03 May 2013

Race Report: 2013 Boonecrusher 12hr AR

Way back in January, I had a panic attack. As I was looking at my 2013 race calendar, there were no adventure races popping up. As I've come to realize that adventure racing is just about my favorite sport in the entire world, this worried me. However, you need a team to compete in adventure races and I didn't have one. So I sent an email to a bunch of people I've raced with before, asking if they would be needing a girl for any of their races in the future.

Dave answered. He was looking at racing the Boonecrusher 12hr in Iowa with his Gnome Hunters teammates. I responded with a gleeful "Yes!" and was happy to have at least one race on my calendar. Then, Carrie from Alpine Shop got hurt, and all of a sudden I had several more races on the schedule. But I didn't mind, I love adventure racing! Here's the story of my 12 hours as a Gnome Hunter.

I drive up to Boone, IA on Friday afternoon and, after a couple of delays, finally meet my teammates for pre-race pizza at Belluci Pizza House in Boone. Despite my late arrival, the boys were able to pick up maps for tomorrow and get this...they are already DONE plotting and route-planning! So efficient! They give me the scoop on how the race will unfold and we start strategizing about water and paddles. The pizza at Belluci's is really, really good and it's a great omen for the race tomorrow.
The Boonecrusher II: Go for broke or be broken!
We return to the hotel and I start messing with my tires - there is only minimal singletrack tomorrow and I think that I can get by with cx tires (700x35) on my mtb wheels. So I mount the front one up and have a hard time getting it to seat on my Stan's Crest rims. The more I look at it, the more it looks just too skinny, even for gravel, so I switch back to my regular AR mtb tires, after patching several sidewall cuts and discovering the tube I had in there originally won't re-inflate. Hrmph. I use up my spare mtb tube but I only brought 1 (my bad for being unprepared) so tomorrow I'll have a 700c tube as my spare. Not ideal, but hopefully we'll manage. Then we get our gear sorted and I get a Gnome Hunters nickname..."Gear Snuggler"...love it! Every piece of gear needs a good snuggle now and then. Bedtime is 11p which is super early for an AR. Things are looking good! Race morning is way easy with coffee in the hotel and my normal pre-race breaky ready to go. We drive over to Seven Oaks Recreation Center and get everything sorted for the start. The race organizers, 41 North, have got a fantastic number of teams for both their 8hr and 12hr races and Seven Oaks is abuzz with activity.

TREK 1 (13.5k, 1:11)
Point A is the start. Point B is the first CP. 3.6 miles in between. Ouch.
We take off just after 0600 on a 7 mile out-n-back road run. Not the most inspiring of starts to an adventure race, but you've got to break up the field somehow, and running on pavement will do just that. Predictably, our buddies from WEDALI (Biz, Erl, Tom, Kelly) take off in front and then there are a few teams back to us. It's always interesting racing with new teammates, but we seem to all have the same idea about what a reasonable effort is for this first section. This is a great sign. As we approach the turnaround, however, my legs start talking to me. Despite a ridiculously easy week of training/recovery after the OGRE, they just don't have the same snap I'm used to while adventure racing, and I start to get worried about being able to contribute to my team for the entire race. Uh oh. Best I can do for now is keep eating and race on.
A good mantra for just about any endurance event.
We complete the out-and-back and quickly collect 2 more CPs near Seven Oaks before returning to the TA. Before we transition to bikes, we stop at Dave's truck where we've staged full hydration bladders. We knew we wouldn't need much water early in the race and running a road 10k with an extra 6.6 pounds of water weight didn't sound very appealing either. So we carried empty bladders/bottles to satisfy the mandatory gear requirements and are now switching to our full ones for the rest of the race. I think Pete came up with this idea last night and it just shows how experienced the Gnome Hunters are - they are looking for every small advantage to make the race easier and faster for the team.
We are transitioning in the background - look for Pete and Dave's orange packs.
BIKE 1A (7mi)

