• Odyssey Adventure Racing's Wild, Wonderful 24-hour AR

  • 2012 Checkpoint Tracker Nationals in Oak Hill, WV

  • Earning #3 in the nation plaques at USARA Nationals

  • Check out our latest clinic on Stan's No Tubes!

  • Two co-ed squads tackle the 24-hr Cradle of Liberty

by Melissa Eddison

There's always time for a selfie

Saturday, April 12, 2014.  Paul Morris, Dave Wall, and myself tackled The Breakdown 15 Hour Adventure Race.  We arrived on the VA/Kentucky border the afternoon before (Friday) to check out some of the surrounding trails and take in what the “Grand Canyon of the East” had to offer.  It is no doubt, gorgeous.

Breaks Interstate National Park is a beautiful park and ideal for hosting an adventure race. Cabins, rooms, cottages, campgrounds, dining facility for post race dinner, conference hall for pre-race meeting, trails, views, this place had it all.

We got our maps, plotted our points, and studied our potential routes.  We caught wind that the course may not be clearable at our level, so we started to brainstorm some strategic points to drop if needed.  I’m glad we put so much thought into this part because these decisions ended up being some of the best ones we made all day.

6 AM.  We plotted a point for the prologue and made our way down there with the masses. The field was still pretty crowded as we all crashed through sleeping rhododendron bushes that were none to pleased to be trampled.  The bushes fought back with a vengeance; worse than the mountain laurel!

Evidence of a breakdown

The field spread out as we went for CP2.  Here, we made a poor route choice.  We started attacking high, but changed our minds.  Instead of following the switchbacks of the trail we were on, we just cascaded straight down.  The rocks were covered in moss and I said to Dave behind me, “these rocks are slippery!”  Right as I said that, my feet shot out from under me and I landed on my ass.  It wasn’t a far fall, the steep grade caught me early, but I came down really hard on my elbow, forearm, and pinkie/hand.  It felt like lightning bolts were stabbing me all up and down my arm, like all the nerves were going crazy.  I could barely bend my fingers and couldn’t feel my hand.  Dave and Paul were up ahead so I brushed it off, thinking the intense funny bone feeling would go away.

While on the road, I told my teammates what happened and that I would keep them posted on how my hand was doing.  My elbow and forearm were fine, but my fingers were still feeling funny.  Paul looked at my quickly swelling fingers and told me my ring was going to need to come off.  He ripped it off my fingers while I fought back tears. He looked me in the eye and said, “You might have some broken fingers.  Can we make it to the first TA and reassess from there?”  Yea. I can do that.

The next hour was tough.  We traversed down to this massive gorge and attempted to follow the river to the planned crossing at CP4 on some inflatable kayaks.  We got cliffed-out and had to wade into waist deep water on slippery rocks and against a strong current.  Finally, we had to climb inch-by-inch up to the road.  Morale was low at this point.  Some ground bees stung Dave and we could basically see the river crossing, but had to go way up and then way down again to get there.

We made it to the first TA and I decided that I could grip my handlebars and was okay to ride even though my hand was still messed up.  We rode approximately 50 feet and then pushed our bikes up this crazy steep rocking root-y trail.  I thought it was bad, but the worst hike-a-bike was yet to come.  The next TA came quick and we were on foot again.  We hit the next few CP’s spot on thanks to Dave’s primary navigation and Paul’s intermittent input.

All of a sudden, it got really hot.  We all felt unprepared for the heat and quickly slathered sunscreen and glugged water.  We dropped our first CP, #6, which was smart because afterward we heard that it was a crazy climb up to get there.  We needed to save our energy for climbs ahead.

We got back to our bikes and rode, but 1.5k later we were pushing the bikes up rough terrain for what seemed like eternity.  I was close to mentally falling apart at this point.  Paul started towing me while we were pushing, which I didn’t think was possible, but it made a world of difference.  I have never felt so close to puking in an adventure race before, but I refused to tell Paul and Dave how much I was suffering.  They seemed like they were flying up the mountain as if their bikes made of carbon or something.  I decided not to tell them that I was ready to heave up my Allen Lim portables, as if that would somehow make it a reality.  Instead, I just kept my mouth shut and somehow we got to the top without my stomach exploding.  At this point, we made another strategic decision to only go for CP11 and drop CP10 given the rough terrain and brutally steep climb up to CP11 on the ridge.  For this, I was grateful.  I just wanted to get to the leg named “bomb downhill” to the paddle.

Grown-ups playing with markers

After punching CP11, another team arrived, noticed our jerseys and asked if we worked at Spokes, Etc. or were sponsored by the bike shop.  Turns out a racer on that team was from Annandale, VA and loves Spokes, Etc. and I couldn’t help but wonder about this small world moment atop a mountain in Kentucky.  Then it was time to go and we did bomb downhill off the other side of the ridgeline more than 1,000 feet and arrived at Flanagan Reservoir in a flash.

The paddle was awesome.  The breeze was up, the water felt great, and we flew to each point like there was a motor on our kayak.  We got to the trek section midway through the paddle and heard from some other racers that the terrain was abysmal and just getting CP17 took them way longer than they expected.  This took the wind out of our sails.  Right then we made a critical decision to bail on the second foot O-course section altogether and head back towards home to bag some points closer to the finish that were too easy to pass up.

Heading home raised our spirits and we realized that we still had to move with urgency since we were racing the clock and knew it was going to be tight and every CP bagged could make the difference.  We jammed through the 20k bike of rollers and hit the 3 CP’s around the Garden Hole and Waterfall as the sun was setting.  Rolling into the park around dark, we had exactly 1 hour and 4 CP’s to hit.

I was starting to fall apart, having run out of food and kicking my camelback.  Dave towed me up what were tiny hills compared to what we had climbed earlier, but these minor bumps in the park felt just as hard.  Both Paul and Dave kept me focused on the finish line even though my stability was waning.  We didn’t get to hit all the points right around the finish line, but caution won the day and we managed to avoid that alluring siren’s song begging you to sweep the final section.  Better to finish with a 10 minutes to spare and 3 out of 4 CP’s in the final MTB leg (of which only three (3) other teams accomplished) than risk missing the time cutoff and have 15 hours of work go down the drain.  I used up everything in my tank getting back to the finish, determined to end strong, and we did it!  Turns out, we placed 4th in the Coed Division and 6th overall, earning us an invitation to USARA National Championships! Woohoo!!

The ever-friendly Race Directors, Dallas and Shawn announced at the pre-race meeting that 2015 USARA Nationals will be in this same Breaks Interstate Park area along the VA/KY border (specifically Pine Mountain State Resort Park – Pineville, Kentucky – October 1-3, 2015) – so I’ll definitely be back!  This was definitely the hardest race I have done, but with great teammates and staggering scenery, I can’t complain.

Quick note:  hand bruising and swelling took a turn for the worse post-race on Sunday, but eventually got an X-Ray to confirm no broken bones!  Big relief.  I owe a huge thanks to Paul and Dave for racing alongside me and all our sponsors for their continued support of TeamHalfwayThere.  The Breakdown AR was lots of fun and well worth the suffering!

Resources

by T.J. Hoff

Brooks Cascadia's Don't Fail Me Now

As new Adventure Racers enter the scene a common question we always hear is, “What shoes are best for Adventure Racing?” This is probably the most difficult question to answer because everybody is so anatomically different that it truly has to be an individual decision.  What we can do, is provide information based on our own personal experiences in Adventure Racing to give the individual a starting point to help guide them in the right direction.

Adventure Racing is a little more ‘extreme’ than your normal trail run and racers need to understand the importance to taking care of his/her feet. Foot care is directly proportionate to the difficulty and length of a race. The longer the race, the more attention a racer MUST give to taking care of their feet. One can never be too prepared and should always have a foot care kit at each race.

When picking any type of running shoes, one should really try to understand what type of runner they are. Do they heel-strike, are they a mid-foot runner or are they on their toes all the time and a forefoot runner? They also should determine their pronation, do they over-pronate, under-pronate (supinate), or are they a neutral runner. This can all be figured out at a good running store where they have fitting specialist who will either use lasers, or videotape the individual on a treadmill.

Another factor to be considered when choosing shoes is the heel-to-toe drop. This is the difference in millimeters from how high the heel is off the ground compared to the toes or forefoot. Most common shoes range around the 12mm mark, but in the last few years ‘minimalist’ shoes have exploded in popularity which range from a 4mm to 0mm drop. Altras which is becoming a popular company in the ultra running arena touts their Zero Droptm technology and have a wide array of shoe types from casual to stability. One Adventure Racer has been quoted saying his Altras shoes are “Stupid comfortable”.

