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!