Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ozark Greenways Adventure Race 2011

Waiting for a Ride

So, this turned out to be an extremely long post. Long story short, I ran the Ozark Greenways Adventure Race again this past weekend. I got to spend the weekend with a person I really enjoy being around and I had great adventure. It was an awesome day and I wanted to capture more of the details if possible.

We arrived in the town of Pineville, Missouri on Friday afternoon around 4:00 pm. The next morning Collin and I would be competing for the second time in the Ozark Greenways Adventure Race. We knew we would be running, orienteering with a map and compass, biking and floating. What we didn’t know was the order, or the distance, of any of those activities. The website said approximately 8 to 14 hours. Last year it took Collin and I just over 11 hours to complete the course. This year we were on a mission and intended to substantially improve on that time. The only logistical details we knew thus far were that the bikes had to be dropped off at the location we were pulling into, and we knew we would be getting on a bus to the starting line, wherever that might be, tomorrow morning at 6:00 am.

The rain had been coming down the entire two hour drive to Pineville. The falling rain posed several different concerns. Would it stop long enough to set up our campsite? Would it rain so much that the river would be flooded and they would cancel the floating portion of the race, again? Would the course be ankle deep in mud making every portion of it that much more challenging? Not that any of these things would change our mind about participating in the race, but the unknowns have a way of occupying your thoughts. As we were pulling into town, the rain was letting up and there were traces of the sun poking through the clouds. The rain was not done for the night but it did give us an hour or so of relief. It was just long enough to get the bikes dropped off, get to the race headquarters and set up our tent for the night. As soon as we had the campsite arranged, the rain started to fall again.

Race Headquarters

Race Headquarters was at the River Ranch Resort on the Elk River in Noel, Missouri. It was the largest river outfitter I have ever been to. They had campsites, cabins, showers, and even a 24 hour store. They had a cabin like building with a huge meeting area which served as the headquarters. We signed in there and received rules, bib numbers and instructions for the next day. It was entertaining watching the volunteers face when she asked for our team name. "We're Two Hot Chicks," I said. She then tried to look past us to find the hot chicks we were referring to. She must have assumed we were a team of four that might actually have hot chicks on it and not be just the two dudes standing in front of her. The team name would be the source of several comments from different volunteers through the next day. Like many long races, they provided a huge pasta dinner the night before the race and Collin and I both were looking forward to filling up. Most advice warns never to stuff yourself at these final meals but I can rarely resist. After hanging out at the dinner and talking with several friends, as well as meeting new ones, we decided to head back to our campsite and try to settle in for a few hours sleep before having to show up at 5:00 am to pick up our maps and final instructions before the race. The rain was still falling heavily.

We set up a tarp over some chairs and watched as a steady stream of other racers were showing up. We speculated about the different things we might face in the morning. The temperature never got below 60 but I still had a chill from all the damp clothes and a cool breeze. I desperately wanted to make a hot cup of coffee to help me warm up but knew if I had the caffeine, I wouldn’t get any sleep. Anticipation alone makes it difficult enough to sleep before a race. We finally crawled into the tent at around 9 pm and tried to get some rest. The warmth of the sleeping bag and the rain steadily falling on the fly of the tent was enough to put me out quickly.

Ice Cold Showers Only 50¢

My eyes popped open at 1:00 am and I realized the rain had finally stopped. I wouldn’t really sleep much from this point until 3:00 am when I finally just gave up trying and crawled out of the tent. We had noticed the night before that there were showers near the campsites that were supposed to be hot. They were 50¢ for 5 minutes. Next to coffee, a hot shower is one of my favorite ways to loosen up muscles and get my body moving in the morning. After an evening of shivering in the rain, I was truly looking forward to a long hot shower to lift my mood for the day. I had gotten $2.00 in quarters from the 24 hour store so that I could have 20 glorious minutes of warmth and relaxation before dressing for the race. Unfortunately, even after dumping in half my quarters and waiting a full 10 minutes, the water never got above what I would describe as ice cold. I wet my head and face and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to happen. I settled for several cups of coffee and started putting my gear together for the race. (I learned after the race there were actually other showers on the grounds that were not only hot, but free!)

