I'm always interested in adventure racing, and after a quick phone call to my husband I was in, with one caveat. See, Brian also did the Frozen Feet half marathon when I did, and thanks to the out and back nature of the course I had numerous opportunities to see just how much faster he is than I am...and that was when I was running more. Not wanting to slow them down, I warned him how little I've been running and offered to be on standby if he couldn't find someone faster.
He declined my offer, and just like that I was a temporary member of Epic Machinery. The 24 hours before race time left me plenty of time to vacillate between excitement about racing and anxiety over racing with a different team. When you're a regular part of a team, there's a camaraderie built on shared experience and a comfort in knowing that your teammates have your back no matter what kind of day you're having. Guest racing is a little like dating again after being married for a long time; you're not sure what to expect or what team dynamics are like. I'm pretty much a go-with-the-flow type of girl, though, and Brian assured me that they were just in it for a good time, which sounds an awful lot like my own team.
We met up at race HQ, the Korte Recreation Center, almost 2 hours before the race start. That gave us plenty of time to check in, pick up our race shirts (nice, though a long-sleeved shirt is an interesting choice for a summer race), transfer the checkpoints from a master map, get our race stuff together, and strategize.
|Brian marks the map while Al supervises|
|Pre-race team pic: Al, me, Brian|
|Getting ready to start|
|And they're off (in all directions)! Photo credit: Carrie Sona|
We shot off in hot pursuit of the Mich Ultra team who'd reached CP1 just ahead of us, but soon several teams were wandering around looking for our next CP. You couldn't just follow the bearing straight ahead because it crossed a finger of the lake. As we neared it, I realized, "Oh, I guess in retrospect we should have lined up the bearing on our map and plotted it so we knew our end destination, huh?"
No matter, we got there, and since Brian got there first he got to start doing the 60 team box jumps we had to complete before punching that CP. You haven't lived until you've tried doing box jumps on a concrete box while wearing bike shoes, let me tell you. Luckily Brian was a box-jumping machine, and Al and I provided a little supplemental assistance (and moral support).
From there we had to run back to CP1, where we were now directed to follow a new heading on our bikes. After the mile or so we'd just run in bike shoes, riding my bike felt pretty awesome. Pulling into the next checkpoint, we were told our team had to catch a fish in order to punch cp3. I've fished plenty, but I won't touch worms. Luckily my teammates and the volunteers took pity on me.
|This is what playing the girl card looks like. Photo credit: Carrie Sona|
|Brian trying his luck...|
With all of the challenges at the Silver Lake area CPs completed, we rode off to the next mapped CP, at Highland Middle School. From there we had to run (that word again) .3 miles to the hospital. Still in bike shoes -- but having finally remembered to lose the packs and helmets -- we crossed the street and ran over to the hospital parking lot. Even though it was a short run, it brought back memories of when I started training with faster people...I'd fall behind, the guys would slow down to a walk so I could catch up; I'd catch up and start to walk, they'd start running again. It's a great way to build endurance.
|Ah, yes....that could explain my poor running fitness.|
Once I got to the stopping point, the guys had to run up and then one teammate (me again) had to be carried on a spine board (at which point I'm sure they were both wondering why they hadn't picked up some tiny girl for their substitute). Incidentally, being carried like that is a little scary. Next we had to cross a balance beam while holding a length of pvc pipe with water sloshing around in it, and finally we had to unscramble a word. The letters were written on soup and vegetable cans of varying sizes. We made quick work of the puzzle (the word was REVERSE), and then we had to spell reverse upside down by stacking the cans.
This was a bit harder, but we eventually got them to stay for a moment, and then we had to do the whole relay in reverse. Back across the balance beam, back on the stretcher, and this time Al took a turn in the wheelchair while I planked (much easier!) and Brian burpeed. When Al got to the end, Brian and I ran to join him, and then we all ran back to our bikes and rode towards our next mapped checkpoint, Merwin Park, where we were directed to run to Highland Primary school.
Having seen Mich Ultra heading back as we rode to the park, we had a pretty good idea of how far our next run was going to be, and this time we did change shoes. I had to untie my shoes from my pack and was the last one ready, giving Brian an early lead in the race within a race. Though this was our longest run so far ( ~1 mile each way), wearing running shoes instead of bike shoes felt like running on clouds. So much better! At the school, we were given the very unwelcome news that we had to do 45 chin-ups. If it had been up to me and my noodle arms, we'd still be sitting there. Instead, Brian knocked out a ton of them really fast, Al did most of the rest, and I struggled/jumped to do 4 of the saddest approximation of a chin-up ever. You could barely even call them a scalp-up.
Chin-ups finished, we ran back to our bikes, where Brian got his shoes changed first again and went up 2-0 in our race, and then we rode to our last mapped checkpoint at Spindler Park. There, while Brian got our passport marked, I hurried up and smashed him in the shoes-on-first competition. We ran .7 miles to the Weinheimer athletic center, where we had to each shoot three free throws. For each missed free throw, you had to jump up on the stage and do five push-ups and five sit-ups.
I was pretty stoked about this. I mean, I played 8 years of organized basketball; this is something I can do! My stoke lasted through about the first total miss. Basically, while Brian and Al knocked their free throws out in no time, mine took me forever. It was a little humiliating: it's one thing to suck at things like box jumps or chin-ups that I never do; it's much worse to completely fail at something you used to be good at. On the plus side, I got a lot of push-ups and sit-ups done. I had one free throw done and kept missing on the others until Brian came up and did a little coaching: "Bend your knees and look at the back of the rim." I sank the next two and we were FINALLY out of there, running back to our bikes and riding to race HQ.
Riding back to race HQ...with one quick stop. Al ("You don't have a last name like 'Beers' without liking beer") had discovered through his pre-race research that Highland has a brewery, one which was conveniently located near our last checkpoint (a fact which may have factored into the way we opted to attack the course). Of course we had to stop!
|Bike parking! How cute is this place?|
|"We don't always stop at bars, but when we do it's during a race."|
Since my running this year suffered at the hands of Dirty Kanza training, the bike leg should have been a piece of cake. It wasn't great, but I just focused on trying to hang onto the guys' wheels. About halfway through, Al started struggling a little. The day was warming up quite a bit, and he had the opposite training issue from me: all running, no bike. It was his turn to hang on like I had to during the running portions, and he did so while also handling the nav. Pretty tough.
We had one team slip away from us, but we stayed ahead of all the others we'd passed and came into the finish in 4 hours 43 minutes for tenth place. Without our 6 minute brewery checkpoint we'd have been in 8th place, but the memory of a beer stop during a race is totally worth a couple places in the standings. Plus it's a way better reason than my slow running or inability to shoot free throws!
All in all, it was an awesome guest racing experience. Al and Brian were great, and Goomna was a lot of fun. It was definitely a lot different than the adventure races I'm used to, but it's good to try new things...and if I was in danger of getting cocky, now I have a whole list of areas where I need to improve.
Big thanks to the race director, the city of Highland, and especially the volunteers. I think it was the most volunteers I've ever seen in a race, and every single one of them was friendly, helpful, and enthusiastic. I would definitely go back and race again, especially with a year to work on upper body strength!