A new 8 Hr adventure race was advertised in our area, so ROCK Racing registered as soon as it opened. The race promoter was known to us as being well established in triathlon events. But this was their first adventure race. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect. An off-road team triathlon was scheduled for the same day, so the potential for chaos was high but Ultramax (the promoter) pulled it off exceedingly well. The 8hr AdventureMax was expertly organized and everything ran on-time and without problems.
The pre-race meeting and gear check were Friday night, maps and clue sheets were handed out, along with some good-looking T-shirts. During the meeting the announcer warned us that the course would be difficult and he hoped we had good navigators. He went on to tell us that they had Team Inertia (who we all respect and admire) come out to pre-run the course and from their feedback decided to give us a 6am start time and a 10 hr time limit.
We had previously decided to commute from home for this race, so after the meeting we made a speed run back to the commuter lot and commandeered a table at Burger King to spread out maps, plot points and make some route-choice decisions. It was getting late and we got some strange looks from the Burger King employees, but were never disturbed. We were both tired and anxious to get home for some sleep so we forgot one of our previous ‘lessons learned’ (we paid dearly for this later in the race). So we left for home, got the final bikes/food/gear packed and went to bed late. I jumped up when the alarm went off feeling like I hadn’t slept at all, and rushed back to the commuter lot to meet Robin (who had a 40 minute longer drive) at 4:30. I can normally eat all kinds of food the morning before a race, but all this rushing around had my stomach feeling bad, only got down ½ a Clif bar. We started the long drive out to Innsbrook for the second time in two days. Next year I’m camping.
A bike drop at the dam below Alpine Lake was made in the early morning dark. We drove back to the start/finish line. It was going to be a clear day, there were a billion stars shining above us. Ultramax had built an enormous bonfire near the start line so we joined the crowd around it waiting for the 6:00am start. The national anthem was played and the announcer wished us well and yelled ‘GO’. 37 teams took off running down a gravel path in the near-dark. Some sprinted, some ran, some run/walked. Robin and I settled into our now well-established ‘distance-pace’.
We hit checkpoint 1 with no trouble, Robin punched the passport while I peeled off a top layer jacket and re-tied shoes. The crowd from the start had thinned out considerably as we headed up a trail looking for the next point. It looked easy on the map, a small pond in a field. We ran into the field and no pond was in sight. Several teams were crossing back and forth looking for it too. After a few anxious minutes we spotted it in hidden in a tree line and made our way over to punch #2. Problem was every other team in the field followed us right to it.
Checkpoint 3 was punched on a wooded hilltop after quick run up a couple of trails. Number 4 was hidden at the bottom of a reentrant. We scrambled down a likely reentrant, it was steep and covered in boulders and downed timber, only to find no checkpoint at the bottom. Guessing we came down one reentrant too early we continued hiking down the creek. Rocks, ice, downed trees and tangled undergrowth slowed us to a crawl. We finally hit #4 and noticed it would have been so much easier to stay up on the ridge following a trail to the cleared field. The trail wasn’t marked on our map so there was no way to predict the now obvious better route.
Checkpoint 5 was just across the large field hidden in an old deserted barn, we ran across, getting both feet wet in a creek along the way, and punched the passport. We ran an uphill trail to a hilltop for checkpoint 6, and another trail down to the base of the dam for checkpoint 7, which was the bike drop from early this morning.
I had chosen to wear a new type of shoe for this race and had some worries about how they were going to work out. My previous shoes had a shoelace about to blow out and I did not have time to procure the required shoelace repair kit. Too bad for them, I am now completely sold on Inov-8 shoes, and will never buy the previous brand again. I was wearing the Inov-8 Roclite 305. Not a hint of hotspot or blister even though they were wet most of the day. They are so much lighter than my previous shoes I became convinced they were less fatiguing. The light weight had me concerned about stability, but it was needless worry, the shoes performed perfectly in all the off-camber running, bouldering and climbing. I never once felt an ankle or knee begin to roll or tweak, even under the weight of the pack and sandbags (that story is still coming). Read on…
A short run across the Alpine Lake dam found us carrying canoes, paddles and pfd’s down to the lakefront. We were happy to see that they were the nice Old Town canoes. The paddle had four checkpoints which could be grabbed in any order. We went with a counterclockwise direction hoping to gain some advantage in the wind and picked up the easy to find points. All of them were accessible from the canoe, Robin had to do some careful balancing up front, but she was able to reach them all. We seen a dude from another team hop out of the canoe into waist deep water. That had to be freezing cold. One more thing of note on the paddle: The lake coves still had some ice coverage and we did a lot of bumping and grinding on the broken inch thick slabs floating on the surface. Total time on the paddle was 1hr 10mins.
After carrying the canoe back to the staging area, we ate sandwiches while we walked across the dam to start the bike leg. It only took a few seconds to transition and we rode off to checkpoint 9 (which was the same as 6). My pants leg wound up in the chain tight enough that I had to cut it off with a knife. I should have worn my gaiters and would have avoided that.