At 5:00 am we could finally pick up our clue sheets and maps and see what the day truly held in store for us. The maps we were given had various numbered checkpoints. The clue sheets described how we were supposed to travel and what order we were supposed to find the checkpoints in. We had until 5:45 am to look over the map and formulate our plans before having to attend a course safety briefing. At the briefing we were informed that the rain had flooded a few of the low water crossings and a couple of the checkpoints had to be removed. The good news was that the floating portion of the race was still a go. The last couple of years the race had removed the float portion due to rivers being at flood stage.

At 6:00 am all of the racers loaded onto 4 school buses that would deliver us to the starting line. The ride was filled with light hearted banter and jokes about the Harold Camping rapture prophecy that was supposed to happen at some point in the middle of the race. It seemed to be the consensus of everyone on my bus that it wouldn’t happen. We were right. The new date he has predicted is now October 21, 2011, in case you're interested. After about a 45 minute bus trip we unloaded at the starting point and stood around waiting for the final signal to start the race.

Pre Race Briefing

Bus Ride to the Starting Line

Collin is Ready to Roll

It was at about 7:10 when we finally got the word, "go." The mass of 53 teams began running down the road. It would all start with several miles of running down gravel farm roads. This year Collin and I had intended to run the race much more aggressively than we had last year. We were both feeling more fit and with just the two of us, we knew we could cover ground much quicker. This would be a new experience for me. Since getting back in shape, I have always approached races with a more conservative, just make it to the finish line approach. Now that I have tried several distances, I know I have the capability to push harder. However, it's still a scary feeling to go out hard and give it your all early on in the morning knowing that you are going to have to be moving all day. What if I can’t last? What if I bonked halfway through the race and then faced a death march to the finish? We ran for a couple minutes slowly to warm up and then we started gradually picking up the pace. We began to pass a steady stream of teams that had taken off quicker. As we moved closer towards the front of the pack it was really making me nervous. I kept thinking, “I shouldn’t be up here with these guys.”

Collin kept reassuring me about the pace but he is a much faster runner than I am. I appreciated his faith in my ability, but secretly wondered if I would be able to maintain this pace for the entire day. We ran until we reached Big Sugar Creek State Park. The first 6 of the checkpoints we had to find were located in these woods. We had already decided the order we would attack the points when we first got our map so now it was just a matter of keeping a strong pace and finding them. In no time at all, we had located all the points and were heading to the final checkpoint of the run portion. We finished with this section in 7th place overall and were still feeling really good. The final run checkpoint was the location we had been instructed to leave our bikes the night before.

We rode the bikes from the State Park to the Huckleberry Ridge Conservation Area. Getting there involved a stream crossing, carrying our bikes on our shoulders, that was almost chest deep. For the first part of this section we were still flying along at a good pace. However, as the sun began to heat the day up, we began to experience our first problems. The first issue we faced was there were far more trails in the area than were depicted on the map. This caused a significant amount of confusion in finding the last couple of checkpoints. I guess the fortunate part was that we were not the only team having trouble. At one point I think we had 15 or 20 bikes all following each other around in a big procession looking for a single checkpoint. The lead we had built over some of the other teams had unfortunately now disappeared. After we had all found the hidden checkpoint together, the band of teams began racing to the next checkpoint in one giant pack. Fortunately for our team, Collin recognized a trail that we had been on previously and we separated from the huge group. His keen observation got us to the next checkpoint far ahead of the rest of that large chunk traveling together and gained us several minutes on the next closest group. Despite all of our turning around and backtracking in this section, and losing what seemed like 2 hours of wasted time, we finished this portion of the race still in 8th place overall. We had only given up one place since the run portion.

I made some personal mistakes in the mountain bike portion as well. I had let myself get behind on hydration and calories. When I run, I can meticulously watch the amount of fluid, calories and electrolytes I take in. Every hour of activity, I shoot for 20 ounces of fluid, 200 calories and about 240 mg of sodium. For some reason, once I get on the mountain bike and start riding the trails, I always seem to fall behind. I focus on handling the bike on the trail and just forget to drink. Whenever we would stop moving, instead of drinking, I would get busy reading the map. Whatever the reason, I was behind and I could definitely feel it. Cramping was starting in my legs and I was also getting nauseous. These are two huge red flags that you aren’t getting enough nutrition wise. While I didn't notice it at the time, but in hindsight it is clear, I was also having quite a bit of trouble with coordination. This is another red flag by the way. I was having a really hard time clipping in and out of my pedals and that is something I normally can do without any thought. I remember stumbling more often as well. I was beginning to have trouble riding up the steeper hills. Collin was taunting me by calling out, “C’mon, Sally!” It worked well as each time he said it, I would rev up the pace for a few minutes. I tried to catch up for the rest of the race, but once you are behind on calories and hydration, there is really no coming back to normal. It’s far better for your body, not to mention more comfortable, to keep up from the beginning.

