When Rodney and Amy announced last winter that they were pushing back NYARA’s Longest Day from May to September, my five-month-pregnant self jumped for joy.
By September, I would be 4.5 months postpartum and eager to dive back into racing. I knew I wouldn’t be in top shape, but I had every expectation of continuing, barring complications, to stay active for the duration of my pregnancy, and I hoped I would rebound relatively quickly.
And I did. I ran through 37 weeks of pregnancy, hiked until the morning I went into labor, and with the blessing of my midwives and nurses, was feeling well enough to return to activity right away – gently hiking within a few days of delivery, walking double-digit days within a couple weeks, and (slowly) running and biking by the time our daughter, Zoe, was a month old.
Zoe’s first Wissahickon hike – four days old.
So, Brian, Brent, and I set our sights on September 13 as the return of our well-tested trio, and I spent the summer doing intense, targeted workouts as often as I could. It wasn’t perfect. There were the three weeks in Wales where I did only modest hiking and a whole lot of baby-carrying (way more of a workout than I realized while I was doing it).
Hiking in Blaenavon, an old iron town in southeastern Wales
And the relative chaos when Brent and I both returned to work in late August and I tried to squeeze what had once been a manageable 60-hour workweek plus 10-15 hours of training into about 40 hours (in part, because Zoe’s staying home with me one day a week this semester).
Last long ride before the Longest Day (and the third annual Schuylkill (Metric-Plus) Century with my friend, Val).
But when we arrived at the Taconic Education Center early race morning – well organized and well rested, thanks to the fantastic course schematic that NYARA had sent out earlier that week that allowed us to sort our gear and food into pretty piles and still get to bed by 9:00 PM the previous night – I felt reasonably assured that I could at least finish the event. Beyond that, who knew?
After a couple hours with the maps and a lengthy bus ride to the start, we began with a creative orienteering prologue that had Brent running in one direction for five optional CP’s and me and Brian heading in the other for the four mandatory points.
We worked out our gear so that I had only a clif bar in my jersey and a bottle of water for that first section; there was more water and food staged at my bike, which I would retrieve at the end of the prologue, and I wouldn’t pick up my pack until the end of the paddle several hours later.
And so with nothing to carry, I ran easily alongside Brian through the woods, moving smoothly from point to point and even helping out with the nav in places, a new experience for me on the racecourse. We pulled into TA just as the studs of Team Rev3 – Jeff, Joe, Britt, and Greg – were rolling out, and we waited eagerly for Brent to arrive.
Me and Brian awaiting Brent’s arrival at the end of the prologue. This is the only picture we have from the race.
Within minutes, the always-strong Julia, Doug, Aaron, and John, running as a joint AAS/Rev3 venture for this race, came in, and not long after we saw Rev3 pass back through TA. “Apparently we have to do these points in order,” Joe yelled as they streamed by.
Brent came through a minute later, and since we had opted for caged pedals instead of clipless, we were on our bikes and riding off shortly after.
Brent’s navigation was spot-on and we all rode smoothly from checkpoint to checkpoint, crossing paths at regular intervals with Rev3 and AAS – something that would become a familiar refrain for the next 24 hours.
I was amazed at how strong I felt, how well I was riding, how alert and focused I was. I led the charge for checkpoints, negotiated the twisty-turny single track with ease, and had a blast doing it. And when we pulled into the next TA a couple hours later, we learned that we were the first team to arrive.
“You guys are doing great!” Amy cheered as we transitioned to our paddle gear.
“I know I’ll regret saying this later,” I responded, “but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt this good at the start of a race.”
We got onto the water and tethered together our two sit-on-top doubles, with me and Brian in front and Brent close behind. It wasn’t ideal, and we knew that four-person teams would have an edge on us, but we were confident that we weren’t going to lose the race on the water, so long as we paddled steadily.
We had twelve miles to cover down the Hudson River, and we made relatively quick work of it, though I noticed that my right hip and knee were tightening up about halfway through, no doubt because I’d only been in a boat three times in the preceding year, and it had probably been another year since I’d paddled in a sit-on-top.
Two and a half hours later (which felt far longer), we pulled onto the banks alongside AAS, who had been chasing us the entire paddle, nabbed the only checkpoint on the section (in a deep, dark cave on the river’s edge – so dark that we had to go back to the boats for a headlamp to find it), and then portaged the final 300 meters into the TA.
Rev3, we learned, had broken a derailleur and were working on a solution, but there was no question that they would recover quickly, and we knew we had to keep pushing to stay toward the front.
We set into the woods with AAS, trekking up a steep hill before shuffling along the ridges. It was raining steadily by this point, and my time away from the trails showed as I struggled to trust my footing on the slippery rocks. Still, we made relatively quick work of the section and before long were back on our bikes for a short ride to the next foot loop.
