All images care of Chris Radcliffe Photography
No, that’s not me in that photo – so far they’ve only published some teaser shots from this weekend’s race – but it sure gives you a sense of the conditions we were facing when we toed the line for the start of the Rev3 Epic Adventure Race. Well, sort of. In this picture, the sun is shining. In real life, that didn’t happen until 12 hours into the race, just as the pink glow was dropping below the horizon.
But let’s start at the beginning – 13 hours before the gun sounded, when we pulled up for a pre-race meeting to learn that a combination of weather and last minute permitting issues had forced the organizers to put together an entirely new race course in roughly 72 hours.
To put that into perspective, Brent and I spent roughly 10-15 hours a week for 5 weeks designing and planning GOALS six-hour sprint that ran this weekend (more on that to come), and we both felt like we could have used more prep time.
So, instead of the race we were anticipating – 70-ish miles along Skyline Drive, followed by several hours of canoeing (with our bikes hogging the middle seat in the boats), a 20-mile foot section, and a short mountain bike to the finish – we were given maps for a 50-ish mile road ride through George Washington National Forest, 10 miles of road running, 15 miles of off-trail orienteering, 10-15 miles of single-track mountain biking, and a mystery “team challenge” that could be completed at any time throughout the day.
All of that was to take place under projected buckets of rain and bone-chattering thunder and lightning storms. I think we were all were all a bit apprehensive.
I had mixed expectations as we lined up for the start at 7:30 on Saturday morning.
From a team perspective, I knew that at least the first half of this race wouldn’t play to our strengths. We’re certainly a solid team, and in races with a lot of navigation and strategy we often do quite well, but in events based on pure speed and strength, we’re no match for some of the beasts that show up at these things (and I mean beasts in the best possible way).
And personally, I was still unsure of where I was physically, after that stretch of crumminess just a few weeks ago. I’ve been very deliberate about integrating animal protein into my diet (more on that later this week, too), and it does seem to be making a difference, but I didn’t know how I would stack up with Bruce and Brent and Brian pushing race pace. What’s more, past experience told me that nothing good could come from the cold, wet, 4-mile sprint that started the race, especially when it would be followed with 50 hilly miles of fast road riding.
But instead of focusing on the anxiety, I forced myself to relax, forced myself to breathe, forced myself to tune out the what-ifs and the can’t-do’s.
And what do you know? It worked!
As soon as the clock hit 7:30, we took off down the trail, beelining for Cabin 3 of the Shenandoah River State Park campgrounds, where we would be picking up our race passports for the first section of the day.
The boys got a quick jump a dozen meters ahead of me, and I settled into a sustainable pace over the rolling terrain. At one point I heard someone say that we were pushing 7:00 minutes per mile, but I don’t think that was true, since I don’t run that fast (you like my logic on that one?).
After the quick out-and-back, we pulled on our helmets, laced up our bike shoes, and set off across the bridge for the first ride of the day.
Our buddies of Team NYARA, who would go on to a second place finish for the day
There was concern that water levels would be too high for us to get across safely, in which case we’d have to bike an additional 15+ miles of Shenandoah hills to get to the first checkpoint. Thankfully, when the race began, the water was just low enough for us to pass. Later in the day, the bridge would be covered by feet of water.
It turned out that my initial worry was unnecessary. We moved well over the first fifty miles of the race, pushing a steady and sustainable pace and making solid progress. There were four monster climbs, but otherwise the terrain was relatively modest, at least compared to what I was expecting. The worst parts were actually the long descents – the rain and wind always seemed to pick up when we were flying down mountains on hard-packed gravel fire roads at 35+ miles per hour. At one point, I was clamping down on my brakes with all my might, and still moving at 30 mph. Yikes! After the first hour, my hands were so cold and stiff that I could barely tear upon a clif bar wrapper.
Brian nabbing the first CP (photo care of Rev3)
We made one poor decision on route choice that cost us 15 or 20 minutes, but otherwise traveled the course well. I lost some steam during the last handful of miles of the ride, but after realizing that I’d taken in fewer than 400 calories over the first four hours of the race, I quickly corrected and held the bonk at bay. By the second half of the last climb, I was back to feeling strong and itching to get to the foot section.
That was the first of two fueling mistakes I made throughout the race. In general, I make it a goal to eat roughly 200 calories an hour when I’m racing (unlike Laurie, who apparently has the metabolism of a bumble bee and downs 400 calories every hour). I never quite hit it, but I’ve learned that as long as I’m in that general range, I have enough energy to push hard without feeling sick or weighed down. However, I learned (or rather, re-learned) this weekend that the quality of the food is as important as the quantity. Of the 2500-ish calories I downed during our 16 hours of racing, only about 400 were of the salty variety. The rest were all sweet – bars and gummies, mostly – which probably would have been fine had I not gotten creative just before the last section and dumped a small bag of skittles into my mouth. The sickeningly sugary candy put me over the edge, and I spent about an hour fighting off nausea.
