Thursday, May 17, 2012

Race Report: Atomic 30 Hour Adventure Race

Atomic 30-Hour Adventure Race
Blue Ridge, Ga. 12-13 May 2012
Racers: Chris“Big Sexy” Spiller, Julie “Not too Butch” Lee, and David “Pain” O’Rear

The Rev3/MK Southeastern AR Team (AKA: Team Dysfunctional-Synergy) came together again for a second time in a little over a month to take on the turbulent Toccoa River and the Steep North Georgia Mountains. This time our mission was Pangea Racing’s, 30 hours Atomic Adventure Race. The race course would take place in the high mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest and centered on Blue Ridge Lake. The different race segments would take us 360 degrees around the lake, and through the towns of Blue Ridge and Morganton as well as slicing through the center along the Toccoa River. The weather report called for rain and thunderstorms with wind, and temperatures that started in the 70s however would plunge into the 50s. The weather would end up being a huge factor for many in the race.
Packet pick-up and pre-race briefing was held the morning of the race. I personally wish more race directors would follow suit with this practice as it almost all but eliminated the pre-race evening marathon strategy sessions that usually lasts past midnight. I also like the idea of teams having to develop a race strategy in a compressed time setting rather than having hours and hours to pour over maps. I was also surprised to see that all CPs were pre-plotted on the maps. Map reading is an integral part of land navigation and accurate plotting of points is an important facet that can mean the difference between success and failure. Although convenient I would prefer that teams have to plot their own points. I think Julie and Chris were both surprised of my politeness as I offered to allow teams to jump the line in front of us at packet pick up…...heh….. (Inside joke, sorry). To the unfortunate sole that did……yep, I’m that guy that doesn’t like that….I just said what everyone else was thinking… I also got a chuckle out of Julie’s disclaimer for me…..”Sorry, he’s an Army guy”…. Priceless…
Deep thoughts at the pre-race briefing
Once we received our maps we spent a few minutes studying race layout and developing our strategy. The race seemed pretty straight forward. There was to be a short trekking prologue, followed by three Mountain Bike Segments that would be separated by two trekking/orienteering segments, with a paddling segment in the middle. Parts of the biking and paddling segment followed the same areas used during the Blue Ridge AR a month or so earlier. Although the points were in different locations it definitely was a confident booster as a few of our first CPs were on familiar terrain. Even though this was only our second race together as a team we all felt very confident we would finish on the podium. Our strategy was simple, Use every minute of the 30 hours and collect all 40 points.
As we were called to the race start, teams stopped lakeside for race photos before moving to the starting line. We were decked out in the new Rev3/MK race kits which look incredible, and drew favorable comments. After a quick study of the prologue map we were issued at the line, the gun sounded, and we were off! Although we were one of the slower teams during the prologue at 39 minutes, we would quickly make up the lost time with a fast transition to the bike.
The first bike segment was mixture of paved and gravel roads, as well as about 10 or so miles of single/double track on the steep and rocky Flat Creek and Long Branch Loops and the Green Mountain Trail. It was on this segment where I miraculously avoided injury as my front wheel of my bike dropped into a well camouflaged hole sending me over the handle bars on to my head. I carried a pounding headache for several hours and managed to pick up some pretty hideous bruises on my inner thighs and shoulder to boot. This segment also included a river crossing requiring us to swim across a deep section the Toccoa River with our bikes. It was at this point where we realized we had passed all of the other teams save one in route to sweeping all 11 CPs in 5:23:00. Hats off to Julie for supplying the team with floaties to help float our bikes. How did she know I was a SpongeBob fan!
Julie Crossing the Toccoa

Although the navigation for the second trekking section was pretty easy, I made a tactical error which caused us to lose about 40 minutes. This error was the order in which we attacked the points. The route I selected was fast however it did require us to backtrack to avoid crossing the Toccoa a second time. Looking back with hindsight, I would eliminate the back tracking as we ended up crossing the river anyway as we realized on the ground it was much faster. We swept all five points in 3:13:00 and were still in the top two or three teams. We were right on schedule as planned with our goal of beginning the paddling segment before 6 pm to avoid going through the rapid sections of the river in the dark. Even though we had planned to portage around the biggest set of rapids there were still several sections of turbulent water we had to go through.

