Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Ozark Greenways Adventure Race 2011
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 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.
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.
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.
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
Posted by Jim Phillips