08 January 2015

Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure 2015: It's Happening!

Yummy!
By their very nature, birthdays come around every year. And mine is coming up soon, January 29th, to be exact. Last year, to "celebrate", I hosted the first ever Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure fundraiser for Team Noah Foundation - a 3-day extravaganza of biking and running with friends. We raised over $2,100 for children with Congenital Heart Defects and their families. This year, we're at it again, but with a few new twists! Please join me and my Team Noah Foundation teammates Friday, February 6th and Saturday, February 7th for a whole lot more of biking and running with friends.
http://www.plumfund.com/pf/teamnoah15
First of all, the easiest way you can help me celebrate my birthday is by making a donation to the Team Noah Foundation. The Foundation was created to memorialize Noah Goscinski, son of Bettina and Dwayne, after he passed away at the age of 10 weeks. Although Noah's time on Earth was brief, he was loved every second by his parents, his brother Lucas, and his team of medical professionals. Team Noah Foundation strives to provide this same experience to other children with Congenital Heard Defects and their families through several short- and long-term goals. Last year, with the money raised by my Epic Birthday Adventure, we purchased hundreds of heart pillows for children and families receiving care at the Cardinal Glennon Dallas Heart Center, where one of Noah's main surgeons now practices. This year, we are again working with the folks at the Dallas Heart Center to help fill their short-term needs. How do you donate? Visit http://www.plumfund.com/pf/teamnoah15 to donate via credit/debit card or PayPal. If you are more comfortable donating by check or cash, please email me for instructions. Please share the link with your friends, family, employers that match funds, and anyone you think might find it in their heart to contribute.

There are a few incentives for those making above-average donations. If you donate over $31.00, you will receive an embroidered winter hat from Dogfish Custom Apparel, one of the main sponsors for Team Noah Foundation. If you donate over $131.00, you will receive a coveted Team Noah hoodie. I have one of these hoodies and practically live in it during the winter, and it's especially nice to wear to chilly mountain bike races. Thank you, Dogfish!

What's that? You donated already? Now you want to participate in the fun stuff? I have plans for you! Last year, I organized three separate stages of birthday adventure on three different days. This year, I'm mashing it all up into 31 straight adventurous hours to test your endurance. The 31 hours are broken down into 5 stages, so you can join in on the whole darn thing if you want, or just select the stages that seem the most fun to you. We will by supported by Team Noah member Matt driving a Dwayne Custom House box truck with our gear and extra bikes, just in case things go wrong and the weather is bad. Here they are, the stages in all their glory:
Me, Jeff, Dwayne, Peat, and Maria on last year's road stage.
STAGE 1: ROAD BIKE, Friday 3.30pm-8pm
Meet at the Alpine Shop in Kirkwood, MO at 3:00 PM on Friday, February 6th. Load up your gear/clothes/mountain bike into the Dwayne Custom Homes box truck which will be our support vehicle. You will be able to park overnight at Alpine Shop if necessary. We will ride roads from Kirkwood to Grafton, IL which is mainly flat. Bring front and rear lights, clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, and any water/sports drink/snacks you need for 50-55 miles of road riding at a relaxed pace.
Start of Aerie's Trail Run in 2014.
STAGE 2: TRAIL RUN, Friday 9pm-Saturday 9am
This is a 12-hour trail race called Aerie's February Freeze. If you are planning to participate in this part of the Epic Birthday Adventure, you need to enter the race at trail run here. The course is a 5ish mile loop with a TON of climbing - this is a great course for hikers because they move almost as fast as the runners up the steep hills. The best thing is you can do as few or as many loops as you want! Bring trail running/hiking shoes, clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, lights, and any water/sports drink/snacks you need to move on your feet for up to 12 hours. A CamelBak, trekking poles, and spare dry clothes are all good things to consider. 
Me, Dwayne, and Adam at Race HQ at Aerie's Trail Run 2014.
STAGE 3: ROAD BIKE/FERRY, Saturday 10am-3pm
After the trail run, we'll change back into biking clothes, climb back on our road bikes, and ride from Grafton to "The Mound" in Weldon Spring, MO.  If you're geographically inclined, you'll realize that there are not one but TWO river crossings involved with the shortest route between these two points. Never fear! That's where the ferries come in! We'll use the Brussels (free) and Golden Eagle ($4) ferries to connect these two great states. Hopefully there will be some bald eagles to watch, too. If either of these ferries are shut down due to ice, we will re-route with the DCH box truck in support. Bring clothing appropriate for the weather conditions, and any water/sports drink/snacks you need for 35 miles of road riding at a relaxed pace.


