Castlewood 8-hr: A Beginner Perspective
By Amy Crews
I am 36 years old, I work full time, have a 10-year old daughter, and as of December 6, I love Adventure Racing!
I have been interested and excited about adventure racing for several years now. For me, it was a natural progression of fitness activities: running on pavement to trail running, to obstacle courses. After doing the Warrior Dash and MS Mud Run, I was ready for the next challenge. I went to an orienteering meet, and was preparing myself for an adventure race. Unfortunately, I lost track of that goal for a few years, until one day in November while browsing through a Facebook feed, I noticed someone had posted about the upcoming Castlewood Race. It immediately lit a spark inside me that I had not felt in a while. I poured over the race page, looked at past stats, and decided that I wanted this. By that time, the slots were all filled up; I had to find a team. I emailed the race director, Emily, and waited by my phone for a response. That same day, I got a response from Team BOR’s Kevin Minton, that they had a slot available on a recreational team. YAY!!! I had described my fitness abilities and weaknesses in my email, and Kevin said that they were just out to have a good time, and I shouldn’t worry about whether I could keep up or not. Of course I worried anyway! I needed gear, feared embarrassment for not being in good enough shape, and was still struggling a bit with previous injuries. I had this story in my mind, that all adventure racers were in top shape and everyone would be better than me.
The few weeks leading up to the race, I picked up the pace on my workouts, and started riding my bike more. I knew I was not in shape to be competitive, and lacked confidence in my fitness, but at the same time, I knew that I had the mental fitness for this, and that was I ready and willing to give it 120%.
The night before I was able to leave work early so that I could make the 1.5 hour commute. I had everything packed for the weekend for both me and my daughter, and we left our small town to head to the big city. By my excitement level, a non-adventure racer would think that I was going on a major vacation or something. When I went to sign the waiver, Emily greeted me enthusiastically with a big welcoming smile. What a sweetie! Not only did she help me find a team at the last minute, she was nice too! So now that it is the night before and I am connected with Kevin, I confess to him that I have one gear issue: I didn’t have a good pair of trail running shoes. I didn’t realize it, but my old Salomon trail running shoes (which I had not used for over a year), were pretty much worn out. I talked with Kevin about whether to buy a new pair of trail runners, or just deal with my Brooks road running shoes. We both agreed that buying a new pair was bad, and I would survive just fine in my regular Brooks shoes. Ok, that is settled (Phew – I was stressing for the whole drive up. Setback #1 averted). He gave me his home address, and went to his house to plot points and do a gear check. I had my daughter with me, and luckily Reanna is amazing and she was willing to play Xbox with her for a couple hours.
A small dose of butterflies finally went away when the three team members and I were doing gear check, and everyone was laughing, laid back, and they all convinced me that they were all just out to have a good time. Phew! We made plans for the bike drop, hung out for a while, then my daughter and I headed out to my parent’s house in St. Charles.
Race day is finally here. It was about an hour drive to the Wyman Center, and an extra 10 minutes to stop for one last minute purchase: body grease stuff. I had learned the night before that it is pretty normal to put everywhere where your clothes might rub. I had no clue what exactly to get. I ended up getting a $10 container of diaper rash ointment. Future Setback #2 averted. I arrived at Wyman Center, and as luck would have it, my teammate John Naas pulled in right behind me. After doing some last minute gear fiddling and ointment application, we headed up the hill. I found it amusing how John was not phased at all by me using my new ointment in front of him.
I greeted the handful of people I knew, but took most of the time at Wyman Center putting on my ankle braces (a chore). As Emily was reading off the rules, and giving everyone the surprise news that there are buses waiting for us, and we are headed to Pacific Palisades, I realized I had left my hat, required gear, in my car. I gave Kevin the ‘Oh Sh**’ bad news, and we ran for it. Luckily, I was parked very close and it was on the way to the buses. Setback #3 averted. We loaded up on the back of the last bus and made our way. The emotions are a slight roller coaster, but not near as much elevation gain as the hills I knew we were in for on the bike portion!
It was in the 30s that morning, but expected to climb to the 60s. I wasn’t phased by the temperature -it was perfect racing weather. The guys had told me stories about previous Castlewood races that ended in frost bite, and that was one more thing that we didn’t have to worry about today. Setback #4 averted.
After arriving, I knew I had to pee before we started, while it was somewhat easy. I don’t mind going in the woods, but wanted to avoid stopping later if I could. Ugh! Of course there is a line for the women’s restroom. I was about to go to the woods when a couple girls in the line beat me to it and put me in front of the line. I thought to myself that these girls going in the woods were hard core, and it was one of many things that made me feel like I was in my element that day! (Mild setback #5 averted).
The race began. Seven checkpoints of orienteering went great. Kevin was navigating, I was punching the card, and Paul was reading clues. The vegetation was covered in frost, which is always a cool site to see. No major setbacks. Kevin was navigating and we found them all and were happy with our time. I will spare the details on the jokes that were flying, but let’s just say that it was inspired by John’s pants, and certain flavored drinks that were mandatory. We did the loop successfully, and started getting ready for the paddling portion. Kevin reminded me, thankfully, to punch the CP at the TA. I think I would have forgotten to do that. Experience averted setback #6!
