Sunday, December 7, 2014

Untamed Adventure Racing: Dover Raid

"Happiness is only real when shared."- Chris McCandless, Into The Wild

Last week I had an interesting conversation with the new barista at my favorite (and only) local coffee shop about adventure racing. She asked me if considered these races to be Class I, Class II, or Class III fun. When I asked her what that meant, she explained that class I fun is when the event is purely fun, and you are aware of such even while you are doing it. Class II fun- not so much fun when you are doing it, but after it is over, it is good fun. Class III- not fun during, not fun after, but when you look back on it a year later, you think to yourself "wow, that really was life changing and fun". I thought that was an excellent way to sum up my idea of fun. Most races for me are a little bit of all three.
Great race swag. A lovely Colombia top for me and a OR
running cap for Dave. Thanks!

Despite having hung up my shoes for the 2014 season two months ago, I wasn't able to resist the temptation to jump into one more event before the end of this year. Untamed Adventure Racing, the same organization that put on the 4-day Untamed New England and North Country Endurance Challenge, had one more event up their sleeve: The Dover Raid. This event is a 6-hour orienteering foot-race in Dover, NH. Forty-seven checkpoints would be scattered throughout the city and outlying areas and racers would scramble to complete as many as possible in the allotted time (and awarded 1 point per checkpoint successfully punched). Racers arriving at the finish at the Cara Irish Pub in downtown Dover after 5 pm would be docked 1 point for every minute late they arrived. This race was to be Class I fun all the way. I teamed up with my husband, Dave, and two other friends who each registered as solo racers. My intention for this race was entirely to remind me why I love adventure racing and to be surrounded by the kind of people who remind me to live life to the fullest.

(No expectations is probably a good thing since my training has not included much running at all due to a gnarly case of plantar fasciitis.)

Dave and I awoke Saturday morning at my cousin's place Portland to a sheet of fresh snow and ice on the ground, mid-30's temps, and sleet and rain falling from the sky. This was not going to be a dry day for us, that was already clear. Icy roads, lack of preparation, and dragging our heels a little due to the cold start brought us the venue only 15 minutes before the bus departed for the start. It was astonishing how many people were already packed into the tiny pub receiving instructions from RD Grant Killian as we arrived (late). The only part that I actually was able to hear was that checkpoints 22-29 probably should not be attempted by teams without adventure racing experience as they involved sketchy, icy, log crossings and that there would not be a bailout option for anyone deciding to call it quits in this section of the course. Apart from that, we pretty much missed all other instructions. We grabbed maps and boarded the busses to the start using the 15-minute bus ride to organize our packs and maps and layer up into our most waterproof layers. Dave, James (one of my teammates from Executive Athletes), his girlfriend's dad Mark, and I decided that we would stay together as a team for the day. We hopped off the bus and assembled for a final short speech to racers before the official start. I was off using the woods as a bathroom as the race started. I emerged struggling to get my tights up, ankle deep in thick slush, into a pack of racers and followed the boys off onto the trails tucking the passport, compass, clue sheet, and Hammer Gels into my pack as I ran.

Just like that- as quickly as we started- we were lost. I am not sure if it was a lack of communication about what checkpoint we were headed to first, or a case of upside-down map syndrome, but we had no idea where we were. Attempting to salvage our start, we headed further into the woods hoping to find some clue that we could use to locate ourselves on the map. By the time this happened, our only viable options were to start at CP 15 (checkpoint 15) and work our way back to CP 10 or to retrace our foot steps back to the start and complete the CP's in order as we had planned. We opted to break trail through the woods directly to the outlying CP 15, return backwards to pick up the lower # CP's, and retrace our steps to CP 16 and beyond (meaning that we would run head-on toward most other teams). All told, this probably cost us 45+ minutes and several additional miles of slushy bushwhacking on trails in the woods on the outskirts of Dover. We emerged from the woods to CP #18 soaking wet where hot coffee and warm smiles greeted us and checked us in. The good news- that coffee was amazing. The bad news: we were basically last. Dead last. Oops. Here Grant mentioned that several teams ahead of us had opted to skip CP's 22-29 after having seen the log river crossing. Evidently, it was high above the water, coated in ice, and sketchy as he had said earlier. Skipping these CP's was probably the best choice for a team looking to be competitive at this point: the CP's in town would be much closer together and require significantly less time, distance, and energy to gather. Unless clearing the course was the objective (getting ALL CP's), the faster route back to town was probably the better choice for racking up points. Regardless, we decided to head to CP's 22-29 anyway. The wooded checkpoints looked like they would be way more fun than heading back to town. None of us would regret this decision.
Several teams at one of the tree crossings. Photo Lars Blackmore.

This section of the course was gorgeous. We crossed a couple of rivers in a few places, but most of the time we found a downed tree or other way across that prevented us from getting wet(ter). The icy tree was a little sketchy: I later heard one group had a team member who freaked out and froze half way across the log. Someone else dropped their maps into the river below in this spot. As far as I know, no one actually took an unexpected swim here though. The four us were thrilled to just be out there gathering checkpoints. Apart from a couple of differences of opinion here and there, we smoothly transitioned from CP to CP for the next several hours. Mark eventually decided to head back toward town to get warm as his hip had had enough, and Dave, James, and I continued on down a slush-covered railroad bed in search of checkpoints. It was fun watching Dave and James frolic down the trail ahead of me like two school kids on a snowday. We arrived into town with only about 40 minutes remaining and picked up the pace to try to snag as many more CP's as we could before the 5 pm cutoff. Indeed, these CP's were low-hanging fruit compared to some of the others. In hindsight, it would have been nice to have more time to grab more CP's in town- but I wouldn't have traded the adventure for extra checkpoints. We ran at a decent clip for the last several miles and arrived with only 8 minutes to spare.

Greeted with pizza and beer at the finish!

We were greeted at Cara Irish Pub to warm food and beer and everyone was in great spirits. Awards
and swag were distributed (thanks One team of two men did clear the course- I am not sure what the total distance was but last year it was nearly 30 miles. In the slushy conditions, completing every checkpoint was an impressive feat. Despite our rough start, we cleared around 30 CP's, although I am not sure of our official placement.

All race proceeds for this event were to be donated to the family of Chad Denning, a fellow adventure racer who died while on a trail run on the Appalachian Trail in September. While I never met Chad, Grant's emotional tribute to him made it obvious that he was more than an athlete; rather, a dear member of an extended racing family. It is clear to say, without a doubt, that these races are a labor of love, rather than for profit. Love of community. Love of the outdoors. Love of adventure.

Chad Denning with his family in 2013. Photo

Thanks to the folks at Untamed Adventure racing, 2014 has made me a believer.

Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for my go to Hammer Gels, Endurolytes and Endurance Amino. They powered us all throughout the day feeling awesome! Click on the link above to receive 15% off your first Hammer order!

