Friday, December 25, 2009

The Best Adventure Racer Ever...

So I was thinking last night (Christmas Eve) that Santa has to be the best adventure racer ever. I mean how many checkpoints and miles is that anyway? In less than 24 hrs!! Even with a flying reindeer powered sleigh that is pretty incredible, he must have some wicked nav skills. Anyway I set out to catch a peek at him in action to try to find out some trade secrets. See the movie below to see what I got.

How can a man of his size move so fast? I wonder what his training routine is...


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Castlewood 8 Race Report

It's supposed to be an 8 hour race. Translated, this means that Team Alpine Shop will finish in just about 30 minutes. For the rest of us mere mortals, this means hopefully coming in under 10 hours.

Team Alpine Shop is the standard for adventure racing in my book.

Now I know that there are other great teams out there, (WEDALI cracks me up, and they LOVE to race) but Alpine Shop are in our own backyard (St. Louis), so as far as I’m concerned, they are the gold standard. They won the 2009 USARA point series. The youngest person on the team is 41 y.o. (very inspirational). Not only that, but you would be hard pressed to meet a nicer group of racers. And as long as Dave Frei is putting the Zanfel where it is supposed to go, they will always be in contention for the title.

Jeff Sona was fresh off an ultra marathon (100 mile trail run in under 30 hours), so it’s understandable if he was a bit banged up. Maybe slow the team down by 30, 35 seconds. Totally acceptable.

The reason I’m mentioning Team Alpine Shop, is because The Castlewood 8 race is sponsored by Alpine Shop. An outdoor gear store in the St. Louis area. They have a great store, and supplied a lot of the swag for the race. I think everyone came away with some sort of goody at the awards ceremony. My hats are off to both the store and the racers.

As for team Forum Dental. We usually race as a 4 man team. My use of the term ‘man’ is subjective here, but suffice it to say that we each have at least one X chromosome, and one Y chromosome. Chris “Klinefelter” Wehrli moved to Idaho, and was not with us for this race. So we opted to jump to the elite category, and took to the internet in search of a female race partner. After an exhaustive search, and several interviews from applicants from around the globe, we opted for our strongest applicant - Kari Young. Fortunately for us, she happens to be the spouse of teammate Scott Young, so it didn’t make for any awkward sleeping arrangements.

The night before the race we were fortunate enough to be going to bed early. Usually Scott is up until 3am plotting routes. Then, once he is in bed, he fidgets around for hours trying to get some sleep. With no pre-race maps, and his wife on the team, he was in bed at 8pm ready for some sleep.

Dave and I slept fine too. Rest assured, there was no snuggling going on in our bed though.

At 4:17am the prostate gave out, and I made the “I’m 40 years old now; I have to get up in the middle of the night to go potty” trek. For me, that was it as far as sleeping. Over the next 30 minutes, everyone made the trek to the bathroom for the same purpose. I’m the slowest one on the team (the weak Link), so it was fitting that I was the first to give in to the calls of nature.

Once we got on the bus we started joking around with some of the other races. I’m always saying dumb stuff just to see the reaction of some of the racers. “OH crud, we're supposed to bring our own food?”. “I didn’t realize we need to bring our mountain bikes”. “We’re going to be in the woods!??”. You get some stunned looks until it sinks in that you are only joking.

Over 100 teams signed up for this race. I think 96 actually started the race. Some very stiff completion. A top 5 finish was going to have to be earned the hard way. When we reached the starting area we received our maps and got ready to go.

This would be a good time to mention that the temp was 17 degrees.

A week before the race it had been around 70 degrees, so 17 degrees was a real wake-up call.

We started out with a run to pick up our passports. This was a brisk winding uphill run. We got to the passport station to find volunteers standing near a roaring fire and our passports. Scott had already plotted our course, so we were off like banshees. This is a new approach for us. We used to start out slow and work up, but a few races back, we decided to just go for it from the start. It’s been working fairly well for us, so we stuck with it.

