Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Extreme Heat: McDowell Night Adventure Race

My plans Saturday changed abruptly from lazily biking around the Tour de Fat Festival in Tempe while guzzling a Fat Tire to running and biking around in the dark cold desert looking for orange markers hanging off cactus in the Extreme Heat Night AR at McDowell Mountain Park just north of Phoenix. A good trade-off right? The race director Rick shot our team an email Saturday morning to persuade Team ODP to come out to defend our title in the third and final race of the series taking place that evening. After ringing up Sarah and talking her into doing it (she was already at the festival and had already had a Fat Tire), I threw my stuff together and started to try to hydrate myself from Friday night's hard workout and subsequent brewery activities.

The race started at 6 pm just as the sun was setting with 5 quick orienteering points scattered around the TA. It was basically just a mad sprint to try to grab all five before the first mystery event. The challenge event was to throw a frisbee into a fire pit about 30 feet away. Now Sarah and I both play ultimate frisbee so our frisbee throwing skills show had given us an advantage, umm nope. The discs we got to use were not exactly UPA standard 175g discs. Even Tom Brady would have problems playing the Superbowl with a nerf football. So we sucked like everyone else and eventually got the disk in the pit after it skipped off another competitor.

We jumped on our bike for four more checkpoints just as it became mostly dark. Since we hadn't planned on racing, Sarah and I had to scramble last minute for some bike lights to ride with. Sarah borrowed our friend's moto lights which while bright as hell, weighed a ton and had to be taped on to the handlebars because the clasp was too big. I on the hand just opted to use a really crappy old LED commuter light which I also had to tape on to my bike along with my brand new L&M Stella 200 headlight. This headlight is great as a secondary light source (mostly used for on helmets) but really isn't bright enough for technical single track at speed in complete dark. It ended up working just fine for this course though.

The first part of the ride is a long gradual uphill on double track. It isn't hard, but there are just enough sandtraps to slow down the beginner biker. Sarah and I cranked hard on this section passing about 4 or 5 teams until we were out in front. Riding through sand like this takes a little bit of speed, a little bit of finesse with steering, and the ability to jerk your front wheel against the direction it wants to take while pedaling hard. The checkpoints were very easily put at main trail junctures so we were able to collect all of them easily (for once). Once we got to the single track, we got passed by one men's team, but were were able to open up our lead on third a little more. There wasn't any real technical parts to the riding so lights weren't really an issue and we came back into the TA with no mishaps and solidly in 2nd place among all teams.

Back at the TA we had to complete another challenge using 5 blocks of wood to transport the both of us around a cone without touching the ground. I am not sure our technique was that good, but we got it done.

The final four checkpoints were trekking covering about ~7ish miles. We took off down a dark rocky path and it was definitely a little weird for me with my knee. I don't wear my big brace anymore but I probably should have on this. I usually am real careful about off road running because I just don't trust my knee yet, but in the dark, you don't really have that luxury. As I stated in my last post, I have been having knee issues for a couple of weeks and hadn't ran in over 3 weeks. We were currently in second place but I know that both our nav and our running abilities were probably inferior to some of the teams behind. The night was too beautiful to worry about that though.

We got the first CP easily, but promptly wasted time looking for second one in several wrong washes. The third place team caught us at this time and we followed them for a bit before one their teammates starting cramping and we passed them again. We followed the wash sort of just following it in whatever direction it meandered because we were looking to hit a service road which was on the map. When we finally hit a road and saw a semi truck pass us, we realized that we were not on the right road. We somehow had taken a wrong branch of the wash and ended up missing the road and running an additional ~1 mile out of the park onto the main road leading into town. An extra .5 mile run would get us back to where we needed to be.

ARGHHHH. Well it wouldn't be an ODP race if we didn't screw up at at least once.

When we finally got to the next checkpoint after reentering the park, we saw a team up ahead of us a ways. We knew we had been passed by some people that hadn't screwed up so that was a little disheartening. At this point, we had two checkpoints and a couple miles left to go and I was really starting to limp. I think it was making my hold stride off because I had a strange sharp pain in my opposite foot and my back was killing me. But honestly, running at night seems to take away all your senses and leave you with only one small circle of light to follow and other than stopping occasionally to stretch, we were still running decently.

We followed a mountain biking trail which is used for technical competitions up over a ridgeline. It had some hairy descents for being on foot (or with a bike) and I think I slowed up because we could see some lights behind us slowly catching up. As we got to CP 9, they caught us and we all ran together to CP 10. I was starting to struggle badly at this point and it took everything I had to hang onto the back of them.

After CP 10, it was just a race for the two teams back to the TA. I was sure that I couldn't keep up with them, but then I saw the TA lit up and glowing off in the distance and I felt this surge of energy come over me. I picked up the pace and Sarah followed passing the team and sprinting across the line as the third place official team and first in the women's division. We hung around a campfire made by burning the wood mystery event planks while cheering on the other finishers. It was freezing (upper 40s) once we stopped moving.

A big thanks to Rick Eastman, owner of Sierra Adventure Sports for motivating us to get out butts out there and finish up the series we started. All picture were stolen off his site.

No comments: