21 May 2018

Race Report: 2018 MISSION 18hr AR

I haven't written a race report in for...ev...er, but the Adventure Racing Cooperative's new Race Report Library inspired me to put some thoughts down on the recent 2018 MISSION 18-hour Adventure Race hosted by DINO. In case you don't have time to read, DINO has commissioned a really cool race recap video, which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy08mE8v97Q&feature=youtu.be

From the 2013 edition of MISSION - time to scooter! (race report here: http://www.emilykorsch.com/2013/05/race-report-2013-mission-18hr-ar.html)
Normally I race with Jeff and David of Alpine Shop, but we have been suffering from the loss of David's race presence due to ALS diagnosis. We've each been racing a bit with other teams, race directing, or just focusing on solo events to cope without David's stellar adventure racing skills, knowledge, and speed. Jeff has been racing a bit with the folks from Kuat, I've joined them on occasion, but Jeff planned to team up with them again at this year's MISSION as a 3-person team. Then, out of the blue, Jeff Ryan of St. Louis called me and asked to form a team for the race. Great idea!
Jeff R. with his normal team, 30-something Down.
We planned to race as a 3-person with me, Jeff Ryan, and Erl. However, on the Wednesday before the race, Erl and I got our mountain bikes tangled up during a training ride and Erl went over the bars, injuring his ribs. His ribs were still too painful on Friday to leave for the race. So Jeff and I planned to race as a 2-person team and give it our best go against the 3-person Kuat and Rib Mountain Racing teams.

Pack choice infographic!

Prep for the race was a little bit frantic, as we had to divide all of the mandatory gear normally carried by Erl into my and Jeff's packs. I opted to use my Nathan VaporAiress pack, which is basically a hydration vest with a bit of extra storage. It is much smaller than what I would normally use for adventure racing, but the forecast hot weather, the minimal gear list, and the looped nature of the course meant I wouldn't have to carry too much at any one time. That, plus Jeff was using an Osprey Talon 33 so he had plenty of room to carry my shoes when needed! I think this pack selection was critical for me to have a good performance. I saw other 2- and 3-person teams, all with normal sized packs, and they just looked HOT during the race. My super-light pack kept me cooler, happier, and therefore faster.

Anyway, fast forward to the bus ride (a first for MISSION, and well-timed), we unloaded at about 0540 on the banks of the East Fork White River and grabbed a map to learn about the race for the first time. There would be 5 CPs on the first paddle, requiring a fair bit of attention be paid on the twisty-turny river to find the best take-out points for each of them. We grabbed a boat, which had a broken front seat, so quickly opted for another one with two functioning seats and handles. Jackpot! We put into the river and struggled to maintain position against the current and other teams while Brian went through the pre-race announcements. I just wanted him to say "GO!" instead of the standard speech because we were hanging onto the bridge pier by a thread. Finally we were released and paddled into the race.

LEG 1 - PADDLE (CPs 1-5, 0600-1000 ??)

Map of the first leg of the race - paddling from CP1 to CP5. Thanks for the pre-plotted CPs, DINO!
It is still a bit dark but I turn my headlamp off anyway - paddling with a headlamp is so annoying. The sky is lightening up by the minute and we'll be able to see soon enough. A few 3-person teams get a good jump on us but we're able to hang within sight of the top 5 teams even with our 2-person paddle power. The East Fork White River is twisty, turny, and has enough log debris to make things interesting. Also it's fun to paddle with a new teammate so my stories are all brand new! We are with the main group for CP1 and CP2 so we all work through the tricky take-out selection and finding the flag. For CP3, the take-out is obvious (a covered bridge) but the actual CP is hung at a cemetery where the roads are incorrectly mapped. This causes a bit of confusion among the teams and is really unnecessary, especially since it involves all of the teams crossing a major highway on foot - Race Director, hang your CPs on accurately mapped features! After CP3, the river straightens out and we start to lose time on the top, 3-person teams. But we "just keep paddling", punch CP4, and start seeing the MISSION-LITE teams paddling at us. We must be near the take-out! Sure enough, the DINO yellow truck comes into sight and we drop our canoe off with a LITE team that needs it. We pass a quick gear check and receive the coordinates for the next leg of the race.

