Monday, May 28, 2012

Vermont City Marathon - most boring parade ever

Last weekend John and I drove to Vermont to spend some time with my parents and to run the Vermont City Marathon.  It was a gorgeous weekend and a really nice time with Mom and Dad.  In lieu of race photos (maybe the race photographers will post some eventually), here is how we spent some of the time while not racing:

Pretty flowers in their yard:

Clearing a path up the hill:

Not that one!

Hi Renee!

Prepping for the race:

If you can read this...

Renee and John looking a bit guilty - oops...

The actual race was fun!  At least most of it was, for most of us.

Kip and I have run the Vermont City Marathon previously, more than 10 years ago.  We liked it for the course - very pretty, slightly hilly but not too much, and especially because it runs through the middle of the city 3 times for excellent race viewing and crowd support.  That was all still in place, plus the event had grown a lot.  Well organized, tons of marathon and relay runners, and fantastic cheering sections.  Not just in the middle of the city but in all of the neighborhoods - people handing out water and food, hoses set up to water you down if you wanted, people playing all sorts of instruments, and basically everyone hanging out for the morning to cheer us on.  The miles flew by and it was all entertaining.

Last week John helped me find a comfortable sleeve/brace for my knee, although I still wasn't sure how many miles I was going to be able to run before my knee called it quits.  I took it real easy from the start, intending to employ a run/walk strategy.  Instead, 9-10 minute miles and running as smoothly as possible seemed to do the trick.  Oddly, walking was harder on my knee than running after several miles, so I was happy to keep running!

I saw Mom at mile 3 and gave her a kiss before running up Church Street.  An outdoor cafe had tables right next to the course so we got to see what people were eating for breakfast  :)  Relay runners dressed in superhero costumes.  The lead wheelchair came barreling down the hill going the other way, wow!  Military guys running with ruck sacks.  Fun listening to conversations around me.  Most creative sign = "Most boring parade ever" (couldn't resist it as the title of this post).

On the out-and-back in the "rural" section (it doesn't take long to find farm fields in Vermont) I saw John about 2 miles ahead of me.  We both ran on the median toward each other and swapped a high-five.  He was looking great and running well.  His challenge was likely going to be a lack of long training, but 7 miles seemed to be easy enough to start off.

I started in the back/slower crowds and did very little extra work to pass anyone, content with a very easy pace and taking in the whole experience.  It turns out that marathons you aren't serious about can be great fun, especially one with bands and cheering sections and beautiful scenery.  Quite a difference from our regular quiet trail running, a joyful break from normal.  If you can call anything that we do "normal" in any sense of the word...

Back in town for pass #2 down Church Street, an Irish band really jamming, then there's Mom again!  She had bought a cup of coffee for John around mile 10, and she told me that he had passed by about 30 minutes earlier, drank the coffee in 3 gulps, and was looking good.  Great to see Mom on the course several times!

Down the southern section of the course into some neighborhoods.  Picked up a gel from a water stop, I'm getting better at sucking those down since my road running practice last winter.  Finally found a place in the woods to relieve myself (one of the upsides of trail running in the woods - you don't have to wait so long between bathroom breaks!).  Knee still holding up well.  Passed the halfway mark in under 2:10, so far so good.

Then we hit a new bike path section (new to me, anyway) - right next to the lake, nice breeze, sunshine, I was feeling great.  I finally had to just let loose and "run" for a while to see what would happen.  It was good!  I started doing sub-9 minute miles and enjoyed the next several miles back into town.

Assault on Battery Hill!  Taiko drummers!  There's Mom again!  My favorite part of the race.  I ran up the hill, grinning.

Long trip north on a main road.  Nicely punctuated by a couple side trips into neighborhoods and more friendly people, way more than our previous run here (and way more than in any marathon I've experienced besides Boston).  John told a story of running up to a group of girls to see what they were eating, and all 3 of them offered him a piece of bacon!  My vegetarian husband had to laugh and decline...

Watermelon!  Popsicles!  And a nice breeze here and there.  It was in the 70's and sunny but never really felt too hot.  I ran in the shade whenever I could and was glad I wasn't running for a fast time.

Finally the north end of the course and a turn down to the bike path home.  The steep downhill is where my knee finally spoke up, so I had to concentrate on running as smoothly as possible and not jarring it anymore on the 4 miles back to the finish.  It did start to ache and I was ready to be done.  Many people walking and running slowly, others running fast, relay runners barreling through, a bit of a mishmash but I usually had plenty of room to run.

Glad I wasn't running for a time goal - I would have had to start running faster a couple miles earlier to break 4 hours, so anything close was "good enough".

The last mile and then the finish line park - look at all those people!  Huge cheering crowds, glad to be aware that it was still 0.2 miles to the end, running on grass for a bit, finally done.  4:02:31  :)

Crazy crowds in the park.  Found Mom in the timing tent just as she was looking up my number/time.  No sign of John - ???  That was confusing.  Wandered around looking, got my pizza and Ben&Jerry's ice cream, yum.  Finally found John and he had finished after me - ???

