Castlewood 8-Hour

Note: Written by me with commentary added from Luke (in red), Bob (in green), and Robby (in my usual blue).

2014 has been a busy year.  Since June, I've done 6 adventure races.  None of them, however, had been with my regular team...until Castlewood.  Luke, Bob, Robby and I registered for the race in a 4-person coed division heavy with strong veteran teams and newer teams full of fast people. Castlewood is billed as one of Bonkhard's easier races, with less-complicated navigation on trails and roads that are familiar to most St. Louis area athletes.  We definitely stack up better in longer, more nav-heavy races, but we went with plans to run the best race we could and with full knowledge that we were destined for the fun podium.

The good times started at race check-in on Friday night, where we enjoyed some cold beverages while shopping at Alpine Shop and laughed our asses off every time Luke took his hat off.

The new hairdo was the result of losing a bet.  It doesn't quite approach the gold speedo, but it was pretty entertaining.
Luke: I'll bet you that I never take another bet.

This year's pre-race maps required no plotting of points, leaving us free to eat some delicious Dewey's pizza, get our packs organized, hang out, and still get about 5 hours of sleep.

Bike drop
Photo credit: Stacey Hagen
After last year's race starting temperature of about 11 degrees, Bonkhard decided to move the traditionally December race back a few weeks into November.  The weather was indeed warmer than 2013, but with temps in the low 20's it was hardly balmy.  In fact, it's quite possible that hell was freezing over as well as the St. Louis area, because Team Virtus dropped our bikes at Castlewood State Park, stopped at Starbucks, and still rolled into race HQ with over 30 minutes to spare.  I believe that's a first.

Luke: This was literally the earliest I've ever been to the start of a race. It felt very weird. I'm not sure I liked it.

We socialized, took care of last-minute bathroom stops, and got some team pictures in our new kits. These are the first new jerseys since before I joined the team -- in fact, "my" team jersey is actually Luke's spare one that he lent me for LBL and then let me keep -- so we were all stoked to not be sporting our hopelessly stained, chronically stinky white jerseys, and I was especially happy to be wearing a top that was cut for a girl.

Luke, Robby, me, Bob
We stalled until the last minute and then went out to the start line shortly before 8:00.  Gary made some last minute announcements, none of which I heard, the National Anthem played, and it was go time.  We had managed to line up at the very back of the pack, so a huge group of racers quickly opened a gap on us as we jogged down the sidewalk and onto a paved trail that was very familiar from January's Frozen Feet half marathon.

Trek 1: 1.5 mi, CP 1-3 in order, 27 min.

Despite all the running I've been doing this fall, I was by far the weakest runner on the team as we started out.  The first mile or so of most runs feels like death; add a loaded pack and the accumulated fatigue of racing three straight weekends, and while my head was all about the race, my legs were more ambivalent about the day's plans.

That's a direct quote. 
Plus all of the sudden my waist strap was too tight on my pack and I couldn't buckle it. Between losing my keys (which turned out to be in my back pocket) and then my race packet and new gloves (which I'd left lying on a counter while looking for my keys) the night before and then my inability to deal with a pack I've been racing with for three years, I was a little bit of a train wreck.  Whatever.

Note the crowd behind us.
CPs 1 and 2 were right on the trail. The route to 2 was an out-and-back, which was both great fun (getting to high five all kinds of friends on their way back) and a little depressing (wow, everyone in the race is ahead of us). The actual checkpoint was a huge bottleneck because one of the two punches was broken and a huge clump of racers was lined up to punch. Frustrating, but it probably helped us catch up to some of the teams that had gotten so far ahead of us on the run.  From 2 it was a short run back down the trail to the canoe put-in and a bonus map.  My camelbak hose was lightly frozen by CP2,but I stuck it inside my jersey for a little bit and it was never an issue again.

Bob: CP2 only had one (broken) punch. Talk about frustrating. The only thing I hate more than running is running for no reason. Rather than wait for the line to die down, I used a safety pin to mimic the punch pattern onto our passport. We passed a few teams this way but also got gapped by everyone in front of us. 

Paddle 1: 4.4 mi, CP 4-5 in order, 1 hr.

