February 23, 2012

Bonk Hard Chill 2012

As you may know, Robin has been on a doctor mandated 6 weeks off due to a broken tailbone, this past weekend was the end of the 5th week. Because of this, Chuck had to get a new partner, which would be me, who wishes to stay anonymous, so to protect the innocent, I will be known as Lula for this post.

So this is how the adventure starts, I meet Chuck at the same park and ride lot that he always meets Robin at. As I load my gear, he says, where are your bike shoes, and I of course answer, why they are in my van back at home 45 miles in the wrong direction. No worries though, check-in is at a bike shop and I need new mountain bike shoes anyway, I will just buy a pair. As we head onto the highway, Chuck says “you have your paddle, right” and I say, why no, it’s back at home with my bike shoes. Now Lula never forgets anything, but today she has forgotten two important items. It’s just a good thing that the paddle is optional, if you don’t have one, you can use one of the crappy canoe company ones, so that is what I would have to do. So I sat there for a while and mentally ran through my gear, luckily I had not forgotten any other gear.

So we make it to the Ozark MO, and to the OZ bike shop to check in. When we go into the store we find out that they had been robbed just a few days earlier and they only had two pair of size 10 men’s bike shoes. Time to go to plan B, I bought a pair of used platform pedals for 5 bucks and Chuck and I tried to put them on, but were unsuccessful because my current pedals were on too tight. We took the bike into the shop where the mechanic finally was able to loosen the pedals up and get them swapped. That was a load off my mind. So we got checked in and then drooled over the rack of Swiftwick socks, they must not have been out when the robbers were there, because it was one of the few things left in the store.

After some dinner, it was time for the pre-race meeting. Gary the race director was throwing out prizes into the crowd of racers, when all of the sudden a water bottle was flying right towards me, just as it was about to drop in my lap a guy across the aisle from me jumps over and grabs it. Man, it was just a water bottle, but I think someone saw what happened, and just after that I caught a flying rubber chicken. Well the rubber chicken is the best thing you can catch because you get to trade it for a really nice prize, so I got a Kuat water bottle lock, a very cool prize. Next the maps were handed out and we found out that we had to plot 29 points, that’s a lot of points. We also were told that we had a bike drop, but needed to keep our helmets with us. Chuck and I took that to mean, we would be caving, and guess what for once we were right, I mean Chuck was right, this was my first time racing with Chuck, so I never guessed about this stuff before. You will hear more about that later.

So bright and early Saturday, we dropped our bikes at the bike drop and headed for the start, where we parked in a muddy field, we were pretty sure we would be pushing the adventure van out of the mud at the end of the race. I was just hoping I would have enough energy to do that, otherwise, we were sleeping in the van. We grabbed our gear and headed to the starting line, stopping first at the Johnny on the Spot, while standing in line, Chuck says “oh, I have to run back to the van” and he takes off, when he gets back, I ask, “hey what did you forget” he says “nothing important, just the map”. I could just see us at the start, the gun goes off and we are standing there looking at each other, not knowing where to go.

The first few legs were trekking, they were pretty long, but the orienteering was simple, I think Gary planned it that way just to spread the teams out. The terrain was beautiful, there were so many places where we were trekking though giant rock formations, it’s too bad we couldn’t take our time and look around more.

We had no problem finding any of the checkpoints, as we headed to the first canoe CP, we came upon Team Orange Lederhosen, we passed them just before the water and from there on, I think it became a race between ROCK Racing and Orange Lederhosen. We went back and forth all day long, discussing the finer points of life, like how thick bacon should be, what kind of priorities a girl should have if she wants to have an adventure racing boyfriend, oh and if farting during a race will draw or disgust potential girlfriends. It was all very important stuff.

As I tried to get my wet hands into my canoe gloves, it wasn’t going well, Chuck just watched me, wondering just how many teams would pass us before I finally got those gloves on. Of Course Orange Lederhosen passed us, and Chuck finally took charge and pulled my gloves over my hands for me. So into the water we went and we stayed dry, but that didn’t last for long, at least not for me, every paddle stroke Chuck splashed me with water, I had to put up my hood, just to keep my head dry. It’s a good thing there was a rescue boot in the area, because we had so much water in our canoe, I thought we might sink.

