TAT CN Header

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

PMETR 2015

I wasn't going to register for the Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run this year. True, it's long been one of my favorite races. And yes, it's held at one of my favorite parks.  And it is a virtual who's who of the STL area running scene. But that "running" part was the hitch. I haven't done much of that this year. In fact, I'd guess that I did less running in 2015 than I've done any year since my first 5K. On the other hand, out of the four previous times I've run Pere Marquette, I've only twice shown up feeling even moderately trained for it. It's amazing I can even walk after shooting myself in the foot so frequently.

I picked things up as Pere Marquette approached, running 9 whole times in November, though this was mostly my attempt to not die chasing after Mickey at Castlewood.  Then I twisted my knee a couple of weeks ago and have spent the time since resting, limping, and worrying about missing first Castlewood and then, after aggravating my knee this past week at school, PMETR.

On Friday I was still having trouble on stairs and decided racing would be stupid. I wasn't trained for the race, anyway, and with intentions of starting to train consistently, I didn't want to hurt my knee worse and prolong the recovery.  That settled it. I'd DNS the race, sleep in, and enjoy the bizarrely gorgeous weather (ummm...67 degrees in December?) on my mountain bike.

Except then I saw a post about the race swag: a cooler/stool combo. I wanted it, and if I was making the hour-long drive to Marquette Park I might as well attempt the race and see how things went.  And that's how I ended up at the start line on Saturday morning, assuring everyone I knew that I was probably going to run a mile or so and hike back down.

I started at the very back of my wave and just ran easy as I waited for my knee to stop hurting. Instead, I ran until the trail began to climb and then hiked the first, relatively gentle, uphill. A few people from waves behind me began to pass, but it wasn't the onslaught I'd anticipated, and I passed quite a few people once the trail leveled out and I started running again.

IMG_2144
In the first half mile..."hey, I'm still running!"
Photo credit: Robin Rongey
And kept running.

Well, until the big hills. I walked those, but the knee pain never kicked in. My lack of running fitness was sadly evident on the flat sections, and I was super conservative on the downhills; still, I was delighted to be running at all. I spent a few miles running with my Momentum teammate Nathan and his sister, Sarah. Their easy camaraderie made me really miss getting to race with my brother Jim, and they were fun to talk with as we ran.

IMG_3381
Laughing at what a chicken I was on the hill.
Photo credit: Robin Rongey
JB was waiting at the mile 6 road crossing, finished with his own race and ready to continue our tradition of running the last couple of miles together. "What can I do to motivate you?" he asked.

"Nothing!" I told him, "I don't want to be motivated at all. I'm going to run this at whatever pace feels good and you can just keep me company."  That's how it went until the last half mile or so. I was easing down the last hill at a glacial pace when a woman flew down from behind me. Once I was down the rutted, rocky section of the hill, I picked up my speed again. "Are you going to catch her?" JB asked.

"No, but I'm not going to let anyone else pass me," I told him, but he wasn't letting me off that easily and urged me to chase her down. More because I didn't have the energy to argue than anything else, I sped up and started closing in on her.  We raced down the last flat half mile to the finish line, and I was about to pass her as we hit the parking lot. A friend of hers at the finish called out a warning, and she moved over just enough that I couldn't get around.

Laughing, I eased up and she crossed ahead of me.  We congratulated each other on the other side of the finish line and I got a glimpse of her race bib. She was in wave 14, which started about 4:30 before mine did, so I'd beaten her anyway. Well, officially. As fast as she came down the hill, I think it's more likely that she started later than she was supposed to; still, it makes for a good story.

Most of the time I finish Pere Marquette swearing to come back next year better trained. That's my intention again this year, but I wasn't unhappy with this year's experience. Yes, I was nearly 7 minutes off my PR, but my expectations going into it were so low that I was thrilled just to finish, and I was still 40 minutes faster than my slowest time on the course. Overall, it was a good race, certainly better than I deserved, and for maybe the first time ever I felt better and less injured after a race than before it.  Now to start on that whole consistent training thing...

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alpine Shop Castlewood 8-Hour Adventure Race

Note: commentary provided by Mickey in pink, in honor of our illustrious race director. 

In the previous 5 years I've volunteered twice and raced the Castlewood 8-Hour on three different teams, with only one repeat teammate (Bob, who raced on both Team Virtus squads I was on). This year's race added a new teammate to the list. Mickey and I have talked for a while about racing together, and it finally worked out for Castlewood. We entered the race as Type II Fun, a name that encompassed both our different AR teams as well as the experience I anticipated racing with someone so much stronger and more competitive than me.

If you don't want to bother reading the linked article (which is worth your time), type 2 fun is "God-awful when you're doing it but totally worth it once you're done".  Some prime examples for me would be Cedar Cross and Hairy Hundred.  Not coincidentally, the blame for both of these rests on Mickey, who convinced me to race them both instead of my typical "social ride" MO. I've long suspected that he has some weird "My Fair Lady" intentions towards me, only instead of turning me into a lady he hopes to convert me to someone competitive.

Mickey:  I’m not sure which would be more difficult, turning you into someone competitive or a turning you into a lady. 

Kate: I can be plenty ladylike; it's just not particularly relevant to AR. 

While both those race experiences were largely God-awful, having strong finishes (and actually winning Hairy Hundred) was fun enough to make me open to racing an AR with someone who cares more about winning than having fun.  I even started training.

And then, a week before Castlewood, I twisted my knee badly at an orienteering meet and spent the subsequent days with a significant limp. On Wednesday I messaged Mickey and warned him, "If you're wanting to RACE this race we need to start looking for a new partner for you." I didn't want to skip the race, but I really didn't want to spend it limping behind a frustrated teammate. Thankfully, he turned me down, and by Friday I was cautiously optimistic about my knee.