Turns out he had been on a Boston qualifying pace up to mile 24 (24!).  Then one slow mile put him behind.  Then he tried sitting because his legs were hurting and suddenly everything cramped up so badly that he couldn't stand up for a while.  Someone helped stretch his calves.  Eventually he could walk without his shoes, and finally he was able to run to the finish.  His last 1.2 miles took almost an hour!

Apparently I passed him there, probably while he was walking (I was so focused on dodging people along the bike path).  I was bummed not to have noticed him, as I would have liked to finish together.  John was at least comforted by the knowledge that he could not have done any more on that day!  A couple miles short of the goal, so close.

Besides that, we were pleased with how everything else went.  It was great to be with Mom and Dad, and we look forward to visiting them again in 2 weeks for our next adventure race.

Until then - our first "at home" weekend in 2 months, woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A day later and a point short

(Photos courtesy of Dmitri Kaganovich and NYARA)

I've been lucky to not only meet one of my teammates for Untamed New England, but also race with him last weekend.  John and I teamed up with Dima as Team Calleva to tackle NYARA's "The Longest Day" 24-hour adventure race in southern New York.  We worked great together, complemented each other's strengths (you're doing great!  you are too!), and enjoyed exploring some parks in another part of the Northeast.

The race has an interesting format/philosophy.  It lasts 24 hours, and pretty much every team that wants to optimize their score will be out there for 24 hours.  The RD's suggested that only one team might clear the course, but it turned out way longer than that and I believe no one got even close.  So there was plenty of strategy at play.  Including a scoring twist where bonus points were offered for completely clearing individual sections.  Lots of nav, lots of thinking, many checkpoints to consider hitting, it sounded right up our alley.

Of course there were several awesome teams at the race (no, we were NOT the ones the RD's were referring to about possibly being about to clear the course) and it was a pleasure to race alongside them.  The race format resulted in teams of varying speeds seeing/passing each other/working together at all hours of the day and night, and everyone was super friendly and great about a quick greeting and a smile.

We started on a bus to Schunemunk Mountain State Park - gotta love some of the names around here.  The race began with part of each team doing a run around a couple trails in a loop, picking up a plastic Easter egg in a field along the way.

Dima and I did this section together.  The other part of each team (John, in our case) started 5 minutes later going the opposite direction, and we handed him the egg when we met him going the other way.  A nice little run without carrying our heavy packs.  Back at the start of the loop I located John's pack and we were ready when he came flying in leading the way for the second group.  Always fun to win the prologue even if it never matters in the grand scheme of anything.

We trekked into the woods and along a railroad track with Team GOALS.  The map could not adequately describe what we saw when we emerged from the woods - a huge valley below us, with the train tracks aiming straight across, way up high.  The checkpoint was down by the river, and we took slightly longer than the other team in deciding we did NOT need to continue along the tracks but instead to find a way down.

That turned out to be easier than expected, with a trail leading down to the road.  Cool!  A couple other teams joined us at the river in looking for the checkpoint.  The clue told us to go east for 50 yards, which is where we found the checkpoint flag up on a downed tree - John's specialty.

Back across the field and up into the woods again.  This was a big climb, with the next CP near the top of the spur.  I got out our altimeter but it was updating too infrequently to be of much use.  So we resorted to our standard practice of watching contours and following the trail on the map, which seemed to work reasonably well.  We overshot slightly but at least we knew it.

The harder part was scouring the spur through all the underbrush, but when we found a trail and a Team GOALS racer coming up it, things got easier.  Another team joined us and we located SF2 on a nice ledge.

Back in the woods:

Please stash this stupid altimeter, it is worthless in its current setup:

The next bit of trail was easy to navigate, then we needed to find a trail without a blaze color to help us find SF3.  At an intersection of the red and yellow trails, I searched hard for the unmarked one and came up with a faint path that was somewhat overgrown.  Hmm.  Luckily it got better and was fairly easy to follow even though it was obviously underused as a hiking trail.  A couple intersections with other faint trails were also there, to my surprise.  So we were pretty sure of our position when we came into the area with the knoll.  Yep, large rise overlooking the big valley where we started, looks good - and there was SF3.  Nice.

The pseudo trail lost us (or we lost it) after that, so we contoured around, crossed a white trail, and counted creeks until we found another path that we liked so we could run.  At the next creek Dima filled a bottle with water while John went down to a waterfall to punch our card at SF4.  We were running with another 3-person team at this point, and as we continued south we also saw Team SOG quickly heading north - this had been our alternate strategy and I meant to ask Scott later how it went getting from SF1 to the TA at the end of this section... but most of the first day was a distant memory by 10 am Sunday.

A nice view in that section:

The highlight (if you can call it that) for me was running up on a rattlesnake on the trail, hearing it rattle in warning, and then treating the snake (and my teammates) to a scream.  I was rather proud of that scream, actually - nothing hysterical but with plenty of emphasis on the "danger!" aspect.  We backed away, went around, and called to the team behind us so they could detour as well.