We hop on the bikes and get rolling onto the singletrack at Seven Oaks. Right away we're faced with a switchbacky climb up and over a very steep ridge, and then another switchbacky descent down its backside. These trails aren't especially rooty/rocky like we have in MO, but they are tight, twisty, and filled with tiny kicker climbs that force you out of the saddle. There is some residual dew/moisture on the dirt so it's almost impossible to get good rear wheel traction while trying to clear these. As a team, we struggle here. It's always hard to ride singletrack with new teammates, and we have a variety of different bikes and comfort levels to adjust to. That, plus the CP numbers aren't exactly making sense so we are a little hesitant in the middle of this section. We catch WEDALI as they are changing a flat, but they soon ride away from us, and we are in the mix with several other 12hr and 8hr teams. Near the end of the trail, Brian endos pretty hard and we all ratchet back the pace to help him recover. We finally pop out of the woods where the trail is covered by erosion/backfill and are a little unsure of where to go next. I look back to see if there are teams on our tails and just happen to spot the last CP flag hanging at the trail exit. That was close! We get the passport punched and then get to ride down the grassy ski hill, thoroughly enjoying the free speed.
I really love it when race photographers catch me walking.
BIKE 1B (10mi, 2:27 total Bike 1A+1B)
I'm not exactly sure of the route, but this is close.
Now it's time to hit the roads for a mixture of pavement and gravel on the way to the next trek. I shove down a ABJ sammy and we organize into a towing paceline to keep team speed high. We have one CP on this leg which requires a tiny bit of trekking. We see WEDALI ahead of us changing another flat, which is a big bummer. We encourage/heckle them a little bit before dashing into the woods for the CP. We find the string but not the flag/punch, so it's clear it must have been stolen. Bummer! We make note of the CP number and hustle back to our bikes. Not 200 meters after starting to ride again, I'm next to Dave when I hear a small explosion. It's the sort of sound you never want to hear when riding a bike, and he immediately stops to check out what the heck just happened. It's not good - his rear derailleur has completely sheared off and is in pieces on the gravel road. Oh boy. I've heard about this happening in races but never actually experienced it. But, from those stories, I know that the only thing we can do is turn Dave's bike into a singlespeed. So, we get to work: break chain, remove RD, check chainring/cog alignment for proper gear selection, measure chain, shorten chain, re-connect chain. If we've done everything right, Dave will now have a functional singlespeed that won't skip gears. We pedal. It seems to work. I am really proud of the team here - this is a major mechanical setback but we just solved it without fuss or drama. And, as it turns out, the gear ratio we were forced into isn't all that bad for riding gravel. In fact, Dave's such a strong cyclist that he continues doing work at the front of our paceline. Stud. We are now well back from the lead in 4th place but as we pull into the next TA, we are ready to get back to racing.

TREK 2 (10k, 2:48)
Obviously the route inside Ledges is way off - I don't really remember where we went.
The yellow sections are where the guys carried my pack.
We tell our tale of woe to the TA staff (hi Emma!) and get set to trek. The first few k's are sandwiched between the Des Moines river and some steep earthen bluffs. The going is wet and sloppy and the mud even sucks my shoe off at one point. But we soldier through and eventually pop out onto a park road in Ledges State Park. We have another 2k or so of road running to the next CP and as we pick up the pace, my legs just refuse. I have no idea what's happened to them but it's not good. The guys notice my slow speed and ask how I'm doing. I admit that I'm hurting and Dave insists on taking my pack. I start to rationalize how I'll be okay, I'll fight through, but he lays down the law, "GIVE IT." That is the right thing to say and I sheepishly hand over the offending pack. And...I feel better. Not great, but able to at least jog on this easy road section and we can keep the team moving. We collect the outermost CP and as we head into the woods I feel refreshed enough to take my pack back. As we move through the woods, I seem to have legs enough for the slower speeds of bushwhacking, but any open running spots I'm clearly lagging. This is very frustrating for me - I wanted to be a contributor to this team and not someone that needed babysitting. But the guys are very understanding and we keep moving. Pete's doing a phenomenal job with the nav, making ZERO mistakes, and Dave and Brian are sharing the load of the passport. We make excellent progress through the woods and I'm determined to enjoy the day, at whatever pace my legs allow. We collect all of the CPs on this section and are then faced with another 2k road run back to the TA. Brian takes my pack this time and carries it kangaroo style as we make our way down the dusty gravel road. Pete decides it's time to share the Legend of the Gnome Hunters and it's a really, really good story - but you'll have to race with Gnome Hunters to hear it!