Mickey picked up our maps Friday night and we did our plotting at his house. We got an overview of the course and all of the checkpoints as well as maps and coordinates for the paddle and bike legs. What we didn't get was maps for the trekking legs that book-ended the race, and while we didn't know where the paddle was going to start it looked like we could expect a 6ish mile trek to get there. Once we finished our plotting, I headed across town to meet the Virtus guys at Bob's house, nominated as our weekend HQ due to its proximity to the race start.

No pre-Castlewood preparations are complete without a stop at Dewey's pizza.
I had to meet Mickey at 5:30 so we could be at the bike drop right when it opened and then hit the Wyman center before the somewhat limited close parking spots were taken. The first person we saw in the parking lot was my friend Josh, who was volunteering. Arriving over an hour before the pre-race meeting gave us time for vital last-minute preparations like giving Mickey basically all of my stuff to carry and then talking to everyone I knew.

Untitled
Pre-race team picture
Photo credit: Dan Singer
RD Emily started the pre-race meeting right at 7:15, reviewing some rules and details and then dropping the bombshell that we all needed to go down to the road and get on the buses to the start. What?? Now the distance between the race HQ and the paddle start made a lot more sense.

Surprise! Heading to the buses on a frosty morning.
Photo credit: Dan Singer
Passports and maps for the first trek were handed out as soon as we all piled off the buses at the Pacific Palisades boat ramp. After some last-minute instructions and the National Anthem, the race was on.

Photo credit: Dan Singer

Trek 1: Points 1-7 any order, ~1.7 mi, 31 min.

Since we consistently struggle with the first CP and had seen CP2 from the bus, we opted to go for the sure thing. We ran down the road and smoothly pinged 2, 3, and 1; being much faster and pushier, Mickey handled punching the passport as well as the nav.  He handed off the map to me at CP1, and I followed the trail navigated  to CP4 before giving the map back. I could have done the nav here, but my map processing is SO SLOW -- fine for practice, not so good for a race.

We cut through the woods next to a reentrant and quickly punched CP"6". I was slightly confused because the clue was bridge and it didn't look like a bridge, but I basically shrugged and assumed it was some kind of pier. Of course, another clue that we might have been in the wrong place was that our "bridge" wasn't actually next to any water; also, had we looked the CP number was actually attached to the bag as well. Suffice it to say that there was plenty of evidence for both of us to realize something was off.

Instead, we cut across the reentrant, and here again things seemed wrong but I assumed that my cursory glance at the map hadn't given me sufficient information.  After a couple of minutes Mickey mentioned it didn't look right, so we stopped to look over the map again and realized our mistake. We hopped back onto the trail, ran past 4, cut through 5 again (checking the tag to confirm its identity), and then took a slightly roundabout route to 6. Whew, we'd made that harder than it needed to be. 

Mickey:  Totally my bad.  I got in too big of a hurry, and we paid the price.  I also didn’t realize the CPs had the numbers on them until we re-checked CP5 on our way back through.

We ran back to the TA, punched 7, and grabbed our canoe, PFDs, and paddles, putting in on the Meramec River at about 8:42.

Lessons: If something doesn't seem quite right, speak up. Incidentally, this is not the first time I've learned this lesson.1

Paddle: Points 8-11, ~7.3 mi, 1:24 

I never look forward to paddling but was actively dreading this canoe leg because over my past four ARs my canoe has tipped every other time...and this was the next "other time"...and it's December.   We cautiously situated ourselves in the canoe, and then Erl pushed us off. From the beginning it wasn't a confidence-inspiring paddle; we were frighteningly tippy and slalomed back and forth across the river. Over the course of the seven mile leg we ran into another boat at least 10 times; despite the fact that our main victims know me, I'm pretty sure they were legitimately pissed off by the time we reached the take-out.

Mickey:  I still have no idea why we were so tippy.  In retrospect, it would have probably been smarter to have me in front providing power since I don’t think I was any better with steering than you would have been.

I'm fine with an experienced paddler who can tell me what to do, but I don't actually know how to steer or anything. Since I'm always in the front, I didn't even have any words of wisdom to pass on as far as "this is what Chuck/Luke/Bob does..." It was a gorgeous morning, but I spent it terrified we were going to tip.

Photo credit: Lori Vohsen
Chuck, Bob, and Lori were stationed at a gravel beach between CPs 8 and 9 with a roaring fire and whiskey. Luke and Robby had beaten us there and were hanging out on the beach when we paddled by. They were outraged by my failure to stop and drink whiskey with them like I'd promised back when I assumed they'd be a mandatory stop; however, Mickey and I had established before the race that socializing was for after, not during, and I was holding up my end of that bargain. I also really, really wanted to get off the river.

Photo credit: Chuck Vohsen
My Virtus teammates are still pondering my punishment for skipping this stop.
Mickey:  This was definitely the right call.  The way we were paddling, the extra beach/launch would have been seriously pushing our luck, as far as staying dry.

Kate: And I'm pretty sure it was only through dumb luck we avoided tipping. 

Despite a long stop on the beach, Luke and Robby easily caught us and reached the take-out first. In fact, out of 70 teams on the river, only 7 were slower than us.

Could not have been happier to be off the river.
Photo credit: Travis Irwin
Lesson: At least one person in the canoe really needs to know what they're doing2. Like with navigation, I think paddling is something I'm going to have to suck it up and actually work on, because I don't ever want to be an a situation with two novice paddlers in a canoe again. Ironically, of Alpine Shop's AR101 series, the paddling overview was the only one neither of us attended.

Bike: Points 12 - 22, ~10 mi, 1:29 

I've been sold on the bike tow ever since Alpine Shop's Jeff Sona guest-raced with Adam and me at CAC23, but for some reason we (Virtus) have never followed through and used one in a race. Mickey had made a couple different bike tows this year, and we've spent a pretty good amount of time "testing them out" (particularly on rides when I'm wearing down).  The tow was a definite part of our race strategy, and I was thankful for it right away, as we climbed 300 feet from the canoe take-out. The combination of a pretty efficient transition and Mickey's strong bike skills helped us to pass a bunch of teams.