Also special thanks to Sarah and Kelly at Spandits! for our awesome tights. Dave's camo thermal tights were absolutely perfect and my circus act full-length tights with a wind layer were a winning combination! Use my code SPANDITSLOVE for 10% off your order!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9 Stages of The North Country Endurance Challenge

Ken and PJ bathed in early morning sun. Photo Jo M. Wood Photography

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go."- T.S. Eliot

Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in the North Country Endurance Challenge in Pittsburg, NH. The event is supported by Untamed Adventure Racing and is directed by the same race director of the 4-day Untamed New England Adventure Race I competed in earlier this summer, so it didn't take too much convincing to pique my interest. This event is multi-sport 9-leg mountain race consisting of mountain biking, kayaking and running covering around 70 miles (and over 7,000 feet of elevation gain) of the Balsam Wilderness area of northern New Hampshire. Athletes have the opportunity to compete solo or as relay teams with as many members as they want.
Race Start. Photo North Country Endurance Challenge.

Despite the fact that only one female completed the full premiere course in 2013, I opted to register for the premiere course as a solo racer with a little encouragement from Ken, one of my teammates from the Untamed New England event in June. As it would turn out, all three of my teammates from our Executive Athletes team would be competing (Ken, PJ and James), although we would each be racing as individuals this time. While I knew the boys would all have their sights on competitive finishes, my goal for this event was to avoid the time cutoff after the 6th leg of the race which would result in an alternate short-course to the finish. Having been short-coursed on the pro-course at the Untamed event earlier this summer, I knew too well the dissatisfaction of the "what ifs?" in the aftermath of those two little words. Short course.
And with an early morning firing of a cannon (yep, really a cannon), we were off. Photo 
Dave Koenig

While the weather forecast doomed us to eventual thundershowers, the 6:30 AM race start brought a beautiful sunrise and glassy start on First Connecticut Lake where a 4-mile kayak leg would start off the race. Most athletes had sleek, fast, kevlar flat water racing boats 20 or more feet in length. My 13-foot plastic sea kayak would make for an interesting start. I knew that the overall time loss would be relatively small, on the order of minutes, but I also was pretty aware that the overall toll
taken on my energy levels might be a little more significant. One of these days I might get more serious about getting fancy gear for these races but until then I have a lot more to work on before it really makes a difference.

Leg 1- 4 mile kayak on First Connecticut Lake
The leaders coming into the first transition area. Photo Dave Koenig

Leg 2- 3-ish mile run through Saint Francis State Park. The trail here was rooty in places and footing a little questionable, but otherwise a pretty straightforward trail run. I felt pretty good through these first two legs.
Finishing leg 2 of the event. Another female solo racer, Tamela Swan, is also
in this photo with me. She is a veteran adventure racer and is really, really tough.
Photo Jo. M. Wood Photography

Leg 3- Leg 3 brought us back in the kayak for a 5-ish mile paddle on Lake Francis. It was on this leg I felt a bigger difference between my boat and the other faster boats as the wind was beginning to kick up. Most of the paddle was at a slight angle to the headwind and not having a rudder made the effort considerably more work. Any difficulty that most of us competing at this point may have experienced was overshadowed by the beauty of the late summer sun on the water and hint of fall in the trees. It was truly breathtaking.

Coming into the transition after the paddle on Lake Francis. Clearly, I have issues tying a bib.
Photo Dave Koenig

At each transition area, my husband was one step ahead of me with whatever gear, food, and hydration I needed to get me to the next transition. In all, support crew would lug gear from place to place 8 times, filling hydration packs and refueling snacks. Some legs involved up to 45 minutes of driving just to hand off a bike and pick up a pair of shoes. As I left transition area two, my husband called out "I love you, honey." As I peddled off out of transition, I heard several volunteers yell that they loved me too.

I have told Ken (left) and PJ (right) that if they should ever find themselves taking their wives for granted, this photo should serve as a reminder of how awesome they are. Photo Dave Koenig

Leg 4- 9-ish mile mountain bike. This was the easiest of the mountain biking legs. It included just under 1,000 feet of climbing, but wasn't technical at all. Initially, I had some trepidation about having an average mountain bike for the event but realistically, a new mountain bike is not in the budget in the near future, so a bit of a moot point. I pushed to a point that I felt I could maintain and tried my best to hydrate before the next leg, which would be a running leg. I opted to reduce my hydration pack for the running legs to save my knees from the extra impact. Coming into the 4th transition area, I was now about 45 minutes behind the leaders of the race, which felt pretty good to me.
Coming into Transition area 4. Photo Dave Koenig

Leg 5. - 7+ mile Trail run (1,000 feet of climbing)?
On the maps we received before the event, this leg was advertised as a 7-mile trail run. It turned out to be something entirely different for me, however, and the low point of my race. First, the term "trail" is only one I can use loosely. There was flagging tape, that is. Trail? Not so much. At least 6 miles of this leg would be better described as a vertical swamp. Trail "run". Hardly. See my previous point. Not much running was happening for me here. Seven miles? Nope. Turned out to be 10.5. What is a 50% difference amongst friends, right? I say these things in jest mostly because in all of the adventure racing I have ever done, nothing is ever as it would appear on maps or course descriptions.  There is always a catch. I honestly wouldn't want it any other way. It just so happened that this leg of adventure commenced with a self-inflicted face plant into the mud and twisted ankle to boot. I won't deny that this provoked a little pitty-party-for-one that would cost me time. Additionally, for the first time in the race I would lose sight of Tamela Swan, with whom I had been exchanging positions with for much of the first 4 hours of the race. I would complete this leg alone, run out of water and food, and fail to emerge from the deep grassy trail for over two hours. Arriving at transition area 5, I could even tell that Dave was a little annoyed with my mid-woods frolicking. I changed my shoes and hopped on my bike determined to finish the leg before the 2:00 PM cutoff (initially it was a 1:30 cutoff, but it was extended due to the added length of leg 5).

Leg 6. 9 miles (about 1,800 feet gain)
I'd love to say that in leg six I rebounded and found my second wind. I was looking for it, that's for sure; until I turned off the pavement and began the climb up Sugar Hill one mile into the leg. The trail up Sugar Hill consisted of a series of switchbacks progressively steeper than the next climbing about 1,800 feet in under two miles. This climb was a venomous ascent. By the second pitch I was attempting to suppress any thoughts of misery or suffering by convincing myself that I could see the summit just over the rise in the distance. It was clearly a lie and I wasn't in the mood to be tricked. By the third pitch, I had given into peddling exclusively in grandma gear and as the 4th pitch came into view I was off my bike pushing. Up, up, up. Somewhere along this hike-a-bike, a group charged down the hill on ATV's and a man in the final ATV stopped to ask me if I was on a relay team or solo. I breathlessly replied "solo" and he started his engine and replied "well, you've got a loong way to go." I knew this meant I looked like I felt: not good. Turns out, he was right; I did have a long way to go. Fortunately, many of the pitches above this one were (mostly) rideable. I climbed on and off my bike 4 or 5 times more before reaching the summit, and descended the steep, loose, rocky trail down the other side with increasing confidence and speed. The surprise of leg 6 would be the trail network that followed Sugar Hill. While not very technical, the trail followed some of the most spectacular rolling single track and beautiful terrain encountered thus far in the race. It was fun. It was fast. It was spectacular.
I can't say I have ever changed this many times in one day.
Photo Dave Koenig

I arrived at the TA 6 at 1:15, a full 45 minutes before the time cutoff. I grabbed my running shoes and pack, ate a Snickers bar, and headed up the trails of the abandoned Balsams Ski Resort for leg 7. Having made the cutoff, I would be afforded the opportunity to complete the premier course as I had hoped, provided that my body was on the same page, that is.

