Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dixie Conquest, Our First Elite Race: We Came, We Pushed Our Bikes Through Mud and Water, We Didn't Drown

The Dixie Conquest at Bayard Conservation Area was our first Elite Level race.  We would have preferred to make the the transition to Elite races at a shorter event, but our work/life schedules wouldn't cooperate, so we jumped feet first into the water and mud, I mean the 10 Hour Dixie Conquest, to be henceforth known as Swampfest 2014.

Our last race was the Resolution AR and our plan was to train hard between that race and the Dixie Conquest.  Because either Jeff or I had some sort of family or work responsibility, we got in very little training in March. We were, however, able to get in two FLO Orienteering Events and a couple of sessions getting comfortable using kayak paddles prior to the race. As usual we didn't get nearly enough time on the bikes, and lo and behold a good chunk of the Dixie Conquest was on the bike, or at least pushing the bike through mud and water.  Overall, however, we felt good about the race.

Given this was our first Elite race, our strategy was to take it slow, minimize mistakes, and get through the course in 10 hours or under with as many points as possible. 

After the hidden egg search start (each team had to find 4 hidden eggs to receive their punch card), we headed out into our first Elite Adventure toward CP1.  Given our strategy was to move slowly and we wanted to be separated from the other teams, we began by walking.  Once into the forest, we quickly picked up the pace to a modest but steady run.  We collected CPs 1 and 3 easily and headed to CP4, which required teams to find the CP by shooting a bearing off of an observation tower.  While we had a bit of trouble finding the CP (along with three other teams) we found it within several minutes and headed toward CP 6.

We collected 6 and moved on to CP 5.  This is where our fate was determined.  The map showed the trail on which CP 6 was located deadended into a North/South trail which would immediately dead end into a trail heading Northwest.

As we approached a large and easily visible trail, I saw a trail to my right, but didn't see it on the map, so we headed to the large trail and looked for the next trail that should have been within a few meters. It wasn't there.  I turned in all directions and saw no other trail, except that mysterious trail I had seen earlier. We headed up this larger trail about 100m and found an intersection, but decided it was too far up the trail.  The intersection we were looking for should have been immediately after our first dead end.  So back we went, now to South of where we intersected the trail earlier. Again nothing.  We found a fire break  right across from our original entry point and decided "Aha. That's it" We walked knee deep in water about 100m until the trail disappeared. We headed back to the main trail, frustrated and upset that we didn't know where we were.  I once again looked back up the trail we came in on and looked at the map.  30 minutes after we hit this intersection, I realized how much we had goofed.  That mysterious trail to our right was the trail that the "CP6 trail" dead ended into, and we were standing in the middle of the right trail. So we quickly ran to the next intersection(the one we were at earlier), turned North and collected CP 5.  From there we grabbed CP 2 and headed back to the Main TA, wondering if we were in dead last.  We were! According to Ron Eaglin more than one team had trouble at the intersection; I'm not sure it took 30 minutes for them to correct their mistake, however.  While, we thought we were ok, that 30 minutes cost us later in the day.  Lesson Learned?  Stay focused.  If the map and the terrain around don't match up, figure out why. Don't wander.  We've known these things for awhile. 


The boat section turned out to be pretty uneventful. The water was calm and we decided to definitely get CPS 8,9,10,11, and 12.  We would decide about 13, 14, and 15(which were on land) after we got 12 and if we had time we would go for 7 which was North of the TA.  CPs 8,9,10,11, 12 were pretty easy to find, with the exception of 11, which was on the straightest "leaning tree" I have ever seen.  The nice part of CP 11 was that we saw a fawn that could not have been more than a few days old hiding behind a tree hoping we didn't see him/her.  We decided to go after 13, 14, 15. We beached where several other canoes were and looked for the trail. It didn't take long to realize this trail didn't exist, so we shot a bearing (assuming we were in roughly the correct location) to the cleared area on the map surrounded by a loop trail.  Within a couple of minutes we found 13 and headed for 15.  Somewhere, on the way through the palmettos to CP 13, Jeff's bike shoe began to come apart.  Knowing we had a long bike leg ahead of us (little did we know) we decided to walk to 14 and 15,  and then back to the canoe. This was unfortunate, because the paths to these CPs were easy running.  We collected 15 and then 14 and headed the canoe back North. We passed the TA, collected 7 and headed back to the TA. We were slow on this section (Jeff's shoe didn't help), but happy we had collected all of the CPs available to this point. Our spirits were high.

