Happy Mutant Race Report
Heyo friends! I figured it was high time to talk to you a little bit about my first ever expedition length race that I did a couple weekends ago.
I was talking to my team mate, Brad Jennings this week on ensuring that we time our video and posts seamlessly and he had a blog request.
So that is a little bit on how the race went…
Side note – Brad has started a new job and has moved forever away from me and had a sound card malfunction so I will be following up with a video of the race later today!
Backtracking a little bit, before the stabbing, Brad and I left for Iowa on the Thursday night. We loaded up the van and headed a bit past Chicago to a rachet motel before sleeping for the night. We arrived in Ottumwa, Iowa where the race began in the late afternoon on Friday.
We signed in and proceeded to start sorting our gear and prepping our transition bins and packs for the race.
At 5 PM, we had a pre-race meeting and at 6 PM, we were given our maps for the race.
A quick pre-race selfie and we were off on the first leg of a 10 leg course which had route options up to 600 KM.
The course was set up into 10 parts and we had 14 maps to cover the distance.
Because this was a 72 hour race, I will break it down into the 10 legs and explain a bit of how each went.
Leg 1 – The Prologue
This was an interesting start time for us. I was worried to begin a 72 hour race at night which means I would be up for much longer than 72 hours total. We set off at 7 PM on an urban O course and snagged checkpoints with fun clues like “what colour is the tail of the bull dog statue?” or “what animals are on the corner of such and such a street.” It was raining a bit but Brad and I were in good spirits. I told him I intended to run for the full 72 hours which meant that I needed to walk the steep hills in order to pace myself. We finished the first leg feeling good but were caught in a violent downpour with lightening. The next leg was the paddle and it meant that those who finished the leg before us were held for 35 minutes at the transition area so when we arrived back, we were instructed to wait the same amount of time.
Leg 2 – Pouring buckets
After the wait, we headed out on the paddle. It was my favourite night. Although it rained harder on us at one point than I have ever been rained on in my life, it was exhilarating to be out on the water at night. Brad is a strong paddler and this section was seamless – we easily found the checkpoints at night and had a great time talking and working on my paddling technique. We paddled until about 5-6 am where we arrived and plotted our points for the trek.
Leg 3 – Fenceline
This was a hot trek and Brad was helping me work on my bush speed. We were using this race to work on some important skills for RAID in Gaspesie in September. There was really only one checkpoint we struggled with. We did a fair amount of solid running on this trek and I still felt awesome at this point.
Leg 4 – 110 miles. That is all I have to say about this.
I’m joking. But this was a difficult leg. This took us all the way through the second night and I really struggled severely with the sleep monsters for this one. At one point, I fell asleep on my bike and fell over while Brad was getting a check point and I started hallucinating a bit. This was the point of the race where I started getting ready to sleep and I made sure Brad knew it. This was the one of two times in the race where I really really struggled.
We stopped at a convenience store and had the most life affirming burger and coffee drink at 1:30 am.
When we arrived to the transition area at around 3 am, I informed Brad I could not continue without some sleep. I pulled out my emergency bivy and slept for about 45 minutes while he plotted the points for the next leg. Due to timing and strategy, none of the teams decided to do the paddle portion and instead chose to sleep or head out on the bike leg. You read that correctly – we wrapped up 110 mile leg of biking with another leg of biking.
Brad woke me up and we headed out on the second bike leg.
Leg 6 – The B Road from Hell
We were a little loopy until the sun came up and were riding easy for the first couple hours. In fact, we both were saying things to the other person that made zero sense because we were in that hazy place between sleep and being awake. This was the beginning of the second day which can only be referred to as a “Very Bad Day.” There is a little thing called a B-Road in Iowa which is an uncared-for road used by farmers, etc and when it rains, the mud turns into the consistency of all natural peanut butter.
The only way through this leg was to take a B road but it was over 2 miles of pure mud. It jammed up our derailleurs and Brad ended up with two flat tires. Changing the tires was laborious as keeping the tube clean was almost impossible. We then had the incredible experience of carrying our mountain bikes, heavy with mud, over 2 miles of muddy B road. I am not going to lie – I was not trying hard at this point. I have never experienced a moment where I promised myself I would never adventure race again but at this point, if I had the option to hand in my bib, leave the team and never race again, I would have.
Eventually, we reached a main road which allowed us to continue on the course and morale improved.
We arrived back to the transition area for Leg 7 where I took a 30 minute nap while Brad plotted checkpoints.
Leg 7 – The lost passport
Brad and I didn’t have much time after I woke up so I rushed the info sheet over to him from the little bag where I was keeping our passports, slammed a cold Pepsi to bring me back from the dead and put on a pair of dry trail shoes to enter into what we knew would be a hot, thorny trek with difficult navigation.
