Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pangea - Sea to Sea AR, 72hr Expedition (prep)

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Just when people were finally starting to grasp what it is that Canyoneros do for 8, 12, 30hrs at a time, we tell them we're going away for 72hrs--starting from one end of Florida and ending up on the other side.  We will touch the ocean on each side of Florida.  They chuckle at first, not fully realizing if we are joking.  It took them a while to figure out how long 12hrs of physical activity was.  Some were inspired, others were squirmish.  72hrs, on the other hand, is just not in anyone's dictionary.  Hell, not even in ours.  We may not fully comprehend it until we go through it.  But it's this exact unknown that excites the Canyoneros!

We Blame Pangea
Throughout last season, we had become friends with members of team We Blame Javan and even trained and raced a few races alongside with them.  This highly athletic team put some stability in our guns blazing days of training, of needing to set a record every time...like we needed to increase numbers until someone blew a knee out.  They likely halted our own inevitable path of breaking down by steering us in the right direction.  They had us training smartly.  Fortunately for them, they live to race beyond their own near-career ending injuries and are able pass that wisdom onto us.  Together, we are We Blame Pangea!  For without Pangea Adventure Racing, our lives would go on without the excitement that we would never have discovered had it not been for Pangea.

How do you know what gear you need?  How much food do you eat?  Where do you sleep?  How long does a pair of socks last?  My guess is as good as yours.  We won't know until race day.  We spoke to a number of experienced individuals and the strategy was all over the place.  We're even racing with a team who has done this race before.  Luckily there were a few common answers to key points, which made our planning a little easier.

Number one was food...make sure you bring "meals" as well as the typical gels and race food.  No one can muster eating a clif bar on day two, for example.  In fact, our teammates have even said they cannot even look at one to this day without having flashbacks or startling the gag reflexes.

Nate's nutrition

Number two centered around having ample clothing, notably for the feet.  Bring lots of socks and as many pairs of shoes as you have.  Make sure the socks are made of wool and not cotton, so they wick moisture.  They get a pounding with every step you take and once your feet blister up, they will degrade from there on out.  I actually did not own very many pairs of racing socks and shoes so I had to go out and buy many more, including another two pairs of Asics running shoes.  Better safe than sorry.

This was the first race Nate and I would have that required sleeping.  We bought sleeping bags and in February, temps can get pretty cold (for us).  We bought bags rated to allow you to survive through 20 degree F temps.

Lights also sparked a heavy debate.  We needed several batteries that could last 3 nights.  For me, that meant 6 lithium batteries for my headlamp and a pack of a dozen CR123A's for my handheld flashlight.  Others bought powerful flashlights that could scorch the earth or light up the sky.  I guess you can never have enough light while traversing technical biking trails in the middle of the night, looking for a control.

Without further ado, here's my list of gear (most of it, at least):
  • 8 pairs of shirts
  • 5 pairs of UnderAmour underwear
  • 2 pairs of waterproof bushwhacking pants
  • 1 pair of biking shorts
  • 1 pair of triathlon shorts
  • 6 pairs of wool socks
  • 3 pairs of running shoes
  • 1 pair of biking shoes
  • 1 waterproof jacket
  • 1 running sweater
  • 2 pairs of arm sleeves
  • 4 pairs of gloves
  • 20,000+ calories of food (chunk soups, ravioli cans, cans of chili, gels, waffles, energy chews, almond peanut butter, fruit bars, protein powder, electrolyte tabs, salt pills, various vitamin supplements, chips)
  • bike headlamp with 6 lithium batteries (each lasts 3.5hrs on full strength, up to 7 if you're conservative)
  • handheld flashlight with lots of CR123 batteries
  • headlamp with aaa batteries
  • glow sticks
  • camelbak hydration backpack
  • 2 compasses, 2 map cases, UTM ruler, paper, sticky tack
  • bike with tools, spare tubes, co2 pump and cartridges, spare chain link, tire levers, helmet, pedometer, map board
  • paddles, dry bag, seat cushion
  • pens, carabiners, swiss army knife, ruler, watch, first aid kit, storage bags
  • credit card, cash, driver's license
  • duct tape, moleskin, lube, toothbrushes, floss, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, deoderant
  • sleeping bag, duffle bag
  • tons of other misc. items

The Team
We spent about a full week packing our bins and gathering last minute items.  The team was in great spirits, anxious, excited, and at times a little intimidated for what is to follow.  Facebook become our number one means of communication.  We joked around about sleep deprivation, hallucinations, and signs of when the navigator is falling apart.  For this race, we will be switching navigators depending on whoever has the most focusing power at the moment.  Signs included making stupid navigational errors, becoming mute, and having manic rages.

The Strategy
The strategy is to clear the course.  It sounds bold and simple, but this is coming from two teams who have had brushes with success in the rankings before.  We're putting all of our knowledge and experience into this one race.  We know we have the capability, we just need to apply it to 72hrs.  How we pace ourselves, how we tend to problems that arise, and how we cope with sleep deprivation will be new to us in vast length of a race.

However, we know very well that every race is different, and on this one, there will be cutoff times penalizing you mid race, if you do not reach a certain point within a certain time frame.  We'll react accordingly as see fit during the race.  The beauty of adventure racing is that you usually do not get a course map until the morning of.  It keeps you on your toes.  It levels the playing field to a certain extent, as everyone is just as clueless as you.  Heck, every team is going to plan a unique route to the finish.