Checkpoints 1 thru 11 could be gathered in any order you wished, while #'s 12 thru 15 had to be found in order. Not very many teams plotted the course the same way we did, so we were essentially on our own for a bit. As usual, Scott took us directly to the 1st CP.

At CP 6 we started to run into some of the other race teams. A few were scratching their heads, wondering if they should try and follow other teams and abandon their maps all together, while others were beginning to enjoy the warmer 22 degree weather as the sun came up.

Scott was doing his usual fabulous job of making sure we got to the correct location as quickly as possible. About the only problem we ran into was that our water supply lines from our hydration packs kept freezing up. We had to keep them tucked under our arms to heat them up so they would flow properly. Ever sucked on the end of something that has been tucked under a sweaty armpit? Yea, it’s as bad as it sounds.

Getting from CP 14 to CP 15 was a snap, and I was wondering how the transition over to our mountain bikes would go. Biking has historically been a section were we pass a number of teams. The unknown was our newest team member. Kari XX Young. She is super fit. Super fit as in I can only joke around with her so much, because if I cross the line, and she decides to “Bring It” and open up a 6-pack of booty smack on me, I’m in trouble. I can’t even run away from her, because she is faster than I am. The few times I have crossed the line with her have ened up with me in fetal position sucking on my thumb asking for my mommy.

Anyway, Kari has only recently taken up biking (3 weeks ago). Not just mountain biking, but “how do I use the gears and breaks” kind of biking. She is a competitor though, and has dedicated heart, soul and body to learning to mountain bike. She has the bruises to prove it.

Some mid-race stats.

We were the 14th team to reach the Bike Transition. This means we were doing fairly well out of the chute. The fastest team did this section in 1 hour 35 minutes. The slowest team did this section in 5 hours and 52 minutes. Our time was 2 hours 9 minutes.

Transitions are notoriously slow for us. We had the 40th fastest time in and out of the transition area. Not sure why this plagues us every race, but it is an area that we need to work on.

With frozen solid water bottles, we started on the bike.

The first several miles of the bike leg were going to be on paved roads and the CP's looked pretty easy to find. There was one just brutal climb though.

Usually we love going up, because it means a fast downhill after. In 22 degree weather, after building up a slight sweat from the climb, this downhill freeze is not quite so welcome.

After we punched the passport at CP 16 it was time to make our descent to CP 17. It was all downhill and very fast. My bike computer was set to Km rather than Miles, so when I looked down and saw 55, I almost fainted. I quickly made the conversion to mph and figured we were going about 33mph. Did I mention it was 22 degrees? At the bottom we realized what it must feel like to have Botox our faces had literally frozen into huge numb cheesy grins. Special D commented that it had taken years off my face….. I’m thinking of scheduling an appointment.

We got to CP 19 from our bike transition in 42 minutes. That was 14th fastest on the day. Forget those fears that Kari had only been biking for a few weeks. We were crushing it here.

Heading to CP 20 we got off course a bit. I don’t think it cost us more than a few minutes, but the local signage was a little messed up. It was clear that some other folks took the same route. These ‘other folks’ were in front of us, so obviously they were fast, and had a very good idea of how to read a map.

This single-track leg took us out of our game a little. We were not going very fast, and it was not really difficult terrain. For us it was an out-and-back, so on the way back, we knew what to expect as far as what the ride would be like. It was flat, a little muddy, and we all had a ton of energy. It should have taken us about 27-28 minutes. It took us 42. A good 10 minutes of that was a chain repair…but still, we were not on our game for this leg.

Chain repair – let me tell you we handled this with an expertise that you might only find from a local bike shop mechanic. First of all, we got a chain wrapped around the crankshaft. NOT just wrapped around the crankshaft, but wrapped around the crankshaft SEVERAL TIMES. I don’t know how this is possible. We could not do it again if we tried. To this moment, it is still baffling to everyone on the team. The only way we could think of reproducing this picture, is actually taking a link out of the chain, wrapping it around the crankshaft, and then putting the link back in.

