16 December 2013

Race Report: 2013 Pere Marquette Endurance Trail Run

I have a history with this race. I first ran PMETR in 2009, finishing in 263rd place overall. I've improved over the years, even winning my AG last year while finishing 5th overall female, and the goal of winning the women's overall race began to creep into my mind. But, being a multi-sport athlete, winning single-sport events is usually reserved for the "real" runners or the "real" bikers. Off-road mutts like me specialize in being sorta-good at several things, and it's usually only at adventure races that I find myself in the hunt for the podium. But the race conditions for the 2013 edition of PMETR were a perfect storm for my skill set. Literally. The night before the race, the St. Louis area got dumped on, first with rain and then 4-10 inches of snow. Pere Marquette got about 8" of the sticky white stuff and that made the drive up to the race very challenging.
The drive up to Pere Marquette State Park.
Photo by SuperKate!
Fortunately, I left St. Louis with plenty of time to spare and with two awesome race buddies, Irwin and Megan. We all stayed calm while the snow drifts threatened to sling my little car right off the road! We finally parked at the lodge about 8:45am, still with plenty of time to get our bibs and change clothes and I even squeezed in a warm-up jog in my new screw shoes. I saw my orienteering friend Eric near the start line and we compared footwear notes and then pretty soon it was time to line up. I was seeded in Wave 3 (actually the fourth wave to start, there is a Wave 0) with a bunch of speedy women. I was super excited to be toeing the line with them, including the girl that has out-sprinted me at the finish line the past TWO YEARS IN A ROW...Katie S. It didn't bug me so much then because she was in a different age group, but this year we were both in F25-29 so I knew I had to run hard. Also I knew Megan has been rocking her training lately and was in a later wave - pressure was on!
Start! Photo by Fleet Feet STL.
The starter counts us down and we are off! I am completely content to let everyone else in my wave lead out and pack down the snowy trail for me, so I just casually jog off the line and am pretty much the last of the group to hit the singletrack. The pace feels easy. Really easy. But we have a big nasty climb coming up so just jog along and wait for it to get hard. Except...it doesn't. About a third of the way up the first hill, I'm still in the back of the conga line with my legs feeling amazing. I get scared that the lead women are going to fly off the front of our pack and I won't see them again, so I start passing people. It takes extra energy to run on the side of the packed-in singletrack, and I'm scared of burning too many matches. But, I know I have to take the chance now to stay in contact with the leaders.
Debbie leading into the first aid station.
Photo by Joanne Fricke.
About two thirds of the way up the first climb, I catch up with PMETR legend Debbie K. She's won Master's and Overall titles here MULTIPLE times, so I'm honored to sit in and run her pace up the rest of the hill. We chat a little bit and almost immediately she asks how old I am, and I get her hint, replying "I'm 29...NOT Master's!" She also tells me that she doesn't think there are any more women up ahead. Sweet! Debbie is awesome at running uphill and asking guys to move out of our way. She blazes the trail and the whole time I am thinking the effort is perfect - hard but not crazy. And, I notice her shoes are slipping here and there on the packed snow. Mine are rock solid, so it gives me a confidence boost that I am saving energy. There are a few small downhills at the top of the first climb, and I run those with her too, to try and plan my next move.
Photo by Robin Rongey.
The course route makes its first big descent about 1.5 miles in, and it's here that I try to break away from Debbie. I love running downhill, and I know it's my strength. So I just let gravity do its thing and I fly down the soft pillowy trail. Descending is just a dream - the trail is packed in hard enough to be predictable footing, my screw shoes are giving me great traction, and the surrounding unpacked snow lessens the chance of a injury if I did crash. At the bottom of the first big descent, I take a quick peek backwards and don't see anyone. Awesome. Then I focus on running the second quarter really strong - there aren't any huge ups or downs in this part of the course but plenty of small little rollers that require a lot of mental focus. I roll through the second aid station to cheers of "First lady!" and that gives me a huge boost - this is really happening, I'm leading at PMETR! But my thoughts drift back to Megan in a chasing wave and know that I have to keep running hard.
Photo by Robin Rongey.
The last half of the course seems to take forever. Last year, the mile posts flew by and I was done before I knew what even happened. This year, it seems that I've run for hours and am still only on Mile 4. I'm sure it's the stress of being chased, so I try to think of other things. I cycle through a lot of mental imagery, most of it being adventure race-related since the World Champs just concluded in Costa Rica. Teams went through some incredible challenges and I was so impressed with the athleticism and mental strength they showed. There is one picture that sticks in my head, it's of Mimi Guillot, she is the girl on World Champion Team Thule. Teams had to carry their whitewater raft for the last 500m or so of the 800km race, and the task nearly broke the exhausted Team Thule. A photographer got a photo of Mimi carrying the raft, she is in tears but the look of determination is so clear on her face...that's what I tried to channel for a mere 4 miles of running. I can't even bear to post the picture here because 7.8 miles of trail running doesn't even stack up to 800km of adventure racing. So go see for yourself.

