…if you can’t say it, you can’t do it.” -Risky Business
Race Recap of the 2019 US Adventure Racing Association National Championships
10 Aug 2019 bedtime – I read a spammy email about a local adventure race and think…hmm, that would be cool to do ONE day.
11 Aug 2019 morning – I get tagged in a Facebook post looking for a teammate for not just any adventure race but for the freaking NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS!
To add to the weirdness of how it all went down, several years ago, I made a vision board. I had no idea back then what an adventure race even was. I don’t even think I had run an ultra yet! But it sounded cool.
Anne, Lauren, and I got on the phone and we immediately clicked. I told them I was just about to go for a long run and that I’d think about it. About 6 miles in, I thought, “Sometimes, ya gotta just say WTF…what an opportunity!”
Within 24 hours of me thinking, “An adventure race might be fun to do one day…”, I am committing to racing an adventure racing national championship? WTF. Maybe the universe heard me wrong! I said, “One day…not IN one day!” 😂
Facts about USARA National Championship
Official Website: www.usaranationals.com
A 30 hour multi sport race to include orienteering, mountain biking, trekking/running/bushwhacking, paddling. Each participant required to carry mandatory gear and nutrition and hydration for full 30 hours. There are no aid stations. Water also not provided. Must carry purification tablets/life straw.
3 person teams required for official finishes. Coed, all male, all female. All 3 teammates required to stay within 30 meters of one another at all times except one “Prologue” stage at the beginning of the race when we were allowed to split up on foot to grab 3 checkpoints.
The goal is to clear the course and grab all checkpoints in the fastest amount of time without getting disqualified for doing something dumb.
My Training Plan
I had been lackadaisically training for my 4th running of the Marine Corps marathon, which is upcoming on 27 October. My longest effort prior was my MURCA (Marine Ultrarunners Club of America) Virtual 50k on 30 June. I regularly bike commute to work and I work as a personal trainer and group fitness coach. However, the only group exercise format that requires me to actually work out with clients is Zumba.
I had about 6 weeks to train before race day. Let’s just say I had the best intentions but didn’t get the kind of mileage I wanted, you know, to feel confident heading to what would be my longest race effort ever. I’d run a 50 miler fairly untrained a few years ago and it took me an ungodly 13 hours to finish.
My training plan then basically deteriorated into a long taper ensuring freshness over fitness. At least I had no injuries nor aches and pains and I was doing my best to hydrate and fuel my body well. I did practice functioning while sleep deprived but that’s nothing new for me. 😂
The adventure racing gear stress is real. Thankfully, I have friends. Friends who know things and have things and are just amazingly generous. This is an expensive sport. From serious bike lights to backpacks to emergency survival gear to the right clothes and shoes and eyewear and hygiene, nutrition, etc. I honestly think at one point, I was more stressed about gear than I was about actually doing physically demanding things for 30 hours straight.
Day Before Race Day – 26 Sept
I decided to drive down from Alexandria, VA to Boone, NC. This way I wouldn’t stress about bike transport on a plane and I could just overpack the crap out of my vehicle and sort it out later if need be. This quelled my OCD tendencies quite a bit and alleviated a bunch of anxiety.
A solo long drive of 6+ hours is more dreadful to me than a 6+ hour solo long run. I am a physical person and if I don’t move my body, I literally get mental. As in, mental. I would have these moments of near panic thinking:
“Omg, what have I done?!”
“What if I die? I’m such a selfish mom!”
“What if I fail miserably and let my new teammates down?”
“If I fail, what will everyone think of me? Will they think I’m a fraud given my social media persona as badass Marine ultrarunner, cyclist, and personal trainer?!”
“Maybe I am just a fraud. Maybe I’m not that strong. Maybe I’m really just not good enough. Maybe I’ll never really be good enough.”
“I could just make some excuse why I can’t show up. I could just disappear from social media. Nobody really cares anyway.”
I seriously thought these things at one point during my drive. That’s fear. That’s self sabotage. When fear dominates your self-love and self-respect, that’s when things go wrong. We seek escape, perhaps dependency, even addiction, whether to toxic relationships or substances.
Somehow, I keep my shit together and make it down to the Holiday Inn Express to meet my new teammates for the first time and to attend the race briefing.
Although for a second, I felt like…Ooh…I’m the only non-Caucasian person in the room, I too have learned not to judge a room nor a person by their color. And growing up, I was quite accustomed to being the only Asian in my class pretty much up until college.
That said…it’s always awkward to meet brand new people, let alone a brand new community of people, but wow, adventure racers, especially the women, they are a different breed. I found my tribe. And truly, it doesn’t matter what “color” or ethnic background one is. Tough is tough. Kind is kind. These were some of the toughest and kindest people I’ve met. Geez, I’m gonna ugly cry again.
