Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Wildcat Mountain Chronicles: Couch Jockey No More


I'd like to start this second part with "Go!" Or something exciting about the starting gun.  And while that would be accurate it's not appropriate.  

When the 9:00am start didn't happen I sort of assumed it would bump to 9:30 or 10:00.  There were still people gone dropping off boats and bikes.  I knew Kris and his son Andy were still out.  So when Steve of the Sheltowee Trace Association called for everyone to gather 'round at 9:15 or so I guessed it was to announce when we would be starting.  He did a quick roll call, told us to line up on the cross walk, and in short order someone called "Go!"

Kris and Andy (and presumably others) had not returned to town.

The online race description states that the sprint/run from the start to the boats was only a tenth of a mile.  Memory told me it was longer (I've been to Livingston before and even visited the put in once) but I trusted in the local organizers to have a more accurate reckoning than my aging brain could muster.  The run was seven tenths of a mile as a matter of fact which was closer to my memory than the advertised distance.

If I had trusted my own judgement I may have chosen running shoes instead of mtb shoes, but who's to say it would have been a better choice.  Some would say training for the race would have been a better choice.  My wife's position is that our training-plan-of-no-training just proves people who do train are wasting their time.

Anyway, fashion choices aside, I got into the water probably 2/3 back from the leaders.  Over the four mile paddle I passed between five and ten other racers which—as far as I could tell—put me squarely into the middle or upper 2/3 of the twenty-six person field.  I passed one strong looking racer paddling a tandem kayak by himself.  He was pirouetting all over the river and I dropped him like a rock.

I felt really good about my showing on the river but was happy to be on the bike.  There was a sloppy slog up from the river to the road with my boat, but it was a small price to pay to move on down the course.

I took off from the transition sure that I was going to get passed by a lot of people on the bike.  I was riding a single speed mountain bike on what ended up being an entire bike segment on pavement.  Instead right off the bat I passed two people on the first climb up US 25.  I was passed by two different racers at the same time, but I wasn't dropping off the back.  At the bottom of the descent from 25 Andy passed me and disappeared on down the road.  Andy?

And on the long climb up from Hazel Patch I passed and dropped three while only losing ground to two.  One of those two was Kris.  Kris?!

"How did you catch up?" I called after him.

"It was hard!" He called back.  He offered to let me draft him up the hill.  I'm friends with too many comedians.

While Andy, Kris, and the tandem kayaker passed me on the Hazel Patch climb I passed at least that many myself on the SSB.  By the top of the climb I had legitimately dropped a handful of racers.  I was happy to see the transition point simply because it meant I was progressing and moving on down the course.

I've not been running or riding much lately.  I've ran less than I've ridden.  My best effort of late were a couple of flat, slow and easy two mile runs at the city park.  Six miles on a rolling ridge was going to test my off the couch abilities.

I settled into about an 11:30/mile pace. It was steady and felt sustainable.  I wanted to run as much as I could.  A couple of runners passed me and again, I passed as many as passed me.

Once I settled into a rhythm I pondered the course.  It was a great course.  The race has huge potential.  And I had been having fun along the way.  What concerned me was the absolute lack of course markings.  There were no painted arrows on the paved sections.  There were no signs.  There were no colored ribbons marking the way.  There were no corner marshals.  Nothing.  Nada.  Negatory.

I knew Mandy would blow a gasket if she got lost.  I knew she would be pissed if she simply wasn't sure of the right route.  And I imagine many others would be mad too.  I'm very comfortable following my nose.  I can navigate on the fly instinctively.  It's one of my solid talents in life.  But I was still unsure if I was on the right path.

Then I came to a confusing split in the road.  Thankfully before I had to decide left or right Kris came running back from the left and called: "Don't go that way!"

Apparently more than a few people had.  I turned right and fell in step with Kris and we ran most of the rest of the race together though he had to adjust his pace to match my slow and steady.  Turns out he had missed the start as he was still coming back from dropping off their bikes so he had to really hoof it to catch back up.  And was crushing it at that.

I knew we were still a ways out from town and saw that I had been running for six miles.  I had a sinking suspicion that the six miles trail run was BS.  And with all of the unmarked turns, splits, and side roads I was convinced I needed to beat feet back up to Wildcat Mountain after I finished to track down my wife before she could find a race organizer to murder.

Then a small pickup approached Kris and I from ahead.  I assumed it was just some local driving around until I saw my bike in the bed of the truck.  I stopped short.

“Hey baby!” came a familiar call from inside the cab.  Turns out Mandy had been advised to take last year’s route and once she realized she was lost she asked her advisor—a local volunteer fireman who had been told the course was the same as the previous year—if he would give her a ride back to town.  He obliged, and was upset that he had led her astray, though in his defense…

Somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to finish in less than three hours.  That was when I thought the race was a total of fifteen miles.  I didn’t keep up with my time, but I did keep checking the distance.  Sixteen miles. Seventeen miles.  Kris and I finally, after what seemed like nearly a half marathon of running, reached the Rockcastle River.  Wading across in the strong current I felt somewhat reinvigorated, but there was still nearly a mile to go on pavement.  I decided I was going to finish strong.

Until the cramps started.  I was within sight of the finish and my right calf started to knot up.  I walked.  And all of the previous finishers called out for me to run.  So I loped a few steps until the muscle knotted again.  I was so close…

“C’mon, you can do it!  Run!” someone called.

I ran a few more steps.  Big knots.  I feared a complete failure of the calf muscle if I ran the last dozen steps.  And people kept yelling for me to run.  I didn’t.

The race had been fun.  There were a lot of frustrating things that should not have happened.  The course should have been marked.  I won’t say “better,” it just should have been marked period.  There should have been more volunteers on the course.  It was a semi-remote race in the middle of July in Kentucky.  There should have been at least one aid station along the run and more SAR/EMT presence.  There should have been more SAR/EMT presence along the paddling section.

I’m not one to make a big deal about safety stuff.  I don’t like sanitized experiences, but if I pay money and go to a strange place I expect a modicum of safety netting.  When I plan my own adventures I have a different expectation and a different experience.

I know why the event was a disaster and this post has gone too long to delve into it.  Suffice it to say I hope the locals grab ahold of the reins and make the event great next year.

Oh, I finished in three hours and eight minutes.  Eighteen miles.  Off the couch.

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