16 December 2014

2014 By The Numbers

December's the time of year that bloggers, especially athlete bloggers, start writing "Year in Review" posts, chronicling their achievements on a monthly basis. I did that in 2012, and it just turned into an exhaustive list of racing (and summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro!). In 2013, I couldn't even bring myself to write such a thing again. But for 2014, I do want to give a shout-out to some of the awesome things that happened, but just not in a blow-by-blow sort of way. If you want that, check out my Schedule & Results page for race details. Instead, I'm going to go all "By The Numbers" on the blog, except I'm not quite sure which newspaper/magazine pioneered this concept, therefore I have no attribution other than I didn't think up this idea myself. So! I now present to you:

Full video here: http://vimeo.com/channels/cowboytough2014/101321407
0: times I've fallen out of a canoe this year.
Early on in the OT100MTB. Photo by Stacey Hagen.
3: mountain bike hundo's raced in 2014. Top 10 in each of them (8th - Cohutta, 7th - Mohican, 2nd - OT100MTB...race report not written yet).

Vladimir Bukalo Photography: 2014 USARA  Awards Ceremony &emdash;
5th: place for team Alpine Shop at USARA Adventure Racing National Championships in October (race report not written yet). A race that showed me the real meaning of teamwork, and how deeply committed each of us are to the team's success.
7: laps of Council Bluff I rode consecutively at Burnin at the Bluff in October to set a new women's 12hr solo record.
8: pairs of shoes I went through in January/February trying to find something to work with my weird feet: Hoka Stinson M7.5, Hoka Stinson W8, Altra Lone Peak M8, Brooks Cascadia M7.5, Brooks Cascadia W9, Salomon Mission M8, Salomon Mission M7.5, Altra Superior M7.5. Plus 2 types of insoles: Superfeet Orange and Superfeet Berry. Luckily, with the help of Certified Pedorthist Angie Bono at Alpine Shop, we found a combo that kept my feet happy for the whole year (Brooks Cascadia M7.5 + Superfeet Orange insole).
12: states I've raced in this year. Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, California, Tennessee, Georgia, West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Maryland.
Jeff, me, Doug, David at the Bonk Hard Chill.
Jason, Kyle, Garret, Abby, me at the BAAR Brawl. Photo by Aaron Johnson.
Mark, me, Andy, Shane at Wild Wonderful...before Mark impaled himself.
Andrei, Mike, Rachel, and me at the finish of Cowboy Tough.
me, David, Erl, Jeff at the finish of Castlewood 8hr
14: teammates I've raced with this year. Jeff Sona, David Frei, Mike Garrison, Rachel Furman, Kyle Peter, Garret Bean, Abby Broughton, Jason Popilsky, Doug Nishimura, Mark Lattanzi, Andy Bacon, Shane Hagerman, Andrei Karpov, Scott Erlandson. Proud to say I'd race with any one of them again in a heartbeat.
Start of the Wild Wonderful AR.
15: adventure races I started and finished, totaling roughly 233 hours. This is counting Cowboy Tough as 4 individual races, given the stage race format and massive amount of sleep we got.
Jerks. All of us.
The view from above, courtesy Lawman.
20: roughly the number of jerks who drank beers in the Black River for MFXC The Karkness. The most fun non-race weekend of 2014.
215# DL PR - April 2014.
jump squat at 45# - December 2014.
55: sessions at Project Deliverance. The secret to my durability this year. PRs (at an average body weight of 135#): deadlift 215#, back squat 155#, front squat 135#, power clean 105#, split jerk 95#, overhead squat 75#.
Andrei, me, Garrison, Rachel at the Stubborn Mule 30hr.
72: checkpoints at my favorite event of 2014 - the Stubborn Mule 30hr Adventure Race in Wisconsin, hosted by 180 Adventures. And, perhaps more incredibly, each checkpoint was hung correctly and none were missing. Super kudos to Paula the race director and her team!! The Stubborn Mule also had the most beautiful paddle of 2014 on the Wisconsin River (narrowly edging out paddling on the Gasconade River in Missouri at the 2014 Bonk Hard Berryman Adventure Race).
889 hours, 8 minutes, and 34 seconds: duration of training and racing I've logged in AttackPoint for 2014. Biggest volume year of my life. If you divide this among the 50 active weeks I've had (taking these final 2 weeks of the year off for resting), that comes out to an average training week of 17hrs45min.
$2,195.00: dollars raised for Team Noah Foundation from my birthday party in January. We used the money raised to donate a ton of heart pillows to the Dallas Heart Center at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis. Wondering what we're up to for 2015? Stay tuned for details!

One of the many beautiful moments Noah has given us.