Also when selecting and trying shoes, a racer should consider some of the following:

  • Weight – Studies have been done to show the impact of shoe weight over distance when running. That said one should realize that when a manufacture reduces the weight of a shoe, it is normally at the expense of some other feature. It may be the cushion of the sole, the integrity of the upper weave, or the comfort
  • Water Resistance/Wicking/Breathability– With Adventure Racing anyone can bet that their feet are going to get wet at least once during a race. Knowing that, a racer should look at how a shoe resists water and compare that with how a shoe wicks away water as well as the breathability of the shoe. These are all lumped together because they are all somewhat related. Some trail shoes use Gore-Tex® which is generally heavier and though Gore-Tex® is breathable a person’s feet will still sweat in hot conditions and will probably not dry out as fast as a good breathable wicking shoe and sock combination.
  • Tread/Lug Pattern – Another feature people should pay attention to when buying trail shoes is the Tread/Lug Pattern of the shoe. Adventure Racing has every type of terrain from desert sand to jungle mud. When trying out trail shoes a racer should test the tread pattern of a shoe and see how it works for them. Some shoes have a more aggressive tread pattern which could sacrifice comfort and others have a smooth tread pattern reducing traction and grip.
  • Laces – One shoe feature that Adventure Racers commonly don’t think about is the laces of a shoe. Laces play an important role in regards to efficiency during  Adventure Races. Multiple times throughout a race, racers will have to change between their trail shoes to their biking shoes which can really be a time suck in transitions. If the conditions are really muddy or frozen, it can be difficult for a racer to tie or untie their shoes when swapping them out. Solomon and Hoka have a quick-lace system which allows the racer to pull tightly on the lace and a clasp to stop the shoe from loosening. Some racers replace the traditional laces with Lock Laces.  However, quick lace systems have their ups and downs. Some don’t tighten the shoe enough and some over-tighten the shoe and it’s hard for a racer to find the right comfort level with using them. If a racer does find them comfortable, they will increase their efficiency in a transition by a lot.

"Stupid Comfortable"

Some other shoes commonly seen in Adventure Racing are the Brooks Cascadia, which is probably the most popular trail shoe on the market, Salomon’s Mantra, XA, XT and Speedcross, and Hoka Mafate, Kailua (womens), or Stinson. Occasionally, you will see some Scott, and Netwons as well as many others.

Hokas seem to be popular with ultra runners and one teammate credits them to being “…injury-free since my miserable Summer of The Boot”. She goes on to say “One of the best things about using them is that they force a mid-foot strike, rather than my normal heel strike”. When describing the cushioning of a Hoka she says “I compare it to the first couple of runs on brand new running shoes, how they feel all bouncy and fresh. The Hokas feel like that all the time”.

Other racers have described the Brooks Cascadia as the “Best trail shoe on the market”. The Cascadia is Brook’s flagship trail shoe that has maintained its popularity with trail runners throughout its nine generations. They seem to really attract Adventure Racers so much that one racer has recently been quoted as saying “I have a pair of Cascadias that I want to love…but the drop seems too much for me”.

Ultimately, it really does depend on the individual and what works for them. The best advice that anyone can give a person asking about what shoes to wear for Adventure Racing should be, “Go out and try different shoes and see what works best”. Shoes are not cheap, so one may want to consider going to an online outlet store to buy a previous generation shoe at a discounted price, or even go into a local running store to see if they have a reduced rack. After trying a few pairs, one may find that they like a certain pair of trail shoes for dry conditions and another for wet or muddy conditions. It’s a trial and error effort that will determine what works best.

by Paul Ruchlin

In this winter of our discontent… or at least frustration with the seemingly never ending cycle of snow and soggy trails, Spring shone through for one spectacular day on March 22 for the EX2 Adventures 6-Hour Cranky Monkey at Rosaryville.  11 miles of sometimes hilly, sometimes twisty, a bit of technical and often fast and flowy single track in southeastern, MD, Rosaryville is a mountain biker’s delight and a great race venue.  And EX2 are champs at putting on great races.

As we did last year, superstar THWT racer Michelle Faucher and I teamed up for the 2-Person Coed division.  Neither of us having been as faithful to Winter conditioning (See the first sentence of this report for our lame excuses) as we would have liked, our expectations on entering were somewhat on the low side.  Just days before the race, it’s running was in serious doubt.  But, having shed the 7.5 inches of snow from the Monday prior and somehow nearly all of the moisture as well, the trails ended up in fantastic condition.  A few damp spots and tiny mud puddles, but overall, really good conditions.  Race start at 10:00 am saw mostly cloudy skies and temps in the high 40’s.  Not bad for racing, but a little chilly for sitting and waiting for your teammate to complete her lap.

As the pack came by from the start for lap #1, Michelle was nicely positioned in the middle and I settled in for the hour+ wait for her to complete her round.  It ended up being close to 1:20, but much of that was due to the ever present trail crowding at the start of such races.  And so off I went on my first lap.  One reason I like going second is that it really helps my tendency to start out way too fast.  I don’t have that contagious urge to sprint it out for the first several miles and burn myself out.  So I was able to set myself up at a comfortable pace that I could maintain.  And I clearly needed warming up because for the first 2-3 miles my legs felt like blocks of concrete.  I told you I wasn’t in great shape, and I have a metric boat-load of excuses as to why my legs are tight and lazy, yada, yada, yada….

