March 26, 2010

Cuivre River Trail Half Marathon – 2010

The Quivering Quads trail half marathon was a staple for Midwestern trail runners from 1994 to 2003. It was (and still is) the only race to use the trails at Cuivre River State Park. The race was discontinued in 2004 so the promoter could concentrate efforts on other activities. Luckily the race came back for the 2010 season, and it fell on an open weekend in the schedule. The race was put on by Fleet Feet. They are a local running store that is very active in the area racing scene.

There are not a lot of long trail runs in our area so when this one was advertised I registered right away. It turns out that early registration was a good idea, the race only had 400 openings and it quickly filled. Several teammates from ROCK Racing and the Metro Tri Club also got registered in time.

Robin and I pre-ran the whole course on 2/28, three weeks before race day. I was excited to find that this trail is a lot of fun to run and only about 25 minutes from my home. To get the race out to half marathon length , two trails and an out-n-back section were combined. The southern trail is Big Sugar Creek Trail and the northern loop is the Lone Spring Trail. Each trail has a big spring with water gushing out the side of a hill. I’m thinking I’ll be wading in there on summer-time training runs.

Several days of rain before the race limited the parking options and shuttle busses would have to transport all racers from distant lots to the start line. The opportunity for chaos was high, but Fleet Feet had it planned well, and no parking/shuttle issues came up. Another sign of their good planning was changing tents, gear storage tent, and a whole line of porta-potties.

The forecast for race start was rain and 38 degrees. The start was done in waves so the 400 racers wouldn’t be jammed together on the narrow and wet singletrack trails. Waves were 25 runners each and were sent out at 3 minute intervals. Wave number was determined by stating a previous road race time during registration.

Part of my pre-race plan was abandoned before race day. I had thought about using this race a long-slow training day for the Berryman Marathon, so when I registered I put in a slightly slower time to get one of the last waves. But as the race approached that competitive-drive feeling won out and I decided to run the race for the best time I could and I abandoned the ‘training day’ idea.

I followed another part of my pre-race plan and ran the first 1.8 mile out-n-back faster than my normal distance pace. My thinking was: I wanted to get to the single track ahead of the rest of my wave and maybe enjoy some open running instead of the pass/be-passed shuffle. The plan worked somewhat… I ran out ahead of the wave, but into the back of the next one… so I ended up in the shuffle anyway.

One of the best decisions I made that day was wearing my INOV-8 Roclite 305’s. The shoes performed perfectly. There were parts of the trail that could be described as treacherous. Narrow rocky ledges alongside creek drop-offs could be a serious fall. I was so sure of my footing in these shoes that I ran them without a second thought. There were over a dozen creek crossings with water in them. The shoes drained well after each one and didn’t leave me with that wet-heavy feeling. Another long run completed with no blisters. I love these shoes. I also wore the INOV-8 MistLite pants which are water resistant enough to keep all the mud splatter from soaking in and weighing down the pant legs.

The other good decision was sticking two Honey Stinger Ginsting gels in my pants pocket. I swallowed one at the crossover from Big Sugar Creek Trail to Lone Spring Trail and another about 40 minutes out from the finish. They gave me just the boost needed to hold onto the pace I was running, and they are the only gel palatable enough that I can down one anytime.

The trail was muddier than any other time I had seen it. It was muddier than any other race I’ve ever been in. Luckily I trained all winter in snow, mud, ice, rain, and freezing temps so I’m sure my legs never really noticed a difference. This trail played perfectly to my strengths, narrow rocky tech sections, steep hills, and all singletrack. I felt strong and fast. I had a great race, finishing in 2:24. 12 in AG and 161 OA. Starting near the back of a 400 racer field and moving up to 161 was a thrill. I’m sure I lost time in working my way around slower runners, but it sure is a morale boost to always be passing someone. Thinking back on it now, I don’t think I was passed at all. Cool.

Fleet Feet, please do this race again next year!

March 24, 2010

National Rankings Updated

Some early season success has resulted in ROCK Racing accumulating enough points to move into 4th place for the 2010 Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing National Championship series.

March 17, 2010

The Bonk Hard Chill 2010

By: Robin Rongey

The 2010 Bonk Hard Chill started out with a bang that came right from the weatherman, rain was forecast for all day on race day. With this in mind we packed our rain gear just in case.

My teammate Chuck and I entered the race thinking it was going to be held on February 6th, but found out a month before the race that there was an issue of scheduling with the Lake of the Ozarks State Park, so the race would be moved to March 13th. We were happy that meant the likelihood of it being 17 degrees outside was somewhat slim.

So Friday, I’m out the door and leaving to meet Chuck at the commuter lot in Missouri, 10 minutes from my house I realize I didn’t pack my bike jersey. I had to have a bike jersey because it gives me extra pockets to carry food and chapstick in. I turn around and drive home to get it, calling Chuck to tell him I’m running late. Oh but here is the funny part. I tell him I’m running late and will be on the rode in 15 minutes which means I will be about 15 minutes later then planned, making it 2:15 instead of 2:00, but instead I say so I will be there at 4:15, where that came from I don’t know. So I get to the lot and no Chuck, I call him and he says "you said 4:15 which I thought was strange because you said you were leaving in 15 minutes, which wouldn’t be 4:15 since it’s only a 40 minute drive." So this is how our adventure starts. Chuck loads up and comes to meet me; we get all his gear in my van and are on the road by 3 pm.