The next section of the race was a road biking portion. I led the way and Collin tucked in behind me and drafted most of this portion of the course. I didn't have any major issues during this segment with the exception of the saddle bag. It hangs under my seat with my spare tube and tools. I was too wide and was chaffing my inner thighs raw. That saddle bag is going in the trash! I was able to get a lot of fluids down as we rode by leaving the camelback drinking tube in my mouth and slowly sipping the entire ride. I was beginning to feel more balanced and energized again. We rode from the Conservation Area down the highway and through the town of Pineville almost all the way to the City of Noel where we found the next checkpoint on the side of the river. I’m guessing it was an 8 or 9 mile ride. Nobody passed us during this stretch. We arrived at the edge of the water still in 8th place overall. We were to drop our bikes here and get into canoes for the final portion of the race.

Now we just had an 8 mile float to the finish line. This is one area that we could definitely use some work as a team. Collin has not spent much time in a canoe at all and though I have, I didn’t feel particularly strong or efficient in this section. There is a large difference between lazily floating a river in the summertime and paddling as hard as you can for over an hour and a half in a race. Though, we didn’t do too terribly in comparison to other teams on the float portion and were able to complete the 8 mile trip in less than 1 hour and 38 minutes. The most frustrating part was watching 3 teams pass us on the river dropping us down to 11th place. We did learn after the race that one of the teams that flew past us was named, "Longboat Outfitters." If there was one team I wouldn't mind being passed by on the river, this would be the one.

Once we had pulled the boat off the river, it was only a few more steps of running to the finish line. My leg muscles were weak and stiff after sitting still in the boat for so long after running and riding all morning. We crossed the finish line in 7:18 to take 11th place overall. We didn't learn until later that we were the 3rd place 2 man team. For this we each won a gift certificate. In the past, I normally fall towards the back of the pack, so it was a great feeling to actually win a prize! All in all, it was an outstanding day. My speculation of overall distance would be about 10 miles on foot, 20 miles on the bike and 8 miles in the canoe. Rain and storms had been predicted for the day but we were blessed with warm and sunny skies for the entire race.

Two Hot Chicks at the Finish

There were definitely things to improve on for next year. We could always be much faster. While I'm very proud of our time, I can't help but compare it to the winning teams amazing time of 4:28. Almost 3 full hours faster! I have quite a bit of experience navigating with a map and compass from the military but, obviously, my skills are rusty and could use some sharpening. I think we could also benefit from a couple float trips before the next one to sync up and economize our paddling efforts. I have to wonder how much better we could have done had we not had the issues finding that one point. Of course that is all part of it. Doing well in half the events means nothing if you falter in the other half. This year I will spend some time researching navigation tricks. I understand the race location got nearly 8 inches of rain the day after the race. That certainly would have made the race fun!

Week of May 16 – Bike 84, Run 20, D 8, U 4

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Annual Mileage

I am a terrible record keeper. I don’t save receipts or balance my checkbook. In the 12 years I was a skydiver I only kept a logbook for the first few years and even then it was the minimum amount of information. In the later years I would determine how many jumps I made each year by the printouts they would give me for taxes. I had several friends who kept very detailed descriptions of every jump. Weather conditions, who was with them, what type of plane. It would be a cool way to be able to go back and relive some of the moments by reading. Alas, all of the jumps I made are now only kept in my fading memories.

I was the same way in the military. Of the places I traveled, I have a very small stack of pictures. I am much better about pictures now, mainly because it is so much easier with digital media to save and go through them. I need to get all my old Marine pictures scanned so I can not only share them, but keep them more safely online. I have always known that there was value in saving memories by writing them down but until the past year with the blog, I hadn’t been able to get into a habit of it.