Bike 1

We collected our map for the Bike section, ate a bit of food, and headed for CP 16. When we arrived at the intersection of the trail and powerlines, the ground was full of water. Surely we can't go through that! (We learned within the hour we could.)  So we headed up the trail to an intersection and bushwhacked through palmettos to the power lines and the location of CP 16.  The description was a Cypress Swamp.  I grew up in Florida and have spent much time in the woods, so I started looking for Cypress Trees. I spotted them, and hey they were on our bearing!  We found the swamp, which was about 10 meters off of a fire break. We couldn't see the CP at first, but out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of orange all the way across the swamp (about 50 meters).  I assumed it was shallow so I set out across the swamp and soon learned it was waist deep.  I actually enjoyed walking across it (I was a swamp rat as a kid) , although the thought of an angry cottonmouth encouraged me to move as fast as I could through the water.  With CP 16 collected we headed toward the Bayard TA.

At this point we made a reasonable decision, that probably cost us.  We decided to do all  of the bike CPs first and the foot section later, so we rode passed the TA to CP 17 and punched the card. When we entered the access gate for the trail on which CP18 was located we saw a lot of water.  For a moment we thought we would leave our bikes there and run down to the CP. We decided to take the bikes and quickly learned what the rest of the bike section would be like. Water. Lot's of Water. Oh yea, and mud.  We found the creek mentioned in the description and headed out to find the CP.  I'm not saying we nailed it straight on, but after about 100m I saw the flash of orange.  We punched the card, and debated whether or not to bushwhack to 19, because it was almost due south of 18. We quickly ruled that out, climbed on the bikes and headed to 19. Along the way, Jeff's shoe finally gave up. It completely came apart. I had duct tape, but it was hopeless, so he put on his running shoes and pedaled without being clipped in.  We got to the creek where CP 19 should have been and along with another team found it in good time.

We headed to 24 and like other teams missed it to the south. As we wandered back to the trail cursing, my eye once again caught the flash of orange of CP24.  We would have never seen it from the road, or from the North. Good thing we went too far South.  It was getting late and we wanted to get back to Bayard TA by 3:30 at the latest, so we decided to get 26, 20, 22 and maybe 21 and to definitely skip 23 and 25.  We collected 26 quickly and headed east on a trail to intersect with a trail that headed north to CP20. That's when we saw the water. "So what. It's water. We'll push through it. We are Elite Adventure Racers!" And push through it we did until we hit three feet of water. "It can't be this deep for too long. We are Elite Adventure Racers! So onward!" And onward. And onward through  thigh deep water.  We may be Adventure racers, but we had been moving forward for almost 7 hours, and this sucked, so we decided to turn around. So back through "Trail Lake" we slogged. Once we got out, our bikes looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean (slimy and scary with sea weed hanging from all parts of the bikes).

After almost 7 hours, our will was broken--for the moment. It was almost 3:00 and because we assumed the foot section at Bayard would be this bad also (Primal Instinct told us as much) we decided to forgo 20, 21, 22, 23, and 25 to give ourselves enough time on the foot section.  Our final position was determined right here.  If we only had that 30 minutes back.