Dima had a GoPro camera attached to the front of his pack (the source of many of these photos) and we asked if he had taken a picture of the snake?  No, he replied, he would have had to get much too close for that to work!

We did some good trail running over to the area of SF5 where we found the flag on a tree in the water.  From experience at previous Longest Day races, Dima told us that CP's with orange flagging required everyone to have their wrist band punched, so we all gamely walked the log over to the checkpoint to do so.  Without falling into the mucky water, so that was a bonus.

Back to the trails and up to the first mandatory point, M2.  We had collected the 5 optional checkpoints (SF1 to SF5) for 15 points including the bonus for clearing this section.  Now we just had to get the 2 mandatory points and then find a way down the other side of the ridge to the TA.  This is apparently what we were carrying our harnesses and rope for, so that should be interesting.

The trail before even getting to the "use your harness and rope" section:

Anyway, first things first.  M2 was close to an intersection and easy.  M1 was a bit more tricky, but we found the side trail along with Team GOALS and were the first to spot the point on the north end of the giant rocks, or "megaliths" - nice view too!  We had been running well and enjoying this section.

We circled back around on the trail to find another trail to take us down one steep section.  Up a small rise to the next ridge, then we were looking for a way to get way down to a trail near the bottom that would lead to the TA.  We opted to jump down pretty quickly since the contours suggested a wide drainage with overall the least steep contours.  This worked great, just a bit of underbrush and mossy butt slides near the top.

Then we found some logging roads - the first didn't help (it stayed at the same level) but the next one was heading downward and northward, both exactly what we wanted.  Sweet!  No ropes work for us!  There were a couple questions at intersections near the bottom, but we managed to stay on logging roads without popping out on the main road (we had been told that all pavement was off-limits, although only one road was marked as such on our map).

Eventually we found the side trail leading down to the TA and we learned we were the second team to clear that section after Team SOG (who was almost an hour ahead of us, wow!).  We filled our camelbak bladders with water from a hose and hopped on our bikes for some road riding.  Well done, team!

John took the lead on bike nav, taking us along some main roads for a while.  I was feeling rather slow on the uphills, and realized that I need to start carrying a lot more weight in my pack for bike training for the next month.  We found M3 down a side trail (a team just coming out of the trail helped us decide it was the right one to check) and then debated the route over to M4.  The map had a lot of detail but with a 1:50k scale it was hard to see.  We decided that what I hoped was a road was actually a railroad track, so we took a route up and over a hill instead.

We rode to the location of M4 to find a couple other teams gathered and just leaving.  Hmm, interesting.  They had a "look" about them that we couldn't decipher, so we joined another couple guys just arriving to try to figure out the checkpoint location.  The clue was "20 yards north of the rail trail/road intersection".  A couple things were immediately obvious - first, the railroad track was a RAIL TRAIL that we could have ridden to get there, gee I guess we should have read ahead.

The second was that we were trying to find "3 Oxfords" instead of a standard checkpoint marker.  20 yards directly north of the intersection was a bunch of weeds that we scoured without success.  Across the street up the hill was an old cemetery that didn't have any Oxfords (I did notice some Tuthills).  Finally Dima and the other team figured out that there were 3 street signs - something like Oxford Road, Oxford Lane, and Oxford Town or whatever.  D'oh!  Nice catch!  It even says "Oxford" on the map, hidden in plain sight under the pre-plotted CP marker.  In our defense, the distance/direction clue wasn't perfectly accurate.  Moving on...

A bit more riding on the road as we approached Goose Pond Mountain.  We tried cutting over to the trail at the first opportunity but came to a stop at a metal "bridge", more like a frame structure.  In a pinch (or on a normal day for John) we could have gotten across with our bikes.  I told the guys I was riding around instead.  I didn't find them on the other side right away because they had decided to follow me  :)

We found the trailhead and started up a long hill, trying to ride occasionally but mostly pushing our bikes up the steep slope.  I was glad to be in the shady trees as it was getting a bit warm out.  We never had heat issues though, that was good.  Eventually we found the top and John had us looking for a bit of a drop and a bend in the trail.  Yes, and yes.  There should be a checkpoint here at an overlook.

The overlook was there, but no sign of a checkpoint flag.  This began a 45-minute "meet the other teams" experience where everyone tried everything anyone could think over in all directions, but no one came up with the checkpoint.  It was a mandatory one too.  One team tried to call the RD but didn't get an answer.

The highlight (if you can call it that) for John was putting his hand on a rattlesnake as he was climbing up some rocks.  Apparently he and the snake were equally surprised - I can just imagine the look on the snake's face, like "wha??  people aren't supposed to touch me??" - so they both backed away quickly and luckily nothing bad happened out of that!  We're ready for a weekend without a snake encounter...

