Sunday, February 21, 2010

Race Report - Heartbreak Duathlon 2010

Production Company - Steelsports
Date - 2/20/2010
Location - Tyler State Park, TX
Length - 2-3 hours

This is the second year I've done this race, and it's great. Pretty short, but because of that the racers go pretty hard and the competition is pretty strong. The race consists of 3 legs - a 2.5 mile trail run, a 10 mile mountain bike (mtb), and then another 2.5 trail run (same loop, different direction). All of the trails are single track mtb trails, about 2 feet wide, mostly pretty packed dirt with a tremendous amount of tree roots that run perpendicular to the trails, a few rock gardens and muddy spots, and lots of short steep hills. There are few monster hills that are fairly steep but use switchbacks to extend the hurt for as long as possible (and mitigate erosion).

The weather this year was absolutely gorgeous - such an improvement over last year. I started out near the very front of the pack to minimize the amount of passing I would have to do on the narrow trails. Totally rocked the first run, kept a 7:50 minute pace and put myself in 5th or sixth place. The run ended back at the starting line where everyone's bikes were lined up on racks. I had a very fast transition and tore back to the trails knowing that I had not been on more than 2 serious rides all winter - and that I was about to get showed up by a mob of 45-55 year old hardcore riders with $2000 dollar bikes. I gave it my all and bombed down the downhills like a madman (love my 29er!), flew through the level sections, and struggled up the ridiculous hills. Kept the pace between 5 and 10 mph but got it up to 18 on one badass downhill. By the end of the mtb leg, my legs were beyond hurting but the rest of me was great. Would have been nice to have more than 6 days off after the Austin marathon!

A blistering 17 second transition and I was back on the trails for the final running leg. I peeled and ate a banana over the course of the first quarter mile (not easy to do at full race pace, but an almost miraculous cure/preventative for leg cramps) and dug in. My pace here slowed, but not as much as everyone else's. I maintained at 8 1/2 minute miles, which was the 2nd best pace for that leg - we were all hurting! I managed to pass the last two riders that had passed me on the mtb, but the others were so far ahead that even though I was gaining on them, I never even saw them. It's much easier to catch and pass someone when you can see them! The last 1/4 mile was a steady uphill, not terribly steep, but just non-stop switchbacks. A strongsprint to the finish and I was done. Final time was 1:47:30 (chiptimed) which was a full minute faster than my time last year (same course). The race was larger this year, maybe 80 racers total, and I placed 8th overall. Last year I placed 9th. If I was stronger on the bike coming out of winter I could make top 5, but I just don't get a lot of winter riding in.

Great event! Great location, great competition, and a nice short but gruelling course.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Race Report - Austin Marathon (2010)

Production Company: Conley Sports
Date: 2/14/10
Location: Austin, TX
Length: 26.2 Miles

This was my first marathon and it was every bit as difficult as I expected it to be. I did not train as well as I could have - taking 3 weeks off 1 1/2 months prior to the race proved not to be a good idea. I also bruised the ball of one of my feet during a 24 hour adventure race 3 weeks before the marathon and took about a week off of running to allow that to heal as much as possible without aggravation. So I went in a little under-prepared.

The race itself was impressively produced. Check-in went smoothly and the volunteers were chipper and professional. The pre-race vendor expo was impressive (how much equipment can runners need?) and the swag was pretty sweet. Every racer got a nifty little backpack with a dirty-shoe compartment. Finishers got sweet technical shirts and a really nice medal.

The start was pretty intense - 15,000 racers crowded onto Congress Ave, roughly organized by pace group. Pre-race jitters were the most intense I'd ever experienced. I was glad I visited the port-o-john before finding my pace group! After the gun went off and some pyro signaled the start, we walked briskly to the arch and then we were off!

The course was rumored to be pretty topographically intense and the first few miles proved the rumors true. Luckily Chrissy and I had trained on the best hills in town pretty devotedly and I fared better than most of the people I started with. Near mile 6 my breakfast started giving me grief. I'd had 1 1/2 bagels with peanut butter and apparently I hadn't given my wound-up stomach enough time to come to terms with it. I could feel a ball of breakfast bouncing up and down in my gut with each step, unless I was going uphill. With each mile, the crowd I was running with thinned, but so did the port-o-john availability, and I was clearly not the only one having stomach issues as each can had a substantial line. I decided to push through and kept putting it off. This tactic will severely reduce your ability to enjoy grueling tests of endurance that would otherwise not be all that enjoyable to begin with, let me tell you.