Seriously, it was that bad. However, Special D whipped out his tools, and in less than 10 minutes, we had some bad links (torqued beyond use) removed, chain unwrapped, and we were back in the saddle.

We ranked 42nd in this section. Not our finest hour, but one more section down, and on to the canoes. (Read on to discover how this “slow” section and chain difficulties ended up being a blessing in disguise, and actually saved our entire race).

Getting to CP 23 presented its own challenges.

We had to load our bikes into a canoe and then paddle upriver. This requires a balancing act. The CP was at the far end of an island, so rather than paddle upriver even further; we parked the canoe at the near end, and ran for it.

Now I would choose to do this again, but in retrospect, it might not have been the wisest thing to do. The mud on the island was thick. We jumped out of our canoe and were up to our shins in thick, ice cold mud – with our bike shoes on. Did I mention that it was 22 degrees?

So we get to the other side of the island to bring our mistake into full realization. The CP is hanging on a tree - out over the lake. You could paddle right up to it and punch the passport in a canoe. Dave thought about shimming out the tree and punching the passport, but there was a big branch sticking straight up out the side of the tree. If anything went wrong, SPLASH into the river – Race Over.

We realized that we had three choices: A) run back to the canoe, paddle upriver to the CP (10 minutes at least) B) risk the shimmy and possible full body douse (Race Over) or C) plunge into the river knee deep (Dave is 6’2”), and deal with the cold (22 degrees out)

It took Super Dave all of 0.03 seconds to go charging down into the water and punch the passport. We got back to the canoe, and took off down river towards the take-out, and the final leg of the race.

We maintained a solid, sustainable rowing pace despite the cold wet feet and frigid temperatures.

Dave and I have made the mistake in past races of just throwing our bikes on the canoe and strapping them down and going. Only to realize later that the handlebars were in the water acting as a rudder. Or one of the wheels was shoved up my backside, or sitting on Dave’s lap. Worse is the “off-kilter” set, that puts you in full on pucker mode for hours as you try to compensate for the poor weight distribution.

This is all much more difficult to get right than it seems. Taking your time is important, but even then, it is impossible to tell how things are going to end up until you are in the water and going. If you get it wrong, it’s not like you can stand up in the canoe and start making adjustments. It is always a crapshoot.

This race, Pluto lined up with Saturn’s third moon, and Dave and I got our bikes “right”.

Scott and Kari had a little more trouble. Because of the set of their bikes, Kari could only paddle on one side, with a partial stroke. Scott could only paddle on one side with a – reach out over the bike tire and stroke – type effort. Fortunately this was not a 4 hour paddle, and we actually made it through this section 14th fastest.

Later we found out that one team flipped their canoe. Did I mention that it was 22 degrees out?

We all handle adversity differently. For the most part, I’m the slowest person on the team. I’ve come to accept this. It’s not easy, but it’s either enjoy being with friends, and realize I’m going to be the deciding factor in how fast/slow we go, or not race at all. Scott and Dave are like Gazelles going uphill – on foot or on bike. I weight about 60 lbs more than Scott, and am several inches shorter than Dave. I just don’t go up hills very fast.

I’d be lying if I said that being the slow guy was not discouraging – but I live with it because it is a ‘constant state’ for me. My teammates live with it because they know someone has to be the slow guy, and if they had a different teammate that was faster than them, they would be the slow guys, and would probably have a total mental breakdown.

Now when Scott or Dave do something that causes the team to ‘err’, it is not only unusual, but as a team, we are usually unprepared to deal with it. Basically the only way for this to happen is for the navigator to make a wrong turn or something like that. While this used to be more common when we started racing, it is actually fairly uncommon any more. Usually it is more of a post-race ‘ahh, knowing what we know now’ type of thing; we might have made a different route choice.

Every team out there has missed a CP, decided they took a bad route, or been momentarily lost at some point during a race. It happens, and happens a lot.