me, Hunter, and Dwayne on last year's MTB stage.
STAGE 4: MOUNTAIN BIKE/TRAIL RUN, Saturday 3pm-10pm
When we get to The Mound, we'll swap to the mountain bikes that are so carefully stored in the DCH box truck and roll out for a bifecta of Lost Valley and Matson trails (35 miles/4 hours). We'll be back after dark so bring lights. Then a quick-ish change of shoes and we can hop onto the Lewis & Clark foot-only trails for some running (in the dark!)...if anyone can still move at this point. The only caveat is we need to leave the parking lot by 10pm when the area closes. 
Me, last year, dying going over a mere twig.
STAGE 5: ROAD BIKE, Saturday 10pm-Sunday 1am
All that's left between you and finishing Emily's Epic Birthday Adventure 2015: Don't Be A Ferry is 30 miles of pavement between The Mound and Alpine Shop-Kirkwood. It will be dark. It will be cold. But you will have at least one of the finest riding buddies you could ever imagine (ahem...ME!) that will help you push through the pain and make it back to your car. You will need front and rear lights and extra layers, and food, and maybe even some money for some gas station hot chocolate. 
Sunset on the last day of 2014 birthday adventure. #nofilter

OK. Yes. This is a massive undertaking if you intend to participate in all five stages. One of my esteemed Alpine Shop co-workers called it "the S&M version of an athlete's party". And I guess that is partially true, except look at the distances and times I've got on here. NOTHING is fast. I'm assuming a road speed of not more than 12mph. That is totally doable for hours on end. In Stage 2, the 12hr trail run, you can do however many loops you like - hiking a single loop is fine and then you can chill in the (heated) Race HQ until the rest of us are done. Or maybe you just want to ride your mountain bike, in that case just meet us at The Mound on Saturday. This is also a 100% no-drop event. If you are struggling, we will help you, maybe even put you in the DCH box truck for a bit so you can recover. We're not here to race, or sprint, or put the hammer down. Children with Congenital Heart Disease and their families are in it for the long haul, and so is Team Noah Foundation.