We make it to Osage Beach and find the church that race check-in is being held at, unload all our gear and when we get to the door we see a sign stating no gear check at check-in, so we unload the gear into the van and head in the church to check-in. It was pretty easy fill out a couple forms saying we won’t sue if we get hurt and who should pick up our bodies if needed. Then they gave us a great Bonk Hard Chill hoodie and we were on our way to find the hotel. When we got to the hotel we knew instantly that we were at the right place, since just about every vehicle in the parking lot had a bike rack on it. The clerk in the hotel was pretty nice and told some elderly people that we were bikers, but the kind that pedaled and if they got lost we could probably help them get back on track. He had a lot of faith in us. We threw our stuff in the rooms and headed across the street for some pizza, then went back to the church for the pre-race meeting. We talked to many teams one being team Alpine Shop, and got everyone’s thoughts on how tough or long the course was going to be. The meeting started and we found out some information about the course, but for anyone who has adventured raced, you know nothing really until you are out there on the course. We were given maps and directions to the bike drop and race headquarters. We made the 30 minute drive to the bike drop, then went back to the hotel and plotted our maps. Finally we made it to bed by 11:00 pm.

Race morning we planned to leave at 5:15 am, but when I got up and was doing one last gear check I couldn’t find my head lamp, at 5 am I’m banging on Chucks door telling him I have a problem and we need to leave now to hit the Wal-Mart that we hoped was open to buy a headlamp. Chuck scrambles to get his stuff while I run back to my room for mine, I decide to do one last check in my pack and I find my headlamp hidden under some trail mix bars, what a relief that was. I run out to the hall and Chuck is closing his door, since we were both ready, we just left for the race, it was a good thing too, it took a little longer then we thought to get to race headquarters. I was having a hard time getting any food down, so I was working hard trying to eat something. I think Chuck was getting his food down ok, he was eating a turkey sandwich while I was trying to eat some little white donuts, breakfast of champions you know. We get our gear out of the van and head to headquarters, but are told to go down the road and wait at the gate, so we did. Buses were coming to haul us to the start, they were 30 minutes late so we stood in the rain, worrying that we forgot something. All the racers were taking turns hiding behind trees doing their business, you know in the adventure racing world the woods are a porta john. The buses arrived and we all got on and warmed up, it was about a 30 minute ride to the start and on the way we saw the first checkpoint off the side of the road. We thought the first CP would be a piece of cake, never assume anything in adventure racing.

Off the buses, a quick run to the bathroom and then the national anthem, but Jason forgot the iPod, so we all had to sing it loud and proud and we did, not well, but we did. A quick prayer for our safety and a good time and we were off. The first checkpoint was a bit over a mile away, so it was a dead run with heavy packs. I am the keeper of the passport so I have to get to the control and punch the passport, the only problem was I had to jump across a ditch of water to get to it, so much for that piece of cake CP. This is where my feet first got wet, and never dried again. So another dead run back down the road past the start to CP2 and into the river, we made a perfect river entrance and headed down river in our canoes.

Although it was in the 40s and 50s most of the day, it was also raining most of the day. This was the perfect race for trying out our rain gear. I found out really quickly that it keeps the rain out, but keeps most of the sweat in. As long as we kept moving, it was fine, but when we stopped I felt like a wet noodle, or at least what I thought a wet noodle felt like.

We paddled for almost 2 hours and even passed about 6 canoes, and we are the worst paddlers around, so that was good for us. The canoe was 11 miles with no checkpoints until the end, so we hit the beach and punched CP3 before getting on our bikes. We rode off while eating sandwiches and started hitting hill after hill and dog after dog. Oh, we didn’t hit the dogs, we rode past them like screaming little girls (Chuck Edit: Only one of us was screaming like a little girl, and it wasn’t me!) trying to get away from them. We got CP after CP, hitting each one right on queue. Then we hit the gas station, all races had a $1.50 credit at the station and we both selected a slice of pizza for our money. It was so good, or at least we thought so, but when you’re that hungry and wet, anything tastes good, so I really can’t vouch for how good it is any other day. As we were getting on our bikes to head out, we noticed on of the racers lighting up a cigarette. We just started laughing, we couldn’t believe it. We headed down a road and seemed to be in the middle of nothing and there is a big building with a tank out front, so we stopped to take a picture, but as soon as we took the picture, the camera died, so we couldn’t take a picture of the gentlemen’s club that was next to the tank. There must have been a lot of testosterone in that neck of the woods.