Foot 2
We set a pretty good pace--for us--on the bike back to the Bayard TA. About half way there, Honey Stinger blew by us, at least  I think it was Honey Stinger, all we saw was a blur as they went by. This helped us put things in perspective.  As we were heading out for the trek at Bayard, the volunteer told us that the average time was a bit below 2 hours and the best was just under 1.5 hours.  If we could come in at 2 hours or under then we would clear this section and get back to the Finish in plenty of time.  We headed out with Lolowildlife just ahead of us.  We found 27 with no problem.  We then quickly found 28, took a moment to discuss with Lolowildlife if a dark brown snake lying by the creek was a cottonmouth (I think it was), and moved on.  We collected 31 and 32 and then moved to 34 with Lolowildlife.  The instructions called for a bearing of 120MN from a man made structure (a square pen), 120m into the woods.  Jeff shot the bearing from the corner of the square pen.  At 120m it was obvious the Cypress Tree called for in the instructions was no where to be found.  After about 5 minutes, Lolowildlife called out "over here."  We had missed it about 50 meters to the North and in deep forest, that is a very long way. As we arrived back on the trail we encountered Team Disoriented. All three teams headed to CP 35.  At the CP we discovered a deep creek.  Jeff walked across the higher than waist deep water to the CP on the other side.  We collected 33 and 30, said goodbye to Team Disoriented, who had cleared the course, and moved to CP 29 with Lolowildlife.  Because it was only fitting, the trail to CP 29 was filled with ankle to knee deep water.  We plodded through as if it were normal to be walking in muddy water, found the CP and headed back to the TA.

Bike 2

We had collected all of the CPs in this section in a respectable 1:41 minutes. Our orienteering training had paid off.  It was only 5:00pm, and the ride to the finish would take less than 30 minutes, so Jeff and I briefly debated whether to head back to the bike CPs to collect a couple of CPs.  We decided that would cut it too close, so we headed out to the finish about 100m behind Lolowildlife, who were riding a tandem bike retrofitted for trail riding!  About halfway to the finish, we passed Lolowildlife, but within ten minutes, my lack of training time on the bike and 9 hours of constant movement caught up to me. I was done, and that wall you hear about appeared before me.  Lolowildlife slowly reeled us in and passed us, and we followed them into the finish.

We finished 18th out of 19 teams.  Given that our goal was to move slow and steady, and to complete the course without too many serious mistakes, we were satisfied. We knew however, we could have acquired more CPs.  We checked in at 9 hours and16 minutes, so we had 45 minutes left.  We couldn't help but believe that our mistake in the prologue, one we normally don't make, cost us in the end.  If we had those 30 minutes, we probably wouldn't have bailed on the remaining bike CPs.  Additionally if we had known we could have cleared Foot 2 in a bit more than 1.5 hours we would have completed it prior to the bike CPs and we would have more points. Oh well, that's racing.

Our take away from our first Elite race? 1) That was a hell of a good time! and 2) We can definitely do Elite Level races. Can we compete at the top? Not right now, that's for sure.  But we can go out and competently move through these courses. Oh yea, next year at Bayard, I'm bringing my kayak instead of the bike.

Thanks to Pangea for another great race!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Superhero AR

Our 4th sport race of 2013 was the Superhero AR at Blue Springs State Park in DeLand, Florida.  Given the location of the race in our hometown, Jeff and I were very excited about the opportunity to compete in an area we would have the opportunity to train in prior to the race.

We visited the park several times in the month leading up to the race using the bike trails, canoeing on the St. Johns, and exploring the Pine Island foot trail.  As we thought about the race, we assumed the Main TA would be in the main parking lot close to the canoe launch, that they would have us ride from there over to the single-track bike trails and back for the bike section, and use the Pine Island Trail for the trek section. 

On race day, we set up and waited with anticipation for the map.   Would our predictions about the course be accurate, or would they throw some horrible surprise at us? We collected the maps at 10:00am and quickly realized we were correct.  The canoe section would be in the area of the St. Johns just south of the canoe launch (which we knew very well),  the trek would use the Pine Island Trail area, and the bike would require us to ride out of the park to the single track trails, collect the CPs and return to the Main TA.  But what the hell was a "foot/tube section?"  We didn't expect them to have us get on inner-tubes and float down the spring run. We decided that because it would our last section it would be quite a nice and relaxing way to end the race...riiighht.