About this time I've gotten to the base of the second big climb, and there are 3-4 guys up ahead. I am really excited about this because climbing is not my strength so I plan to use the guys as motivation to keep my pace high. We start going up, and...same thing as the first climb. Their pace is not as fast as my legs want to go. This is completely new territory for me, but I'm going to just roll with it, so I pass the guys in the soft snow and continue climbing. Then there is a big descent where I see a photographer so I quickly wipe the snot off my face and try to look fast. Ha! As I'm running by him I ask if there's anyone behind me...he answers "Nope!". Then the course brings runners across a road very close to the lodge where a big crowd always gathers, it's about Mile 6 (1.8 miles to go). As I approach the road crossing, I get a big cheer, "It's Emily!" and, "First girl!" This encouragement helps me so much - now I'm super inspired to tackle the last big up and the last big down!
Running hard.
Photo by Robin Rongey
The last climb is a doozy with 60-something big stone steps. But my screw shoes eat them up, no slipping at all, and I continue charging through the course. There are two guys ahead of me (neon shirt and camo shirt) so I try and catch them without completely blowing myself up. My hamstrings have started to ache and my quads are getting extremely tender, a sure sign that the effort is high. We make it back to the ridgetop where the course doubles back on itself, and I allow myself to start considering the possibility of winning. One more downhill to let the screw shoes fly! I take one final peek behind me to check if I might get caught in a sprint for the finish...no girls behind me that I can see. So I run the downhill aggressively but not as hard as last year, and I'm able to pass neon shirt! (But camo shirt is way ahead.) Somewhere close to the end my Garmin loses satellite signal so I don't even get stats for the last flat finish sprint! Oh the irony of technology! But I'm super excited to cross the finish line as the first female!

I see Eric and Mike right away at the finish line and they both congratulate me on a good race. My time is about 90 seconds slower than last year, but there is no way I'm going to beat myself up about that with today's conditions AND excellent placement in the field. I plant myself by the clock and count down in 30 second intervals...and after about 2 minutes I am pretty sure that no one from a later wave is going to beat my time. And then, the 2nd chick across the line is MEGAN!!!! I am so thrilled for her great performance! I sort of hug/attack her at the finish in congratulations. Debbie finishes not long after so I get to congratulate her too. Some brilliant running out there!
Me and men's overall winner Brandon Smith!
Photo by Brent Newman.
The rest of the day is spent on a cool-down jog, changing into dry clothes, and saying hi to all of the fine runners that braved the trip up to Pere Marquette State Park. Results take a while to get posted, but when they do, I'm shocked to see myself as 1st female and 18TH PLACE OVERALL! YEAH! The awards ceremony is longer than usual because this is the 25th anniversary of PMETR and there are some special prizes for people who have run every year. Well deserved! Mike waits until very last to announce this year's overall winners. But when he does, I can't stop smiling! This goal had only a sliver of possibility one year ago, but the conditions were right and I felt I ran the perfect race for my fitness and skills. Long live PMETR!

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12 December 2013

Race Report: 2013 Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr AR

The Bonk Hard Castlewood 8hr Adventure Race was my first ever...EVER...adventure race. In 2009, I was racing some sprint triathlons, some road/trail running races, and playing co-ed indoor soccer. One of my soccer teammates needed a girl for Castlewood, and asked me to join. I didn't even own a mountain bike at the time, but bought one on Craigslist and put in a few training rides on singletrack (which terrified me). Turns out the singletrack in the race was entirely manageable and that year my team (Mid-Rivers Adventure) finished 14th overall. I was hooked! Since 2009, I've raced the CW8 every year - again with 4-person coed Mid-Rivers Adventure in 2010, as a 2-person coed with my IMCdA buddy Mike in 2011 (3rd overall!!), and with a team of adventure racing newbies in 2012.
Sunrise from Race HQ at Wyman Center.
So this year, racing with Alpine Shop, we've had a very, very good season. 9 races. 6 overall wins, including one at Checkpoint Tracker Nationals. We've supported each other through some tough times, both on the race course and off, and I am a better person because of my teammates. And what better way to celebrate that camaraderie by squeezing in one more race to cap off the season! The Castlewood 8hr attracts a really big field because it's close to St. Louis and designed for the beginning adventure racer - the nav is not too challenging, the parks are all ones that we ride/run in all the time, and the race is held completely in the daylight. The race also attracts some heavy hitting teams looking for a knock-down-drag-out RACE, and this year was no exception. We found ourselves toeing the line with 2P male Team Fusion, 4P male Off the Front Racing, 4P coed 34 Down, 4P coed Downhill Bikes Branson/Ridge Runner/Kuat, and more than 50 other teams! Game on!
Only about a third of the bikes at the start line.