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07 December 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 4)

NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of posts about Cowboy Tough multi-day adventure race. I (Emily) worked together with my teammate Mike to write most of the text, and then Mike added in his own comedic flair in red italics. Enjoy!
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


After more hours of sleep (six!!) than some of us get during a normal weeknight, we are woken up by our 0500 alarms. We gather round our bins for breakfast and get ready for the day. Because we were a bit rushed with only 45min of morning prep yesterday, we each agreed on 60min today and it seems to be the perfect amount. We prepped all of our bikes last night (changed Mike’s flat tire, filled bottles and bentos) and they are hanging in Rev3’s Mobile TA. We dress ourselves for the day and then put our packs inside our bins and load those into the Mobile TA as well. Day 3 begins with whitewater rafting, and we aren’t allowed to have our packs in the rafts with us. Rev3 will drive them to the take-out instead. We gather around Mark for an 0600 start with the usual suspects: Tecnu, Columbia, YogaSlackers, Journey, Silent Chasers, and I think a few other teams. Mark shouts GO! and we all race off! This of course meant running, which had not been my friend to this point in the race.  However, whether it was due to early morning adrenaline or all the food and sleep, I was feeling pretty darn good.

TREK 1, CP37, 2mi
The start of Day 3. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
The first order of business is to get ourselves to the whitewater rafting put-in on the Big Horn River. It’s located very close to our railroad trestle shortcut from last night, just a few downhill kilometers on a paved road. We’re running at a good clip and making sure that we’re all ready for the day. Someone mentions the “Start of Day” punch requirement and Rachel stops dead in her tracks. “You guys, I didn’t punch Start of Day, were we supposed to?”

Our stomachs drop. We start tentatively jogging forward again and spewing questions at each other. We downloaded the ePunch last night, does that count? Is the Start of Day punch mandatory or just a formality? We checked in verbally with Mark, is that enough? Wouldn’t Rev3 know that we’re gone and mark our time down anyway? After a few seconds, we realize this is a risk we simply cannot take, especially when fixing it would take only 10ish minutes of extra running. Emily offers to run back to TA with the ePunch, and Rachel hands it off. The trailing teams give her plenty of confused looks but when she holds up the ePunch stick (no extra breath for words), they seem to understand.

Back in TA, Emily locates Rev3 staffer Greg who has the Start of Day control, punches, and rejoins the team who is waiting on the road. We retrace our steps downhill and Mike strategizes on how to make up for our few lost minutes. This normally wouldn’t be a huge deal, but we’ve been told by Rev3 that they will only launch rafts when they’re filled with 8 racers. This means we’ve got to make it to the put-in with another team to avoid being stranded. With the front of the pack long gone ahead of us, we could be facing a long delay if there aren’t another 4 racers ready to paddle when we get to the put-in. Luckily, we spot two teams spread out ahead of us, so we run hard to place ourselves in the middle of them as we arrive at the put-in, thus guaranteeing ourselves spots on a raft leaving immediately. Crisis averted...
I put it a considerable amount of mental effort doing the math on this one.  Rachel was beside herself with anxiety because of the possibility of getting stuck at the put-in for quite some time.  After doing the math (a number of times) I assured her that we were good to go based on all the numbers I had counted.

We now return to the twist that everyone is expecting thanks to Emily’s ominous usage of the ellipsis…

PADDLE 1, CP37, 15mi
Map of the WW paddle, northbound on the Big Horn River.
...or so we thought. (See?  Ellipsis = plot twist!)  Once we check in at the put-in, the raft company informs us they will only release boats two at a time for safety. This means with need SIXTEEN racers ready to paddle, instead of 8.  (At this point I was pretty pissed at all that extra thinking I had just done.  I mean come on, that was at least an extra .75 calories I burned!) We look around. There are only 12 of us. We have to wait for 4 other racers before we can leave.

