19 March 2013

Race Report: 2013 Bonk Hard Chill 12hr AR

Exactly a month after our overall win at the 2013 Bonk Hard LBL Challenge 18hr AR, I reunited with Alpine Shop to take on the 12hr adventure race known around these parts simply as The Chill. We had been training together a little bit more since LBL and were excited for this barn burner of a race which would feature some smokin' fast teams from around the Midwest.

I meet up with the boys at our favorite commuter lot to load everything into the Sona-van for the trip down to Osage Beach, MO. There's nothing I love more than the sheer absurdity of 4 bikes mounted on 1 mini-van and we get a lot of looks as we cruise down I-44 to the race site. A quick stop for lunch lets us visit with Jeff's dad which is awesome, they are even wearing the same pair of Crocs!! When we get to Lake of the Ozarks, we check in at race sponsor Oz Cycles & Kayaks. We get our race packets, visit with Gary and Ellen, and chat with Dan about the upcoming OGRE.
Any guesses which car is ours?
After check-in we stop at next-door Paul's Supermarket for some last-minute junk race food and water. Then we bring everything back to the hotel for bike prep, and thankfully it's nice enough to do this outside. As we are messing with our gear, racers start streaming in and it's fun to greet our friends! Pretty soon it's time to head over to the pre-race meeting where Bonk Hard hands out tons of schwag, along with a kayak raffle (we did not win) and the race map for tomorrow. We get coordinates for the first 27 CPs, and will receive coordinates for 2 more CPs (8 and 27) on the course tomorrow, along with however many checkpoints he will have after we punch the first 29.
The map!
Back at the hotel, we chow down on my favorite pre-race meal (pizza!!) and get to the business of plotting. This course is more traditional than last month's LBL Challenge, but we are excited for the head-to-head competition it will bring. Gary still manages to include some choice into the race, allowing CPs 16-18 to be visited in any order and in any mode. We decide they will be a short trekking loop for us. We also pack our gear bags with extra food and water which we will have access to at CP20, slightly past the mid-way point of the race. After the map is done, we spend some time agonizing over clothing and food choices. It's clear that the resupply bag isn't all that necessary - each of us could carry enough calories to get us through the entire race - but we plan on stashing a few treats in there, just because we can. And although it takes us at least 20 minutes to decide on which pair of gloves to wear (fleece? wool? windproof? waterproof? mittens? etc etc etc), it takes the boys about 30 seconds to decide how I should do my hair ("PIGTAILS!!!").
Doug fraternizing with the enemy...
Race morning wakes us up at 4:45am, and I am proud to say I have had yet another sound pre-race sleep. We quickly pack up the Sona-van, eat breakfast, drink Doug's special turbo-charged coffee, and head over to the bike drop at 5:30am. Then it's back to Race HQ in Osage Beach City Park for the pre-race meeting at 6:30am and the race start at 7:00am!

TREK 1 (4.7mi, CPs 1-6, 1:06)
It's a mad dash to CP1, with 39 teams all gunning for the same location. We push the pace out of HQ and run right past the Sona-van where David chucks his warm-up fleece. Turns out that most of the field follows us and we run in a crowd to CP1. I'm excited about racing and it occurs to me that this is so much better than a mass Ironman swim start. At some point we slide down a super-steep bank and I can feel something's wrong with my tights. Did I rip them? Is my butt hanging out for the entire race to see? My tights were already tattered from the infamous CP E at CPT Nationals, but I keep hoping they'll last for one more race. In any case, there's no time to worry about unintentional flashing now, because we have punched CP1 and are streaking (pun intended) through the woods on our way to CPs 2, 3, and 4. On the attack to CP4, we have a little bit of hesitation, but there are several other teams around us and everyone struggles from the group think. But we bounce one reentrant north and find the CP. We jet off to CP5 and then up the trail to CP6 where our bikes are waiting.
David, (Jeff Ryan from 34 Down), me, Jeff, Doug at CP6.
It's mass chaos as there are at least six other teams all arriving at the TA within 5 minutes of each other. I do my best triathlon-inspired transition and then help the boys with their remaining shoes and gear. Then it's time for some biking!

