Conquer Castlewood 2011

Despite putting on a brave face, I was secretly really nervous about Conquer Castlewood.  I felt pretty comfortable about the run portion but not so much the canoe and mountain bike legs. The more I thought about them, the more I worried (so stop thinking about them...why didn't I think of that?).  This morning, when my alarm went off at 5:10, I was already lying there awake.  Jeff asked if I was excited about the race, and I told him, "I'm nervous about the mountain biking." 

"Me, too," he replied.  Thanks for the vote of confidence.

I met Jake, my partner for the race, when he picked me up.  He didn't have horns or anything, so that was good, and he only tried to leave my front wheel in the road once.  (Maybe he heard how slow I am on the bike and figured we'd do better if I just ran the whole thing?) It was nice to have the drive to chat, even though it wasn't like we'd be spending much time together on the course.  Partners canoe together, but the remainder of the race is "on your own" with individual times being added together for the team time.  He and his wife are both pretty impressive athletes; in fact, she just placed in her age group in a 5K...oh, and she's 7 months pregnant!

I was glad that Jake wanted to leave early.  I'm not at all a prompt person, unless it's for a race.  I'm almost always nervous before a race, and it's nice to be in control of at least one thing.  I was also glad I'd done my homework.  After registering, I had read my friend Robin's race report from last year, in which she mentioned being dive-bombed by ravenous mosquitos.  So, I was early, and I had my bug spray.  Both good things.

tri club shirt
The Tri Club...another good thing
I'll say again how happy I am that I joined the local tri club.  That's where I got my partner for the race, and it's so nice to have people who you know (or at least recognize!) at a race.  The club usually has a volunteer to photograph club members, and it gives you a built-in cheering section.  Robin and her partner passed us on the way, and I think there were at least 9 of us there.

Once we got there, we found out that the canoe leg had been cancelled due to the river being SUPER high.  Instead, we would start off with a short running leg, transition to bikes, and then finish up with a longer run.  I was a little relieved about not canoeing...I had visions of taking an early swim getting in.  We have a canoe, so I have no excuse for not getting out there and practicing, and that's something Jeff would enjoy doing, too.

Just a little high.  (Photo credit: Lori Vohsen)
After a brief warm-up, I put my bike in the transition area.  I didn't have much transition-ing to do; since I don't clip in, I didn't need to change shoes (that would've been a bit of a pain with two run-bike transitions), and I just wore my gloves on the first run.

The competitors were split into two waves; I think all of the tri club members were in the first wave.  As we all waited for the start, I noticed that a girl near me looked just how I felt and told her so.  Her husband said, "She's nervous about the bike."  "Me, too," I answered, "but at least we have a 30 minute head start over the second wave; even if we are the slowest, we should look like we are." I was kind of joking, but I really was thankful that I'd have people coming in after me (hopefully).

They finally started us off, and the pack took off full speed ahead.  I definitely overdid it trying to keep up in the beginning and paid for it for the rest of the first run.  I was huffing and puffing like a freight train.  For a while I was fairly close, but eventually I was pretty much on my own.  Even though we didn't get to canoe, we still got to run through the beach, since the river had kindly left a good portion of it all over the trail.  There were also quite a few muddy spots, but there was always somewhere you could step to miss the worst of it.

The first run was about a mile, maybe little more but not by much.  The clock showed 13 minutes when I came through...and then it was time for the bike.  [Edit: According to Robin's race report, the first run leg was 1.5 miles, which would mean that I ran an 8:40 pace.  That would be screaming fast for me even on the road and certainly explains why I couldn't breathe. I can't imagine that I ran that fast, so my guess is either the first leg was shorter or I looked at the clock wrong.] Kind of like being so sick of being pregnant by the time you reach 9 months that you're almost looking forward to labor, I was actually relieved to get to stop running and ride for a while.  We started off with a bang. 

Photo credit:
Well, actually, we started off with a sploosh.  The first part of the bike leg was along the river, and due to all the wet weather we've had lately, there were some really muddy parts.  I just remembered my guru's words and tried to keep my momentum up.  It was a little nerve-wracking as my tires slid a little under me, but I made it through the mud with no problems. 

Trouble spots:
  • Early on, there was a smallish incline with some bigger roots across it like steps.  I couldn't really get up any speed (ok, we're talking about me... "speed") because there were a couple of people ahead of me slowly making their way up this section.  I ended up running right into the big root rather than going over it, and my tire bounced off it.  I think that was the first time I put my foot down, and I ended up walking that section.

  • I managed most of a steep climb until I had to shift into my easiest gear in the front.  I needed to be adding more weight to my front wheel on the climb and didn't, so my front wheel started lifting.  Foot down again, and it was steep enough that I couldn't really get going again and had to walk the rest of the hill.
Personal triumphs:
  • Any time my hands were off the brakes on the downhill
  • Any time I pedalled instead of coasting
  • Not falling

Like on the run, it was almost like just being out there for a ride on my own.  All of the fast and average people were long gone, and I guess all the super slow people were behind me a ways, because there were long stretches where I didn't see anyone.  I had to remind myself to push on flat areas where I could.  I really tried to focus on things my more skilled bike friends have taught me, in particular choosing a line and not looking at the things you don't want to run into.  There was one part where I was all proud of myself for navigating a fairly technical spot, and then I immediately ran into the largest rock--then stump--then root in the trail.  I started laughing to myself: That's exactly what Wendy told me NOT to do. 

Since this was the third race I've done at Castlewood, I'm starting to recognize different areas from past races, which is kind of cool.  As I came out of the woods, I realized, Oh, I'm coming up on the creek crossing.

Yes, another creek crossing.  Remember this?