None of us are happy about this new information, Rachel especially. We reassure her that this was a team mistake, that we are all responsible for communicating about punching requirements, especially in the hurried morning hours. There is no way she is at fault. Still, she takes the mistake to heart and we all need a little chill time as we keep glancing back at the road, silently willing another team to show up and allow us to get on the water.
First two boats on the Big Horn. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
It is a tense 10 minutes, but finally we spot 4 racers jogging down to the put in, and start cheering for them. Hoo-ray! We are paired up with Wind River Country Racing***, a team of 3 girls and 1 guy, all from Wyoming. The raft company gets us suited up in helmets and PFD’s and we launch onto the Big Horn River in two 8-person rafts, each with a guide using oars. Our guide is named Whitey and he tells us stories about the river as we make our way downstream. There is a big Class IV rapid near the beginning that we hit cleanly. Then we have a bunch of flatter water that requires good paddling. Rachel takes charge, calling out a “one! two! one! two!” cadence so everyone can match paddle strokes. After just a few minutes, Whitey pipes up with “okay, everyone, good job, now let’s take a rest break.” Rachel turns around and absolutely GLARES at him. And then, in the nicest way possible, she says, “Um, well, we really need to get this done quickly, I don’t think we really need rest breaks, so, let’s just keep paddling. One! Two! One! Two!”
A rapid on the Big Horn. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
We keep paddling. Whitey calls for a few more rest breaks, and each time is met with refusal from WABAR (mostly because we know Rachel would disown us if we gave in). We all share the chore of counting the “one! two! one! two!” cadence for as long as possible, (Oh how I resisted this, but when I gave in I ended up getting into a routine and I’m pretty sure (other than possibly Rachel) I kept up the count longer than anyone else.  I heard “one, two” in my head for days if not weeks after the race), and the Wind River Country racers help too. We swap positions here and there to ease tired muscles. Finally, the last Class IV rapid is staring us in the face and Whitey guides us through cleanly again. Then the take-out is just another mile or so downstream and we all work together to haul the raft up on shore. The Rev3 truck is waiting for us and we quickly change clothes for what we consider to be the queen stage of this race: a 90-mile bike ride. With no shade. Mike is thrilled. (Yes, thrilled.  Ecstatic. Euphoric.  Rapturous even…)

In order to keep this from being a repeat of Day 1’s sufferfest, we make a few changes. Mike’s wearing Emily’s white GJ/WEDALI shirt to help him keep cool. We’ve got a TON of water on us - everyone with full bladders, full bike bottles, and a few extra bottles in our packs as well. Emily’s got the magic 10mm hex wrench in her pack to avoid further crank issues. Okay! Let’s go!

***SIDE NOTE FROM EMILY: I'm glad I waited so long to post this day's race report because a cool thing happened recently. I work at the Alpine Shop in St. Louis, an outdoor retailer, and we had a visit from NOLS a few weeks ago. I coordinate those sorts of visits so when the NOLS rep arrived, I was there to help get her table set up. She greeted me with, "My name is Marina and I think I've paddled with you before!" Turns out she was a member of the Wind River Country team!!! Cray-cray!!! We shared a bunch of stories that night in between customers visiting the table. Adventure racing is awesome even after the race is over!

BIKE 1, CPs 39-40, 38mi
WABAR ready to start riding. Photo by Mark Harris.
We hop on our bikes and immediately, Emily knows something’s not right. NOT AGAIN!!! She pedals, gets off, squints at her frame, checks her crank, pedals again, still not right, what in the world? Finally, she gets it - her crank arms are tightened, but they are not oriented properly. When she disassembled her crank at yesterday’s TA, she retightened everything in “10-and-6” position instead of the correct “12-and-6” alignment. But it’s a quick fix with the proper wrench, and soon enough we’ve made our first turn onto some delicious Wyoming gravel.
Bike 1, eastbound, on the 1:gajillion Gazetteer map.
We start the long task of picking off teams that got to start ahead of us on the rafting section. First we catch up with fellow Midwesterners Jon and Eric from Unplugged Adventures. We chat for a bit and then keep rolling on. There isn’t a whole lot of traffic on these roads which is great for us. We do run into one truck, however, whose driver stops, gets out, and waits for us to ride by him looking none-too-happy. Mike, Andrei, and Rachel cruise casually by as the old-time cowboy tries to talk to them. Emily tries to be a friendly Midwesterner and stops for a quick chat, cringing at the scolding that’s sure to come. Sure enough, the rancher starts complaining about our “bike friends up that-a-way” riding too close to his cows and scaring them as they were being herded down the road. “You know, when them cows git scared like that they git stressed, and that makes it so they won’t git pregnant. We’re scheduled to inseminate all them today and now I’m gonna lose a buncha money,” the rancher kvetches. Emily doesn’t really know how to respond except “I’m really sorry and we’ll try to tell the other racers not to upset your cows,” and hustles back up to her teammates. (I have nothing to add here other than stating that anyone that knows Emily will not be the LEAST bit surprised to hear this little story.)
90 miles of pure Wyoming gravel today. 

A few more miles down the road, and we spot the race staff tent for CP39. Rev3 has provided a 2.5gal water drop here for each team, but as we approach, we each realize we’ve got WAYYYY too much water on board. No one needs a refill, and we actually dump out about 1L that we don’t think we’ll need until the next known water stop at CP41. It’s too bad that we’ve already carried the extra weight this far, and we hope that we aren’t shooting ourselves in the foot by dumping “excess” water at this point.
Mike and Andrei dumping water early in the ride. 

