This afternoon, five people and two cars embark from Philadelphia for the first highly anticipated race of the season.
Over the next two days, we will be spending fourteen hours (a sprint, compared to last year’s sixteen) traipsing around in the wiles of upstate New York, in search of the ever elusive checkpoint.
When we arrive at the start on Saturday morning, we’ll be given a map with a dozen or more of these checkpoints, scattered throughout the snow-covered woods. Each flag is marked with a different point value; you don’t have to get all of the points on a given day, but you must get back to the finish by a prescribed time or face harsh penalties. Racers may use any self-propelling form of transportation, from snowshoes, to bikes, to cross-country skis. Whatever equipment you begin with, you must carry with you for the entire race. Thus, success depends as much on strategy and navigational skill as it does on sheer strength and speed.
I participated in the 2008 race on little more than a whim. Brent had been planning on racing with two adventure racing teammates. Three days before the race, I took the Pennsylvania Bar Exam, for which I’d be preparing for the previous three months. With eight to twelve hours of studying each day, not to mention keeping my head above water with my doctoral coursework, I hadn’t run more than 15-20 miles a week since the Philadelphia marathon four months earlier. Still, trekking around in the snow for two days seemed like the perfect antidote to the mental trauma of the bar (not to worry – I passed). Who cared that I hadn’t been training and that I was completely depleted? So, Brent left Bruce and Jon to their own devices and he and I joined forces as Team Somewhere Near Paterson (anyone know the song reference?).
Somehow, I managed to make it through the weekend, which ended up being filled with equal parts misery and wonderment. We were chased by dogs. We felt our heels explode in searing, puss-filled pain. And in the quiet hours of wandering through the woods, tied together at the waist, we looked at each other and smiled. How many couples get to experience this? A few years earlier, I had no idea people even did such things. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be there. Doing that. With my husband of nine months.
We had a respectable finish, fifth place and just in front of our GOALS teammates (though only because of a strategic snafu on their parts – they took their bikes out the first day, and found themselves beleaguered by dense, unplowed snow.). And half an hour after the race ended, we drove back to Philadelphia and prepared to start a new week. In flip flops, of course, since neither of us could stand the rub of socks and shoes on our open wounds. Brent’s boss wasn’t so thrilled with this.
Torn tendon aside, this year I feel far more prepared. With the temperatures rising, the conditions should be more forgiving than the blizzard we faced last March. GOALS ARA will be well represented; Brent and I are racing on one team, Jon, Bruce, and Tracey on another, and Keith will be linking up with some guy named Dan to field a third. We’ve got bags of bars and gu’s, camelback bladders full of water, and tubes of hydropel.
So, off we go. Into the wild. Blisters and unleashed dogs be damned.