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Monday, September 30, 2013

This girl will self-destruct in 10 seconds

Don't worry...this is no cry for help. Rather, it's an admission that maybe I overdid it this weekend.  That possibly my lack of discipline and inability to say no to things that sound fun could be getting in the way of my performance.  That, in fact, it's conceivable that I'm my own worst enemy.

So...I've got this little half marathon coming up in six days.  Road races don't particularly call to me, and I had no plans to do another half, but my teammate Adam was doing this one and some other friends are and somehow I convinced myself that I wanted to do it as well. My first half marathon was a raging success by my standards, so when I first committed to this race my intention was to train faithfully and collect a second sub-2 hour finish.  You're reading this blog, so chances are good that you won't be surprised to hear that things didn't quite work out that way.

I got a good start, but then school started back up again and I developed this aversion to running in the dark because of all the skunks in our neighborhood (that's totally an excuse...I mean, it's both true and a bullshit wimpy excuse) and all I wanted to do was ride my bikes.  Still, even if I was whiffing on my mid-week miles, I had some decent long runs.  9 miles on August 18, whatever the trekking mileage was at Thunder Rolls, and 10 miles on Sept. 1.  Then my planned long run was cut short two weeks ago when I hurt my back.  Sigh.

I got in 10K last weekend and figured I'd run a few miles this Saturday and then basically just write off the last two months as an extend taper.  Instead, this Saturday found me running 12.6 at Lost Valley, one of my very favorite trails.  I won't pretend it was easy (or that I wasn't looking at all the people out on mountain bikes with undisguised envy), but it was fun -- perhaps more so in retrospect than at the time, though there was one stretch that was absolutely glorious and made me so sad not to have a camera along so I could capture the moment -- and my average pace was 11:46/mi.  Maintaining that on trails and hills gives me hope that Sunday's half marathon won't be a disaster.  Even better, I made it through that distance with minimal hip pain, and if the only thing this half marathon "training" gives me is the ability to run the distance again without spending the last four miles limping, I'll be thrilled.

Sunday was the third race in the Wild Trak Bikes Superprestige cyclocross series, and my biggest hope was that the muscled pain from Saturday's run wouldn't set in until after my race.  I was a little stiff when I woke up, but my legs didn't feel too bad.  That didn't stop me from coming in last in my race, though.  Two other girls DNF'd, but all of the other finishers (8 of us in all) were ahead of me, including one woman at her first cross race.  While I expected her to beat me because I know she's stronger on a bike than I am, it's still really disheartening to lose to someone totally new to cross.

On the plus side, unlike last week at La Vista, none of the women in my race lapped me, the course was a lot of fun, and the photographer took some good pictures of me. Credit Mike Dawson for the awesome pictures.  Very cool to have someone out on the course every weekend taking and posting photographs for us! 
Early in the race.  You can tell because there are actually other bikes around me.
I'm either smiling because I'm talking to the photographer or laughing at myself because I just did something stupid.  Both things happened in this spot.  I still love the picture.
Another cool picture.
I had planned to do the Open race as well if there were few enough women that I was guaranteed to finish in the money, but instead I wimped out.  I got as far as the staging area and talked myself out of it.  My whiny self-talk went something like, I don't want to limp around this course for another hour while all these fast people fly around me.  So I didn't and was immediately disgusted with myself.  Since when am I too wimpy to suffer for one more hour on a bike, especially surrounded with cool people and on a course I loved (except for the run-up).  I find it way too easy to let myself off the hook.

I went home in a lousy frame of mind and planned to go out back and practice remounts after sitting and relaxing with a magazine for a while.  Instead, I got a message from my friend Dave suggesting a mountain bike ride.  Since my guys were spending the day watching football, I jumped at the chance to ride at Bluff View, one of my new favorite trails.  If I'd realized just how long it would take to get there (I've only ridden there from a closer park) I probably would have opted out, but I'm so glad I went.  It was exactly what I needed to break out of my negative mindset. 

How can you be crabby when your trails include a playground with a view?
I fell right asleep last night, but I really didn't realize how tired I was until I got to work this morning.   I'm just exhausted.  Much napping will be taking place this week.  Oh, and looking ahead to this coming weekend...Judging from Saturday's run, I think a 2:15 finish is possible, so here are my goals for Sunday's race: 

C goal: no major hip or knee pain
B goal: 2:15
A goal: anything better than 2:15 and/or still be able to make it in time to race at the cross race. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cyclocross for dummies

Before my first CX race last year the sum total of my "training" was to preride the course the morning of the race.  This year, I actually made it out to the practice course once before the first race and an additional two times before the second.  Three dedicated practices...that's pretty rare for me.  The nice thing about cyclocross is that, for the most part, it's much less intimidating than other forms of bike racing.  The wide lanes of the course make passing (or, in my case, being passed) pretty painless, and falling on grass beats falling on pavement.

On the other hand, most CX races feature natural or manmade barriers that force you off your bike, usually in very spectator-friendly locations.  And because you're riding laps around a course, you get to encounter these barriers multiple times.  The idea, of course, is to maintain as much momentum as possible.  Because you may be as unfamiliar with cyclocross as I was before last September, I'll let Georgia Gould (Olympic mountain biking bronze medalist who rides for the Luna womens pro team) show you what crossing barriers should look like.

Since I've made no secret of my sad lack of bike handling skills and coordination, I'm sure it'll come as no surprise that my encounters with barriers are nowhere near smooth.  In fact, mine look something like ride up, come to a full stop, put both feet on the ground, step off the bike, lift it, half-heartedly lug my bike over the barriers, set my bike down, step back over it, find pedal, push off, start riding again. Since I did two races at Rock Springs, that meant I had to endure this minor humiliation 7 times (and it would've been more if I was faster).

I was determined to change this before my next race, but I was convinced that if I tried swinging my leg off my bike while it was in motion I'd fall over.  So I practiced in the kitchen, where I could catch myself against the counter or refrigerator (or accidentally bang my foot into the desk chair and almost fall over, which also happened).  After 20-30 minutes of practice, I convinced my husband to videotape it.

Yeah, I know...sad.  But I was both entertained by the idea of practicing in the kitchen and encouraged enough by my preliminary success to decide to take my new skills outside and try them out on the course.  This necessitated some wheeling and dealing with my husband, because cross practice fell on his birthday.  Luckily I'm married to an understanding guy, and he was ok with me going to practice and meeting him later for dinner.

While riding laps wore me out enough that I started to doubt whether I could manage a dismount during the race, I did get up the nerve to practice them in a nice, flat field, and then Scott suggested I try riding up to a barrier and dismounting.  Good thing he did, because it made me realize how important timing is in your approach.  By the time I left for dinner, I felt pretty comfortable with the dismount process.

My friend Patrick had offered to help me practice, so the next night found us at the SIUE fields.  Once I'd practiced dismounts for a while, we tackled remounts.  Feeling very unsure, I put my left foot on the left pedal, swung my right leg over my bike...and promptly fell over onto the concrete.  Ow. Once he stopped laughing Patrick told me, "Remember how Jeff Sona told you your bike wants to stay up? Well you have to help it...you need some momentum."  Without my refrigerator to catch my fall, I had no choice but to take Patrick's advice, and lo and behold pushing off a little before swinging my leg over made things much easier.

So now I could dismount and remount, but I couldn't string the two together into a smooth series.  Trying to step onto the pedal of a bike in motion was pretty much beyond me, and I don't (yet) have the confidence to just hop onto the bike like Georgia does in the video.  I'm pretty convinced I'd catch my foot on something, fall over, and impale myself on one of the stakes helping mark the course.  Baby steps, right?

Unlike the Rock Springs race, where only 4 women lined up for the cat 4 race, our field at La Vista had 14. My friend Anne had made the 1.5 hour trek for her first CX experience, and two other first timers were there.  For all their giggles about last-minute decision and never having done this, I saw the Ironman logo on one of their bike shorts and read the writing on the wall: I was going to get my ass handed to me.

