Sunday, June 14, 2015

My Run, Row, Rock & Roll 12 Hour Adventure Race Experience

I’m not going to lie. I was feeling pretty unsure of my abilities going into this race.  I really didn't start endurance training until mid April.  Essentially giving me only 6 - 7 weeks to try and build up some form of endurance for a 12 hour race.  Not the smartest move but coming back from an injury last September, that’s the best I could do.


This leads me to inform you that you don’t really need a lot of training to do a 12 hour race.  You simply do it at your own pace, complete as much of the course as you can, and make sure your butt is at the finish before the 12 hours is up.  If you discover you aren't up for going the full distance, you can elect to go to the finish at any time.  You can also choose a shorter Adventure Race or even an Urban Adventure race. The choice is yours, just have fun!


Team Nut n Honey Post Race (and post showers)
My team consisted of my racing friend Jerry, and my old friend Jason. He’s not old, I've just known him since college.  I have raced with Jerry for 2 years now and we tend to go about the same pace, so it has worked well for us.  This was Jason’s first AR.  He trained with me a few days a week while we built up our endurance together in preparation for this race.  Going into the race I felt we were both about the same pace and would team up well.


We checked in Friday night.  We got our maps, coordinates, team number, and signed our waivers.  This left us with nearly 3 hours to check into our hotel, unload, eat, plot the coordinates on our maps before the 8 pm pre-race meeting with all the teams.


At the pre-race meeting we received race specifics, we had to have our bikes at a lake in Kansas and be back race Headquarters in Fairbury, Nebraska by 6:30 AM. Bikes were not supposed to be dropped off before 5 AM.  We had to take note of an “off limits” area on the map, and were given a few race rules - certain sections were to completed in order, others didn’t matter, etc.


With those rules in mind, it was back to the hotel to determine the best routes to take between checkpoints.  This involves a little bit of Google Maps to look up road names and looking for updated trails or roads, as well as studying the features of the topo map (i.e. terrain), and a fair amount of guess work.  Our maps were created 40 years ago, and as such there would be some features that would be different today than they were when it was originally made.  We labeled the roads we thought we would travel on, highlighted optimal routes, and made checkpoint notes directly onto our topo map.  We plotted around 31 points across Kansas and Nebraska that we needed to find.  Then it was off to bed with a 4 AM wake up.


We were up and out the door just a smidge after 5 AM.  We ate, dressed, packed, filled our packs with race food, water, extra items like socks and a rain jacket, loaded our bikes and headed for the drop off 30 minutes away.  After we dropped our bikes and biking gear (shoes/helmets/water bottles) off at the “Transition Area” we headed back to the start returning to Nebraska.  Teams began arriving between 6 and 6:30.  At just before 7 AM we loaded up in 2 school buses and were bused back down to the location of our bikes.  While this sounds odd, the race was not a round trip race.  It was essentially a one way race, and we had to eventually make our way back to Fairbury.


At the start of the race we had two options, we could canoe or trek first.  The weather was perfect that day, no wind, no chance of rain until later in the afternoon, and cloud cover.  This never happens.  We opted to run first, then cool off in the lake for a scenic canoe ride.  The trek took us all around the lake finding checkpoints.  The teams that started with the run ran in 2 different directions, each team with their own strategy on where & how to complete that section.


I was the main navigator, the navigator is required to read the map features and determine where the checkpoints would be.  I was feeling quite rusty going into the race, but didn't have any issues navigating. It helped to bounce ideas around with Jerry and Jason on where we thought we were adn where the checkpoint would be.  We did a great job finding the check points and getting back to the canoes.  These checkpoints aren't the easiest to find/reach. We had to run through thigh high grass and bushwhack through thorny shrubs, squeeze between cedars, and cross barbwire multiple times to find them.  We weren't running on any trails in this race!  It was pure prairie with some pretty huge hills.


Next up was the canoe section.  The lake had a dam across the top ⅓ of the lake we had to cross over with the canoe about 6 times to complete this section in order.  There were 7 checkpoints alternating from one end of the lake to the other end of the lake. I shared paddling with the guys, but only on the short side of the lake.  They did the vast majority of the paddling.  We had only 1 fumble on this section accidentally going down the wrong finger of the lake.  This cost us about 15 minutes allowing a few teams to catch up with us, but once we discovered our error we were back on track.