Unfortunately the rain had begun to fall and a constant wind was blowing. After an hour or so we were all soaked and cold. We were also very hungry as we had packed food only for eight hours and it was pretty obvious at this point we screwed the pooch on that one. The first CP we went quickly and as we were approaching the second CP which was manned, we were invited up to have a bowl of fresh chili and French bread. I’m generally a pretty focused competitor and try to take every time advantage I can. This however was too good to be true as Chris, Julie and I were all pre-hypothermic, and starving. The 10 extra minutes was well worth it. The water proved challenging however we continued to improve as we moved from rapid to rapid. Once we hit the big rapids we immediately portaged. This was a decision we had made prior since in our last race the decision to ride the rapids ended up in the famed Rev3 floating yard sale. Once we were back in the river we were all surprised how well this segment was going. Then Chris made the statement that doomed us all. ” You know guys; this is the first time in a race I haven’t dumped in the canoe”. That was all it took. At the next segment of rapids a hidden submerged rock pitched the canoe sideways and dumped all three of us in the drink! Damn….. Soon after we hit the flat water and our next CP. We threw on jackets and settled in for a long night of paddling. Our next CP was ashore requiring us to locate an old cemetery and gravestone and record the date of death of the graves resident. After what seemed an eternity of searching we recorded our date, boarded the boat, and finished up the paddling only after finding our final CP and taking an extended tour looking for our transition area. I’m sure the residents of Blue Ridge thought the occupants of our little boat were slightly touched as Julie and I performed a little concert on the water. Highlights were our rendition of “Ole Black Water” “Thunder Road” and a very special performance by Julie of “Move like Jagger” which Chris and I both agree was better than the original. My advice is if you can’t sing well, sing loud! Funny what 6:53:00 of paddling in the rain will do to a person…..

Chris grabbing a CP
After a change of clothing, food, and restocking of race nutrition and water we were off on the next bike section. This section would take 6:12:00 to complete and we would travel from one side of Blue Ridge Lake to the other before we would sweep all the points and make it climb up to the Brawley Mountain T/A. I think this was a very respectably time considering the time of night, fatigue, and two flat tires. Chris and I both agree that watching Julie fall asleep standing up was priceless.

The final Trekking segment would be where we finally would drop our first points. We simply ran out of time. We determined we would need three hours to get back to the finish on the final bike leg so we made the decision to go for only four of seven CPs. We would unfortunately have to climb Brawley Mountain three times. Once we collected our CPs we moved back to Brawley Mountain one last time to our bikes (only after a second offering of Chili by the staff at the top). Trekking segment two: 4:22:00.

The final bike segment would take us back to the TA. Teams would have the option of collecting five points along the route back. It appears after nearly 24-27 hours at this point, many decided to hightail it to the finish. Unfortunately we determined we would only have time to gather four of the five CPs. A necessary decision but unfortunately hard to swallow at the time (Great call Chris). Looking back it would have been a moot point since we would more than likely been over the time limit. Final Bike Time: 2:46:00
Overall it was a great race. The Pangea Race Staff did an outstanding job designing a course that was hard yet flowed very well. All transition locations were logical and points were for most part located as marked. I would recommend however a bit more effort should have been put in the post race activities. The food was great however it would have been nice to have some cover to eat under. Having volunteers, food, and competitors all under one pop-up shelter in the rain didn’t work well. The prospect of juggling a small, overloaded plate with a drink in the rain, standing in the mud after a 30 hour race made me not want to eat. Next was the award ceremony. Pangea needs some work on that one. Lots of teams out there racing, lots of first timers, lots of great finishes. The race staff seemed intent on promoting the Pangea Club as well as their races however only recognizing the top two teams at the finish seemed rather cheap. Just sayin…. Rev3 Epic does it right for sure!

