By: Robin Rongey
It was a crazy weekend, the Berryman Duathlon was on Saturday, but unfortunately I didn’t get to compete. You see my son, my oldest child was graduating high school on Saturday, not a whole lot I could do to get the date changed, so I had to skip race. I love that race, but as a consolation the Conquer Castlewood race was Sunday, so at least I was able to compete in it.
Conquer Castlewood is a great race and really fun. It is setup for two person teams, male, female or coed. I have competed in it the last 4 years with three different teammates. Last year my friend Allan Cochran did it with me, and this year he was in again. We signed up on the first day of registration for two reasons. First the race fills and second, the waves are set by your signup position, so the earlier you get in, the more likely you are to start in the first wave. I like the first wave because it is cooler and the trails are not torn up by the earlier wave. We got lucky and were in the first wave.
I had planned for a hot sunny day, as that is what we usually get for this race, but when leaving home it was overcast and kind of cool with very low humidity. This was a great start to the day. I picked up Allan at 6:10 and we drove to Castlewood State park. Although we got there an hour before the start, the parking was already filling up and we had to park further from the start than we ever had before. We quickly got our bikes off the rack and found a great spot next to the big tree stump at the boat ramp for our transition area.
We picked up packets and headed back to the van, to grab all of our stuff and get prepared for the race. I had brought sun screen, but realized we didn’t need it. We did however need bug spray, we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes. As we were talking to my friend Mike who was also competing in the race, we mentioned the bugs and he told us to go over to his truck and use his spray, he had 4 bottles. Most of Mike’s family were competing in the race, and the members that weren’t, were there to watch. It was incredible to see the entire family having such fun with this competition. It was nice to have them all cheering for me and Allan also.
After saving our skin with the bug spray we walked around and checked out the river to setup a strategy for the canoe. Since the river was still high from the previous rains, it didn’t really matter where you entered the water, so we decided to just get the closest canoe. With that plan in mind, we put on our bike shoes although we would have to run about a quarter mile to the canoes. We thought what we lost from running in bike shoes would be made up in not needing to change shoes in transition. We also wore our bike gloves for the paddle.
To the starting line we went, we shook hands with other competitors that we knew and wished them luck while secretly wanting to make sure we beat them. We also looked around for what seemed to be ringers, and found a coed couple in Big Shark jerseys, so we knew we were going to have some tough competition.
The gun went off and we made a mad sprint for the boat ramp. It was kind of tough running in bike shoes, but well worth the time it would save in transition. We make it to the canoes and I see Allan grabbing a canoe, but two guys run in front of me with a canoe, so I have to go around them, wasting precious seconds. I make it to the canoe that Allan is already dragging to the water, grab the front and pull it into the water. Allan yells “jump in” I do and we push off into the high water. We have to go upstream first and then turn around at a buoy to come back to the boat ramp. We are doing well and going nice and straight, then two guys bump us from the right, we get away from them and another canoe bumps up from the left. This was really slowing us down. We are not being passed, but we aren’t making up any time on those teams that made it in the water in front of us. I can see two teams in front of us that I know, and they both had not beaten us in past events. We worked so hard to make it to the turn and tried to catch up to the field. My friend Mike and his brother Ron were up ahead, but we could not catch them. We did however catch my friend Jeremy and his partner Derek. It was really funny, we are paddling with everything we have as we pull up next to them, Derek turns and sees me and says “oh hi Robin, how’s it going” it was so nonchalant, like we were just hanging out on the river, enjoying ourselves, I just started laughing.
We made it to the shore and took off running over the top of the hill to the transition area, where we put on helmets, grabbed our bikes and were gone. It was a great transition for both Allan and I.