It was on that ride, eight hours in, that I began to feel the first hints of fatigue. I knew that under normal conditions, there are dips during any race and that I would bounce back sooner than later, but it had been more than a year since my last 24-hour event and I wasn’t confident that I had enough of a base to recover.
I tried to load up on calories, which helped a bit, and luckily we were off the bikes quickly enough that I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that we still had sixteen hours of racing in front of us. AAS had arrived not long before us and were already out in the woods. No other teams had checked in.
It was here where things got interesting. The rest of the race included a substantial foot rogaine and a 30+ mile ride back to the Taconic Center. The catch was that we could approach the trek from either the north or the south, or we could divide it into two separate sections.
We had talked at length about the best strategy for us here, and because it was already close to dark by the time we arrived at the TA, we opted to do a short loop from the northern end, nabbing only the closest four checkpoints before returning to our bikes for the ride back. We reasoned that:
- We wanted to be off our bikes before the coldest temperatures hit.
- It was easier to stay awake on foot than on bike.
- Saving the big foot loop for the end would allow us to better gauge whether we could clear the course.
So, we headed out on the trails for a counter-clockwise loop and waited to see how long it took for us to run into another team. I noticed as we ran that both of my IT bands were tight, but otherwise I felt strong again. And since there wasn’t anything to do about it at that point, I filed the information away to deal with later.
We hit the first point, then the second and the third before we heard voices. We assumed it was AAS, but we soon crisscrossed with Rev3, who were doing the same loop in the opposite direction. They had fixed Jeff’s bike so that he had six gears to work with and were now just a handful of minutes behind us on the course.
We got back to TA, where we learned that AAS was still out in the woods (it turned out that they split the two loops a bit more evenly and so stayed out for awhile longer, collecting more points from the northern end). After a less-than-efficient transition, we rode out into the night for one of the more painful sections of racing in recent memory. We thought that 30+ miles of roads and trails would take roughly 4 hours. But I found myself unable to keep pace with the guys, the fatigue from earlier catching up with me once again and my mental state going down with it (I later realized that my seat was also too high, which certainly accounted for some of the lack of power, but only some).
The further back I fell, the worse I felt, and by the time we made it to the hike-a-bike up the gnarled, broken trails, I was wondering why I had chosen to spend the weekend suffering in the woods rather than at home with our adorable, giggly four-month-old. Talking to our friends after the race, I learned that everyone struggled on this section, which provided some comfort that I hadn’t turned into a total wimp.
Finally, six hours later, we rolled into TA. The rain had stopped by then and we changed into dry clothes, loaded up on food, and headed back into the woods – but not before I snuck a peek at the photos of Zoe my sister had sent. That, combined with my warm fleece vest and a new pair of shoes, lifted my spirits, and I felt better as we set off for the first checkpoint.
Since I have no photos from the race, here’s one of the pictures my sister sent me from her weekend with Zoe.
But even as I felt mentally and muscularly strong, my IT bands locked up almost immediately, and I found myself hobbling on trekking poles for the next nine hours, barely able to walk downhill, let alone run.
Still, we moved relatively steadily through the first several checkpoints and continued to harbor hope that we could clear the course – a spectacular feat for a Rodney-and-Amy race.
At 3:00 in the morning, after a near-flawless race navigationally from Brent, we found ourselves in the middle of a sea of rhododendron as we searched for CP HH. We wandered back and forth in the darkness, knowing that we were only meters away, and yet we were unable to land on it.
I began to have flashbacks to the 2012 USARA National Championship in the Catskills, when we ran a stellar first half of the race, only to get mired in dense vegetation in the middle of the night and come out with zero checkpoints to show for it.
But 45 minutes later (by which point I was a bit of a zombie), one of the guys finally spotted the point. We collected ourselves, I took a shot of caffeine, and we continued on, moving smoothly through the final hours of darkness.
Until Brent caught his eye on a branch.
He reeled back in pain for several minutes, unable to see anything. Brian tried to clear it with his hose, but it was no use.
For the last few hours of the race, we were a sight to behold: me, hobbling on my trekking poles, and Brent, the one-eyed navigator, staggering down the trail and kneeling down every few minutes for Brian to squirt him in the face with water.
At 8:30 AM, we shuffled into the finish line, having cleared all but the three southernmost points of the course, good for second place. Brent estimated that we would have needed roughly an hour to get them, and there were thirty minutes left on the clock. If I’d been able to run faster and we had nailed HH, we probably could have done it, but as it was, we felt good about the race.
Rev3 came in at the same time we did, having cleared the course. AAS arrived not long after, having gotten all but four points. Team HalfwayThere was right behind them, having also missed four CPs.
I called my sister after we finished to see how Zoe had fared the night before.
“How did it go?” she asked.
“Well,” I replied, “I had about 10 good hours of racing in me.”
“And how long was it?”
“24 hours. The last 14 were a bit of a sufferfest.”
“Are you glad that you did it?”