Sometimes the biggest adventure in any race is just getting to it and thanks to a crazy work schedule and preparations for multiple conferences, I found myself training to survive another race instead of getting ready for it. I have never been an advocate of racing my way to fitness but it seems that is where I currently am. As much as I wanted to really hammer it in the weeks preceding this race to get myself ready, I either didn’t have time, weather or both to do so. Treadmills and exercise bikes are poor substitutes for training rides and runs, but that’s all I had so whatchagonnado? Show up, suck it up and do your best. Here is what happened:
Adventure Max, held this year on March 5, is a team, offroad triathlon consisting of trail running, mountain biking and canoeing. It is designed to be an introduction into the sport, therefore there is no heavy duty orienteering, no technical single track, or ugly trails. The Points we were easy to find and the vast majority of the race was on dirt roads. It is a PERFECT introduction to the sport. Just enough of everything to let you get a feel for it without brutalizing you if you make a rookie mistake. But you don’t have to. I made all of them for you…
Total mileages were about 4 miles of running, 15 miles of biking and 3 miles of canoeing. The terrain was hilly, but beautiful. The weather was cold and wet. The temperature actually dropped during the race. Luckily we avoided the snow and ice that was called for, but the heavy rains the night before did enough damage in the form of mud, mud… and some mud.
The race works by having you and your partner attempt to find and mark off check points. You have to stay within 100 feet of each other at all times and you can get the check points in any order as long as you get them all and put the right stamp in the right spot on the passport. Even if you get them all, if you put one in the wrong spot you get DQ’d. You start out trail running, then get on the bike for the majority of the rest of the race, with the canoe leg stuck half way through the bike ride (just enough to get you warmed up and then cooled/frozen/stiff while you are in the canoe). The organizers throw a little fun in by having a mystery event which this year was riflery. OK… It wasn’t that fancy. It was trying to hit a cowbell with a BB gun from about 25 yards.
Even though the race is straight forward, there is a little strategy involved and my partner and I spent some time going over the map and deciding the best route. Since our race only got park maps (no topos) and we weren’t completely familiar with the course, we had no idea which routes were steepest, etc. so we just took a shot at a route. We got some subtle hints from those involved that lead us to believe that the shortest routes between check points were also the most difficult so we adjusted accordingly, but mostly decided to just take what the race gave us.
Cold. Wet. …yup. That just about covers it. The race didn’t start until 10am so we had plenty of time to get up and fret about what to wear. After a decent breakfast we headed to Wal Mart to pick up a few last minute supplies and walked out of the store into an ice storm. Nice… Bring it. We loaded up our stuff and headed to the race site having no idea if we were ready.
I went with one heavy upper layer, a wind jacket, tights, tri-shorts, Smart Wool socks and trail shoes. I packed another wind jacket in my backpack and decided after much worrying to break one of my own rules of racing. I had recently purchased a new pair of MTB shoes and had not had a chance to even put them on. I NEVER wear new stuff for the first time in a RACE. But for some odd reason I decided it would be OK this time. More on that later. I carried a Gu, some Shot Blox and a trail mix bar in my Camel Bak. This race is unsupported so you have to carry everything you will need with you. I hit this one right on the money and had no nutrition problems during the race at all. The wind was out of the NNW at about 10-15 with a race time temp of about 32. The temperatures fell during the race into the mid 20s. It was overcast with a light fog for most of the race.
I set up my bike next to Uwe’s in transition. It was at this point that I made my first mistake. A rookie mistake, really. And I’m not a triathlon rookie. I didn’t test ride my bike. That would come back to haunt me later. I was so concerned with everything getting wet that I completely hosed my own pre race routine. My shoes and helmet were nice and dry. But my bike was hosed.
Adventure races are funny to watch start in that teams can come up with their own routes so they kind of scatter like cats when the gun goes off. There were basically 3 ways to get the run CP’s and teams tried all three of them. We took a bit of an out and back route that seemed to work well and had no problems finding them all. I ran OK but was trying to force myself to go steady because I knew it was going to be a long race. Luckily that seemed to be the decision of most teams so there was no real urgency or feeling like we needed to speed up. I knew that was not how these races are supposed to be run.
The first bike leg:
We came into transition relaxed and comfortable. I got into my shoes OK (without ever having worn them before…) and ran to the mount line. It was here I discovered the magnitude of my screw up. Somehow, from the night before when I had done final checks on my bike until the time it got to transition, the front derailleur had gotten knocked completely out of place. It was dragging on the rear tire and would not shift. To shorten the story a bit, I went back into transition and grabbed the only tool around, a pair of channel locks, and managed after a few tries to straighten it out enough to get going. It cost us about 4 minutes though. Once on the road I realized that this wasn’t the only problem. Something was wrong with the rear derailleur and it was taking 3 shifts to get into the right gear. On a course this hilly I knew this meant hundreds of shifts, but just tried to make the best of it. It never got better and tossed the chain 3 times on the first leg. I finally just shifted into the middle ring where it seemed to stay the best and rode the rest of the race in the middle ring. Up some nasty hills. I knew this meant I was venting more energy than I needed to but with no choice, what can you do? It turns out the rear derailleur was bent as well. I have no idea how this happened. I never so much as laid the bike over on it, much less hit it on anything. I’m totally clueless as to what happened. This had to have cost another 5 minutes over the course of the race.