I lined up closer to the front and started more aggressively than usual, and at the beginning of the race I was in something like fifth place before, inevitably, girl after girl started to pass me.  Robin.  The new girls.  Susan. Damn.  The practices have definitely improved my handling and comfort in all of the turns that make up a cyclocross course, but until I actually put in longer and harder miles on my bike I'm destined for the back of the pack.
Photo credit: Russ Darbon

My three evenings of practice (kitchen, cx course, and SIUE) had been enough to make me advocate for barriers in the race on Sunday ("You have to have barriers!! I've been practicing them for a week!"), and I did manage a non-humiliating dismount each time I encountered the barriers.  One perk of doing a rolling dismount is that I took the barriers at something resembling a run; unfortunately my inability to remount brought my momentum to a standstill.

Just about to swing my right leg over.
 Having ridden the permanent course at La Vista several times, I was dreading the back half of the laps.  Bumpy field, tight turns followed by grunty uphills with no momentum....ugh.  Instead, I was delighted with the reroutes the course designer figured out, and the back section was much better.  Another great thing about the back half was that my friends Scott, Angela, and their daughters had shown up to check out the race, so I got to hear their cheers when I passed.

Photo credit: Mike Dawson
We rode 4 laps, and the on-course support was great.  The girl who cheered for my socks every time they passed her...the guy who squirted me with water and encouraged us with thoughts of ice cream and margaritas...the guy who reminded me, "Keep those pedals turning" as I coasted through a curve (I kept that in mind the rest of the race)...the guys heckling and "encouraging" at the barrier...Russ taking pictures...and friends who'd already raced cheering...it was very cool.  The first 5 or 6 girls lapped me, but another 4 didn't, and I ended up finishing ahead of three people, which is a new personal best for me.  

Yes, it would've been nice to place or, you know, not be lapped by half the field. But hey, I got to spend a beautiful day outside with a bunch of really cool people, try out a new skill, and race bikes with my friends. It's hard to beat a day like that.

Anne, Robin, me, and Kristen...still standing (more or less) afterwards

Monday, September 16, 2013

On the wrong side of the law: Thunder Rolls 24hr AR, part 3

Note: If you haven't caught up with our adventures at Thunder Rolls, take a moment to read up on parts 1 and 2.  This race report was written by Kate, with commentary from Luke in red. Now, on to our story...

When I last left off part 2 of the race report, our two teams had decided to go separate ways.  Luke and I had just run laughing away from our teammates, the last running we would do at the race.  We slowed as soon as we were out of view, but Luke and I maintained a fast hike because we were determined to get as many CPs as we could.  Our main goal was to clear the bike-o course; if we could do that, we'd evaluate how much time we had left and possibly go for one or two points on the next o-course before heading back.  All of this was heavily dependent on how well the next few hours went; the only thing certain was that we were going to leave ourselves plenty of time to get back.  In fact, our personal cutoff time to be at the bikes gave us nearly twice the time it should take us to ride back.  We were going to play it smart; the last thing either of us wanted was another frantic finish like at LBL.  Our plan was solid.  

The day had gotten pretty hot, and we were thankful that the temperature would soon start dropping from its midday peak.  Headed into the woods after a short hike along the road, we followed a reentrant to CP20.  From here we made our way down a trail to a creek and stayed along it until the creek to a creek junction where CP19 was located.  This was our attack point for the infamous CP17.  The intel on CP17 was that it was hard to find.  The team I'd run into at the pavilion had given me some pointers on where they'd found it, and armed with this knowledge, Luke and I set off up the creek.   This walk in the park was...no walk in the park.

On a map, everything looks so cut and dried.  Oh, just follow that creekbed until you come to the rock outcropping where the CP is.  The reality is anything but.  The creekbed was littered with downed trees, and the reentrant was lined with scrub so thick and deep that you couldn't see the sides.  Looking for the rock outcropping in the clue, all we could see was green.  We hiked up the reentrant, trying higher and lower on the sides with no success.  Then Luke noticed that there was a smaller side reentrant partially obscured by the circle marking the CP on the map and realized that we needed to be there.  Once he figured that out, we found 17 pretty easily.

Uphill for the CP...everything is uphill.Success!! Luke: After conversing with a couple of teams that never got CP17, it was REALLY nice to find it.

Proud to have found the elusive CP17 and so. very. sweaty.
From 17 we shot a rough bearing and headed up to the ridgetop and then down the biggest reentrant which led to the spur CP 15 was supposed to be on.  We hit the wrong spur first but found it fairly quickly after some searching.

Luke bushwhacking between checkpoints
 From 15, we headed down the creek and followed it to a park road.  Stopping briefly so that Luke could mix up a bottle of E-fuel, we looked at ourselves in amused disgust.  Though the temperature had slowly started to drop, the shade of the woods hadn't provided quite the respite we'd anticipated.  The nonexistent breeze combined with heat and humidity to make our hike seem more like a trek through a tropical jungle. Our clothes were drenched and filthy; my hair was falling out of its braid and plastered to my sweaty skin. On one level I recognized how terrible I must look (and smell!), but I've never cared less about my appearance.

Luke: I’m pretty sure we’ve never been more disgusting in a race before.  I was literally as wet or wetter than when we had been chest deep in the water heading into the cave earlier in the race.  It was gross… And awesome.

So filthy. So happy.
We crossed the road and headed back into the woods and up a reentrant to find CP16. I was particularly happy to punch this one because this is where I'd mispunched CP24, so I was finally able to relax knowing we had them both (as long as I remembered to tell the volunteers back at the finish line about the switch). We climbed back down the reentrant and up to the road.

Climbing back up to the road.  This would be a relatively clear path.
  We could actually see CP18 from the road, so after a quick hop into the trees we were back on pavement and hoping to find a place to fill up with water.  The road was long and steep, and I was pretty grateful that we'd just left our bikes where we'd initially dropped them; it was enough to drag myself uphill.  We followed the road to a trail/ridge junction.  Luke shot a bearing that took us across a field before we dropped back into the treeline, and we followed a path pretty much right to CP30.

Random field in the middle of forest.
 I had felt amazing all day long, and this section is where I started dragging.  I'd been eating like crazy all day, and I don't think I had slacked off, but maybe I did or maybe it was just the cumulative effect of 18 hours of racing.  Whatever the reason, I was relieved when Luke "took his turn" at being the passport puncher since I'd been doing it all day.  Of course, he'd been navigating all day, and I didn't take over the maps, but he had realized before I did that I needed a break.  After smooth going all afternoon, the next couple of CPs took a little more searching ("helped" along by my spotting of a couple phantom checkpoints), but we found them.  Naturally, we were trekking through fields of stinging nettle, and over and over again I was grateful that (this time) I'd listened to the guys about wearing pants.  Not having long sleeves, though, I spent a lot of time holding my hands out of the way.

Luke: Stinging Nettle is the worst!  I HIGHLY recommend some white sun-sleeves for summer racing.  However, even with the sleeves, I still got stung.

Doing the POW walk through shoulder-high stinging nettle.
 Things were going well.  Really well. We just had a few more CPs to go and were pretty stoked about our success.  Having cleared all of the points on this loop, Luke set a course back towards our bikes.  Because I was still dragging at this point, we ended up following a trail up to a clearing rather than take Luke's initial route over some hills.  We emerged into meadow and set a fast hike back to the bikes.  We were just discussing whether or not this was a field we remembered from last year when we saw someone running in our direction.  We hadn't seen another team since shortly after we'd split from our other half, so we waved happily at the runner. As she neared us, we realized it was Sue, one of the volunteers who we'd last seen some 16 (?) hours before at the ascending wall, and boy was she surprised to see us.  "What are you doing out here??" she asked.


The question wasn't as weird as it initially seemed.  There had been some confusion because, having seen the other Virtus team at the finish, a volunteer had reported that we were all in.  Not knowing there was a team left in this section, volunteers were taking the flags down from this area.  As soon as she saw us, Sue got right on the phone with the others clearing the course, making sure that nobody tore down the CPs we were still chasing.  Hiking away, we were almost giddy with relief. What were the chances that we ran into Sue out there? If we'd gone with our original route, we'd have missed her.  How terrible would it have been if we were out there looking for CPs that had been pulled down?  By blind luck, we'd avoided disaster and were still in the game.