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31 December 2014

Guest Race Report: 2014 Bonk Hard Berryman 16hr AR, Part 1

Greetings! I have a race report for you, except not written by me. This one's penned typed by Mike aka "The Garrison" of WABAR fame, and I'm just double-posting it here for you, my lovely readers. We asked Mike to navigate for us (Team Alpine Shop) because David had a family reunion to attend that weekend and, despite the common misconception that we train 24hrs, we actually encouraged him to leave us because family is important!! So Mike wrote most of this, but I added some color commentary.  Be warned, Mike got really wordy, so this is actually going to be a multi-parter.  Yeah.  For a 16 hour race.
Trek 1 – Don’t Try To Be Funny When You’re Clumsy
Before
Before
(CPs 1-7, 3.5k, 0:41) As with most AR’s the start was a mass start under the banner.  This first leg was point to point, so everyone was heading the same direction, to the same control. That control was located about 300 meters downhill from the start. I was racing with people I knew, but as a (fil in) member of Alpine Shop for the first time.
Put all this together and what do you get?  Mike running.  Mike running fast(ish).  Mike actually running at the front of a large pack of racers.  Yeah, that was pretty fun.
HA! I get to take over the comments in red italics now! Hopefully I will be as witty as The Garrison was for the Cowboy Tough race report.
Calm before the storm
Calm before the storm
Fortunately despite my frenzied dash down hill the team managed to stay together and as we popped out on the gravel road on our way to CP2 we were jogging along with WEDALI/Bushwhacker (heretofore to be known as the WhackaDALIans).
These first few controls would surely not make or break the race but everyone is, as usual, pretty amped up while we roll along at our “EZ” pace.  Mike and I have developed a joke about running. I think it happened in the woods at POCAR 2014, I was pretending to run slowly and he had a hard time keeping up with my “EZ” pace. So now whenever we are running fast we just say that is is EZ. NBD. Why are you breathing so hard?  OK, Mike commenting on the commentary.  I have two speeds basically.  Crawl and sprint.  Emily was getting snarky (I know, shocking) about her EZ pace at POCAR so I sprinted by her saying something along the lines of “how’s this for EZ?!?”.  And then I kept it up just long enough to get her a little worried about how long we’d have to go at that pace.  Now, dead sprint is “EZ”. We dive into the woods and snag CP2 with no issues.  On our way down hill towards the ridge with CP3 I catch/stub my toe and almost face myself into a tree.  Unfortunately this is pretty common for me, especially when running the maps.
On the way up the aforementioned ridge I slip on a rock and go down for real this time.  Luckily, falling uphill is not all that painful so I shrug it off.  Again, pretty normal for me.  Plus, having your face buried in a piece of paper rather than watching where you are going is likely to cause some issues.  (So, now that I’ve established myself as clumsy…)
We crest on the ridge at CP3 and head another 40m or so up to the punch.  At this point we’re running close to the WhackaDALIans and Fusion/Kuat and one other team I think.
map2
Opening trek section
I choose to take us along the ridge to the SE that will drop us almost due north from CP4.  In hindsight I’m not sure I like this choice.  There was no real distinct attack point there, so I should have probably just taken the beeline route.  Wish I could think a map through while racing as well as I can 3 months later while sitting on the couch.
As we jog downhill, the terrain starts to get a little rocky and I’m pretty sure I yelled out to everyone to watch their step because, you know, one of THEM might fall and hurt themselves.  I’m a very considerate teammate that way.  We near the bottom and I check the map one more time to make sure I haven’t missed something before leading everyone uphill.
That’s when I spot it.  A chair just sitting in the woods.  Although not as humorous as a toilet, (You’d be surprised how often you come across a toilet just sitting there in the woods while racing in the Midwest.  And the weird part is that it’s not always near any kind of civilization.  I would love to hear the discussion that led up to one or more people lugging a porcelain potty out into the woods…) this is for sure a comedic opportunity that I can’t pass up.
toilet-in-woods
It was super easy to find a toilet in the woods pic.
I’m ahead of everyone else, but I still don’t want to cost us any time, so I speed up (EZ-ilyto get to the chair for a good “photo” op (we have no camera, so there will be no actual photo).  Buuut, instead I just catch my foot on a vine and do a full face plant on the rocky terrain that I had just warned everyone about.
Ouch.  Like, big big ouch.  Like, I’m pretty sure I just ended my race by doing something REALLY stupid and breaking my wrist ouch.   Jeff asks if I’m OK.  I unconvincingly say “yes?”.
Ahhh a dream come true.  First race with a new team and I DNF the team by trying to be funny and falling on my face instead.
Fortunately as I stand and shake myself off I realize that I probably didn’t break my wrist, but just gave myself one heck of a bruise that I’ll no doubt be feeling tomorrow, (I actually wouldn’t, but that’s another story).
As Jeff catches up to check on him I hear him say “Hey, check it out.  A chair.”
Yup.  A chair.
Now that I’m bleeding, the racing can begin in earnest.  (And this is why I love it when The Garrison writes race reports. They’re so stinkin funny!!) We grind our way up the hill to punch CP4 then turn to the SE to head for the road.  Another team (Kuat I think) was there with us and headed due east downhill.  I was worried about missing the road to the north and fighting unnecessarily through the weeds at the bottom of the hill, so I stuck to the SE route.
10441071_10100542480795962_1681603725146330013_n
One of many cool running pics, only one with all of us.
Turns out there was a really nice N/S road at the bottom of the hill that the other team grabbed and took off on while we fought our way l to the corner of the main road.  We lose sight of them here, but it’s early, so nothing to be too concerned about.  (Still frustrating though.  Stuff like that really erodes any feeling you have of being super clean on the nav.)
We run a little too far on the main road before I turn us across the big field to CP5 located in a silo.  Literally IN the silo.  Poor Jeff does a lap with the punch card before we think to look inside and spot the CP. But on the plus side, this allowed the race photographer to get plenty of shots of us looking confused. At least he made up for it by getting some really awesome pictures of us (and everyone else in the race) running across the big field in the misty morning.