The weather was great though. I think it was around 37 degrees (F) when we started, and after a couple hours of running and sunshine, I felt quite comfortable in my tights and two long-sleeve tech shirts. The volunteers at each mile's station were great, full of motivation and indifferent to getting splashed with each failed water hand-off. The crowds that lined bigger intersections provided a huge boost of energy. There were even a few live bands scattered along the course, mainly in the first 3rd.

In terms of my race, by mile 19 I was daydreaming about disemboweling myself when I remembered there was an easier way to find relief. I slowed up and stopped for the first time since the start, careful not to walk a single step in the direction of the finish line (my own personal rules). I waited for about 3 minutes for my turn, and made the others wait a few too. I felt like a brand new person. Dashed out the door, and the next two miles flew by with ease. Shame I didn't just suck it up and deal with breakfast earlier - I would have enjoyed more than just those two miles.

Before the marathon I'd run a couple of 20 milers, and by mile 23 I was having a hard time. Luckily the organizers stacked the hills early on in the course, so it was mostly level after mile 18. Severe muscle fatigue was taking hold though, and my calves were quite cramped. I couldn't quench my thirst and almost threw my goal out the window to walk a bit. The fundraising Chrissy and I had done for MSF (Doctors Without Borders) for this race got me through this though. Our friends and families donated so much money that we EXCEEDED our target amount by almost 18%! That generosity and faith in my fortitude really convinced me that I HAD to do this, and on my terms too - NO walking. I had to RUN the entire thing to really do it.

A 1/2 mile down hill around mile 24 was just about the most difficult part for me. My thighs were so angry with me that each compassionate step felt like some one was throwing a roundhouse to that thigh. I rounded the corner at the bottom of that hill and then I could see the Capital - the final landmark. I'd seen a great variety of beautiful Austin neighborhoods and landmarks, but this was by far the most thrilling. A steep two blocks uphill, around one corner, and I was running towards the Capital building.

I gasped a gulp of pain/joy/determination, held back an almost tear, and switched off my brain. Autopilot. Faster. Breathe faster. Head down. Pump arms faster. I am not my body; I am in my body. Faster, faster, FASTER. DO NOT FUCKING STOP. Circling the capital, the crowd was ecstatic. I felt like I was the first runner they'd seen. The noise was most delicious thing I'd ever heard.

No way could I slow down now. The course turned and suddenly it slanted sharply downhill. I was flying. I was passing other runners like they were crawling. I couldn't even touch the ground - going way too fast. Faster and faster. Now I could see the finish gate. I could hear the crowd screaming. The announcer was cheering and calling out names as people finished and then he saw me ripping towards him and his bellowing turned to yelling "Hey! YEAH! Look at this Guy - HE WANTS IT! HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT BUDDY? COME ON!!! Holy CRAP Ladies and Gentlement - GIVE IT UP FOR NUMBER 830!!!!!!!" I stomped the finish mat (the race was chip-timed) and started walking. My vision clouded and I felt a heave coming, but it passed. I grabbed a medal, got a hug from a random runner, grabbed a banana and sat down.

Finisher. Hell yeah.

Only 4040 people finished the full marathon. I came in 1193rd place. 924th out of all of the male finishers. Final time - 4:00:59 - just 59 seconds over my arbitrary time goal. ARGH!!

Lance Armstrong said that running a marathon was the hardest thing he's ever done. I'm glad it's not just me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gear Review - Cygolite Mitycross 350

Great headlight, good price, just enough lumens to let you ride without fear. This hacky-sack sized light has two high-intensity LEDs that cross beams to open the beam pattern up without allowing the center to darken. The weight is negligible, and even the battery pack is fairly light. The headlamp is not waterproof, but seems like it would be fine in the rain, just not in the lake. The battery pack charges in about 4 hours with a special charger (included).