Rolling up to CP 13
Photo credit: Kyle Knudten
We quickly knocked off CP12 (gate), 13 (utility pole), and 14 (cemetery sign) and then approached CP15, located under a bridge beneath I-44, around the same time as another team. While they took the road around to the creek, we cut through the grass and stayed up on the bank, a good decision as the bag was hung over the rocks next to the creek.

We pulled our bikes out the other side and, instead of following the creek, cut up to the frontage road above the interstate and rode back down to the creek and CP16. The team we'd followed in the approach to the bridge was still coming through the creek and we climbed out of it and hopped back onto our bikes.

Mickey:  Our route choice here saved us a ton of time and effort.  Teams were really struggling to get their bikes up to the road from the creek at this spot.  Score one for pre-race prep! 

From there, we rode back up the frontage road to CP17, located at an outdoor fireplace behind the Holiday Inn. At the time I thought it was kind of a weird place to put a CP, but reading Emily's RD write-up later I realized the bike leg had been designed to keep racers on the safest possible route. This particular CP took us through the hotel parking lot instead of a major intersection, one example of the kind of thought involved in race planning.

We rode through the Holiday Inn parking lot and started up Allenton Rd, another big climb. I quickly realized I should have taken off my fleece before hitting the hill, so we stopped to shed layers before starting the biggest part of the hill. I was very, very thankful for the tow, which made the climb significantly less terrible.  Once in Greensfelder Park we planned to maximize our use of pavement and gravel, having gotten the lay of the park the night before by comparing our race map to the GORC map of the park trails.

Untitled
Appreciating the fact that 18 was close enough to the road that I could legally wait for Mickey there and wondering where the nearest bathroom is...
Photo credit: Bobby French
We took the pavement to get close to CP18 and then retraced our steps to attack CP19 from gravel. The gravel road wasn't where we'd expected, so rather than look for it, we bikewhacked to 19 from a nearby radio tower. Success!

Our route to CP20 took us on the first off-road surface of the bike leg, a mostly doubletrack trail along a ridegline. I had plenty of opportunity to practice my log-riding skills as the trail had multiple fallen trees across it. We found the CP without any real issue other than Mickey riding right past it when he saw one of the BOR teams ahead.

He may have towed and navigated and carried all my shit, but Mickey totally didn't perform in the race photographer department. Thank goodness so many awesome photographers were out there to pick up his slack!
We were then supposed to follow a pink-flagged trail towards CP21. This was slightly confusing because there was quite a bit of pink flagging in the woods near that point, but Mickey got us on the right trail and we quickly reached CP21, which was hung in a teepee. From there, we rode down a super fun grassy doubletrack that suddenly turned into a treacherous mudslide. About two swerves in, I climbed off my bike and walked it the rest of the way down, followed by the BOR crew, some of whom were crazy enough to stay in the saddle.  At the bottom of the hill we rode onto Forby Rd and then back up to the Wyman Center, all checking into TA3 at about the same time.

Mickey:  I’m so glad that muddy section was right at the end of the bike leg.  My poor bike was a mess, gunked-up with peanut butter mud.

Kate: I'm so glad I'd brought an additional bike for the weekend so I didn't have to clean mine before Sunday's mountain bike clinic.

Lessons: Towing is awesome, as are efficient route choices

Trek 2: Points 23 - 34, ~5.6 mi, 1:56


Untitled
Heading off on the final trek.
Photo credit: Stacey Hagen
We opted to run these points counterclockwise. Mickey again asked me if I wanted to do the nav, and I again opted not to for the same reason as before. I've worked hard to improve, but it still takes me a lot of standing and looking at the map and thinking, and I was afraid I'd slow us down too much. As it was, my trekking, particularly any off-trail uphills, really hurt our pace anyway.

Our nav was a real mixed bag here. We went straight to 25 and then headed off in wrong direction but corrected pretty quickly and only lost about 2 min. We ran into Brenden and Steve on our way to CP27 and ended up running most of the trek together. We only needed minor course adjustments to 27, 29, and 31, but then things got a little squirrely.


We are so dumb.
Despite knowing from experience that the Greensfelder trails aren't accurately reflected on the orienteering map (and being warned of this fact by a big red note on the map!), we still relied on them in our approach to 33. We hit the wrong trail on the way to CP33 and ate about 12 minutes going the wrong way and waiting too long to stop and think things through; Mickey had actually mentioned a couple times that we'd been going too long, but Brendan, thinking we were on a different trail, assured him we weren't.

On our way back to the right way.
Photo credit: Bobby French
We retraced our steps, but continued to stick with the trail until realizing it wasn't taking us where we needed to go and bushwhacking through the woods to the CP. We found 32, 23, and 30 without much drama, but trails gave us trouble again on the way to 28.  We finally got that figured out, only to struggle on the way to 26. We ended up parting ways with Steve and Brendan here when both teams had different ideas about where the CP was (spoiler alert: we were right).  We jogged out to the road, tagged 24 cleanly, and ran into the finish, crossing at 1:41, well in advance of the 4:00 cut-off.

Lessons: Um, if you know the trails aren't right on a map, don't count on them.We'd have greatly benefited from red-lining the course or relying solely on terrain features. 

Mickey:  That was so dumb.  Trusting the trails on that very same map screwed me only a few weeks ago at the TeamBOR SLOC Night-O.  Why I trusted them again, I will never know.  *shaking head* We also spent a lot of time conferring with the other team instead of running our own race. 

We had plenty of room for improvement, to be sure, but this was the first course I've ever cleared, so I was thrilled. Aside from that, the high points of the race for me were the bike leg and teamwork in general. Not only did Mickey tow me on the bike, but he also carried most of my stuff. Basically all I carried was water, food, and some emergency supplies; this made it way easier for me to run. We ran more than what I typically do in races, and I still felt pretty good.  We also did a good job of working together to problem solve our navigational missteps.