We paddled our way to the next CP where we found out that we would be doing some caving, it was in the Bridal Cave, the name right there scared us, there was no way Lula would be marrying anyone in that cave. So with our helmets and head lamps on, we headed into the cave. It was about a quarter mile back in some really small areas and as we went, my headlamp kept getting dimmer and dimmer, I knew I should have changed those batteries. I was navigating with the light of Chuck in front of me and another team behind me. It’s a good thing I am short or I might have smacked my head on one of those stalactite rocks, like Chuck did, good thing he had a Hardnutz helmet on to save his head.

We made it back out of the cave, grabbed a honey stinger and ate it on the run back to the canoe. We then headed to CP 10, which was back near where we originally put the canoe in, as we rolled up to the floating dock, Chuck could see an orange jeep in the parking lot, he just knew it had to belong to Orange Lederhosen. Emma, who is either, the girlfriend, wife or groupie of one of the Orange Lederhosen guys was there taking photos, so Chuck yells is that your jeep. Chuck can’t help himself when it comes to Jeeps, he is one of those Jeep guys. It didn’t belong to Orange Lederhosen, but to another volunteer who was on the dock, so Chuck yells, “man that’s a nice jeep”. About 30 minutes later we made it to the canoe take-out and had to carry the canoe over a wall and up a hill, I think that was the hardest part of the entire race, but what made it worse was after huffing and puffing and almost killing ourselves to carry it up to the parking lot, one guy sitting in the parking lot, walks over, picks up the canoe, puts it over his head and carries it to the trailer and throws it on top, show off.

We head out to CP12 when we get to it, there is a note that says it’s at the top of the stairs, they were stairs that climbed up the side of a long rock face, there were 316 steps with some long walkways to get to the top. It’s a good thing I was Chuck’s teammate and not Robin, this would have killed her tailbone.

Soon we were at the bike drop, I was ready to go in no time since I had platform pedals and didn’t have to change shoes, Chuck was taking a little longer to get his shoes on, so while I waited, I ate a turkey sandwich, I was so hungry, it was like having king crab legs. We took off down the road, which was a good choice, we cut off the road and crossed a field, where we ran straight into the CP. Next we had to ride through some tough mushy terrain and then bike whack to the CP, we were passing teams that took another direction to get to the first bike point and of course we ran smack into Orange Lederhosen again, we just couldn’t shake them all day. Once we got back out onto the gravel roads Chuck stops right in front of us and jumps off his bike yelling something that we couldn’t make out, then he grabs a hubcap laying on the ground and says, this is the hubcap like the one missing on my van. Orange Lederhosen said they had duct tape and could tape it to his pack, but he declined saying we would drive back and get it after the race. So he throws it in the field and Derrick says “hey put it against the tree where you can see it” and Chuck says “no way, someone else might get it”. I’m pretty sure no one was going to drive by and take that hub cap. Then as we rode further I saw a Red Solo cup, oh and I bet you can guess what happened, that stupid Red Solo cup song was now stuck in my head.

We continued through the bike CP’s riding gravel and hills, it was almost all hills, We ran into a few dogs, they didn’t really chase us, just barked and ran in front of us mostly, except for the three dogs laying on the chewed up truck seat that was sitting in the front yard of what I would have thought was a condemned trailer, but someone was actually living there, it was just east of GOA WAY rd. The dogs barked, but I’m guessing they had chased enough adventure races that by the time we got there, they were too tired to chase us.

We also came across a few horses and one in particular did not like bikes or maybe he just didn’t like me and Chuck, but he was just jumping around making all kinds of noise, I’m glad he was in a fence, all the other animals we passed weren’t. By the time we hit CP29, both Chuck and I were ready to have our butts off those bike seats. We had figured that we would be given another O section and then a bike to the finish, but once again, wrong. The O section led us to the finish on foot. I have never been so glad to hear that I didn’t have to get back on the bike.