Watcha doin' Jeff?  Control's right here!
Watcha doin’ Jeff? Control’s right here!
From the silo it’s a quick run down to the river and along the river for CP7. (This was originally a paddle CP, which had everyone a little perplexed as it involved us going for 2-300 meters the “wrong” way on the river to get the CP before continuing downstream to CP8.  However, as we arrived at the actual put-in Gary advised us that it was now a trek CP.  I never did ask why this was adamantly a paddle CP before the race but then got changed to a trek anyways. I can help you out here. The boat rental folks showed up quite late to the race, so Gary (the race director) made an on-the-spot change to allow the rental folks a bit more time to unload boats before racers started attacking them.
We make a respectable transition to the boats and are off.
Paddle 1 – A Brief Study In ROI (can you tell Mike is a CEO?)
(CP8, 6k, 1:13) I know at least three (possibly four?) teams are neck and neck at the front at this point.  Pretty common result for the first hour of the race.  So far so good.
Nav for this section? Stay wet.
Nav for this section? Stay wet.
Time for some insightful wisdom (that is neither all that insightful nor wise for anyone that actually knows anything about paddling).  When a team is right in front of you in the boats, or right behind you for that matter, it’s really hard to resist paddling harder to catch (or stay away from) that other team.  Thing is, the return on the investment of paddling harder, especially in a short race, is garbage.  Sometimes it feels like you can put in 200% as much effort for about 1.68% improvement on your speed.
Then again, I’ve not always raced on the strongest paddling teams?  I mean, we’re not bad, but compared to Canadians (who all seem to be frighteningly good at paddling), we’re average at best.
Anyways, we paddled to CP7.  Sometimes a little harder, sometimes not so hard.  In the end, we got there.  Not much else to say. Jeff and I were in a different boat than Mike and David, and we thought we had an excellent paddle. Fusion/Kuat was in the lead and we felt that we gained a little bit of time on them, which is awesome because Fusion/Kuat are great paddlers. Of course, just as one of us mentioned that, we ran aground on a small sand bar and Jeff had to get out to push. Just another day racing with Alpine Shop!
10460210_10100542502532402_772703362756809422_n
Paddling
Trek 2 – Time to SHINE*!
*Yes that’s an acronym, read on for the definition.
(CPs 9-24, 15k, 4:28) Now it was time for the first true nav/trek part of the race.  When we inspected the maps the night before, the sequence of controls had seemed pretty obvious, it was just a matter of which direction we would attack them (clockwise vs. counter).  Since we were the second team in behind Kuat, we quickly agreed that whichever direction they went, we would go the other.  We felt reasonably confident that we would be strong on this section and didn’t want to get tangled up with another team.
map trek 1
For real trek #1
They chose counterclockwise so we took off to the north for CP18 to complete the loop clockwise.  All in all things were going pretty well for us in here.  The temps and humidity were rising, but we seemed to be keeping up a pretty good pace.  Although not perfect, my nav and route choice were reasonably solid.  I would say in the first 12 controls I didn’t have more then 15 minutes of total time loss due to little slips or overshots. In particular I remember Garrison successfully relocating on some pretty subtle terrain towards the northern end of this trek. He got a bit nervous, slowed up, then hopped over 1 small reentrant and BAM! There was the flag! This stuff is definitely not as easy as it looks and he was crushing it.
Not enough for us to be confident of coming out of this section with a lead by any means, but I hadn’t cost us the race.
Then came CP23 and with it my time to SHINE (Suck Hard IN Excess).  At one point I would have sworn that this control was attached to the back of a wild hare that was just running all over that spur. It was that bad.  I was sloppy with the first attack and the sight lines were not great.  Not an uncommon mistake, even for an experienced navigator, but one that should be recovered from quickly and efficiently.
I did neither.
The safest bet would have been to head back north to the trail we attacked from originally and start over, but more carefully.  Instead, we reset and re-attacked from the fence line to the south.  THREE TIMES.
(I know that woods all start to look the same after a while but I swear that all the of those attacks felt like Groundhog Day moments.)
What I'm pretty sure we did at 23
What I’m pretty sure we did at 23
We also tried attacking from (what I thought was) a small re-entrant to the west.  All with no luck.  (I should have been freaking out at this point.  New guy on the team taking over for a trusted and highly accomplished friend/teammate/navigator in David Frei, and now I’m bumbling like mad through the woods.  But, everyone kept their cool and helped me talk through the options.  In the end I think it was Jeff or Emily that said “let’s try doing it this way”, and that ended up being the trick.  The best (good teammates) and worst (SUCKING at nav) of AR all wrapped up in a nice little package.) Even when Mike started to get a little desperate, we all stuck together and kept trying different things. Jeff is probably one of the best “navigational consultants” around because he can always suggest a logical sequence of solutions, and doesn’t make you feel stupid in the process.
So it’s down to the wire and we do one last reset. (one last before having to move on the next control then decide whether or not to use THAT as our next reset point.  A grim proposition at best.)  All the way south back to the fence, then west and north up the huge re-entrant.  Even though things don’t look right at the start we stick with it and sure enough, at the top of the small re-entrant (that we thought we had used 25 minutes prior, turns out we didn’t) we walk right to it.
At this point I’m struggling with overwhelming feelings of relief and anxiety.  At least we found it, but the big question is how much time did it cost us?
The last two controls are easy and we make our way to the TA to get back in the boats.  Which is where we discover that we’ve lost over an hour to the WhackaDALIans, and about 45 minutes to Kuat.
Ugh. I felt the same way too. Not upset with any of my teammates AT ALL...just fearful of the amount of pain we were about to put ourselves in chasing these two speedy teams, with no guarantee that we could ever catch them.