In the weeks leading up to the Sea 2 Sea adventure race, we have had training sessions 6 days a week, topped with a 4-6hr long endurance session on Saturdays.  We hope that's enough to allow us to last 72.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pangea - Resolution AR, Elite 8hr

It almost never fails that the Resolution AR starts out with temperatures in the 30s or 40s F, and today was certainly no exception.  With the wet and wind chill, it did not feel like it went much higher during the day.  We raced around Lake Apopka Restoration Area, which I learned last night that it used to be one of the most booming fishing areas, but now has one of the most polluted lakes in FL due to some illegal pesticide disposals back in the 80s.  Efforts are being made to reverse this.

Foot 1
So onto the race.  Foot 1 was a warm-up section with two controls.  Tim was our speedy rabbit with the punch card.  We quickly came back and transitioned out onto bikes.  New for Nate and I were the use of clipped-in shoes, which improves efficiency, but adds a couple minutes to transition.

Bike 1
The map looked really basic.  Simple rectangular trails for the most part.

The tricky part was that they threw in some close parallel trails with a canal in between, and you really couldn't cross from one trail to another at any point you wanted to.  It made route choice important, almost maze-like.  We picked up CP3 and 4 heading towards the Boat TA.  It actually had us measuring a few route options before settling on the absolute shortest distance.

Boat TA
The start gave us a couple options in route choice here as well.  You could have portaged the boats on the yellow hard-packed trail to CP8, or simply paddle the longer distance to it.

We chose to paddle down to make use of going with the wind.  Upon collecting CP9 and then 8, we changed our minds to portage back to the boat TA to re-launch the canoe up to CP10, 11, 12, and then 13.

Bill and Tim showing us the way with canoes on their shoulders

The winds were fierce going up to CP10, but not the worst we've experienced.  It tried to blow us east, but I think we did a great job keeping the line.  While approaching CP11, we took note of how clear the swamp forest was, in hopes of portaging our boats across land towards CP13.  Once we identified a workable entry, we grabbed CP12 and headed right back to the spot.

The bushwhack with canoe was quite an experience.  We pulled, carried, lifted, and pushed our canoes across 150m of lush swamp forest.  It's not quick going, but it beat the other option of staying on water and going the longer 1.3km route.

Bike 2
This leg consisted of picking up some controls enroute to the Main TA.  No drama here, as CP5, 6, and 7 were relatively straightforward.

Foot 2
We gathered CP14, 15, 16, 17, and headed back the same way.  We thought we could bushwhack directly from 16 to 17, but the forest presented was too thick.  We chose a different attack point and it was much easier to identify the lone palm tree.  Lots of thorns there!

Bike 3
We gathered CP18 and 19 as we made our way to Keen Ranch TA to start the orienteering course.  Any time we had the option to stay on the yellow trails, as opposed to the white trails, we did.  It was hard-packed dirt road suitable for much faster biking, and hence approached CP18 from the east.

Orienteering Course
Everything seemed to be smooth sailing up to this point.  It was only a little after 4hrs in, and we had plenty of time left in this 8hr race.  With two sections left, we figured we'd blaze to the finish around 6 or 7hrs with the way things had been going.

Not so fast here.  This orienteering course made or broke teams.

provided O-course map as I recall it

There wasn't much to go off of on the map in terms of trails, colors, or landmarks, besides some scattered clearings, or circular fields with not many tall trees.

Nate going down into the abyss

After punching CP29, we went and followed a trail not too far west from it, but it led us deep south.  Too far south, almost to the canal below it.  Luckily we ran into Craig Sheriff's team.  He was gracious enough to point us to where CP28 was.  He also told us of his experience of trying to gather the next CP27.  Seeing how covered in seeds he was, we decided to take a chance of doing his suggested route:

We gave it a try and instantly ran into private property at the bottom--fail.  The team then voted to get us back to the best known spot, the Keen Ranch TA again.  Wow, that was going to be a lot of distance.  So we jogged all the way back and ran the course in reverse.  The bushwhack from control to control was slow going!  Dense vegetation, clothes-clinging sharp thorns, vines, plumes of pollen, swamp, you name it, it was all there crammed together (watch video below in high quality).

From CP26, we got 27 and then headed back to the TA by following a series of clearings northeast and running into a trail that led us directly to it.

Bike 3 (continued)
With an hour and change left, Nate and the others meticulously calculated out how things were looking with regards to time with my estimated distances left.

The rest of the CPs formed a giant clockwise loop, that once you started, it made sense to commit to the rest of them.  There was only one control at CP24 you could cut out, but calculations stated it only took 6 minutes to retrieve that.  We biked furiously on this leg, almost the entire time after CP21.  I don't know where the power and speed came from, but with time ticking, the entire team kicked into another gear we had not seen the whole race, and it was amazing.

Once we arrived near CP22 and were suspected not to make it back on time, I made the call to just grab it.  We did, and it took 5½ minutes only.  We had cleared the entire course, which is always a satisfying achievement for us.  And as we continued furiously, it was apparent that we would be over the time limit, and that it would be pushing very close to the two-point penalty at the 10-min overtime mark.

Luckily, we crossed the finish line just fast enough.  The race ended with us winning first all-male team!  Although we came in 8 minutes late, with a one point overtime penalty, our scoring was still high enough to rank us fourth overall.  Grabbing that last control ended up being a good call because even if we did not pick it up, we still would have come in late.

Teams We Blame Javan and Canyoneros joined together at the Resolution AR to sort out some team work and to test some new strategies before racing the Sea2Sea AR together next month.  Bill Dean and Robert Jordan are the two steady racers for We Blame Javan, but Robert was out with a cold, so in came Tim Cowan on half a day's notice (one of the primary members for team Swamp Gators).

Bill Dean (left), Nate Whitaker, me (Hien Nguyen, attacked by seeds), Tim Cowan