Final Roll-up:
We finished in fourth place overall and 2nd Place in the Coed Elite Division. We raced for 29 hours, 28 minutes. We spent 8 hours, 14 minutes trekking, 6 hours, 53 minutes paddling, and 14 hours, 21 minutes on the bike! We gathered 36 of 40 points. Only one team cleared all 40 points. Chris made some great calls and was a big help to me navigating at times when I would second guessed myself. Julie…what can I say. Girl can ride the sh*t out of a mountain bike. Who needs brakes, right?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Rev 3/MK #2 Epic Adventure Race Report

Luray Va, 21-22 April 2012
Racers: John Courain, Aaron Courain, Bev Richardson, David O’Rear
Report By: David O'Rear

The Rev3 Epic Adventure Race was held 21-22 April 2012 at Shenandoah State Park in Luray Va. The race was conducted over a 28 hour period and teams covered nearly 100 miles via Canoe, Mountain Biking, Trekking and trail running, and orienteering. The Rev3/MK AR Teams had nearly every division covered with teams that promised strong finishes during the race.

Our team manager had put together an incredibly strong four person coed elite team with veterans Dave Ashley, Greg Voelkel, Ernie Lawas, and Britt Mason whom we all predicted would win. Our Team, Rev3/MK #2 was put together a few weeks before the race in an attempt to collect a second podium slot. Our team consisted of two incredibly strong and talented racers known to all of the Rev3 Team as “The Brothers”, John and Aaron Courain from New Jersey. Also brought in was Triathlete and Mountain biker Bev Richardson who was incredibly strong the entire race, and finally me as a navigator.
After a few email exchanges with each other we decided we would link up at the race expo.  I had only briefly met John and Aaron a few weeks prior at a training weekend but I was pretty confident I would recognize them. Bev and I had never met however I was on the lookout for in her words “short with a black cap” and she was on the lookout for short and old. We were able to link up, complete registration,  draw the maps, and plot our points. The race seemed pretty straight forward. River start, a bike segment followed by trekking all inside the park, then a long hike/bike segment, followed by the night orienteering course on Massanutten Mountain, then a bike segment back to the finish. Along the course there were 18 or so mandatory CPs and Transitions, and 16 or so optional CPs worth one or two points.  After a short discussion over the hood of John’s car, we were off to dinner to get acquainted and discuss race strategy.

At dinner we discussed the race. John would serve as the team captain, and would also head navigation along the river and inside the park as he seemed the most familiar with the trails and terrain in the park. My primary focus was cross country navigation and orienteering, specifically at night. The weather at the start promised to be warm and sunny however heavy rains and dropping temperatures were expected in the evening. This forecast was to hold true.