Luke: Phew! We caught a HUGE break there.  We left Sue with high hopes of getting all of the CP’s we wanted to get before making it back to the finish line with plenty of time left.

Back at our bikes, we opted not to change into bike shoes.  We were only riding a couple miles of paved road, and we knew we'd want trail shoes for the trek to our remaining CPs.  We were willing to give up a little bit of pedaling efficiency rather than waste time repeatedly changing shoes or suffer by trekking in our bike shoes (no fun).  In what seemed like minutes we were riding into our next attack point, where we ran into our friends from Orange Lederhosen ...being lectured by a conservation police officer?

ol cw
**Flashback to the 2011 Castlewood 8-hour and this possibly staged photo**
 If you're lucky enough to know these guys, it might not surprise you that they'd be on the wrong side of the law, but their "crime" was ridiculous.  As we rode up, she was informing them that this part of the park was closed, that they had to know that because there were signs up all over saying the park closed at sunset (7:46 that evening).  Being as it was a good four minutes past that at the time, we were all in clear violation of the park rules.    We'd all been in the park for several hours, almost all of that time was off-trail and away from signs, and even if we'd noticed the signs, we'd have ignored them.  We had the expectation that, since the race was there, we had permission to be there...an expectation shared by the race director and his permit.

Lederhosen ticket
You can see from the highlighted times that by the time she'd finished talking to them and writing the ticket, it was a whopping 10 minutes past sunset. Overzealous much?
  Luke: As soon as this “cop” said that “sunset was at 7:46 today” I knew we were in trouble.  She clearly has limited power and authority, so she has to really abuse the little bit she actually has.  I mean, come on!  Who actually looks up the exact time the sun sets?  And who in their right mind would write a ticket a few minutes past this time?!?  It was absolutely ridiculous!  I was dumbfounded.

I clarified, "So just the South section is closed?" This wouldn't be a big deal because we'd already cleared this section.  Unfortunately, everything except the campground section was closed.  This cut us off from our two remaining CPs in the North section and our planned route back to the finish.  Just like that, the officer had squashed our hopes of clearing the bike-o.  We stood there in furious disbelief, but as she turned her attention back to the Lederhosen boys and started writing them a warning ticket, Luke and I decided to slip away before she gave any more thought to us.


Luke: I went from being dumbfounded to pissed in a hurry.  But I didn’t want to have to fight a bullshit ticket from 6 hours away, and I DEFINTITELY didn’t want to pay a bullshit fine for a bullshit ticket written by a stupid, bullshit rent-a-cop.  Talk about having the wind taken out of your sails!  This was a crushing blow.

We rode away in angry silence.  We've weathered plenty of adversity in races -- a fight between teammates, mechanicals, debilitating leg cramps, a yellow jacket attack, missing meds, and terrible ascents to name a few -- things that are all part of the package.  This outside interference.  This was...I feel like a first grader saying it, but this wasn't fair.  One of the cool things about adventure racing is that you don't necessarily have to be fast; strategy and perseverance come into play, and sometimes if you don't quit, you can finish ahead of teams who may have been faster but chose to end their race earlier.  Now, despite our good plan, successful navigation, and carefully budgeted time, the "don't quit" option was gone.  There were still three CPs we could get in the campground section, but I think for a while we could both have easily said fuck it, let's just go back.

Luke: I haven’t felt this low in a race since the Phantom Cut-Off fiasco, but this was different.  The Phantom Cut-Off was because of an incompetent, asshole race director.  This time, our hopes were crushed by an overzealous, idiot conservation “cop.”  And Kage is right.  I easily could have said, “Fuck it.  I’m done.”  But that’s not the Virtus Hhhhway. 

But we didn't.  We got the closest two remaining checkpoints, stopped to talk to another team, and then crossed paths again with the Lederhosens as we rode towards CP 34, the transition area.  There, the volunteers told us Gerry was directing teams to take the short way back (our intended path)- because most teams would not make it back in time going the long way.  Being as we'd just encountered an officer who had told us in no uncertain terms that we weren't allowed to be in that part of the park -- and that as an oldest child and a teacher I'm a born rule-follower -- that didn't work for me.  (And the “cop” had already seen us and spoke with us, so we were pretty sure she wouldn’t just let us off with a written warning if she caught us “breaking the law” again.) In the end, we had to take the longer route back to the finish line.  The volunteers warned us that teams were averaging 3.5 hours for the trip back, which was particularly unfortunate because we had less time than that before the midnight cutoff.

Because we had never planned to take this route back, we hadn't plotted it on our map.  While Luke painstakingly made out the numbers on our sweaty, smeared race booklet, I ate, drank, and waited.  I've learned that hurrying your navigator doesn't save time when it causes them to make mistakes, so tried to keep my impatience at a minimum.  I've also learned how important it is to take care of your teammates -- heaven knows they're always asking if I'm eating and drinking -- but somehow I never thought to check to see if Luke needed anything or make sure he ate something.  This would prove to be a big mistake.

Luke: I was so focused on plotting and planning our route (which was difficult since there were 5 or 6 maps involved), that I guess I forgot to eat or drink anything other than half of a Monster energy drink.

We rolled out of the TA at 9:15.  Two hours and forty-five minutes to ride a route that was apparently taking many teams considerably longer.  Oh, the irony...despite all our good intentions we were once again racing our bikes to avoid missing a cut-off.  We turned onto the highway in front of the park, and I immediately felt exposed and nervous.  Riding a road at night is scary because, despite our headlights and red blinky taillights, drivers really aren't looking out for bikes in the dark (full disclosure: despite my big fear here, I think maybe only one car actually passed us on this road).  As is typical with these guys I race with, always putting themselves between me and danger whether it's an oncoming dog or potential traffic, Luke rode behind me on the highway.

Pedaling fast, because I really was scared here, I was for once having a little trouble with the chivalry. He has four young children, two of my kids are grown adults...if one of us is going to get killed it should probably be me...he's so much younger than I am... Yeah, what can I say?  My internal monologues can be a little dramatic. (I wasn’t being chivalrous, I was trying to draft off you.) Thankfully, we made it onto the gravel without incident, except that as I flew down the road I realized I'd lost Luke, who'd had to stop to roll up the pant leg that kept catching in his chain.

I waited until he caught up, then back together, we made our way to the first CP on the bike leg back.  Luke checked the maps while I punched our passport.  Another team was there at the same point, confused about a course change that they apparently hadn't heard in the race meeting, so Luke got them straightened up about that.  As they rode off, his headlamp started flashing, so I pointed my light so he could get the batteries changed and then, because I'm always the slowest team member on the bike, I started riding while Luke finished putting his old batteries away.  "I'm going to go ahead since you're going to pass me in a minute anyway!"

I rode in the direction he'd pointed me, pretty quickly coming alongside the other team and then, though I knew they'd be zooming right by me again in a minute, passing them.  We never saw them again.  The hill seemed to go on forever, but I felt weirdly good for the first part, almost like I was riding on flat ground.  Eventually it didn't feel good at all, but we still managed to ride the whole thing.

Luke: This hill was effing ridiculous!  It… Just… Kept… Going…  I was proud to see Kate fly by the other team and completely smash them up that hill, but I soon realized that I was starting to fall behind and really starting to hurt.

Luke's navigation was dead on, and we found the next CP with no problems.  I had to climb a little hill at the intersection to punch the passport, and Luke looked over the maps.  Orange Lederhosen pulled up as we were about to roll out.  With a downhill ahead of me, I again left before Luke.  The guys are all way braver on hills than I am, so any head start would just lessen the amount of time he'd be waiting at the bottom for me.  The Lederhosens caught up with us again during this section, and we all pulled over at one point so that Luke and Derrick could do a map check.  Course confirmed, we started back again, climbing yet another ridiculous hill.  At one point Sheldon and I were riding towards the front, but at some point they all disappeared (turns out at some point they'd lost their passport) and it was just Luke and me again.  And then it was just me.

