By: Brent Freedland
Photos: Most photos courtesy of Vladimir Bukalo
The last time I raced: 5 days of relentless Atlantic storms along the west coast of Ireland. I still may take the time to go back and write a report for our amazing adventure at ITERA last summer, but that is going to require some time. We had an amazing race, battling some of the worst conditions in adventure racing imaginable, and finishing the full course in 8th place, an accomplishment we were very pleased with as we managed to hold our own in a strong field of top Irish racers and elite teams from around Europe. Still, it wasn’t the smoothest race for us team-dynamic-wise, and so it was wonderful to finally get back out into the woods this past weekend for Adventure Addicts’ Winter Chill Adventure Race.
Granted, six hours isn’t quite the same as five days, but the weather was cold with temperatures hovering just below freezing, and we raced through on-and-off precipitation for the duration of the event. Thankfully, we weren’t pelted with 60+ MPH winds, but it still was a nice environmental challenge. As for the race itself, Abby and I had never done an Adventure Addicts race, and we were impressed with the very well organized and designed course. Great people, great community, great maps, great perks. It was a pleasure to finally race in one of their events!
We had been planning to drive down for the race for some time, but last week we were fortunate enough to grab a lottery slot for Cowboy Tough, the World Championship race being held in Wyoming this summer, a first for the United States. In the last few weeks, as we put together a team, it worked out that our lineup could get together for the Winter Chill, so Abby and I teamed up with our long-time XPD teammate Mark Lattanzi (though I should probably note that Mark is everybody’s long-time XPD teammate) and the amazing Andy Bacon. We have been wanting to race with Andy for a long time, and what better way to do it than twice in the same year (hopefully one or two more times as well!)?
The course was a well-conceived one with the field spreading out over the first half hour with a series of four mandatory foot CPs, largely off trail, which led us to our bikes at a remote bike drop. Coated with a thin layer of morning ice, we transitioned relatively quickly, though a couple of teams passed us as my fingers fumbled with the map board, my gloves, and pack.
On our bikes, we set off for a large loop of the amazing Little Bennett Regional Park, a sprawling expanse of hills, streams, fields and ruins. The route was relatively straight forward in that there was a point-to-point circuit of bike points. Along the way there were six pairs of foot points. In order to score points, teams had to find each CP in the pair (lettered A/AA, B/BB, etc). Our plan was to clear the course and we felt relatively confident that we could do so, so for us we did not have to think quite as much. We simply added all of the optional CPs into our loop.
This was a fun section, and we ended up taking on two significant bike-whacks, one of which had us hauling our bikes through a few hundred meters of downed trees when a mapped trail turned out to be a red herring. It seemed clear that we were one of the only teams to take on these bike-whacks, perhaps the only one, and this large one between checkpoints 6 and 7 was probably a mistake as we found ourselves with teams who found various ways to ride longer routes around. This particular bike-whack hurt us, but as always, it’s fun to do something different.
For most of the bike/trek section we were flip-flopping with three all male teams, and by the time the dust had settled, we sat in TA with the all-male ARMD team captained by the experienced Mike Berry. It was a good position to be sitting in, but we had a problem, and I knew the final foot rogaine would be a fine balancing act if we wanted to take the overall win…and hold off whoever might be right behind us.
The problem: I came into the race rather run down and wasn’t confident I’d be able to even make it to the starting line until Friday. As a teacher, I always get to test out the newest and most exciting bugs and viruses that the kids like to bring to school. And this week, I had the pleasure of housing one of the many stomach bugs we have to offer. I’ll leave out the more colorful details of my week, but let’s just say it was a joyous week of abdominal exercises and less than ideal hydration.
When we started the race, my stomach had actually been quiet for about fifteen hours, and I had taken an Imodium just in case. Thankfully, all remained quiet. I felt solid for two hours, but then I just ran out of gas. For the last 45 minutes or so of the bike, it didn’t matter how hard I pedaled, my legs just couldn’t generate power, and I found them cramping from hip to ankle.
