Saturday, April 1, 2006

Sado-masochism 101

Regular readers will know that my friend Eric conned me into signing up for an adventure racing course. Well, the course weekend finally arrived last Friday. As per usual I felt woefully under prepared in terms of both fitness and gear. I was really stressed because I had broken part of the rear suspension on my bike the weekend before on a training ride, and Steve at the shop had jury-rigged a new screw for me to hold things together at the last moment. Last thing I wanted was my bike collapsing out from underneath me at 0200 AM, 20 miles away from anything.

I sprinted home on Friday night, grabbed my bike from the shop and headed home for my last real meal. We were expected at the campground at 20:00 to pick up our course info, and find out what we were going to be doing for the next 36 hours.

As Mike, the course director, emphasized many times: this was not a race, it was a training course. I think Eric and I were the only folks without an actual race we were training for. Most of the other teams seemed to be entered in Primal Quest which sounds like it could be a lot of fun if I had a spare couple of thousand dollars I wanted to blow on gear and entry fees. As it was supposed to be a learning experience, we spent a lot of time talking about strategies for racing, and what type of gear to bring. Adventure racing not only requires a lot of fitness, but it requires a lot of strategy as what to carry on any given leg of the race, and more importantly plotting out the most efficient route to run the course. It would have been nice if we could have discussed gear a week or two before, as I found a whole bunch of things that I would have changed.

Eric and I were joined up with another team to make a team of five, but ended up doing most of the plotting on our own, and then comparing what we had done with the other three folks. We took off from the campground at about 2400 and headed for home. Eric and I spent about another 30 minutes plotting courses on the map, and then Eric headed home for some sleep. I stayed up playing with maps and gear for another 1.5 hours, and finally headed to bed around 0200.

The alarm rang 4 short hours later and I had a final shower before heading out for the course in the pouring rain. I got to the course at 0700 and started getting gear ready for "racing". Not only do you have to have the required gear, but you need to think carefully about food, water and lighting systems. When racing I tend to burn about 400-600 Calories an hour. Multiply that by 24, and you are looking at burning about 9600-13400 Calories (or about 3 pounds). If you aren't constantly replenishing your calories when racing you are pretty much guaranteed to run out of energy affectionately known as "bonking". Everybody has their own strategy when it comes to race food, and I've modified mine every time I've been out. The staples for me though are Cytomax to drink, and peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches on cinnamon raison bagels. I also enjoy having a couple of Clif shots and Clif bars, although I think I will be cutting back on them in the future after listening to some of the advice from some of the more experienced racers.

Since it was a course and not an actual race, we dawdled around camp for a while waiting hoping that the rain would stop, or at least let up a bit. The idea for the how the course worked was that all 3 "teams" would go off separately and run the same course. Each team would be accompanied by an experienced racer who would help them out and give advice if they got bogged down. Our team was to start off with Jackie who has been racing for about 7 years, and down several big races.

Finally at about 0830 we loaded up all of our gear and drove from the campground down to the starting line at Dinosaur Point Park. The rain had mostly stopped by then, but the trails were soaked. We hopped on our bikes and started biking. Here's the Google Earth plot of the route. Sadly I didn't get to do all of this route because about 1/3 of the way in my a link on my bike chain blew out, and I couldn't seem to get a solid replacement in. Eventually I told everyone to continue on without me, and managed to jury rig a chain to let me get back to the starting line. The support teams there found another chain for me, and by the time the rest of the folks got back, I was good to go.

Next event after the first mountain bike was kayaking out on the San Luis reservoir. The big problem was that a huge wind had blown up and it probably would've taken us the rest of the 24 hours just to finish the kayaking. The course director Mike decided to edit some of our checkpoints on the fly making the kayak course a little shorter. Eric and I hopped in our boat and after a few adjustments to the seating got paddling in a decent rhythm.

The boats that they supply for these races are inflatable kayaks. As far as inflatables go, the ones they supply are really good ones, but in general an inflatable kayak is slow and painful, especially compared to a nice fiberglass/plastic boat. This plot makes it look like we just carried the boats everywhere, but this time of year the water is much higher than when the satellite pictures were taken. You can still see from the plots where we ended up having to do portages. Even hidden in the valleys here, the wind was incredible strong, and made it very difficult to paddle.

After the kayaking was finished, we did a little bit of team rearranging. A couple of people on some of the other teams had dropped out due to injury/fitness attrition, so our new team ended up being Eric, John (a lawyer who is doing Primal Quest as his 40th birthday present to himself), myself and our "advisor" Rick. Rick is a member of Silly Rabbits, who are one of the top adventure racing teams in North America, not to mention being an all-round nice guy.

We took off for the hike about 1600. Here's the route we ended up taking.The hike started at the dock and went up into the hills on the other side of the highway in an area known as Cottonwood Creek wildlife area. The first major issue facing us was getting across highway 152 to our first checkpoint from the dock. As it turns out there is a culvert that cuts right underneath the highway. Thanks to some good navigating, and Eric's sharp eyes, we managed to beat all the other teams to the culvert.