We quickly plotted the points and chatted for a minute with Orange Lederhosen, they had missed one CP on the bike, I guess they were riding too fast to see it. We headed out to the next O section and found ourselves trekking across some burned terrain, it was very rocky and black from fire, and it reminded me of the terrain that the tributes were competing in, in the book Catching Fire. If you haven’t read the Hunger Games series you should, so much of it will remind you of adventure racing. I’m glad I had on Swiftwick socks, if I hadn’t my socks would have been full of rock dust, but with these socks when I take them off my feet are as clean as when I put them on.

We picked up the first CP without a problem and headed to the next, it was a reentrant and there were about six teams all looking in the same place, it took about 10 minutes to find it, but we did. This was the only CP we had any problems with at all. It was starting to get dark as we headed to the next CP, so we pulled out our headlamps and I changed my batteries, since they had just about died while we were in the cave.

Another team was near us and we were all watching the time and contemplating if we could pick up both CP 34 and 36, and still make it to the finish line in time. Even with my newly bright headlamp I was having a hard time seeing, that usually happens when I get really tired. I had really been conscious of eating all day, I usually forget to do that enough and then end up bonking, but that wasn’t the case in this race, in fact, I had eaten two turkey sandwiches, HS waffle, HS Rocket Chocolate, Kind bar, two peach cups, and two V8 fruit juices. I probably ate more calories than I burned, but still I was body tired, but at least not bonking. We chose to go after CP 34 and then head in, the CP was out on a spur and we had to climb over a very large downed tree that was completely rotted out in the middle. After getting the CP and heading to the finish, I tried to get over the tree, but ended up just rolling over it on my belly. Chuck looked back, I can’t imagine what he was thinking, but he said, “what are you doing” I said “trying to get over this tree and I’m stuck” instead of pulling me over, he just says, “don’t fall into the rotted middle of that, you don’t know what could be living in there”. Shoot, here I am in the dark, I’m dog tired, stuck on a tree and he has to tell me something may be living right under me. Well, I did roll off that tree pretty fast after he said that. As we made our way down a jeep road headed for the finish a team came up behind us and Chuck asked them if they thought there was still BBQ left at the finish line. They said “We hope so, that’s why we are trying to pass you, we want to get to the food before you do”

The team passed us and finished and we were just a few yards behind them, then we turned in our passport and had our photos taken, we had finished! Oh and the food, Chuck and I both had some BBQ, but it was the bottom of the bucket and Orange Lederhosen got the rest, we barely made it in time for the food and it was totally worth it. Emma was looking for Orange Lederhosen and asked if we saw where they went, we said nope, they just got their food and were gone. Emma says “You give them whiskey and they just disappear”, we are still laughing about that.

We look pretty spiffy in our new Team Cyclery jerseys, I mean I (Lula), look pretty spiffy wearing Robin’s new Team Cyclery jersey. I know, I look incredibly like Robin, we might be related somehow. And we didn’t go get the hubcap, because Chuck is trading in his adventure van for an Adventure Jeep. Which is a whole ‘nother story……

February 8, 2012

The Accidental Runner

People always ask me how I became a Triathlete or an Adventure Racer. When I think about it, it was just a natural progression from my first love, which is running. The funny thing is, my journey to becoming a runner was all just by circumstance.

I never set out to be a runner, I didn’t start running in grade school or even jr high, I didn’t start running until my sophomore year of high school. I grew up with 4 brothers and I was always playing, basketball, baseball, football, soccer and any other game that happened to be going on. Most often I was the only girl playing with a bunch of boys. When high school rolled around, my thought was to go out for basketball. I’m not tall, but I was pretty good at shooting and could move around people fast, I was actually pretty good at basketball. My uncle bought us a hoop for Christmas one year, we put it up on a tree in the backyard and played so much that all the grass was gone.

So school started and I was a freshman, I was ready to go out for the basketball team and was pretty sure I would make it. I mean come on, I was playing tackle basketball at my house with a bunch of boys way larger than me. We never played a game that I wasn’t on the ground 3 or 4 times.