Finally after much searching all the teams gave up en masse, with me keeping to the back so I could try riding down the other side without a bunch of racers on my butt.

Just as we were starting down, one of the race officials was coming up to tell everyone that he didn't know what had happened to the checkpoint, but we would get credit for the checkpoint plus for our time.  The funny thing was that John's daily "time to pick up Marcy" alarm had gone off on his watch right before we started searching for M5, so we had a pretty accurate 45-minute estimate of how much time we had spent there.  Weird timing.

The ride down went OK, as the trail was much less steep than the climb up, and it was actually fun in places.  I rediscovered my inability to ride over a small log (need to work on that) but otherwise felt OK about our downward progress and the guys took it in stride.  We did some trail nav in the valley below, mostly successfully although with a couple bramble encounters including one that inspired a detour.

At M6 we crossed a creek to find instructions on how to reach M7.  Back out to the main trail and then up a hill to a meadow.  So we had completed the mandatory points in this section, but now we were presented with an optional challenge - a "progression" where the next point was revealed on a map each time you got to a point.  It was worth 15 points total and we were told the time estimate was 1 to 1.5 hours to complete it.  It was still light out and we thought we could ride the subsequent roads fast enough to make the 11 pm cutoff at M11.  Let's go for it.

The first point was on a large powerline cut nearby, and when we first found the powerline we almost second-guessed ourselves because it started with a steep uphill.  Things got better after that, and we located the checkpoint in a thicket at the top of the next hill.  We started learning to bring the map into the checkpoint to copy the location of the next one.

Here we made a choice to try riding down to a farm at the bottom of the hill and taking roads back into the park.  There were a couple fences we were concerned about, but luckily none got in our way and we made a smooth entry back onto the trails and around to the 2nd progressive point.  I rode over a small log (minor yay).  We found the point on a small hill and went north to find the third one just off a field of tall, sharp grass (rather ow).

Back south, John suggested we try the next point from the top, dropping our bikes and trekking down the hill to find it.  Team GOALS was back and forth with us here, and they had the same idea so we laughed a little about that.  When the final checkpoint was up the hill really close to where our bikes were parked, we celebrated a tiny bit.  Nothing like getting lucky  :)

The progression was fun and took us right at an hour - we were quite pleased with how that worked out.  We rode to point M8 at the exit of the park to exchange "optional point" passports with a volunteer.  The race director guy from M5 was there, and then Team GOALS rode up too.  Together we clarified that the final race cutoff of 10 a.m. was not changing, but that we had an extra 45 minutes for the intermediate cutoffs (11 pm, 4 am) to get more points at night.  Cool, and good thing we spent the time to clear the previous section.  That hour was the biggest bang for the buck of the whole race.

We rode roads for a ways, then saw Team GOALS stopped at a house getting water from a nice man with a garden hose.  Dima asked when we would see water next (he was great about keeping up with this question), and since I didn't know, we decided we couldn't pass up this excellent opportunity.  We took our turn filling the bladders and chatting with the guy.  Thank you so much!

The next checkpoint, M9, was off the main road, so we dropped our bikes and joined some other teams to search in the woods.  We were back to the 1:50K scale map that was hard to see clearly, so we focused on the clue of "Off AT, east of stream".  We found the Appalachian Trail easily enough, and then the stream.  And we figured that the flag would be out of sight of the hiking trail.  But overall, the info we had to work with was vague.  It was getting dark so we got our bright lights out, but when John and Dima eventually located the point (not all that close to either the trail or the stream) it didn't have a reflector on it.  Perhaps focusing strictly on the contour lines we might have gotten to the right area faster than trying to read into the clue.  Well anyway, this was the beginning of our night nav issues, with us taking more time and making questionable decisions more than once.  But at least we found M9 without taking forever to do so.

M10 was at a dam, after riding on a fun paved road downhill and around some curves.  John led us off the road at what seemed like a good spot, and some people walking back to their car confirmed that we would find the dam just straight back from there.  So far, so good.  The checkpoint itself was hung on the small dam and there were several teams around at that point.

We climbed over the rocks to check it out.  The next optional point came with only some instructions about birds and looking north by northwest to see the flamingos.  A little scary to be getting Hitchcock references as we were starting the night sections  :)  We looked across the pond in the right direction and some headlamps happened to pop out at the right spot.  We guessed that the checkpoint (worth 3 optional points) was on the peninsula across the way.  Should we go after it?  We joked that we wished for a packraft all of a sudden.

We pulled out the big Sterling Forest park map and found that the AT traveled right by the peninsula via the top of the pond.  All we had to do was bushwhack a bit to find the trail and follow it around.  The bushwhacking part turned out OK, but the remainder of this adventure was highly perplexing.  We found the trail, found the turn to the south, and started pace counting.  Occasionally we could see the pond (we could tell we were close by listening to the frogs) but it was hard to tell where the peninsula was in the dark.