Team Alpine Shop was also racing in a new configuration. Two weeks before the race, our regular teammate Doug separated his shoulder in a cyclocross crash, and couldn't race. This seems to be the year of injuries for us (Carrie's knee, my knee, now Doug's shoulder) and we went through a frantic few days trying to find a substitute. Do you know how hard it is to find someone who rides mountain bikes, runs, and paddles, all at a reasonably fast pace, and is a fun person to hang out with, and is available all-day Saturday to race with us? Let me tell you - it's difficult. But thankfully we didn't have to stress too long - local super-stud Mike agreed to race with us after only a few phone and email exchanges. I am always really excited to race with people new to the sport of adventure racing, and I was doubly excited to race with Mike after following him on Strava - dude is FAST!! (side-note: if you are looking to get into adventure racing, but don't have a team, one way to do it is to log your training on some site like Strava or AttackPoint, that lets other teams stalk you (and your fitness) and might garner an invitation.)

Anyway...the four of us met up at our favorite store in St. Louis, of course that would be Alpine Shop, on Friday night for pre-race check-in. We got our maps, got some pizza from Dewey's (also a CW8 tradition for me - 5 races, 5 pre-race meals of Dewey's pizza!), and then headed over to David's studio to plot, eat, and strategize. We did all of this with another Alpine Shop team - Carrie and Yvonne were racing 2P female as Alpine Shop-NNC. It was a fun night and after we got the maps finished up (really, not much to do) then we talked a little bit about gear and headed to our respective homes for final packing and sleeping. Race morning came early and cold - once I got to the Wyman Center my phone was reading 12F. But there were 2 heating buildings to use for changing/TA and after all of the usual pre-race fretting and socializing, the whole herd of adventure racers headed outside for the start.

TREK 1, CPs 1-5, 3k redline, 0:28
1:15k map of Greensfelder. We went 2-4-1-3. Sorry about the crossing out, we marked up this same map later in the race.
We decided to start with CP2 for a couple reasons - we felt that the majority of the field would go to CP3 first since it's easier, and we like to run alone as much as possible. Also, the huge climb to CP3 would be difficult on cold legs - CP2 offered a slightly gentler climb. So once the horn sounded, we take off southbound to CP2. We punch that in the lead, then contour westward to CP4. We drop into the reentrant and....no flag. David panics a little but we fan out and I find the flag just 10m north of where we attacked. Crisis averted! We then take advantage of some trails to CP1 and see our friends on 34 Down coming the other way, WHOA!! There are lots of teams in the area of CP1 and elephant tracks are starting to form in the snowy woods. It's awesome running with the team, Mike has been doing a terrific job off-trail, David's nav is clean, and Jeff is really hustling for the punches. We have a big climb up to CP3 and then some fast descending back to CP5/Race HQ/our bikes. We come back into TA in the lead, but are joined by a bunch of other teams just a few minutes behind. Our transition is really slow - winter racing requires more attention to layers so we all have to adjust a little bit, plus put on winter bike shoes. 

BIKE 1, CPs 6-13, 8.5mi road, 0:45

We race out of Wyman Center on our bikes in what we think is the lead. The roads are not icy so we organize into a towing paceline and ride hard. The next few CPs are just at various road landmarks so the nav isn't hard at all, and there isn't much route choice. We're soon joined by our main rivals, plus a couple other speedy teams. It's really hard to recognize everyone in full winter gear! The bike path into Route 66 State Park is really slippery, so we take a few extra minutes around the turn and lose the main pack. Once in the park, we execute out route choice without any difficulty, catching back up to DBB/RR/Kuat and making it to the canoe put-in in 4th place.