As Lauren and Annie and I started to get a feel for each other, my anxiety really settled down, even though one of the race organizers describes the course as “very physical”. Plus we’re all quiet and courteous sleepers! I went to sleep soundly and woke up refreshed and ready.
Race Day 27 Sept 4:00am Wakeup
We get up, get dressed, load up our bikes and gear, grab some breakfast, and freak out. Haha. No. No one freaked out on the outside. We drive up to the race start at Appalachian Ski Mountain. It’s zero dark thirty and as I leave my bike at the bike drop, I thought, “My last chance to bail.” But obviously, I couldn’t do that. I had a similar feeling when I walked out into the Potomac River having never done an open water swim at my first triathlon. Both times, I pushed through what is generally known as sheer terror. Yes, I was terrified. But I channeled my inner lion and kept my mouth shut and carried on.
They distribute our maps and Annie starts plotting points and Lauren and I are routing from point to point, working quickly and efficiently. We communicated well throughout the entire race. We said what needed to be said and when we each went through dark times, we kept our mouths shut. I think that was the secret to our generally happy vibe for the entire race. No one whined. We kept it positive but not in a sycophantic way. I also felt completely comfortable being quiet while Lauren and Anne chatted away or sang or were being silly. It all just worked.
Sun is rising and we are getting near the 8am start cannon! We gather around at the bottom of the chair lift and sing the National Anthem a cappella. That was a sound for sore ears but I stood at attention as always whilst singing as soulfully as I could.
BOOM! Race starts with a short but brutal climb in bike shoes up the chair lift to our bikes. Pitch prob about 20-30%. We power hiked it up. I was probably one of the last ones up if not the last. I saw no point in starting a 30 hour race with a zone 5 effort. Plus I had the shortest legs of everyone there. And as luck would have it, Auntie Flow decided to pay me a visit on the biggest race day ever! But I came prepared with a Diva Cup! #femaleproblems
Pictures never do justice of how steep an incline is.
At the top, we hop on our bikes and ride toward our first transition area. I honestly can’t remember how far it was but it was relatively easy, mostly downhill riding. Perfect for boosting energy and confidence for the long 30 hours ahead.
We arrive at the first TA (Transition Area) and receive 3 maps with pre-plotted points. This is the only time we are allowed to split up on foot to grab the 3 checkpoints. Mine was fairly easy to find. It was also a gentle foreshadowing of the relentless switchbacks of Boone and surrounding area. I was thrilled to punch my little map and return like a proud doggie with tennis ball in mouth! My team also seemed super happy to see me…I didn’t make them wait very long apparently!
Lauren is 37, Annie is 35, I am 48. One of my biggest concerns was dragging them down. These ladies were just coming off of Trans Rockies…a multi day ultrarunning event, and the Barkley Fall Classic 50k, another epic ultramarathon through the stinging nettle and steep pitches of the TN mountains. Their run/trekking fitness was solid! Mine was questionable.
From this point on, I remember lots of riding. Collecting water where we could. Finding checkpoints. Eating. More riding. Then at some point we got to our canoes. Paddling proved to be our weakest discipline but we had a blast. The gals were singing silly songs and I was just cracking up. Nearly everyone passed us but everyone also smiled bc of our enthusiasm and energy despite our terrible paddling technique! 🤣
Yes. We know we’re not in the water yet. 😂
We get the one mandatory checkpoint during the paddling leg. We opted to give up the other two. It took us a long time to fetch just one. What with our buttercream frosting cake paddling technique…we weren’t blazing anywhere whether downstream or upstream. 🤣 I bet we could all frost a mean cupcake though which I could eat like 25 of right now as I write this. Post AR hunger is REAL!
Back in the saddle. Many more miles. I can’t remember a lot of this. But there was one fun single track section then some bushwhacking and then more single track. Then more miles in the saddle. At this point, we are all starting to have ass pain and it’s hot. But we’re chugging along and getting along!
Right before sunset, we trek out for the ride and tie portion. We are only allowed 2 bikes for the 3 of us. All of these checkpoints (which we snagged all) required quite a bit of trekking in bike shoes. But Lauren was able to gloriously run some portions as Annie and I backlit her on our bikes.
This is also the time I started crashing. I couldn’t use my dropper post bc of the saddle bag I had my required gear in. So with my seat in the highest position, I don’t quite touch the ground when I clip out. As I got more fatigued and it got dark, I’d lose my footing on a slope and go tumbling down. My right shoe also kept getting stuck bc of all the caked in mud in my cleats. At one point I am off the bike on the side of the trail and only my little shoe is hanging from the pedal. My teammates were concerned but little did they know I am a crash queen. I often get up faster than I go down. The highlight of this ride and tie leg was when Anne and Lauren tandemed for a bit on one bike!