The clue for 10 was ‘gate’. We rode a couple miles of trail and found it right on. The next clue was ‘stop sign’…. so we rode up the dirt road watching for a stop sign. We rode a looong way looking for that stop sign through a couple of creeks and low water bridges. Wet again. Finally when the terrain was obviously not matching the topo map we pulled up and took a closer look at it and cluesheet. We discovered that ‘stop sign’ was the clue for checkpoint 12, not the 11 we were looking for. The correct clue was ‘white fence’ which we found easily after a few minutes of backtracking. Next race we have to make time to write the clues on the map, no matter how short of time or tired from commuting we are.
We rode hard trying to make up time on the rest of the field, hitting checkpoints 12 and 13 perfectly. We passed a few teams and finished a long steep climb to 14 and the final orienteering section. We were happy to see so many bikes on the ground. There were a lot of teams still out. We ate some iced oatmeal cookies and started out running to the power cut/lake where 15 was plotted. We punched it quickly, but were followed all the way there by another team. We had to make a route choice to 16 here between easier/sure thing, or tougher/may miss. We were feeling good so we went with the tougher route, and were rewarded by seeing ourselves pass and put a big lead on the team that had just followed us to 15. The route to 17 was a creek/reentrant filled with boulders and downed timber, it was a difficult scramble, but we navigated it perfectly to the checkpoint. We were feeling good about this orienteering section after hitting the last 3 points so easily and ran to 18. We found the ridge I was convinced the checkpoint was on, and we couldn’t find it. We did a second search of the ridge, and found another team looking for it, who told us about several other teams that hadn’t found it yet either. After killing 40 minutes searching we decided to go on to 19 and try to hit 18 from the other direction on the way back to transition. We ran the entire way to 19, passing two teams (one was a 2 person co-ed), hit it right on and punched the passport. We attacked 18 from the South this time and found it immediately.
Only two checkpoints to go, and a team in our division right on our tails, we had no choice but to outrun them. We ran. A couple of looks over our shoulders and they were still hanging on just behind us. We kept pushing. Another look back at the bike transition and they were nowhere in sight. All those long training runs over the winter on muddy trails covered in snow and ice had paid off. We punched #20 and rode out alone.
We rode hard still thinking that other team was right behind us, we didn’t know if they were strong riders. The trails had thawed since the morning and were covered in slippery mud. The bikes were a mess as we rode past checkpoint 1. We were close to the finish and laughed as we passed it, “remember that bridge from this morning”? That checkpoint would haunt us later.
The announcer was yelling ‘another adventure race team coming in’ as we rode up to the finish area at a time of 8:05. But instead of going under the finish line we were detoured to a table where we were given instructions and two nylon bags for the Mystery Challenge. Robin read the instructions: Run to the beach. Fill both bags with at least 30 lbs of sand. Run back. Carry sandbag through the obstacle course. If your bag doesn’t weigh at least 30 lbs, you have to start over. No break for the girls either, they carry the same weight as men. Adventure racing is all about equality. And, yes, they had a scale on the table to verify the weight of each full sack.
Off we ran, following the map to the beach. We guessed it was about a mile of hilly road. We worked together filling our bags, guessing the weights then tied them up, and hoisted them on our shoulders and groaned. They were heavy and we were tired. Robin has this ‘thing’. She counts hills. Not little elevation changes, or rollers, just the significant hills. She had counted the hills on the way to the beach, and was counting them down on the way back. I was so happy when she said ‘one hill to go’. We made it to the scale and weighed our bags, mine was 42 lbs. Robin’s was 40 lbs. We heard later that two guys had carried back 55 lb bags.
We dragged ourselves and the sandbags through the obstacle course that included 10 belly crawl sections and a climb up onto and over a wooden stage. We crossed through the finish line at 9:04 still carrying the sand bags and were handed some cool looking finishers medals.
Ultramax had a great meal set up for us, tubs of beer, energy drinks, and soda. Nacho bar, baked potato, cookies, and chips. We were given a big beach towel and an extra shirt. We were happily jamming food in our faces when the announcer said results were posted on the side of the trailer. We walked over to look at them and found out we had received a penalty for missing a checkpoint. The race judge showed us our passport hadn’t been stamped for #21. We had made the error of assuming that this race would be like every other adventure race where the last checkpoint is the finish line. It wasn’t. # 1 and # 21 were common points that we rode past on the way in to the finish not even thinking it had to be punched. Our 9:04 time would have been good enough for 3rd place, but the missed checkpoint pushed us down to 5th.
So even though our list of ‘lessons learned’ is getting shorter, we are still finding room to improve. The significant ones this time are:
1. Write the clues on the map
2. Take more time with the maps to plan the route
3. Avoid long drives the night and morning before races
4. Never assume the finish line is the final checkpoint
5. Miss a checkpoint? Regroup and attack from another direction