We both took off down the trail and I was only about 10 yards behind Allan, I passed a couple people really quickly then hit a mud hole that splattered me with mud and big globs of mud were running down my glasses. I wiped the mud off with my glove and kept going. Into the field we went, I passed a couple more people and was still right behind Allan. I passed my friend Mike who had done a much better job in the canoe than we did. We hit the Groppeter trail and I lost Allan, he had pulled away around a turn. I continued to pass people and when I hit a rather technical section of Groppeter, the guy I had just caught up to, jumped off his bike, but when he did it, his bike slid into the middle of the trail and I could not ride around him. I quickly jumped off my bike and ran it past him to the top of the hill and jumped back on. I was flying through the trails, passing people as I went, taking chances I never take, almost sliding through loose gravel into a ravine, but pulling it out just in time. I was almost to the road crossing when a girl came flying by me, it was the ringer I saw wearing the Big Shark jersey. I did all I could to keep her in sight, but came up behind someone with no place to pass, so I lost her for a few minutes. As I hit the creek I saw her pulling her bike up the far bank, I rode across, but had to get off and pull my bike up the bank, because with all the rains it had washed away and was not rideable, or at least not for me. I got half way up the bank and due to the mud my foot started to slide back down. A guy had just come up behind me and he pushed my wheel up just enough for me to get my footing and pull it over the top. I was back on the bike and riding fast, but never saw the Big Shark girl again. I made it to the road without incident and locked my front shock, my Trek Top Fuel has a front shock lockout on the handlebars, it is one of the best features I have ever had on a bike. So now with my shock locked I could fly down the road like I was on a road bike and I did. I pulled in to transition and quickly changed shoes then took off on the run.
I was running really hard and taking very small steps, I had to get my legs to listen to my brain and slow down and take longer strides. It is really tough coming off a hard effort on the mountain bike and going into a fast run. In these short distance races you have to though, because you don’t have the extra distance to make up time on. I started breathing a little easier by the time I crossed the field and hit the woods again. Then on the road section, I ran the trail in the grass to give my legs some rest, but I was still moving at a good clip. I grabbed water at the bottom of the Lone Wolf hill and headed up. I wasn’t moving really fast, but it was good enough to pass a guy on the hill. I made it to the top, then made the turn where it went up again, the again, the hill is very deceiving, the top is not where you expect it to be. Finally I hit the top of the hill, right next to the concrete building, I think it must have been a bomb shelter or something at one time. This is where the down hill starts, from here on out, I am running like an elk, well maybe a geriatric wounded elk with hip problems, but still I felt like an elk. I was jumping over rocks and roots, going over rolling hills, heading down to the road. I caught my heal on a rock once and almost went down, but was able to catch myself. I hit the final flat section of trail that would take me back out to the road, when I hear a bike come up on me. I wait for it to pass, keeping to the far right to give the rider some room, but the rider never passed. I say come around and she says ok, but then doesn’t pass, finally she passes and says, “Sorry, I’m not very good at this”. She should never be sorry, she is out there competing and not home on the couch, any effort is a good effort and I’m sure she did great. I continue to run, come out on the road, grab water and keep running trying to pick off individuals in front of me. I continue to pass people until I see no more. When there is no one left in front of me to pass I start picking points and sprint to each, it’s just a little game I play with my mind to keep me from slowing down. I hit the final parking lot and see Allan in the distance, I run across the finish line with a feeling of accomplishment. Then I see her, there she is Big Shark girl, with Big Shark guy and I know they beat us. Oh well, even though I wanted to beat them, I was so happy with my race that it didn’t really matter.
We stood at the finish line and waited for our friends to finish, Mike came in and he looked really strong, he was smiling so I knew he had a great race too. We saw a few others we knew finish, then I saw my friend Jeremy finish, he looked happy too. I waited to see Jake, Mike’s son, finish, it appeared he had a great day. I think overall everyone was really happy with the way the race went.
The second wave started finishing so we were watching for girls on co-ed teams and keeping a close eye on the clock. A girl came in and her time had to be really close to mine and it was. Her teammate’s time was close to Allan’s time also, so we weren’t sure if we had second place tied up or not. Well, we didn’t, we ended up third.
As we watched the second wave come in, two of our teammates from the Metro Tri Club finished and we had a good laugh when they told us about tumping the canoe on take off. They pulled the canoe too far into the water before belly flopping into it and took on some water. They didn’t end up completely turned over, but they had some extra drag during the paddle section from the extra water they were carrying. Jim and Gary were both pretty happy about the race though and could only smile as they told the story.
So we won a very cool headlamp which will come in handy during the adventure race season, it is a very nice prize. We had a cool day with very low humidity, and a great race for most everyone. The City of Ballwin does a great job with this race and Alpine shop donates some great prizes. This race is one of my favorite races of the season.