The light can be mounted on handlebars (with the provided clip)or on a helmet (so you can actually see where you look, not just where your bike is pointed). The battery can be mounted to the helmet, bike frame, or stuffed in a pack using the included extension cord. On the bright setting this thing will render you unable to see in the dark for an hour - and unfortunately it turns on AUTOMATICALLY upon being connected to the battery - be warned. Bright setting is about 350 lumens (claimed), and is rated to last about 4 hours. I've ridden at night on roads and trails by the medium setting, which is supposed to last about 8 or 9 hours, and that was plenty of light. The helmet mount is solid, the construction feels top-notch, and for the price/brightness/weight, you can't do much better.


Gear Review - Nathan Hydration Vest

These things are great. Basically an alternative to the Camelbak daypacks, or larger packs that can accommodate a hydration bladder. They are useful on longer bike rides, longer runs (15+ miles) and for hiking. They are lightweight, fairly durable, and not ridiculously expensive.

These packs were designed with ultra-running in mind. Where other packs have thin shoulder straps of cordura or similar material, the Nathan packs have broad, breathable straps, with convenient pockets for energy gels. A multitude of straps allow fine-tuned fitting. But the best feature of all is the rubber Y piece in the back. This thing allows the pack to stay centered on your back while you run - no more swinging from side to side, or bouncing and slamming into your back with each step. There is elastic cording for a light jacket, and a pocket in the rear for a compass, maps, cell phone, whatever. There's even a special chest-strap clip that is molded to receive and hold the end of your hose/tube.

The one downside is the actual bladder. While the seams have held up in mine, the mouthpiece seems a little...over-engineered. As opposed to the simpler bite-and-suck valves on Camelbak bladders, the Nathan mouthpieces have a fixture inside not-unlike the top of a bike-water-bottle. To use it, you must close your mouth to maintain the vaccuum in the tube, bite down on the end, and pull away from the rest of the mouthpiece. The lack of a self-seal like on the Camelbak mouthpiece means that if you open your mouth while the valve is open, air will fill the tube and you'll have to suck it out to get more water.

So the pack is great, well-designed, and minimalist. The fit is highly adaptable. But replace the bladder with a Camelbak bladder. I'm a small guy (5'-6"), I use the women's model and it fits fine.


Race Report - The Big Chill 2009

Production Company: Too Cool Racing
Date: 1/23/10
Location: Bastrop, TX
Length: 24 hour
Team Name: Team Superbad

This was my first 24 hour race, and my second adventure race with my brother, Eric. He invited me to race with his team, Team Superbad, and I agreed, despite their being NAMED AFTER A MOVIE. "But it's more than just a name, it's the way we race!" they are very fond of saying. The team consisted of Eric, myself, one of Eric's coworkers, Tex, and Tex's cousin's husband, Rick, who calls Tex "bro." I was confused about their relationship for the first 7 hours. A ridiculous number of setbacks prior to the race did nothing to dampen our commitment to completing the race - in races 12 hours or more, simply finishing the race (determined by criteria which vary race to race) is a often monumental achievement.

To start with, Eric had decided to handle registration. We were to pay him back when we met up. He was waiting on a check from the Treasury Department, however, and although promptness is emphasized in the military, it is not so much important to the people that pay the military. So he ended up having to wait until 9pm the night before the race to register the team. Yikes! Not a week before the race, he was out on a long trailride and managed to destroy the entire drivetrain of his 29er with a well placed rock. So he was downgraded to a loaner 26er that he was unaccustomed to riding (although he was still wicked fast on it). Also, on the ride up from San Antonio to Bastrop, his brand-spanking-new kayak that had never even seen water yet, broke free of the ties that bound it and flew up out of the back of the truck, flipped once, and landed in the middle of the lane, in the middle of US I-35. Everyone in the truck gasped in slow-motion, and the entire interstate screeched to a halt. They jumped out, ran it over to the shoulder, and zipped the truck off the road. No one was hurt, but they were certain the boat was no longer a boat (able to float). Miraculously, the boat had very few minor scratches and the only real damage was to the rudder, which was no longer a rudder (able to steer). Eric climbed into the kayak and sat on the shoulder of I-35 while the rest of the truck went to get replacement straps.

The majority of Friday was spent scouring Austin for replacement rudder parts, and in the end, Austin Canoe and Kayak hooked us up like we were old friends. Great place.