Bob and Robby took one canoe; Luke and I were in the other. Another bottleneck on the way down to the river with teams going single file.  We waited in line for a bit and then kind of pushed our way through on the right after Bob mentioned there was room for two canoes.

Bob: That bottleneck was legendary and had me fired up a little. It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but if the punch station would've been another 30 feet down the bank I don't think there would have been a problem.

Just after putting in on the Meramec
I'm never a fan of paddling, and being on the river in sub-freezing temperatures makes me particularly nervous, but our canoe leg went without incident.  We did get to see two bald eagles spectating the race from a tree (picture below), but it took me a minute to get out my camera, so the picture isn't great. It was really cool to see them, though.

They're in the tree in the middle.
We played a little bumper boats with one of Team Velcro's canoes leaving CP4 (gravel bar) and their guy inadvertently soaked Luke's left leg.  A little further down the river, Robby didn't pull his paddle all the way out of the water and splashed Luke's right side.  Robby was slightly horrified and offered to let Luke splash him back; instead, Luke just spent the rest of the day reminding him about it.  Much more satisfying.

Luke: It was definitely more satisfying to keep reminding Robby how badly he douched me with water. The look of horror on his face when it happened was priceless.

Bob: I saw the whole thing. Paddle hit the water moving forward and the wave hit you square in the back. Damn good thing the PFD was there, lol. I don't think I've ever seen Robby that mortified.

Robby: I was mortified when I did that. It was definitely an accident and I wanted to crawl into a hole and die! I think Luke's exact words were, "Why would you do that to me??" I still feel horrible and apologized about 20 times...including when we parted ways at my house. Paddling is not my favorite.

Bonus trek: 3.6 mi, CP 37-42 any order, 1:25

At CP5 (gravel bar), we beached our canoe on a veritable parking lot of boats for the bonus trekking leg.  All of the points were pre-plotted on a 1:10,000 scale orienteering map, quite a shift from the 1:25,000 map we'd just been on.  Alpine Shop was just finishing their trek, so we got to cheer for them as we started.

A clump of racers came off the river at the same time, so when they turned right, we opted to go left towards 39. We got that with no trouble and then headed towards 40, which was smack in the middle of a featureless floodplain with the clue of "grassy area".  We were making good time running the nice, open trail when Luke stopped us: "This doesn't feel right."  He'd been looking for a mapped trail that hadn't materialized; we did some bushwhacking, heading towards where the trail should be, but when that wasn't successful we doubled back to a known point and then reassessed.

Navigating on a pancake.
The trail indicated by the dashed line straight to CP40 didn't exist anymore.
With only one contour line and apparently no trail to help us with our attack on 40, we ended up deciding to go after 41 and 42, both set on more distinctive features, and then shoot a bearing to 40.  We checked off the two trailside CPs and then headed in search of the elusive CP40.  We were slightly off but found it, and then Luke led us directly to 38, which was also plotted in the middle of a grassy area.  Bonus trek complete, we hiked through head-high brush to the canoes.

Luke: I clearly need to work on my nav in flat areas. This was very tricky, and I feel horrible for screwing up.

Bob: Shit happens. Your recovery was fantastic, so I count that as a positive. And things would've gone much worse if anyone else was navving. I personally suck at flatland nav.

Robby: I remember how awesome it was that we got to see a deer speeding by us at 90 to nothing. Had we not gone off track we probably would not have gotten to witness that.  Going through the brush was awesome! 

Luke in the lead, followed by me and then Robby and Bob
Paddle 2: 2 mi, CP6, 29 min.

We hopped back into two of the few remaining canoes and paddled off again.  The breeze had picked up a little, and temps were pretty chilly if you weren't in the sun.  Still a beautiful day and good company.  We ended at the beach at Castlewood where Patrick and I were stationed the year we volunteered together.  I got to say hi to some of my Team Rev friends who were manning the checkpoint.  After passing our gear check, we wheeled our bikes off the beach to transition into bike shoes, etc.  Bob had picked up some blueberry pancake-wrapped sausages at QT that morning, and they made for a nice treat even if he'd neglected to keep them warm for us. ;-)

Robby and Bob about to finish their paddle.
Luke: And eating phallic food mid-race is always fun.