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29 December 2014

Project Deliverance: How I Got Here

I've alluded to it many times in my 2014 race reports: I had a secret weapon this year. Not a pill or superfood or piece of carbon gear. Well, I suppose you could call it a piece of gear, but this secret weapon was designed to be as heavy as possible instead of lightweight.
Visiting GoSonja in 2011!
https://twitter.com/goSonja/status/126874103792664576
Like many things in my athletic life, it all goes back to my former triathlon coach, GoSonja. I was coached by her in 2011 and 2012 as I got more serious about doing well in long-ass races, specifically Ironman triathlon. Before becoming a speedy triathlete herself, Sonja had a background in trail ultras and mountaineering, and I felt she would be able to understand training me for on-road triathlons while also accommodating my need to throw in an off-road adventure race every so often. Early on in our coach-athlete relationship, she sent me an article written by a climber that she felt described training me: TNSTAAFL by Mark Twight.

It's hard to find a copy of the entire TNSTAAFL article on-line, but I'll give you the acronym: There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Mr. Twight specifically references pursuing aerobic fitness through anaerobic interval training, and how it doesn't work. Then Mr. Twight further writes about the need to develop aerobic base through actual aerobic training, which is time consuming and deceptively easy, instead of more intense anaerobic efforts, like interval workouts, that can be squeezed in to a much shorter time frame.
http://www.gymjones.com/gym/disciple/1/
I read the article. I read it again. And again. It educated me and fired me up at the same time. Who was this Mark Twight guy, anyway? Google to the rescue, natch. To sum things up rather primitively, Mr. Twight is the founder of Gym Jones, a gym based on Salt Lake City that prepares people to do all sorts of mind-bendingly amazing things, from lift large amounts of weight off of the floor to go to the top of tall mountains to some things that are probably classified to the American public. Oh yes, and they also train a bunch of movie stars.

Fast-forward to December 2013, this Gym Jones place had been floating around in my consciousness for about two years, but I never quite knew where to start along their path to badassery. I certainly couldn't show up to Salt Lake and ask to join in a few sessions, plus that's not really how the place works, anyway. And then I heard about a gym in St. Louis, Project Deliverance, which was expanding into a new location and hosting an open house for new athletes. I didn't know anyone associated with the gym, but when I found out that its owners were in tight with the Gym Jones folks, I had to check it out. So I stopped by their open house on my way home from one of my most satisfying solo race victories of all time, just to see what was up.

I liked it right away. A bare-bones gym set-up, no fancy machines or mirrors, just a space with racks, rings, and a mis-matched fleet of AirDyne bikes, C2 rowers, and a SKIerg or two. Yes, this will do. I liked what I heard even more. After chatting with Matt Owen, owner and chief motivator/trainer/coach/interior decorator, I knew this would be a great fit. He was interested in adventure racing and how he could use his knowledge of strength to help my capacity for endurance. The thing that sealed it was Matt asked me to send him a copy of my training plan, so he could concoct some strength workouts that would compliment the rhythm of my season.
from one of my first sessions at PD. I think that's 165# on DL which was my 1RM at the time.
http://instagram.com/p/iKs-vkq7QA/?modal=true
I agreed to send him my schedule, and after a few more emails, I found myself in the gym the next week. Matt paired me up with a few other veteran girls and coached us through a workout, stopping often to demonstrate proper form and make technique suggestions. Here it is, my first ever Project Deliverance session:
WU: 10min EZ AirDyne, foam roll, 2x10 air squat, 3x5 wall squat, 2x10 shoulder dislocate, 2x20m forward/backward walking lunge  
THEN: back squat: 10x45#, 5x70#, 3x105# 
AND: 5 rounds of: 5x70# back squat, 40m sled push +15#, rest
CD: some core stuff and 50cal AirDyne relay.
Even after that short session, I was hooked. What got me most was the atmosphere at Project Deliverance seemed to balance all sorts of life goals. Some people in the gym were obviously athletes, focusing on Olympic lifting or bike racing. Some people were there for weight loss. Some people were there to reclaim their youth, or postpone getting old, whichever way you want to look at it. But despite the wide range of fitness and goals, everyone had a mission and was executing it. That sort of community is really hard to develop, but here it was, just 3 miles from my apartment. I had struck gold, thanks to a long-lost Gym Jones article landing in my lap and refusing to be ignored.

Next up: what it's like to train at Project Deliverance.