That brings me to the point of this week’s entry, annual mileage. Like skydiving, many runners keep very detailed logs of every step they run. It should be no surprise that in the past I was not one of those runners. I didn’t track any of my running or riding until I started the blog back in February of 2010. I can now, for the first time, accurately look back over the year and see how much running and riding I actually accomplished. I'm still, for now, only tracking overall mileage. One day I might get ambitious and track other details like weather and exact time. I am using May 5 as an anniversary date because it was the end of my bike to work everyday for a year challenge. I didn’t even really log mileage during that entire period but I knew exactly how many days I had worked so it was easy enough to calculate riding mileage.

On the bike I put in a little less than the previous year for a total of 2,957 miles. Just 29 miles shy of the distance across the U.S depicted in the map above. That route is 2,986. That makes two years in a row that I have ridden the width of the Country. In the previous year I rode closer to 3,900 miles. It was significantly shorter this year from all the days I ran to work preparing for Busiek. As much as I hate to admit it, I did actually drive a few days this year as well in the week prior to and the week after the 100 miler.

On foot I ran a total of 1,614 miles. Not quite across the Country with this one, at least not east to west. This mileage would get me from the northern edge of Minnesota to the southern tip of Texas, though. This is one of the neatest things about keeping track of the numbers. It’s kind of cool to think about the fact that last year I ran the equivalent of Canada to Mexico and also rode the distance of California to Virginia.

This year I’m also tracking a new exercise that I have added to my daily routine. The first week of March, I started using the stairs at work. I work on the 20th floor and there are 400 steps to the ground floor. I have worked myself up to going down twice a day and up once. I can descend them in less than 2 minutes and climb them in a little over 3 minutes. My current record for down and back up is 5:04. In just the last 9 weeks I have descended 84 times or 1,680 floors and 33,600 steps. I have climbed 40 times or 800 floors and 16,000 steps.

Upon first reflection, this may seem like an absurd amount of activity. Most are thinking, “I’m way too busy to do all that but good for you.” I hear this excuse all the time, “I’d like to be in shape but I just don’t have the time.” But here’s the thing, riding to work takes a few minutes more than driving. Taking the stairs a few times through the day is done while I’m at work and literally takes minutes. I have a simple exercise philosophy; find things that you can integrate into your daily life and make them a habit. I can’t bring myself to pay for a gym membership when there are plenty of free physical challenges right next to us everyday. Few people enjoy the inside of gyms anyway. Besides running, riding and stairs, I also have a couple times per day that I throw in crunches, pushups, squats and calf exercises. Don’t wait until tomorrow when you finally have that (insert whatever it is that is stopping you here) figured out. You don’t need anything to start getting in shape. Do something today!

Week of March 9 – Bike 78, Run 35, D 8, U 4

Monday, May 9, 2011


I’m always a little hesitant to relay stories like this because it makes riding seem so much scarier than it really is. There are a few things you should keep in mind as you read such stories from me. For one, I ride in the heart of rush hour, Monday through Friday, things are bound to happen. Two, I sometimes go for many months and a thousand miles without a single bad interaction. Lastly, even though I’m not sure why, I seem to enjoy a good confrontation and might even possibly, if I’m honest with myself, be on the look out for them.

Confronting a driver is really not a smart thing to do. It is rarely a good interaction. I have done it several times with mixed results. On the extreme end of what could go wrong, I could end up being shot in the face by some raging lunatic willing to escalate the situation more than I am. Most often, my adversaries probably leave the situations thinking I’m not only an idiot for being on the road riding in the first place but now they also think I’m just a big argumentative jerk. They may even attribute my abrasiveness to every other bike they encounter from now on and that would be a loss for cycling advocacy. I really do try, and for the most part I am successful, to maintain a passive outlook on other vehicles. I try to see them as big mobile obstacles in my path. Some are aggressive and some are docile. I try to act like it makes no difference to me what they do or say as long as I make it home to my family alive. But other times, cars will do something so aggressive and idiotic that I just can’t contain myself and I have to chase them down and say something. This is what happened last Thursday.