Because my bike handling sucks, I have a hard time looking behind me to see who's there, and I didn't realize that Luke was gone.  Bob and I always have to laugh in races, because while we're dying at the end Luke and Casey just seem to get stronger.  You'd almost hate them if they weren't dragging your ass to the finish.  Given this experience, I kept expecting Luke to come flying past, but looking behind me on a hill his light was way back, so I got off and started walking, waiting at the top.  When he got there, he looked grumpy, and I assumed he was irritated with me for getting ahead like that...which was a dick move, or would have been if it had been intentional.  Regardless, I should have been more aware of where my teammate was.

Luke: I wasn’t pissed at Kate at all.  In fact, I was proud of how strong she had been all race and especially proud of how super-strong she was on this last bike leg.  I was just hurting and trying not to puke.  I had nothing left in my legs, and I couldn’t eat or drink.  It sucked.  Plain and simple.  And she’s too modest to say how much stronger than me she was this late in the race.  She was an animal!  Seriously.  I’ve never seen her stronger.

Kate: He’s right.  It was crazy and wonderful.  I have no idea where it came from…maybe it was the Pop-Tarts.

I think I assumed he'd had to fix his pant leg again or wrestle with the maps, but after this pattern repeated itself a couple more times I finally realized there was something wrong.  "Are you ok?" I asked.

"I'm bonking bad," he answered.

 Now I felt like a total asshole.  Here I'd been, happily (ok not happily...those hills sucked) riding along, not realizing that my partner was hurting.  And now that I did know, I didn't know what to do.  Eating made him sick, so he could barely force anything down, and I didn't think I could ride with both of our packs on, so that wasn't an option.  We were so short on time that we couldn't afford to sit down and regroup, and I can't cheerlead someone out of a bonk.  In retrospect, the only thing that might have helped would have been to switch bikes so that Luke could ride the one with the smoother tires, but trading his nice 29er for my heavy 26er might not have been an improvement.  The only thing I could do is what I should have been doing all along: stick with my teammate.  So that's what we did, riding hill after hill until finally we made it to the finish line, 9 minutes past the cutoff.

Luke: Even with me bonking and being the weak link, we managed to finish that bike leg in just under 3 hours.  Not bad in hindsight, but as we turned onto the final road leading to the finish line at Camp Benson, it was crushing to see my watch hit 12:00 and know that we had missed the cut-off.

TR finish
With the brilliant and evil RD, Gerry.   (Me using my bike to hold me up.)
 I know Luke had a hard time mustering a smile for the camera, but unranked finish or not, I loved every moment of this race.  We had some major ups and downs, but we came through them all as a team.  And speaking of team, despite their threats to be sound asleep when we got back, our awesome teammates were there cheering as we arrived, taking our bikes and bringing us food (and even going back to the cabin so I could have diet soda instead of regular...thanks Travis!).

Luke: I was still trying not to puke, but I too loved everything about this race (other than super-”cop” of course).  Aside from my bonk at the end, I think it was one of the strongest performances we’ve had.  And big thanks to the rest of our team who took great care of us at the finish line.

The 100 year old POS camera I brought took great pictures...eventually.
24 hours and 9 minutes of racing together and we were still on speaking terms.  Because Luke and I finished after the midnight cutoff, we weren't ranked in the standings.  We missed 20 CPs; the team that won our division finished way before us missed 18.  Had we been able to get the 2 CPs in the forbidden North section and then picked up the one in the campground section we skipped AND gotten back to the finish on time by taking our planned route back, we'd have won our division.  Sometimes you aim high and miss, but I still couldn't be prouder of our race.

Luke: As my Dad has always said: “If the dog hadn’t stopped to take a shit, he’d have caught the rabbit.”  Normally, I believe that statement, but not in this case.  Our plan would have worked, but because of circumstances beyond our control, our plan had to be altered.  So in this case I’ll modify it to this: “If the dog hadn’t been unjustly harassed and threatened by an egomaniacal, power-hungry, overzealous rent-a-”cop”, then he definitely would have caught the rabbit.” But we aren't holding a grudge.  Not at all.

On the other hand, not all of our team was struck down by the midnight cutoff.  Because other teams in their division missed the cutoff, Bob, Robby, and Travis took third place! Now, my mom would say we're all winners, but Luke and I don't have a fancy piece of paper to prove it.

Luke: Nice work, fellas!  Way to represent the team!  Strength and Honor!

We all slept in as much as possible the next morning and then loaded up for home.  I know I was a little sad. After a year of anticipation and excitement, it was over.  Another 365 days of waiting seemed like way too long, and I don't think I'm the only one who'd go back and do that race again tomorrow, with the exact same people, if it was possible.  And since it's not, at least there are only 6 more months til Adventure Camp!

big chair

 Luke: Big thanks to Gerry Voelliger and ALL of the amazing volunteers for putting on one of the hardest, most memorable races I’ve ever done.  The Thunder Rolls is a race that should be on everyone’s calendar every year.  Don’t miss it!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

You can't fix stupid...but you can reinforce it with money and attention

And now a break from our regularly scheduled Thunder Rolls race reports, part 3 of which is not coming along so quickly....

The morning sky through the bathroom curtains looked weirdly dark for 7 a.m. on a summer morning, and a quick peek outside confirmed my suspicions: it was raining.  I know that I'm supposed to be all "Woohoo rain! Awesome! This is what cyclocross is all about!" but I wasn't.  It's not that I mind getting wet or muddy; in fact, those kind of make my day.  It's the falling I'm not so crazy about, and wet, muddy conditions up my chances of falling to around 110%.  On the other hand, my failure to get around to cleaning my bike was looking a lot better.

This is my second year racing in the Wild Trak bikes Superprestige series after getting hooked last year while volunteering at registration.  I'm volunteering again this year, so I rolled into the park around 9 to a steady drizzle.  I love being at the registration table because I get to talk to so many people and put faces to the names I see all the time on Facebook, plus Kristen and I work pretty well together and this year Vanessa joined us too.  The not so great part about volunteering, particularly when you show up exactly when registration opens, is that there really isn't any time to warm up.

Cyclocross...where rain doesn't stop the race, it makes it better.
Singlespeed, men's 4/5, juniors

It was still raining when the first race started at 11 and held the singlespeed, men's cat 4/5, and juniors divisions and was the largest race of the day.  We could only see part of the course from where we were sitting (actually, no matter where you were sitting you could only see part of the course) but heard talk of some minor carnage.  Our spot did provide a prime position from which to heckle/cheer for (depending on my mood) my friends as they passed by each lap.  Bikes and legs were covered with wet grass and mud, and mouths were hanging open.  Awesome.

The youth race came next and was only one lap.  Kristen and I left the registration table to Vanessa and got our bike clothes on.  I'd had rice and a taquito for breakfast and decided maybe I ought to eat something, so I had a banana, a pack of almonds, and a Starbucks mocha.  Lunch of champions!!  By the time we were both ready, the kids were finishing up and there was no time for any warmup or preride, so I was going into the race blind.  My first lap would just have to be my warmup and preride. :)

We "got" to share the course with the men's 3/4 division, which mean we were going to be passed by even faster guys and our race, at 45 minutes, was slightly longer than the previous one.  Awesome again.  The guys started a minute ahead of us, and then we were up.  Maybe because of the rain (which had stopped during the first race) or maybe because there were a lot of other bike events on the calendar this weekend there weren't many women who showed up: only four in our race.  I actually got a decent start before quickly falling behind the two lead girls, and fell even further behind as I moved through the unfamiliar turns cautiously.

I was pretty nervous about the two bigger hills I'd heard about -- I've gotten braver, but the wet ground added something new for me to worry about -- but instead I went down hard on a switchback.  Here I was focused on the hills and I fall on practically flat ground!  Luckily, falling in a damp field is way easier on your body than on pavement or rocky singletrack, and I was right back in after picking myself up and retrieving my water bottle.  Kristen passed me here after making sure I was ok, and then I caught back up at the barriers.