Next we were removing our trail shoes, and donning our bike gear.  We checked out of the Transition area (TA) and made our way over hill after hill after holy crap another huge hill, to the next TA finding some checkpoints along the way.  It was shortly into this section I realized I never checked the pressure in my tires, and I knew my back tire was too low. I could feel the extra drag from it. My teammate Jerry had added air to his tires shortly after we took off on the bike and I hoped to use the rest of his CO2 cartridge.  We stopped to air mine up, but we couldn't unscrew my Presta valve, so I was stuck with a low tire for the rest of the race.  This wasn't a good thing, but I dealt with it without too much complaining.


We got the the next TA and were happy to see a table with lemonade and tea for the racers.  I downed a glass of iced tea faster than I ever have in my life. Ahhhhhh.  We quickly changed out of our bike gear, and back into our trail shoes, completed a team challenge and took off looking for all the checkpoints we could find on foot.  We nailed the orienteering section and passed quite a few teams, much to our surprise.  We walked nearly all of it, but jogged a few flat and downhill sections.  This section involved bushwhacking and no trails. There was one missing checkpoint we spent 20 minutes looking for and finally gave up on. After we cleared the trekking section we found out that checkpoint was taken by someone or something.  We were just happy to know we hadn't missed it.


Jason made a common newbie mistake and failed to wear long socks for the race. I had mentioned to him prior to the race to wear long socks.  Apparently I failed to fully mention why he needed to do so.  Let me show you a picture of a fellow racer who also failed to wear long socks and how his legs looked post race.  Thank you Ben for letting me post this photo of your legs from this weekend. So sorry for all the painful scratches that you and Jason endured. You are troopers.
Ben's Hamburger Legs. OUCH! Remember to wear long socks.
Back to our bikes, gear change, refilling of our hydration packs, and a washing of my salt covered face, and we were off again.  We took way too long at this transition area to leave and many teams were coming in as we were heading out.  About ½ mile into the biking I realize I am out of gas.  To make matters worse some rain must have fallen just north of us and the gravel roads were like biking through glue.  Mud was flying, but thankfully these were gravel roads, and not dirt roads so we could still ride.  I was going at a snail's pace, a combo of perfect storms, low tires, wet sandy roads, and plain old tiredness. I think Jason was about as tired as I was but Jerry still had steam in his engine. He helped us up a few hills. Nothing better than assistance from a teammate!  Several teams caught and passed us on on this bike section back to Fairbury. It was disheartening knowing I couldn't keep up with them, but I was happy I had made it 8 hours before running out of get-up-and-go considering my lack of training.


We reached Fairbury and had one more TA area.  We dropped our bikes again.  This time one teammate would kayak up the Little Blue River while the other two traveled up river by foot on an adjacent trail.  There was a checkpoint where we would meet and swap out kayakers.  Jerry kayaked up the river.  He had the most energy and it made the most sense for him to kayak up.  Jason & I seized the opportunity to walk to the next checkpoint, get our punch and wait for Jerry to arrive.  Timing was perfect, we reached the swap point at the same time, we made a switch of kayakers, and I kayaked down river.  I beat the guys back, punched the next checkpoint, then we got on our bikes for the last two miles of the race.  We had just one checkpoint left in town and then the best sprint we could muster to the finish. My sprint didn't kick in until 3 blocks before the finish.


We finished in 9.5 hours, finding all the checkpoints for a 3rd place co-ed team finish.  I wish we took a photo of us covered in mud from the last biking section but our brains were lacking glucose and we didn't remember.  I headed straight for the showers inside race headquarters and then to the post race meal.  Potato chips never tasted so good.  Our post race meal was pulled pork sandwiches, fruit salad, cookies, chips, water and lemonade.  I ate it all.

We met a co-ed team from Colorado, Team NYARA (AKA New York Adventure Racing Association). I’m not sure of the Colorado/NY connection, but a great group of competitors who smoked the course finishing in under 7 hours.  Outshining them was a solo guy named Justin who was the first to finish.  I’d like to think they had the high altitude advantage, but they are just plain awesome. I'd guess they probably ran when we opted to walk and they finished before the rain came through. Lucky dogs.
Team Nut n Honey, Solo Racer Don Day, Team NYARA
I don’t know where we finished overall, but a fair number of us finished within just a minute or two of each other.  These are teams we normally finish around, so I was quite impressed to finish with them for my first race after a 7 month training hiatus #stupidbrokenankle.

If adventure racing sounds like something you would like to try let me know in the comments below.