While you wait, check out Project Deliverance's instagram feed full of awesome people doing awesome things, and website with examples of daily training. Oh yeah, they're on bookface too.

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20 December 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 5)

NOTE: This is the fifth 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
Part 4

START OF DAY 4

Andrei prepping his bike for the start of Day 4. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
Our alarms go off around 0400 after a solid 4hr sleep and we go about preparing for our final day on the Cowboy Tough 2014 course: a 50-mile road ride into Casper where we will drop our bikes off at the finish line, then run a paved trail to the paddle put-in, and paddle back to the finish line through a man-made whitewater park on the North Platte River. We pack our bins up for the last time, load them onto Rev3’s Mobile TA, and get set for the day with a slew of other teams.


BIKE 1, CPs 47-49, 50mi 
The final bike ride, 50mi on 1:gajillion scale Gazeteer map.

The final bike ride, 50mi on 1:gajillion scale Gazeteer map.
We roll out on pavement in a tight pack with Tecnu, Columbia, and YogaSlackers, among others. Our new friends on the YogaSlackers help WABAR stay together by letting us in their draft from time to time. The pace is quite fast but by working together, we are able to stay in the main pack, laughing and smiling with exhilaration as the sun rises on a picture-perfect Wyoming day.  And at this point we were experiencing a first for the 2014 running of Cowboy Tough (at least for our team).  WE WERE ACTUALLY USING OUR BIKE LIGHTS.  I spent considerable time debating my current battery stash and ultimately opted to invest in a monster batter for my Lupine.  That thing could easily get me through the night (probably two) on full gas.  And this was, quite literally, the first time I turned it on. 
The pack of YogaSlackers, Columbia/Vidaraid, and Tecnu that we got spit out of. Photo by Erik Sanders (Yogis)
After several miles, the route turns south on some gravel and the pack breaks up a little bit, making drafting much harder and our effort levels rise. Anyone that has ever biked in a group is very familiar with this situation.  Phase 1, full of adrenaline, “yeah man, I got this, I’m a beast, bring it!!"  Phase 2, concern, “wow, this is pretty tough, I might need to get a little closer to that person’s back tire for more draft while my legs warm up”.  Phase 3, implosion immediately followed by ejection off the back of the pack, (no quote for this part because you are generally hypoxic and have lost the ability to speak).
Garrison and Rachel crushing it!
It’s a difficult conundrum to face, and an even tougher one to solve for a 4-person team on day 4 of an adventure race, but luckily Garrison decides to run over a nail and puncture his tire, thus making the choice for us.  (and avoiding Phase 3 above) We stop and fix the flat, then resume riding at our own pace.
pigtails FTW!
As we get back to riding, we weave through different teams we’ve met over the course of the race. It’s great to share a quick chat with everyone, and for several miles we hook up with the 4-guy team GUTS who are all from Wyoming. They give us the inside scoop on post-race restaurants in Casper, plus some intel on a good route back into town. We briefly scoot ahead of them, but once we reach Casper city limits, GUTS catches back up (probably due to Mike’s inevitable poop stop, yeah for real).  (Despite my best efforts to resolve this before starting I had to make one more stop in a cow field before returning to civilization.  What can I say, I’m exceedingly regular) GUTS then leads us the local way back to TA. It’s super fun to take the locals-only shortcuts, connecting sidewalks and bike paths with a few meters of dirt trails here and there. On one of the paths we see Tecnu and Columbia running so everyone gets a high-five...yee-haw!

We reach the Start/Finish line with a cruel reality - the race isn’t over yet! We drop our bikes, but have a 5-ish mile run still to go, followed by the final paddle. In some consolation, we don’t have to bring any mandatory gear besides helmets, but Andrei still takes a pack for the team to carry everyone’s water. It’s pretty hot out and we can’t neglect hydration/nutrition even in the final hours.

TREK 1, no CPs, 5.5mi
The route to the paddle put-in is marked on our maps as mandatory, following a network of Casper’s paved pedestrian trails. It’s not that hard to navigate, but it is really hard to summon anything more than a shuffle from our legs. But a shuffle is still better than walking, so we slowly make our way along the path, reminding each other to keep drinking and keep our eyes on the prize.  I can say with certainty that this was absolutely the worst five miles of the race for me.  I had NO desire to push myself, I think my normal “heading to the finish line” adrenaline boost was broken since we were heading AWAY from the finish line...
Tecnu and Columbia/Vidaraid on the run. Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
As we “run”, we get glimpses of the whitewater features on the North Platte River, and they look a bit scary. Sure, they’re man-made, so that reduces the chance of weird underwater rocks and foot entrapments, but they still look harder than anything we’ve ever paddled in a canoe before. So we give ourselves pep talks as we shuffle along - “keep your eyes up” “find a good line” and “no matter what, KEEP PADDLING”.

