Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Adventure XStream 24 Hour Buena Vista Adventure Race - May 9 and 10, 2008

Located in Buena Vista, Colorado, this race entailed trail running, white water kayaking, mountain biking and a ropes section. The race was limited to 24 hours (i.e., your team was DNF if it took longer than 24 hours). I raced on a four-person team; three guys (Lee, David and Derec) and me. Four-person teams made up of three males and one female are the standard setup for adventure racing.

Our primary goal was a top finish, somewhere in the top 5 teams. Since there were three major pro teams, placing 4th or 5th would be like placing 1st or 2nd in the non-pro category. This was my first race with a new team (Team Git Some!). My personal goal was to not let them down. I also wanted to solidify my place on this team as the primary female member of this team. In addition, I’ve raced with some other adventure racing teams who took things so seriously and didn’t have any fun. With this race and this new team, I wanted to have fun (as much fun as a girl can have while exerting herself hard for almost 24 hours, much of the time cold and wet).

Adventure races require teams to find Check Points (CPs) located out in the wilderness. A few hours before the race starts, each team is given a map of the area they will travel over and a list of the CPs with their UTM coordinates (kind of like the latitude and longitude). Teams must plot the CPs in the correct locations on the map and then go find them. In this case, we were only given some of the CPs and would be given another set of CPs 10 minutes before the start of the race.

The Run - Our race started out at midnight on Saturday May 9th (essentially really late Friday night) with a running section for CP1 through CP5. We could obtain these particular CPs in any order, finishing with CP5. We could also elect to skip any CP and take a 2-hour penalty per missed CP. After we’d plotted the additional CPs, we took off up a steep rocky single track to a gravel road that trended uphill. To keep out team moving as fast as possible, the guys alternated towing me. This allowed me to run just a tad faster than I could without the tow but not wear myself out too much. We found CP1 pretty easily after an hour or so of running and took off toward CP3, which was located most the way up a steep ridge called Limestone Ridge. We ran on a mix of trails and gravel roads until we got to the bottom of the steep ridge. Then we shot a bearing and started bushwacking up. Our pace slowed as we practically scrambled up and over rock outcroppings. Then it started snowing. Hard. We could barely see, which made it tough to look for the CP when we got close. Nevertheless, once we got up to the general area we thought the CP was located, we fanned out and found it in short order.

Our next objective was Transition Area 2. The snow was flying everywhere, limiting visibility and resulting in a navigational error coming down off Limestone ridge, which cost us 30 to 60 minutes of time. This was our first time as a team to deal with a “problem” and we shook it off, refocusing on getting back on track, but the error would cost us. We got ourselves back to a location we were confident about and arrived at TA2 cold and tired. We were greeted by happy volunteers with a roaring fire and hot chocolate, plus a porta-potty! At something like 5:00 am, these simple comforts were heaven on earth. At TA2 we were given another map and set of 30 Check Points on an Orienteering Course. These Check Points were called Controls and our goal was to find all of them. They were closer together than the CPs had been and each missed Control would earn a 15 minute time penalty. The snow had ceased and the sunrise brought forward a sunny day, made dazzling and sparkly by the inch or so of freshly fallen snow. It was beautiful!

We were pushing up against a time limit to get down to the kayaking section. We needed to be on the water by 10:00 am or we would be disqualified and have to continue the race unranked. My guys rocked the navigation we found all 30 Controls! At 8:10 am, we began running back down to the start/finish area where the boat launch was located. We would have to run fast to make it on time. The first part of this long run was downhill (with a few little ups thrown in), but then it leveled out for a grueling 7 miles on a gravel road. I felt nauseous on this last part, but the guys were too tired tow me. This was not part of the “fun” part.

We ran fast, despite none of us feeling so hot and made it to TA5, and the boat launch, at 9:40 am, after almost 10 hours straight of running. We wanted to do nothing more than sit down for a few minutes and eat, but we didn’t have time for that. We changed into our wetsuits, dry tops/pants and PFDs as fast as we could, trying to shove bites of PBJs into our mouths as we dressed, and hustled into the boats. We made it on the water just in time and I think we were the last team to do so before the cut off.

The Paddle – The paddle took place on the Arkansas River Play Park and continued down past the 285 bridge for a total of about 12 miles for Class II and III rapids. The river is super high now at 1190 cfs, so the rapids were big. With Lee in the back and me in front of one of the rubber, sit-on-top kayaks, we took off first before David and Derec in the second boat. We immediately hit the first section of Class IIIs and rocked right through it. Woo Hoo – this was fun! David wasn’t so lucky and ended up in the water. The other boat caught up with us in a section of Class II rapids and then we got to the infamous Buena Vista Falls, another Class III section. Lee and I hit this section in the right spot, but somehow managed to hit a hole that shot me out of the boat. I landed in the water more than a tad sacred. OK – I was terrified! I grabbed onto Lee’s paddle and wouldn’t let go. I also held onto to my new paddle, thinking, “I just bought this thing and it cost way too much to lose!” We proceeded to run down the river, the kayak backwards and me bouncing over huge rocks sticking out of the water. Lee finally managed to get me to let go of his paddle and grab onto the boat so he could paddle. All I wanted to do was get back in that boat. In the meantime, I could see the rescue boat heading our way, thinking that I needed help or I might drown. The kayak, still not traveling bow-forward, ended up getting stuck on another rock and I jumped into the boat as fast as I could. Funny thing is that it never registered to me how cold the water was (believe me, it was ice cold!), I had so much adrenaline pumping.

So now I was safely back in the kayak, but we couldn’t manage to get off the rock we were stuck on. Lee decided to get out of the boat, which worried me, but was the only option we had. He got the kayak moving off the rock and was able to jump back in. We were back in business! He let me just sit there for awhile and collect my wits, which were a little bit frayed. I gotta hand it to Lee for handling that whole situation with supreme calmness; it really helped keep me from freaking out.