We met the next morning at the transition areas and Bev set up her transition at my Car and John and Aaron were right across from us. After our transition was set up we loaded busses and headed to the race start which would be a long river section. The mass start of the race was incredible. Over one hundred canoes and kayaks in the water at the same time promised to be interesting, especially for those unfortunate souls who decided to position themselves in the center of the flotilla. We opted to start on the outside near the far bank. Our race strategy for the start was to try and remain in the front pack. Having only come together as a team the night before this concerned me slightly as my memory flashed back to my race the previous weekend and getting swept downriver in a floating yard sale on the Toccoa River.
Once the starting horn sounded we were off. John and I immediately began paddling hard in a steady rhythm. We managed to start in the front quarter of the pack. After a short while we settled in a steady cadence and Bev and Aaron were right on our tail. Steadily we began to pick off teams in front of us one by one. After three or so miles we beached the boat and bagged our first mandatory CP. From CP1, a short mile or so trek led us to our first optional CP. Back in the boat we headed down river to a steep rock cliff face on the right side of the river for our next optional CP. We beached the boat right behind the Rev3/MK #1 team and scrambled up the cliff behind them.  We began our search and it was obvious after the first 20 minutes or so something was wrong. This came to be a tactical error for us as we searched for this point for nearly 45 minutes before we decided to drop the point. We scrambled back down the cliff, boarded the boats and off we went with an early missed point obviously weighing heavily on us. It seemed most of the coed elite teams made the same error as us so we were all in similar circumstances.  As we paddled 100 yards or so down river, low and behold off on the right bank was the missing CP. John quickly grabbed the point and we were off to the next mandatory CP and our first challenge which was very simple. We had to fill a 5-gallon container that was located 50 yards from the bank as fast as possible without moving the bucket. Using my dry bag, we were able to fill the bucket in two trips, get our photo taken and make it back to the boats quickly as many teams were using nalgene bottles or bailers. We picked up our paddling cadence quickly and after a short time and a quick stop for our third mandatory CP we were making up lost time and steadily passing teams down river. It never occurred to me our team would be strong on the water however it was obvious to all of us, and the teams we passed, we were very strong on the water as we made reasonable quick work of the 15 miles of paddling and came through the Compton Rapids section unscathed, clearing all five CPs.
After a quick and surprisingly painful portage of the canoe, and a short run to the TA, we began to prepare for the bike section inside the park. This was to be our strongest area as all four of us were strong cyclists and three of us had ridden the park a month prior. The three mandatory points, CPs 5,6,and 7 were all located on the fast and rolling Bear Bottom Loop. After sweeping these, we were off to the three optional points which were scattered randomly on opposite ends of the park trails. After clearing the 15 mile bike section we were quickly back to the TA transitioning to the trekking portion inside the park.
We estimated the trekking portion to be approximately 9-10 miles and should take no longer than two hours to clear the four mandatory, and three optional CPs. We started at a brisk pace and it was at this point I began to feel as I was dragging slightly. Although I wasn’t overly concerned I did let John and Aaron know that I would have to ease off the pace.  With a lot of trail running and some light bushwhacking, the trekking portion took just shy of two hours to complete and we were back at TA 1 for the last time before setting off for the Hike/Bike section and the night O-course. 
Once we had restocked with food, and our bike gear, we had our next challenge before leaving the TA1. We were fastened by the wrist to a rope and had to negotiate along this rope which was running through several open ended barrels as well as under and around several picnic tables. I lead off first having no issues squeezing through the obstacles.  It appeared Bev was making easy work of it as well however I must admit it was comical watching John and Aaron twisting and maneuvering their 6 ft plus frames through those tight squeezes.  After the challenge, and a second picture we were almost 40 miles into the race, in pretty good position, and headed back for the Hike/Bike segment of the race.