Saturday morning there was a massive pre-race meeting. The race had three lengths offered: 6 hour, 12 hour, and 24. There were only 10 teams registered for the 24 hour race, and shortly after the meeting we loaded up onto a school bus, with our paddling gear, and anything else we would need to be away from our transition area/support crew for up to 10 hours. TEN HOURS. Oh craps.

On the bus, we were given our first challenge. Each team had a 3 or 4 page trivia quiz all relating to things that included "big" and "chill". The best score would be allowed a head start in the race. As insurance for our almost certainly needed headstart, we spent a long time on the tie-breaker question: list as many synonyms for "cold" as you can. This ended up garnering us the coveted head start and once we arrived at McKinney Roughs Nature Park, we were off! Using a xeroxed map of the park with 3 checkpoints listed, we raced off to find the trail heads. The trails were nice packed gravel and dirt, but were poorly marked. It took us about 15 minutes to find a spot that we could verify on the map. But then it was just a matter of trail running, with packs, life-vests (PFDs), and kayak paddles. Eric, Rick and I were trucking along at a pretty good pace (I was minding a quarter-shaped blister on the instep of my left foot), but Tex was much slower. We quickly realized we would have to move at a much slower pace than anticipated because Tex's knee had already started bothering him. Bad news. We intended to find 2 of the 3 checkpoints and skip the 3rd to remain in the front of the pack of teams, but due to the nefarious layout of the park and the checkpoints, we ended up hitting all three checkpoints. Then we raced along the river to where our boats had been deposited for us. A quick changing of shoes, sucking down of energy gels, and we were water-borne!

By this point we had run about 4 or 5 miles of sometimes rough terrain and were enthusiastic about getting to sit down. Eric's kayak was a missile in the water, but my SFA rental Ocean kayak (sit-on-top) was a floating parachute. Rick and I exhausted ourselves keeping up with Eric and Tex, but the weather was perfect (60 degrees) and the sun was hidden. An all female team, Fig-Lig slowly approached us from behind and passed us about 10 miles down the river. We passed them later on, and then were passed again, and we decided that these tough ladies were going to be our main competition. By the time we reached our designated take-out point, we'd been on the river for between 4 and 4 /12 hours, and kayaked 25 miles. We were bushed! The steep muddy bank we were required to push/pull our boats up was a nightmare, and we had gotten cold from being wet.

Depositing our boat along the others, it was clear that we were only ahead of maybe 2 teams. The other guys didn't think twice about this, but it was a blow to my morale. We HAD to catch Fig-Lig, who we'd seen pulling their boats out as we rounded the last bend of the river. A quick glance at the map of the rest of leg 1 showed only 1 checkpoint remaining, on a bridge somewhere between us and Bastrop State Park, where our transition area was. We decided to skip the point and follow a set of train tracks back to the town, then take roads back to the park. Lo and behold, off in the distance, Fig-Lig had had the same idea! This was a bit puzzling though because railroad tracks are difficult to run on for any real distance - the cross timbers are awkwardly spaced and irregular. Upon approaching a small RR bridge, we saw why they had chosen this way - the last checkpoint! Lucky us! Morale boosted, all checkpoints found, we picked up the pace and ran the last 4 miles to the park.

Arriving at the park, we checked in with the race officials, got our new maps and started plotting points. This was a mountain biking leg, and it was starting to get cold and dark. There were about 5 checkpoints, and the team was getting really tired. Tex's girlfriend Stacey had made chicken soup for everyone and we took about 20 minutes to just sit and rest and eat (i ate hummus and chips). Then we were off! Helmet-mounted headlights blazing, we set out on a trail that would connect the South-shore of the park with the North-shore, skirting the lake. There were a lot of loose, softball sized rocks, and 20 feet long puddles of mud and water. Within 20 minutes we were plastered with mud and you would have had a hard time telling we were on bikes, not mud-monsters. We snagged the first point about 4 miles in and the older guys called a break. Bad sign. We decided to forego the more distant points (3 of them) that looked like they would have to be reached by riding along pipeline easements (where they clear the trees to run underground pipelines). Tex and Eric conceded on the closest one, though and we struck out on a highway (at night) to find a very large powerline easement. It was about a mile away and we unchained the not-locked fence and slipped inside. The riding was sandy and squirrelly, and we ended up hopping a number of chest high, no-trespassing fences, but there were houses with no fences back right up to the easement, so we felt justified. Nearly an hour later and we gave up on the point, having thoroughly exhausted the area. Some local must have taken the flag/punch as a souvenir. Dejected, cold, hungry, and tired, we set out back for the park. Nighttime highway riding is SCARY. Just before the park we decided to look for one more point that was near a radio tower. I tore off running all around the tower, across the street, and decided that it must be across the highway. The rest of the team, exhausted, hurting, and now very grumpy, argued voraciously that the race officials would NEVER make us cross a highway in the dark to get a checkpoint. I chose not to point out that they'd made us ride BICYCLES on a highway at night, and that they obviously thought we were grown-ups and could handle ourselves. In the name of not causing a fight, we left that point unfound.

