Thursday, September 25, 2008

Big Blue Sprint Adventure Race 08

As Team Tone 40 crossed the finish line, heavily panting, with our lungs burning fire, and our nostils filled with dirt, all Shannon and I could think was, "Wow, what fun!" We had just covered 2-3 miles kayaking on Lake Tahoe, 10-13 miles mountain biking on a variety of terrains (single track, double track, fire trail, pavement, and even a wood chip covered trail), and 3-5 miles running on this gorgeous mountain at Lake Tahoe. It was a tough course for both of us, and a real eye-opener as to what we needed to work on. But we were jazzed. We completed it without injury (and believe me there was plenty of opportunity for that!) and with a new fire in our bellies. Well, maybe we were just really hungry. In any case, it wasn't the end of an adventure, but the start of a new one.

This adventure started weeks ago: running as much as we could, going farther and farther distances until we could do 10 miles; taking the mountain biking intro course; visiting the local sporting goods stores several times to gear up and to test out energy gels, electrolyte shot blocks, and clothing options; getting bikes rented; a campground reserved; securing a tent, camping items, and as a bonus, a support crew (Shannon's boyfriend); and lastly, learning how to use our brand new compass. (Thanks E!)

It was an 8-hour drive with stops to get to Lake Tahoe. We hit the bike rental place first where we got these great Trek bikes with full-suspension. Then it was off to the lake to check in for the race. Todd Jackson, the race director was there so we got to clarify one of the mandatory gear requirements regarding wearing a fleece undergarment AND an outer shell windbreaker. Our windbreakers were fleece-lined so we didn't have to have both. It was cold, but it was hard to believe we'd need both on in a race where we would more likely be sweating! Once we were all checked in we headed over to Donner Memorial Campground where we set up camp for the night. Dan--our support crew--was awesome! He set up the tents while Shannon and I went over our gear list and got everything organized. Being an avid cyclist who builds his own bikes, Dan then prepped our mountain bikes with a tool kit, spare tubes, and pump, and showed us what we needed to know in case of a flat.

After a nice hamburger dinner, we put all our food and toiletries in the bear locker and got ready for bed. The forecast was for temps of 29-39 degrees overnight. Not wanting to be cold, I brought my ski outfit to sleep in. Along with gloves and a hat, this worked out really well to keep warm and cozy in the freezing temps. After all, it was important to get a good night's sleep.

Shannon and I woke up ready to race. I think our adrenaline started pumping from the moment we woke up!

After a big yummy breakfast it was time. "Uh oh, we lost our bib number safety pins. Let's get some more. Oh look, we can get the map now. Let's figure this out." At first we were completely stumped. The course instructions just had stuff like:
1. run up the multi-use trail, run around the staff member and run back down
2. bike down big tree
3. left on buzzsaw
4. right on flameout
5. right on knicknak
6. etc.

We were so confused because on the provided map none of these names appeared. We realized we needed the mountain trail map (duh). Ok, so now we have our maps. Now what do we do? The instructions weren't entirely clear and there were quite a few of us wondering what we are supposed to leave in the transition area, when we are instructed to take EVERYTHING with us up the ski lifts. Oh well, let's downsize. No extra stuff. Oh and during this time it is FREEZING cold. Now we know we'll be running first and have everything on, leg warmers, fleece-lined jackets, etc. Turns out neither of our camelbaks are big enough to fit our jackets so we wrap them around our waists and ditch the leg warmers. Ok, it's time to go up the lift. Shannon decides to memorize the instructions. We are both now shaking from the cold going up the even colder ski lift while Shannon is repeating the instructions over and over. We probably looked pretty crazy.

Ok, we get to the top and the race is about to begin. Suddenly I'm starving. We get a banana out of my camelbak and give Dan the peel to deal with. We just learned that the run is only 1-2 miles so we decide to wear the bike helmets, gloves, and jackets so we don't waste any time transitioning. I notice Shannon has her race bib safety pinned to the outside of her jacket. "What if you want to take it off?" I ask. She says she'll just keep it on the whole time. Seconds later I see her moving it to her shorts just like I had done minutes ago. Oh my god, "5,4,3,2,1. START!"

We start running up the multi-use trail with full gear on. Within minutes we were sweating. I'm estimating that we started at about an elevation of 8,000 ft, maybe went up 200-300 feet and then back down again. Neither one of us had run at this elevation. It was seriously hard on the lungs. We had tow lines attached to each of our camelbaks so I had Shannon grab the tow line while I ran as hard as I could up that mountain. We passed quite a few people, but as we would realize later this was actually one of the most crucial moments of the race, because he who got to his bike first had less people in front of him and wouldn't be subject to the bottlenecking that occurs on single track bike trails.