LEG 2 - TREK/BIKE (CPs 6-10, 1000-1200)

Leg 2 - We are at CP5, bikes are at CP10, do you get CPs 6-7-8-9 by foot or by bike or both?
The next leg gives us the option to use either our feet or our bikes (which are back at Camp Pyoca). The first checkpoint, CP6, is rather obvious to get on foot, but after that we could run back to camp, get our bikes, and get 7-8-9-10. However, we choose to get everything on foot to avoid double-backing on the bikes. We set out running on a busy road into the town of Brownstown, grab CP6, and then continue heading east out of town instead southeast back to camp. There are a few teams with us, who we're able to catch on foot. We're first into the woods on the attack to CP7, making sure to avoid the (unmapped) private property. We run with Michigan Racing Addicts to the CP, which Jeff nails. From there it's a subtle ascent of the backside of Pinnacle Peak. We try to work with the unmapped logging roads, using them when possible but also staying true to our intended course. Finally we hit the trail up to the peak and punch the CP. There are two "regular people" up on top who say they haven't seen any other teams, which surprises us. So we run down the steep trail, eventually popping out onto the gradually downhill trail that leads us straight back to Camp Pyoca, and our bikes. On the way, we see Rib Mountain and Kuat running in their biking gear up to the top of Pinnacle Peak (CP8). From our position, we think we can beat them back to camp, thus making up the time lost on the paddle. This is huge! We run hard, but actually too fast and right past CP9. We have to back-track a bit and end up losing our advantage, but at least we're still even with the leaders instead of 15 or more minutes back (like we were at the paddle).

LEG 3A - ROPES (CP11, 1200-1300)

MRA on the ropes course (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy08mE8v97Q&feature=youtu.be)
When we get back to camp, we punch CP10 and are given instructions for the next part of the race. It's a ropes course and then some biking, with an embedded trek. Instead of plotting everything right away, we transition into biking gear and ride straight over to the ropes course to get a good spot in line. It's only Rib Mountain ahead of us so Jeff and I are able to work our way through the ropes course without waiting, which is huge. The course involves climbing up a cargo net tube to platforms 30 feet in the air, completing 10-12 elements, and then zip-lining back down to the ground. Some of the elements are simple, but most of them are physical and fear-inducing. I just try to stay focused on the present task and work through each element in an efficient manner. Jeff has a little bit easier time due to his long legs and arms. We make it through and Rib Mountain is still at the ropes, plotting the rest of the checkpoints on this leg. We do the same, quickly plan a route, and then take off on bikes about 10 minutes behind Rib.

LEG 3B - BIKE (CPs 18-15-16-17-13-14-12, 1300-1600)


It's a short road ride out of Camp Pyoca and into Jackson-Washington State Forest. This forest is a terrain anomoly in Indiana...super steep, 400' hills in the middle of flat farmland. It's really quite remarkable, especially when we have to ride up to a Lookout Tower for CP18. At least this part is paved. I hike up the steps to the checkpoint at the very top, take a quick look around, and then jog back down to get back on bikes. From there we ride a bit more pavement, then hop on horse trails/fire roads to get 15, 16, and 17. There are some extremely steep climbs in this section and we have to push our bikes quite a bit. This, plus the physical ropes course, confirms Erl's choice to not race - his already injured ribs would have been destroyed in the first half of the course! Plus, it's getting really hot. This is a really tough section!! There is a short break on a paved road in between CP17 and CP13, but the trails after CP14 are brutally steep again! Finally we hit some easy riding, see Rib Mountain on foot, and then pop out into TA.

LEG 4 - TREK (CPs 24-25-28-27-26, 1600-1845)


The volunteers at the TA are wonderful. They have shade, a table, cold water, cold Gatorade, and coordinates for the next section. And, they're friendly despite getting attacked by ticks! We quickly plot the next checkpoints in the shade, re-fill bladders with cold water, and head out into the woods. Jeff is overheating, and I don't feel spectacular either, so we decide to hike uphill to the first checkpoint and focus on re-fueling. This strategy works, we're able to nail the descent into CP24, and then continue to 25 and 28 at a moderate pace. We honestly don't run very much in this section due to the hot temperatures, but Jeff's navigation is very direct and we don't waste any time looking for checkpoints. We see Kuat and MRA going the opposite direction (it seems), and hear the voices of another team but aren't able to see them through the thick underbrush. We finally punch CP26 in the extremely thorny saddle and quickly debate how to return to our bikes. We could either go somewhat direct on trails (with at least one major climb) or go around on roads (relatively flat). At first I wanted to go direct on the trails, but after looking at the map again and talking it through with Jeff, we decide on using the road. To make this option faster, we have to run the whole way (about 5 km), which will be difficult. But we hit the road and start shuffle-running, using the easy terrain to eat some food. We arrive back in TA, and the volunteers tell us that Rib hasn't returned yet, but Kuat left a while ago. Unexpected on both accounts!!