At approximately the right spot we headed for the edge of the water.  No peninsula, just land fairly close across on the other side.  But really hard to tell where it connected.  Dima had a theory that we were too far south, which sounded odd based on the map, but working our way back north wouldn't take long since we had come only 200 meters or so from the turn.  When we could see lights from teams over at the dam, we took a reverse bearing and figured going north made sense from that perspective.  Dima led the way and we pushed through vegetation until somehow by magic we were suddenly walking on a narrow strip of land with water on both sides.  At the end we found several pink plastic flamingos and the checkpoint!  Nicely done, Dima!

John got us back to the trail and we were almost at the spot where we had hit it when we first bushwhacked over to it from the dam.  That made no sense.  Neither did the trail direction from there (south) but it was going the right way so we followed it for a while until we could no longer hear the frogs.  Then we jumped into the woods, bushwhacked way longer than expected, and eventually came out exactly at the dam.  The whole process took an hour and a half!  That did not seem like the best use of our time, but at least we had 3 points to show for it.  And a better idea that the park map might not be exactly correct...

We would have liked to go for a couple optional checkpoints in the next sections, specifically a couple that were linked by a trail and worth more than 1 point each.  However, we blew that opportunity chasing flamingos, so we took the direct route on a dirt road around to M11.  It was my first chance to really test the new bright "Magicshine" light on my helmet and I was pretty stoked about it.  Even on "low" I could see well enough to ride about as fast as in daylight, similar to Dave's Nite Rider but with a battery that should last a lot longer.

The nice volunteer at M11 had brownies, so we celebrated making the original 11 pm cutoff time with some yummy chocolate.  We decided to use our next block to time to focus on clearing the next section of optional points, still on bikes but trekking to various points off the trails.

First we had to get to that area, south of us.  After a chilly downhill/road ride we found the Hogback Mountain trail and listened to some festival music blaring from nearby while we climbed and warmed up again.  Partly riding, partly walking uphill, we came upon another team at the top and spotted checkpoint M12 off in the trees to the right.

I think I did OK with the technical-ish riding on the next downhill, although each downhill ride was getting more chilly.  Got to remember to get out my jacket for the next one.  I was getting some good practice with the type of mud in this area and it was the "good" kind that didn't stick and wasn't usually too deep so I started riding through most of it.  After another short section on a road we started down the Sterling Valley Loop trail.  Now THIS was a trail I could ride all night - shorts ups and downs, enough to stay warm but not wear you out, fun trail, nothing hard, just rolling and riding.  Dima assured me that we would see nothing this nice at Untamed New England, so I made sure to appreciate it while I could.

John got us started right in the next section with a quick find of optional point SF8 down a little trail to Sterling Lake.  Another couple guys arriving at the same time remarked something about how it's nice when a plan comes together.  I couldn't agree more, that was the easiest of the optional points by far.  We could hear yelling over in the woods to the right, so I suspected the next one wouldn't be so simple.

We rode a trail around the north end of the lake until just past the main drainage and then dropped our bikes to go look for a powerline.  That wasn't hard to find in itself, but the point was supposed to be at an intersection with a "woods road" that we never saw.  It looked like the checkpoint should be on a spur so we climbed upward while watching lights moving around below us.  Happily the flag was just over the rise and possibly at the highpoint of the powerline (which wouldn't have been the right location if so, but I could be wrong because we didn't stick around to figure that out for sure).

John aimed us downhill back to the road, and we spotted bike lights below us.  But they weren't our bikes.  Luckily I recognized the area and turned us around to find our trusty steeds waiting up the hill the other way.  Nothing like losing your bikes in the woods.  Or a boat.  Only in adventure racing!

The next optional checkpoint, SF9, was the big question and source of discussion for a while.  It was worth 5 points but it was way up high on a fire tower and we weren't sure how long it would take to schlep our bikes over the mountain and down the steep trails on the other side.  We studied the section beyond toward the next cutoff (M15 at 4 am) and decided we should go for it.  And hope that we could claim our 45 minute leeway if needed.

So we were riding along and looking for an orange trail when we came to a gate with a vehicle on the other side shining bright lights at us.  Turns out the park police had been called to find out what all the goings on were about.  We got to spend a few minutes explaining what we were doing, where we were coming from (which was hard to answer, especially since we started at "Schunemunk"), where we were going (does anyone remember?), and why we were running around in the woods in the middle of the night (that IS a valid question).  They claimed they had not heard of the race and the race directors didn't have a permit for it (really?  and how does this keep happening in races that I enter?  and NYARA actually DID have a permit, by the way).

After several minutes of trying to provide coherent information, we were allowed to go.  That was entertaining, sort of.

So we'll use that distraction as an excuse for our initial ascent up the wrong trail.  Luckily we figured it out quickly and went back down to climb the actual orange trail.  It was rather rough and rocky, and really not rideable.  Dima asked if we might just leave the bikes and hike up to the fire tower and back.  That would add some distance but we could move faster without the bikes, and anything to keep from having to ride down something like this I was all in favor of.  We turned off the bike lights, left the bikes, and headed upward on foot.