Two weeks into my freshman year, before basketball season started, I was in a bad car accident. I crushed both pelvises, had a blood blister on my lung, had a head injury and nerve injuries. I spent a month in intensive care in a hospital that was known for its work with head injuries. I was out for a few days after the accident, I think the accident happened on a Monday and I woke up on Thursday in this hospital. The nurse told me I had been in an accident and that she would get my mom, then I was out again. I finally started waking up long enough to figure out what happened, but my head hurt so bad that they kept me pumped up with pain meds and I felt like I slept for a few weeks. As I got better, I started noticing the people around me. The guy in the next bed had been in a bad accident, he was the driver and the only one to survive. When he would wake up, he would start screaming because he realized 3 of his friends had died in the accident. When my room door was open I could see into a room across the hall from me, there was a guy whose head had been run over by a tractor tire and it had the indention of the tire in his head, he looked like he was dead. I kept wondering why I was in with these people, I was perfectly fine, or at least I thought so.

After two weeks I was moved to another room, it was still intensive care, but was less serious. After a month, I was in a normal room and started physical therapy, so I was soon walking with crutches. Due to the nerve damage, my shoulder was drooping, if you notice still today, I walk, run and ride crooked. I also had double vision, so I had to wear an eye patch, if I covered one eye, I would see in singular, but with both eyes everything was double, so I knocked stuff over and fell off steps, that lasted for about a year. I was released from the hospital in 6 or 8 weeks, I’m not exactly sure now, it was a long time ago, but when I was home, I still couldn’t go to school, so a tutor came in everyday to work with me on my school work. I finally went back to school, but by then most of the year was over and I missed basketball season.

I know, what you are thinking, that I’m just rambling on and on, you wish I would get to the point. Well this is the point, this is part of the circumstance that led me to become a runner, the spiral that started the long haul to triathlons and now adventure racing.

So I missed most of my first year of high school, but over the summer, I became stronger and stronger and could walk without crutches, even though my walk was crooked, at least I could walk. My Sophomore year started and basketball season rolled around. I had a job and worked after school one day a week, so I wanted to find out if that was going to be an issue. I went to the basketball coach’s office and told her about my job and asked “can I still play basketball if I miss a practice each week”. Her answer I will never forget “no, if you can’t be here every day, you can’t play, but I really doubt you could make the team anyway”. I was so mad, she had never seen me play before, and she already told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t good enough.

I walked out of her office, and went straight to the track coach’s classroom, he was there, so I asked the same question. His answer was, without even asking me if I was a runner first, “sure, I will give you the Monday workout and if you can find time to get it in, great, otherwise, you can just work harder the other days”. You know what, he didn’t know me, he didn’t know if I had any athletic ability, and he took me anyway.

Over the course of the next three years, my coach Mr Dean, whipped this non-runner into shape and made me a runner. He got me involved with a running club that he was a member of and I continued to run year round. I started going to road races with the club and met some great friends, many of whom I still workout with today. In my mom’s eyes, Mr Dean and his friends were saints carting me around to races, keeping me out of trouble. Oh little did she know what bad influences they were on me. Oh and the stupid pranks I played while with them, like one time pulling John’s shorts down to his knees in the middle of St Louis on the day of the St Pats day parade with virtually thousands of people around. It was really funny though. I became a pretty good runner, working out with these guys that were way faster than me, especially John and Harold.

Harold and John - Back In The Day!

Harold, Robin and John

High School ended, but my running career didn’t, I went on to run cross country and track and Southern Illinois University, where I had a scholarship to run. I also attribute the scholarship to Mr Dean, although he never told me, I found out that he contacted the coach there and that is how I got picked up to run. I was also the first female to ever run cross country for SIUE, my freshman year, I was the only female on the squad and I trained with the guy’s team. The next year the school had a full girls team.

So how did this get me to where I am today, that’s easy, after running about 6 marathons, most of them I trained with John, (that’s Mr Dean, he told me one day when I was about in my 3rd year of college, that it was time I quit calling him Mr Dean and started calling him John), I decided I wanted to do something bigger, so I started riding a bike and swimming, and entered my first triathlon, which led to mountain biking and off-road triathlons. I kept competing in these events, then entered some pure bike race events, but was still looking for something bigger.