Returning to the park, we learned that our next leg, #3, was only one checkpoint - but it was on the water. We plotted it and ran down to the shore to find the paddleboats. A frustrating five minutes later, I returned to the race officials (now on the second shift - the first had gone to bed) and inquired of the paddleboats. "you must have misread the directions - you get one of the rental canoes, and Paddle Your Boat to the checkpoint." Oh. I realized it was midnight and that I was in fact, very very tired and starting to miss obvious details. The paddling went kind of slow, but it was very quiet and beautiful. We snagged the point and returned.

Leg #4 was another running leg, but the points were all within the park and on trails - no compass navigation necessary. In fact, aside from plotting the points, we'd had very little REAL navigation the whole race. We took maybe 45 minutes to snag all three checkpoints on this leg and were feeling good. Well not really good, but our spirits were up, mostly due to the stellar navigation Eric provided us with.

Leg #5 was another biking leg, but this time the points were almost all downtown. We snagged one in a little industrial street near the park, then headed downtown. One point was hidden in Fisherman's Park and a 12 hour team had mentioned that the point was "in the back." Eric looked at the clue sheet and announced that the point was in a culvert. Everyone started moseying around, so I took off on my bike and scoured the park as fast as i could. Nothing. Again, from the other end. Nothing. WTF! I found Eric and Tex laying on the grass, mumbling about throwing in the towel and going to bed. I asked Eric for the clue sheet, and low and behold, the clue was NOT "culvert" (that was the next point), it was "old tower". Oh - that huge, obvious, old tower in the center of the park?! Check. Off to the next one, piece of cake. Next one was a breeze too. Back to the park. Up a very steep mile-long hill. Check in with officials. Can't tell how many there are - vision swimming, eyes can't focus. So tired.

Last leg - Bushwacking. Oh craps. This leg had three points, but we decided that we would just try to finish the race - this meant just finding one point. For this race, the rules were that teams were required to stay together, and to find at least one checkpoint on each leg in order to complete that leg. Teams that finished would be ranked by number of checkpoints found, and then by time. We had only to find ONE more checkpoint to finish this BRUTAL test of endurance. So off we went. We walked (yep) down the road that lead to the highway, CROSSED THE HIGHWAY (sigh), and pulled out the compass. Shot a bearing from the intersection to the point, and followed it in. The map was a blow-up of a topographic map, so the scale was all skewed. We estimated the point to be 1/4 mile in, but after a 1/2 mile, Eric and Tex headed back to the highway to rest. I was almost delirious, climbing up slopes, sliding down, dropping the compass, dropping the map, etc etc. Finally I realized I should just follow the creek to the topographic feature that was my target. This was very difficult, but paid off! Rick was with me and we realized Eric had the damn passport. I told Rick to stay put and be very quiet so as not to give away our discovery to the teams also scouring the area for that point. I trucked back to Eric and it felt like hours. Grabbed the passport, ran back to the creek, followed it up, punched the point, and WE WERE DONE! FINISHERS! A long trot back to the park, handed in our passport, and found out that we were not in last place! We beat a team who had quit earlier (hadn't finished), but Fig-Lig was still out there. They had missed some checkpoints earlier too, so if they found just one point on the last leg and came back, we would beat them, but if they found 2, they would win. We knew they had no idea and would probably just get the one, but went to bed uncertain. The race had begun at 8am and we turned in at 4:30am. The next morning we learned that Fig-Lig had in fact just grabbed the one point, and we had come in 8th overall! Whoohoo! I was tired for 3 days.

