Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

Mapping the world, one waxy strand at a time…

Of Racing and Relationships, Part III

Miss Parts One and Two?  Check ’em out!


When we last left off, after a year and a half of Brent regaling me with the wonders of adventure racing, I was finally ready to give it a try.  The problem was, I decided this as Brent was wading through rivers in the late-fall Missouri chill at the AR national championships.

Lucky for me, by the time he thawed out and flew home, he was ready to dive back in.  We emailed GOALS to see if it was too late to register, named our team Somewhere near Paterson (a line from a Richard Shindell song), and spent the week prepping gear and talking strategy for The Edge, a six-hour ‘sprint’ event taking place the following weekend.

I would be running the Philadelphia Marathon a month later, so I figured I was in good enough shape to tackle an event that promised roughly 5 miles of trail running, 5 miles of canoeing, and 10 miles of mountain biking.

Piece of cake, right?

Ali was filling in the key female slot for the GOALS team that Sunday morning (to compete in the premiere division in an adventure race, you need to field a coed team of three or four, depending on the race), so we all linked up at Green Lane State Park in southeastern PA and began to set up the transition.

The race started promptly at 10:00 AM, and the next several hours proved to be a blur of rocky trails, grassy fields, and windy lakes.  The event consisted of a mandatory section of running, paddling, biking, and orienteering, and for teams that completed all that before 1:00 PM, a second section filled with optional checkpoints, to be reached on foot.

I felt completely overmatched as I followed Brent from checkpoint to checkpoint.  I felt ill-prepared and in-over-my-head.  And I also felt totally exhilarated.  We finished the mandatory points with a few minutes to spare, and raced out of the TA to collect some of the optionals.  We nabbed the first, second, and third, decided that the fourth was too far away (I was hurting pretty badly by that point), and crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 23 minutes.

An hour later, when the awards were given, I was stunned to learn that we had won the coed-two person division.

I was definitely intrigued.

A few weeks later, Bruce invited Ali and Brent to become the newest members of Team GOALS ARA, a competitive group of seasoned racers who had been ranked fifth in the nation the year before.

I’m not sure why or when or how, but over the next several months, I began to be included in some of the GOALS communications.  And when Bruce and Brent didn’t have a girl to race with them for the 2008 spring sprint race, they invited me to fill in.

“No expectations,” Brent assured me.  “Go out and do what you can, and that’s all you need to worry about.”

The race was in Wilmington, Delaware and fell on the first day of Passover.  That night, we had 20 people coming to our house for dinner.  We had to be home by 5 pm to get ready.  Motivation to move quickly.

For the next 4 hours and 23 minutes (yes, the exact same time as at The Edge, albeit on a much harder course), I fell in line and Brent and Bruce towed me around in the woods.

Literally towed around in the woods – this isn’t uncommon for coed teams, especially during long events (don’t mind the inside-out singlet)

Again, the race was a blur.  Again, I felt overmatched and intimidated.

And again, we finished with a win, this time in the premiere division.

I knew that my success as an adventure racer to that point had little to do with me and everything to do with my talented teammates.  Still, the pressure began to mount, both internally and externally, as my own expectations began to rise and as Brent began to see the potential of us racing together competitively.

The next month, we upped the ante and raced together again, this time with GOALS teammate Chris in a 12-hour event in western Pennsylvania.  And after a rough start that had me sprawled out across a trail, cranking my knee and wrenching my sternum on two protruding rocks, we managed to finish in third place in the premiere division, earning a spot at USARA nationals.

More success.  More excitement.  More overwhelmedness.  More pressure.

A few weeks later, still bruised from the western PA race, Brent, Chris, and I ventured up to New York, for NYARA’s 2008 Longest Day, the same 12-hour race that I’d volunteered at the year before, when I told the race director that I could never do such a thing.

In the days leading up to the event, I was beginning to feel ambivalent about me and Brent racing together.  I loved all of the excitement and focus of the previous several months, but I worried that we would become teammates at the expense of partners.  I was anxious about the prospect of living, eating, and breathing adventure racing.

The race began with a foot orienteering section that had us bushwhacking our way from checkpoint to checkpoint in the southern Catskills wilderness.  Already anxious at the start, after an hour of trying to keep up with Brent and Chris, I fell back.  The lump that had been firmly lodged in my throat began to rise, and when I tried to call out for them to stop, the tears began to fall.

I pulled Brent aside (poor Chris, who had raced enough to know the track record of couples racing together – it isn’t good – and could sense what was going on), and we talked, all of the worry I’d been bottling up for the past several weeks pouring out and totally catching him off guard.