BIKE 1 (7.5mi, CPs 7-9, 0:36)
We have a slight (aka 30-second) lead leaving the TA and we are firing on all cylinders. We enjoy a lightning fast, paved descent and then it's time for a towing paceline. My goal for this race has been to stay in the boys' draft as much as possible to keep the team speed high. It's working so far as we hit CP7 in the lead. Here, we are given UTM coordinates for CP8, which we must plot on the map. It's my and David's job to plot and my brain completely freaks out...we can't find the right box, I use the wrong scale on the plotter, and suddenly we are surrounded by other teams and it's chaos. Jeff snaps us to attention and we finally get the point plotted correctly, but by now our slim lead has evaporated.
Gear check at CP9, me showing the race volunteers' my emergency blanket.
But we do our best to push to CP8 and CP9 and get the job done, clawing back a few seconds' advantage over 34 Down, Team Fusion, and Bushwhacker. When we arrive at CP9, we have a gear check, which we pass successfully and then it's time for a short trek to the boats.
Me taking David's shoes off after passing the gear check at CP9.
TREK 2 (1.5mi, CPs 10-12, 0:22)
Alpine Shop leaving CP9 in the lead!
We run out of CP9 just barely in front of 34 Down and Team Fusion, but we are all feeling good on our feet.  David nails the nav as usual, but so do the other 2 teams and we all pop out of the woods together at the paddle put-in.
Approaching CP12.
PADDLE 1 (3.5mi, CPs 13-15)
At the put-in, Doug and David pick out some boats (what kind? good ones!) as Jeff and I assemble paddles. We are trying a new nav strategy for the paddle, and it involves me holding the maps. At LBL, David had his hands full trying to nav and steer the boat through tough conditions, and he suggested that it might be easier for someone in the front of the boat to take over nav. With my recent success on the maps, I volunteered and we are trying the arrangement for the first time today. I am slightly terrified about holding this responsibility, but I just narrate our route constantly and things actually go pretty well. We are able to pull slightly ahead of 34 Down (who are using canoe paddles) and Team Fusion as we punch CPs 13, 14, and 15.
Time to paddle and nav! Leaving CP12.
TREK 3 (2.1mi, CPs 16-18)

The race instructions have told us that we can punch CPs 16-18 in any order and by any mode. If you look at the picture above (recreated from google maps), you can see that if you were a good paddling/bad trekking team, you might want to hit one or more of these CPs from the water. But, we are a good trekking team, so last night we decided to beach the canoe at the north end of the peninsula and trek 17-16-18 and then get back in the boats. We punch CP17 cleanly, but Team Fusion catches us on the way to CP16. They get slightly ahead and as we're running, David starts to sense that we've gone too far and missed our spur. We backtrack a little, and then get on the correct spur for CP16. We breathe a sigh of relief (actually more like a gasp, we are really pushing the pace here to get away from Fusion). But our good vibes are short-lived as we spot 34 Down attacking CP16 from below and they get the punch first. Crap!! We chase them to CP18 and then back to the boats, where they are in the water a few minutes ahead of us. And, just as we push off the shore, Team Fusion comes crashing out of the woods. This is a tight race!!

PADDLE 2 (3.5mi, CPs 19-20)
The chips are DOWN here at the Bonk Hard Chill, and we decide as a team to give the maps back to David for the return paddle. The wind has kicked up a little and I find that I can paddle faster without staring at the maps, and we need all the team speed we can get to claw our way into the lead of this race. However, Team Fusion has other ideas as they put their excellent paddling skills to good use and get a decent gap on us and 34 Down. We are approaching the take-out at CP20, which is also where our re-supply bags are located. We do a team check and everyone reports having plenty of calories in their packs to finish out the race. So we decide to only grab Coke and Ensure out of the drop bags and drink those on the run to CP21. It's a furious transition as we stack the canoes, disassemble paddles and put them into the drop bags, grab the drinks, and boogie out of there.

TREK 4 (0.5mi, CP 21, 0:09)
Have you ever tried sharing a can of Coke with someone who has just chugged strawberry Ensure? I have, and the results are not as bad as you might imagine. It's like a variation of Cherry Coke....mmmmmmm. But there's hardly time to enjoy this "delicious" flavor combination since we have a super-short trek up and over a ridge to CP21 where our bikes are waiting. Team Fusion is just leaving as we arrive and we quickly throw on bike shoes and take off after them.

Getting ready to leave CP21
BIKE 2 (15.5mi, CPs 22-28, 2:13)
Time to hustle!!
We are in a really tough spot here. We are more than half-way through the race and have been unable to get a permanent gap on Team Fusion. And 34 Down is only a few minutes back, only thanks to the advantage our kayak paddles gave us on the water. How can we possible take the win here?? There's only one way to find out, and that is to bike our tails off in pursuit of Team Fusion. And we do just that, flying down the paved road and using the paceline and tows to our advantage. After about 6 miles of pavement, the route turns to singletrack and by the time we reach CP22 on the trail, we have Team Fusion in our sights. We keep pace with them to CP23, and then it's time for some race strategery.