In the past, if Scott made a navigation error, he would get ticked at himself, go into a little trance, and bust a move to get us back where we were supposed to be. Silence was an absolute necessity. Part of the ritual is putting the head down, mentally beating himself up, and about 5 – 10 minutes later everything is fine. No one on the team really cares about the error, because NONE of us want to shoulder the burden that he does by taking on the task of navigator.

When I leave my bike stuff back at the hotel, and we have to go back for it, run tight on time, and end up carrying it with us instead of being able to drop it off with the bikes, I just feel stupid. It does not really slow me down trying to shake it off, because I’m already the slowest.

With this lead in, Forum Dental had a completely new experience this race.

We get to the canoe take out, and there is a mandatory gear check.

Dave and I fly through this like a hot knife through butter. We take both canoes up to the loading area while Kari and Scott are pulling out their gear. We are moving.

No problems – except that Kari does not have her whistle. At a Bonk Hard Racing race, this does not result in a time penalty, or a CP penalty. It results in a DQ. Basically the death penalty. A DQ is mentally very different than an “unofficial time” or even a “DNF – Did Not Finish”. A DQ, DisQualified, is a – you broke the rules, you cheated, you otherwise are not allowed to complete the race and receive a finishing time and ranking.

This being Kari’s first race, being Scott’s wife, and otherwise not knowing much about the “Required Gear” list – Scott took it upon himself to make sure she was packed and ready to go.

By the way, the Young’s own three whistles. They brought every one of them to this race. They had each of them on the bed the night prior as we meticulously went through the gear list. There are any number of reasons how one got left back at the hotel, and was not put in the race pack. No Whistle = DQ’d.

It is hard to say how I would have felt had this been me. I’ve slowed us down. I’ve caused us to come in dead last. I’ve thrown up, I’ve cried, I’ve bent my derailer (had a spare one), pushed my bike up a mole hill when I had absolutely nothing left in me. I’ve dealt with these emotions. DQ’d when we are one hour from the finish of the race – I’ve not had to deal with that one yet.

Let me be honest here. This is when your mind, in its cold tired state starts to play tricks on you. “how important is a whistle”? Is it worth compromising my integrity and “borrowing” a whistle from a teammate that has already been checked? Believe me, as a teammate, these same thoughts are running through your head. These races are expensive. It’s a silly whistle for goodness sake. But it’s the rules. We all know the rules in advance, and we all play by the same rules.

I’m proud to say that we maintained our integrity – and were blessed for it.

The Volunteers (bless their hearts) relentlessly asked each team that came to the gear check if they had a spare whistle. Now some race packs have built in whistles. Ours don’t, but some do. So up wonders a racer with a pack with a built in whistle. Not knowing this counts, he had also packed another whistle – ahh, a spare. We’re back in business. A huge shout out to this racer that saved our entire race.

By the way, if we don’t have the chain malfunction that I mentioned earlier, we don’t get this whistle. Had it not slowed us down, we would not have been in the right place at the right time to get this whistle. While the chain was no one’s fault, it certainly makes you feel better about it if it happens to you.

Now I’m a big believer in Karma. This was some good Karma. We owed someone big time.

This cost us 10 minutes. Shake it off, water under the bridge, let’s go.

Well, easier said than done. Down goes the head. “Shake if off Scott, we’re in business”. Only time is going to heal the crushing feelings that Scott must have felt when he thought he might have cost us the race. Non-the-less, we are back to racing. Not busting it out like we might otherwise have been doing, but back on the road.

We’ve now been passed by a few teams, an unusual situation for us when we are on bikes – no big deal, we are still in the race. Back to the single track, and up the hill we go. CRUNCH. Scott’s chain in munched between the crank and the bike frame. His eyes look like they have been soaked in acid. I thought he was going to chuck the bike off the mountain. We decide to walk the bikes to the top of the hill and fix it there. Man when it rains it pours.