Once leaving CP39, we start catching other teams from this morning’s first wave of boats. This makes us feel really good that our delay getting on the river hasn’t turned into a huge disadvantage. Mike and Emily start to feel the heat so Rachel and Andrei help out with pack carrying and towing. We pass our friends on Journey Racing, as well as a few other two-person male teams as we tick off the Wyoming gravel miles. Pretty soon we’re rolling into CP41, where Rev3 has provided some additional water and gatorade as we transition into our trekking gear. (This is around when I switched into “if it’s liquid, drink it” mode.  I had my normal HEED spiked water but if there was anything that anyone had with electrolytes or sugar in it, down the hatch it went.  Normally this would spell disaster but with my body desperately needing any and all hydration, and with our pace being pretty reasonable, I managed to avoid any major issues.)

TREK 1, CPs 41-43, 6mi
Out-n-back trek in the middle of the big ride.
As we’re changing out of our bike shoes and into our trekking shoes, we see Tecnu returning from the out-n-back trek. It’s always fun to see them on the course, especially when Kyle serenades us with his rendition of “Lollipop”. Columbia is still a few minutes behind them and we see them inbound as we jog outbound. Phil and Kevin from Silent Chasers are also with us as we have a long dusty jog on an exposed gravel road. Things are getting really hot so we trade packs and punch duty, hoping to keep everyone’s effort under control. Garrison navs the 3 controls easily and we even spot YogaSlackers cooling off in a cow pond a few hundred meters away.
On the road. Full sun.
On the way back, Andrei starts to overheat so we dial back the pace a bit and work together to keep him as comfortable as possible. He comes up with an ingenious way to wear his race bib as a shading device (no pic, sorry, but it was glorious) and it works great. Eventually we make our way back to our bikes and eagerly drink our liquid rations - 1 bottle of water and gatorade for each of us - before getting back on our bikes for more gravel grinding.

BIKE 2, CPs 44-46, 50mi
Bike 2, eastbound, on the 1:gajillion Gazetteer map.
That map image above does not do justice to the actual amount of biking that had to be done.  It also isn’t great at showing climb, and downright horrible at showing how FREAKING HOT it was… The Silent Chasers are in TA at the same time so we convince them to combine teams into a 6-person paceline to knock out the miles to CP44, getting both of us closer to water and us closer to YogaSlackers. They agree and pretty soon we are flying along at a pretty fantastic pace. The added company, plus the promise of a full water restock in just a few miles, motivates us all and in no time we roll into CP44. Rev3 staff are there to greet us with extra water, along with several other teams, including the Yogis! We divvy up our allotted 2.5gal (=9.5L) between everyone’s bladders, and then add some extra water that previous teams didn’t use. After Garrison and Andrei do some sprinkler dancing, (sorry, no pictures, but it was yet again glorious) then the four of us roll out just a few minutes behind YogaSlackers.
Riding with Silent Chasers' Phil before organizing the paceline.
After just a few miles of road biking, we spot the Yogis, stopped on the side of the road next to a huge puddle. We roll up to ask what’s wrong, and it turns out someone’s bladder just burst at the seams. What a huge bummer! We don’t have any extras to lend them, so we keep riding, and pretty soon they are moving again too and catch us. It’s a slightly tense dynamic between our two teams at first as we ride in a loose pack, no one quite sure if we’re working together or trying to gain an advantage on the other. (We knew they had a lead on us overall, but no one was quite sure how much.  We also knew that both our teams didn’t feel great, but no idea how “not great”.  Would this be a time where either they could completely put us away, or maybe we could end up putting some time on them and make it a real race for third?) But pretty soon, we all get to chatting and it’s clear that we’re much better off spending these miles socializing, rather than trying to rip each others’ legs off. So we share snacks and gum and even stop at the same mud pit for a pee break and an attempt at bathing (I want to clarify that the pee break and the bathing were in different areas.). Shortly after the mud pit, however, it’s clear that the YogaSlackers have got more gas in the tank than WABAR so they ride off the front as the four of us regroup and refocus on our team.
Dan from YogaSlackers and Mike from WABAR breaking the ice.
Rachel and Emily w the YogaSlackers at a group stop. Photo by Erik Sanders.
Isolated once again in the stark Wyoming terrain, we struggle. Everyone’s ass is hurting, and we’re experiencing food fatigue - no calorie source sounds particularly appealing even though we know we need to keep fueling. Oh and Mike had his umpteenth poop stop and Emily took the opportunity for a selfie. The stop below is from what I believe was my 39th mid race poop.  I’m not sure when it started but the past few years I can barely even race 12 hours without needing to stop for a good natural break.  Very annoying.
You don't want to know what's happening on the other side of that bike.

At this point in the race, any excuse to stop and sit, packless, is a good one.
The wind is unrelenting as we battle our way east, finally collecting CP45 north of Arminto and turning south to Waltman. We see a couple more teams hanging out at a small store on Hwy 20, but it’s only another 10-ish paved miles to CP46 and the end of today’s biking section, so we push through. The pavement really brings our legs to life and we are able to ride fast!
I swear, it FELT like we were hurrying in TA.
We’ve been warned that the next trekking section, in Hell’s Half Acre, is the most navigationally intense section of the entire race. We’re super stoked about that, but also we know we need to maximize the waning daylight hours to have a good split time. Emily hustles everyone through dealing with our bins, and we’re able to run out of TA just as the sun is starting to set.