On Friday night, we noticed that the route from CP23 to CP24 involves a large amount of singletrack. While we are a good biking team, singletrack can be slow, especially when it contours around like this trail is shown on the map to do. We also noticed that there is an airport boundary oriented almost exactly in the direction we want to go between these two CPs. So, we gave ourselves an option: depending on what the vegetation looks like on the airport fence, we could bikewhack to CP24 to shave off some distance between these two checkpoints. Trouble is, Team Fusion is right on our tails, and we don't want to give our plan away. So when we get to the airport, we pull the most obvious diversion tactic known to adventure racers: a well-timed pee break. And we sell it too, each of us finding excess liquid in our bladders that needs to get out, NOW. Team Fusion takes one glance and decides to jump on their chance to gain the lead, taking off down the trail. Once they are out of sight, we gleefully grab our bikes and take off on bikewhack along the airport fence. It's even better than we imagined; parts are actually rideable and the spur we need to attack CP24 is obvious. The woods are pretty open, too. This is good. This is really good.

After punching CP24, we bikewhack again for a short distance to CP25. On the way to CP26, we encounter a long line of horseback riders out for a trail ride. Trail etiquette (and race rules) require us to yield to horses, so we get off our bikes and wait while the horses pass. This is hard to do since we are pretty sure we just leapfrogged into the lead and have to bank any precious time we can. But, we know it's also important to be good AR ambassadors so we stay quiet and let the horses go past (and do not feed them any treats even though I want to).

We enjoy a loose, sketchy, screaming fast downhill into CP26, and then have to plot coordinates to CP27. I'm nervous about this after my brain explosion earlier at CP7, but the calm surroundings help and David is able to easily pick a route to CP27 (again with a little bikewhacking). At every soft part of the trail we come to, we are looking for tire tracks, but we don't see any so our confidence starts to grow. We zoom into CP28, our last known checkpoint, and are greeting with one of the favorite sights of adventure racers: a TA with no other bikes. The bikewhack worked! We are in the lead!
Plotting the last trek.
TREK 5 (5.5mi, CPs 29-36, 1:33)
The final trek. Map and CPs are to scale. Route is....not.
We are feeling awesome. Tired from the previous 6 hours and 43 minutes of racing, yes, but having this hard-fought lead is like fire in our blood. One last trek stands between us and the finish line, and we haven't seen Team Fusion in all our time spent plotting. We thank the volunteers and take off into the woods for the final 8 CPs. These are ROGAINE-style, but I can't remember the order we took them in. I do, however, remember absolutely hammering this trek. We are all out of breath, sore, and cramping up a little, but we work as a team to get each other up each hillside and down each reentrant. Jeff and David share the workload of the passport. Doug tows me up the steepest hills. Chocolate-covered espresso beans and LiquidShot are my late-race fuels of choice, and they help convince my legs to keep firing. David's navigation is impeccable and we tick off each CP one by one. By the time we punch our last one, I'm so exhausted that I don't even realize we are headed towards the finish line. The baseball fields appear as we crest the last ridgeline, but I'm confused as to why we are finishing when there are still more CPs out there. The boys assure me that we've got everything, and we make one last route choice around the outfield towards the Bonk Hard inflatable arch.
We're done!!
All is quiet at Race Headquarters, and that's exactly the way we like it. In another extreme departure from Ironman, a quiet finish line is the best kind there is because it means you're the first to arrive. It's like waking up before everyone else on Christmas morning and just sitting in your bed, listening to the quiet house and anticipating the awesome presents that are surely waiting downstairs. Or like hanging out in the tent before attempting to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I give an exhausted hug to Gary, thanking him for an excellent course.
But as soon as the Bonk Hard staff sees us, they start clanging their signature cowbell greeting which is my favorite sound to hear at the end of a tough race!
David, Jeff, me, Doug. Shorties in the middle. Winners all around.
POST-RACE (1st place division, 1st place overall, 8:16 total race time)
After crossing the finish line, we have a little chat with Gary about route choices, and then hurry back to the Sona-van to change into warm dry clothes. While we're back there, Team Fusion finishes only 25 minutes behind us. We learn they had a flat just after leaving us at the airport, and were confused why we didn't ride by as they changed it. And that they arrived at CP28 only 2 minutes after we left. They put up a huge fight and we are so excited to squeak by with a win. 34 Down rolls through the finish line in 3rd place overall, also finishing up a really great race. On Friday night, we went through the course and made some time estimates for each leg. At one point in the race we were an hour ahead of that schedule. This just goes to show how heated the competition was, everyone was blowing past their pre-conceived paces to try and gain the lead. That's really racing, and that's why we love this sport!
Sorry to finish this report with a pic of my butt, but this is what happened to my tights in the first 30 minutes of racing. Kitten bottoms indeed.
Special shoutouts to: Alpine Shop for awesome sponsorship of the team and the sport of AR in general, Carrie Sona for cheering us on from St. Louis, Leonard for cheering us on before and during the race, Joyce for cheering and bringing us delicious gooey butter cake after the race, and all of the Bonk Hard volunteers for being on top of their game all day long! Pin It


  1. You guys are off to a great start this season - congrats to Team Alpine Shop!

    1. Thanks Abby! Now that we're on a roll. there is a bit of a break in the season before back-to-back DINO and Planet. eeeek!