06 May 2013

Race Report: 2013 MNOC AR Tune-Up

I finished up Saturday's Boonecrusher in bad shape. My legs were absolutely fried from a long day of adventure racing. Normally they don't feel quite that bad after a 12hr, but I think racing in my unrecovered-from-OGRE state, it was just a lot to ask of my body. But there was no time to dwell on the past, Sunday was race #2 of my double-header weekend and it would be a serious effort as well.
Me and Biz prepping his bike.
My buddy Andrei came up with the awesome idea for me to race Boonecrusher in Iowa on Saturday, then race the MNOC AR Tune-Up in Minnesota on Sunday. I thought he was crazy but in a good way; it never hurts to improve your race-time-to-drive-time ratio! There was some teammate shuffling a few weeks before the race and I landed on a team with the original WEDALIan, Mr. Biz himself. This was going to be awesomely painful. And I do mean awesome, our team name was Awesome-O-Possum.
Biz playing possum?
I slept pretty well on Saturday night but Sunday morning was another story - legs were already in the hurt locker and all I did was walk down a flight of stairs! But pre-race routines soon took over and, after a few poop stories shared loudly in the hotel breakfast room with Biz, Tom, and Kelly, we knew the day would be fun if nothing else. We dropped bikes at Lake Byllesby where the lovely Mo would guard them fiercely until our return. We were barely on-time to the pre-race meeting at Camp Phillipo, but managed to get our crap together in time to hear race director Mike's final instructions. As I was looking around at all of the other racers, it dawned on me that I was in shorts and everyone else was in pants. Hmmmm, I frantically ran back to my car and put on some tall socks, hoping to keep the inevitable briars from drawing too much blood. Mike distributes maps and gives us all 15 minutes to route plan and strategize. Every CP must be taken in order until the final trek which will be a score-o.

TREK 1 (1mi, 0:09:41)
Mike sends us off and we have a few short-n-sweet CPs to punch before leaving Camp Phillipo. We dash around like a sprint orienteering race and are in close with Tom/Kelly and Andrei/Sveta. There's nothing much to this section besides pack separation and me being really slow operating the manual punches, I'm sure we lost a few seconds at each CP! A couple things to note here: the night before we decided that Biz would take a pack with enough water for both of us, and I would race packless. We chose this to lighten the load on my sore legs (not that Biz's hurt any less, he raced (and won!) Boonecrusher yesterday also, he is just an amazing teammate). Biz was also carrying his bike map board on this trek (you can see in picture above) for the simple reason that we forgot to put it on at the bike drop earlier that morning. So he carried it for this first part of the race. We were also both wearing PFDs because the next leg would be the paddle!

PADDLE 1 (2.5mi, 0:20:55)
Starting the paddle.
We arrive at the put-in in 3rd place but there's only a 10-second gap or so to the leaders, Tom and Kelly, aka The Powersnoobs. We both grab the race paddles ("SHORT!") and jump in a boat. The paddle leg was shortened for safety reasons (water temp is very very cold and a capsize would be very dangerous) so we just take a direct line across Lake Byllesby to the bike drop. We work on high cadence, good technique, and Biz keeps us on a terrific line, briefly gaining the lead before being passed at the last minute by the extremely talented paddlers of The Beautiful People.

TREK 2 (2mi, 0:20:46)
Once we have the boat out of the water, we take a few extra seconds to attach Biz's map board to his bike and I get the maps sorted. This trek is on an aerial map, something that is always a bit dicey for navigators. The first CP goes well but we are stumped, along with a few other teams, about the next one. The veg boundaries and trails don't seem to match the map. We spend at least a minute tromping through the sparse fir trees and finally find the flag. Then it's back to our sprint orienteering pace as we try to make up that time for the remaining 3 or 4 CPs. Highlights include a swamp crossing and then me tripping over my feet as we run through a field. Smart!! We make it back to the TA just barely behind The Powersnoobs and get ready to bike!

BIKE 1 (7.5mi, 0:36:28)
It's here that we get to unveil/test our secret race strategy...platform pedals. With the race being so short and with so many transitions, Biz suggested that we use platform pedals to cut down on transition time (and less weight without having to carry bike shoes). I actually remembered to bring pedals this time so we only have to put helmets on and we're GONE. We are chasing The Powersnoobs and are being chased by the rest of the field. We link up with the 'snoobs and then ride the rest of this leg together. There is even time for friendly chat and it's hard to remember that we are supposed to be competing! Biz and I get a short gap on the downhill into Miesville Ravine County Park and are able to punch into the TA first.

TREK 3 (5mi, 1:04:00)
We perform another super-speedy TA courtesy of our platform pedals and run along a doubletrack trail towards the first CP. We know The Powersnoobs' foot speed is superior to ours so we try to push the pace on this flat trail as much as possible. We punch the first CP in front, but only by a few meters. Tom and Kelly catch us on the next climb and we travel together for the next few CPs. The vegetation is THICK and even my tall socks can't stop the raspberries and briars from cutting up my legs. Biz and I turn into bloody messes trying to move quickly through the woods. We trade places here and there with Tom and Kelly, and we are still together at about the half-way point of this trek when we cross the creek that runs through the middle of the park. From there, we all pick our way up a very rocky/bouldery reentrant, but Biz takes a slightly higher route and I follow, where Tom and Kelly stay down low. In an instant, we have lost visual contact, and Biz starts to push the pace up the remainder of the climb. I'm frantically trying to keep up, all the while fighting with the thorns and sharp pokey plants that are growing everywhere. We reach the top of the spur and Biz gives me a quick pep talk, basically saying that this separation could be the crux of the whole race and we NEED TO GO. NOW.