Bob: Those things are delicious hot, cold, raceday, or any day. I had forgotten they were in my feedbag, so it was a very welcome surprise.

Robby: I passed on the blueberry pancake-sausage but did accept a chocolate covered pretzel from Kate. 

Bike 1: 6 mi., CP 7-14 in order, 1:03

ARs often feature relatively little singletrack, but this year was a nice change from that general rule. We set off to pick up CP 7 along the river before climbing Grotpeter.  Having just spent a great deal of time on some of these trails at last week's Skippo, I was very familiar with what we were about to ride up, but I don't think I've actually ridden the trail in a few years and it went way better than I expected.  I was strong on the climbs and less tentative than normal. Not sure where that came from, but I like it.

Leaves on the trail made me a little nervous and I had a hard time looking down the trail instead of right in front of my wheel.  I'm still considerably slower than the guys on flats and especially on downhills, which just makes me appreciate how patient they have been in racing with me -- as slow as I am now, I was WAY worse a couple years ago, and they've been nothing but encouraging and supportive. All of the CPs were right along the trail, so just a matter of following the trail on the map and picking them off. Very fun bike leg!

Luke: Kate is sooooo much better on the bike. And those trails were super fun!

We pulled into TA at 14 and got to see Jim-Dave (who's a super nice guy but can't seem to remember my name for anything) and his awesome daughter Amber as well as our buddy Dave.  After punching our passport (but only after), they gave us the map and coordinates for the next trekking leg and informed us of a 3:00 cutoff for the trek. We had three (I believe) points to plot. Luke and Bob took care of that while I ate, got water for us, and socialized.

Trek 3: 3.7 mi, CP 15-22 any order, 1:46

We attacked the course in a clockwise manner, starting with a climb up Lone Wolf, where after running, hiking off-trail, and biking all day without incident I managed to fall on a gravel trail.  Luke was dead-on with the nav here.  We leaned heavily on bushwhacking rather than trails, and it was fun to have an opinion when he gave us options.  I felt strong climbing hills, much better than at the beginning of the day when it was all I could do to jog down the sidewalk.

Bob: Saying you felt strong on the hills is quite the understatement. I was blown away by your climbing strength, especially after the slow start we had that morning. The change in intensity was undeniable.

Lots of cheating going on this leg, from teams sending runners to teams running down off-limits roads. Probably largely because this race draws so many new teams in who maybe don't really understand the rules, but it's frustrating to see.

Luke: I can only hope there wasn't intentional cheating going on. That would be even more disappointing.

Cleared the trek and back again to CP14, which was now CP22 (I think), where the guys gave us the maps for the bike leg to the finish. 5:00 cutoff in order to finish without losing points, and Robby's watch battery died. I'd brought my race watch along for the weekend only to leave it at Bob's house.  Brilliant.

Luke: When I first saw this map I didn't think we'd have time to get all the checkpoints. With no mistakes, though, we finished with time to spare before the cutoff, which was very nice.

Bike 2: 15.1 mi; CP 23-25 in order, CP 26, 29, 31-34 any order; 1:58

A light snow/sleet mix began to fall as we rode away from the TA, making Bob very happy. Unfortunately, just after leaving the TA I noticed my front wheel was losing air. That's been something of a pattern this year and makes three straight ARs where my front wheel flatted (Berryman, which was thanks to a really bad line over a really rocky trail, a slow leak at the Fig, and now a slow leak again); time to do some maintenance, I guess (or make Chuck a batch of chocolate chip cookies and beg him for help).  We stopped to change it, which was awesome given the fact that we were on a tight schedule. Thankfully Bob took care of it way faster than I could have.

Luke: Hey now, Robby and I helped, too. We took pictures and made jokes and stuff.

Robby: I just supplied the air for the tube. 

Bob: I don't think I've ever had that much trouble getting a tire off the rim. All the old sealant in there was like glue.

CPs 23-25 were all along the road, and we hit them with no problems. I felt great on the bike, a little too great. I was in the lead just trying to hold a good pace and ended up pushing it too much. I can't judge pace without a bike computer, and I can't turn around (without running off the road) to keep track of people behind me.  Both are areas to work on.  Pretty good climb up to 25, which we started with a female team that was really ready to be finished.