Finally, the quads stopped resisting and I got more comfortable, especially in the climbs.  Now I could begin to be concerned about my bike problem.  These days I’m sporting a new Specialized Stumpjumper Expert Carbon Hardtail.  THANK YOU SPOKES, ETC. for the awesome new ride.

One Smooth Operator

Over the past week I’d been attempting to switch out to ride tubeless, but had some issues and was still tubular on my rear wheel.  It was a total surprise when race morning I loaded my bike on my car, to find the rear tire flat.  Uh oh.  I had no time to switch anything out and knowing it had held air for nearly a week, without my riding it, I figured I could fill it and make it through my laps for the day.  But, as a precaution, I also loaded up my Stumpjumper FSR as a back-up. Just as my legs loosened up, I glanced down at my rear wheel to see it was significantly lower than when I’d started.  At this rate, I’d be flat by mile 4 or 5.  I did have cartridges with me, but no spare tube.  DUH!!!!  That was pretty stupid.  I hoped, if it continued to leak that I’d be able to fill it with a cartridge to get me back to the T/A and either fix it or switch bikes for lap #2.  A couple of more miles, glancing at it every few hundred meters (How European of me.  I think we should switch to metric, though that will totally F— my golf game), I realized, it was low, but had not gotten any lower.  Well that was interesting.  At this point I started thinking I might stop just prior to where the course enters the inner and much more technical portion of the course, with several log obstacles.  The tire seemed to be holding up on the outer trail, but I was concerned the jarring over logs and things might be the proverbial “camel.”  I finally decided, not wanting to stop and lose time or the position I’d made, having passed several riders, including at least one in our division, that I’d see how it goes and only stop to fill the tire if I had to.

My decision paid off as I completed my lap without having to stop, in 1:10:53.  Lucky?  Or steely-nerved strategery?  Hmmmmm………

Somewhere along the way here I’d contemplated a whole plan for correcting my dilemma.  I’m not sure how I was able to do that whilst racing, bumping, jarring, and pedaling, but by the time I got to passing off our timing chip to Michelle for her second lap I had it all worked out.

Instead of trying to change tires, I would simply swap my back wheel with the back wheel off my other bike.  Easy!  Oh wait, I then remembered that earlier in the week I’d tried putting that wheel on this bike and for whatever reason, despite both having 160 mm rotors, the Avid brake disc wouldn’t fit right in my Magura caliper.  Ah, but changing the brake rotors isn’t hard at all and I’d have an hour to do that.  So after wolfing down a half a peanut butter sandwich and some Skratch hydration I got in to pit crew mode.

It took me all of 15 minutes to swap out the rotor and the wheel from my spare bike slipped easily in to place.  Well, that was even more painless than I’d expected.  Proud of myself as I’m not a particularly “technical” guy, I sat down to relax, ate and drank some more, waiting for Michelle.  After a few minutes it finally occurred to me, not being a “technical” guy, that perhaps I should maybe test this new combination out………..just to be sure.  I hopped on the bike to give her a go and………….

Oooooooooooh, that does NOT sound good.  Horrible, ugly grinding in my gears.  And shifting gears was a different ugliness altogether.  So now someone can educate me on cassette and derailleur differences, because I had no idea.  Sometimes it would shift, sometimes it wouldn’t.  If it did shift it then tried to shift back without my using the shifter.  And the grinding……….the horrible, terrible grinding (tear running down my cheek).  Well THAT’S not going to work.

Me Love Log

Ok, plan 2B.  I swapped the rotors back, put my original wheel back on the bike and since I made it through the first lap I figured I could make it through the second lap.  I pumped up my tire to about 40 lbs, much higher than I’d normally ride with the damp trails, and had about another 10 minutes to relax before Michelle came in to transition.  Lap #2 went pretty much the same.  The tire deflated to a point (I discovered later about 18 lbs) and then stabilized once again.  I rode another good lap, only about a minute slower and it went without incident.

Well, except for that part where I almost killed the photographer.  Negotiating the largest log obstacle on the course I managed to endo, coming down pretty much right on top of Bruce, from Swim Bike Run Photography.  Sorry Bruce.  Luckily he managed to guide me aside from crushing him as I descended. He asked if I was ok, I asked, more importantly, if his camera was ok (I’m pretty sure it cost more than my bike).  No carnage to be found I was up and off again, this time to finish without incident.  No really.

I made it in under the cutoff time and wished Michelle well on what would be our final lap.  Michelle came back in and completed our race.  We were both pleasantly surprised with our 4th place finish, adding another EX2 pint glass to our collections.  In all another great day, which had managed to skyrocket to the high 60’s, of biking, and adventures with friends and teammates.