We finally reach the paddle put-in and experience a mixture of excitement and fear starting the final leg of Cowboy Tough. Just a 5-mile downstream paddle, how hard could it be?

PADDLE 1, no CPs, 5mi
And for the first few miles, it’s NOT hard. The current is helping us out and, as Midwesterners, we’re plenty experienced in paddling canoes with our double-bladed kayak paddles.


And then, we hit the manmade whitewater park. There are 4 rapids, each somewhere around Class II or III. Mike and Emily lead off and hit the first one okay, but take on a ton of water on the second and have to pull over to bail out the boat. Oh boy was I missing the good old yellow bananas.  These flat bottom boats were a bear to keep balanced once they got 3-4 inches of water in them.  Rachel and Andrei are following closely behind and have to do the same, although we’re all glad to be stopping of our own accord rather than unceremoniously dumping...that is, until the third rapid. It’s big. We’re paddling giant bowls. Here, let’s just let Legendary Randy’s video explain what happened (click to 1:56 for WABAR footage):

To recap: Emily and Mike take a slightly sub-optimal line into the whitewater. Emily gets knocked off-balance by the waves and does a ninja kick to compensate, but she DOESN’T STOP PADDLING and is able to recover. Mike and Emily explode into laughter as Legendary Randy cheers them on. (Note from Emily: I honestly don’t know how I got knocked off-balance. The video doesn’t show any weird waves, but I just remember paddling along and then all of a sudden my foot was in the air above my head. What? But whenever I am scared on the water, I always try to picture Super-K paddling a packraft at Untamed New England 2014 , that girl just DOES NOT QUIT and everything is okay. So as soon as I got my foot back on the bottom of the boat where it belonged, I tried to resume paddle-like motions, and surprise! everything was okay!) (Even as it was happening and immediately after all I can remember thinking was "WTF", followed by “at least we are not swimming”)
My favorite GIF of all time.
Andrei and Rachel take an even more sub-optimal line into the third rapid. No ninja kicks ensue, but despite taking on a ton of water, they both KEEP PADDLING and keep the boat upright. Except, a few more meters downstream, Andrei and Rachel’s boat has taken on so much water then it becomes unruly and they swamp. At this point, Emily and Mike had pulled over to the riverbank to bail out their boat and don’t see their teammates bobbing in the water. Emily and Mike get back in their newly-emptied boat, take a look around, no teammates. Oh no. What happened? We start paddling towards the fourth and final rapids in the whitewater park, and spot Andrei and Rachel running on the bike path next to the river, with their paddles but no boat. Oh dear. This could be bad. At this point I was extremely concerned that Rachel and my “paddling at the very end of the long race” curse had struck again.  Two years ago at UNE we lost our packraft thanks to the unfortunately timing of an out of boat control and a damn dam release.  5 minutes away from the boat, and by the time we were back it was on its way to the Atlantic.  At speed.  Thankfully, Mark Lattanzi of GOALS was there to crush the one man packraft sprint and save our boat, and thankfully this little mishap was not as bad as it could have been...


Except, it’s not nearly as bad as it could be, thanks to the continuing kindness of the GUTS team. They find Andrei and Rachel’s boat in the river before the 4th rapids, grab it, and haul it over to the riverbank where Andrei and Rachel are stranded. The six of them (4 GUTS and 2 WABAR) maneuver the boat around the rapids and get everyone situated just as Emily and Mike come through the splashy-splashy. What a relief!


Now that the best/worst part of the water is behind us, we just have a few more miles of downstream paddling to crush out before finishing (!!) Cowboy Tough 2014. We spend these miles reflecting on the adrenaline surge of the whitewater and the overall accomplishment of completing a 4-day stage race, which for 2 of us is our first multi-day effort ever. We cruise into the final take-out with GUTS and, out of appreciation for their continued sportsmanship all day, ask them to cross the finish line ahead of us, to the cheers of their waiting families. Great job guys!  (One of the coolest things about doing the last couple of hours of the race near GUTS was the fact that they had a family and friend cheering section that we got to benefit from.  I think it wasn’t until the third time we saw them on the running trail to the paddle (yeah, they kept leapfrogging so they could cheer their team on multiple times!) before we realized it was the same people.  Then I’m sure it had to have been Emily that asked who they were, introduced us, shared emails and blog addresses then got herself invited to Christmas dinner.  That’s just how she rolls.)
WABAR at the finish line of Cowboy Tough! Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
When it’s time for WABAR to cross the finish line, we are arm-in-arm, exceedingly grateful that we are all still friends. As any team does, we had our tense moments out there that tested the strength of our partnership. But in the end, the pull of the finish line and the commitment to represent the Midwestern AR community was plenty motivation to stick it out and keep pushing forward. We finish Cowboy Tough in 4th place overall, behind a highly experienced podium - Tecnu (1st), Columbia/Vidaraid (2nd) and YogaSlackers (3rd).
WABAR during the awards ceremony! Photo by Chris Radcliffe.
After we finish, Rev3 has provided a plentiful post-race buffet from Qdoba so we all load up our plates and chow down, socializing with other teams and even Wyoming’s governor! Our stomachs are so happy to be filled with real food, and we’re grateful that the weather is nice enough to just lounge around outside and be comfortable.