The low point, of course, was the paddle. *shudder* My big weakness was uphill trekking, where I really struggled, especially in comparison to my mountain goat teammate. I was also pretty slow going downhill off-trail as well because I was worried about falling and re-injuring my knee. Thankfully it held up pretty well with a combination of ibuprofen and adrenaline.

Mickey:  You really picked a bad time to twist your knee, knucklehead.  I did have a ton of fun racing with you, though.  We’ll definitely have to do it again, but not before we get some paddling instruction!

Kate: I'd mention how I twisted my knee after you led me up the wrong reentrant, but then you'd probably point out that you broke your collarbone when I directed you onto the wrong trail, and we don't really need to go there...though it would be fitting in light of the mistakes we made racing together. For as many ARs as I've done, I didn't do a very good job of leveraging my experience to benefit our team. That said, I had a blast. I never once wanted to push you off a cliff. 

There's a quote that starts something like "there are no new mistakes", and as proof of such I can offer you this annotated bibliography of previous AR learning experiences. Now, Mickey might wish I'd saved him from suffering the same fate, but then I'd just remind him of the wise words of William Jordan (whoever that is): "Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom."

You're welcome.

Berryman 12-hour (2012) "Knowing more or less where we were thanks to the powerline, Jim suggested that we shoot straight east from our current location.  This way we should reach the road on the top of the next ridgeline over and be able to follow it to point 10.  It occurred to me that this might not be a solid plan since we didn't know exactly where we were, but I didn't bring that up.  This is an area where I need to step up more.  I occasionally have a route suggestion, but I'm so regularly confused by the map that I generally assume that any concerns are due to my ignorance, and I don't want to be second-guessing my navigator.  Rather than speak up, all I said was, 'Remember how we opted to take the trail to the creek rather than go directly across all those hills? Now w get to do both.'" [emphasis added]

2Berryman 12-Hour (2011) "Canoeing, as it turns out, is definitely not our strong suit...We were hilariously bad.  Neither of us had been in a canoe in over a year, but how hard can it be?  Drunk people do it all the time.  Maybe the problem is that we hadn't been drinking? Whatever it was, we were swerving all over the river and I think we managed to drag across every single low spot."

3Carnage at the Creek 2 (2013) "Jeff showed me their bike tow (basically a strap connected to the back of his bike that someone behind him could grab to help maintain a consistent team pace).  While I've never had a desire to use one, I resolved to try it.  If we were going to get the opportunity to race with a rock star teammate, we needed to take advantage of everything we could learn! ...Between the wind and the hills, I quickly became a big fan of towing systems.  Not only was it a big help, but every time that tow strap started to stretch out more it made me push a little harder so that Jeff wasn't having to drag my slow butt up the hill."

  4 Berryman 12-Hour (2011) "We started out looking for checkpoint 4, which was somewhere to the left of where it says Berryman Campground on the map.  If we had been navigating more by the compass, we might have had a better chance of finding it; however, we were relying much more on terrain features like roads, trails, elevation, etc.  Now remember, the USGS data on these maps is about 30 years old, and things change.  Thing like, oh, new roads.  We mistakenly went off down a road that wasn't on the map and looked for over an hour for number 4.  With noooo luck.  Finally (and, really, way later than we should have), we decided to cut our losses, get back to the campground so we knew where we were again, and set off for CP 6."

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Will ride for food


As recent events prove, one of my main motivations to get on my bike is a mid-ride meal. Stopping halfway through to sit down and eat makes it easier to mentally break the miles in half. Riding 42 miles to lunch and then back again sounds so much gentler than an 85 mile ride; the return mileage never really enters into my head...until we turn back, anyway.  The power of food was much in evidence over the past two weekends, as was the quick-change nature of St. Louis-area weather.

A Long Way for Lunch

First up was the third annual "long way to lunch" ride from the St. Charles area to Hermann, MO. Nine riders, including several of Momentum teammates, two of Mickey's adventure racing teammates, and one unaffiliated friend made the trip. Four foolhardy souls began in St. Charles, and of these, only two ended up completing the entire 130 mile round trip. The rest of us chose starting points further along the trail. Mine once again was Matson, giving me an 85 mile day if I finished.

Despite returning the ride to its November roots (or maybe because of it...our November weather during the first ride was unseasonably warm), we had fantastic riding temps. The morning started out chilly, but by 8:34 when the group reached me, temps had already risen to nearly 50 on the way to a mid-60's day.  Perfect for a ride!

I barely said my hello's before Mickey shot off for Augusta, determined to stay on his predicted timetable (eye roll: engineers!) at least until we picked up the last two riders.  I spent the seven miles between trailheads struggling to keep up and wishing I, too, had just started further down the trail.



Once we were all together the need to stay on schedule diminished, but we had a pretty good spread between the speedy front and the caboose (where I spent much of the day).  Scott and Robert were along for (I think) their longest gravel ride yet, having started with Mickey and Mike in St. Charles.


Robert had upped the challenge factor by riding his mountain bike with a fully loaded pack for a little AR training since he'll be doing his first adventure race at the upcoming Castlewood 8-hour.  This meant that a) I could keep up with him and b) I could spend a large portion of the ride talking with him and Scott about how awesome adventure racing is and how much he's going to love it.

Regrouping in Marthasville, where Robert's awesome wife Cassie, who had volunteered to provide SAG support, met us.
We took a quick-ish break at the Marthasville trailhead and then continued onwards. As is tradition on the lunch ride, we were facing a decent headwind, but I took comfort in the anticipated return-trip tailwind.  After the Marthasville stop, I finally started feeling like my legs had a little more pep and was able to maintain a faster pace.

Quick regroup
We had just passed the Massas/Massie Creek bridge (the name depending on which side of the creek you're on when you read the sign) when I felt the telltale thump of a flat tire. Grrr. After years of trouble free riding (a new set each year) on my beloved, bomb-proof Continental Travel Contacts, I've been plagued by flats after double flatting at 24 Hours of Cumming (a race report still waiting to be written). Every flat has been on the front tire, which I have checked (after the first flat), the bike shop checked (after the second), and Mickey checked (after the third). 

