weather is awesome.  I haven't run all this week, though, and between lack of activity and excitedly anticipating this, I'm jumping out of my skin. Seriously.  I could fill up a blog obsessing about LBL.  My first 24 hour adventure race.  My first race as an official Team Virtus member.  In 9 more days.

Saturday was pretty much spent in drive - ride - drive, though we did have a nice dinner out.  I didn't even fall asleep in my Chinese food, and despite losing an hour to daylight savings time, I actually woke up well rested on Sunday.  Jeff had the brilliant idea to go to the zoo, so we had breakfast and then took off.

It really was brilliant.  St. Louis has a great zoo, but it's packed on nice weekend days.  Sunday was not a particularly nice weekend day.  It was gray, a little chilly, and rainy.  Perfect for keeping the crowds away!

We parked near Turtle Park, so of course we had to stop there and climb around.



The deadly tortoise


I'm king of the turtle

After climbing around, we headed over to the zoo.  We saw a bunch of animals, and of course had to go into the penguin house, which is breathtakingly stenchy. 

Jeff had us standing right under a hole in the roof with rain dripping down on us.

I think there's some kind of rule that you must get your picture taken on this gorilla

We had a good couple hours wandering around before the weather got colder and the rain started falling in earnest, and then we headed home.

Camels are nasty.
Between training and work and school, I'm gone a lot, so it was really nice to get some time to hang out with a couple of my guys.  Maybe next time the older boys will be home, too, and we can all go somewhere together...