We began at 12:01 on the foot section in a pouring down rain.   As soon as we hit the Pine Island Trail we took what looked like the first trail and realized that wasn't the one we were looking for. One minute into a race we had committed to not making any mistake in, we had made a mistake.  We quickly righted ourselves, however, and found the always pleasing first CP.  The next one (CP 8) required us to run about a half a mile to two picnic tables, and we knew this exact location.  We set a comfortable, but decent pace and arrived at the tables to find three Elite teams on bikes looking for the same CP.  At this point, the rain was coming down very hard. The CP was located 100m from the tables at 252 degrees, Magnetic North.  Instead of plotting the bearing, we went in where another team came out. This is always a mistake. We separated as we looked for the familiar orange and white square.  It was raining so hard I could hear nothing but the rain. I yelled out for Jeff, but I could barely hear myself, so I'm not sure how he could have heard me.  I found Jeff another 50m deeper in the woods and convinced him we needed to return to the tables to find the proper bearing and try again. On the way back to the trail, Jeff spotted the CP about 25m to our West, and we happily returned to the trail.  We headed to CP 9, and after some minor difficulty punched the card and moved on to quickly find CP 10. We were ahead of schedule, and on our way to clearing the trek section.  We quickly found the location of 11, only to find two other trek teams and a bike team trying to figure out what was going on.  This was clearly the  location of the CP based on the map, but the number was wrong. After about 5 minutes and much frustration, we decided to the punch the card and returned to the Main TA.  We had cleared the trek section in 50 minutes, although we were unsure if we had actually punched CP 11.  The volunteers were understandably not able to tell us whether or not that was actually CP 11.   I convinced myself we actually missed the CP and spent the next several minutes cursing out loud.

We set out on the canoe section (with me complaining about missing that CP) and quickly proceeded to collect all three CPS in 27 minutes.   We were a bit disappointed in the small number of canoe CPs, because we had been working hard on our paddling.  We were, however, happy with our time, as we assumed most of our competitors wouldn't come in much faster than that.

We set off on the bikes and quickly collected CP 15, which was also the troublesome CP 11 from the Trek section.  We made our way out of the  park and down the dirt road to the single track trails.  On the way there we encountered two teams making the slog back up the hill from the trails; we knew that would be us in less than hour.  We moved onto the single track trails which were familiar to us because of training there.  I realized very quickly that my legs were weak.  Jeff asked if I had taken a GU, and I said that I would get one at the first CP.  A few minutes later, I was sinking pretty fast. When we arrived at the CP, Jeff forced to me consume a GU. I have no idea why I didn't want to take one, but it seemed, in my state, that it would take too long.  Thank god, at least one of us had good sense, because after that we made our way through single tracks, easily collected all the points and headed back to the park. When we hit the hill back to the park, I bottomed out again. I said "f%&k it, I'm walking," but after about 30 seconds,  I climbed back on the bike and powered up the hill. We made it to the downhill back into the Main TA and actually had a little race between ourselves and powered back in.  We felt great with only the "easy and relaxing" foot/tube section left.

I was quite tired and suggested we start the section by walking a few hundred yards so I could catch my breath.  We knew we had less than an hour to complete the section, so we decided to get the two "foot CPs" (1 and 2) first and finish in the cool spring water. We settled into a comfortable jog and headed out  to collect 1 and 2.  I was pretty tired at this point, but Jeff powered us on, and we collected the two foot points and headed for the inner-tubes. As we jogged with our bright pink tubes to the spring, I told Jeff I was done, and he said "200 meters more, and you will be floating in nice cool water." I have no idea why we thought this was going to be easy. As soon as Jeff hit the water, I realized this was going to be hard. We had to head upstream to get two CPs.  There would be no easy float downstream. The only way to do this was to lie across the top of the tube and power forward with your arms.  Jeff made an epic effort to move up into the boil to get farthest CP.  I took advantage of the 100m separation rule and lagged back. When Jeff got back, he was spent.  He had powered up stream and used everything he had.  I tried to actually pull him with him hanging onto my foot, but that proved to be too much.  After much effort and quite a bit of loud groaning on my part, we collected the other CPs and crawled out of the water cursing the "relaxing" tube section.