In comes Chuck, Chuck and I worked together and he was a martial arts guy, but I spent so much time talking (imagine me talking that much) about trail running that he got sucked in, soon he was running then he bought a mountain bike and it wasn’t long until we decided to do an adventure race. The first two years we went to the races and were not very good, we just stood around after the races listening to all the good teams and getting tips on how to race better. By our third year of racing we started placing in our division and now we are in our fourth year of racing and this season holds hope for our best year yet.

So that is how I became a runner, by pure accident. So I guess you could say, I do what I do today all because of John. I’m not sure whether to thank him, or hate him for sucking me into this all encompassing addiction to racing that I now have.

One side note: I still run and bike with John, we discuss everything when we are training together, he gives my advice and his opinion even when it’s an opinion I don’t want to hear. He is one of my most trusted and respected friends, but I will never tell him that. See running gave me way more than just a college education and fit body, it gave me friends and lessons that will last a lifetime.

February 7, 2012

Swiftwick Review

I was just sitting at my desk thinking random thoughts, when I noticed that the guy next to me was wearing Swiftwick socks. Of course my first thought was where did he get those, the only people I know that wear Swiftwick all the time are my adventure racing friends.

So I blurted, are those Swiftwick you have on, and he told me that a friend of his got them at a race and they were the wrong size so he gave them to him. I went into a rant about Swiftwick and how I love the socks. How I have 3 pair and wear them every time they are clean. I have the Performance 4, 5 and 7. I’m not a fan of think socks but the Performance 4 and 5 socks I have are thicker than what I usually wear, and I have really grown to love them even though I told my teammate Chuck, “there is no way, I’m going to like these socks they are way too thick”. I got into the compression sock game a couple years ago, but I had to buy the socks that came to my knee to get compression, but now I love the shorter version of compression socks, when I wear them my feet never swell like they used to after long runs. These socks don’t slip around when I’m running through creeks and I have never once had a blister from wearing them. The Performance 7 socks I really like for the higher compression on my legs, I sometimes even wear them to bed the night after a long workout. Plus they were a special run for Bonk Hard, and are really cool looking with a BH on them.

And socks isn’t the only thing they make, I also have a great pair of arm warmers with all the same qualities of the socks.

When I write a review, I like to use the real world experience I have with the product, and my opinion of course, to talk about gear. My teammate Chuck is just the opposite, he will dig around and find all the technical reasons why he likes his gear.

Because that’s what matters! No one cares about all that touchy-feely stuff.

I have been a fan of Merino wool socks for several years. But the big-name brand I used to wear has problems. They are expensive and they wear out way too fast. The fibers get ‘packed’ and ball up. Also the fibers just plain fall out leaving you looking at daylight through a little bit of nylon mesh right where my heel rides, and on the bottom of my feet. On top of that, it always seem like they are made overseas. Oh sure they have a lifetime guarantee that clearly says *Normal wear and tear is not covered by the guarantee. What’s the point of a lifetime guarantee with exclusions like that!

Enter Swiftwick. I first heard about them at the 2010 National Championship race where all participants were given a pair. I was impressed because 1-they were free, and 2- they were merino wool. Maybe these would be the socks I have been searching for. I didn’t wear them during the race but was determined to check them out as soon as we got home

First thing I noticed was the Made in USA decal. Gotta like that. Check out this quote from their website: We decided to make all our products in the USA. Not some. Not most. All. Yeah!

Second was the materials, I already knew about the benefits of Merino wool. Soft feel, less stink, cool in summer, warm in winter, no blisters. It also has extraordinary wicking, you can run or ride in them all day even when wet. But Swiftwick takes it to a new level with 21 micron Merino wool in a 200 needle count, and a 3 inch minimum staple length.

The thing that was new to me was the compression. I was skeptical but tried them anyway….And was totally sold. I’m sure you’ve all read or heard about the benefits of compression on recovery and race performance. But here’s something I noticed on top of that. The compression of these socks holds so perfectly snug against your feet, that any relative motion between your foot and sock is non-existent. That means NO blisters. The same compression seals out trail debris, sand, dirt, and vegetation bits. And that means NO blisters. The Pursuit 4 socks that I prefer run up a little higher over the ankle where the Swiftwick double welt compression cuff never slips or slides down. I even think it helps prevent rolled ankles.