“I feel like I’m riding hard enough to be riding about 20 mph,” I said to Mark as he pushed me up a gentle incline on our ride toward the final TA, and incline that felt like Everest. “But we’re riding about 5,” I muttered. He just kept on pushing.
By the time we reached the TA it was clear that between the state of my body, the short nature of the race and the fact that we were racing against teams that were moving faster than we were, we weren’t going to be able to “race” per se. Andy and Mark managed to keep me moving just fast enough that we hadn’t lost too much time to the other teams, and Abby helped with nutritional reminders though food hadn’t been and wasn’t helping. In a 10k orienteering foot race, we weren’t going to win on speed at this point. I could barely run as my legs just wouldn’t stop cramping.
We did in fact pass ARMD in transition, setting off at a slow shuffle as I led the way through the first two points with the ARMD guys trailing behind us. Coming out of the second checkpoint, however, the cramping intensified to the point where I willingly gave the maps to Andy, a rare moment indeed. I just needed a few minutes to settle down mentally and work on some food.
ARMD passed us here, and I told the team we had one chance. If we kept the pace slow, I thought I might have one burst in me. I wouldn’t be able to sustain anything for all that long, so we had to avoid a prolonged foot race. And I was hoping that we’d get a chance to maybe make a move with navigation at some point, especially if we were not in the lead or eyesight of ARMD. So we let them go.
We made our way through the middle points of the rogaine and found ourselves closing in on ARMD, catching sight of them. After that second point, Mark and Andy had shouldered my pack, and they did the short final sprints for controls giving me a few precious seconds to let my muscles calm down. Somehow we kept in touch with ARMD and headed up toward the third to final point with them in eyesight.
As we headed up to this control (I had reclaimed the maps by this point) we had a choice to make. You could either straight line across some terrain to the next point or drop back down from the reentrant to a trail and run it before cutting up to the control. I had already made the decision to straight line to the point because it was shorter and I probably wasn’t going to move dramatically faster by using the trail. I was curious to see if ARMD kept on into the woods or if they turned down to the trail. They elected for the trail.
I began to prepare myself, thinking this might be our chance. If we nailed the control, we might be able to head to the final control in first place, and I’d be able to give it a go. We set off at a steady trek, and sure enough we pulled into the control area just ahead of ARMD. We didn’t find it immediately, but thankfully Mark spotted it and we set off on a downhill run through the trees, ARMD on our tail.
A small nav bobble along the way and we began the day’s final ascent. My legs began to fail again, but Andy helped me up as he had been doing on all of the up-hills during the trek. A glance back here and there confirmed that ARMD was lingering behind us rather than overtaking us. We hit a trail, and I had been considering running it, but instead we kept on straight minimizing distance and heading for one more control, in a thorn thicket. We attacked it relatively cleanly, unsure of where exactly ARMD was at this point (though Mark saw them attacking from a different angle) and we popped up for a final road run to the finish.
Thankfully we were able to build and hold a small enough lead in those final moments to reach the finish line without it turning into a literal sprint to the finish. I had enough to make that final push, but I am fairly confident that was about it. We welcomed ARMD in a minute or so later and all celebrated the great and exciting race with both teams finishing right around four and a half hours with all the controls.
It wasn’t quite the day I was hoping for physically, and I wish we had been able to move at the pace I know we could have, but I was thrilled we were able to work together and strategize ourselves into the win. Ultimately, the strategy and navigation in the sport of adventure racing is so much more interesting to me than the physical strength or preparation, and races that require more of the former always are more rewarding, regardless of the results. It’s just not as much fun when you need to be strategic because your legs aren’t working!
Thankfully things worked out well for us in this one, and it was a great kick-off to 2017. Hopefully next month I won’t be so limited physically!
As usual, thank you to our terrific sponsors: Kanpas compasses for keeping us on target on an orienteering heavy race, SOURCE Hydration for keeping our water thawed and flowing in sub-zero temperatures, and Thorlo socks and Foot Kinetics Hikegoo for keeping our feet healthy and comfortable in the cold, wet, gritty conditions!