Leg 7. Leg 7 was a 3.6 mile hike/run up the ski trails of the abandoned ski area that continued to Table Rock before descending back down into Dixville Notch. I enjoy mountain running and hiking, so this leg was one I had looked forward to. Although my legs didn't have the "ups" that I had hoped for, I climbed steadily and followed the trail as it wove in and out of the forest above Dixville Notch. The trail followed mountain streams and pine forests that carried the smells of fall. By this time, the predicted storms arrived and moderate downpours would become more continuous for the remainder of the race. I finished my descent just before the roots and rocks became too slippery for running, grateful to make it as far as I did before conditions deteriorated.

I arrived to the transition to find that another racer on a relay team had been evacuated due to dehydration and heat exhaustion. This was a little disconcerting to me, but it was evident even then that he would be fine, so I continued on. Sometimes stuff just happens.
James Kovacs descending from Table Rock into 
Grafton Notch. Photo Jo M. Wood Photography.

Leg 8. Legs 8 and 9 would would both be mountain bike legs completing the premier course. Leg 8 was a 14+ mile bike up through Kelsey Notch with another 1,700 feet of climbing and leg 9 an additional 10 miles and another 1,000 feet of climbing. By the time I began leg 8, the rain was coming down pretty hard and conditions were becoming increasingly slick. As I ascended into Kelsey Notch, the slick mud turned into sticky slime that coated my derailleur and filled the knobs of my tires in such a way that many pedal strokes up the hill were complete spin outs. Mulligans. Water poured off my helmet into my eyes coating my sunglasses with slime as the mud from my tires spun up into my eyes. Despite the mud, I opted to stuff my sunglasses into my sports bra to allow me a better chance at seeing the rocks and mud holes that made up the Kelsey Notch trail. With a compass, map, whistle and now sunglasses all stuffed into my bra, my glasses would bounce out into mud puddles more than once for me to retrieve. One of the most frustrating aspects of this climb (and soon to be descent) was that racers who had passed through Kelsey Notch before the downpours would not have experienced these conditions. In fact, as I understood it, the descent would have been fast and fun. For me, even the downhill sections would be a wheel caking, brake clogging, derailleur disabling grind.
It isn't unusual under these circumstances for me to have some kind of epiphany. In fact, I tend to seek out this type of fatigue simply to appreciate the beauty of each step, every colored leaf, and every smell of the forest during an endurance event. This day would be different. I became angry. With every pedal stroke more angry than the one before. Not angry at the mud or the difficulty or the course. I became angry with myself. In a moment of clarity between the rain drops and eye crushing mud I found an indistinguishable mixture of rain and tears streaming down my face over my inability to find tears over the tragic loss of a friend back in January. Why is it that I can't cry when I want to?  All sorts of emotions and questions churned about in my head. The mud felt good, almost as if a cleansing of the guilt that had sat deep in my stomach for all of these months. The harder I rode, better it all felt. In fact, for someone who admittedly stinks at mountain biking, I rode quite well. I picked good lines and committed to them. When I picked bad lines, I trusted my instincts and rode it out. I didn't crash. I didn't hike. The more I pushed, the better I felt. Kelsey Notch came and went; by the time I arrived at the final transition my muddy grin was undeniable.

Leg 9. Ironically, my husband Dave was down at the transition worrying about me. When Ken arrived at the transition, he had specifically told Dave "Shelley isn't going to like this." I am pretty sure Dave was convinced I would be tossing my mud-caked bike into the woods and calling it quits at any time. I, however, was having way too much fun embracing the absurdity of it all to remember that I am not a mountain biker.

The final 10 miles of mountain biking was more challenging than I had expected, but really fun. The terrain varied and brought us around beautiful tree farms, (wet) grasslands, forests and muddy 4-wheeler trails. It was a total hoot. I passed a few racers looking pretty ragged, but for the most part cycled the last 25 miles alone. The hardy volunteers still on-course in the rain cheered me to the finish in the town of Colebrook where I passed under the finish banner after 11 hours of racing.

At the finish. I would be extracting gobs of mud from my contacts for the rest of the evening after this. Photo Jo M. Wood Photography.

In summary, I would say that this race is not for sissies, but was beautifully run and executed by a great race director and volunteers. One of the great things about it is that athletes can choose to make a relay team or go solo. There is also a 4-leg sprint distance for those looking for something a little shorter or just getting started. Great views, great terrain and great people. I couldn't ask for a better opportunity to support my habit of self-inflicted suffering or better race volunteers to enable me. I think I just might be a junkie.

Men's and women's solo "podium" for the premier course, as well as the winning relay team. My friend James (far right) wound up 3rd for men and I was 2nd for women. I am honored to be in the company of these other two great women who finished this event this year.
Gotta love the wet hair shoulder stain. Photo Dave Koenig
"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks."- John Muir

Thanks to Hammer Nutrition for Heed, Endurolytes and Sustained Energy that got me through this one. There is no way I could have make it without the help of the best fuel out there. Hammer Nutrition Seat Saver was also a life saver. Having wet shorts for the duration of the race required a little extra help! Use this link to save 15% off your first order.

Also thanks to Spandits! for the great training shorts and skirt. If you want to try a pair for yourself, use code SPANDITSLOVE and tell them Shelley sent you for an extra 10% off your order!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Spartan Race Amesbury report and 2 SPARTAN RACE GIVEAWAYS!!

Morgan Mckay and I having some festival fun after our 8:30 AM heat.
"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that's the stuff life is made of."
-Benjamin Franklin

Even though I generally go to great lengths to avoid short distance races of any kind, 2014 marks the third year in a row I have made the trip to Amesbury, MA for the Spartan Sprint. This race seems to be one of the exceptions to my "no running fast" philosophy that dominates my racing calendar. One of the most compelling reasons that I return to this event year after year is that I really enjoy having the opportunity to get back out on course for a second lap after the elite heat to give back a little to the community that has given so much to me. I love that I can complete the course with athletes new to the sport, lend a hand over a wall or a little advice and encouragement from within the trenches instead of just on the sidelines. The Amesbury race was my first ever Spartan Obstacle race two years ago and one I can't resist simply because I can cram in a weekend's worth of fun in a 24-hour period and get home to my family at the end of the day.