TREK 2, CPs 1-10, 6mi
Descending the unassuming doubletrack into Hell's Half Acre.
Wow. Just….wow. The terrain of Hell’s Half Acre is other-worldly. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and no way the 1:24k USGS map can come even slightly close to representing the intricate towers, eroded boulders, and seemingly ancient streambeds in this bizarre canyon. Mike soaks it all in as we descend the double-track.
For Rachel, everything is runnable.

The terrain is runnable for Erik from YogaSlackers, too.

Mike relocates.
We decide to attack these 10 CPs in numerical order, and set off for CP1. We see Legendary Randy with his camera set-up (look for us around 3:15 of that video!), which must mean we’re in the right spot...right? We also see YogaSlackers, so we’re definitely in the right spot but...no CP1. The flag could be anywhere behind these intricate rock formations, and Mike scratches his head more than once trying to relocate. He calls for a knife and slashes a postage-stamp size (relatively) swatch out of the table cloth map, trying to help focus his navigation efforts, but we still struggle to find the first CP. After checking just about every miniature rock face/shrub we can find, the flag finally pops out and Rachel punches. OK, more than just quick commentary from me here.  First off, I didn’t even get myself oriented enough to find CP1.  I was trying to think of another way to approach it when Andrei asked to see the map.  One AR skill that I’m pretty decent at is pride swallowing, so I did just that and handed it over.  Within minutes he was oriented and walked right to CP1.  He asked if he could do another and I said “go for it”.  He nailed that one too.  As disappointing as it was to my ego and pride to flop on the part of the race that I had hoped to redeem myself due to my poor physical performance, it was obvious that Andrei was in a zone.  I think he was uncomfortable at first asking if he could nav the rest of this section but I encouraged him to have at it.  And have at it he did!
Map from Hell's Half Acre that Mike slashed out of the main map.
Andrei offers to take over the maps at this point, and Mike happily agrees. That’s the awesomeness of having a team full of navigators - we can hand the maps to just about anyone at any time and we’ll probably go in the right direction. And in this case, Andrei’s feeling strong and highly technical foot navigation is his specialty, so we’re stoked to let him shine. And shine he does - we fly though CPs 2-6, pinging each one accurately and running like it’s a 24hr race, eagerly responding to Andrei’s calls of “chop, chop!” and “hurry up, I already know where the next CP is!”.
Andrei already running to next CP. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
As the sun is setting, we catch up to YogaSlackers at CP6, put on our lights, and put in a big effort to push in front of them. They’re still well ahead of us in the overall standings, but we’re feeling great and want to prove a point that the harder the nav gets, the faster we can go. Even in the dark, Andrei continues crushing the maps, leading us straight to the final 4 CPs. (Andrei needs to be commended for an outstanding effort here.  He absolutely crushed this challenging nav that would make mince meat of a LOT of teams in the dark.  In fact, I believe that we (he) logged the fastest nav time out of ALL teams for this section!) Rachel is super speedy with the punches and we all motivate each other to run back up the final doubletrack into TA. We triumphantly punch the final CP for Day 3 and are rewarded with 2 hotdogs each, cooked by the illustrious Rev3 staff.
Running into the twilight. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
We chat with out Tecnu friends as we chow down, and then do some final piddling with our bins, cleaning out the accumulated trash and preparing our packs for the last day of the race. We get to sleep for one last night under the wide-open Wyoming sky, drifting in and out of dreams as teams continue shuffling through TA.

Rev3 Day 3 Photo Album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.745596178814788.1073741865.148981488476263&type=3
YogaSlackers photo album: https://www.facebook.com/erik.sanders.963/media_set?set=a.10152379715127694&type=1&pnref=story
Tecnu photo album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.687589551276425.1073741858.162254323809953&type=3
Columbia photo album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.679601542125729.1073741873.110888508997038&type=3 Pin It

18 November 2014

Race Report: 2014 Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr AR

If anything, 2014 will be known as the Year of the Mash-Up for me. I've participated in 12 different adventure races with 6 distinct team configurations and 13 different teammates. As you probably know, Jeff and David have been my main teammates since 2013, and when we need a fourth we call on our good buddy Doug to complete team Alpine Shop.  That was the plan for the 2014 running of the Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr Adventure Race, the St. Louis area's largest adventure race. That is, until Doug's girlfriend Sunny (of WHOA! fame) started kicking serious UCI cyclocross boo-tay and needed Doug's crewing skills at Jingle Cross...on the same weekend as CW8. Finding a replacement for Doug isn't easy, and we had a tense few days calling around to different folks. Finally, we convinced Erl (of GearJunkie/WEDALI fame) to make the long trip south to race with us. 