We managed to hit all of our CP’s to the top of the map without a problem but as we were just about to tackle a pretty tough climb… my back tire went flat. I took it off and got it out pretty quickly and ran my hands around the inside of the tire to check for thorns but I missed the thorn somehow (probably couldn’t feel it through my gloves and shaking hands) so once I got it back on and got to the top of the hill, my new tube went flat. At this point I was out of tubes and CO2 so I had to wait until someone with a pump came by that I could borrow (thanks Misty!). We lost at least 10 minutes here. But back on the road we still thought we were doing OK.
When we came to a T in the road I made my only real “adventure race” mistake of the day. I KNEW we needed to turn right and follow the road around. But I saw two a team in front of us go left. ADVENTURE RACERS ARE NOT SHEEP. FOLLOW YOUR MAP AND YOUR KNOWLEDGE… NOT YOUR FRIENDS. We went up and down the road for a painfully long time before I finally looked at the map again and determined to go the way I knew was right. Sure enough, it was.
I haven’t been in a canoe in 15 years. Just sayin.
My greatest fear was dumping us out of the canoe while trying to get started. Thankfully Uwe knew this and encouraged me to just get in and we would be fine. He was right and, after checking to make sure I had the big end of the paddle in the water… we took off. Our strategy was to hug the coast to avoid the biggest wind. This worked well but I did discover that canoeing is SLOW. I think we were moving pretty well and had a decent canoe split but man it didn’t feel like it. We hid from the wind until we got all the way to the north end of the lake to the CP and then went straight down the channel, with the wind, to get the last CP. This was a good strategy as we only had a couple hundred yards of crosswinds and waves to battle to get back to the transition. My arms weren’t as sore as I thought they would be but my legs were really stiff and threatening to cramp so I needed to be gentle for the first mile or so until I got warmed up. Unfortunately this meant going painfully slow up a big hill. Once all the feeling returned to my hands and feet, the cramping went away.
Bike Leg 2:
We were able to negotiate the rest of the course to the mystery event without trouble. There was, however, a water crossing to deal with. We were feeling pretty warm and trudging up the big hills on the back side of the course when we got to the hill before the crossing. I remembered the race officials saying it was high, but ridable (it’s usually just a trickle, but the t-storms the night before had made it much higher). So when we got to it I just plowed right in. I wasn’t going fast enough to coast all the way across and was in too big a gear so I had to pedal hard to get through it and the water was at about hub level so my feet got soaked. From this point forward. I never got warm. I shivered violently for the rest of the race and nearly an hour afterward. My only solace was that as I looked around the finish area, just about everyone else was too. Anyway, I made the big climb to the shooting range and got in line… shivering.
Anyone who has ever shot a BB gun knows how painfully inaccurate they are. Hitting something the size of a cowbell at 25 yards while shivering in sub freezing temps is more about luck than skill. But I thought that my rifle team background would be an advantage. Uwe went first and neither of us could see where he was hitting the target. It took him some time but he finally hit the bell and handed the gun to me. My expert marksman skills completely disappeared and we ended up with the worst time of any team. In frustration, I finally placed the front sight seemingly so high that it would shoot over everything and that was when I finally hit the target. BB guns suck. I could have hit that bell with a .22 at 100 yards in 3 shots or less. It must have taken me 2 dozen with the BB gun.
Bike leg 3:
Time to get home. I had gotten a little hint from someone about the last leg and, even though it was a mile farther, the route I chose to get us home proved to be critical. It was flatter and faster. At this point I was shaking uncontrollably and had to pedal hard just to stay warm, but I was burning the candle at both ends. We took my route although we were both questioning it but surprisingly it worked. Even after all that, we had the second fastest time for the last leg. I was too cold to celebrate much and was just excited when I saw the finish line. Not because I knew the race was over though. Just because I knew that there was a bonfire on the other side of the transition area.
Thoughts on the race:
I love adventure races and team events. This one, in spite of all the mechanical issues and being colder than I have ever been in my life, was a blast for me. I learned a ton and remembered a ton I had forgotten since my last race. The key thing I took away from this race was to make YOUR plan and stick to it. Say hello to the other teams but DON’T follow them. There is no telling where they are or what they are doing. Check your gear and then check it again. Pick a tolerant and patient partner and then communicate… a lot. The weather conditions in any race can’t be helped and everyone is out there in them. Bitching about them doesn’t help. Mechanicals happen. Just fix them and move on. Oh… and BB guns suck… 😉