For anyone who reads this blog, it probably isn't a surprise that I generally try to find some lesson or meaning in every adventure I undertake. Some of the lessons teach me about better training, race preparation, nutrition or race etiquette; others are pretty spiritual and powerful lessons. The Amesbury race always provides a reminder of the first commandment of racing; it isn't worth doing if it isn't fun.
Jeffrey Bent attempted to teach Mogan and I how to do one-arm handstands. I think we need to keep working on it!

I arrived at the venue before my 8:30 AM start solo and warmed up for the women's elite in plenty of time. I was initially a little concerned that the elite heat would generate a bit of a circus now that NBCSN was there filming for their new Spartan TV series, but I was happy to find that it didn't feel much different than last year's event. I visited with some old friends, but most were all-business as the evolution of the ladies' heat
Spartan testing my SPANDITS! shorts and top at the Amesbury Sprint. They
rock! Not a single snag or pull after two laps of the course!
Pink hair would have been a nice touch too. 
has become extremely competitive. Since I have reviewed this event in years past, I won't give a synopsis of the obstacles at Amesbury this year. However, there were few twists and added challenges to the traditional obstacles to keep things interesting. For one, Spartan is done messing around with the elite heat. New to 2014: double sandbags and tractor pulls for all elite racers (meaning that we needed to carry two sandbags at a time as well as pull two chained cinderblocks, rather than one). The bucket carry up the Amesbury Sports Park required elites to carry a bucket of gravel 7/8 full with gravel up the steep slopes of the Amesbury Sports Park, compared to the 2/3 full of the open heats. An awkward 60-70 pounds in a 5-gallon bucket with no handles was pretty brutal. In a 100m ascent, I am pretty certain I had to stop to rest with my bucket balanced precariously on my thighs no less than 5 times. When I arrived at the bottom and dumped my bucket into the gravel pile, my fingers were nearly seized up from loss of grip strength. Spartan Race also tossed in a few challenges for all heats such as increasing the course length to 5 miles, monkey bars with varying heights, and thin, slippery climbing ropes with no knots, which increased the difficulty ten-fold for many. Although I fared well, I missed the spear toss (shocker) and the rope climb resulting in a whopping 60-burpee penalty. Ouch.
Happy with a top 20 finishing time out of 3,800
women to run the course, but
the real fun had yet to come.

My favorite part of this race is all of the familiar faces and fun at the festival and post-race shenanigans. I met up with my Canadian pal Morgan Mckay, whom I met nearly 2 years ago at my first Death Race where we became instant friends. Since then, we have raced and played together many times and have witnessed one another have both great successes as well as suffer spectacularly on course. Along with her friend Jen and fellow Reload Ambassador Freddy Rodriguez, we jumped into an open heat to tackle the course a second time, this time on our own terms. We stopped to socialize and made new friends, buddy-carried one another, fell into the deepest depths of each mud pit and attempted every obstacle with as much added difficulty as we could create for one another. We stopped to help strangers, flopped in the sand turning ourselves into sugar-coated doughnuts (oh wait, that was just Morgan), and we laughed a lot.

Helping 10-year-old Alex Hulme overcome apprehension of the razor sharp barbs of the barbed-wire crawl, assisting Spartans on the monkey bars and inverted walls, and pulling strangers suctioned waist deep in mud was particularly rewarding. Smiles and laughter are contagious, and I am honored to he in a position to celebrate the successes of each of these strangers in their moment of triumph.

The spirit of our second lap on the course reminded me of my first Tough Mudder back in 2011 and why I have spent the better part of the last 3 years running through the mud and under barbed wire. Back in 2011, I distinctly remember a moment where Lani and I looked at one another's mud-caked faces and instantly broke into uncontrollable laughter at the absurdity of it all; the kind of laughter that brings you to your knees gasping for air. This was one of the defining moments that changed it all for both of us. Somewhere on the hills of the Amesbury Sports Park, Morgan and Jen helped me find that moment again. Thank you ladies for that. There is nothing more important than finding opportunities to laugh at the ridiculousness that is this life. It is an even greater treasure to be able laugh in the face of enormous challenges. When obstacle racing ceases to be fun or challenging, I'll move on. Until then, I'll train like hell for the next one.

We collected lots of friends, both new and old, along the course. I am guessing that it was the two beautiful 25-year old women that drew the following, but it was spectacularly fun anyway!

Nope, don't know the name of the guy holding both my hand and Jen's, but as you can see, neither of us seem to care.

Life is short. If there is ever a time to get out there and chase fun, it is now.

Want some awesome, fun, Spartan Race-tested shorts like the ones I wore? You can customize your own material and length and support a small company. Made in the USA! Check out SPANDITS! and tell them Shelley sent you (and use my code SPANDITSLOVE for 10% off your order).

A huge THANK YOU to Hammer Nutrition for Hammer Gels, Mito Caps, Race Caps Supreme and Recoverite that fueled my awesome race and great day! The code in the upper right of this page will give you 15% off your entire first order with Hammer.

Check out the NBCSN coverage of this event Tues Sept 23 at 10pm EST. Now for the FREE Spartan raffles!


Here is where you can enter the Reebok Spartan Race Cruise Sweepstakes! No purchase necessary. Open to US residents only. Winner will receive a trip for two including airfare, a 3-day Spartan cruise, and an entry to the ultimate tropical island Spartan Race. Click here to enter! Sweepstakes ends Sept 22.
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Click here to win an entry to any US 2014 or 2015 Spartan Race through Shelley's blog, Filthy Clean Living. Raffle drawing is Aug 25, 2014

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Thanks to Reload Fitness and Mud and Adventure for you support!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Spandits 5K and kids 1-miler

Great race swag at the Spandits! 5K. I would have included a photo of the homemade cake too, but we ate it.
For years, I've heard people say that they don't really consider themselves "runners" because they have only completed a 5K race but they are hoping to work up to a longer distance someday. Hearing this always makes me cringe. As a former high school and collegiate cross country runner, to me the 5K conjures up images of true suffering. Raw, brutal suffering. The 5K was the distance that taught me what it means to bonk; a distance where there is no mercy for the runner who succumbs to a moment of weakness or self doubt. In a 5K the pain is almost instantaneous and continues mercilessly until the final heartbeat at the finish. I have never said the words "only a 5K" and am pretty sure I never will. In fact, for years- decades- I have thought "5K" would be a phrase I would simply never utter again, never mind actually participate in.
Spandits! 5K start. Photo Maine Running Photos.

Until about a week ago that is... when I decided to sign up for one. No mud, no obstacles, no compass- no distractions. Just running. In fact, this 5K would be 100% a road race, not even a dirt trail to distract me from my suffering. Having just entered the 40+ age group, it just seemed silly to hold on to fears that were nearly 20 years old. Bonus: this race was put on by Spandits! to benefit the Mt. Blue HS cross-country team complete with a kids 1-miler to start. I knew if nothing else, I would be in the company of cool people and REALLY cool tights. Possible distraction?
At the start with a great group of Spandits! ladies rockin' our kits. (me, Jen, Carrie and Sarah). Photo Jennifer Boudreau.