PADDLE 1 (9mi, 1:43)
Approximately 9 miles of paddling downriver (south).
Thanks to our excellent navigation and teamwork over the trek, we are now very close to 3rd place (Wild Hares) as we start the paddle. It takes a few minutes to organize our bikes in the boats, but we are soon shoving off and heading downriver. We opted to use the race-provided single-blade paddles here, which are not as fast as the kayak paddles that Wild Hares are using. But I try to use a higher cadence to move the boat along and it seems to go fine. We have some sections where there is a strong headwind but overall  the riverbanks do a good job of shielding us from the worst of it. Towards the end of the paddle, I get into a really low spot. I've eaten all my accessible food (there are still about 300 calories on my bike but they're tough to get to). The constant sun exposure has started to wear on me and I'm feeling a bit bonky. Fortunately, the take-out bridge comes into sight and once I have a visible goal, I can more effectively push myself to the take-out.
Gnome Hunters setting out on the paddle...me, Dave, Brian, Pete.
TREK 3 (5k, 0:55)

As we are in the process of unloading the boats and preparing for this trek, the race staff informs us of something we don't usually think about: a cutoff. Racing with a team this experienced and fit, you'd think we wouldn't be in danger of missing cutoffs in a 12hr race. But, here we are, with only 75 minutes to complete a 5k trek. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue, but I'm not operating at 100% speediness, plus the day is getting rather warm. Thankfully, it doesn't look like the nav is too terribly difficult. As we're running out of TA, we see WEDALI returning from the same trek we're starting. They are having trouble changing another flat and we offer them one of our tubes. They tell us that the trek took about an hour so we know we have to hustle to make it back in time.

It's one of those "shut up legs" moments as we try to run as much as possible. I'm positive the guys took my pack for stretches here too but I can't remember where exactly. The bridge we're trekking over is extremely cool - you should go check it out sometime - but at the moment the concrete path is absolute torture to my knees and hips. Due to our elevated vantage point, we're able to see the 2nd place (NSPIRE) and 3rd place (Wild Hares) teams as they return to the TA. I feel like we're in Primal Quest, filming from a helicopter or something. It's really, really cool. Pete continues to rock the maps and we have no troubles punching each CP. Then it's back to the TA a comfortable 21 minutes before the cutoff. Sweet. This gives the team a big morale boost as we hop on bikes to knock out the last three sections of the race.

BIKE 2 (12.5mi, 1:08)

We now have a mostly northbound bike with a few CPs on the way to a 4H camp. Dave continues to rock his singlespeed and I am feeling good enough to take the passport for a few CPs. We focus on keeping a steady pace and are gradually gaining on Wild Hares as we progress through the Iowa countryside. We are all running low on food so we share whatever we've got left to get us to the end of the race.