Letting everything out diffused the pressure, and after five minutes, we resumed the race.  For a brief stretch, I went from anxious to angry, which worked to our advantage as we transitioned from foot to bikes and – as Brent and Chris later described it – I took off like a bat out of hell.  We ended up turning in the fastest split of any team on that road ride to the paddle put-in.

But then things calmed down.  We laughed on the water, were awed by the Gunks, and pushed through a tough course.  In the end, facing much tougher competition, we came in fifth or sixth.  I was proud that I had been able to come back after my meltdown, but a bit disappointed with the overall finish.  Pressure.  More pressure.

Six weeks later, we lined up at the start at the GOALS Cradle of Liberty, for what was to be my first 24-hour event.  The race ran from 5 pm Friday to 5 pm Saturday, meaning that competitors had already been awake for much of the day by the time the race began.  Brent and I met Chris that afternoon up at Promised Land State Park in northeastern PA.  It was hot and humid, typical mid-June weather.

I wasn’t feeling great, but didn’t think much of it as we began the first leg, a fast 12-mile run to the canoe put-in.  Within an hour, though, I was overcome by waves of nausea.  We continued on, slowly losing steam, as I found myself unable to choke down any food.  I made it through nine hours of the race, having covered more than 50 miles with shooting stomach pains on just over 400 calories.  (You can read about it here, in one of my first blog posts!).  In the middle of the night, I pulled off the course, got a ride back to the finish, and tried to sleep in the back of my little toyota yaris as Brent and Chris continued on unofficially.

Brent and I left for a six-week road trip not long after that, and I put adventure racing aside to focus on my upcoming Ironman that fall.  We didn’t race together again that year – I celebrated my one-year anniversary of adventure racing with the introduction of GOALS Girls Gone Wild, an all-women’s team made up of me, NYARA head honcho Denise, and fellow GOALS member Sue.  We won the female-three division at The Edge, and a few weeks later, I learned that I’d torn a muscle in my quad (not smart to do a half-marathon the week after an ironman!).  No racing for me the last few months of 2008.

Brent and I spent a lot of time that summer and fall discussing whether this was something we wanted to pursue together.  He loved racing – and especially loved racing competitively – and I enjoyed the challenge and the camaraderie but wasn’t so sure I had the competitive edge in me, and wasn’t convinced that I wanted to continue trying to find it at the expense of our relationship.

We went into the 2009 season with a lot of questions – it would take more races and more meltdowns for us to come to any resolution.

Stay tuned for Part IV – I’ll try to make it the final part 🙂 Thanks for putting up with me on this series of posts.  A couple folks said they were enjoying the suspense – much as I wish it were intentional, the truth is that I just can’t seem to tell a short story!


12 responses to “Of Racing and Relationships, Part III

  1. Julie (A Case of the Runs) January 16, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    I definitely understand the competing/camaderie dilemma. I used to be more competitive when I was sprinting, but all that went down the drain once the races grew longer. I think people are motivated differently in that regard, and it also changes over time.

  2. Anne January 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I’m really enjoying your story Abby…looking forward to part IV! 🙂

  3. kari w/ Jogging with Fiction January 16, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    I love the towing picture!

    I told Mike what you said about your unhappy husband and he said, “are you going to tell her you have an ecstatic husband?!?!” Needless to say, he hasn’t stopped talking about it since the game ended.

  4. Nellie (The Midlife Cruiser) January 16, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I LOVE this ongoing story! I for one, do not want it to end at part IV. You’re way of describing things makes me feel like I lived it!

  5. Brie January 17, 2011 at 6:28 am


    I am so impressed I had no idea that you were such an accomplished blogger. Something to add to your list of accomplishments. You juggle it all! I was inspired reading some of your recent blogs about school, your family, relationships, adventure racing from afar. Look forward to hearing more about your racing history and good luck starting up the spring semester!


  6. denise January 17, 2011 at 8:30 am

    love the pics of you guys racing!!! so nice that you had these experiences together.

  7. Mallory January 17, 2011 at 9:30 am

    What a cool story!! I can’t wait to read the rest of it. It sounds like you all went through a lot. What a cool experience though!

  8. Laurie January 17, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Great story.
    But reading about your 24-hour races just makes me pissd that we can’t do the GOALS 24 this year. They should really ask me first before posting their schedule.

  9. the dawn January 19, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    wow what an epic saga! love it!

  10. Pingback: Of Racing and Relationships, Part IV « Have Dental Floss, Will Travel

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