Sunday, November 11, 2007

Race Recap!!

Team ARFE - SmartWool
2007 USARA National Championships

This year’s USARA team consisted of Chris Edmundson, Suzie Snyder and Bruce Swanson (representing Massachusetts, Colorado and New York, respectively). Our team had a great experience at this year’s National Championship race and it’s a pleasure to share it in this brief race recap.

We all had a geography lesson this year as we added Mark Twain National Forest and the town of Potosi, Missouri to our internal maps and experience bases. From my perspective, it was quite similar to the southern Catskills where I live and train every week. The YMCA Trout Lodge was the host hotel for the event and provided an excellent lakefront location in the midst of the forest and included numerous recreation halls, boat launches and easy access to a labyrinth of secondary roads, gravel roads and trails. We spent part of the pre-race meeting educating our race directors and our fellow racers on Leave No Trace principles. It’s an activity we undertake at almost every race we go to, but it was nice to see how many racers were already educated, either by word of mouth or by our efforts in the 2007 racing season.

General Plan
Unlike our recent 24-hour efforts, we decided to pamper ourselves with a reserved room for all three nights of our stay in the host hotel. We could then leave our gear in the room during the race and have a place to sleep afterwards. Our departure flights left on Sunday, so we had plenty of time to depressurize afterwards.

The Race Start – Short Version
The race organizers inadvertently extended an act of kindness by denying us access to our maps, checkpoints, order of events and other instructions until 5AM the day of the event. This allowed us to get a reasonable amount of sleep the night before the race – especially for those whose traveling odyssey began that day with a 3AM alarm. The unfortunate implication of this blissful night of sleep was that our mapping, route planning and other preparations were completed in less than two hours prior to the 7AM start.

The race start involved a couple of twists to separate teams: sending one member on a mile-long mission to get the first passport while the remaining two paddled a half-mile down the foggy lake. This was followed by perhaps a mile of paddling as a team and a ROGAINE section that we would complete 3:12 into the event. We later determined that in our haste, we chose a ROGAINE route that was not optimal - we had traveled farther than necessary and our reasonably athletic initial efforts were surpassed by slower teams. Not to worry – the race was much longer than this.

Putting the Hammer Down
We transitioned to our bikes after our mediocre start and we soon settled into an aggressive but comfortable pace. The temperatures rose above the sub-freezing level we’d started at and a clear, sunny day began. Thankfully, our performance beyond this point fell in line with our usual capabilities in terms of athletics, skills and equipment (top 10%) and navigation (something less). During the first biking leg we went from gravel roads to singletrack and we steadily moved up in rank. Conditions were dry and rocky with a full complement of fall leaves concealing some horrific rocks and other hazards that you would often notice when they’re too close to avoid them. We had one flat and one chain-break, but could just as easily have had a cranium-break at the speed we were going.

The biking leg was followed by a hiking leg. That concluded at the beginning of the paddling section. We had been warned in advance about the low water conditions and we weren’t disappointed. We chose to carry our own carbon kayak paddles and in retrospect, it was a good idea since we were able to pass several teams on the water. It seemed every couple hundred meters we found ourselves walking the boat across shallow gravel or over fallen trees. Although the low waterflow was seen as the enemy, a higher waterflow would not have been a panacea. The obstacles we encountered would have formed nasty sweepers and would have been far more hazardous, especially at night. Our paddling effort ended perhaps 40 minutes after dark as temperatures were dropping quickly. We made an awfully cold, wet transition to foot travel in the immediate vicinity of a blazing fire. Twenty minutes of walking allowed us to eat and heat up our frozen extremities.

The End is Near
Several checkpoints found in the night on foot brought us to the bike drop once again. Our one flat tire for the event occurred a few pedal cranks away from our transition spot, but it was fixed in record time. We set off on a quick and smooth single-track section for perhaps 10k followed by gravel roads and a short jaunt in the briars for the final checkpoint.

We finished one minute shy of 3AM in 8th place. Overall, we were on foot for about 9.5 hours, paddling for around 3 hours and biking for 7.5 hours. It was a great reward to shower and to get some sleep prior to sunrise.

We would like to thank our sponsors at SmartWool, GoLite, Gatorade, and CW-X for the support. It allowed us to qualify for, enter, and race in the National Championships. Thanks to LEKI for getting us here in a carbon-free manner, and, certainly not least, to Jason and Laura Elsenraat for a terrific race!

We had a great “support” network in the form of Jim Holden and Pamela Robbins who served dual duty as volunteers for the event and as our sponsors and organizers.

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