Can't wait to do it again.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Upcoming: Warrior Dash Texas - May 1st and 2nd

Oh hell yeah. This looks fun! A 3 or so mile obstacle course, with a gazillion other people. Mud crawls, jumping fences, firelines, and free beer!

Race Report - SFA Lumberjack Sprint Adventure Race

Production Company: Stephen F. Austin State University, Outdoor Pursuits
Date: 1/30/10
Location: Nacogdoches, TX
Length: 4 Hours
Team Name: Pink Whiskey

The Outdoor Pursuits Center at SFA decided to put on a sprint-length adventure race at the University. Early on they asked me to come in and give them some feedback on the event they were envisioning and I was able to convince them that rather than run the event as a relay like they had intended, to do it like a true adventure race and make the teams stick together the whole time, you know, teamwork. I also suggested the team restrictions, which were that teams had to have 3 people, and be coed. While this probably drew more women into the event, it also might have hurt the attendance. Either way, the race went down on Saturday morning and there were 4 teams ready to go at 10am.

The theme was Jailbreak, and we started the race in a room at the Rec Center decorated to look like a large prison cell. The 3 members of each team had their wrists tied together with 18" of string, and our strings passed between the wrists of our teammates. When the race started, our first challenge was to escape from our "handcuffs." This was baffling and really really funny.

No one figured it out, but there were lots of giggles, people falling down, and turning around while another teammate passed their arms around you and spun and then stepped through, etc. After 15 minutes the race officials said, okay forget trying to get out of the "handcuffs", here's the next challenge: each team had a key that was suspended in block of ice. The ice was solid, and about the exact size of a dixie cup. We were to melt the ice to get the key, using only body heat. One team stuck the thing in an armpit, we sat on ours, and other teams were rubbing it with their hands. Very dumb challenge. After we finally cracked our key out (10 minutes behind the first team to blatantly disregard the "bodyheat" part), we were told to run to the football stadium about a 1/4 mile away. This was not as easy as it seemed as we were still tied together and there was a massive construction site fenced off directly in front of us. We made the right decision to get around the construction with the 4th team right behind us, following us.

At the stadium, out of breath, we were given the dullest pair of scissors ever to cut our handcuffs off. Then we were instructed to search the seats of the stadium for a small brown paper bag with our team name on it. Amy and Chrissy searched the closer seats, and i jetted over to the far ones to scour them. After about 10 minutes of running up and down the stadium rows (exhausting) i found our bag perched on a roof over a vender stand, just outside of the seats. Sneaky bastards. I yelled to Amy and Chrissy and we jetted back to where we entered the stadium. The bag contained an egg in a ziplock bag, a laminated map, and an envelope with monopoly money. I picked up the egg, which we were supposed to deliver to the race officials at the end of the race intact, and dropped it. It was an accident, and the crack was superficial, so I tucked it away in the chest pocket of my water vest and promptly forgot about it.

The map was of the paved trails that run through the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, which is just off campus. We jogged at a pretty brisk pace and followed the map to the approximate locations of the checkpoints. These were 12" long pieces of white PVC tubing, capped, with stickers inside that we put on the passport we were issued to prove that we'd found them. They were cleverly hidden in piles of leaves - visible from only one side, inside the base of hollow trees, and under fallen logs.

Unfortunately at every checkpoint we encountered at least one other team and they would see us find the checkpoints, so that took some of the fun out of it. We took off running from the last checkpoint, South on Lanana Creek trail into the Azalea Garden that borders University Ave. It was about a 1/2 mile and we passed the leading team to take the lead ourselves. We followed a new map to another checkpoint, and then to a special challenge in the center of the Azalea Garden. There was a race official dressed like a bum, playing an alcoholic. In order to pass the alcoholic, we had to deliver exactly 8 ounces of water to her, using one 16 oz cup, and one 18 oz cup. It took about 5 seconds to decide to fill the 18oz cup with water, pour water from that one into the 16oz cup, leaving 2oz in the original cup. We did this 4 times to arrive at 8oz, presented this to the "alcoholic," who measured it and informed us that she would not let us pass and to try again. Baffled, we decided to fill the 16oz cup halfway (eyeballing it), and this turned out to satisfy the "alcoholic." Another team had just reached the alcoholic and we hightailed it out of there. We followed the map and continued South to the intersection of University Ave and Starr Street, completely missing a checkpoint hidden at the edge of the Azalea Gardens. Apparently other teams spent a good deal of time looking for that checkpoint, so in retrospect, we lucked out.