I'd been riding with Sean, and he offered to change the tire, but since I really didn't know him I didn't want to be that girl who couldn't change her own tire, so he just provided helpful commentary through "the slowest tire change in history". I did let him finish putting the tire back on the rim, and then Mike and Mickey ended up airing it up, so it was hardly a solo effort.


Shortly after finishing up my tire we came across Scott and Robert, who were performing first aid on Robert's rear cassette. Once the roadside repairs were completed, we all rode into McKittrick and onto the highway for the last 2 miles. Rather than ride over the Missouri River bridge in the traffic lanes, Mickey turned onto the side trail that led to the pedestrian/bike lane. 

I took a more cross-country route and beat him onto the bridge, laughing at my victory and expecting him to catch me at any moment, but when I turned onto the restaurant's street I was alone. Mike caught up and told me that Sean had flatted and Mickey had ridden back to help out, so we waited at the corner to make sure the guys knew where to go.

Lunch! At last!
Lunch was good, other than the disappointing revelation that Wings-A-Blazin' no longer serves margaritas. I'm voting for the Mexican restaurant next year.  We enjoyed a leisurely, conversation-filled meal before begrudgingly (on my part, at least) heading back.



The long-awaited tailwind was absent; instead, we had a noticeable head/crosswind. I had felt better than I'd expected to on the way to Hermann but had the opposite experience on the way back, spending most of my time drafting Melanie and Sean, counting down the miles back to Matson and wondering why I hadn't picked a closer starting point. 


Breezy conditions aside, it was a gorgeous day for a ride, and I was glad I hadn't let the cool morning scare me away. I arrived back at Matson glad to get off my bike but feeling like I could have continued on if I'd had to. Not bad considering this was my longest ride (distance, anyway, not time) since August 8.

A Shorter Way for Brunch

A week later several of the same group reconvened on the Katy, wearing considerably more clothes. Some of my Momentum teammates had planned to ride to Dutzow for pancakes and then back again. Mmmmm...pancakes.   Mickey and I had originally intended to go mountain biking as prep for the upcoming Castlewood 8-Hour, but recent rains scuttled those plans.  Instead we used the pancake ride to test out his new tow system and log a few more miles.

Temps were below freezing as I headed towards the Page bridge parking lot, and I was hoping they'd stay that way so the Katy would be hard and rideable.    They didn't, and it wasn't.  The trail surface was soft and spongy, and any drafting was accompanied by varying amounts of gravel spray to the face.  

We met up with Jeff, Melanie, and Joe about 7 miles in, and everyone else parked further on and then rode back to meet our group.  Even in sub-optimal conditions it was nice to get to catch up with my gravel friends, some of whom I've barely seen since Dirty Kanza (and my consistent training) ended.  

Just past Matson ("seems like I was just here"), I got another flat tire (the fifth since August 8, if you're counting), but we finally found the culprit: a small piece of a staple had lodged in the tire and was j-u-s-t poking out if you held the tire inside out and looked really closely. Without tweezers or pliers it took a long time to get it out, but my awesome teammates persisted and hopefully now I can look forward to riding my gravel bike without any more flat tire interruptions.



Everyone was pretty cold as we got going again; the temperature was fine as long as you were moving -- in fact, most of us were probably slightly over-dressed, not having had the opportunity yet to refine our cold-weather gear choices -- but too chilly to stand around comfortably.  

This section of the Katy includes some really beautiful scenery right up against the bluffs as well as the more exposed Nona section, which is mostly just fields and wind and, on this day, mushy trail. As I slogged along, I longingly eyed the paved surface of Augusta Bottoms road.  Catching up with the group ahead of me, I cast my vote for riding pavement back where possible, only to be told that had already been decided.  Yes!

We filled up the bike parking. :)
The Dutzow Deli was a welcome mid-ride oasis, and their pancakes and hot chocolate did not disappoint. 

Most people were more focused on their food than the photo op.

The trip back, featuring a glorious paved stretch instead of the soggy Nona segment and minus and flat tire issues, seemed much faster. We lost about half of our group when they stopped at Augusta Brewery for a drink or two; while I'm almost always up for an excuse to stop, Augusta came too quickly for me to want a break there, and I still had a turkey waiting at home to be cooked.  Doug, Anne, Sean, Mickey, and I continued on, taking a quick side trip to check out the scenic view near Klondike Park.

The trail is back to the bleak, sepia tones of winter.
As we waved goodbye to the others at the Research Parkway trailhead, I felt the familiar regret at my poor (read: farther away) choice of starting point, but with another detour onto pavement for the dreaded Greens Bottom section the remainder of the ride went pretty quickly and I actually felt pretty good making the climb back up to the parking lot.

Back to back long ride weekends, and I don't even have a big gravel race on the horizon! This Thanksgiving, among other things, I'm thankful for fun teammates and good company to pass the miles.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Fig 12-hr adventure race

Chuck and I had such a good time last year at the Fig that we knew we'd be back even though Stephanie of Flying Squirrel Adventures, who had quickly become one of our favorite race directors, was handing over the reins of the race to 361 Adventures.  And after a long (and awesome) AR season we're both tired of long car trips, so on the way to Kentucky we agreed that if 361 didn't do a Stephanie-ish job with the race we would mark the Fig off of our 2016 schedule. (Spoiler alert: we're totally going back next year.)

Chuck:  The drive is a little over six hours, so it's not terrible.  But somehow I always feel betrayed by the additional hour caused when crossing the CST to EST time change in Indiana.

Pre-race:

We arrived a few minutes after check-in was scheduled to end (shocking, I know) but were still able to pick up our race number and swag bags. Without enough time to get pizza at Miguel's, we grabbed dinner at Subway instead. I was starving, so I ordered a personal pizza and a 6" flatbread sandwich. I ended up being full after the pizza, so the sandwich made a delicious pre-race breakfast.

