Saturday, January 26, 2013

Our First Race

January 19, 2013 was the day of the Resolution AR in Clermont, Florida, our first race.  We had done what little training we could and resolved the most serious issue—finding bikes.  As a triathlete, Jeff had a very nice road bike, which would be completely inappropriate for trail riding, and my only bike was a Walmart beach cruiser, also inappropriate.  Because we had no idea what we were getting into and had more sense than money, we concluded that going out and buying high-end mountain bikes was not the prudent course of action. Jeff settled on using his wife’s Huffy front-suspension bike, and I was lucky enough to have a friend lend me his Trek 4500, which was well worn but quite functional.  With the bike problem resolved, we were ready to race.

Jeff and I decided that there was no reason to arrive at the Lake Louisa State Park prior to the 11:00am check-in so we set out at about 9:30.  Due to the wonder of iphone maps we got a bit lost on the way, which is not a good sign heading into a race in which navigation with a map is a central part of the competition.  We arrived the main transition area (TA) to find it full of teams with pop-up tents, tables, coolers, high end bikes, and equipment of all sorts.  Every where we looked we saw very fit people combing over maps with compasses. We concluded that these were, of course, the elite teams in the middle of their 8 hour race. Surely, the sport division teams would not take a three hour jaunt through the woods so seriously.

We checked in, received our map, found a spot to place our bikes and gear and started looking at the course.  There was a beginners’ orientation meeting at 11:30 and a pre-race meeting at 12:00.  We had just enough time to think about the first three control points (CPs) and the orientation began.  The main message of the meeting was to have fun, and not try to get all of the control points, because most teams wouldn’t be able to. According to the meeting leader only 5 of the 32 teams in the sport division would successfully find the 18 points in the three hour time period (in the end only 4 did).

As the pre-race meeting for all teams began it was clear that the hyper-fit teams we saw working so hard to prepare for the race were not, in fact, elite teams, but our competition. As he explained the course, the organizer noted that there were several control points that inexperienced teams should think about skipping.  Those CPs were 1, 6, 7, and 18.  We decided right away that we would take his advice by skipping those four and we would only go for 17 if we had time.

The race started in two waves and we were in the second.  As the start time grew near, we realized, based on the direction people were facing, that we were the only teaming skipping CP 1 in our wave.  When the race started we ran in opposite direction of every other team and directly at CP 2 which was about about a half a mile down a dirt road. Jeff set a brisk pace and we actually caught the Wave 1 group which started 5 minutes before us. We found the control point quite easily, punched the card and headed back down the dirt road to find CP 3.  I made the first of many mistakes that day by misreading the map, causing us to run beyond the exit point by about 200 yards. We turned back and were joined by a group of people heading for CP3. We found it easily—how could we not we 10 people heading right for it—punched the card and headed quickly back to the transition area to complete the first trek section and to climb on our bikes for what would prove to be the very challenging—for us—first biking section of the course.

The first thing we realized as we started the bike leg was that we ran a bit too fast in the first section. Our heart rates were up and we were now on the bike heading down the paved road with several teams all riding at a doable but quick pace.  A couple of other teams peeled off before the path we had chosen. When we reached the CP (8) they were there waiting on us. They had clearly chosen a better route. Heading back from the CP to the paved road, the reality of the day hit us: we would be riding in deep, loose, leg burning, soul sucking, sugar sand.

This hit us in the face (or legs) again as we turned off the paved road to seek out CP 5.  The sand on this trail was particularly loose and deep and the riding was slow and difficult.  You could ride on the side of the trail where leaves and sticks covered the sand, but that wasn’t always possible.  We were looking for a side trail, and rode by the turn literally as I looked at the sign for the trail and said to myself “good we are on the right path.” I have no idea what I was thinking at that moment other than “oh my god, my legs hurt.” That mistake meant going about five minutes out of our way to the next trail, which we thought would take us to a point of attack on the CP.  As we approached the area we believed to contain the CP, we realized we were blocked by impenetrable palmettos.  As Jeff walked along the row of palmettos searching for the access he just knew existed,  I stood on the side of the trail trying to make sense of the map, with my head reeling, my legs aching, and my heart pounding in my chest. We were about 45 minutes into the race, and we realized that this was not going to be easy. We discovered later that the map legend actually told us that the dark green where we were indicated...wait for it....impenetrable palmettos.