Me in March
When I did The Deuce, it never even occurred to me to ride across the creek.  This time, though, I've got a couple small creek crossings behind me, and even though the guy in front of me walked though (and maybe a little because he did), I rode it.

Castlewood Cup--water crossing
This was back in February; I think it was higher this time around.

I made it through, and didn't fall.  Hopefully some day this won't qualify as news. :)

I passed the guy in front of me (the one who'd walked through the creek, which definitely helped me close in on him) as we cruised down the park road back to the transition area.  I think he was the one person I passed on the bike, so thank you for that, sir, whoever you are.  My friend Melissa and her husband Scott cheered as I came by, which was really nice.  When I got back to the transition area I wasn't sure what to do next.  There was a "run" sign, but it was for the same route we'd run before.  Guess I should've paid better attention when the race director was doing his thing, huh?

The other rider confirmed that we got back on the same trail.  I took off and never saw him again, so he must've fallen and broken his leg or something because I was running none too fast.  I had finally caught my breath once I hit the downhill portion of the bike, but then I'd pushed to pass that guy and was already panting when I started running.  It would've been so easy to walk, but I concentrated on just. keep. moving...even if I was moving slowly.

The second run was pretty unremarkable, except for the fact that I was REALLY regretting not bringing a handheld water bottle.  It was a beautiful day today, and WARM.  Once again, I was pretty much on my own.  Am I the last one?? No, I wasn't.  As I came out of the woods, the nervous girl's husband came up behind me.  I asked how she was doing, and he said she'd made it through the bike leg and was happy.  I guess she was behind me because I never saw her again until the end. 

We ran the park road til the foot of an ugly hill that just goes on FOREVER.  Thank goodness, there was a water stop there.  Oh, my gosh, that water tasted so good.  I ran part of the way up the hill and then walked the rest of it.

Castlewood Cup-1st big hill
Taken from near the top of the hill in February
Melissa's husband Scott passed me right after the worst part of the hill.  He was about the fourth 2nd wave guy to pass me, and we talked for a moment before he headed off to pick off the guy in front of him.  I think I was passed by one more person from my wave and two or three from the second one after that.  A couple guys passed me right before we were out on the park road again, and then I played leapfrog with one of them for the rest of the race.  He'd run, then walk til I almost caught up.  Run, then walk.  Finally I passed him as he was walking and said, "Come on, we're almost done, you've got this."

A minute or two later, he passed me running again and then started walking.  As I went by, he said, "I've got a faster pace but less endurance."  I guess that's what marathon training did for me: I can go forever, but slowly.  Oh, well...I ended up coming in ahead of him (I'm also pretty sure that he was in the second wave, so that was a pretty hollow "victory").

Keith and Robin came down the road on their bikes to run me in. That's the nice thing about being the slow person in a fast club...there's always someone to come back and run with you or at least to cheer for you as you (finally) cross the finish line.  I know that their motivation and cheering definitely made me finish stronger than I would have otherwise, so thank guys!

Catching my breath at the finish with one of my escorts to my right.

Jake finished in around 1:14, and I finished in 1:41:25.  I'm pretty sure I wasn't last, though it certainly felt like it for a while out there.  I was pleasantly surprised by how not scary the mountain biking was.  Not that I was fast at all...I was painfully slow, but I could do most of the riding necessary to ride the trails we were on, and I think speed will come as my skills improve.  As far as my goals for the race, well, as I told a reporter who wrote about the race, I just wanted to get out and have fun (check), get more mountain biking practice (check), and complete the course without need of medical attention (check!). All in all, I'd call today a success.

Individual place: 111/155
Team place: 9/17...strictly on the basis of my speedy partner

Kudos to Ballwin Parks and Recreation for putting on a great event.  I'll be back next year...and hopefully faster.


  1. Sounds like a great experience! Bummer about the canoe but it might have been for the best.

  2. Congratulations! Great race and a great report as well! You really inspired me by entering and doing this race. Makes me realize I should enter some of those events that actually scare me. Have a good week!

  3. I love your willingness to try anything!

  4. You did it, YAY!!!!! And you didn't fall, yay!!! :)

    Congrats, Kate - what an awesome experience!!

  5. Great job, Kate! Way to get out of your comfort zone. The more you ride single track, the better you become. Sounds like an awesome race. I should try to do this one next year. Congrats on a fine race.

  6. wow you are braver then me!
    what an experience!

  7. I really enjoyed reading this. It sounds like tough riding to me. I am worried about road racing! I would have been relieved not to canoe too. I like your goals and I like that you met them! Yeah! You go, girl!

  8. Congrats on another great race! Also congrats on chicking that guy on the creek crossing :-). Sorry they cancelled the canoe but it was probably the safe thing to do.

  9. You are my hero Kate! Go you! Fun report with wonderful pictures! Totally smiling:)

  10. Your adventures are always so interesting to read about. You should keep a book of all your race/run stories in it.

    And I would have LOVED to do the canoe. Are you kidding? Something different for a change?

  11. Okay I registered. I so don't need to worry about going out too fast with the bikes because on the bike there is no too fast with me on it. It is bike run, the opposite of yours. 15 miles biking, 5 miles running. I have paid no thought to the run and I think it is also quite hilly. All my attention has been on my bike. I am not even thinking about my half this weekend. I need to start!

    And yes, I am VERY excited about the new bike.

  12. I enjoyed finding your blog! I live in Minneapolis now but am from St. Louis and lived right by Castlewood. Fun to see pictures and read about your event. Thanks!

  13. Great report Kate. This is one of my favorite races of the year.

  14. It sounds wonderful! I've been interested in this race for awhile but seeing as I 1)don't own a bike, 2) don't own a canoe, and 3) don't have a partner who has an extra mountain bike and a canoe..I haven't been able to. Lol! So glad you enjoyed it and plan to do it next year.


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