This is actually a picture from last year, but it shows the barriers and pretty much how I feel about them.
Now, if you watch people who are actually good at cyclocross, they swing their leg over their bike and coast in towards the barrier on one pedal, lift their bikes and leap over the barriers like deer, and then jump (literally) onto their bike seat and pedal off like madmen (or women).  My much less efficient method is to ride up, stop, get off my bike, lift it, get back on, and hopefully catch my pedal and ride off.  Because the barriers are always in a prime viewing location, it's a minor humiliation every single lap.  One of these days I need to actually work on dismounts.  I'll put that on my list.

The rest of the course swooped back and forth, up and down, with a couple of nice flattish areas where I could recover and a couple of big hills where I could hold my breath and hope for the best.  I had to laugh on one of my laps when a photographer was at the bottom of that hill; I can only imagine the fear on my face as I sailed past him.  I'll put "get braver" on the list, too.  Scott had posted that preriding the 2.5 mile laps at medium effort took him 11 minutes.  Knowing his medium effort is something akin to my redline effort going downhill, I estimated my lap times would be about 15 minutes, and I was pretty much right on.  By the third lap I was wiped out and felt like my legs were going to fall off. Uphills that really weren't that bad seemed almost insurmountable. Boy was I glad to cross the finish line!

Because Kristen had flatted and DNF'd, that left me in third place for my first cyclocross podium. This was particularly exciting because they were paying out awards 5 deep and I was actually going to get money for the first (and probably only) time for racing.  Usually money is going in the other direction with my racing hobby.

Cat 4 podium, minus me.

The part where I get stupid...

Standing there catching my breath and thinking about grabbing food from the taco truck, I watched as the officials got the final race, open men and open women (the fastest people) lined up. "How many open women are there?" I asked.  The answer, as it turned out, was four.  Four, and the payouts went five deep. This meant that as long as I finished the race I'd collect an award.  It was a no brainer...and by that I mean I didn't use my brain at all.  "Add me to your list!" I told the official.

"You know this is 60 minutes, right?" a friend asked me as I wheeled myself into the very back of the group.  Honestly, I hadn't really thought about this.  Or about the fact that my race-day nutrition wasn't exactly ideal.  Or the fact that my legs were already about to fall off.

"That's ok, I can come in last in an open field just as well as in cat 4," I responded.

Larry, one of the officials, and I go way back, so I'm pretty sure (given our experience "together") that he was joking when he reminded me, "You know you can't DNF and still finish in the money!"

"I'm not going to DNF," I shot back, "This is still 17 hours shorter than Dirty Kanza."

And then as the guys took off and we stood there waiting our minute before our start, it sunk in.  What the hell am I doing??  I wanted to die after 45 minutes and I immediately signed on for an extra hour.  I'm hungry.  I'm going to bonk.  I'm going to be in the way and piss off all these fast people.  I was out there, though.  I was stuck.  The only thing stupider than jumping into this race would be to back out now.  And there's the whistle...

I was immediately dropped, which was no surprise, but at least I was more comfortable on the course than my initial foray.  Of course, everything felt like way more work, but the advantage to this was that my fear level on the hills was much more controllable...mostly because crashing and/or dying didn't seem like such a bad alternative.  It was a good thing Larry had given me a hard time about DNFing, because I was thinking a lot about doing it.  As I rode the course, though, it seemed like everywhere I went there was someone cheering for me, even people I didn't know. It was pretty awesome to have that support and encouragement.

Coming in at the end of my first lap, I was really hungry and feeling weak.  With around 45 minutes left to ride, I couldn't imagine how I was going to finish without bonking.  I fantasized about friends handing me food as I rode by...and this is a total fantasy because I really need both hands to ride my bike.  Hitting the barriers for the first time, I had seen Justin and his crew standing there with a dollar bill or a piece of licorice.  Of course I took the dollar, but I thought about that licorice for the rest of that lap, and on my lap 2 I took the licorice.  Ah, sugar.  Hopefully that would help.
Twizzlers rock. Photo credit: Jim Davis

This lap was equally sucky, and while others were racing I was just doing my best to maintain forward motion.  This is so stupid. More cheering. Friends are awesome.  The last (paved!) uphill is terrible, and a guy sitting on the hill remarks, "Bet you're wishing for a triple [chainring] right now!" Not only was that true, but I'd spent almost the entire race in my lowest gears confirming my need for even easier ones.

Lap 3.  Another piece of licorice.  "This one hasn't even hit the ground yet," one of the kids tells me.  This is good to know, I guess, but of minor importance in the big picture. It's still sugar, even if it had been dirty sugar.  The downhills are still sweet relief and my handling is slightly better, but I want to cry on a couple uphills and now even the flat parts feel like hills.  Good grief.  My Garmin shows that I'm going to finish this lap with another ten minutes left in the race.  I ponder whether there's any way I can stretch this lap out for that long and avoid riding another one, but no.  There's nothing to be done but stick it out and ride a fourth lap.

Lap 4.  No more candy handups.  Sad face.  A turn or two later I notice a piece of purple licorice lying on the ground and consider stopping to pick it up.  It's the "stopping" part rather than the fact it's on the ground that deters me.  I'm still dragging like crazy, but this lap is made happier by the fact that everything I ride is for the last time.  It's not joy I feel as I cross the finish line but sweet, sweet relief.

Totally don't belong in this picture and only am bc the women's open bracket was so small (5, one of whom dnf'd)...but I've never had a podium picture so I'm counting it anyway.
Gina, Sunny, Rachel, and me.
And because one of the girls DNF'd, I end up with 4th place instead of 5th which, regardless of how little I belonged there, was pretty sweet.  Proof positive that sometimes in life, the key is just showing up and sticking it out.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Thunder Rolls 24hr Adventure Race, part 2

If you haven't read part 1 yet, go get caught up. It's ok...I'll wait....this is another rewrite of my post for the team blog, and I left some of the guys' commentary in again because it definitely adds to the story.

It was a subdued group that left the ascending area. We were almost certainly in last place at this point, but none of us cared. Our only concern was for our friend. Bob was exhausted and shivering, even bundled in his jacket, and I wouldn't have wanted to be inside his head at that point. "Demoralized" would be a positive spin on his mental state. He wanted nothing so much as to quit, which, of course, is why we couldn't let him. 

Bob has this line that has stuck with me through a lot of difficult times: "Just remember how good the story wouldn't be if it ended 'It got hard and then we quit.'" I'm sure he appreciated having it turned against him, but to quit now would mean that the failed ascent was the story of the race, not just one bad chapter. Things looked bleak to be sure, but 24 hours is a long time, and anything can happen.

Bob bundled up and heading into the water.
Looking to avoid bigger climbs while Bob recharged, we spent a lot of time walking in the river. That's ok, we were starting our coasteering leg early. Walking hills might have made it easier for Bob to warm up, though. The night had cooled off, and every time we paused for a map check his shivering went up a notch. He looked miserable.

CP 6 was in a cave. The guys ahead of me seemed to climb up the wet rocks with no problem, but I kept slipping back until Bob put his knee up for me to use as a step. This year the CP was tucked in a side channel instead of way at the back of the cave like last year. One by one we ducked bats and squeezed through the narrow passageway to punch our wristbands and then slipped back out into the water.

Travis, Robby, and Luke
I have this same smile on my face in so many pictures. I loved this race SO much.
Robby coming out of the cave and about to go back into the river.
It seemed like we spent a lot of time in the water on our way to CP 7, and that was because we'd missed it. Realizing our mistake right near CP8, which was up a cool, slippery rock creek bed, we grabbed that point and then retraced our steps. CP 7 was up (in a Gerry race, almost everything is UP) a re-entrant jammed with fallen tree trunks and branches. This section reminded me of a jungle gym, and I had a blast climbing my way up. I had so much fun that I climbed down that way too, while the guys opted for a steep downhill instead.

