Okay blog world, It’s time for update #2: Races.
After feeling incredibly crappy for about 6 weeks after IM Lake Placid (see: health update), I had started to get my energy back from the Lyme and Babesia treatments. Hillary and I had decided to resume structured training at the start of October because it was then that I could finally start to feel good stringing together a few days together with consistency. I gave her the task that every coach dreams of: write a plan for return to fitness after 2 months off….but also, I would be racing the first weekend in a two day event (14 hours day 1, 10 hours day 2), and then the second weekend I’d be racing a 24 hour Adventure race.
If you haven’t guessed, I’m being wildly sarcastic because that’s actually a coach’s nightmare and it’s just one of many, many times I’m so glad I’m not the one responsible for my own training plan. I have the utmost trust in Hillary (and it helps she has known me for a decade!) and like always, she knocked it out of the park. While I didn’t actually feel super fit as that would have been impossible, I felt prepared as best as I could have been on the days of the races!
So, first the Stockville, a “two-day foot and navigation event, inspired by the mountain marathons of Europe and the UK.” If this at all sounds like something you’d be interested in, keep an eye out and race next year! This continues to be one of my favorite events I have ever raced. This was the first time Matt and I would be rogaining together. We had done The Chill 9 hour adventure race, and Two Rivers 36 Hour Adventure Race, but this would be only on foot, and truthfully I was worried! I’d be worried about keeping up when I was super fit, so knowing my fitness left a lot to be desired, I was extra worried it would just be two days of Matt dragging me around in the woods and me being frustrated at myself.
Luckily – that was not the case! Matt was super patient, and he carried a bit more of our gear than I did so that helped me move more efficiently. It also turns out that the other two adventure races were instrumental in helping our communication as a pair. I trusted Matt’s strengths as a navigator, but I was also stepping up to help out. I’m not sure if sleeping with Squiggley Lines next to the bed for the last 6 months finally meant some of it crept in via osmosis, but suddenly land nav was making more sense than ever in my brain. I was still much more comfortable relying heavily on the compass bearings and taking it slow and steady, but as I trailed Matt and he communicated his thinking out loud, the more fast-paced navigational decisions were making sense.
Given that its now been 8 weeks since we raced and I’m just now writing the report, our errors are less fresh in my mind (oops), however, I do remember THE RHODODENDRONS! Off of memory, our two biggest nav mistakes both days landed us thick into a rhododendron forest for …..hours. Literally. Or, at least an hour. And let me tell you if you want to really feel the length of an hour, spend it in the thickets. We also struggled a bit more with the nav in the dark, both at the end of the first day and the start of the second. This seems like a natural learning curve, but is definitely a weakness we want to continue to work on! I was also gaining confidence fast, and I took the lead during a couple nav sections on day 2. It still is amazing to me how lost you can get yourself so quickly, but I am really starting to get more comfortable being lost, which I think is half the battle sometimes! In the end, Matt and I won the race overall, and we were the only team to clear the course that weekend, so we are pretty proud about that!
Okay now….onto race #2: The Hard Fall 24 hour Adventure Race. For this one, our friend Will would be flying east from Colorado to allow us to compete in the 3 person division that is considered “premier” for many adventure racing events. Willy Bear was a key crew member during my Long Trail FKT and Matt’s FKT in Shenandoah, so putting the band back together for something new was exciting. This race consisted of paddling, trekking, and biking, all in the amazing northeast kingdom of Vermont – a super special place if you have never been! Getting off of the bus at lake Willoughby was exciting – the wind was whipping, white caps were on the water, and I was nervous in anticipating of sitting on a bucket in the canoe!! (As a three person team, you have the extra third person sit in the middle, but it’s up to you to have a seat, or construct one. I was woefully naive and thought I would be find to just kneel in the boat, but a last minute chat to Rootstock the night before at least got me to bring a bucket to sit on. That ended up being a great call – if you ever do it, just keep the bucket sideways and straddle it! Works like a charm!) The race started and we watched Rootstock and Strong Machine take off on the lake, looking like olympic paddlers as they pulled steadily away from us. As we got going though, our skills from the Boundary Waters trip the month before surfaced and we found our groove as a three, managing to stay within eyesight of the front pack of folks headed across the lake.
After the paddle, we completed a trekking section, a bike to a “surprise”, more biking, more trekking, more paddling, some more trekking, and then some more biking. Our strategy from the start was going to be to try to clear the course, only breaking from that when it was clear that we wouldn’t be able to meet the cutoffs for the TAs. We also wanted to make sure we maximized our time on the bike as we felt that our fitness would be an asset, but also having a bit of “home court advantage” and having been on many of the bike trails before, could help us out. In the end, this was a great strategy, if it weren’t for a crucial math error on that first trekking section. I get annoyed at myself just thinking about it, so I’m not going to type the long version, but the lesson learned is that you should always take the time to double check things like math/points when you’re out there!!!
While I think we generally enjoyed the surprise of a corn maze (one both completed on bike and another on foot), I do think that it wasn’t necessarily our strength to endure the detailed oriented task that it was. Luckily though, Matt and Will are both engineers and know how to buckle down and make that happen when needed.
The long bike portion which was amazing – flying through the Kingdom Trails at night is a privilege and one that we were stoked to have. We also enjoyed our 10pm coke stop at the bar in Burke. I was pleasantly surprised with how my mountain biking skills have improved, namely in the dark — clearly a plus of my Thursday night GLOW rides!
We did another trekking section somewhere in the middle of the night. And by “did another trekking section” I mean Matt and I were basically falling asleep on our feet, and Will tried to pump us up to get through the woods and get a few points (I think we got two?) Before we had killed enough time to make ourselves feel good about moving onto the next segment.
After that, we hit the next paddle around 5(?)am. It was cold and dark. And we were in a boat where you couldn’t see anything and the water was very, very low. Despite how low I think our morale could have gotten during this section as we dredged the canoe through the miles of low water, we stayed relatively positive. Eventually we found out everyone would be getting pulled off the paddle section early, and would head to the last trekking before the final bike in. At this point we could smell the barn and when Matt Cymanski smells the barn, you have to bike really hard. This was probably where my lack of fitness really shined – Matt was on a lighter gravel bike, and I was hauling my 30lb mountain bike – but he towed me like a champion and I endured the leg burn to get myself through.
We finished up, not really having a clue where we finished but feeling like we gave it a really good shot as rookie adventure racers still. It turned out that we did indeed give it a great shot, being second in the co-ed division by just one point!! It was super fun, and it was a huge asset to have Will there as our third teammate. Adventure racing is tough because of the team dynamic at times, but that is definitely what makes it so unique. The lows can be lower when you have a team, but the highs are also higher! And if you work well together, you find that one person’s high moments can drastically shorten the lows of another teammate. I still don’t know too much about adventure racing, but I can tell that it’s evident that no matter how fit you are, if you don’t have a cohesive team you won’t get too far.
Okay, since then, I’ve continued to feel my fitness coming back. In fact, just last week Hillary commented that we are finally seeing signs my cardio system is back to baseline! 2021 has been a long year, and I’m ready to turn the clock onto 2022. I’ll write more on my end of year reflections next!