We all start gradually checking back into the real world, turning on our phones that have been buried in luggage for the past several days. For Andrei, Mike, and Emily, it’s the usual emails and bookface messages popping up. For Rachel, it’s an entirely new level of emotion as she learns that one of her good friends in Arkansas has passed away after a mountain bike crash. This is difficult news to handle at any time, but in the physical and mental post-race exhaustion, it’s just too much.

The news is hard on her and as a team, we try to do everything we can to help her cope, while at the same time sorting through gear and packing up for our flights back home tomorrow. Thankfully, Mike’s Dad is on hand to help shuttle people and bins, and even take us out to dinner!  (It was very cool having dad there for a race, even if it was only the closing ceremonies.) We eventually get everything packed away, and hit up the local Dairy Queen with Tecnu, Silent Chasers, Adventure Capitalists/BDAR, and others for a late-night calorie binge.  French fries and ice cream?  Yes please.

POST-RACE:
Andrei, cashed out.
So there you have it folks, the long-winded race report from my first multi-day adventure race. Some retrospective thoughts:


--We definitely did not expect to get that much sleep/down time between each day (2hrs, 6hrs, 4hrs sleep, plus extra off-the-clock time spent socializing and dealing with bins). I came into this race expecting to go straight through and having to manage our own sleep. If I’d known we’d get that much sleep I might have packed more comfort items in my TA bin. I’m a little disappointed about not having the chance at pure exhaustion, but overall, it was probably a good thing because I still have a lot to learn about TAing fast out of a bin.

--We were super conservative on water/food and each of us probably carried way too much in that department. But, the goal wasn't fast-n-light...it was steady-n-smart. We definitely accomplished that.


--I was very, VERY happy with how we managed our effort throughout the race. We only focused on our steady-n-smart goal and not other teams passing us. We all had our low moments but really nothing catastrophic, and they were never all simultaneous. This paid off big time as we were able to push hard late on Day 3.


--Eating went well for me, although I packed WAY too much food.  (Me too.  Still working on the last of the gels I bought for the race…) Some of that was just a function of the course being short. Things that worked great for me on course: CR333, pecan sandies, dark chocolate/salt MOJO bars, flat pretzels. Things that were good in TA: Boost, Tortillas with dehydrated eggs, oatmeal, fruit cups. (Secret weapon form me, 3000 combined calories of dehydrated mac n’ cheese and Campbell’s Chunky Soup.  Thank God for that 6 hours of sleep…) I never really got sick of anything, these were just extra good.


--Gear that went well for me: CEP calf sleeves + swiftwick aspire socks. Loose shorts for trekking and paddling (the kind with built-in underwear). White arm coolers. (I’ll never ever ever go to a race without arm coolers again, even though I don’t think they’re quite as effective in midwestern humidity) CHAPSTICK!!!!! (<----Yes, just, yes.  By the end of a long race chapstick has passed food and water on the needs hierarchy and making a hard run at oxygen.)


--Not a lot of nav required for the race. That was a bummer, but we did sort of expect that. We were super proud that when there was actual navigation, we crushed it (fastest split overall in Hell’s Half Acre).  I could probably write an entire blog post on my thoughts on this.  As a teammate that generally provides value through his navigation skills this can be a tough one.  It’s easy to feel marginalized when you’re not strong at all physically and all you have to do on nav is “not screw up”.  Then, at the nav crux of the race I folded and turned the maps over. But, I feel pretty good about being able to swallow my pride/ego and let Andrei work his magic.  Which he totally did!

--I’m surprised more teams didn't run CX tires. I thought hard about it but at the last minute ran out of time. Even with the advertised singletrack (that didn't actually make it into the final course), I think CX tires would have been way faster because there was so much road riding.

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