In quick order, I signed myself up for the 5K, both kids for the 1-miler, and Dave for the 5K. Dave doesn't run. Ever. I think he has run twice in the last year, and I know he didn't see this coming, but he is such a good sport I also knew he wouldn't refuse. My 8-year-old daughter was able to convince me that I should enter a deal with her where I would give her $20 if she could break a 9-minute mile. Having entered a similar arrangement with Noah back in June ($1 for every time he actually swung at the ball in Little League), I wasn't in a position to refuse.

The kids's race was really fun- and really fast. I had thought I was going to have a chance to warm up and jog out a little to cheer the kids on but the kids were moving at a ridiculous pace and afforded me no time to warm up- or grab my camera. I believe the boy who won ran a 5:56 (and the course was not flat). He was 8. I was so distracted by the sheer speed of the little guy in the front of the pack I almost didn't notice my own kid fly by to a 4th place overall finish (6:28). Moments later, I lost my twenty dollars as the ponytail of my 8-year-old blew by to a 7-minute flat 1-mile race. Next time, momma is going to be a little more prepared for the kids race.
Noah and Charlie modeling their 4th and 10th place overall in the kids 1-mile. Photo Sarah Doscinski.

At the finish, the kids were met with cold popsicles and great swag and prizes. Eyeing the popsicles for ourselves, Dave and I made our way to the start corral instead with me terrified of the impending sufferfest and Dave oblivious. I know I was confused when the gun went off. Do I sprint? No, that's not a good idea. If I go out too slow and stay comfortable, the race will be over and I'll never be able to catch up. What to do? Seeing Dave run off ahead of me, I decided the only option was to give chase. I snuck by him in the pack weaving between a couple of buff fellas pushing strollers. He cut me off at the first corner. I drafted off his shoulder and breathed down his neck for a while. Once he pulled away about 20 meters ahead of me, I held the distance for the next two miles or so. At one point, a man I was running alongside said to me "the third and fourth ladies are just in front of you... you can get them." Without hesitating, I replied "oh, I don't care about them, I am going for the guy in the red shirt."
Dave beating me in his 3rd run of 2014. At least he looks like he is suffering a little. Photo Maine Running Photos.

5K feels fast. It is fast. There are no breaks- no moments to get in a zone and recollect yourself. There is no forgiveness for weakness. This is why the 5K is so hard for me. While I know how to put myself into some pretty good discomfort for long periods of time, I have forgotten how to truly redline my effort. In the third and fourth day of an endurance event, I know I can dig deep to find a zone where my body just does what it needs to. In a 5K, I am way too keenly aware of my own suffering and I revert to comfortable. Somewhere between miles 2 and 3, I lost focus just long enough to let the bouncy, fawn-like bearded runner in the red shirt slip to a 20 second lead. My own husband, the self-admitted non-runner, would take me in my first 5K in two decades.
I might look like I am suffering but at least my outfit doesn't! Photo Maine Running Photos.

In the end, returning to the 5K distance was invigorating and great fun. I ran faster than I imagined I would although nearly 4 minutes off of my PR from 20 years ago. I was beaten by two men pushing strollers. I almost feel inclined to spend some time conditioning my body to work out of conversational running pace and re-learn how to redline as better endurance conditioning. Seems like a logical progression.

Plus, I now need to beat my husband in a 5K.

Did I mention that age-group winners got homemade goodies for prizes? How brilliant!
Ironically, the 40+ age group was arguably the most competitive. Go-figure.
(5th female overall and 2nd in 40-49- I'll take that!). Photo Credit Maine Running Photos.

Thanks to Sarah and Kelley at Spandits! for an awesome event and for great ambassadors to hang out with. If you like colorful, fun tights, shorts and skirts check out and tell them Shelley sent you. I highly recommend their great quality products made in Maine owned by two great women who are also runners. For any of my Sugarloaf friends, Spandits! 5K is a race to put on your calendars for 2015.

Also, a huge thanks to Hammer Nutrition for keeping me fueled, Maine Running for allowing me to share their photos, and to Reload Fitness and team Mud and Adventure for great support teams!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Part III of III - Untamed New England, the final days.

Our group making our way through the Kennebec gorge. Note the person in the raft pointing and talking and distinctly not paddling. Yep, that's me. Photo Vladimir Bukalo.
" When there is an element of the unknown and questions of probability of success you tend to attract people that are not driven by ego but rather by a sense of adventure and an internal drive that requires little or no external recognition." - author unknown, but perfectly spoken.

The scene at Harris station was pure chaos. Throughout the night 20 or more teams arrived and camped out for whatever time would remain of the blackout before the dam release at 10:30 AM on the Kennebec. Tents popped up everywhere, bodies filled the bath house of the campground; some even slept in the empty U-Haul staged to transport our bikes to the next transition. It was here that my GI system decided to revolt and I spent several hours with an unhappy colon. I normally don't feel like eating during races, so staying fueled and hydrated was going to be exceptionally difficult for a while. I doubled my intake of Hammer Endurolytes hoping to maintain some sort of electrolyte balance. It proved to work OK and when it was time to gather my stuff the agony seemed to have passed.

We ran the upper gorge of the Kennebec with Mark of Northern Outdoors as our guide. Even though we were given specific instructions not to "race" the gorge or pass other rafts, Mark's competitive spirit was evident. He wanted to catch the elite pro teams in front of us and even voluntarily jumped out of the
My friend Kim Lyman prepping her crew, the eventual winners, for their trip down
 the gorge. No pressure there Kim. Photo Untamed New England.
raft at the Carry Brook eddy instead of having us bring him to shore. We all agreed he was pretty awesome. From there, it was up to us to navigate the lower Kennebec down to the town of The Forks with remaining sections of whitewater of class II/III. I have kayaked the Kennebec several times and have a sense for whitewater, or at least a sense for why a raft guide would refer to a particular part of the river as "unemployment rock" so I was happy for an opportunity to give guiding the raft a shot. Full disclosure: it was a little therapeutic having an opportunity to order people around. We made good time to the next checkpoint where we received our maps for the next section of trekking up and packrafting the Dead River.

This is a photo taken of us by my family. I thought I'd include it to give a sense
of my clear lack of any sense of class at this point in the race. 
Photo Dave Koenig.

While the trek up the Dead River appeared to be only 5 miles or so on the map, it was a long, long 5 miles to the first of 3 checkpoints which would be hidden off the side of the trail somewhere. We stopped often to make sure not to overshoot the target and the mosquitoes descended upon us in vicious swarms. I tried whenever possible to be somewhat helpful with navigation but it seemed at this point that I was a little useless, so I just kept my head down. Without a word, I felt James push me up a couple of the hills with one hand while he read the map with the other. We alternated between walking in silence and chatting about life outside of adventure racing. Somehow after a couple of days in the woods with casual friends you feel like you have known one another for years. No real boundaries seem to exist. After a few false starts, we eventually came to the checkpoint and from there bushwhacked as we descended into the steep gorge of to the Dead River. 