I've raced with Erl a few times before, and each experience is a highlight of my short AR career. There are very few people who know how to support and foster teamwork the way Erl does, and I was so excited for Jeff and David to get to experience that. We've been able to hang out a bunch this fall in conjunction with other races (Berryman and Perfect 10) and each time I've gained more and more appreciation for Erl's experience and perspective on adventure racing. So, basically, I was super excited to see him again!

Erl rolled in to the Alpine Shop around 4pm just as the place was starting to bustle with friends and family and adventure racers. We got all checked in with Bonk Hard and then picked up my traditional pre-race meal of Dewey's pizza before heading to David's workshop to prep maps. However, we didn't have any CPs to plot and only information on the first 2ish hours of the race. The biggest decision we had to make was which shoes to wear for the start...trekking or biking? Trekking shoes would be faster on the opening 2mi run, but would take longer to change after the paddle. Biking shoes would be a bit slower at first but then faster in TA. We hemmed and hawed and eventually (much to my relief) decided on trekking shoes. Then we ate a ton of pizza (seriously...the four of us polished off two 17" pies) and toured David's shop.

Then Erl and I went back to my apartment and piddled with gears, a classic Alpine Shop habit. I took some time to look at the race area on Google maps and noticed there were two parks on the south side of the Meramec River (West Tyson and South Castlewood) that had orienteering maps. I guessed that maybe we would be given a surprise map sometime early in the race, and texted Jeff and David to let them know. Thankfully, we had already planned to wear trekking shoes so it wouldn't be a big deal either way.
Jeff, Erl and I at the bike drop on race morning. Photo by Stacey Hagen.
Race morning was early and cold. Erl and I met Jeff at the bike drop in Castlewood at 0630 and it was in the low 20s. We dropped off our bikes and biking gear at the beach, and then drove over to Race HQ at La Salle Middle School. The school had its doors and bathrooms open for us, and it was so nice to have a warm place to get ready. About 10 minutes before the race started, Jeff noticed his passport pocket (custom-made of course) was attached in the wrong direction on the shoulder strap of his pack. To most people, this would not be a big deal, but in a sprint race where every second counts, we were worried. Thankfully, we just needed scissors and 2 new zipties to fix it, so we sprinted across the parking lot to Jeff's van, perform some lightning-fast pack surgery, and sprint back to the start line with a few minutes to spare. 

TREK 1, 2mi, CP 1-3, 0:15

Team Alpine Shop among the top 5 teams at the start! Photo by Mary Welter.
We take off in a herd of racers...172 to be exact...and immediately I'm so glad we chose to wear trekking shoes on the paved path. We let other teams set the pace and are quite content to sit somewhere in the top 10 overall. Jeff punches the CP1 cleanly and we take off to CP2. Here, the path turns to gravel and we start to encounter some Saturday morning dog-walkers who are a bit confused to see a mass of pack-wearing people barreling down on them. We pass them as politely as we can on the out-and-back run to CP2. I love out-and-backs early in races because they let us cheer for a lot of teams, and today is no exception. I actually get super out of breath from yelling "good job!" so much so I try to hide behind David to recover. We reach the end of the trek and tumble down the hill where all of the boats are staged. 
Jeff, Erl, and not-a-serial-killer David running to CP3 with Nathan from Toporadicals. I'm just out of the picture. Photo b y Patrick & Donovan Feder. 
It's basically mass chaos, but somehow we manage to collect 4 (short) paddles, 4 PFDs, 2 canoes, and 1 punch of CP3. Oh, and....SURPRISE! The volunteer hands us a bonus map which adds an unannounced trekking section to the middle of the paddle. Unfazed, we put in with minimal fuss and get paddling.

PADDLE 1, 4.2mi, CP 4-5
At the put-in. Steamy. Photo by Patrick and Donovan Feder.
We're in the mix of the top 5 teams as we start paddling downstream on the Meramec. We're in our planned pairs, me in the back with Jeff and Erl in the back with David. I'm using my super-warm ski mittens to avoid the frozen hands like last year and so far they're working great, even as the spray from the paddle starts to freeze on the gunwhales and thwarts. It's really a beautiful morning to be on the river, and I use all my concentration to keep the boat on the most efficient line. Jeff and I can't even enjoy our usual chit-chat because everytime I try to talk, the boat starts drifting one way or the other, so I just keep quiet and focus. We don't pass many boats, and a few others creep up into our loose pack, and I try not to get frustrated and just stay smooth. We punch CP4 at Sherman Beach and get back out into the main channel. Pretty soon, we start seeing the boats in front of us land at CP5. We get there quickly and do the same. Both Jeff's and my packs are soaking wet, but for some reason I don't even feel the chill when I throw it back on.