The Dark Moments and Hallucinations
We go off trail for quite awhile looking for a checkpoint that was not there. Meanwhile, Lauren’s tummy is not cooperating. It’s pitch black. Maybe around 3am-ish. She’s also wanting to sleep. Post race she told us that was when she considered dropping. But all she said was, “Guys, I could fall asleep standing up.” I replied, “You want some military energy gum?” Within a few moments, “Holy shit, I’ve been resuscitated from the dead!” We then scrambled down some crazy washout and finally found CP 17.
To get out of the area, we had to ride single track. I could swear there was some creature running in the brush parallel to the single track we were riding. The speed with which I accelerated was super human. This happened at least twice or 3 times during the night. But, I kept my mouth shut. When I mentioned it after the race, Lauren concurred!
There was only one distinctively dark moment for me. The sun was rising. I had made it through the night and I climbed pretty damn gloriously all night, switchback after relentless switchback. We were finally heading down the mountain on some single track to which I was quite looking forward. It was a bit congested and I was getting serious arm pump trying to keep some distance between me and Annie. I went down a couple of times during some abrupt stops. I was so annoyed that my shoes weren’t clipping in and out well and really annoyed that I couldn’t use my dropper post and for the first time I started feeling a little sleepy. And I thought, “How the hell am I gonna get up that last bitch of a climb?! This sucks ass.”
Light at the end of the tunnel and poop emoji
But I took an e+shot, we gathered some water and we were out of the woods. Literally. Then came the huge 2100′ climb with the bulk of it over only 4 miles. This became a death march type hike a bike. It took us a few hours to get to the top. Globe Road Climb. Check it out. It would be a formidable workout on a road bike with fresh legs. We did it on MTBs 24 hours into the race.
We make it to our final TA. I think. I could be wrong. But I do believe this is where I just had to go poo. I found a fairly secluded spot on a slight downhill. Ahhh relief. Thank you to whomever invented biodegradable wipes and the Diva Cup. I couldn’t have done this race without you.
I look down at my poo because who doesn’t look at their poo afterward? And I almost died right there. I swear it was the perfect replica of the Apple Poo Emoji. 💩💩💩
We hop our protesting hineys back on our saddles and we’ve only got a few more CPs to find until the finish. And thankfully, it was mostly downhill from there.
The Glorious Finish
Once we finally conquered Globe Road, unless something catastrophic happened, I knew we were going to finish in time with a good amount of CPs.
During the ride down to town, we caught up to a 3 man team…and for whatever reason, the 3 of us just started cranking it out in a tight little paceline hauling ass downhill around 40 mph on MTBs. We scrambled to the last checkpoint before the finish and it was an urban race on the sidewalks of Blowing Rock Road.
An absolute adrenaline fueled finish!
I broke down into an ugly cry for a moment. I couldn’t believe it. We’d made it. Hardest race I’ve done to date. It was my first ever adventure race and Annie and Lauren’s second! We nailed it. Podium finish. 3rd Open Female in 28:06 with 23 CPs. We also received the Greenhorn Award for being awesome greenhorns. I mean…does it get any better than signing a unicorn with a green horn to commemorate this epic adventure?! I think not.
Notable Gear and Nutrition
The following products made a huge difference for me.
Pearl Izumi Sugar Shorts – lots of hours in the saddle. Some chafing but no saddle sores. But the chafing was more bc I didn’t use any chamois cream.
CEP knee high compression socks. These also saved me from these huge thickets we walked through.
These Giro bike shoes. Sorry can’t remember the model. But they were actually my first pair of MTB shoes and they were pretty cheap. They had great grip during the treks. I put a lot of miles on them without a blister. And they were basically wet the whole time.
Brand new Salomon Supercross were a dream. Again, no blisters, great grip, drained well.
Isagenix IsaLean Shake – this got me through, hands down. No tummy issues, good sustained energy. I think I ended up drinking 3-4 throughout the 30 hours.
M*E*G – Military Energy Gum – amazing. Perhaps saved Lauren from DNFing.
Isagenix E+shot – this saved me from DNFing. It’s a long boost of energy not a spike and the adaptogens actually calm your nerves. I’ve used this at every race I’ve done.
Tanka Buffalo Jerky w cranberries – so good. Just so good.
RunGoo – no blisters even though my feet were wet for most of the race.
Diva Cup – I seem to be blessed with the luck of racing while on the rag. Especially when racing with no portapotties, this is a must have for any female racer.
Did a pre-wash of all my gear. Look how dirty. Eww. And awesome.
Never give into your fears.
Do some really scary shit once in awhile.
Believe in yourself.
Believe in others. There are so many good people out there willing to help you succeed.
Accept and love yourself. Even the seemingly imperfect. I realized my missing 6 pack abs weren’t needed at all to get me across the finish line.
Humans share much more than we may think. We all have our fears and insecurities. From this place, we can practice compassion for ourselves and each other.
Learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable and keep expanding your boundaries. Be fearless.
Keep your mouth shut when you want to complain or quit. The darkness passes. Don’t speak it into existence.
Always focus on the getting through the present moment. Do not overwhelm yourself with “What ifs”.