Again, we picked up CP after CP then hit the woods for some single track, but first a gear check and some Oreo cookies. All the volunteers at the manned checkpoints were so friendly, it was great and at this checkpoint the volunteers happened to be one of my competitors in most races and her husband. Her and I battled it out in a couple races during the 2009 season, her beating me at Burnin at the Bluff and me beating her at the Berryman Duathlon. Funny thing is she cheered us on and made sure we were ok, if it had been me working that checkpoint, I might have flattened her tire. Not really, but I might have thought about it. The single track was muddy and we plowed through, some areas were just too tough to ride, so we had to get off the bikes and push them, but it wasn’t just us, no one around us was able to make it through. At one point we were going down a steep, muddy, rooty trail and my front tire sank into the mud, I was just about to go over the handlebars when I got a foot down on the ground, but to do it I had to slam my pedal into my shin, that hurt for a few hours. We made it out of the woods and I continued to follow Chuck leading us easily to all the CPs. Finally we hit CP 13 which was a mess hall of some type, we dropped our bikes headed into the building to applause by all who were in the room, we got our passport stamped and new clue sheets with 14 new checkpoints to plot. As we found a table, in the door comes team Alpine Shop they are done with the trek and heading towards the finish, they are super fast, but were in second place, they are very gracious and say that team Bushwacker was on their game and they didn’t know if they could catch them, well in the end they didn’t, but we could see how hard they were trying. We sat down and plotted checkpoints, ate some cookies and headed out for about 10 miles of trekking. The trekking section was mostly woods and bush whacking. Not a lot of places we could get a good run going. Lots of giant hills with loose rock, some barbed wire, which I always seem to find, and lots of bushes that seemed to smack me in the face and we can’t forget the mud and lots of it. I chased Chuck most of the way, I have a hard time keeping up in the woods. I hate to say it, but I’m not as strong as Chuck, so I am slower when it comes to sections that take more strength than endurance. We hit CP 14 without a hitch, but on CP 15 we stopped a hill too soon and wasted some time roaming around. We decided to go to the next CP and try to back track, but as soon as we got almost there Chuck realized what happened so we were at the CP we needed. From there we went from CP to CP with another team, of two guys who seemed to be on the same course as us. One of the guys was huge for an adventure racer and he was strong as an ox, his teammate would point the way and he was off, finding one point after the next. We just kept running into them for about 2 hours. Then they disappeared, we finished the trek, and made it back to the road to head for our bikes then we see the two guys we had been with for most of the trek coming out on their bikes, they are about 10 minute ahead of us.

It’s getting dark and we are tired and we know all we have left is to get to the bikes and make it back to the finish line. We also know that we have to be to our bikes by 7 pm or we won’t be allowed to go on. A look at our watches and it is almost 6 pm. We decide we can walk the half mile back, but after about 100 yards we feel guilty and start running. We get back and see that there are still quite a few bikes at the CP, so we are thinking we might be doing pretty well based on the number of bikes still at the CP. We run in the building and in get our passport stamped then hop on our bikes and are off to the finish. We ride hill after hill, we start seeing cars carrying bikes passing by us. We are not sure if this is good or bad, it either means that everyone has finished and are leaving or many people skipped CPs and went directly to the end. We have our headlamps and bike lights turned on, but it is still pretty dark, we turn a corner and see the finish line all lit up in the distance, we pedal in and stop our watches. We are welcomed by an air horn and some cow bells, lots of yelling and congratulations. A very nice lady took our pictures under the finish line and got our email address so she could send them too us. It was a great finish, we got all the checkpoints and finished under 12 hour. 11 hours and 29 minutes to be exact. Race volunteers brought us beer labeled with a Kuat racks label and made by the Springfield brewing company, the same company that sponsors the Berryman Epic mountain bike race. We dropped our bikes and went into a mess hall and ate hot baked potatoes, these are staples at adventure races. I ate so much my belly hurt. We checked the standings and found we were 4th in the 2 person co-ed division and 17th overall. We were very happy with our place and even happier because we were under 12 hours with all the checkpoints. Only 21 teams, just about half found all the checkpoints.

So we had big plans to go eat Mexican after the race then hit Cold Stone for ice cream. Well….. We went back to the hotel, and hit the showers, I just stood there under the hot water for about 20 minutes, then took a Tylenol pm, and called home. I almost fell asleep while talking to my spouse, so I told him I would call on my way home in the morning. Unfortunately, I needed to be home early so Chuck was at my mercy to get up early and get going. To top it off the time changed that night and we lost an hour of sleep. So at 6 am the next morning, which was really 5. I called Chuck’s room and said lets get out of here. We were packed and on the road in 15 minutes. We stopped at the Osage Beach Denny’s where we had race coupons that got us a free breakfast. My eyes were much larger then my stomach and I ordered the grand slam with 4 pancakes, well it goes to say I didn’t eat it all. Chuck devoured his grand slam and laughed at me for not being part of the clean plate club. We headed out the door and back on the road, I drove like a bat out of hell and we made it back to Chuck’s truck in 2. 5 hours. We unloaded his muddy gear said our goodbyes, and great race quotes then were off to our respective homes.

I got home and was beat, but had way too much to do to have any down time, so I put on my Recovery Socks, they felt so good, and helped me get though this busy post-race day. It was all worth it, another great race and more great lessons learned. One day we will be GREAT, it’s just going to take some more practice.

March 10, 2010

AdventureMax 2010

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