TREK 2, 2mi, CP 38-42
This is the map we were handed at CP3. I added the orange arrows showing our route. Also ignore the red scribbles, that was from later in the race.
We negotiate our way up the steep earthen bank with 5-6 other teams and take off on a clockwise loop for the five surprise/bonus trekking CPs. David's decided to route us 39-41-42-40-38, and we join a pack of teams on the trail run to 39. This entire map is a flat flood plain with only a few mapped vegetation features and basically one contour line to navigate off of. It's like a big group run until we get close to the CP, and then everyone fans out to try and spot the flag first. We're a little discombobulated attacking CP39, but as we leave the circle, Erl organizes us into "formation" and the rest of the CPs are much better. We don't gain much of a gap on any team, but we're moving well through the vegetation. Once we've punched all 5 bonus CPs, we run across a field of tall, dead grass, take a group pee-break, and hop back in the canoes. Somehow, even though we've been running with about 5 other teams, we get onto the water in the lead!
Our friends on Team Virtus running through the field on Trek 2. Photo by Bob "Lifeskillz" Jenkins.
PADDLE 2, 2mi, CP 6, 1:45 total for paddle-trek-paddle
Jeff and I finishing out the paddling section. Photo by Patrick and Donovan Feder.
Just because we're leading for a moment, doesn't mean it's easy to stay there. Jeff and I make it a little harder on ourselves because we accidentally picked a different boat than PADDLE 1. It wouldn't be a huge deal, but one of the paddles is extra-long so Jeff takes it, but has a hard time keeping high cadence. "It's like paddling in the big ring!" he says, but gets it done anyway. Stud! We have 2 other boats for company through the first little congested section but I focus really hard on keeping my line and no-one dumps, although David and Erl tell us later that they came scarily close. This paddle is shorter than the first, so I work really hard to keep the boat moving as fast as possible. Finally, the Castlewood beach appears and we take-out with about a 30-second lead on Team CRX and AMTZ, and Toporadicals, 36 Down, and Extreme Electrical not far behind! CP6 has a gear check which is more mass chaos, but the volunteers do a great job at managing everything. A lot of teams opted to do this race with flat pedals, but we all take a bit of extra time to change shoes, hoping that our feet will appreciate being dry and warm after the paddle.
At the take-out, with AMTZ hot on our sterns. Photo by Stacy Hagen.
BIKE 1, 6mi, CP 7-14, 0:40
Getting ready to start riding, I'm helping Erl put on his glove. Photo by Donovan and Patric Feder.
We've got a loop of Castlewood singletrack, and the route is pretty much the best-case scenario for me (keeping the most technical bits on the uphills instead of the downhills). We roll out, now firmly committed to our formation, but no idea if any other teams made it through the gear check more quickly than we did. We can't see anyone ahead of us, but that doesn't mean anything with the quality of the teams we're racing today. We get to work climbing Grotpeter, motor through Roller Coaster, and descend smoothly down Love. The trails are starting to thaw and get greasy as we hit the short out-and-back on the dirt crit loop, but we all keep the rubber side down as we knock out the last CPs on this leg. Then it's into TA where we will be given maps for the rest of the course! 

As we approach the shelter, we spot AMTZ already there, so we know we're a few minutes down in second place. We punch CP14 and the volunteer hands us a map with instructions for 8 trekking CPs, 3 of which we have to plot ourselves. This isn't a big deal, until David digs around in his pack for our plotter and discovers it fell out at the gear check! We allow ourselves about 5 seconds of panic, and then Jeff tells me to make a plotter out of paper like we did at the Berryman 16hr. I rip off a piece of the map and use the printed scale to make a rudimentary plotter. David calls UTM coordinates and we slowly get the 3 CPs transferred onto the trekking map. I'm not even sure if they're right, but we have to leave NOW if we're going to have a chance of catching AMTZ. 