David, Mike, me, and Jeff riding into TA.

PADDLE 1, CPs 14-16, 4mi, 1:31

Me and Mike running back to get the second boat.
Jeff got it for us.
The TA is pure chaos. We have to plot 2 points, load up 4 bikes into 2 boats, get layers adjusted, distribute paddles and PFDs, and start paddling, all on a snowy and slick boat ramp, all while keeping our feet dry. And with all the other teams running around. Jeff and David tend to the maps while Mike and I get started hauling the first load, and then they help us with the second boat. We pile the bikes in the middle of each boat and then shove off into the waters of the Meramec River!

Because the Castlewood 8hr does not allow personal paddles, we adjusted our paddling strategy a little bit. Normally Jeff and David paddle in the back of the boats, but today we are trying me in the back of Jeff's boat, the theory being that Jeff is a stronger continuous motor in front and then I can just steer. We've practiced this once and it went well, so today I'm in charge of keeping the boat between the navigational beacons. Once we start paddling, it takes me a bit to get comfortable - the bikes are sliding around, there is a little riffle to be negotiated, it's stressful! But Jeff talks me through everything and pretty soon we're charting a great course downriver. And then, my hands start to get cold. At first I just deal with it, but as they keep getting colder and colder, I start to whine inform my teammates of my current physical state. It doesn't help that my paddle's shaft is completely covered in ice. I continue whimpering and my hands turn into stumps. I can hardly keep the boat on a good line and finally Jeff turns around, looks me squarely in the eye, and says "We are going to get through this." And then hands me his mittens.
Approaching the take-out!
I quickly take off my lobsters and swap them with Jeff. His mittens are warm and awesome and pretty soon my hands start coming back to life. We've lost some time on the top 3 teams, but we haven't been caught by anyone, either, so we continue to make our way through this frigid 4-mile paddle. Finally the take-out appears, and the volunteers have built a huge bonfire to welcome us. Wow!! Thanks!! We have a gear check here and it takes a while for us to get everything together, plus carry the boats up to the trucks, plus get our bikes sorted. Finally, we're through and then onto the bikes!
Jackie and Suzanne, awesome volunteers!!!
BIKE 2A, CPs 17-23, 6.5mi trail, 1:15
SURPRISE TREK 2, CPs 40-42, 1.5mi, 0:13

BIKE 2B, CPs 24-27, 6.5mi road,  0:24
We charge out onto the trails of West Castlewood, still in 4th place overall. We have some route choice here so we go get CP17 first and then over to the Blue Ribbon (aka Cedar Bluff) singletrack loop. We're instructed to ride this counter-clockwise and collect 3 unmapped CPs along the way. We all are making good progress on the snowy singletrack and now that my hands are warmed up, it's really fun. We start sharing bottles here too, drinking from whomever's is least frozen at the moment. Once we pop out of Blue Ribbon, we get the rest of the West Castlewood CPs on the trail and then motor westbound onto the Al Foster. We all work together to keep our team speed high through the tire-sucking snow. We have one CP left on the trail before hitting the roads back into HQ, and when it comes into view there is a crowd of people. What's this?

CP20, before the other teams got there.
Turns out that we have a surprise trekking section! Race volunteers hand us instructions to trek on the newly-built (thanks, GORC!) and unmapped Bluffview trail, collecting 3 CPs on the way. None of us have brought our trekking shoes, but we probably wouldn't have taken the time to change anyway. In fact, we've caught DBB/RR/Kuat because they are changing shoes. We run onto Bluffview and pretty soon are greeted by Fusion and Off The Front, locked in a battle of all-boy teams. Now we know the gap to 1st place is about 10 minutes - ouch! So we sprint along the Bluffview trail, working really hard to stay upright (hard to do in winter bike shoes on snowy, off-camber singletrack)! We get all three CPs with DBB/RR/Kuat on our tails and then run back to our bikes, pretty much a straight shot. The volunteers confirm that we're 1st coed, 3rd overall so we continue pushing hard.
Running back to our bikes.
Let's go! Jeff, me, Mike, David.
We have a little bit more Al Foster to ride, and then it's onto roads. We grab CP25 which is manned by Jeff's dad (hi Leonard and Joyce!!!) and then cross Hwy 109. That road is really busy, but Bonk Hard has organized a police car to be at the intersection, and when we approach he turns on his flashers and waves us through. So awesome! Then Mike tows us all up Alt Road and then we bomb the descent back into Wyman Center.

TREK 3, CPs 28-35, 6k redline, 1:18

I added the orange lines to show our order, we went clockwise.
We roll into TA still in 3rd, but we only see one of the teams still plotting the final trek. Crap...that means that Fusion likely has a big lead. But, we know we are fast on foot so we focus on an efficient transition. Well, maybe not entirely efficient because I use a real bathroom (who does that in an adventure race?!). Jeff and I plot the remaining 8 points and then David route plans while we finish changing shoes. Once we have a plan, we charge out of TA on a mission: HAUL ASS.

As we make the climb up to CP34 (same as CP3 from this morning), I remind the boys that this is the last trek of our adventure racing season and we've got to make it count. Once we punch CP30, we have a good bit of trail to run and David and Mike lead out at an incredibly fast pace - Jeff and I can barely keep up. We don't see anyone in the woods ahead of us, but these points are rogaine-style (we can get them in any order) so there's no guarantees that we'll see the lead teams anyway. So we just run really, really hard. David's nav is perfect, taking terrific routes and then spiking each control on the money. The climb up to CP31 is really hard, and as we're leaving the area we see Off The Front just getting to the control. Panic! We've got to get out of their sight before they can potentially follow us to CP32. So we grunt up the huge snowy climb, run the little out-n-back to CP32, and then throw ourselves downhill to CP33. This late-race push seems to work, we can't see anyone else behind us now (of course, maybe they went the opposite direction anyway?). We punch CP35 and then just have a long run back to the finish with 1 huge climb and 1 smaller one. David narrates as we all climb as hard as we can. Finally, we crest the last ridge and tumble downhill back to the finish line. We see our friends Tiny Trail Ninjas (former Bonk Hard owners Jason and Laura) and they cheer us on, suggesting that we might be first back. Could it be possible?
Finish line!
We run under the Bonk Hard finish line arch, scanning the TA for other teams. We don't see Fusion, Off The Front, or DBB/RR/Kuat. Could we have won? We hand our passport into race directors Gary and Ellen and wait for the verdict.
YES!!! WE DID IT!!! We are so, so happy and proud of this race! We came to the Castlewood 8hr looking for a throw-down and were stoked to come from behind to take the overall victory. The all-boy teams were tough to beat, but it turns out they both mis-plotted 1 CP on the final trek, opening the door for us to keep our nav clean and run fast.
Team Alpine Shop: me, Mike, David, Jeff.
We spend the rest of the day hanging out at Race HQ, eating pizza, swapping stories, picking burrs out of our race clothes, and cheering other racers on. The adventure race community is full of exceptional people and it's great to hang out with all of them in one day. A HUGE thank-you goes out to Alpine Shop for sponsoring the team and this race. They are dedicated to the outdoor community in St. Louis and the entire Midwest and we are really, really grateful for their support!

Sneat's photos: https://www.facebook.com/skiefner/posts/10201153402818970 
SuperKate: http://super-kate.com/2013/12/08/racing-in-a-winter-wonderland-2013-castlewood-8-hour/
BORED's photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1443274859229050.1073741844.1422175918005611&type=1
BORED: http://ballsoutracing.blogspot.com/2013/12/frozen-hell-2013-bonkhard-castlewood-8.html

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06 December 2013


Seagate's relentless track up to the highest point in Costa Rica - Mt. Chirripo.
Race fans! We are smack in the middle of the Adventure Racing World Championships being held in Costa Rica. The course is a monster. Example: Stage 4, affectionately dubbed "The Mangrove Monster" has taken some teams MORE THAN 40 HOURS to complete. And after that they still aren't even at the third-way point in the race yet. Teams started racing on the afternoon of Monday, 2-December and are just now starting to depart "mid-camp", a mandatory 4-hour stop roughly near the middle of the course. The winners should finish on Sunday or Monday after 6-7 grueling days of racing. It's a tense battle between some of the toughest endurance athletes in the world. And, lucky for us, the race coverage is unreal. Between the official race tracking map, and the Attackpoint discussion thread, and Breathe Magazine's excellent flashblog, we can track the teams' every move. It is an exciting time for adventure racing and I've been learning a lot from the commentary on AP and Breathe. If you're a fan of the sport, you owe it to yourself to check in on the race's progress from time to time. And, cheer for American teams...Tecnu (currently in 4th place!!!!), Bones (currently in 9th!!), Dark Horse, GearJunkies/Yogaslackers, Leki 50, and Committed.

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