Dima led the way, hiking strongly while I carried a bar in one hand waiting for a chance to eat it when I could breathe a little easier.  After about 30 minutes we reached the top, yay!, and I managed a couple bites before we were running/walking back the way we had come.  I finally had to slow down just to finish that dang bar.  Another team came toward us, these folks carrying their bikes - it was Team SOG, and we were pretty surprised to see them because we thought they would be much further ahead (even with the extra optional points we assumed they had gotten).  Greetings all around and then we were alone again.

We ran/speedwalked back down to the bikes and were pretty pleased to have accomplished that in under an hour.  Back to riding, we followed a park road and the white/red trails around to the main road.  We were looking for a parking lot just before an IBM plant (funny!) but found only a dirt road which briefly confused us until we located the parking lot a little ways up.

Hoping for a quick up and back on foot, we jumped off the bikes and started up the trail.  This climb went a lot faster and soon we were at the saddle looking for a possible side trail and a 2 meter cliff.  Well, there was no obvious trail but there were plenty of cliffs around.  John and Dima took off exploring while I tried to gain more information from the maps, as the main trail wasn't acting exactly like it was drawn.

Team SOG showed up then, and John and Dima came back to regroup.  We returned to the saddle and shot a north bearing from there, heading in the same direction as a couple racers from the other team.  Suddenly the woman called out to her teammate and started stuttering and pointing, obviously not wanting to be obvious that she had spotted the checkpoint, but let's face it, that was pretty obvious.  And funny!  We all punched our passports and ran down the hill back to the bikes.

And I finally remembered to get out my jacket to wear down the next long downhill on the road, yay!  John and I both bundled up and we were way happier about that.  It was a smooth, pleasant ride, one of the moments in the middle of a long race where I was just happy to be there, everything was going great, and you've got to enjoy it because who knows what will happen later.

Team SOG rode by with encouraging words and thumbs-up signs - how nice!  Together we tried to figure out how to get onto the Eagle Lake Loop trail around a pond, and they were the first to jump into the woods at a nice spot to hit the trail while we first tried to find a road that was actually a park boundary.  There were a couple other teams around us at this point too.

We rode the trail around the pond until my compass indicated we had overshot the right spot.  We were looking for the corner of a rock wall, so it must be further off the trail and not immediately visible.  We backtracked to the northeast corner of the loop and suddenly it was all quiet around us, no other lights or teams.  That seemed odd, along with the fact that no matter how much we searched around off the trail we never came across the checkpoint.  Dima found a rock wall but apparently it wasn't the right one.

Pressed for time due to the next cutoff (and we weren't sure how long it would take to reach that spot), we had to abandon this optional point.  This made me sad.  We had worked so hard for the other optional points in this section, it seemed a shame to be foiled by one that looked so easy on paper.  Sigh.

So we returned to the road and continued on, finding the driveway entrance to the nunnery as instructed.  It was a bit surreal to ride through such a quiet, peaceful place in the middle of the night.  Toward the end of the long driveway I wanted to go after one last optional checkpoint that should be just off the road, but Dima was worried about the cutoff so we skipped it.  And who knows, that one might have taken us an hour anyway  :)

M14 was manned by a very nice volunteer who explained that the cutoff at M15 had been extended to 4:45 a.m. for everyone, and we had an optional foot-O section (returning to M14) followed by an optional bike-O section (ending up at M15).  Each of these optional CP's was worth 1 point each, with a bonus for getting any 12 of them.  We decided, based on the limited time we had remaining, to skip the foot section and hit one bike point on the way to M15.  There were still plenty of extra points to go for in the next couple sections of the course.

The trails through here were less than ideal, plus with my slightly depressed mood and I'm sure there was some fatigue involved, well I wasn't at the same "happy state" anymore.  At least John was keeping up with feeding me SPIZ and everyone still had energy.  Even if our brains were getting rather foggy.

We found our one optional checkpoint up a muddy powerline and then followed rocky trails for a ways.  The nav was straightforward, although the going was kind of slow.  We made it to M15 with plenty of time before the 4:45 am cutoff, dropped off our Easter Egg in a basket, and greeted a few other teams congregated there.

Switching maps, back to something that was harder to read.  John's lighting system wasn't working well enough for him to follow a map while riding, so I took over for a bit.  That may not have been the best idea, because I ended up taking us a longer way around than I had planned.  And further downhill.  I was shivering by the time we reached the bottom, even with my good jacket on.  Happily that was the last time we were cold during the race.

It was time for paved road riding.  Nothing exciting, but at least we could turn our brains off for a little while.  Eventually we came to an intersection and watched a bunch of teams coming from the direction I had planned to go. Sigh.  We continued riding, debating about getting an extra optional point here or there in the "Jungle" area.  We decided not to do that, but we agreed we should try to get all of the paddle points.  That sounded great.  Plus it was getting light out, so things were looking up.