On the way up the hill Special D sees some “trash” and bends over to pick it up. This is no ordinary trash. This is team 118’s passport. No passport, and you don’t finish the race. Your passport is the only proof that you found every checkpoint.
Karma. Scott’s chain does not go CRUNCH, and maybe we just ride on by like the four teams in front of us, and don’t bother picking up the “trash”. That’s the way I see things at least. More on this later.

We get to the top of the hill, and the chain fix takes a few minutes. Nothing big, and we are ready to go. It appears that Scott has fully shaken off the whole whistle thing at this point. I can see in his eyes that he is back in it.

This last mountain bike portion is fairly routine, though quite hilly including the psyche-crushing energy-void known as Cardiac Hill. We end up doing this section with the 34th fastest time. No one passes us after the chain fix, but we also don’t pass anyone before we come across the finish line.

Two things happen during this bike ride.

First the funny one. Remember Kari, the “newby mountain bike rider”. Well, up to this point, she has really been holding her own. Of course she has used up all of her allotted “I’m sorry” statements at this point. You get one per race. We gave her 10 because she is new. She used them, and was done. Not only that, she was a good sport about it.

I’m bringing up the rear, making sure everything is good. Scott is leading the way with the map, and Kari comes to a rough patch of ground. She comes to a stop and tries to put her food down on the ground on the downhill side of the bike. This time of year, there are a lot of leaves on the ground in Missouri. Sometimes they get caught up in logs and are much like a snow drift – meaning they are several feet deep. Well, Kari went to balance on one such “leaf drift”. I’m watching in slow motion as she starts to go down the hill over the log, dragging the bike with her up and over her head. I reach down and grab a wheel to try and stop the slide. No one got hurt. But it was funny as anything – even to Kari. We were still cold and exhausted; maybe you had to be there.

The second one was touching. We passed a Father and Son who were out on the trails running together. The boy was probably 5 y.o. It was really neat to see a dad out in nature with his boy getting some exercise, and having some fun.
Karma, we finish the race. We hand in Team 118’s passport – you’ve never seen a happier team. They had the wherewithal to punch their map after losing their passport, but without the passport to prove they had gotten to the first 24 CPs, they are DNFs. Whoever was responsible for their passport is thanking the heavens.

Super Dave saves the day. In the process Team 118 (Diesel Manpower) goes from DNF to #2 in the 4 man team division, and 16 overall. Obviously we place one spot higher if we don’t find, or turn in the passport – good sportsmanship and a love of the sport rule out, we’re here to have fun. We return the whistle, and feel like all is right in the world.

We end up 5th and 6th in our respective 2 man and 2 person coed divisions. 20th overall with a race time of 6 hours and 25 minutes. A great race.

Alpine Shop wins the overall race with a time of 4 hours 39 minutes. They are in a league all by themselves. Might have been 38 minutes if Jeff had not run that 100 mile race a few weeks ago.

For various strategic reasons, we raced this race as two teams, but ran together. In 2010, Forum Dental will race as a 4-Person Co-Ed team.

2009 closes with Team Forum Dental winning the 4-person Adventure Division of the Bonk Hard Racing Series. We’ve come a long ways baby.

A special thanks to Henry Antolak and Forum Dental for sponsoring our team.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Scanned Castlewood maps

Ok, Below is the scanned version of the Castlewood 8 hr Adventure Race maps and the route that Forum Dental took. The little maplet window below does not display the maps properly so you have to click Here to get the link to download and open up the maps in Google Earth.

View Larger Map

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 Castlewood 8 hr map

It seems that I left my set of race maps at the restaurant Saturday after the race, so I did this map by memory. Once Special D gets back from Milwalkee I will snatch his maps and scan in the real maps, but until then this will have to do.
Click Here for the full size map. Also click on the little arrows at the end of the tracks for the mileages of the different legs of the race.

View Larger Map

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Castlewood 8 hr splits

I took the clock times from Jason's splits and broke out the actual time splits and rankings. The spreadsheet is HERE