Wow! No race reports since 2021!
Well, 2023 hasn't started off according to plan, so maybe it's a good year to start recording the ups and downs of the race team once more after another terrific Adventure Addicts race down near Appomattox, Virginia. If you aren't doing Michelle and Liz's races, you are missing out on some of the most enjoyable races out there. They are well designed and directed, and they offer some of the best route choice, strategy and navigation. We may be biased as such events play to our strengths, but we also love Michelle and Liz as fellow RDs because they design creative events that really offer something for everyone, regardless of level. This year's Chill Adventure Race was no different!
OK, let's get the best part of the race out there first: our new teammate Paul Miller is terrific!
We already knew this, and Paul has raced several times with the team over the last 12-15 months, but he was eager to get to work during the off-season, and his commitment to preparation and racing hard paid off. More importantly, he is just a great person and teammate, and it's always wonderful when you find a new friend who fits in with the team dynamic and culture as seamlessly as Paul does. So, regardless of everything else, the weekend was a win!
Now, the...downright awful...Abby tore her calf LITERALLY 200 meters or so into the race.
We left the start line on foot on a short trail run into the woods. We had to leap a small stream, and upon pushing off, something popped. And that was that. It didn't take long for us to determine that this wasn't a twisted ankle that would calm down with a few minutes of deep breathing and gentle walking, and Paul and I carried her and helped her hop back to the start. Obviously not the way you want to start a race, but more importantly, not the way you want to start a season. With a handful of races, an ultra, an expedition race in the amazing Faroe Islands, and more on the horizon for 2023, we are just crossing our fingers the news isn't absolutely terrible. (and word just in, it sounds like she avoided a season-ending injury. It's torn, but she should be able to bounce back within a month or so. PHEW!!)
The silver lining, for me and Paul, was that the injury happened at such a time that we were able to essentially just restart the race. Since we were within earshot of the start line and hadn't made it to any CPs, we were permitted to shift into the two person all-male category. Racing officially wasn't the most important thing, but it was nice of Michelle and Liz to recognize and allow this. We lost 15 minutes of race time, but we were able to then go out and race our race.
This year's course was essentially broken into two segments: a foot and bike loop from the start. There were also nine "wildcard" CPs that could be attacked anytime, anyhow. We laid out a foot loop that would incorporate two of these wildcard points, and we planned to tackle the rest from bike. After a fair bit of debate, we decided to run first as we didn't want to get stuck out on that foot section if time ran out...and because it was VERY cold, which just didn't sound all that fun on the bike to start.
Once we were off for real, we made steady work of the foot loop, and we slowly roped in some teams, though it was difficult to really tell what anyone was doing since there were so many different route options and strategies. We stayed positive and focused, and despite sub freezing temperatures, we weren't bothered by the cold. Roughly halfway through, we caught up to Bash Brothers who we knew were one of the favorite teams to win overall, and we crossed paths with TanZ, another team we expected to be dueling it out for the top spot (though, I don't think they saw us). As it turned out, TanZ was looping in the opposite direction, while we ultimately ended up leap frogging with Bash Brothers for the rest of the stage.
As we wrapped up the trek, we felt great. We had an efficient stage, we had made up the lost time it seemed, and we also benefitted from TanZ having skipped a CP by accident. They lost some time running back for it, which gave us a much needed cushion considering our own lost time.
With six hours or so to go, we felt confident in our ability to clear the bike stage, but unfortunately, we were not able to move the way we wanted to through the stage thanks to yours truly and a few factors that slowed our progress.
In the face of these issues, we just moved steadily and, we felt, efficiently. Our nav was sharp all day, and we had a blast cruising around the bike course. Halfway through, we still felt confident that we would sweep the bike course. We had been inching up on Bash Brothers for the first hour of the stage, catching up to them at bike drops for CPs, but our paths finally diverged and we largely rode on our own for a couple of hours.
The highlight of the ride was our bikewhack from CP 16 to 17. We actually were able to more or less ride our bikes off trail, pedaling...albeit slowly...for 90% or so of the whack. We saved several miles of road riding, and the journey was a beautiful one. Not long after that, we saw TanZ for the first time in several hours just as we headed in to drop our bikes and take care of a loop of four wild cards (A-D).
And here we entered a time vortex.
We nabbed the points without any real issues, but I think we went through our one real lull, feeling some fatigue. The loop took a bit longer than we expected, and once out of it, we found that time had melted away. As we left, TanZ was getting started, and we had also seen Bash Brothers' bikes, so we knew things might be tight. That said, it seemed clear that we all had done different things, and we had no idea where things stood.
We set off for the final 90+ minutes of riding, and when the clock ticked down to 60 minutes, I really started analyzing time estimates as it was increasingly clear that it was going to be close. Also knowing that tired legs and an inefficient bike would make it hard to maximize speed and really be able to turn it on, it became evident that we were likely going to have to drop one of the finals CPs, an out and back for CP6.
This is often one of the roles Abby take on: timekeeper. She checks the team on big picture decisions if time is tight. As the minutes slipped by and we conducted periodic time checks, her voice became louder and louder that there just wasn't time for fortune and glory. Disappointed to drop it, but knowing it was the right thing to do, we rode in to the finish having cleared all but one CP. Knowing we lost 15 minutes to start and probably another 15-30 minutes from what was essentially a six hour mechanical, we were at peace with that. And we only had six minutes to spare, so it was a wise decision for us.
As it turned out, both TanZ and Bash Brothers did clear the course, but they both came back several minutes late meaning we secured the overall win after penalties were factored in. It was a bittersweet win knowing Abby was hurt, and it was frustrating not to be able to ride efficiently on the bike, but it was fantastic to build more rapport with Paul.
We worked well together, and even without a second set of maps, he contributed in meaningful ways to the navigation, catching a couple of issues and putting in the extra work to punch most of the CPs. Our route, as it turned out, seemed to be dialed in. I think bits may have required some slower travel, but it seems we traveled 5-6 miles less than Bash Brothers, and 18 miles or so fewer than TanZ. We knew those two teams were likely to be faster than us anyway, but considering our limitations on the bike stage, this ultimately made the difference.
And Abby's voice, telling us to skip that last CP!
Huge thanks to all the volunteers working with Liz and Michelle to make it happen, and as always, it was so great to see so many friends, old and new, playing in the woods. Special shout out to our teammate Joel Ford who raced with team TBD and took third place in the mixed gender division. Here's to a great 2023!