We waited for the crosswalk to change for us at the intersection, and ran North on University Ave to the apartment complex where we had left our bikes before the race. Water and orange quarters greeted us and we were given a new map, this one for the mountain biking trails across University Ave from campus. It looked like there were 3 or 4 checkpoints hidden along the trails on this leg. The trails up there were really confusing though, and drawn over a low resolution satellite image of the area. We guessed on which trail to take initially because the start of the trail network didn't show up on the imagery. Luckily we happened upon a bridge and were then able to dash off to the first checkpoint, and then tick off the others pretty quickly, once we knew where we were. The trails were a bit muddy, but this just made it more fun. We finished up the 1.5 mile MTB loop and realized that we were finishing that leg before any other teams had started it. GO PINK WHISKEY!

We were instructed to get across University Ave and complete another special challenge in front of the Colosseum. We were given an envelope with 7 or 8 laminated strips of paper. On each strip was printed boxes that were either blank, or red with arrows pointing up. The task was to stack the strips in just the right way so that all of the arrow boxes pointed up and lined up to make a 3 digit number. On the instructions there was a picture of the strips, all stacked vertically, and staggered horizontally with some ends overhanging each other. We took this to mean that the ends of the strips would not line up perfectly. This meant many more possibilities, which overwhelmed us. We tried for about 12 minutes and then resorted to just sitting in the bitter cold waiting for the 15 minute maximum time-limit for the puzzle to elapse. Turned out the edges WERE supposed to align perfectly. Oh well. Tough challenge. Next up we had to run UP a baby-oiled slip and slide placed on a very steep slope of the Colosseum. Amy blew up the thing, I followed, and made it on the second try. Poor Chrissy gave it about 17 tries before the race officials could stop laughing long enough to point out that we could help her up. I slid down halfway and snagged the climbing rope that led to the top. Amy slid down and grabbed my low hand and Chrissy was able to run up far enough to grab Amy's low hand and climb up our human ladder to the top. Next up was the ROTC obstacle course which was super-fun and where Chrissy made up for her slip-n-slide hilarity with ninja-yoga-balance skillz I was not aware that she possessed. Very impressive. Laughing and high-fiving we departed the obstacle course and completely missed another checkpoint. We ran back to the Rec Center and were presented with another special challenge - climb through the spider web of yarn without hitting any strings. The web was strung in a cube made of PVC pipes that was about 8 feet long, so it was definitely a challenge. Despite my capoeira skills and Amy and Chrissy's yoga skills, we bungled that thing many times before finally getting through it.

Next up was the swim. Yes, it was about 38 degrees outside. We were ordered by megaphone to strip down to our swimwear. The people running on the treadmills overlooking the water must have been shaking their heads. We were given life jackets, then had to bribe the "guards" with our monopoly money. We gave them our now completely forgotten and demolished omelette in a ziplock bag. Then we learned that we had to swim through an inflatable water wheel/tube, swim one lap against the current in the lazy river, and exit the pool through another water wheel. It was very tough. The life jackets didn't help. No walking, just swimming. I found the best way was to float on my back and do the breast stroke very quickly. Exhausted and freezing we ran for the dressing rooms to change and do the last leg of the race. Before we exited the building for the last leg, a sign instructed us to run along the winding course laid out in the grass with climbing ropes. The challenge was that if any teammate was "shot," we'd all have to start over. We decided Chrissy should go first and we cautiously entered the courtyard, watching the "guards" with their arms behind their back. We decided to stagger ourselves and Chrissy started out into the track. She made it around one, then two bends in the course, staring at the guards in the courtyard, then BAM! she got nailed in the head with a nerfball. We took a minute to realize the snipers were actually up on the balcony behind us - we never even though about that! Then it was a five-minute bizarro game of dodgeball and we all made it, turned in our passport, and were declared the winners.

We won T-shirts.

Very short, cheap, fun local race. I hope they put one on every season.