Mike had told us the culvert was nice and dry, but that was before we had gotten 48 hrs of rain. We slogged our way through the culvert (which was about 100 meters or so) without too many issues and ended up at the far side relatively dry. Unfortunately at the far side of the culvert there was a concrete ramp for the water to flow down, and no way for us to get out of there short of walking up the ramp. The ramp had about an inch of fast flowing water coming down it, and was covered with extremely slippery moss. We slowly made our way up the 10 meter ramp, wiping the moss off in front of us as we went. Both Rick and John ended up slipping and falling back into the culvert. Through a combination of skill and luck (more of the latter) I managed to get to the top, and could reach back and help everyone else up to the top. Later talking to everyone else they said that the culvert hadn't been much of a problem at all, as there had been a nice clear trail on one side with no moss on it. You are all very welcome :)

Once we got everyone out of the culvert we started hiking to the next checkpoint where we knew we were going to meet up with our support crews. We made it there just after dark and happily gobbled down some of the pizza that they had brought out there. We all grabbed our lights and headed off into the hills looking for the next checkpoint. Our team started way out in front, but since the hills up there were pretty clear, we ended up trail breaking for the rest of the teams as they could easily follow our lights. I was navigating for the most part, and ran into a really interesting problem where every altimeter on our team suddenly dropped by about 100 ft. This caused a lot of problems as I could no longer justify our location on the map with what our altimeters were reading, but eventually we got it figured out.

After a couple more checkpoints, the teams had pretty much reassembled and we actually ended up cutting out about half the original checkpoints. By this time it was about 0100 Sunday morning, and we still had a lot of mountain biking ahead of us. We headed back down to the parking lot, hopped in our vehicles and headed for the Bell Station Entrance of Henry Coe park. Ironically Eric and I got slightly lost trying to find the Bell Station entrance, which is funny only in that Eric and I probably know that area better than anyone else.

By this time it was about 0200, and out of the original 15 or so racers, only 7 of us were interested in continuing, and only two of us (Eric and I) wanted to actually try and hit some of the checkpoints along the way. The other 5 folks were just interested in getting back to the starting line in a direct route under the own power instead of riding back in the cars.

So Eric, Rick and I hopped on our bikes and headed up Kaiser Aetna road to the first of the check points. Click here for our route in Coe. To make a long story short we only ended up getting to about two of the checkpoints before deciding that we'd had enough. This wasn't a race after was a training course. After a few mishaps such as losing the trail, finding the steepest trail in Coe that I have ever seen, and taking a "short cut" that ended up to have about 40 fallen trees down on it, we made it back to the finish line at about 0800 Sunday morning. We actually ended up arriving just 20 minutes after the team who had done the "direct route" so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, considering we covered significantly more territory.

The final thing I learned about 24 hours races is that I shouldn't drive myself home from one. I just about drove off the road about 4 times as my mind drifted off towards a sleepy land. Interestingly I really hadn't noticed the lack of sleep at all while on the course. When I got home I actually fell asleep while telling Jen about the course and after a 4 hour power nap, got up and started cleaning all my mud covered gear.

Thanks to Mike and Jackie for the great course, and the support crew for the bike repair, pizza, and the club sandwich that we got at 0200 at the Bell Station entrance. Big kudos to Rick for putting up with Eric and I wanting to go further than anyone else, and Eric for doing so well on his first "extreme" event. Also thanks to Eric for putting together the Google Earth tracks based on our maps.<

Bike 122.41km
Bike 251.63km


Mary said...

Wow! I can't even imagine...

Brennan said...

that seems really cool! I'm doing a race like thing as well this summer with the OTC called alpine challenge, where we're meant to do 40km or something at 4000ft in the Bavarian Alps. I don't know too much about it as you can see...but when I do find out more I'll probably end up giving you a ring for advice, especially on trail snacks...oh and how many lighters and matches and pyrotechnics I should bring...;) hehehe

Dave said...

This Alpine Challenge? I thought you were going to be in BC about that time :)

Eric said...

You did an excellent job of summarizing the event. I particularly enjoyed the "steepest trail in Coe." Just a couple of notes to add:

During the mountain bike ride through Coe, Rick mentioned his feet were "like blocks of ice.” Dave and I agreed. Our feet were wet from the heavy flow stream crossings, and the air temperatures down in the valleys were below freezing.

It is quite an amazing site to watch 15 hikers descending into a pitch black canyon at 1:00am, with only the glow of their head lamps to see them marching down. This was when I first asked myself what I was doing with these lunatics.

After Dave's failed attempt to fix his chain with the chain tool, I wondered why this useless tool ever existed, and why I had carried the extra baggage for so long.

I also will never drive myself home from a 24 hour race. This is VERY DANGEROUS!

I will never eat a Cliff Bar ever again. My diet will weigh heavily on Tums and Drinkable Yogurts. The heart burn was a terrible feeling.

My poison oak reaction wasn't too bad. Long pants and shirt was a big help.

Thank you Fast Eddy, for letting me borrow your NiteRider Flame Thrower (light). It really helps to navigate when you can point the light at a neighboring mountain across the valley, and see its outline.

My biggest lessons learned.
1) Be much more prepared for the Heart Burn attack.
2) Wear wool socks for the night ride. (like Dave did)
3) Bring Peanut Butter and Jelly Cinnamon Raison Bagels. Dave, those things were sooo tasty.
4) Be "Dead Nuts" on the compass heading, when traveling cross country. This is hard to do at night, and when you have thick bushes of poison oak to contend with.
5) Never drive yourself home from the race.
6) Be in better shape when racing with Dave.