We found the kayak put-in (TA2) along with a couple Penske trucks, yellow kayaks, tons of other teams, the race directors, volunteers, etc.  It was a hopping place.  We had a gear box there, and we thoroughly enjoyed getting rid of everything we didn't need to be carrying anymore - ropes, harnesses, lights, etc.  We did put on some extra clothing because even though the sun was coming up we were concerned about being cold on the water.  The sit-on-top kayaks let water in from the bottom so you are basically wet from the beginning.  John and I were both happy to have waterproof pants from the gearbox to put on.  A well-placed drop box, thank you!

As usual, I'm not quick with a transition into paddling but we eventually got in the boats, me and John in one and Dima handling a 2-person kayak by himself (nicely done, Dima).  We started with a paddle to a tiny island off the end of a larger island.  Then across the narrow lake to a dam. 

I was happy for all the paddle practice we have done recently, so this section went pretty well.  Initially we had to deal with stringy kelp getting on our paddles (even on my head occasionally), happily that went away eventually.  John and I took turns jumping out of the boat to collect optional points.  For one of the longer treks (a little ways up a hill) I told John he could stay and take a nap, as he had been battling sleep monsters.  Those 10 minutes helped him a lot - sure wish I could fall asleep so quickly and wake up so refreshed!

We continued up the east side of the lake, running into a bit of wind and chop in the middle of this section.  Funnily, the next checkpoint was at "Tom Tuthill's Home for Wayward Ducks" - I wonder if Tom is related to the Tuthill folks from the graveyard way back in the first bike leg?  There was a guy hanging out on a chair on the lawn, along with a table set up with clear drinks.  The guy asked if I wanted some vodka?  Hey Dima, you want some vodka?  Just kidding, it's water.  Ah well!

One more paddle point, this one past the takeout by about a kilometer.  We checked our watches (now needing to get to the finish by 10:20 a.m. with no chance of leniency) and decided we had time if we pushed it.  We paddled up an inlet, saw another team running back to their boats, and decided to deploy a similar strategy.  John jumped out and ran up the road, although he had a bit of trouble identifying the rowing club from the street.  Back on the water, we paddled strong to the take-out where the volunteer gave us quick instructions.

We carried the boats and gear up to the parking lot and did a quick transition (perhaps the quickest of the race, or at least that's how I chose to remember it).  Paddles, PFD's, jackets and pants into mesh bags, let's get ready to run!  Our packs were now really light, John was the only one carrying water, and we were ready to finish this thing.

We jogged through town and over to a park to find a trailhead climbing up to a ridge.  Dima again led the way with a strong uphill hiking pace.  We had to find a mandatory checkpoint at the intersection with the AT at the top, and this took a couple minutes but a nice guy from another team pointed us in the right direction to start.  Then it was time to run, two+ kilometers north on the ridge trail.  My knee felt OK to run, so we hoofed it the best we could and tried not to obsess over the time (around 10 a.m. at that point).

There were two last optional CP's, worth 1 point each.  The first was down a powerline cut but it seemed too far down for the time we had remaining.  The second was to count the number of steps going up a hawk viewing tower to the top platform.  We came out onto the main road and looked up to see a HUGE, high tower that would give even John issues with counting while running and under pressure.  Looks like we had to be satisfied with what we had already accomplished.

We ran across the road and found our bikes with volunteers at the creamery parking lot (mmm, ice cream).  Supposedly we were going to ride down a ski run to the finish line, but I asked the lady if that was required and she said she didn't think so - good enough for me!  I told the guys I would be WAY faster riding around on the road and they didn't argue with me... so we took off down the hill and made it to the finish line with a couple minutes to spare.  Nice one!

Final results - 4th place, sweet!  The kicker was that we had the same number of points as 3rd place, we just arrived at the finish line later.  One more optional point would have moved us up to third!  Ah, such regrets!  That's the stuff of "let's go back and do better", always great motivation for next time.

Huge props to John and Dima for being awesome teammates, strong all the time, fun to be with, helping me out, smart and good with the nav, and always working well between the three of us.  I didn't know we would get to do some adventure racing in the Northeast, a very pleasant surprise indeed.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Special edition mid-week post

Last night I participated in the Corporate Challenge 3.5 mile race in Albany.  Because how many times will I get to do this?  There were thousands (!) of people there, quite unbelievable.  My first mile took 10 minutes with lots of waiting and walking and dodging, it was entertaining.  My next mile took 7.5 minutes, including running a gauntlet though a water stop.  There were still tons of people but I was finally able to (mostly) run my own pace.  Mile 3 - I continued passing people, still a huge crowd but more space to run, including on sidewalks.  My knee got a bit achy at the end but I made it.

Next year I may have to try to start closer to the front...

John took a few photos, the main reason I'm actually writing a post about it.  It was great to see so many people out for a run or walk, and what a beautiful day for it!

I'm the one waving in this picture, on the left side in a yellow shirt about 3 people from crossing under the stairs John was standing on:

Thanks John!  :)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

DC is GUR-reat!