The pre-race meeting was short and sweet, which was awesome.  Before passing out the maps, Dallas gave a brief outline of the race:
  • Starting on bike.
  • Sections could be done in any order, CPs could be punched in any order, and you could return to sections if you wanted.
  • To be official finishers, you had to visit all TAs: 1/4 (the northern section bike drop) and 2/3, which were the paddle put-in/take-out.
  • CPs had to be found by the mode specified.
  • Bikes could only be dropped at TA1/4 or CP1.
  • Coordinates for two additional CPs would be given at TA3.
I'll admit that my heart sank a little at the "in any order" part; I like to be told what I'm supposed to do and when (in a race, anyway).  As it turned out, the race offered the perfect combination of structure and decision-making. Basically, there was a northern section and a southern section. The northern section held all of the mandatory TAs and the bulk of the trekking points, all of which were located near trails due to Forest Service requirements/strong suggestions. The southern section had all of the biking CPs and 5 trekking CPs that required bushwhacking as well as careful route finding to avoid getting cliffed out.

My initial instinct was to knock out what seemed like the faster southern section. Chuck's first thought was to start north.  After talking about it briefly we opted for his plan. All of the mandatory TAs were in the north; rather than overextend ourselves early and then spend the rest of the race chasing cutoffs (a la Hellbender), we decided we were better off tackling the north and then knowing what we had time for in the south.

Because the maps (which, incidentally, were printed on waterproof paper as was the race book -- so awesome) were preplotted except for the two points we'd plot on course, all we had to do was route planning before heading back to the hotel to prep gear and food. This was surprisingly painless, and with no bike or gear drop to worry about and about a 5ish minute drive to the 7 a.m. start, we hit the beds by 10 or so for an unheard of 7ish hours of sleep.

The start was downhill from the eventual finish line, so we decided to park at the top and ride down. Having Chuck's van in the closest possible spot to the finish line more than outweighed the slight inconvenience of having to leave behind our jackets and shiver a little before the start. We coasted down, collected our passport, searched in vain for an unlocked bathroom, and even had time for a pre-race team picture on a suspension bridge (yea) before rolling up to the start line with 100+ new friends-to-be.
12184086_10203899400444834_2944796850307113110_o
As my friend Lindsay noted, that's a very nervous smile on my face. 
Bike 1: ~7.4 miles to TA1

We started with a paved climb out of the park and then zipped down the highway, making a quick stop 3ish miles into the race at a rest area for that elusive bathroom before crossing under the Mountain Parkway and beginning to climb. Right away Chuck began previewing what was coming next for me, perhaps hoping to stave off my inevitable sense of betrayal when the course doesn't align with my mental delusions picture of it: "We've got a climb coming up...and then a serious climb after that."

We could see someone walking their bike uphill ahead of us, which always makes me happy because then if I have to walk I won't be the first or only one, but though we gained over 500 feet in less than two miles it was all gradual enough to be (almost) fun.  After my implosion at BT Epic, this was a big relief.

Chuck:  The pines and big rock features we wound our way through were scenic enough to take your mind off the actual climb.



12184961_10203899401484860_7937066553692329441_o
TA1 bike drop (which would also be TA4 when we returned to it after the trek)
Trek 1: ~11 mi, CP 9-12 to TA2 


RIMG1989
Setting off on the first trek
We had opted to tackle the first trekking section in a roughly counterclockwise manner and set off on a fast hike down the trail, where we were soon passed by a running Mike Garrison (who had surely already knocked out several CPs and called back that we should feel free to ignore him if he told us we were in the wrong place again).  Seeing how quickly he was out of our sight made me wish I'd been spending more time running, especially on trails. As it was, though the trail was relatively smooth I didn't feel very confident in my footing and was content to hike.

12191194_10203899403924921_6200015038218917784_o
It wasn't all super smooth...; that said, plenty of the trail looked like it did in the above picture of Chuck.
Before long more running teams passed us, one of which doubled back just as Chuck was looking at the map to decide whether we'd reached our attack point for CP9, We all quickly located the CP, punched, and continued down the trail towards CP10.  The morning was slightly cool and overcast, perfect race weather, and the scenery was just beautiful. All day long we passed non-racers who were out hiking and camping -- the area is obviously popular for good reason.

Chuck:  We really did have perfect weather!  Especially compared to last years pre-race flooding and race day snow and cold rain.

RIMG1994
Right after I took this picture, Chuck slipped and fell, tossing the map aside to catch himself. After he picked it up, he mentioned how glad he was that he didn't inadvertently throw it into some chasm.
We encountered one such group as we approached a spot where the trail crossed a good-sized creek a few times. We'd carefully picked our way across rocks for the first couple crossings, but lacking their trekking poles decided wet feet were better than attempting the slippery log they used. "Oh well," Chuck remarked, "We had two hours of dry feet."

We found CP10 without incident and then made our way across our second suspension bridge of the day (yea), running into Terry and Julia, parents of solo Mike from Tomahawk, on the other side. They had come along for the day to spectate as he raced with his daughter, and seeing their friendly faces at several points in the race was always a treat.

12191206_10203899421925371_3408289070245029117_o
Pretty, for a deathtrap...
From the bridge we once again hit pavement, doing our only running of the race on the downhills and spotting the canoe put-in as we passed on our way to CP 11-12. We were SO hoping to see Mike paddling by so we could yell down, "You're going the wrong way!!" but alas, no such luck. The trail leading towards our next two CPs was sloppier than the previous ones, but we made good time and quickly knocked off CP12. 11 required a very scenic out-and-back along the base of and then climbing up along huge stone cliffs. Once again we passed families and groups, including a pair of guys who were probably in their 70's out for a hike.  Luke would be sure to say something about how nice it must have been to see some of my contemporaries, but it was awesome to see so many people enjoying the outdoors.