Robby: I really struggled on the felled-tree-climbing-uphill-jungle-gym. Kate flew through the tree and I could hear the smile on her face. I was sweating and out of breath. I was glad to get to the top in one piece and coming down was a blast. It was very VERY steep and I basically slid down the hill on my wet ass.

robby cp7 hill

We looped back again, passed the turn for CP8, and were now officially in the coasteering section. Since we'd spent much of the last couple hours in the water, it wasn't much of a change. Walking in a river at night is always tricky, but I didn't think it was nearly as bad as last year when the water was deeper, the submerged rocks made the footing fairly treacherous, and almost all of us fell into the water more than once. This year seemed smoother. Still, after a couple hours we were all sick of not being able to see where to put our feet and especially of having our shoes full of sand and rocks. I was getting a headache, so I was relieved when the sky lightened just enough that I could take off my headlamp. In fact, I was still holding it in my hand when I fell.

ch2 coasteering

I just tripped really, but I haven't had much range of motion in my left knee since falling in Kansas last year and my knee bent all the way closed. Wow, did it hurt. I tried to stand up quickly but fell back into the water. Luke, who was closest, ran back to help me out of the water. We all just stood there for a minute until I realized that my knee, though sore, could still bear weight. I took some ibuprofen and we got going again.

Robby: All I heard was "Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!!!!" and when I turned around Kate was in the water. She really tried standing, but fell back in and just laid there till Luke came to her aid.

Luke: I saw Kage fall, and when she hopped right back up only to have her knee buckle under her, I thought our race was over. Good thing she's been taking calcium supplements.

Travis: Just prior to Kate falling was also when Bob took a misstep and tumbled down the edge of the bank. Once I saw Kate go down all I could think was " What else could go wrong?" It seemed that we were doomed for something  to end our race.

My pace definitely dropped here because I was limping and afraid of tripping again.  The guys offered to carry my pack, but I felt better holding onto the straps. Still, there were quite a few times I gladly accepted one of their arms to steady me, even if I did me feel like a grandma being helped across the street by a boy scout.

After a little bit Luke asked how my knee was doing, and I told him, "OK. Sore." We have this joke that I never complain, and he offered, "Do you want to complain? I won't listen."  I considered it for a moment and then decided not to, figuring I might need to save my whining for later in case my knee got worse. :) We were all happy to get to CP9, where we could finally get out of the water. After taking some time to get some food we had a mile or so to go to the canoe put-in. It was flat road, and originally I had envisioned jogging between points. I now hoped no one else had that brilliant idea. Since they didn't, we had a nice sunrise stroll between fields.

ch2 on way to canoe
 Luke, Robby, Kate, Travis.
WTFAR's Brian was volunteering at the canoes, and since he's twelve feet tall we could see him in the distance and waved wildly. As we neared, his bell-like voice rang out in the morning air: "Where the hell have you been????" His confirmation that we were, in fact, in last place was a little demoralizing, but the double-stuffed oreos in his hand perked us up, as did the opportunity to dump all the crap out of our shoes. We ate, grabbed one of the 7-ton canoes, and put in to the Plum River.

ch2 canoe put in
For once, the picture actually makes it look steeper than it was.

We turned around to have a good view of Bob, Robby, and Travis as they tipped their canoe, but they totally let us down with an incident-free launch.


We had been warned that we'd hate the canoe leg and had envisioned dragging our boat for miles through rocky water. Instead, the paddle was delightful.

Luke: After the coasteering section where the river was very low, I was absolutely dreading the paddling leg. No offense to Kage, but her upper body strength isn't exactly one of her, well...strengths. (So true.) I figured I'd be dragging the canoe for 9 miles by myself. I was stoked to see a floatable river.

"Plum River...wider than a mile..." Not really, obviously, but the song was stuck in my head.
 There were all kinds of branches, snags, and trees down in the water, so I imagine navigating these obstacles was a bit trickier at night. For us it was downright fun and broke up the monotony of the three-hour tour. Approaching the first big tangle, we paused to consider our options. The first of the twelve-hour teams passed us at this point, one opting to portage (getting their boat over the steep bank looked way hard) and the other attempting to get into the water to push their boat through...and discovering it was fairly deep. Neither alternative looked particularly appealing, so we opted to plow through and actually ended up beating the portage team to the other side. Score one for laziness!

ch2 canoes

Luke and I paddled on, expecting the three guys in our other canoe to easily catch us, but we didn't take into account that their fully loaded canoe wasn't going to skim over some of the blockages like ours. Though we occasionally got updates on them from passing canoes (all of them 12-hour racers), we never saw them again until the take-out. We soldiered on, Luke deftly steering our canoe around obstacles despite my less than clear and decisive directions: "...um...left?....um...there's a....log?...on our....oops, sorry...yeah, that was it..."

Luke: The more we paddled, the more confident Kate became calling out directions, and even though we were paddling at a nice, leisurely pace, we became a pretty efficient team.

Neither of us was having any fun at all.
 The longer we paddled, the more determined we became not to get out of our canoe until the end of the leg, a sentiment bolstered by the development of our "seated portage" technique...basically taking obstacles at speed, scooting over them using synchronized hip thrusting, and pushing or clawing our way forward when necessary. We laughed a lot. Eventually, however, the seated portage met a logjam it couldn't overcome.

Luke: Kate originally called our hip-thrust-and-push-and-claw-maneuver a "self portage." When I pointed out that all portages in an adventure race are in fact done by ourselves, we decided to go with the more accurate "seated portage." Our seated portage worked wonderfully. That is until we hit this:


Though it doesn't show in the picture, a lot of teams portaged along the bank to the left. The bank was sloped, with shin-deep mud and a tree over which the canoe would have to be lifted. Seems like I'm always the vote against portaging, and this was no exception. A team in front of us tried climbing out of their boat to push it through the tangle of downed trees and promptly sank in past their shoulders. Another team managed to get their canoe across by standing on some of the logs, and this is the strategy that got my vote.

Luke wasn't sure about the wisdom of this plan, but despite his clear doubt my teammate was willing to give it a try. I had no idea how we'd actually do it without tipping and couldn't have gotten out of the canoe without Luke steadying it, but we both managed to climb onto the log pile. Then it was just a matter of picking our way across floating logs, standing on the stable ones and steadying ourselves on branches as we pushed and dragged the canoe over the blockage. It was ridiculously fun, and we were ridiculously proud of ourselves as we paddled away without capsizing. This goes down as my favorite canoe leg of any adventure race.

Luke: I would have voted to portage around it, but I am easily swayed. Going through the trees instead of around definitely sounded more fun, and it didn't disappoint. Some logs would sink when we stepped on them, others would spin. It was a blast!

 Almost through
That's not to say I didn't spend the last hour of the paddle watching for the take-out, and Brian's smiling face waiting for us was a sight for sore eyes.

ch2 canoe takeout
Who says chivalry is dead?
 We lugged our ridiculously heavy canoe up to the road, drank some cold Monster, ate, changed into shorts (and dry socks!! So glorious after 11 hours of wet feet) for the bike leg, and waited for the rest of our team. The other guys didn't have nearly as fun of a paddle as we had; having three guys and their gear in one canoe kept them from floating over much of what we were able to cross with relative ease. Most logjams had required Bob to climb out and push or drag the canoe.  They didn't look too cheerful when they arrived. "You guys shouldn't have waited for us," Travis told me as they carried their canoe, and my heart sank a little. I wanted them to be having as much fun as I was.

Luke: The other guys definitely looked a little worse for wear. Like Kage, I had hoped their paddle was as fun as ours was, but it obviously wasn't. Having 3 guys in one canoe makes for a rough paddling leg.

Travis: I was anything but happy at this point. Aside from Bob and Robby's company that paddle leg was a suckfest on a shit river of logs and mud!  I think the three of us knew at this point that Luke and Kate were feeling much stronger and could probably make much better progress through the course without us, but they didn't care. Team Virtus sticks together and that is what I love about this team.  In retrospect I also now know that I was already well into a downward spiral, making a critical mistake that continued throughout the day.

ch2 at canoe takeout
Luke may have had one Monster drink too many...

And I was having a blast. Sitting at the TA visiting and relaxing, I asked what time it was. Hearing it was 11-something I was delighted. "We still have over twelve hours of the race left!" I was dead serious, but Robby looked at me like I was a little crazy and Travis looked like he was considering which knife to use on me first.