But I digress… Back to the course!
Because of the high and fast river conditions, race organizers elected to substitute the paddle section with a 15-mile ride back to the transition area in a heated school bus. Some folks worried that the luxurious digs would be deflating, but I welcomed the brief respite.
To keep conditions equal for everyone, race volunteers recorded the time when teams arrived at the bus, and stopped the official race clock until they were back at the TA. For some teams, that meant as much as an hour of time credit, as they had to wait for the shuttle to return from the last trip. We happened to arrive just as the bus was ready to take off, so our credit was less than half an hour.
As soon as we got back, we made a futile attempt at pulling on some dry clothes, grabbed our running shoes, and set off for a quick 5-ish mile out-and-back trek to two checkpoints. Brent’s stomach retaliated a bit during this stretch, and he contemplated taking a pitstop, but ever the competitor, my steel-nerved husband decided to gut it out (pun intended) until we returned to the TA again to pick up our second passport and retrieve the maps for a 15ish-mile foot orienteering section. Throughout the small state park, race designers had placed 21 checkpoints on various natural features. They were on hilltops, in gullies, and at stream crossings. There was one on an island (kudos to Brian for taking one for the team and swimming out to it!), another hidden in a culvert (no, I didn’t know what a culvert was either), and one at the end of a small pond.
As Brent was plotting the points and working on an execution strategy, Bruce and Brian lugged our bikes back to our TA and I loaded up Brent’s pack with food and changed into dry socks and new clothes. I was doing everything I could to avoid getting too cold, with visions of last year’s asthma attack at the Yough Extreme fresh in my mind.
Bruce and Brian returned with hot dogs and pulled pork sandwiches in hand, care of the race organization’s bbq tent. Though it’s been decades since I’ve even thought about hot dogs, at that moment, they smelled incredible, and I briefly contemplated trying one before wisely deciding that my stomach might yell at me later. I opted instead for the bag of pita chips that I’d thrown into my pack that morning, and happily crunched away as we set off into the woods.
Also not us, but a cool picture!
The navigation was technical and I’m sure many of the less experienced teams struggled mightily on this section. Though there were trails here and there, I would guess that we spent less than 20% of our time using them, opting instead for the contour lines and topographical features to show us the way. Brent, navigator extraordinaire, was incredible. I was seriously in awe, watching him read the terrain and, seemingly out of nowhere, lead us directly from point to point.
Overall, the orienteering course was a blast. I loved the format of having so many points in a concentrated amount of space, and I felt better than ever before running off-trail. I was steady on my feet, keeping up with the boys, and even lending an extra set of eyes as we scoured the woods for little orange flags.
We made up a fair bit of time on this section, moving from sixth or seventh place to fourth, and we were feeling good when we ran back into the TA just as the sun was setting. All that was left was 13 miles of mountain biking and a team challenge.
Ah, the team challenge – generally not my favorite part of an adventure race, but this one wasn’t so bad. We took advantage of the empty TA and opted to knock it out before tackling the single track.
Off to one side of race headquarters there was a small plot of land sectioned off. In the far corner sat three plastic barrels and two 1×4 planks. We had to get from one end of the course to the other, with only the barrels touching the ground.
Teams employed different strategies here.
NYARA attempted a make-shift barrel roll.
Photo c/o Rev3
Others went with a little balance beam action.
Photo c/o Rev3
It’s a bit hard to tell, but we went with more of a factory line approach, crowding onto one beam as we passed the third barrel and extra beam from one person to the next.
Photo c/o Rev3
All went smoothly, and 15 minutes later we were back on our bikes.
Rev3 had posted video footage of some of the mountain biking course, so we had a sense of what to expect, but the preview was shot during daylight hours in dry conditions. The constant downpours (not to mention the hail) had done a number on the trails, and while they were generally still rideable, they were both thick and slick, and I wasn’t comfortable at all as my wheels fishtailed from side to side.
I spent the first half of that last section mumbling curses under my breath as I pushed my bike up the steep hills and clutched my brakes going down. Gradually, though, my comfort increased, aided, I think, by the realization that my teammates were pushing their bikes up, too. By the second half of the ride, I finally began to enjoy myself, and I was almost sad to see it end when we rode into the finish at 11:30 PM.
We ended up finishing in fourth place on a speed-and-strength-heavy course, among some of the best racers in the country. Even better, our 16-hour outing allowed for half a night of solid sleep before we returned to the TA for the wrap up and awards the next morning. We sorted our gear, chatted with friends, and bid each other farewell so that Brent and I could make it home in time for an early Passover seder – for which we were actually semi-conscious!
All in all, a great start to the season.
I only wish we’d thought to get a team picture at the finish line. Because Chris Radcliffe is a pretty bad-ass photographer.
Team SOG, the overall winner of the 2011 Rev3 Epic Adventure
Check out Brent’s report for another GOALS perspective on the Rev3!