Bob: Another slight understatement regarding pace. I was busting my ass to hold your wheel. It's a good thing you're so huge and easy to draft behind.

Robby: You geared people have it so easy! I was spinning pretty hard to keep up. Those paved hills are killer on a SS.

From 25 there were decisions to be made. We almost certainly didn't have time to get all of the remaining CPs, so we had to choose between a primarily road route or one with singletrack, and we had to shuffle through several maps to figure it out.  Being familiar with the trails, Bob and I knew the singletrack was fast and flat, and it looked like that direction would give us more points and options than the road route. That's what the team ended up deciding to do, and other than going a little bit out of our way to get to the singletrack we hit CPs 31-33 cleanly.  The flat trails were a blast, and I've got to get Jacob out there with me; I know he'd love it.

Luke: I loved these trails! So much fun.

Bob: The frozen sleet and snow at the end was awesome.

Robby: Those trails are the cat's meow! I had a blast! This was the highlight of the day for me.

January's half marathon came in handy again on the way back as we basically retraced the end of that race as we rode back to the finish.  We took a quick detour to get CP29, hit 34 on the way to the finish, and rolled through the BonkHard arch at 4:43.

Robby: Kate and I also made a perfect phone transition (after checking the time because my watch had stopped) while heading back. I wish I could've seen Bob and Luke's faces when it happened! AND Kate is a bunny hopping fool! She has improved SO MUCH!

With two cameras taking pictures, it was hard to know where to look. We have about 7 finish line pics and none with everyone looking at the same camera.
Photo credit: Mary Welter
It was a nice surprise to see our friend Patrick as we crossed the finish line. Big thanks to him for hanging out for a while after spending a LONG time waiting around for us to finish!

In the end, we finished 8/8 in our division, 48/65 overall. It wasn't the strongest showing, but we were most certainly at the top of the fun podium, and if it came down to a choice between overall standings and having a good time with my friends, I'd most definitely pick the latter. Luckily, that's a given with Team Virtus.

Luke: I couldn't agree more. It was a great day with my best friends. The final placing doesn't even matter to me. 

Bob: Maybe someday I'll care about where we place, but I hope not. This was a great course and a nearly perfect day. And did I mention that all of this happened within 15 minutes of my house? 

Kate: Only a thousand times or so.

Robby: I thought we did great all day long. I haven't done many adventure races in my short racing period, but I trust my life with you guys! Starting and finishing anything is an accomplishment in itself.

A note about clothes for future reference: Temps ranged from low 20's to...I don't know what the high was. The forecast high was high 30's/low 40's.  I initially wore two pair of socks: a tall,thin wool pair and a slightly thicker FITS brand pair (had to lose the wool socks before the bike leg because the band was making my leg sore); bike shorts under my running tights, a long-sleeved tech shirt, my team jersey, a fleece hat, think liner gloves, and a buff around my neck.

In my pack I had the required fleece shirt and waterproof pants and jacket as well as a warm pair of lobster gloves for the paddle and if the temps dropped enough.  I wore what I started in probably 80% of the day, putting on the fleece jacket for the paddle and whenever we were at transitions so I didn't get too chilled.  Overall that worked fine, but I was pretty cold on the road section of the second bike leg.  I never got sweaty, though, so I was successful preventing that.


  1. You guys are truly awesome. I have no idea how you do what you do!! I think you and I should do that short little AdventureMax race next year. Except you'll have to let me borrow a bike and teach me how to paddle lol.

  2. Nice jerseys :) It was fun reading the input of the rest of the team!

  3. Love Luke's bet loss hair. At least he isn't betting and losing on bad tattoos :-).

    Great race Kate!

  4. You have been busy. That is an understatement. Your students must love your stories! I can't imagine racing on a bike in snow and sleet.

  5. Oh. my. goodness. thank you so much for the legendary gold speedo link.

  6. The new kit looks great, Kate! That hair tho....haha
    Paddling a canoe in freezing temps would make me nervous with the wrong people, but looks like you guys fared OK, even with a little splashing :)

    Good notes on the gear!


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