12189345_10203899431925621_6578098720870690984_o
On the way to CP11

RIMG2004
Chuck kept this arch from falling down. 

CP11 apparently gave a lot of teams some trouble, but we don't know if it would have stymied us because as we approached it a 2-man team gave us some pointers on where to go.  We walked right up to it and punched, catching back up with a couple teams we hadn't seen since CP10.  From there, all we had to do was retrace our steps, giving back the 500 feet we'd just climbed, and get ourselves to TA2 and the canoes.

RIMG2006
The view on the way back from CP11. I wasn't interested in getting any closer to the edge.  Fun fact: I couldn't find my trekking pants while I was packing (turns out they were hanging in the garage, still not washed from the Tomahawk Challenge) and so had to wear a pair of Target brand pants that one of my older boys had discarded years ago.

Random bit of trail conversation:
Chuck: Hey those new pants don't have zip-off legs
Kate: No, but I don't usually have much use for zip-offs.  I like them so far.
Chuck:  Other than the fact they make your ass look huge.
Kate:  They Do Not!  I checked in the mirror before I left!
Chuck:  LOL! Who does that!?


Commenting on the commentary: Who does that? Girls! As an aside, after looking at the pictures taken when I was in the front, they really did make my butt look big. Goodbye, hand-me-down pants!
RIMG2010
It was so beautiful out there.

Paddle: ~ 3 mi, TA2, CP 13, TA3

I always dread the paddle, more so this year after tipping in two of my last three ARs, but my dread was tempered by the fact that it was such a short paddle. On the other hand, boats weren't included in the race fees, so the $40 canoe rental worked out to around $13/mi. The dearth of navigable water is just a fact of adventure racing in the Red River Gorge area, though, and most races I'd be glad to pay $40 to skip the paddle.

RIMG2015
Chuck does not dread paddling.
While short on distance (and, in several areas, low on water), the paddle was high on scenery. and after 11 miles on our feet we were both happy to sit down. We had a few spots we had to portage and one moment where I thought we might tip, but otherwise it was a smooth trip downriver to the TA.

RIMG2017
As much as people seem to think I just pull out the camera so I don't have to paddle, Chuck is actually the one who kept telling me to take pictures.

Chuck:  Its true!  that was a very scenic little river.  I would've loved to have more paddling miles.
Trek 2: ~ 8 mi, CP A, B, 6

At TA3 were were offered hot chocolate (yea!), candy (yea!), and coordinates for two "bonus" CPs. We'd anticipated their general location thanks to the overlay on the map (no point in having trails marked special in an area with no CPs) and pre-decided we'd be better off skipping the huge climb involved. Chuck changed his mind after plotting them, though.  "They're pretty close, and I bet it's a great view. I know it may not be the best race strategy, but I'd like to see them."

We're more about the "adventure" than the "race", so I was open to it, Besides, I wasn't sure it was bad race strategy. Maybe it made more sense for us to tackle the trekking points, which were generally in the same area, than chase the bike CPs, which required a decent ride and included points in the vicinity of last year's bike leg.  That had been its own special kind of adventure, but I wasn't eager to slop my barely recovered leg through potential mud puddles.

As we turned onto the road towards Raven Rock, we saw Lupine heading back towards us, having decided their time was better spent going after the bike CPs...basically the opposite of our strategy (full disclosure: they ended with 4 more CPs than we did, but since I don't know which ones they got and when, it's hard to compare). The path started out nice and flat, then hooked around to the left. As we made our turn, we looked up the trail and then laughed, "Oh man, look at that hill!"

RIMG2022
We thought this was a hill.  We were so wrong.
"That hill" was nothing compared to the rest of the uphill trek. The trail, which followed the remains of an old, paved road, switchbacked relentlessly skyward, sometimes steep and sometimes steeper. Everyone who passed us going downhill assured us that the view was worth the climb, but that's a lot easier to say when your lungs aren't on fire.  Even with all the vertical, is was a very pretty hike, though the mossy chunks of dilapidated asphalt were slippery enough that you always had to watch your footing.

12185028_10203899443205903_5632281961487653162_o
Our goal was the top of that cliff in front of me...no big deal.
The trail grew steeper as we neared the top, but the sight of the top gave our burning legs the energy to carry us onward.  Ascending the path between two huge rock outcroppings, I cheered, "We're there!" only to reach that level spot, turn to my left, and stare up an impossibly steep road bed.  We were not, in fact, there.

RIMG2028
Just remember that pictures never show just how steep hills are. It was even worse than it looks.
This last stretch before the peak rose so steeply that it seemed almost possible to hold your hand in front of you and touch the road (not quite that bad, but not that far from it), and yet you could still see the yellow striping marking the centerline. I couldn't imagine attempting to drive a car up there, let alone building the road.  Everyone was right, though. The view from the top was pretty incredible.
(For another description of the ascent to Raven Rock, complete with some interesting local history, check out this blog post.)
RIMG2034
We'd come from the road you see on the left.
RIMG2035
Gorgeous fall views

Retracing our steps was a slower-than-I'd-expected process, mostly due to the way I gingerly picked my way down the steep hill while a 2-woman team with trekking poles jogged past us.  Chuck mentioned that he'd pay $1,000 for a pair of trekking poles right then, but he had no takers.  While the downhill was awfully hard on the knees, thankfully it wasn't as slippery as I'd expected.

Once we made it back to the bottom, we hiked back out onto the road.  Our fast hike was no competition to the teams that alternated hiking with running, and a couple of them passed us in this section (and were likely already ahead of us points-wise). The road took us to the trailhead towards CP6, and for a while we enjoyed a pretty level trail alongside a creek.  The trail actually wove back and forth over the creek multiple times, and it seemed like every bridge was built differently. That made a nice diversion from our sore feet.