TREK 4 BIKE 2B (2mi)
We roll into the 4H camp ready to transition to a short trek, but the race staff informs us that this last trek has been changed to a bike, in order to speed teams up. Evidently everyone is taking longer than the race organizers thought. It's not just us! This news is really, really good for me. It means I'm (mostly) done trekking, where I've been the weakest, and can focus on biking where I'm feeling a bit stronger. Plus, I just love riding the SegSlayer. So after filling water bottles, we launch off to collect 3 CPs on the bike. The first one is very auspicious - we spot Wild Hares' bikes, but their team is trekking in the wrong direction. We quickly punch and leave the area, gleeful that we've just moved into 3rd place. On the next CP, we join up with Rib Mountain Racing, which is a conglomerate of the Blind Squirrels (friends from 2012 CPT Nats) and folks from the team formerly known as Green Paw. We work together to locate the CP, deep in a reentrant filled with downfall and boulders. Then we start the attack on the last CP at the camp before we can head for home.....when.....we have a flat. Dave's rear tire is the offending party and it requires a speedy change. However, we only have one 29" tube (mine) because we gave the other one away. And, to make matters worse, mine is a road tube since I had to use my 29" spare last night when I was switching wheels. So first we try to patch Dave's original tube; no dice. Then we try to use the road tube; something is wrong with the valve and it won't hold air. Then I think we tried a re-patched original tube, or maybe we didn't, I can't remember. But eventually we had to use Pete's 26" tube, carefully stretched around Dave's 29" wheel and inflated to rideable-but-still-very-squishy PSI. We spend a lot of time dealing with this debacle and have to ditch the final 2 CPs (one on this "trek" and one more on the impending bike to Seven Oaks). Finally we get ourselves back on the road with under an hour to cover 12 miles. Oooooooweeeee, it's gonna be close.

BIKE 3 (12.5mi, 1:42 total Bike 2B+3)
Now again, I know what you're thinking...12 mph is NOT THAT HARD. Seriously, why were we so worried? Well, in an adventure race, things are just slower than a typical training ride or run. Plus, we've got one teammate riding a bike that's macgyvered to within an inch of its useful life. One more mechanical mishap and we're doomed. So we all get on tow, pulling Dave who is standing to help relieve pressure on his rear wheel. Pete counts off miles. Brian counts off time. The estimates waver as we get passed by a few other teams. First we're good, then we need to pick up the pace, then we need to PICK UP THE PACE. Finally, finally, the driveway to Seven Oaks appears and we have 4 minutes to go. Can we make it? We all bomb down the hill and Dave shows exceptional bravery in letting his bike fly down the incline. I would be a nervous wreck with that tire! But we all make it and then hustle to the finish line. There is a crowd of people and we rush over to the race staff with our passport...did we make it??

The suspense!!
YES! We finish at 5:59pm officially, one minute before the dreaded final cutoff. We get to keep all of our 27 (out of 29) CPs and will be listed as official finishers. We all collapse into a pile on the lawn, exhausted from the final bike effort to make it here on time.

POST-RACE (11:59 total race time)
The post-race vibe at the Boonecrusher is awesome. There are tons of racers hanging out, sharing stories from the long day. The staff presents EACH racer with their OWN pizza, AND cookies, AND chex mix, AND beer or pop or water. These people really know how to welcome their racers home. The weather is pretty great too, and it feels wonderful to stretch out on the grassy lawn, stuff my face with pizza, and hear about how other teams' day went. The story of Dave's rear derailleur has already been making the rounds. It's great to catch up with our buddies from WEDALI who pulled off the overall win. Our final placement is 4th in the 4-person coed division and 4th overall, which puts us out of the running for any prizes. But somehow Erl scores an extra Boonecrusher visor which he gives to me. Thanks!
Pile o' Gnomes!
41 North did an excellent job with the race, especially for only their second year. All of the CPs were located exactly where the maps indicated, and the race used really interesting terrain (well, besides the opening road run). This part of Iowa is so beautiful and full of cool scenery and great woods. Seven Oaks is the perfect place to HQ a race - plenty of indoor space to keep racers comfy in bad weather (which we had none), lots of parking, good singletrack, and also there are SHOWERS!!! The field of teams in the 12hr race was also highly competitive and a great early season test. Kudos to 41 North for a challenging and well-run event!

Finally, thank you to Dave and Pete and Brian for being superb teammates. I was frustrated I couldn't be more of an asset to the team, but they absorbed all of my weakness and kept everyone happy and moving forward. There is a certain language that experienced adventure racers speak, and I could tell they were extremely fluent right away at Friday night dinner. I am proud to say I have Hunted the Gnome alongside some awesome dudes! Pin It

1 comment:

  1. Awesome story Em. I say "story" because it wasn't quite true -- you were far stronger than you gave yourself credit for! It was a pleasure racing with you.
    - Guerfondler