We turned in the tubes with 8 minutes left.  As we ran at a pretty quick pace, Jeff said "this is our 43 seconds."  I asked him what he was talking about and he said "we finished the SCAR 43 seconds out of 3rd place and we need to dig in hard now to make sure that doesn't happen again." So we ran hard to the Main TA. We turned in our card 7 seconds ahead of "Beer Run Brothers." Lesson? Listed to your teammate.

Although our 2:55 time was well behind the top four teams, as it turns out, we had punched CP 11 and therefore cleared a course for the first time and finished a very respectable 5th place in a fairly competitive race.  We left exhausted, but satisfied.   Thanks to Greg and Pangea Adventure Racing for another great race.

 Next up?

The Turkey Burn...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Second Helping: Treasure Coast AR

Our second race, the Treasure Coast AR, was held in Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound Florida.  In the interim between our first race in January and the Treasure Coast, Jeff and I focused on acquiring appropriate gear, such as good mountain bikes, a bike odometer, and map holders.  Overall we felt that we had a good base of the necessary gear.  In the limited time we had to train, we worked on mountain biking and a few days road rides of about 20 miles. We also worked (with the time we had) to improve our orienteering skills.  We, in fact, did improve, but it was orienteering that, nonetheless, proved our undoing in the Treasure Coast.

On Friday, we packed up the families and headed South. Saturday morning, Jeff and I were up early, ate a good breakfast and headed to the race location.  Remembering the effect that being late had on us last time, we arrived at 9:00am (our race started at 12:00pm), just in time to watch the elite teams start their race.  We  chose our location, set up our pop-up canopy, table and chairs and began to get our gear ready. Promptly at 10:00am we checked in and acquired our map, so we could go to work planning our race.  Reality set in the moment we were handed the map.

We were expecting an orienteering map with topographical features, clearly identified trails, and a detailed legend. Riiiiiiighhht.  The map for this race was a Google Earth shot of the race area with the control points identified on the map.  The scale of the map was huge, so identifying distances of say 50 meters, which can be necessary, was a challenge, because on this map that distance was measured in milimeters, and not many of them.  We essentially had a blurry satellite photo of the race area, and we were not prepared for this.  We weren't happy, but that was what we had, so we sat down and went to work planning out the race.  I'm sure others could have done it better, but I think we had a pretty good strategy.  We chose to start on the bike, and then do the canoe/foot/canoe section which would require us to end the race with a 1.5 mile canoe sprint (is there such a thing?) back to the finish. We hoped that the forecast thunderstorms and wind didn't hit when we were on the canoe.

Five teams chose to start on the bikes, and one coed team, which turned out to be 3rd place finishers Out of Steam Punks, took off at a very fast pace.  Jeff and I eventually caught them and settled in behind them for about  a mile. We had decided to pick up CP 14, which should have been on the West side of the road, on our to the way to the single-track mtb trails.  We peeled off from Out of Steam Punks who kept going, and we soon realized that finding the CP wasn't as easy as planned, so we got back on the road and headed to the single-track trails.  We were excited about the single track because much of our training had been on trails of this type in DeLand. We soon learned that these trails were not the hard pack, curvy and very technical trails we were used to.  These trails were full of rolling slopes. Slow gradual climbs of leg burning, will sucking, sugar sand.  Combine the sandy hills with terrain that held few trees and 85 degree temperatures and your left with a brutal 30 minutes of riding. We did our best to hang with Out of Steam Punks (OSP), picked up the three easily found CPs and headed back to the road. On the way back, we noticed that OSP was stopped on the road, and we saw that CP 14 was easily spotted from our position.  Jeff ran to the CP and we were back on the road to CP15.  We spotted the area with CP 15 about the same time OSP did,  and punched the card shortly after them.  We arrived back at the Main TA about 2 minutes behind OSP and well ahead of the other three teams on bike. We set a goal of 1 hour on the bikes and finished in 57 minutes.  We were quite pleased.