I was riding past the high school near our house which is always a great place to find a bad driver. I was pedaling slightly uphill, but still traveling fast, about to pass the entrance to the front of the high school when a van began to pass me. I watched him approach from behind in my handlebar mirror. He left a nice wide space between us, most people do and I greatly appreciate it. I stay alert whenever cars are anywhere near me. They have a tendency to make erratic moves and if you aren’t ready you may get caught in the crossfire. The trouble started as his rear bumper began to pass when he suddenly turns hard to the right across my path while simultaneously slamming on his brakes to keep his van from flipping over trying to make a hard turn at 30 mph. I slam on my brakes and turn with him into the driveway to keep myself from slamming into the side of his van. I did what I often do when running or riding and a car cuts close enough to me to reach out and touch it, I spit on his window and yelled, “What the hell?” Spitting on cars is not a great habit. I know this . . . but . . .well . . . okay there are no excuses for such childish behavior but he did almost kill me. If it makes it any better I rarely actually hit the cars with my spit.

He continued on into the circle drive to the front of the high school while I took a deep breath and turned back out on the road. And that’s when I was hit by the ignorant but oh so compelling voices of testosterone, the voice that whispers into a man’s ear at such times. “Are you going to let him get away with that? You know he did that on purpose just to make you mad!” I was hearing this conversation as I was just about to ride past the exit side of the circle drive where the van was now parked at the curb waiting to pick someone up. In a blurry haze from the adrenaline still coursing through me from the close call, I turned into the exit side of the driveway and rode towards the van. He needed to know I’m not the kind of guy who will just sit back and let him try to kill me.

As I rode toward the van I had my first chance to size up the driver. By this I mean apply all the general stereotypes that came to mind. The van was an old beat up mini-van with a logo advertising an auto mechanic. Great, this kind of guy probably thinks bikes on the road should be illegal and anyone riding one is gay. As I get closer, I could see he was a strongly built male which instantly put me more on guard than if it were say, an overweight older lady. He was going to be trouble for sure and he might even be tough enough to make it challenging. I almost had second thoughts and considered just riding past, settling for the evil eye encounter instead of a full ear full version. I pulled to a stop just in front of his door so he couldn’t hit me with it when he jumped out for the confrontation I knew was about to ensue. I think this is the first time he even noticed that I was coming for him. He looked up at me with the same look they all do when I get to their window, shocked and surprised. His first thought must have been, “How did this guy on a bike just catch me?” However, when he finally opened the door, it was me that was taken aback.

I am never quite satisfied with the words I choose in the heat of the moment. I always think of the perfect witty and clever things to say about 20 minutes later when my temper has cooled and I have replayed the situation in my head 100 times over. Unfortunately, in a confrontation like this there is no time to sit and wait for exactly the right thing to say so you have to shoot from the hip. As soon as he opened his door I led with, “Nice turn, dude! You couldn’t wait 2 more seconds?” While not my smoothest and most scathing opening, I did manage to control my breathing this time as usually I am so out of breath from trying to catch them they probably don't even understand me. This is when the part I was not expecting happened. He replies with, “I’m so sorry! I knew right after I did it that I had cut you off and I really apologize. I saw your light and everything. I should have waited. I’m really so sorry!” Way to kill the moment, man! He seemed totally sincere. He looked and sounded truly apologetic. He was admitting fault and didn’t offer excuses. Now I really didn’t know what to say or do. It instantly diffused the situation. I ended up telling him thanks for understanding my position and we parted ways with a handshake. Okay, so not all confrontations end badly. I wish they all ended by peacefully validating me like this one did.

I’m not sure why I feel the need to chase some people down to let them know how they offended me. I have never chased someone down in my car to tell them they just cut me off. I suppose it’s because you are so much more vulnerable on the bike than you are when you are encased in the steel and glass of your car that you take such slights more personally. Because of this event, I have to wonder about other times I have gotten so angry about the boneheaded move of some car. Could it be they are simply accidents and not an intentional insult to my right to the road? Even if they are, does that matter? Safe to say, me chasing them down and getting in their face is not the best way to handle it. At least it makes good blog fodder.

