Monday, March 28, 2011

Race Report: 2011 Texas Quest Adventure Race

Go Pink Whiskey!

On Saturday, Pink Whiskey (our adventure racing team, which usually features myself, Nathan and our good friend Amy) competed in the Texas Quest Adventure Race. This was our third race together, but the first one we've done since last year. We had originally signed up for the 12 hour course but after less than ideal training we made the wise decision to drop down to the 6 hour course (which was changed to a 7 hour course by the race director at the last minute). It was definitely the right choice - when we finished racing we were exhausted and physically as well as mentally spent. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.

Getting ready to leave town.

We left Nacogdoches after work on Friday and drove two hours south to Double Lake Recreation Area in Coldspring, Texas, the park where the majority of the race would be taking place. Most of the racers were camping the night before, ourselves included. We set up camp in the dark, checked the air in our tires, had a glass of wine and then hit the sack. We had to drop off our canoe at a lake 7 miles away at 6am, and it was already pretty late.

If you've never done an adventure race, or even heard of adventure racing, here's a definition compliments of Wikipedia:
Adventure racing (also called expedition racing) is a combination of two or more endurance disciplines, including orienteering (if an orienteering map is used) and/or navigation (when non-orienteering maps are used), cross-country running, mountain biking, paddling and climbing and related rope skills. An expedition event can span ten days or more while sprints can be completed in a matter of hours. There is typically no dark period during races, irrespective of length; competitors must choose if or when to rest. disciplines, including
Adventure races are usually urban (such as the New Orleans race we did two years ago) or in the woods (such as the Texas Quest). Sometimes they're a combination of the two. You never know, and that's part of the fun! In almost every event, racers use a map to find their way to checkpoints, which are hidden along the course. You don't have to get all the checkpoints, but the more you have the more likely you are to win. A group who finds ten checkpoints will beat a team that finishes sooner, but only has nine checkpoints. This requires a little strategy and a lot of faith - you want to find all the points, but you don't want to waste too much time on any one point.

When 6am finally rolled around, Nathan and Amy went to drop off our boat while I stayed behind, making coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for fuel. They returned about 45 minutes later and we had breakfast, finished getting our gear ready and set up our transition area (TA) with all the other racers.

Organizing our bikes in the transition area.

After a brief pre-race meeting, we received maps of the park and surrounding area and then got ready to start the race. It should have begun at 8am but we didn't start until 8:15 - not bad for a bunch of adventure racers!

Running on the trails.
The first leg of the race was a run. All the teams (sprint, 7 hours and 12 hours) did this leg together. We entered the woods and ran along a trail that was about two miles long. The idea was that this would spread the pack, so we weren't all jammed into the transition area at the same time. There were not checkpoints on this leg - it was just a run. It was sort of effective. The trail was single track, making it hard to pass people. Nathan, Amy and I did pretty well - we finished this leg in 17 minutes, one of the faster times I saw posted on the results board.

After the run we were directed to a mountain biking leg. We grabbed our helmets, hopped on our bikes, and took off for the biking trail. Again, it was a narrow trail but there weren't too many people around us. It was also pretty flat, which was a relief. My training on the bike had been sub-par (one road ride and one trail ride in recent weeks) and I knew it was going to be tough. We handled it pretty well, found our two checkpoints, and returned to the TA in about 35 minutes.

After the mountain biking leg, we got back on our bikes and headed out to make the 7 mile journey to the boats. This was a tough ride with a lot of hills, plus we were on heavy mountain bikes instead of light, efficient road bikes. We made it to the boats in about 50 minutes, stopping just long enough to take a photo in the blue bonnets, which you can admire at the top of this post. (Photos in the blue bonnets are a Texas tradition - nearly every native has one. This was my first!)

Nathan and I headed out of the park and towards the boats.

Nathan shows off our map.
When we reached the boats we were given a map of points on the lake. We hopped into our canoes and paddled around for nearly two hours, finding the checkpoints and punching our passport. This was actually really pleasant - the weather was perfect, the lake was beautiful and we were surprisingly efficient at moving our canoe across the water. Having three people with paddles helped. We managed to snag all five checkpoints during this leg. Success!

After we were through with the canoe we had to get back on our bikes and make the 7 mile trek back to the park and our trusty transition area. This was the lowest point of the race for Team Pink Whiskey. At this point it was about noon, the sun was high in the sky, we were tired, hungry, sunburned and did I mention that it was literally 87 degrees? Spring in Texas is serious business.

I mentioned the hills we rode while riding to the canoes. The hills on the return trip were much, much worse. I will not go into details, but there may have been some walking of bikes, which may have caused a small fight, which may have escalated, which may have peaked at a small gas station where voices may have been raised and a helmet may have been thrown on the ground in anger and frustration. Maybe. It's okay. Fights are pretty much a given when it comes to adventure racing - every team has it's breaking point, and I'm thinking that point is usually somewhere around the five hour mark.  The important part of this story is that we got back on our bikes and continued on our way. Luckily, we had gotten past the worst of the hills (and the worst of the fight) and even managed to get one more checkpoint in town before finally rolling back to our transition area.

Checkpoint number nine on the water!

Checkpoint number ten was outside a VFW hall.
Once we had recovered from our bike ride (the return trip took an hour, which was excellent considering the detour for the checkpoint, the huge hills and the episode on the side of the road) we readied ourselves for the next leg of the race. We would be trekking through the trails on foot, searching for three checkpoints. We were given coordinates, Nathan plotted them on our map and we were off!

Trekking through the forest.
We didn't know how many more legs of the race there were, but we did know that time was running out. It was already 2pm at this point, and the race cut-off was 3:15. After 3:15, we would lose one checkpoint for every minute we were late. Since we worked hard for the points we had located, we didn't want to lose them! We finally found the first checkpoint (Nathan made a simple mistake and plotted it wrong) but we had spent way too much time combing through the brush looking for it. We decided to find the last two checkpoints and then get back to the transition area as soon as we could, finishing the race.

Well, that plan didn't pan out. The map we were given was confusing and bulky, and we had it folded in such a way that we missed a vital piece of information - the dotted line that we assumed was a power line was actually a pipe line, which threw off all our calculations. We ran and walked through the woods for over two hours, totally lost, before finally giving up and heading back to the TA with minutes to spare. We didn't even get to start the second-to-last leg (a hike and bike section). None of the teams made it to the final leg (a steeple chase - no idea what that even was!) so we actually weren't too far behind.

Overall, it was a tough race and a good experience.We came in second out of (two) co-ed teams and got medals, which made my day. We were even able to joke about the fight we had during the drive home, so I think Pink Whiskey will remain intact. Nathan and I were discussing adventure racing yesterday and we decided the optimal thing would be for us to each have our own team - my team would do sprint races (under six hours) and his team would do races that were 12 hours and longer. That way, we could still share the experience but without compromising his abilities or my sanity.  Because honestly, if I had to race for another five hours on top of what we'd already done, I probably would have cried. I don't have the stamina for 12 hour+ races, nor am I willing to dedicate that much time to training to gain the stamina. Six hour races are more than enough for me.

Our last leg. We were so lost!

In the meantime I'm looking forward to yoga tonight, as body is begging for a good stretch after seven hours of adventure racing. Have you ever done an adventure race? Would you consider trying one? It took some convincing on Nathan's part to get me to sign up, but I'm glad for the experiences I've had doing them. I love challenging myself, and adventure racing is definitely a challenge!

PS - All the photos in this post were taken by Amy Sanford: Adventure Racing Bad Ass, Awesome Photographer, Dear Friend, and Yogi Extraordinaire.