TREK 3, 3.5mi, CP 15-22, 0:45
The map for Trek 3. We ripped the bottom of the map off and used it to plot 17, 18, and 19.
We storm out of TA on a mission, but I'm really, really scared about the 3 CPs we just half-assedly (is that a word?) plotted on the map. As we attack CP18, I'm expecting the worst, but to my relief Jeff spots the flag quickly. 1 down! We climb the spur to CP19 and descend into the reentrant, looking everywhere for the flag. Nothing. I yell that we need to re-check the plot right away, but at the last second, David spots the flag and gets the punch. 2 down! I'm feeling slightly more optimistic on the way to CP17, and sure enough, the David leads us straight to the shallow depression. 3 down! I'm SO RELIEVED that we've got these out of the way, and now only have the pre-plotted CPs left. We hit CP15 next, overrunning the side reentrant slightly, and as we descend back down after punching, we spot AMTZ approaching. Erl and I try to adjust our route to not give away the correct reentrant, but it doesn't really do any good. We cross back over Ries Rd (legal to cross but illegal to run along), climb up to CP16, and then run back down to CP20. We catch up with AMTZ here because they took a slightly different order (17-16-15-20) and we all meet up at the creek crossing. David, sensing an opportunity, leads us straight through a knee-deep section of the creek while AMTZ chooses a slightly longer and dryer route. Our feet are now soaking wet but we're in the lead! 
Here is a different team crossing the creek at CP20. We had crossed earlier in a deeper section, and then crossed here as well. We were not this careful. Photo by Patrick and Donovan Feder.
We all know this could be a make-or-break moment and I have a flashback to the 2013 MNOC Tune-Up where I was in a similar situation, racing with Biz. In that race, he gave me an awesome (-o-possum) pep talk that inspired me to dig deep, so I try to do the same for my team today. "Guys, we have a gap, we have to push it super hard up this hill and make it stick!" We charge up the backside of Lone Wolf, everyone red-lining in an effort to gain the lead. In between gasping breaths, I try to encourage as much as possible, and we make it to the top of the hill having opened up a slight advantage over AMTZ. We crash down the other side, David picks the correct reentrant for CP21, Jeff punches, and we race back to TA with about a minute's lead.

Back at the shelter, the volunteer hands us an entire packet of maps for the remainder of the race. It contants four 8.5x11 maps, double-sided, with 12 CPs scattered among them. It's really confusing to make sense of everything and plan a route to the finish line. David and I work together to get everything sorted, reading the clue sheet again and again to make sure we're doing everything according to the rules. Meanwhile, Erl and Jeff complete their TA and then help change David's and my shoes so we can leave faster. Finally, we think we've got it all figured out and hop on bikes, leaving in 1st place!

BIKE 2, 23mi, CP 23-34, 1:46
We know AMTZ is stacked with really strong bikers, so we organize into a towing paceline and hustle out of Castlewood State Park. The first three CPs (23-24-25) must be found in order, and David guides us smoothly to each one. Then we have a bit of a route choice, and, after further analyzing the map as we're riding, David decides to change his original plan and go 27-28-29-30-26, and then head into the west side of Castlewood for 31-32-33. We ride across Ridge Rd and descend down the paved Rock Hollow trail to CPs 28 and 29. On the way down, we actually see CP30 hanging in the woods, but race rules say we must bike to it (no bike-whacking allowed on this land) so we ride down to the Zombie trail head (CP29) and then take the singletrack uphill to the flag. This singletrack is newly-built by GORC and it's a really fun ride. We get the punch, ride the trail back down, and then take the Al Foster path to CP26 and continue into the west side of Castlewood.

The three controls on the west side of Castlewood are really fun. The singletrack is straightforward and fast, and we're all still feeling decent. David guides us smoothly to each CP and we're out of there in a flash. Once we're back on the Al Foster, we know we just have a mile to the CP34 and the finish line. Time to empty the tanks! The boys each take turns pulling while we absolutely fly down the path. Pretty soon, we spot the iconic orange and white Bonk Hard Racing inflatable arch signifying the finish line. We ease the pace just slightly to make sure everyone's together and cross the finish line with huge smiles.

FINISH 5:11:46
Big smiles at the finish line. Photo by Mary Welter.
It is incredibly satisfying to finish 1st at the Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr AR. Sprint races are so stressful for me, since one mistake or mechanical can derail an entire race, where as in the 24hr races you have more opportunity to recover. We did make a few mistakes out there, we always do, but each one was small and we were able to recover quickly. That's the value of racing with three highly experienced teammates. Even though all of our transitions were chaotic, we were always communicating and trying to help the team as a whole. We were constantly checking on each other, making sure that no one was getting too cold or hungry or blown-up. When we had the opportunity to grab the lead, we all recognized it and had the legs to make it happen. 

It is so great to see a huge field in an adventure race, and we enjoyed the intense competition from several speedy teams. Everyone was so positive and encouraging, even when we were trying to rip each others' legs off.  That is the spirit of adventure racing! Something else pretty cool happened, a group of students from Mizzou was at the race, filming and photographing and later interviewing racers for an article on the sport. I'll post the link to that as soon as I have it, and hopefully we can draw even more athletes into our AR community! If you are a beginner racer and have questions, please use the Contact button at the top of the page to get in touch with me. I love talking to new racers!

Official results/splits: http://bonkhardracing.com/castlewood-8-hr/castlewood-8-hr-results.php
Photos: http://bonkhardracing.com/castlewood-8-hr/castlewood-8-hr-photos-.php
Ludicrous Speed gps track: http://www.strava.com/activities/219665728
Toporadicals gps track: http://www.strava.com/activities/219662739
Team Fusion/Kuat gps track: http://www.strava.com/activities/219958260

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