We all prepared for the paddle, had a sip of flavored beverage, and lugged the canoes over to the boat ramp. Wow, after growing accustomed to my kayak, which I can carry easily alone, I forgot how heavy canoes are! By now, the teams were spacing out, but there was still a line to get in the water. Once we were in, we paddled strong for the whole time. I practiced my J-stroke, and managed to only mildly zig zag the course. I had waterproof gloves that I used for cold weather kayaking, and they worked pretty well, but not perfect. My feet were soaked, and my toes and fingers were cold, but it was tolerable and there were better things to think about than that! The fog rising off of the river that morning was gorgeous, and canoeing in the cold is actually pretty fun. The flavored drinks must have given us a sugar high, because we got very hyper! We were talking like pirates, sinking Irish bar songs, playing bumper boats and just being generally very silly. Absolutely no whining from Team BOR! I was slowly realizing that adventure racing is not necessary serious! For a beginner, it was the perfect team for my first race. Overall, canoeing went well with no setbacks, other than the other canoe that we bumped into like twice. I don’t think they were mad, luckily.
After paddling for what seemed like a couple hours, we arrived at the next TA. Gear check happened here, and we checked out. We adjusted gear leisurely, didn’t stress for time, and made our way to the big hill. This is where the maps that we had received the night before started, so we knew there was a large hill right off the bat. Makes sense – have to climb out of the valley. I decided to go ahead and eat a snack and gel pack - I knew it was going to be a tough climb for me. As we were climbing, one funny guy driving his car up the hill yelled out at us, ‘You guys are crazy!’. I made it most of the way, but ended up walking the very last bit. I wasn’t the only one, which made me feel better since I was still worried that I would hold the guys back. We made it though, and continued on. The next few CPs were fun, and I was having fun being the punch card person because it added even more adventure to the adventure race. For example, to get across the interstate, we had to follow the creek under the bridge. We found the CP hanging from the bottom of the bridge, but we were on the wrong side of the creek. It was probably less than 50 feet from me, and the most direct and quickest route, was through the creek, which was scoured out right in my path. I figured my feet were already wet from canoeing, and it wasn’t THAT deep, so I dropped my bike and went for it! Through the pool, water up to my thighs, over the flood debris, and Punch! The guys thoughtfully and sweetly grabbed my bike, and I met them further downstream. After than fun punch card adventure, we had some creek to travel through, and then found a spot to get out of the creek – straight up the 4-5 foot creek wall. We made it out though – it was a good lesson in the importance of teamwork. It was also my first lesson in the benefit of having a lightweight bike, which I do not. I made it up the next big hill slowly but surely, will never forget bike whacking up that massive Eureka hill after missing the CP, had a quick celebratory dance at the teepee, had an exhilarating end to the bike portion, and made our way back to TA 2 at Wyman, bikes completely muddied from the downhill mud ski (Kevin rode quite a bit of that actually!)
By this time, we were all in GREAT spirits, other than the slight realization that there were teams that had already completed the entire course by the time we started the trek. Oh well!
The trek begins. It is my biggest fear, since I had not been running for at least a year. Turns out, that after the adrenaline and endorphins kick in, that I can jog way more than I thought I could. Plus, a lot of the trekking portion is on steep slopes, rocky creeks, or other areas where jogging would not have been ideal anyway. With the biking portion, there were short periods of high intensity work on the hills. With the trekking portion, there were long periods of medium intensity work. Time flew by. We were feeling a little tired at times, but were careful to stop for nutrition frequently. There was no bonking, but there was towing. The card punching was definitely challenging. Running a little ahead to punch the card, even if it means down that steep hill and back up, when you are already tired, while your teammates rest or plot the next point, is normally the reason why a team would give this job to the fit person. Paul normally has this job and I definitely appreciated him, once before for carrying my bike, once for a tow, and once again, when he helped out with punch duties when times got tough! We remained tough, jogged more than we thought we would, all had a great attitude, and eventually we found all of the CPs. But, by the time we got to the 2nd to last CP, which was very close to the Wyman Center (the end), I was definitely starting to feel the pain of old injuries creeping up on me, and couldn’t jog anymore. I told the guys that my mind wanted to run, but my body was telling me no. But, I am determined to finish strong, so the last 10 minutes of the race, I was all set for a strong finish and had mustered the energy. As we half jogged half hiked up the last hill, suddenly, we saw a Team BOR friend. So what did we do? We stopped and chatted it up! Once again, I realized, for like the 20th time, that it wasn’t a race after all! When Kevin said that they were just out to have fun, I guess he really did mean it!! All my nervousness, butterflies, fears, etc., was really, truly, finally totally proven unnecessary. We finished around 2:30, not knowing whether we were in last place, and not caring. We hugged, and enjoyed the after-race-glow over some well-deserved food and drink.
So, we made it; off to the morals and lessons learned.
1. Team BOR is awesome!
2. It can be as competitive as you want it to be, and you don’t have to be in excellent shape to finish.
3. My first team based race was great, and I learned a lot about thinking of the team, before yourself. In other words, lose the ego and let a stronger member tow you if needed.
4. It IS important to be prepared, even if you are not racing competitively. Setbacks can often be avoided. If you are unsure of your gear, don’t be afraid to ask, even if you are worried that you will sound silly.
5. Adventure racers are nice and friendly, and if they see you stopped, they will always stop and make sure that you are safe before they proceed to pass you.
6. I love adventuring racing!s