Travis: I assure you, I am not a violent person, but for some reason my team thinks that I might just kill one of them someday.

People hear "24-hour race" and they think oh my gosh, that's such a long time...and it is, but it really isn't even the half of it. Gerry's races starting at midnight, but you've probably been awake since five or six the previous morning. After getting to camp, there's ropes practice and bike drops. Then there's dinner and a pre-race meeting, maps and routes to figure out and gear to organize. If you're lucky you might get to lie down for an hour, but basically by the time you're finished with a 24-hour race, you've probably been going for nearly 44 hours straight. So while we were "only" about 12 hours into the race, we'd all been awake for much longer.

bike leg
The team on the bike leg.

The bike leg was pretty uneventful other than missing a turn and riding a mile or two out of our way, but at least the day was beautiful, if warm, and before long we were pulling into Mississippi Palisades State Park and having a little pow-wow to discuss the remainder of the race.

ch2 at palisades
What to do, what to do...
Luke asked what everyone was wanting to do. Travis and Robby were ready for whatever but were leaning towards "whatever" not being a super long time. I wanted to hit the finish line at 11:59, knowing we'd done everything we could. I think this was the first time the possibility of splitting up was mentioned, but we opted to do a loop of CPs and then re-evaluate how everyone was feeling.

 We rode further into the park, left our bikes at a picnic area, explained adventure racing to a couple hanging out there, and then Bob took over on the maps. The topsoil in the park is so soft and loose that the many teams who'd already passed that way had created trails towards the CP. Determined to do his own navigation rather than follow in others' footsteps, Bob took alternate paths where possible. I wasn't a big fan of walking through nettle just on principle, but that's why Bob's navigation improves with each outing and I'm still lost on an orienteering map. Robby was following along on a map too and seemed to have a pretty good handle on where we were going. Me, I just followed my teammates like a lost puppy.

The guys were nearly flawless all day long on the maps; unfortunately I couldn't say the same for my passport punching abilities.  During this section we had just hiked to a CP when I realized I'd mispunched the previous one.  I was so irritated with myself, thinking we'd have to go back and repunch, but instead we just switched their spots and had to remember to tell the race staff when we got back.  We actually got to spend quite a bit of time on actual trails here instead of bushwhacking, and with brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts coursing through my veins I had plenty of energy.  I remember jogging up a hill being kind of silly and Luke blowing past me right at the top.  I've got a long way to go before I can outrun him on hills.

I think we found 5 CPs together in this section, with no navigational problems that I can remember but a lot of steep terrain.  By the last of these we were running low on water, and I'd been waiting a long time to use a real bathroom. Looking down the hillside we could see the park road and had hopes of facilities waiting at the bottom. While the guys waited in the shade, I jogged to a nearby pavilion to find the holy grail trifecta: flush toilets, air conditioned bathrooms, and cold water. As I filled my camelbak after using the facilities, the newbie team I'd met at registration showed up.  I talked to them for a little bit, and they gave me some pointers on the hard-to-find CP 17.

ch2 before split
The guys were waiting impatiently for me when I got back.
Our two teams decided to split at this point. Robby's extra batteries resurrected my camera, we all filled up on water and wished each other well, and then we were off. As we turned away, Luke whispered, "Let's run," and we dashed across the field laughing our asses off as our teammates' groans and calls of "Assholes!" rang in our ears.

Luke: I think this was pretty much the only running we did, but it still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

All we had to do was grab as many of the remaining checkpoints as we could and be back to our bikes in time to ride the short course to the finish line.  We were determined not to fall prey to "just one more"-itis. In fact, our personal cutoff time to be at the bikes gave us nearly twice the time it should take to ride back.  We were going to play it smart; the last thing either of us wanted was another frantic finish like at LBL.  Our plan was solid.  

To be continued...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

2013 Thunder Rolls 24 hour, part 1

Note: I already wrote a race report for the team blog, but that's about the team's race.  This is basically the same story, but it's all about me. :) 

What a difference a year makes.

 This past weekend (August 24) was my second time at the Thunder Rolls 24-hour adventure race, held at Camp Benson in Mt. Carroll, IL.  Last year, I both loved and hated the race.  Well, that's not true.  I loved the race; I hated how I felt.  The late-August date is a bad one for me, because I tend to get lazy and gain weight while off work for the summer, and I certainly did in 2012.  I'd arrived at camp out of shape and as heavy as I've been since I started with endurance sports.

 It showed in the race.  Granted, we had a couple experiences that further went against me (yellow jacket attack, dragging myself up a cliff for 45 minutes), but the inescapable fact is that one cannot spend the summer eating and sitting on the couch and retain any hope of doing well in a 24-hour race.  One one hand, I had a fantastic time -- that's a given with any race I've done with Team Virtus -- but my happy memories were tainted by deep disappointment in how I'd felt.  We had to shorten our race for reasons that weren't related to me, but I was relieved. Glad even.  That's a first for me in any adventure race.

 I still gained weight over this summer (though not nearly as much as last year), but I stayed active.  I didn't have any major adventures or races after Dirty Kanza, but I spent a lot of time on my bike and started training for a half marathon.  Back in March I'd gotten additional practice on rappelling and ascending so that I'd hopefully have a better ropes experience.  I drove back to camp in much better shape than last year...but still heavily medicated.

 I'd spent the previous race dosed with Benadryl to hold allergies at bay; this time it was a nasty head cold that hit on Wednesday.  Sick two years in a row? Waking up Thursday with a headache, sore throat, and congestion,   Most likely the cause is has more to do with beginning of school stress and exposure to everything my new students might be bringing in, but I'll admit that I started fearing some Thunder Rolls curse.  Feeling like crap made shopping for race food fun...nothing sounded good.

After about 20 minutes of wandering the aisles at Super Walmart.
I eventually filled my cart with crap food (pop-tarts, slim Jims, almonds, Payday, and Ensure), packed my gear, and left first thing Friday morning for camp.  This year, Team Virtus fielded two squads for the 24 hour version of the Thunder Rolls adventure race: Luke and I on one, and Bob, Robby (making his first appearance in a 24 hour race), and Travis on the other. Even with two teams, the plan was always to stick together...once we got there, anyway. I made it to Camp Benson around 11:30, in plenty of time to visit with my volunteering buddy Brandy and snag a bottom bunk in the cabin while the guys had a longer drive from Missouri.

 I hung out down by registration and read my magazine while teams slowly trickled in (registration didn't actually start until 2).  I met some guys who were there for their first ever AR...the 24 hour.  They'd read my blog (and Emily's...where they got any valuable part of their information!), so that was pretty cool.  I jumped in and helped for a little bit with registration ("helped" being a bit of an overstatement...I sat at the table and highlighted team names for a while), confusing some friends.  "Are you volunteering or racing?" Both!

Once the guys arrived and we were all registered and settled in the cabin, the first order of business was to get down to the ropes practice area. Travis and Robby would be rappelling and ascending for their first time, and I wanted some practice.

tv before practice
Team Virtus in da house!
Because we got to the ropes nice and early, there wasn't much of a line (but still plenty of time for me to get nervous). Our friends Dave and Woody were there so that Woody too could make his first rappel, and soon after we got there Chad and WTFAR's Brian wandered down. We had a nice little reunion waiting for the ropes volunteers to have everything ready, Woody rappelled, and then it was our turn.

The guys looked a little nervous while they waited, but Robby and then Travis made their first rappels and looked smooth and comfortable.  I went next, and John, who was volunteering on ropes, remembered, "You don't like heights much, right?"  That's putting it mildly, but he talked me through sitting down over the edge and getting started.  It's so much scarier in practice than in a race! 