Unfortunately, I made it halfway to the canoe when I realized my power gels, which I would definitely need now and later, were still in my bike bag, so I ran back to get them.  I made it halfway back to the canoe when Jeff yelled that he left the map on the bike. No map, no race, so I ran back to the bikes to get the map.  I finally made it to the canoe and we were off into the mangroves.  We had a horrible transition and lost at least three minutes.  At this point, my heart was pounding, my head was spinning, and I had lost my sense of direction.  I had convinced myself we needed to go to our left (because we needed to go West and left is West, if you are facing North that is), but Jeff and a guy fishing on the shore stated everybody else went right.  I finally forced Jeff to show me North on the compass, and in fact we did need to head to our right, which was West, because we were, of course, facing South.

We realized very quickly that the rain we had feared would be very welcome. The sun was bright and hot and we had already been moving at a rather intense pace for over an hour.  The rain never came and the sun grew more brutal as the race wore on.

We did an ok job of making our way through the mangroves and finding the well hidden control points. About  half way to the foot section, which was about 1.5 miles from the Main TA we realized that OSP had left us far behind and we saw the first of the teams that started on the canoe/foot section headed back to the Main TA. At that point, I knew we were way off of their pace. We had at least an hour and a half left, and they had a little more than hour. That team, Epic Awesomeness, won the race.

We arrived at the Foot TA with an 1 hour and 15 minutes left. We were happy. At this point, we had acquired every point and were on schedule to finish at right around 3 hours.  If things went well on foot, we could clear this course and finish in the top five.  If, of course, is perhaps one of the biggest words in the English language.

We set out at a relaxed pace of about 9.5 minutes per mile.  We found CP 6 quite easily, ran the next half a mile to CP 7 and picked it up.  We had one hour to go and only CPs 8,9, 10, and, of course. a 25 minute paddle back to the finish.  Were we actually going to clear this course?  Feeling good we decided to try for CP 8, which  required teams to leave the trail and go about 300m into a clear cut area. I plotted a course of 341 degrees from a curve in trail.  We set out and quickly realized we had no way of knowing how far we had gone.  This became the horrifying theme of the next 30 minutes.  After about five minutes, I told Jeff, "5 more minutes and we have to give up."  Frustrated we did just that and returned to the trail.  We needed to run about 500 meters West to a trail, which headed back North, and on that trail we would find CPs 9 and 10.  After 5 minutes Jeff noted that we had run for quite some time and had not seen a trail.  We found one on the left of the road, but I noted the trail we wanted should be to our North or the right side of the road, so we kept running.

After a 1/2 mile or so the road/trail we were on intersected with one that headed North.  This was the trail we were looking for. Oddly enough, this one had campsites with RVs in them that were not on the map.  How odd, we thought.  We needed to go about a 1/4 mile up this trail to find CP9 which should have been 50m off the trail. We soon figured out that in our tired and frustrated state we really couldn't determine how far we travelled up this trail and to add stress we now had 40 minutes to find the two points and get back to the finish (this, of course, included a 25 minute paddle).  We began to curse this horrible map. How could a reasonable person find anything in these god forsaken woods without land marks to work with?   We gave up on CP9 and headed toward CP 10, which should have been on the West side of the road at a fallen pine near the intersection with the trail that would take us back to the canoe.  We couldn't find any sign of a fallen tree and I stated, "Jeff I really don't know where we are."  We knew were heading North and the river was North, so exhausted and frustrated, we gave up and headed to the canoe, hoping we could find it.  We had 30 minutes to get back.  After several minutes of walking and me cursing, we saw the volunteer at the trail intersection, and I thought, "how odd" the trail he is on should be 200 yards to our West, not there.  I shrugged my shoulders and we hopped in the canoe and headed back with 20 minutes left. In the span of 40 minutes we had gone from confident and excited to defeated. Not a good feeling.