The rest of the paddle was fun, albeit cold. We had some spectacular views of the Collegiate Peaks while on the water; take-your-breath-away views. We reached the take out (and TA6) after an hour and a half of paddling. As expected, once off the water and into the wind, my body temp began to drop like a rock. I was having trouble figuring out what I was supposed to do – brain function gets addled with hypothermia. David took one look at me and assumed control over the situation. He grabbed my dry biking clothes from the bike box and took me over to the bathrooms to change ASAP. Derec was also suffering from being super cold, so this TA took a bit longer than we would have wanted.

The Bike - Dressed in dry clothes and getting warm enough to not shiver violently, we hopped on the bikes heading for CP7 through CP12. All of these CPs were required to be found, or face being unranked. This section was super difficult, partially because of the terrain and partially because we had been on the go for over 12 hours straight. We rode on lots of sandy jeep trail that trended uphill more than downhill. We walked a lot of the uphills. It was super windy, often in our faces or from the sides, the wind conspiring to knock us off our bikes. CP9 in particular took forever to get to. We kept riding up and around the mountain that we thought the CP was located behind, only to find another mountain in our way. Each of us had spurts of energy, followed by low points. We all seemed to feel nauseous at times. These occurrences alternated so there was always at least one person feeling good to keep the team spirits up.

After CP9, we discussed our strategy for the rest of the race. We had two options. For both options, we had to get to CP10 and then TA11. At TA11, we could either drop our bikes and complete (or try to complete) the second orienteering course of 11 Controls on foot. If we went this route, we would miss the ropes section cut-off of 7:00 pm and take a 2 hour penalty. Or, we could take a 2:45 penalty for missing all the 11 Controls and head directly down to the ropes section. The route down to the ropes section, which was 2 miles away from the start/finish, would take almost an hour, with a stop for CP12 sort of on the way. The orienteering course would probably take at least 2 hours since we were not moving very fast on foot, and the ride back down, with the stop for CP12, would take at least 50 minutes. That made the two penalties for the two options about a wash. We felt we would be super slow on foot and decided we would try to make it to the ropes section by 7:00 pm. We had some hustling to do and it’s not easy to do the hustle when you have been at it super hard for more than 15 hours straight.

We contemplated these options while we continued to ride. From CP9 to CP10, we had some nice downhill riding. Everyone on the team can rock it pretty fast on the downhills, so we made very good time on these sections. We arrived at CP10, where there were two supportive volunteers to cheer us on. Thanks ladies! Then we had a massive gravel road climb back up to TA11. Derec was hurting, then I was hurting, then David was hurting. Fortunately, Lee was feeling really good at that time so he towed all three of us for awhile. Very impressive! I wish I had a picture of the four of us all connected together in the tow line with Lee out front like a locomotive engine. However, Lee could only tow all of us for so long, so we were eventually back on our own to make it up that godforsaken climb.

It was getting close to the cut off time for us to be able to make the ropes section, so everyone dug deep. We arrived at TA11 at a few minutes past 6:00 pm. We punched our passport and headed out immediately at about 6:10 pm. We had 50 minutes to make it to CP12 and back down to the ropes section. We were going to have to fly! We headed down some gravel road, going at speeds almost beyond the edge of control. We punched CP12 and took off on the single track (Midland Trail) that we had run up very early in the morning. This single track was mostly downhill, with some ups thrown in just to get you off your bike and wear you out even more. We did not have time to be off our bikes; we needed every second!

I felt great on this section. I think some muscle memory from many long endurance mountain bike races kicked in. I was up front leading our team and we were just flying down the trail. It’s amazing how you can find the energy from who knows where even when you are completely spent. We dumped out on the long gravel road that would take us to the ropes section. Suddenly, all my good feelings from the single track disappeared. I felt nauseous and awful again, but I couldn’t let up for a second; none of us could. We got into a pace line and bombed down the road. We hauled ass into the ropes section precisely at 7:00 pm, literally just making the cutoff! We were stoked!

The Ropes – This section was a Tyrolean Traverse of about 400 feet over a gorge. I went third and pushed off the start as hard as I could. Wheee!!!! I glided about a quarter of the way before I had to start pulling myself across hand over hand. My upper body was pretty worked from the paddle and the biking, so I soon switched to a double-handed pull. I’d do ten pulls, counting them out loud, and then rest a few seconds. Then I’d do it over again, and again, until I made it across. I’m not sure how long it took me, but it seemed to be less than ten minutes. My team ran back down the gorge and up again to the other side to retrieve our bikes and ride to the finish.

Results - We crossed the finish line after almost 20 hours on the move constantly, elated to be done and flushed with a great sense of accomplishment. Preliminary results put us in a 5th place finish. Not too shabby, although our navigational error cost us a lot. In addition, I felt I raced well, although there are many things I think I can improve on (always my biggest critic). Finally, the team raced hard but still managed to have fun. I can't wait for our next race!!!


JenyJo said...

well, miss wordsmith --- i'm so excited to have a WHOLE NIGHT free to go read this book of a post of yours tonight ;-) i'm excited to read it!


you crack me up.

hope you're doing well!


JenyJo said...

OKOKOK -- that was AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

nice post, woman! and great race, effort and commitment!

well done all the way around and i'm glad you had so much fun! (and i'm glad you're home safe;-)


Itty Bitty Betty said...

Thanks Jenyjo! I'm STILL pumped from that race (just ask Jesper, who says I can't shut up about it!).

brg said...

wow! what an event! sounds pretty gnarly - good job!

redstone said...

kickass jen, great job with the race and the narrative :)

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