Once we were off on our bikes once again, we were headed up the grueling climb to Veech Gap. All was well initially however about a mile into the climb I began to feel as I was falling off the pace quickly. I couldn’t believe that I was actually struggling. This had a huge negative psychological effect on me as I considered the bike to be my strongest event, and only a month prior I ripped up Veech Gap quite easily on my single speed. Although a novice at adventuring racing, after years of racing experience I consider myself a pretty seasoned competitor.   I tried to convince myself this was only a rough patch and to just keep turning the cranks and I would work through it. Deep down inside however I knew something was amiss.  I told myself that once we were off the road and on the trail I would get back on pace however once I hit the steep section it was even more obvious that I was really struggling and I was actually pushing my bike. I felt horrible. Not only physically, but mentally as well as I wasn’t used to being the slow guy.  Looking back on it now I understand there were many factors that led up to where I was at that point but the plain and simple fact was this, for the last 7-8 hours I had been racing at a pace that was too fast for me to maintain for 30 hours.  Of course nobody recognized this fact since this was the first time we had raced together. This is where racing experience together pays off.
Once I made it to the top of Veech Gap, Bev, John, and Aaron were waiting and I really appreciated their understanding however I know they were probably feeling somewhat frustrated. As the descent began I began to feel better but I knew it was to be a long night for me.  At the bottom of the Veech descent we stopped  at the Little Crease Shelter to park the bikes and bushwhack up a steep hill to grab our first optional CP for this section. Then we were off on the Little Crease Mountain Trail for our second optional CP. I did make a tactical navigational error thinking we had passed the CP, I turned the whole team around and backtracked at bit before realizing my error after a recommendation from John and Aaron. After a while we came upon several teams that according them had been looking for the point for while.  At this point I knew exactly where we were and after a short traipse through the woods we grabbed the point, and were back on our bikes with several teams in tow up Mudhole Gap. At the top of the Gap we grabbed two other optional CPs, and decided to head toward the crossroads turn to TA 2. At that point we would readdress our strategy as we had to be at the TA before midnight. Once at the crossroads John made the wise call to go straight to the TA. I carried that decision on my shoulders for the remainder of the race as I continued to drag on the bike. We decided to take our time at the TA and get as dry as possible as the rain had began to fall and the temperature was dropping.
Once we were changed we were off! The night O-course was 12 points spread over a vast area. After plotting the points the day prior I was confident we would have no trouble navigating through this section. We did make one strategic error that would come back to haunt us at the very end. CP 1 was located at Woodstock Lookout Tower. I wanted to bag that one first however after a team decision we decided to get that one last. Deep down inside I would have preferred not to have that one hanging over our heads at the very end since it was out of our way, and I would have preferred to knock that one out at the beginning. Nevertheless we were on our way and made the first three CPs which were close to the TA easily passing many teams that appeared to be wandering through the brush aimlessly.  Next, we were off, up the Powell Mountain Trail  to the top of Green Mountain. I tried to get us up a short cut by gouging up the side of the mountain however a short effort of trying to bully our way through Mountain Laurel, we decided to move back to the trail. 
Near the Top of Walters Gap we ran into a team of my Army buddies who had given up looking for CP6 located above Walters Gap. I have to admit snickering inside  as we made it to the top and located the point easily. This was to be the case for all of the O-course as our navigation was spot-on the entire O-course! After bagging the points on Goliday’s Gap, Opechee Peak,  and the three CPs located on the rock precipices south of Waonaze Peak we were headed back towards the TA grabbing our final CP before heading to the TA and back towards the CP located at the tower. As we began gouging our way up toward the tower my heavy legs reminded of how I had wished we had grabbed that CP first. Finally we made to the tower and back to the TA to the bikes for the trip back up and over Veech Gap. Surprisingly enough once on the bike I felt my legs back under me as we began the grind up the Gap. One thing I did not anticipate however was my behind was soooo sore I could not even sit on the saddle.
Coming into the finish I think we all were relieved the race was over. We were all wet, tired, and cold. After a failed wheelie attempt at the finishline, a couple of finish line pictures we had a couple of hours to get cleaned and changed and ready for the awards.
After 24:52 we managed to locate 40 CPs which earned us an 7th place in the coed elite division. Although somewhat disappointing initially, once I looked at the overall standings we finished 8th which is pretty respectable when you consider 60 teams started the race.
All of the Rev3/MK Teams did wonderful, earning podium finishes. Our Rev3/MK #1 team won the coed elite division as predicted. Rev3/MK members also earned  1st Solo Female, 1st Two-person Female, 1st Four-person Male, and 2nd Two-person male. I want to say thanks to my Teammates, John and Aaron Courain who are both super studs and have unlimited talent in this sport, and Bev Richardson who is an incredible racer in her own right and has an indomitable spirit, even at 3 am in the rain (and she also put up with my off-color sense of humor for nearly 30 hours).  Great job to Mike, Mark and the all of the Rev3 race staff, who managed to put on a truly Epic event and somehow packed an awful lot of the 100 mile race into a small park.