The first step is the hardest...
On rappel! Practicing before the Thunder Rolls 24hr adventure race. #adventureracing #rappel #ymcacampbenson #ropes
On the way down...
Bob came down next, and then it was time for us to ascend back up.  Robby and Travis looked like old hands on their first try. Though I'd expected to be pretty comfortable after my additional practice back in March, I had a harder time than anticipated and needed coaching from John to get over the edge. The experience left me very nervous about the ascent in the race, particularly after my disastrous attempt last year.
kate and travis ascend
Travis nearly caught up with me.
Since the line was so long, Luke and Bob opted to hike to the top rather than take time away from people who were getting their first ropes experience.

ascend line
The crowd at the bottom.
 We said hi to Chuck and Robin at the top and then headed off to take our bikes to the bike drop. After about 15 trips back to the cabin for forgotten items, we finally crammed 6 of us and 5 bikes into the Virtus van for a hilarious (for most of us) and uncomfortable (for Brian and Bob) trip to Savanna.

cozy van ride
Cozy. Not sure whose idea it was to put the two biggest guys in one seat, but it was the right choice (for the rest of our entertainment).
We left our bike shoes and a stash of food and water with the bikes, eliminating the need to carry them with us for the first part of the race. By the time we got back, it was time for the pre-race dinner: pasta, salad, and bread sticks served family style on the table.

Low carb? No. Delicious? Indeed.
Finally it was the time we'd been waiting for: getting the maps and hearing about the course.

Race director Gerry, probably heckling our team. :)
There weren't many points to plot, so Luke took care of ours by himself (probably a good thing because my contacts had gone into open rebellion against my eyes and I could barely see) while Bob, Travis, and Robby went over their map.

The basic structure of the race was like this:

1. Midnight start with a short run to pick up the pre-plotted maps for our initial o-section, which would include both the rappel and ascend. The early ropes were kind of a good news/bad news situation. I was much happier to get ascending out of the way before I was exhausted, but it also created the potential for a big bottleneck of teams waiting.

2. Coasteering leg (hiking down the river)

3. Short run (walk) to the canoes

4. Canoeing the Plum River (paddles, pfds, and food staged here)

5. Bike leg (bike shoes, water, and food staged here, climbing and paddling gear could be dropped here)

6. Bike-o at Palisades Park. You could ride your bikes on the park roads to get closer to attack the CPs on foot.

7. More orienteering on foot

8. Advanced course (it was pretty clear from the maps that we wouldn't be experiencing this)

9. Mandatory bike route back

We had a lot of discussion about whether or not to bring extra shoes to change into after the coasteering leg. If we sent dry shoes with our paddling gear, we could change after we finished the canoeing. I kept going back and forth about what to do until Bob told Travis, "I'm taking my shoes because that's what Luke is doing, and every time I don't listen to him I'm wrong." That decided me; there were three times in last year's Thunder Rolls that I didn't listen to Luke's advice, and I regretted each one.

 Luke: I think the main point here is I'm always right. It has nothing to do with the fact that I've made WAY more mistakes than everyone else.

 Almost start time.
Weirdly, we were all packed and ready in time to lie down for a little bit, if not actually sleep, and there was no last-minute rush (unless you count Bob and I having to lug Luke's gear up to the start line). We dropped off our paddling gear, took some last-minute pictures, sang the National Anthem, and then at exactly midnight the race started and we dashed off to pick up our map.

Teams picking up the maps for our first O-section.
Thunder Rolls is primarily an expedition-style race, meaning you have to get each checkpoint (CP) in order and if you miss one, you're done; scores are based on the last consecutive CP punched. This first section was a rogaine, though, where the points could be found in any order. Anticipating a logjam at the ropes, we'd discussed tackling the other points first, hoping to make forward progress while other teams were waiting in line and then arrive at the ropes once the crowd died down. Looking at the map, we rethought this plan: it looked like a lot of doubling back would be required.

Robby punches CP1 while Travis checks the map.
Our nav was spot-on for CPs 1 and 2. Since there was a bit of a line at the rappel (CP3), we skipped ahead to nearby CP5. Following a ridge that narrowed as we got closer to the CP, we came to what appeared to be the end of the ridge...but didn't find the flag. There were steep drop-offs on three sides, and we could see lights below. Noticing another rock outcropping just a bit further ahead, we made our way out to that one with some careful climbing. We ended up getting there about the same time as Alpine Shop and WEDALI, and even though they'd already found an additional two CPs it was still really cool to be at the same spot as two top teams. Usually that only happens at the pre-race meeting.

Luke: I believe there was a CP here at one of the Lightning Strikes races where we had to clip into a rope just to get on top of it before we could rappel. At TR2013 we had no ropes whatsoever.

We think this picture, from Team Virtus's 2010 trip to the Lightning Strikes Adventure Race, shows CP5.
 Robby and I had the passports for our respective teams, and it was sketchy getting to the CP. We had to hang onto trees and swing out on the rocks because the flag was on the very top tree facing out. I was trying very hard not to think about how high and how exposed we were; it makes me a little sick to my stomach to think back about it now.
Pretty sure that this is on the way back from punching CP5. Note my death grip on the tree.
 Next up was the rappel, where thankfully the line had died down. We got our harnesses on and basically got right onto a line. Luke went first so he could belay me (for some reason no one trusts me to belay anymore) and made quick work of the rappel; then it was my turn. I gingerly backed over the edge to Ellie's coaching, backed down the face of the cliff, and before I knew it I was standing in the river. This was my fifth rappel ever, and for the first time I loved it. I wished I could go back to the top and do it again.

This is me at the bottom of the rappel. OK, I look kind of stupid, but look at the SMILE on my face. I was so happy at the bottom of the rappel.
  I think all of my previous rappels have involved overhangs where my feet weren't touching the rock. This time, Luke and I had a straight shot down a wall and I could just kind of walk my way down.  I was way more comfortable with that.

rappel cliff
Another picture from the Team Virtus/Lightning Strikes archives. Luke and I came down the flat face on the left; Robby, Bob, and Travis came down the side with the overhang.
The guys looked like they'd been doing this for years. Once we were all down, it was time to go around the corner to the ascending wall. There was a pretty good line waiting, and as luck would have it right in front of us were our friends (and cabinmates) Kim, Donovan, Chad, Chuck, and Robin. I felt pretty good that we were sticking right with them, especially since we actually were one CP up on them all at this time. And then I looked at the ascending wall and felt even better: "That's it?"

Now, make no mistake...it was a big cliff, but it didn't seem all that much bigger than the practice wall and I'd been anticipating something twice that size like last year. I knew I'd still have a hard time, but I was really relieved that it wasn't worse. When a rope came open, Bob, Robby, and Travis went first since three of them had to get up their rope.


Bob started up line 4, and almost immediately things seemed off. He was struggling to make any progress. Ascending is exhausting when it is going well, and it's debilitating when it isn't. Now, Bob isn't a pro climber or anything, but he knows what he's doing. Remember, this is the guy who coached me up the wall at last year's race when I had pretty much accepted that I was going to spend the rest of my life hanging off the cliff...and then zipped the rest of the way up with a smile while I collapsed at the top.

Pic Stitch
I'd say he was feeling a bit better than I was.
 Now, it sucks to struggle at something, but there's a whole added layer of frustration and confusion when you're suddenly sucking at something you can do. And the icing on the shit cake was that this was all happening very publicly, in front of volunteers and other racers who were still in line, amid good-natured teasing and coaching that tapered off as it became clear that the predicament wasn't at all funny.

Meanwhile, I had started up rope one, calling encouragement to Bob as I went up, and my ascent was going really well. It was the best of times and worst of times all at once. Everything was clicking, I was making good progress...and the irony was agonizing. My friend -- my hero -- was in the midst of one of the worst moments of his life, and I couldn't do anything to help him.

Luke followed me up our rope, and we waited at the top, having no idea what was going on below with Bob (you can read all about the ordeal in his words on the Team Virtus race report).  In the end, after an hour or so long ordeal, the ropes staff rigged the ropes so that Bob could rappel back down, exhausted, spent, and ready to quit.  Robby was next up the rope, and then Travis hiked up to update us on how Bob was doing (not great). Luke and Travis hiked down first, and Robby and I followed them shortly afterwards.

Friends don't let friends' suffering go undocumented.
  Bob may have been ready to quit, but the rest of us weren't taking no for an answer.