We inflated our two pack rafts, loaded our gear, and piled into the river. Almost immediately, our crafts begun to sink. Our combined mass of bodies and packs of over 400 pounds was clearly more than the recommended capacity for the "2-man" rafts. Combined with the lack of a self-bailing feature, we were highly unseaworthy for the class II/III rapids of the Dead River release. Having become accustomed to ignoring my better judgement in the previous days, I saw very little reason to start listening now and we proceeded to the next checkpoint only stopping to dump water from our rafts once our gear started floating out of the boat.
Here is the Columbia team in their pack raft. I suspect they had the same rafts
that we did, which were more like submarines in the rapids of the Dead River.
Photo Untamed New England.
A rescue helicopter hovered over us several times to make sure we were ok, I suspect even from the air it was evident that we were a sorry sight. We continued on with smiles on our faces, shivering feverishly, ducking holes and pour overs down the river until a sizable gash in PJ and James' raft made for an easy decision to skip the 6-foot drops of Poplar Falls. We packed up the rafts and continued on foot back down river to the third checkpoint where we reinflated our functional raft, ferried over to the checkpoint, and headed to the transition on foot. As we made our way down the trail, it appeared that there were some other groups upstream in serious trouble. We saw a yellow unmanned pack raft pass on the river followed by all sorts of gear. Rescue and first aid providers whizzed up the trail behind us. Air temperatures were starting to drop rapidly and we were grateful to be warm and drying out. It was easy to see how someone could get into trouble and the notion that someone could be in danger was unsettling. (Spolier: in the end, a little hypothermia and some scrapes were the worst of the injuries on the Dead River.)

James and PJ working on some navigation before leaving the checkpoint. Photo Vladimir Bukalo.

We arrived at our final transition and picked up our bikes for the final leg of the race. We knew the trail would gain 1,000 feet or so in elevation in less than the first three miles. Much of these three miles were loose scree and sand, ultimately unridable for most, if not all teams. Honestly, I was happy to push my bike up as long as it meant that I didn't have to ride down over the treacherous loose rock. After the steepest portion of the climb, the trail leveled out and we rode the miles to our final checkpoint swiftly and effortlessly despite the wet loads of gear in our packs. While at one time the event had been about competing against the clock or other teams, I think we all would agree that this was about taking it to the end with our best effort for one another. For me, the last leg on the bike was a little bittersweet. Of course I was excited to see the finish line of this epic journey, but there was also a part of me that wasn't ready for it to end. Some moments you can never get back, not matter how hard you try to replicate them. For me, breathing in the moments of finishing Untamed New England with some of the best people on earth was a little surreal.

And then, we hit the final descent. In an instant, I found my mountain bike tumbling down over loose scree and sand reminiscent of the first 2 km of our climb. I tried to control my speed, but at this point I was completely committed to taking the first pitch through hell on my bike. I passed up one opportunity to abort the mission into a second pitch that was snottier, nastier and steeper. Then a third. As my bike bounced from rock to rock, my eyes teared from my irritated contacts and my bike light flickered on and off. In my opinion, it was an absolute heroic effort on my part to avoid a horrific crash. I stopped and gathered myself where the boys were waiting for me, knowing that the finish line was only 100 m away or so. Per their typical consideration, they let me lead the rest of the way down the hill which continued to be loose and steep. And there, two turns from the end of the race, it happened. I ate shit. 

The boys put me back on my bike as I laughed and cried and we continued our pursuit of the finish. I heard Ken crash off the side of the trail in the last 50 m on the bike. Seems fitting that we ended this one in the same manner in which it all begun.

Ken, PJ, me and James celebrating our finish. In the end, we wound up placing 21st  - although the final place says very little about the experience we shared. Photo Kim Lyman
Ben Franklin once said "Never leave that till tomorrow what you can do today". This is the same guy who discovered electricity, so it seems as though we might give pause to what he was trying to tell us. Why wait to seek the adventure we have dreamed of since we were kids? What if after all of our waiting and planning there is no tomorrow? Are we paralyzed by the idea that we might fail or sacrifice our dignity so much that we'd rather never try? I think it is time to start listening to what he was trying to tell us. Don't waste your minutes waiting for tomorrow to present you with adventure, love or answers to life's mysteries. Go after them. And when you fail, it just means you get to try them again. Do the things that terrify you most with people who inspire you to be a better person.

Photo Untamed New England.

Click here for a great video put together by the race organizers of the 2014 event. It captures the race beautifully (and even captures our finish).

A special thanks to Hammer Nutrition for great fuel for this event as well as Reload Fitness and my awesome tights from Spandits!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Part II of III- Untamed New England- The Epic Bike Tour (days 2 and 3ish)

Our team descending from the mountains toward Moosehead lake. Photo credit Vladimir Bukalo

"The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life come from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
- Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

If I forgot to mention it, mountain biking is not my forte. I don't like crashing (which I do quite often), and I tend to stiffen up causing my insides to shake up to the point that I convince myself that internal organ damage is inevitable. To top this off, I had deliberately failed to mention to my teammates that I suspected that a crash on my bike taken about 10 days before the race may have created an injury that might reveal itself sometime during the race. With so little time remaining before the race and the possibility that my hypochondriacal ways were at the root of it all, I made a trip to the chiropractor and determined it was best to just suck it up.

We headed out on the mountain bike about 8 AM hoping to make up lost time, both on the clock and also to catch up to the other teams. Failing to make the 7 PM cutoff would mean that we would be diverted off the pro course on a shorter course and miss the orienteering relay and the bushwhack through the Abenaki Lost World. James did a great job navigating a route conferring with us regularly to be sure we were all in agreement with route choice. We hustled along to get back into the race. I did everything in my power to keep up with the group, especially up the longer hill stretches, but after about 60 miles or so on the bike I must have started to drag a little which was confirmed when James offered me a tow up several of the hills. Normally, I would be put off by such an offer and insist on doing it all on my own power, but in a team race there is no "me" or room for ego or dignity. I am not going to lie, getting a tow was awesome. Not only did it give me the boost I needed, but also forced me to stay on his wheel to catch a draft. I know at first I must have been a horrible drag since I put on the brakes whenever I got too close, but I eventually became more trusting and confident and allowed James to dictate the pace while I did what I could to pitch in on the effort.
Most of the mountain biking wasn't all that technical. Here is one of the Canadian teams on
course. Photo Untamed New England.