We were so excited to be doing the GUR DC race with our friends Kathy and Bob last Saturday!  Kathy's Dad even joined us in the city and helped with the scavenger hunt tic-tac-toe - thanks Art!  We had beautiful weather and a marvelous time.

Kathy and Bob got our team shirts for us, very creative.  The funniest part was that whenever someone else took our picture with my phone (so the shirts were visible), Google Goggles would show a link to "The Office Stapler" (from the movie "The Office") as it recognized what we were wearing.  Made me laugh every time.

Our shirts (and ourselves) in a pre-race group photo:

After a crowded exit from the starting line bar (McFaddens), we studied the clue sheet.  Kathy knew something about several of the clues right away, so we decided to head to U-street.  We speed-walked over to the metro.  While getting on the train, another team remarked about the guy with the beard ahead of us.  So I worked on snapping a photo for one of our tic-tac-toe squares.

This would turn out to be my best selfie...even with the front camera on my phone, I still need a lot of practice....

This is the one photo that I did better than John with.  For the rest of the CP's, I'll show you my lame attempt and then follow up with John's improved version.  He was using a normal camera, and I was trying to stretch my arm in front of me while still connected to the phone via an ear piece.  So that's my excuse  :)

John and Bob's photo with a guy with facial hair:

Up in the U-street area we located CVS for the Ronald McDonald House charity purchase and drop-off, then Kathy noticed some GUR racers exiting an unmarked door - that turned out to be the bar for CP5.  Nicely done, Kathy!

Here we did a smell test.  The first item neither of us could smell at all.  Kathy suggested a very faint raspberry odor.  I tried dipping a finger in the mixture and putting some on my wrist, but only succeeded in getting sticky.  The other two were easier - maple (as a Vermonter I better get that one right) and jalapeno (as a transplanted Texan I probably better get that one too).  Luckily Kathy's raspberry guess was also good, and we were done.

The flyer at the smell test checkpoint:

We found some Chevy cars for our next challenge checkpoint:

Then it was time to head south toward the harbor.  Amazingly, we ran into John and Bob on the subway platform so we ran over to give them hugs.  Apparently that caused them to just miss the next train - they claimed we were trying to sabotage them  :)

At the library for the QR code challenge.  The harder part was figuring out the "namesake" of the library, as we couldn't find anyone's name anywhere.  So we got a photo with the library sign and hoped it was right:

Now to the arena and the live animal portion of our show.  The snake-holding part was awesome.  Then one of us had to eat either a dead scorpion (stinger removed) or 3 live mealworms.  I was happy to take one for the team, especially since I need the practice as I normally race with a vegetarian husband.  I started with a scorpion leg, and it was fine - crunchy but no taste - so I chewed up the rest while Kathy got water ready for me.  No problem.  I looked over at a woman who was choking down mealworms and decided that given the choice, always eat the dead bugs.

Kathy and I skipped the can challenge (which was the same one we did in Boston) because the line was really long.  Forget that.  John and Bob had arrived earlier and gotten it done without a wait:

Now to Chinatown!  We started at a dim sum restaurant where we had to pick out colored grains of rice with chopsticks.  Kathy and I both thought we would be better at this, but it turns out there is a big difference between picking up 1" items to eat and getting ahold of tiny grains of rice.  We eventually managed 20 pieces to finish it up.

John and Bob not long later:

Next we went up the street to Jordin's Paradise, which turned out to be our favorite checkpoint of the day - belly dancing!  My Mom used to belly dance and I learned a little from her.  Kathy and I got costumed up and followed the fun lady through a routine.  Very cool!

We told Sheila on the phone that John and Bob HAVE to do this one - luckily they did  :)

Next we found a bar where one of us had to roll a quarter to stop in between the tines of a fork.  Kathy made an attempt and we were both shocked when she got it in several rolls.  Nice going!

Then it was a walk over to the Capitol City Brewing Company where we did a money-related puzzle and got our photo:

One CP to go!  We headed to a Segway company, hoping to ride Segways around (Kathy and Bob are experts and John and I have always wanted to try it).  We were disappointed to find a trivia puzzle instead, but we were happy to meet up with Bob and John there at the same time!

Pretending to ride bikes:

Back to the metro - for a very long wait for the next train.  We traveled back to the finish with a bunch of other teams, included Bob and John (although the platform and train were very crowded, so we didn't see each other until Kathy spotted them on our way out the exit station).

There we found Kathy's Dad waiting with a postcard and 2 cups for our final tic-tac-toe squares:

Bob had found a couple cups earlier for their version:

Running to the finish:

Our collection of stuff - all items and photos were good!

One of the teams with excellent costumes:

Post-race snack - we needed a drink after that warm day:

Back to McFaddens for the awards ceremony and some monkeying around:

Showing Art our belly dancing moves:

We finished the day in place 28 (Bob and John) and 30 (Kathy and Marcy).  Yay for that, and yay for all the fun we had!