RIMG2036
One of the many varied bridges.
If I remember right, up to CP6 the trail didn't do much climbing, but immediately after punching we headed what felt like straight up.  We weren't that far from CP7 and 8 and were debating whether it made more sense to go after those or head straight back from 6 to the TA and see what we could do on the southern section of the course.  We had until the trail split to decide, and the trail just kept climbing...and climbing... Chuck warned that we'd have more hills if we wanted to try for 7 and 8.  Our sore feet and burning legs unanimously voted to head back to the TA and our bikes.

RIMG2037
Yeah, yeah, it's scenic. Now where's the &;#&;!@ TA
Since the TA was located on top of a big ridegline, we still had plenty of climbing to do, including one stretch of trail that required literal climbing.  I came around a turn in the trail to face a rock ledge that was the trail.  I turned back and looked at Chuck in despair.

905733_10203899460086325_7388159495984690471_o
"Seriously??"

RIMG2038
The trail
All complaining aside, I was glad we were tackling this section going up; I think I'd have been a little scared trying to go down it.  Once we finished climbing up rocks, the trail leveled out into a beautiful, tree-lined path that we followed back to the TA.

RIMG2040
Glorious flat trail at the top!
Bike 2: ~23 mi, CP 16, 15, 1

We made a pretty quick transition at TA1/4 and hopped onto our bikes for the first time since about 8 a.m.  If there's anything more glorious than getting off your feet after hours of trekking, it's getting off your feet after hours of trekking and coasting downhill for 4 miles.

Chuck:  This was where we discovered the rear Fox suspension shock on my mtn bike had lost pressure and collapsed.  Unfortunately it decided to blow the seal during a race.  Fortunately it was a race without single-track.  All we could do to compensate was raise the seat post to the highest position that seemed safe, then peddle along like I was riding a little kids bike.

Granted, I took the hill a little slower than Chuck. While my downhill courage has definitely improved, that's on straight roads. Winding our way back through the curves we'd climbed that morning, wheeeeee! lost the competition with what if the brakes fail?

Traffic wasn't an issue until the road straightened out, and then it seemed like every car in Kentucky was following us down.  Throughout our time on the bike drivers were unfailingly careful, but the lead car in our little caravan was reluctant to pass us, even when the road ahead was clear, and a good-sized line built up behind her.  Thankfully she eventually came around, and after an uncomfortable few minutes while numerous cars passed us, we had the road to ourselves.

Our plan was to go after the closest bike CPs, both of which were located just off of paved roads, and then spend any remaining time on CPs 1-5.  Shortly after we passed the turn to the finish line on our way to CP1, I realized I should have timed how long it took us from that road to CP1, so I checked my watch and made what I hoped was a safe estimate about the part I'd missed.

Chuck:  Kate does a great job with timekeeping sections like this, allowing me to stay focused on our nav.

We quickly found the gravel road leading up towards the trekking CPs (1-5) -- about a 15 minute ride from the finish line if I'd guessed correctly -- and then continued on towards the bike points.  One was at Cliffview Resort, where we'd ridden their amazing, long zipline in last year's race, and the other was at a building at...another place. Thinking we needed to go to Cliffview first, I filed away the other clue and assumed we'd figure it out when we needed to.  The ride to Cliffview took longer than I remembered (story of my life), and on the way we passed a campground called "Land of Arches".

We reached the entrance to Cliffview shortly after that, and Chuck looked at the map, trying to decide if the half-building behind the sign could be the location of our CP15, which we should have passed on the way to Cliffview.  Pulling out the race book, I read the clue: "Land of Arches: building".  Oops.  Luckily you could get points in any order, so we quickly punched CP16 at Cliffview and then returned to Land of Arches for CP15.

After punching, we took a couple minutes to pull out our jackets for the ride back to CPs 1-5. Most of the ride there had been uphill, and we expected a fast but chilly ride back in the growing darkness. Our return trip went quickly, and I was very, very glad to have a brand new, very bright taillight.  In most ARs I've done, the majority of the bike legs take place on lightly traveled gravel or doubletrack roads. We'd had to skip that part of the Fig's bike leg and instead were riding through the dark on a fairly busy two-lane highway.  Once again all of the drivers were very respectful with their passes, but I've read too many stories in the past year about bike-car accidents to feel comfortable.

Chuck:  And my rear blinky light was dim enough to say it was nonexistant.  Too bad no one offered me replacement batteries for it during our pre-race prep the night before.

The road leading to CP1 was more of a fire road than gravel, and it began with a steep little section that, in the wrong gear after cruising downhill for several miles, I had to walk up. Once we hit the first switchback the incline gentled a bit and I was able to hop back on the bike and ride most of the climb, which was a welcome surprise after how poorly I rode at BT Epic (and further evidence that I'd derailed myself there with huge nutritional failure).

We reached the top, punched CP1, and decided we didn't have enough time to try for any of the others.  I was a little nervous about the trip back downhill, but it went smoothly and we were quickly back onto the paved road back to the finish.  With all of the cars on the road, we opted to turn off and ride through the campground (where, fun fact, Jeff and I stayed one very chilly March night before we were married) rather than remain on the highway any longer and rode into the finish with around 20 minutes to spare.

The post-race dinner was delicious: salad, bread, and two kinds of lasagna. We ate and caught up with how the Toporadicals' race went; we were especially interested in how they did because they'd started in the southern section of the course.  Once all teams were back, Dallas announced the winners in each division in one of the most efficient post-race meetings ever.

We ended up 6/12 in our division and 41/63 overall. Typically even when we're (I'm) slower, we can make up time with good navigation and route choice, but with so many checkpoints being located near trails due to the Forest Service, the race definitely favored teams who were fast. One of my favorite things to do on the drive home from a race is to go over decisions we made and try to see where we could have improved.  Driving back from Kentucky, Chuck and I both agreed that the only way we could have done better was just to be faster (which is basically exactly what we said last year...maybe this is the year that lesson finally kicks in for me!).  And we agreed that we'll have to go back again, hopefully with some more Virtus/friend of Virtus teammates. Even in new hands, the Fig is way too good of a race to skip.


Full results
All of our pictures from the race