Apart from one bike bushwhack section up part of a small mountain and through a pass, the mountain biking was really fun.  There were some epic crashes, mostly by PJ, including one in a waist deep puddle. If PJ were to do another adventure race, I might recommend that he practice using clipless pedals. "Bikewacking" in dense forest with small saplings grabbing at our bikes and packs was a bit of a test to our spirits, especially since we took a bit less direct path than we had hoped for. I think the worst part for me was when my pedals would catch on a sapling and swing back and crash into my leg. In the same spot. Over and over. We emerged from the bikewack no worse for the wear, chose a great route and headed to the checkpoint at the AMC Gorman Chairback Hut. Despite passing nearly 10 other teams in the woods somewhere and regaining about 7 hours of our lost time, we arrived at the checkpoint with only a half hour to the cutoff, which would be insufficient to complete the 1.5 hour orienteering relay. This meant we would be directed back to the Transition at Lily Bay (which was also transition 3). This also meant another 5 hours on the mountain bike...
Checkpoint flag along the mountain biking course. Photo Untamed New England.

The nighttime temperatures in the Moosehead area were near 40 degrees at night which felt really cold on a mountain bike when wet and tired. We made our way through the darkness and for the first time ever in a race I began to lose my focus a little (what I really mean to say is that I started losing my mind). In the previous two nights, I had slept a mere 2-3 hours and 90 miles on a mountain bike was more than I have ever dreamed of doing. James had the presence to hook me onto his tow several times on the longer climbs of this trek. The flashing disco taillight on PJ's bike became a hypnotizing force that I could do nothing but fixate on for hours. Of course it was inevitable in our tired state that we would make a wrong turn, and we did, costing us an additional hour or two of riding before arriving at the transition at about 2 AM. Upon arrival, we learned that the course had been changed due to unsafe wind conditions on Moosehead Lake and all teams would be re-routed by bike in the morning instead of canoe. The clock would not stop however, so any advantage we gained in the amateur race (short course) would be lost during the night. We hunkered down in the tent for another cold night in the Maine wind. I'm certain that I did sleep for 3 hours this night because I have a distinct memory of a dream where the race directors asked me if I wanted a blanket. I woke up to find an empty sleeping bag next to me and curled it up around me. Poor PJ had gotten up to pee in the woods only to return to find there was a thief amongst us.

By 8 AM Friday, we were back on course and headed to Greenville. From here to the end of the race, we would have no access to our paddling gear bins so we had to carry our paddles, PFD's and pack rafts as well as personal gear on our backs for the remainder of the race. On this ride, Ken surpassed PJ for the title of "most horrific crash", but he shook off the road rash without even as much as a complaint. 

Now routed on the short course, we were with the leaders who had completed the full course and were surrounded by so much media it felt like we had our own paparazzi. At first it was unsettling, but as we encountered the same photographers at checkpoint after checkpoint, it became entertaining being chased by cameras. We made quick work of the Greenville urban orienteering leg, made great time up Little Moose and Big Moose Mountains and descended to the old Big Squaw ski lodge, which has been closed for several years. On our journey over these two summits, we were overtaken by the top 3 teams in the world- I now understand why.
Me, PJ and James at the top of Big Squaw as taken by the paparazzi. Photo Untamed New England.
They flew along the trail at breakneck speeds with very little rest to support their efforts. I was particularly impressed by the French team who were very pleasant and driven, and I was floored to see their 120-pound woman towing one of the boys up the steep ascent to the checkpoint. 
Ken and PJ descending Moose Mtn. Photo Vladimir Bukalo

At the transition, we were given maps to our next two checkpoints, which were absolutely nowhere near one another on the map. In Maine, there is a reason for the expression "you can't get there from here." In this case, adequately phrased. The most straightforward option was to take a 40 or maybe even 50-mile route back to Greenville. Another was to take a more direct route of ATV trails that may or may not exist through the forests. Without too much debate, we opted for the more direct but riskier route. There were a couple of route options: we chose the one that involved the least amount of climbing to try to save some energy. Unfortunately, as is true in life, the path of less resistance is not always the best path. This one was a dead end. The map indicated a possible short bushwhack to a reconnection with active trails, but after an hour of carrying our bikes through logging slash and near waist-deep swamp in places, we realized it was futile and retraced our steps through one of the most mosquito infested swamps imaginable at dusk. Nothing was spared here- I was even bitten on my eyelids. 

After deciding that the smart option would be to return via the long road to Greenville, we decided instead to take the higher path of parallel ATV trails to see if we could circumnavigate the dead end swamp to the trail on the other side. Navigationally, this journey was one of the most brilliant choices of our trip. If you had asked me before this race if I thought it was possible for someone to ride a mountain bike in the dark while reading a map, I would have laughed. James absolutely killed this. He followed every drainage, monitored our elevation and we covered 30 miles of ATV trails through the cold night without a single wrong turn. It was about 1 AM when we rolled into Harris Station, the dam at the head of the Kennebec gorge where we would begin the whitewater legs in the morning. Here we would encounter yet another blackout; however, this one would finally stop the clock as all racers would be held until the river release in the morning. James and I used the floors of our pack rafts as an air mattress.  It only made sense since we had carried the rafts all day.
It appears that we weren't the only ones to decide the best use
of a pack raft was for sleeping. Photo Untamed New England.
I had wisely grabbed a few more long-sleeved layers at the transition on Big Squaw and was slightly less cold and uncomfortable through the early morning hours, but only marginally.

Part III - Untamed New England, the final leg.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Part I of III- Untamed New England- Day 1

The lead groups head out on Moosehead from the start. Photo Untamed New England

"The place where you lose the trail is not necessarily the place where it ends."- Tom Brown, Jr.

The 2014 Untamed New England Adventure Race is the first adventure race that I have had the privilege of being part of, but even as I sit here on my deck covered in bruises, sunburn, scrapes and a swollen ankle, I think it is pretty safe to say that it won't be my last. I normally don't struggle for words when putting together a race review, but this race was so much more than a race simply to be reviewed. This race was about a journey as part of a team into the Maine wilderness.

A little overview:
The Untamed New England Adventure race is a 4-day expedition length event that is part of the Adventure Racing World Series (one of only 2 such races in the US). A total of 41 teams came from 8 countries, most being teams of 4 including one female team member. The race is series of checkpoints that unsupported teams must navigate to by map and compass on mountain bike, on foot or by pack raft and includes orienteering, whitewater, and a ropes section. Our team of 4, Executive Athletes, was put together by my friend Ken Lubin and included the following list of characters. 

Ken Lubin- Ken is a businessman outside of Worcester, MA. Ken has an impressive resume including a Death Race win, a member of the World Champion Obstacle Racing team, and winner of the Tuckerman Inferno. He is as strong as an ox, a killer former mountain bike racer, and a really great motivator. He has a wonderfully supportive wife who comes to most of his crazy races to make it possible for him to keep finding ways to push the boundaries and dig deep within himself and encourage others to do the same.
Left to right: Ken, James, PJ and me wearing my sweet Spandits tights on day 3 of the race. Photo Lani Cochrane.