Week of May 2 - Bike 80, Run 35, D 10, U 5

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Went to a Race But Didn't Run

An experience that is always recommended for anyone serious about running is to volunteer at an aid station for a race. When you race, the people at the aid stations are an amazing source of support. They stand and wait for the chance to give runners aid and always seem ready to offer anything they can to help you continue your journey. For some time I have been thinking about volunteering but until this past weekend, I had never made the commitment and actually done so.

I happened upon a Facebook post a couple weeks ago about the need for more volunteers at a run on the Frisco Highline Trail. They were having a 10 Mile, Marathon, 50K (31 mile), 50 Mile, and 50K Relay. I thought it would be great to help and see all the different types of runners that would show up for the different distances. I especially wanted to see the 50 mile runners later in the race to see how they were coping and handling the race.

The Frisco Highline Trail is a 36 mile path from Springfield to Bolivar and is the second-longest rail-trail in Missouri (first being the famous Katy Trail). I have run the first 8 miles of the trail on the Springfield side but have not ventured any further. While it is prettier than running down a busy street, it’s not quite as scenic as some of the other trails that are right near our house so I rarely head there for a run. They recently finished paving the first 8 miles of the trail which was a victory for cyclists but as a runner I have to say, I was a little disappointed. Before the paving, the entire trail was compacted crushed-gravel which is an excellent surface for running. Though I will say, I do fully understand and appreciate why the bikes wanted it paved. I have always harbored the desire to run the entire 36 miles of trail in one shot someday and may incorporate that into this summer at some point.

They assigned me a position at the 5 mile aid station. This was a good place to be as I would get to see everyone on the course. Regardless of the distance they were running, they would have to come past the table I was helping at. When I showed up race morning to pick up the supplies for the aid station there were nearly 300 runners preparing themselves for their various distances. While this is not a large crowd compared to some of the big city marathons, like Boston with over 25,000 runners, 300 is more than I see at any of the runs I like to do. While I think I am a fairly social person, I just don’t like running with crowds of people at all. Come to think of it, I don’t really care for crowds in any situation.

I loaded up the supplies for my station and drove the 5 miles further down the trail to set up a table with cups of water and Powerade. It would be at least 30 minutes before even the fastest of runners made it to our table. The slowest runners would be almost a full hour after the leading group. Once they started coming by we had a steady stream of people coming through and grabbing cups. Some grabbed water and dumped it over their head. Some would grab two and quickly slam them both before tossing their empty cups along the side of the trail. A few had their own bottles and asked us to refill them.

The first groups flew by at a faster pace than I could run a single mile and yet they somehow managed to snatch up cups and drink while hardly spilling a drop. It was amazing! I felt bad for one the first fast guys through who reached for a cup but hadn’t aimed quite right. Instead of grabbing anything he managed to knock several over! Without breaking pace he continued flying down the trail. It would be another 3 miles before he got a drink. I can only imagine after practically sprinting the past 5 miles and being that close to almost having a drink that his mouth was feeling pretty dry.

The difference in pace ranged from that first groups’ extreme speed to one of the final runners to pass who actually stopped at the table to talk for several minutes while he downed 4 or 5 cups and carried a couple more off down the trail with him. He was walking and sweating profusely and more out of breath than I get after 20 flights of stairs. But in the end he was out of bed early on a Saturday morning and on the course. He was out there and busy tackling a significant physical challenge which is more than the vast majority of people are willing to do these days.

I was surprised by all the people in tights and long sleeves. Some even had windbreakers or hats on! With a starting temperature of 60, and a forecast of climbing temps, I would have started shirtless and still been pouring sweat. I saw two people with Five Fingers on and just about every other type of shoe out there. I saw 10 milers with fanny packs and bottles of water and 50 milers with nothing but their shorts and tank tops. There was one group of women with matching shirts having a party on the move as they traveled the course together.

Races attract such a wide variety of people. I enjoyed getting to see all the different approaches to the sport. No matter which category of runner you fall into, fast or slow, to show up at a 10 mile or longer race, you have obviously spent a large amount of time preparing yourself. To toe that line you must have a passion for running and this was evident on many of the faces as they sped by. I really enjoyed the experience and need to volunteer again. One of these days, I would like to volunteer for the late night portion of 100 mile race and see how other people handle some of their darkest moments of a race.

Week of April 25 - Bike 64 (day off work), Run 31, D 8, U 4