Coming back down the hill was great. Both Shannon and I run really fast downhill so no time was wasted there, except when trying to pass in tight areas. When we got to the bikes, we quickly got on and started heading down the hill. We were going to go down to an elevation of 6229 feet where we would pick up the kayak section. First was the scary single track. The turns were tight and the trail was extremely rocky. Big boulders were on the sides of the trail. One bad move and you could get really hurt. The trail bottlenecked. Better riders would just pass. When I looked at the map later, I realized these were pretty advanced trails. Hmmm. None of my training had prepared me for this. However I just applied the basic concepts I did know which were 1. relaxed arms 2. butt off and back so the thighs are gripping the seat 3. body very low 4. feet position horizontal to the ground, not vertical, 5. don't look at what's in front of you, but look way out ahead of you. That worked. Shannon got about 5 people ahead of me during this, but as soon as the trail widened I caught up to her.

Next was miles and miles of top speed downhill on a wide rocky trail. I remember for a lot of it, feeling like a human vibrator, going "vrrrrrrrrr, bababababababbooom, bababbooooom, vrrrrrrrrr, yikes, sandy area, yikes other bikers, vrrrrrrrr, babababbooooom, vrrrrrrrrr, uh oh, Shannon is getting too far ahead, I better catch up! Oh this is scary. Minor detail, no time to think about that. Just keep going as fast as you can." Three quarters of the way through the race, I realized I had my bike gloves on upside down. No wonder I felt like I could easily lose my grip. Mine have that slippery material on the outside. Oh well, I know for next time.

Finally we get down to the kayaks. Take off running shoes, put on water shoes, take off camelbak and put on jacket. Grab paddle and kayak. Earlier I had told Shannon to just follow my lead because I had some kayaking instruction on power strokes. So I sat in the front. It was one of those inflatable kayaks, not very comfy I must add. So we get in and push off and start paddling. Boat goes to the right. Now boat goes to the left. Ok, what's happening we can't seem to go straight? I've done this before and know how to compensate. Why is this not working. Our paddles clash. Two female kayakers pass us up.

Shannon notices that they aren't using the same power strokes we were. So we try it their way, brushing the water and not digging in like we were before. Hmmm. We started to go straight, although not very fast. We both decide we need kayak lessons. After we reach the orange cone floating in the water we decide to try with Shannon leading by verbal command. Left, Right, Left, Left, Right, Right. That's better. But oh, another female team passes us up. We suck. Later we realized that both of us like to be leaders. Obviously that doesn't work in a kayak, so as soon as we can, we are going to get that sorted out. But for now, it's back to the race. We get our passport signed and go back to the bike. We are going to go almost all the way up to where we just came from minus the single track trails.

Initially it wasn't too bad, but after awhile the uphill battle became increasingly more difficult. It got to the point where I couldn't breathe. Shannon had to remind me to breathe through my nose, but by now, my nose was stuffed full of dirt and didn't seem to have a clear air passage. I started walking the bike up the hill. That was actually faster than my riding the bike up the hill. It was during this portion of the race where we lost the most time. Shannon actually did pretty well with the uphill biking--probably from her years of cycling--but I burnt out on it. I just didn't have the conditioning for it. Even with all the uphill running I do, it just wasn't enough to get me up the hill on a bike. So I would bike some, walk some, bike some, walk some, never stopping until we got to the top. Here the signs were confusing. We were on our own at this point. Racers were either way ahead of us, or way behind us. We see the sign for our trail, start to go on it, then see another sign with our trail with an arrow pointing the opposite way. There were a bunch of fully-padded downhill mountain bikers going by so I just asked them if that was Village run. They said yes. I also verified it on the map because it pretty much ran parallel to the ski lift. OK, good we could get going again. It was all downhill from here.

Once back to the transition place, we shed everything. Dan took a couple shots at our transition and asked us how it was going. We told him we just had a crash course in extreme mountain biking, With no time to waste, we checked into get our passport signed, drank as much water as we could and we were off running. It was back up the hill again. This leg was longer though. Up, up, up. We passed an all male team. Good. A sense of hope returned. We weren't going to be last! Amazingly enough we were able to run pretty strong after going hard for what seemed like hours. The body can take a lot. Finally it started going downhill, then got straight. We passed a co-ed team, a team we saw a lot of. The guy was always towing the girl, both on the bike and on the run. Poor guy, he probably did all the kayaking too. We are getting closer, I can sense it. Let's run faster. We pass another team. "Come on Shannon, keep up with me! We are almost there! There it is. Faster, faster, we've got to finish together. Sprint! Yes, we did it! Woohoo!" Time was 3 hours 50 minutes. We came in 36th place, 8th in our division. A fellow racer, "Old Goat," informed us that this year's race was much more difficult than the same sprint race last year. In any case, we know what to work on, and will only get better from here.

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