I’ve worn these socks for a year and ½ now and they are still in like new shape. But after experiencing the failure with the big-name brand socks I thought I’d at least look into the Swiftwick guarantee. Plain and simple:

Purchase a pair of Swiftwick socks and put us to the test. It's the best performance sock you have ever worn, or we invite you to mail the laundered socks and request a replacement pair of equal value.

We want you to be happy!

We will send a pair of black or white socks to you, even if you request a competitor's product (subject to availablility).

Nice to know, but I don’t think I’ll ever need it. These socks are awesome. That is exactly why Swiftwick socks are the preferred brand worn by ROCK Racing.

February 4, 2012

Freaky Friday

This time last year

Ok, let me tell you a story and you can decide if it is coincidence, fate or the actions of a higher power or maybe it was just a very freakish Friday.

This is how it all went down. I’m talking to a friend at work on Friday morning, explaining that the time off, not running or biking was not making a difference in how bad my tailbone hurt. Then I explained that just maybe I should run this weekend, just to see if my butt is getting any better. After some discussion and words of caution from my friend, I was still thinking, well it couldn’t hurt, I will just do a few easy miles on Saturday morning.

So I went back to doing my work, thinking of how great it would be, to be out on the trails again, even though I knew I would be going against doctor’s orders and it probably was going to be a bad idea. BUT…. I am just so sick of watching all my friends out on the trials having fun while I’m sitting around getting fat.

As I was sitting at my desk working, my phone rang, when I picked up, to my surprise it was… (I’m going to change the names to protect the innocent here) nurse Stephanie from doctor Morelli’s office. The conversation went like this, “Dr Morelli would like to speak with you, do you have a few minutes to speak to him”. I was confused, why would the doctor be calling me. So I said “sure, I have a couple minutes”, then Dr Morelli came on the line. This is how it went down.

Doc: “Hey, how are you feeling, how’s the tailbone feeling, is it hurting any less”.

Me: “ Well, I had one good day when it didn’t hurt much, but the rest of the days have been about the same”.

Doc: “What are you doing, are you working out”

Me: “Only swimming with no kicking, well except for those first couple days after I saw you last, it took a fews days to start the no workout plan”

Doc: “It’s going to take some time, stick to the plan”

Me: “It’s really hard to do this, but I will try”

Doc: “Ok, when do I see you next”

Me: “I have an appointment on February 27th and my six weeks will be up then too”

Doc: “Hang in there, it’s going to get better, see you in a few weeks”

That was the end of the call. Come on, doesn’t it seem just a little crazy to you. First, what kind of doctor calls to check on you, I have never had a doctor call me with anything, but bad news, never to check on me.

So it makes me think how did this happen.

1. The doctor doesn’t trust me to follow orders, which I really don’t blame him for, I mean I would never trust me, so he called to make sure I was doing what I was told.

2. It was just a crazy coincidence that he happened to call and check on me just 30 minutes after I had made up mind to sneak out and run. And I was really going to sneak to, there was no way I was telling my family what I was doing, I had just planned to get up early and go run, before they got out of bed on Saturday, then no one would be the wiser.

3. Some guy named God was sending me another message, kind of like when he sent me that last message, you know when I suddenly fell down the hill when I was out running and shouldn’t have been.

I’m not sure what the reason was for the doctor deciding to call at just the right moment, basically stopping me in my tracks or before I could make tracks that is. It was definitely a freaky Friday.

February 2, 2012

What is Adventure Racing?

Has anyone ever asked you, "What is adventure racing?"
I always struggle with an answer but usually get something out about taking 12 to 36 hours finding checkpoints hidden in the woods using a map and compass while you run, bike, or canoe.  The harder question that I never seem to successfully answer is "Why do you do it?".
This video I ran across today explains it better than I ever could.

WILD RACERS :: WHAT IS ADVENTURE RACING? from NothinButShorts International on Vimeo.