So this weekend, I participated in my first adventure race (Adventure Xstream Adventure Race Series, Breckenridge event). Well, first real race of any sort since field day in 5th and 6th grades (kegstands notwithstanding).
Actually, I wasn’t even supposed to be part of the team. About two weeks ago, I was tapped by our captain Julie Kosakowski as a backup to replace Jay, who was out of commission due to an ill-timed LASIK operation. Fine, I’ll do it… who needs to train?
Then, last week, Meg tore ligaments in her knee. So we went from four to three. I asked around to see who else wanted to do it, and my buddy Mike Brown was totally in. That was Wednesday. On Thursday, we get an email from Dave saying that he was out due to a fever. Huh. So we scrambled around, and my other buddy, John Anderson was game. So in the space of 1.5 weeks, I went from not even being part of the team to stacking it with my buddies… So our team looked like this:
- captain Julie -> still captain Julie, of Team Rock Star
- Jay -> Alex “Beijing Bullet” Chiang
- Meg -> Mike “Touchdown” Brown
- Dave -> John “Big Sexy” Anderson
Awesome. None of us had trained at all, let alone training together to build a sense of camraderie or esprit de corps (except for a single day last Saturday when Julie and I went out for an abortive mountain bike / trail running “training session” that ended in cramps and exhaustion).
Anyhow, we drove up to my condo in Silverthorne on Saturday where we met up with another Ft. Collins foursome, with whom we were staying (Ed, Tom, Matt, and JJ = Team MJ & ET). There was a free Adventure Racing 101 clinic that night, so we all went to check it out. Amusing and interesting, but not super pertinent to our actual race on Sunday; it was more of a general talk on how to prepare for such things assuming one was diligent. Which Team Rock Star definitely was not. Looking around at the other AR n00bs and sizing them up, I didn’t see any other teams that looked super intimidating (except for the team of 4 women who all had on giant Paris Hilton sunglasses bigger than the 13″ RamBone and ended up wearing matching hot pink jerseys on Sunday). Still, appearances can be deceiving, and seeing as how Team Rock Star was just a last-minute pickup team, my expectations were decidedly low. Finishing the race without puking was my major concern.
A bit of team bonding over dinner at Pug Ryan’s (where Team Rock Star chose to protein-load on gigundo 1/2 lb. pub burgers with bacon and bbq sauce, while Team MJ & ET went with the more traditional pasta meal), and then watching the last half of Lethal Weapon before passing out, Saturday came to a close…
… and Sunday came way too early, waking up at 7 am. After shoving down a big brekky meal and watching part of Le Tour, we were off to Breckenridge for race checkin. After doing some last minute bike maintenance in the parking lot, we headed down to the staging area to setup our stuff.
The exact format of the race was still unknown, but we knew in general that there would be a lake paddling section, a mountain biking section, and a trail running section. For each section there were a number of checkpoints (say 3 for paddling, and 10 or 11 each for both biking and running). The race officials handed out the first map at 10 am, which showed the paddling and biking checkpoints. After completing the biking section, we would then receive the map with the trail running checkpoints.
The interesting thing was that although the non-kayak checkpoints were all on various trails, there was no mandated order to visiting each checkpoint. So each team got the freedom to figure out what order to visit each checkpoint. Moreover, the trails themselves were not marked with the race course, so we had to figure out where and when to turn at each trail junction or landmark. (For the CS nerds out there, we basically reenacted the travelling salesman problem in real life.) Also, it turns out that except for the paddling part, teams didn’t have to visit each checkpoint. You could have opted to skip a checkpoint or two, but at the cost of taking on a 15 minute time penalty for each skipped checkpoint. So all in all, it wasn’t just a straightforward race.
Anyhow, the first portion of the race was a Run/Paddle/Run, where we had to run from the staging area down to the dock, carrying our PFDs (ie, life jackets), paddles, and any food or water that we might want to have. Although it was only 1K from the staging area to the dock, doing that run first thing in the morning with cold muscles and weighed down with crap was agonizing. We decided that Big Sexy and Touchdown would be in one kayak (which was a 2-man duckie, or inflatable kayak), and Julie and I were to be in the 2nd kayak, since we were closer in weight distribution.