We eventually concluded that we would need to backtrack and go to the next trail to find an accessible attack point to the CP.  I once again misread the map, and we went beyond our turn by about 100 yards when we realized the team we just encountered had found it.  We turned around, quickly found the CP, and headed for the next CP (4).  There were three teams moving in the same direction. We took a different trail to the location of the CP, and as before we encountered almost impassable sand.  At this point, we decided we could push the bikes faster than we could pedal through the sand, and to our relief we saw others doing the same thing.  As usual we located the CP at the same time other teams did, and we set out to the Dixie TA to turn in our punch card and begin the second foot section of the course, but once again rode by our turn and had to backtrack a couple of hundred yards.  Just prior to the parking lot where the TA was located we encountered a hill, at the bottom of which were, of course, sugar sand and a photographer.  There was no way we were pushing the bikes in front of the photographer, so we powered through, although we gave up halfway up the sand/grass covered hill and pushed until we hit pavement. We did thankfully ride into the transition area.  One hour and nine minutes after we began the bike section of the race, and a mere two miles down the road from the start/finish line as the crow flies, we turned in our punch card and started the second foot portion of the race.

As we started the next foot section we, of course, missed a turn and had to backtrack.  We ran down the trail with two other teams, found CP 15 easily and then found the next trail leading to CP 16.  We made it there is relatively quick time, located the approximate location of the CP, which was supposed to be above a stream in a “high palmetto.”  We found a stream and a palmetto on a mound.  To us this meant “high palmetto,” and that meant we would find the CP there. Clearly other people believed this to be the case also, as there were many foot prints in the muck, and another team with us looking for the damn orange and white square cloth.  The four of us searched the immediate area, and just as I said…”You’ve got to be kidding me.  It has to be here,” Jeff said “it’s over here.”  As we headed over to the palm tree (I guess that’s a high palmetto) about 100 yards away, we noticed a competitor quietly leaving the area.  He clearly did not want us to know he had located the CP, and I grumbled about him the remainder of the day and the rest of the weekend. We had helped other teams and we were helped by other teams, so in my tired state his covert effort annoyed the crap out of me. Oh well..

At this point we had 1 hour left and still needed to complete the canoe section and the 2 mile bike sprint back to the start/finish.  The question was whether to go for CP 17, which was several hundred yards away.  Given that we weren’t sure how the canoe would work out, and my left shin, which had been bothering me for 10 days was starting to ache, we decided to skip 17 and get all 6 of the available points in the canoe.  In the canoe we followed several teams in moving along the shoreline to find the easily located CPs. After the 5th CP, three teams headed back west— with the 15 mph wind at their backs—to the side of the lake where we launched in order to gather their 6th point.  We decided to continue following the shoreline to the next CP and we found it quickly. Unfortunately, we now had to paddle about 1 mile back across the lake with a 15 mph easterly crosswind. As Jeff said, “the paddle back was brutal.”

We came out of the lake with a total of the 13 points for the day, and we had 30 minutes to make the two mile bike back to the start/finish on a relatively flat paved road. We took it easy on the way back, and arrived at the start/finish with 17 minutes to spare.  We consumed some Mt. Dews and Publix subs, relaxed, and celebrated a job well done.  Well, Jeff did. I lay on the ground asking for an IV.

When all was said and done we finished 25th out of 32 teams. We were disappointed, but in retrospect it was a pretty good showing for a team with no experience.  Of the 24 teams finishing above us, 18 of them had at least one member with experience, and some had extensive experience.  So, overall, we are happy with the performance.  What did we learn?  Be one of those teams planning your route before the race.  You cannot figure it out on the course.  There isn’t enough time.  You have to pace yourself. You don’t want to go too fast, but there really isn’t enough time for walking. Trust yourself. Jeff and I knew how to use a compass, but we stuck to the advice of the organizers and skipped CP1, which in retrospect we could have easily acquired.  The race organizer’s advice was good advice for beginners, which we were, but we could have used the compass to find that CP easily. That alone cost us 4 places.  Observe other teams, particularly the ones you know are experienced. They are experienced and learned from earlier mistakes. What did I learn? Eat well before the race, and keep nourished during the race.  I was gassed at the end, and needed 30 minutes of recovery time.
So that was our race.  We can’t wait for the next one. Top ten here we come, or at least 24th. :).

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