LEG 3C - BIKE (CPs 19-22-20-29, 1845-2200)


The route back to camp, with all of the biking CPs, is long. But mostly flat. The Race Director has told us that after we complete Leg 3, the fast teams will need 2 hours to clear the last trekking section at camp. He had also told us we could clear Leg 4 in 2 hours, but it took us almost 3. So we estimate that we'll need to be back at camp by 2100 to have a chance at clearing the course. That means we have to bike a long ways...57 km...about 35 miles...in 2.25 hours. But it's mostly flat, paved roads so we think we have a chance. We head out and Jeff is not feeling spectacular. Thankfully, I am feeling OK, and have been putting in a ton of biking training, so can pull for most of this section. As we approach CP19, we turn onto a gravel road right next to a pasture full of baby cows and mama cows. They are so cute. All of the baby cows are right next to the road, and they run away as we ride by. They are so cute. We punch the CP and ride back past the pasture to the paved road. They are still so cute!! But the fact that no other teams have scared the baby cows make me realize we might be the first team to CP19. Which maybe means we are in the lead!! This is motivating to me, which is fortunate because Jeff is going through a low spot so he sits in my draft as we ride northward. I am able to pull to CP21 (covered bridge) and then it's gravel to CP22. The sun is starting to set and it's a beauty - pinks and purples everywhere. On the way to CP20 (out and back, similar to CP22), we see Rib going the other way. CP20 gives us some issues since the stream junction is well south of the plot. When we finally punch, we've wasted valuable time. So it's full speed back to Camp Pyoca (CP23) and Rib catches us! But we're able to hang onto their tail and chat a little bit on the approach to camp. Jeff ventures the all-important question, "Did you get all the bike CPs?" and Rib answers, "No.". That's huge information to us, and confirms that we are in the lead!

Leg 5 - TREK (CPs 30-35, 2200-2330)


The final trekking section.
We arrive back at HQ basically tied on time with Rib Mountain, but ahead by 1 checkpoint. We quickly plot the remaining 6 checkpoints to see how our race will end. After plotting and stuffing our faces with food, we have about 70 minutes left. In the dark, in this terrain, that's about 4km. To get 3 CPs (35, 31, 30) that would be a huge push, and because we think we have the advantage over Rib, we plan to play it save and just get CP35 and CP30. That way, they will have to gamble and get 3 CPs faster than we can get 2 to take the win.

Me punching CP35.
The approach to CP35 is quick and 100% on trail, which is a great thing for night-time navigation. We return back to CP9 from the previous leg and attack up to CP30. We hike up to the ridge and down the opposite side spur to find the CP. Except...nothing. We hike back up an adjacent spur, thinking that we're just one feature off. Nothing. Back up on top of the ridge, it's a little tense, as we try to decide how to re-attack. It's difficult to judge where we are exactly on top of the ridge, so we don't quite know which way (east or west) to re-locate. There are some lights down below us, so Jeff hikes down a bit and calls out "Any luck down there?" The response comes back, "No luck..." and we are sad. Then..."ONLY SKILL!" and the All Terrain Females emerge out of the darkness with huge smiles on their faces. Steph has navved them to CP30 the hard way and nailed it, and they were kind enough to share their success. So we scamper down the spur, punch our final checkpoint, and run behind All Terrain Females back to the finish line. Rib arrives shortly after, but with 2 checkpoints as well, so Jeff and I have won the MISSION 2018!

We won a medal!

POST-RACE

I had such a great time at the 2018 MISSION 18-hr Adventure Race. I thought the course was one of the most well-designed courses that the DINO has offered, and made effective use of a bus ride. There were some good navigation choices, and I think the RD's time estimates would have been pretty close if the temperatures had been cooler (i.e. in the 50s/60s). I felt like the pressure to "race" was completely removed when we dropped into the 2-person co-ed division, so we just spent the day navigating accurately and taking care of ourselves, which gave us the advantage late in the day. I was surprised to be in contention for the win but it felt great to be strategic and have those choices pay off. Jeff was a great teammate, always staying positive and we collaborated on the navigation really well. We helped each other where we could, didn't overthink the course, and kept up with eating/drinking. I think the day exemplifies one of my favorite quotes, which I'll leave you with:

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