As we paddled away from the TA we knew we would incur a time penalty because we would be at minimum five minutes over the deadline. The question was whether or not we could get there before we incurred a 2 point penalty for being 10 minutes over. The good news is during that paddle we actually started to improve and were able toward the end to hold a straight line.  We arrived at the finish 5 minutes late. As we sat and talked with our families about the race, we realized there were four teams behind us.  Despite missing three CPs we still finished 7th out of 11 teams.  Not horrible.  We talked to Out of Steam Punks (really nice people) and after listening to their experience on foot, we couldn't figure out what happened on the foot section. We were stumped.  What did people know about orienteering that we clearly did not know? We talked about it for most of the three hour drive home.

The next morning I got out the race map and compared it to a Google Earth view on my computer.  I started thinking about that volunteer standing right in front me on a trail that should have been 200 meters to my West.  Boing! We took the wrong trail!  The trail we needed to take was not easy to spot and in our exhaustion and stress we ran right passed it.  In the end, we went about 3/4 of a mile out of our way. That one little mistake cost us three points and two places in the finishing order.  If we had gotten 9 and 10 without a penalty we would have finished 5th, our goal.

So we return to the drawing board, and start to prepare for the SCAR AR in June.   I have acquired the Elite Race map and control point location information (thanks to the Canyoneros Blog!) from the  2011 Turkey Burn AR at DeLeon Springs about 10 miles from DeLand.  We will use these resources to train for the next race.

We won't finish in the Top 5 in the SCAR, but we will train and compete like we are trying to win.  Otherwise, why do it?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Day on the Trails

On Thursday I bought my first Mountain Bike, a Giant Boulder.  It's a low end bike in the Giant product line, but very appropriate for a first bike, particularly given the price I paid for it on Craigslist.  To break it in, Jeff and I headed out to the Chuck Lennon Mountain Bike Trails and did two laps around the 6 mile course.  This was our second visit, the first one was two weeks ago.  This time we pushed a bit harder and completed the Blue Intermediate Trail. We decided wisely to stay away from what I call the Red Trail of Death.  We had a great time, although I ended up on the ground once, close the ground several times, and brought home an impressive scrape--and most likely an impressive bruise--from a wonderful shin to pedal collision. It was that or hit the tree.  We hope to get out on the trails at least twice a month as part of our training. I hope as we gain experience I can stay in control of the bike a bit more, or at least reduce the number of times I yell..."oh shit!"

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. :).

The Team

Over the summer (2012) I was searching the internet for one of those “mudder races” to compete in.  Along the way, I found the website for Pangea Adventure Racing and quickly decided that running, biking, and paddling while navigating through the woods sounded far more interesting than crawling through mud, climbing walls, and being shocked with hundreds of other people.  I sent an email to several friends who might be interested and three agreed it was something they would like to do.

After struggling to find a race in which we we could all compete we settled on Resolution AR in Clermont, Florida held on January 19, 2013.  Due to scheduling problems and an injury, the team was narrowed to me, David Hill, and Jeff Bates, and we took on the name Running on Empty.
Jeff is an experienced endurance athlete with triathlons, marathons, and ultramarathons under his belt. I had little recent endurance experience, but after 18 months of daily Crossfit training and about 15-20 miles a week of running I was in pretty good shape for a 51 year old.

Given that neither one of us had any experience navigating with a map and compass we spent three weekends practicing on a Florida Orienteering course at Kelly Park near Apopka, Florida. Jeff was obviously a very strong runner, and I was improving rapidly, so we decided we would do nothing to prepare for the running section of the race other than our normal weekly running.  We would, however,  need to practice trail riding and canoeing.  Given the holidays and our busy lives we were able to get in one trail ride at a local mountain biking trail and two brief canoe trips.  In all our preparation for our first race was three visits to the orienteering course, one 7 mile trail ride, and two canoe sessions.  Ready or not we would compete in the Resolution AR.