PJ Rakoski- PJ and Ken have worked together both informally and formally as a team several times, including finishing a Death Race as co-winners and together as the World Champion Obstacle Racing team. PJ will be competing in his first Ironman a few weeks after this challenge and I have no doubt that he is going to crush that too. PJ is fearless, up for any challenge and is a quick study at almost anything he tries. PJ's resilience, adaptability, and positive attitude make up for any experience or fancy gear he lacks (I should add that I do believe he raced the entire race with a broken front derailleur on an old, retired bike of Ken's). I imagine some of PJ's patience comes from the fact that he has 4 children under the age of 8 at home. His wife is a saint for sharing him with us.

James Kovacs- I wouldn't know where to start to overview James' athletic accomplishments and strengths, so suffice to say that there isn't much that James can't do. He has podium finishes in several multi-discipline stage races and adventure races in both individual and team events. It was pretty obvious that James would be our leader and we were lucky that Ken persuaded him to join three rookies the Maine woods for 4 days. I didn't know James before Ken put together our team, but with his experience and skill I was surprised by James' humility and complete lack of arrogance. His mild-mannered and kind nature combined with complete selflessness would become one of the reasons this race will hold a place as one of my favorite adventures of all time.

Me- I suspect many people who read this blog already know a little about me, so I'll just add a little about how my experiences fit into this race.  I am not fast, particularly on a mountain bike, but after a day or two in an endurance event I generally find my stride. I am stubborn and stupid enough to endure suffering long after most people would stop. I had never rappelled while not on belay before this race and am scared of heights, hitting my head, or drowning in the middle of Moosehead Lake. Oh, and I have never done a team sport. Ever.

The Race Day 1:
I could actually write a whole blog post on the race preparation- maybe someday I will- but for now I will say that it was an adventure in itself. We received our maps at about 7pm on Tuesday night and by the time we had a chance to plot our course, fill gear bins for the transition points and discuss our plan it was 2:30 AM the night before the race. We were up at 6 AM to for the final pre-race briefings. So much for a good night's sleep before the race...
Swamp donkey waiting for the racers to arrive. If we hadn't discouraged him, I am pretty sure PJ would drink this water. Photo Untamed New England.

Our first day on course didn't start as we had planned it. Before the race even begun, there was an orienteering prologue designed to spread teams out before heading out on the waters of Moosehead Lake. At the gun, racers were given maps of terrain surrounding the Birches Resort on the shores of the lake to navigate to 3 land checkpoints. Within seconds, teams were sprinting away from the starting line reading the maps as they disappeared into the woods. Reading maps while running? The boys hustled up the road with 50 pound backpacks strapped to their backs and I struggled to keep up with the pack with my lighter bag. It wasn't 3 minutes into the race before Ken scooped my pack off my back and we hustled into the woods. We opted to take a route different from the masses of sheep following the leaders in hopes that our way might provide a sneak route to the checkpoint. Of course it turned out that there was a reason that all of the teams followed the leaders, perhaps because many of the best adventure racing teams in the world were there with navigational geniuses at the helm. We emerged from the prologue about 30 minutes behind pack of teams ahead and headed off for tactical error #2 on Moosehead Lake.

The next set of checkpoints were several miles away across a major section of Moosehead Lake. I was feeling a little humbled by the level of competency of all of the teams ahead of us (which was most) and declined James' suggestion that I paddle in the stern with Ken in the bow of our canoe because I had never really paddled a canoe with a kayak paddle. Steering seemed like it would be much more difficult without access to the classic J-stroke used as a rudder and I felt Ken would be better since he is stronger. Once we were out on the middle of the lake, it was evident that this would be the second blunder of the day, only two hours into a 4-day race. With Ken's 200+ pounds in the stern our bow was continually caught by the swift winds coming out of the northwest pushing us southeastward. Even with the packs up in the front of the boat, there was no way to trim out the canoe and avoid incessant slapping of the bow over the 3-foot waves with any efficiency. Realizing our error, we switched our canoe positions once we reached the eastern shore and finally hit a stride of efficiency regaining momentum on the pack ahead. We transitioned from the canoe to a jog up little Kinneo perfectly- despite a somewhat disastrous start, our ability to laugh at ourselves superseded our disappointment. We would catch up, no doubt.

We arrived to the next checkpoint to our next challenge. The challenge here was not what I had expected, however. I knew it involved a 250-foot rappel down the cliffs of Little Kinneo. I knew that I would be terrified but PJ and James had enough climbing experience that I was confident that they would talk me through it. What I didn't know was about the bottleneck that we were now behind. What started out as 8 lines for simultaneous rappelling rapidly turned to 2 as safety from loose, rotten, crappy rock falling became an issue on 6 of the lines. Although we arrived only an hour behind the leaders, we would wait for over 3 hours for the teams who arrived before us to take their turn down the two remaining lines. Spirits in the back of the group sagged a little as time wore on and the line seemingly didn't move. There would be no time bonus awarded for those who waited here: just a consequence of circumstance. 
One of the lead teams heading down the rappel. Photo Untamed New England.

The rappel was snotty, loose, wet and scary. I am not going to lie: I was terrified. Having lost so much time at the top, I didn't bother to go through the normal grieving process I generally do when I override my better judgement. I just went- one hand, one foot at a time over the cliff. The boys came down without much splendor as the guides were clearly exhausted from the increased pressure of getting the teams down safely using only 2 of the planned lines. We bushwhacked back down to our canoes and set out back on the lake to grab a few checkpoints on Mt. Kinneo and head to the Transition 1 at the south end of Moosehead.
South side of Mt. Kinneo near Pebble Beach. Photo Untamed New England.

Darkness set in on the end of Day 1 and we prepared our lights for a night navigation of the lake. Headlamps only created a glaring reflection off the water and paddles, so we made our way south using the light of the stars and our glowsticks. It was eerily beautiful making our way behind the mountain in silence. 
The other side of the island, however, was an entirely different story. As we approached Pebble Beach on the south side of the island for a short portage, the winds began to gust with such ferocity that the waters were quickly whipped up into whitecaps which surfed us from behind in the darkness. We paddled on hoping to seek calmer waters, but it was evident that a lake traverse in the darkness with howling winds was too dangerous without hope for rescue. I do wonder if the boys might have considered continuing on otherwise, but we seemed to be in general agreement that we would be windbound until daylight arrived. We popped up our 2-man tent and piled in. I laid awake for the next 5 hours shivering in the 40-degree Maine night listening to the wind howl and moan in the trees above wondering if our race was already over.
The fire tower stairs from the top of Kinneo. Who knew this would be the only thing that would frighten Ken Lubin? Photo Untamed New England.

Just after 4:30 am we were up and on the lake. The choppy waters added a little excitement, but we paddled the 10 miles or so to Lily Bay without incident to Transition 1 where we would pick up our bikes for the mountain biking leg. We learned here that most teams on the lake after darkness had made a similar choice- but we were nearly last of all teams. At this point, we had lost 8 hours due to waiting and were looking at a 7:00 PM cutoff to remain on the "pro" course. It might seem like this first day was nothing but disappointment, and I am sure we all felt some of it, but the energy in the group was incredibly positive and light. 

Part II- Mountain biking the woods of Maine.
Photo Vladimir Bukalo.