Once Sexy and Brown hit the water, they were doing really well, and just paddled away since they knew what they were doing. In contrast, Julie and myself had a ton of frustration, never having paddled before, and our duckie just seemed to zig-zag around and spin in circles. Although all teammates were supposed to stay within 100 yards of each other, there was no way that was happening on this leg of the race. Luckily for us, John and Mike were able to paddle to the checkpoints way ahead of our boat, and then we would turn around once they passed us, so we probably saved ourselves maybe a few hundred yards of paddling. However, we more than made up for that due to our crazy zig-zagging all around the Dillon reservoir. Julie and I finally got in the groove towards the end and were able to make our boat go in the direction we wanted it to with a minimum of distraction, but thank the gods, that portion of the race was finally over.
Running back to the staging area was hard, as the cold lake water made my already cold leg muscles even colder, but a thoughtful Brown grabbed my paddle (take help, give help) and we made it back without problems.
Next was the mountain biking part of the race. We quickly put on our biking shoes and helmets and we were off looking for the trailhead that we wanted. We’d decided beforehand to ride the course in an anti-clockwise fashion, but had some trouble finding the first trailhead. Once we found it though, it was fine. Biking was the portion of the race where I could actually contribute, and they gave me the little “passport” which we used to indicate the fact that we’d visited the checkpoints.
(quick side note, each checkpoint had a little punch thingy, and the pattern of the punch was different for each CP. Upon reaching a CP, you would take the punch and mark the numbered box on the passport that corresponded to that CP. Once all the boxes were marked, you were done with the stage and could move on to the next stage).
Anyhow, Brown navigated for us, and I got to ride ahead and look for the CP (which was sometimes hidden behind a tree or a boulder), while the rest of the team caught up, and eventually passed. I would then try to ride back up to the team and be told where to go for the next CP. The trails weren’t very technical other than a few rocks, and I was able to ride all sections cleanly, which felt pretty good. Soon enough, the mtb’ing section was over, and it was on to the leg that I dreaded, the trail running section.
Back at the staging area, we changed into running shoes, and I noted with some satisfaction that most of the bikes were gone (ie, still out on the trail). No time to tarry, though, and soon we were off. As we got down the first trail, we saw the other 4-person co-ed team that was dogging us for the entire bike ride, as they were headed back to the staging area to change, probably 5 minutes behind us.
Finding the first trekking CP was an exercise in frustration, but eventually Sexy and Brown found it. By this point, the other co-ed team (Team Three Muskie and a Minnow) was in the same vicinity looking for it, but disappeared after about 5 minutes. It was disheartening to think that we had blown a 5 minute lead into a 5 minute loss, but no matter, we carried on. At this point, I was just trying to survive, getting weird cramps in my elbows and calf, and having to drop a giant deuce to boot. Brown and John took over, and they were masterful at getting us to the CPs, while Julie and I lagged behind, trying to conserve energy.
At one point, we chatted up two friendly guys from the GoLite team who had finished the 24 hr. race the day before and were out filming the sprint race. They seemed pretty impressed that it was our first race, and they gave us a nice navigation tip (although it was a general hint, and didn’t specifically help us find the next CP). After mindlessly (on my part) stomping through the woods for what seemed like eternity, we finally got the last CP and then made a sprint for the finish line.
Imagine our surprise when we heard we were 1st place in the 4-person co-ed division! We were totally psyched, as all our expectations were completely blown away. What’s more is that it turns out that 4-person coed is also known as the “elite division” since that’s the format of all the big adventure races (like Eco-challenge and PrimalQuest), and thus we actually won some money! Our team got $300, which exactly covered our race entry fee, so our $75 “free” t-shirts actually became free. Sweet.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing and watching the other teams come across the finish line. We even ended up beating our erstwhile roommates, Team MJ & ET by about 5 minutes, which was supremely satisfying, considering they were 4 dudes with more experience than us. Of course, it was a friendly competition, so no bad blood there. They ended up taking 3rd place in the 4-person same-sex division.
Team Three Muskie and a Minnow ended up coming in about 20 minutes after us, and it turns out they never even found the first CP, giving up after about 5 minutes. They even went back at the end to go look for it, but to no avail.
All in all, a good time had by all. Today, Monday, everything is sore, and I have no energy, but it was worth it.
Check out all the pics here: