28 July 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cowboy Tough 3.5day Adventure Race (Part 1)

NOTE: This is the first 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!
Expedition racing: what we think we do.
In the Midwest, adventure racing thrives on 8- to 24-hour events. We are lucky to have a number of excellent race directors and a community of teams ranging from highly competitive to highly recreational, and we all coexist happily in our weekend adventures. But for some athletes, the allure of a multi-day race is strong and for that we dream of one of the handful of expedition-style adventure races in North America:

These multi-day, or “expedition” races come along with a whole new set of rules. Generally, when things go wrong in a 24hr race, teams can suck it up and still get themselves to the finish line. Maybe they have more blisters than normal, maybe they are thirstier than normal, but...IN GENERAL...they survive with some bonus suffering.  (Anyone that knows me well, knows that I excel in the bonus suffering, and for me it’s usually avoidable and unnecessary…)
Expedition racing: what we really do.
In expedition racing, a seemingly small mistake on Day 1 has thousands of minutes to compound itself and significantly slow teams down over the course of the entire race. It may even cause them to drop out. It’s an entirely new ball game!

Race Decision
It’s not entirely clear who was the first person to bring up the possibility of doing an expedition race in 2014.  Regardless, someone did, and by late fall of 2013, we had four people interested in taking the plunge.  Mike Garrison (2012 UNE) and Rachel Furman (2011 RTNX and 2012 UNE) from Bushwhacker, Emily Korsch from Alpine Shop and Andrei Karpoff from GearJunkie/WEDALI (both expedition rookies) committed to the challenge.  If you are a regular on the Midwestern adventure racing scene, you’ll recognize these team names as fierce rivals. But believe it or not, the individual team members actually get along really well when not trying to rip each others’ legs off. For our as-of-yet unconfirmed expedition race, we would be suffering WITH each other instead of forcing suffering ON each other.
Start line of Cowboy Tough 2013.
Mike was initially was highly motivated to return to Untamed New England (UNE) in 2014 based on the great experience a couple of years ago, however scheduling for that race was not agreeable for everyone. We looked at the other 4 races available, and Cowboy Tough (CT) became the obvious choice. The race format presented itself as more of a 3.5 day “stage” race instead of 3.5 days straight of racing. This race design was more appealing for the expedition rookies (Andrei and Emily). Plus, none of us had adventure raced in Wyoming before, although Andrei had done several orienteering events in and around Laramie.  (Once the decision was made I was actually really happy with it.  I’m not sure how many more of these long races I’ll be doing so it was exciting to know that I’d be racing somewhere new.  In addition to that this one was almost in my parents’ home in Jackson.)

The team finally got registered (THAT was a hefty check to write!) at the end of March and was ready to go. Almost.  
With a few days to go we realized that we didn’t have a team name (details, details). A flurry of emails and attempts at clever creativity (Al’s Bush Shop for Whackers, Part Deux, anyone?) brought us to WABAR.  (WEDALI Alpine Shop Bushwhacker Adventure Racing).  Although not exactly creative OR clever, it was a straightforward representation of this conglomeration of teams that have spent years beating each other up. Unfortunately, WABAR would also create far more pronunciation issues than could have possibly been foreseen. (WAY-bar? wah-BAR? wubber? heron?) That last one is a joke so far inside that there are probably all of 4 people in the world that will get it.  And two of them are writing this report...

So, with that decision made, Team WABAR (officially pronounced WAH-bar, thanks for asking) began preparing for the 2014 Cowboy Tough Expedition Adventure Race.

Race Lead Up
Training weekend in STL. Middle of the night, somewhere in Mark Twain National Forest.
With the team coming from all corners of the globe (er...Midwest) it was going to be bit of a trick doing a ton of group training.  Attackpoint was a handy motivator through competitive training psychology, aka training guilt.  In addition to this, the team managed one long weekend group training session in St. Louis, and one 30 hour race in Northern Wisconsin, the Stubborn Mule.
Finish line of Stubborn Mule 30hr AR!
The training weekend was a blast and gave the team confidence that yes, they would in fact be able to get along for 5-6 days together.  Stubborn Mule went really well, with the team not only working out the kinks, but notching a first place finish. All in all, not a bad prep for CT.

Tuesday, Pre-Race
For three of us, arrival in Casper on Tuesday was uneventful.  For Rachel not so much.  Her flight got cancelled because of a huge thunderstorm, which Emily, Mike and Andrei witnessed while eating delicious food at the Western Grill (multi-course dinners for CHEAP!!, highly recommended, multiple gravy options, lots of trains).
You don't want to fly a plane through that?
So Rachel wouldn’t get in until Wednesday morning, but it was no big deal since we still had plenty of time to piddle*.

Wednesday, Pre-Race
Our hotel room, even before Rachel got there.
Andrei. Is. MasterChef!
We got a full night’s sleep on Tuesday, then woke up Wednesday with a laundry list of pre-race chores: pick up Rachel and her gear from airport, sort food, pack bins, organize team gear, run through mandatory gear and skills checks with Rev3, make a last-minute Wal-Mart run, gear bomb every single square inch of our hotel room including the balcony, etc etc etc. The first thing with any actual importance we did was officially register for the race at 11:00am and pick up our race maps, all twenty pounds of them.
Rev3 provided 11 huge maps, along with 5 supplemental maps, PLUS a guide book for South Pass City, PLUS a clue sheet and rules of travel. The map bundle was impressive, and since race rules allowed outside maps, we added some additional maps from the Wyoming Gazetteer* that would cut down on bike map flippage by 87%. We just used the word “map” four times in one sentence. Can you guess what we think the most important part of adventure racing is? *Despite a ridiculously large scale (I alternated between referring to it as 1:500k an 1:”earth”) this map was quite a convenience for overall course planning and the longer bike sections where we would cross just over three 1:24k maps.  Diagonally.  Yeah.  Thanks KP, I owe you one.  Although you might have to slow down a bit if you ever want me to deliver on that.

Mike and Andrei plotting our course on one of the eleven table-sized maps.
Race prep stuff can be pretty boring to both write and read so we’ll just gloss over it a bit. Emily and Rachel built bikes while Andrei and Mike plotted all of the optional CPs. Then we all went to the pre-race meeting. Then we finalized our gear bins and loaded them onto the Rev3 Mobile TA along with our bikes. Then we ordered pizza and worked on our maps some more (and more and more.  I kind of underestimated the amount of time it would take to plan the course, estimate distance and fold 11 huge ass pieces of weatherproof paper). Finally we got to sleep with our alarms set for EARLY!! The stage was set for 2014 Cowboy Tough!
Andrei, Rachel, Emily, Mike. Photo by either Awesome Chris Radcliffe or Legendary Randy Erickson.
*For the record, in the context of WABAR to “piddle” means to fuss with gear, not to take a leak.  Emily is an expert piddler, a skill she learned from her Alpine Shop teammates. Seriously, she is really really good at this.  I swear at one point I watched her move specific pieces of gear around on the hotel room table kind of like a street peddler with that cup and ball games.  “Now you see the CO2 cartridge, now you don’t!”

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