So we take off across the field and it's an all-out effort. Despite carrying the team pack and having raced the same race yesterday, Biz is still fastest so he pushes me while we run across the field. It's a huge help and we are quickly in and out of the next CP. As we leave, again sprinting across the field, we glance over our shoulders and spot The Powersnoobs behind us. Our gap is maybe 30 seconds, and they've probably spotted us and will turn on their very powerful jets any second. TENSE!! I dig deep for another sprint across the field, and Biz pushes me again to keep team speed as high as possible. It's very painful but also exhilarating. We have a mercifully downhill trail back to the TA where we speed pee (me: 8 seconds!) before getting back on the bikes. There is no sign of the 'snoobs as we race out of TA.

BIKE 2 (16mi, 1:17:30)
Biz finishing up the last biking section (I'm directly behind him)
The last biking leg takes us the long way back to Camp Phillipo, and we are fighting a fierce headwind almost the whole way. Or I should say Biz is fighting a fierce headwind and I am hiding in his draft to keep up. I am on tow too. We focus on finishing our bottles and just doing work. The gravel is not easy but we are getting it done. At the top of every hill we check over our shoulders - no sign of Tom and Kelly. After several of these backward glances, we realize that our gap created in the fields has stuck and now we need to shift more attention to eliminating all errors. Standing to pedal the bike is almost impossible for me at this point - my legs can't create a smooth pedal stroke so I am resigned to sitting for the remainder of the ride. As Biz punches the last CP he instructs me to eat something and I shove down the last 200 calories I have with me - a Honey Stinger bar. We are now in the home stretch and it's a good feeling to finally see the entrance to Camp Phillipo!

TREK 4 (3.5mi, 0:51:46)
Biz and I preparing to embark on Trek 4.
We roll into the TA in the lead and it's time for one final push for the last trekking section. As we are transitioning, I hear a few cheers of "Go Emily!" and I look around - it's my parents! They drove down from Duluth to spectate (as well as anyone can spectate an AR) and are snapping photos as we transition. It's really cool to see them, if only for a few seconds, and then we're back in race mode and running off into the woods. The map for this trek is really tricky; it's just a black-and-white copy of the camp map with contour lines, but Mike the race director told everyone that the trails marked are unreliable so we just have to use the topo information. Biz does a great job adjusting to it and the first part of the trek goes really well. My legs are on their last lives but I just focus on quick cadence to keep me moving through the woods. My main priority is to keep turnover high, which naturally lends itself to more agile movements through the brush, downed branches, and rocks. And thorns. There are still plenty of them waiting to draw blood.

The highlight of the trek was descending a spur down to the lake level, and being greeted by a small inlet. We could have run around it, sure, but I'm up for a swim and so is Biz. We find a narrower place to cross and we are able to wade the whole way - the water is only about my belly button level, and it's COLD. Deliciously cold. As we emerge on the other side, my legs feel amazing and I liken the sensation to external Coke. Wheeeeee! We only have a few more CPs at this point, and we still haven't seen any other teams, so I think we're golden. Biz keeps the nav so fresh and so clean clean and soon we have the finish line in our sights.

POST-RACE (4:41:06 final time)
Post-race, legs up!
As we approach the finish banner, we see Tom and Kelly already there. They look relaxed and not at all in race mode. Because we started the last trek before them, and didn't see them in the woods at all, Biz and I are simultaneously confused and humbled that the pulled out such a stellar final trek. I punch the last e-punch to stop our time and then jog over to Kelly to congratulate her and ask how they did it. As it turns out, they are looking so relaxed because they decided to take the final biking leg easy and then not do the final trek. Boonecrusher was weighing heavy on Crusher's legs and she's got some major goals planned for the future. So Awesome-O-Possum is indeed in first place!
My parents have been patiently waiting for us to finish and as we collapse in the shade, my mom unwraps some bars to share, and they are delicious. Thanks Mom! I think they're slightly horrified at the scratches on my legs, but I'm actually pretty proud. I've seen countless orienteers and adventure racers come out of the woods with legs completely bloodied, and (masochistically) I've always wondered what that actually feels like. And now I know. It hurts.

We spend a few more hours just unwinding at the finish line. Someone's got a grill fired up and it's great to see teams who are still racing and teams who are finishing. Minnesota's got a really wonderful AR scene and it's fun to participate in it. Everyone is in really great spirits and appreciative of Mike and Julia's hard work at putting on a really good event. Even though I've already finished a few adventure races this year, I do indeed feel more tuned up than I was before this race! Also, racing with Biz is such an adventure in itself. I feel like I learn so much every time, mostly about the depths to which good teammates will go to help each other. Biz, thanks for being an awesome-o-possum teammate!

Post lunch selfies! My mom took this one. She is way more tech proficient than I am.
And thanks to my parents for making the trip south to hang out with me! After the race, we had lunch in nearby Northfield before we both hit the highway in opposite directions. I know adventure racing is a complex sport, and really hard to spectate, but my parents have always been so supportive, and I am really thankful for that. Love you Mom and Dad!
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  1. Nice work on the double! Brent and I once did a 10-hour in western PA Saturday and a 6-hour in eastern PA Sunday - we called it the Keystone Challenge. I still think it should be an official "thing" :)