We entered the forest and found the first checkpoint within 30 minutes. Brad informed me we were switching passports and asked me to produce it. I scrambled through my bag. Nothing.
A wave of cold horror washed over me. It is vital to keep your passports in an adventure race – if you lose them, you have nothing to prove that you visited the checkpoints. I had left it at the transition area in my sleep induced haze. Brad looked at me with an expression that read “YOU HAD ONE JOB” and took a bearing to take us back to camp.
Long story – he was frustrated, we both were sleep deprived and we wandered in the heat for a couple hours trying to find the camp to get the passports because we didn’t take a proper bearing. All in all, after we acquired the passports, we were able to collect two checkpoints in like 5 hours. We arrived back to the transition area where I drank another Pepsi and prepped my bike and helped Brad plot the checkpoints for the next leg.
Note – I am not a pop drinker – but I find when I am doing long endurance events, nothing brings you back from a dark place like a Coke or Pepsi.
Leg 8 – The Stabbing
As the third night began to fall, we headed out on a cycle. I was worried I would feel awful considering I had slept less than 1.5 hours total at this point but we were taking a gorgeous rail trail and this was one of my favourite bike legs. At least until we had passed through a town and my chain became jammed into my cassette. It was at this moment when The Stabbing occurred. Brad did an incredible bike mechanic job and I was asking how to close his pocket knife. He asked me to hand it to him and in my sleep deprived state, I stabbed him hard in the hand. We took a moment for him not to kill me and proceeded to do a hard cycle to the trek area.
Leg 9 – The one where Jess becomes a zombie and then returns from the dead
I was feeling amazing and I informed Brad if we could sleep from 2 – 2:30 am, that should be all I need to push me to the end of our race. We were navigating at a fast clip and doing well until we made a navigational error. Unfortunately, whenever I set my expectations for a break that doesn’t happen, I stop eating and drinking enough which is something I need to work on. I became a zombie, running on fumes. At around 4 am, we found the main transition area, pulled out our sleep bivys and slept an hour to try and reboot me. When my alarm went off at 5 am, we pulled our stiff bodies out of the bags and began nabbing as many checkpoints as we could as we headed back for our final leg of the race. This was a great trek but we struggled with checkpoints that had re-entrants. For some reason, this was a land feature that we could JUST NOT, so we skipped a few.
I was thrilled that when we made it back to a main road that I was running at the same speed I had been at the first leg in the urban O course/Prologue at the beginning of the race, just like I had promised. We arrived for the final bike stretch, did a very swift transition and headed back for our final bike of the race.
Leg 10 – Sun Stroke to the Finish Line
This was my favourite cycle of the race and it wasn’t because it was the end of the race. As messed up as it sounded, I didn’t want this to end. It felt more like Brad and I were just two friends out for a casual, 8 hour mountain bike ride in the blazing hot sun and relentless hills instead of participating in a race. We stopped at a convenience store and both bought two bottles of liquid. I can not properly speak to how hot it was. The open Iowa sky provided no cloud cover from the sun and we were essentially roasted alive as we made our way back to the finish line – tackling hill after hill. At one point, late afternoon, we needed to pull over and cover ourselves in a plethora of sun screen as we both were suffering from sun stroke.
In late afternoon, we arrived in Ottumwa and crossed the bridge leading to the finish line. It was a thrilling moment and we arrived at the headquarters, greeted by applause, a cold beer and a burger with salty fries.
We spent the afternoon talking to other teams and swapping war stories, attending the awards ceremony, receiving our trophies, and packing up before heading back to our hotel where we slept for a blissful 12 hours.
The following day – which also landed on my 27th birthday, we travelled home where I spent the hours drinking Starbucks, eating pizza and basking in the accomplishment of finishing my first expedition race.
Things that I learned/did well this race:
- Food – I have never had my digestive system be such a rockstar over a multi-day race. I give credit to the fact that I diminished my protein intake and increased my real food intake. Course favourites were chocolate Hammer Perpetum (which I loved so much I will be using for my half ironman), Snickers bars (my favourite adventure racing and ultra running bar with limited protein) and wraps with peanut butter or swiss cheese and jerky.
- Endurance – my training volume was on point for this race and I was able to be strong the entire race. Brad and I talked about the fact that I am a completely different mountain biker than the one that showed up to the startline of Equinox Traverse last May.
- Attitude – I broke two of my cardinal adventure racing rules – don’t complain and don’t cry. Sadly, I did both in this race, but not for long. The majority of the race, Brad and I were rock solid, were having an absolute blast and were working happily together as a team.
What I need to work on for RAID in September:
- Orienteering. This is number one. Because I am not the strongest in the world, Brad fatigues faster and we are less strong as a team. This is my priority to work on over the summer.
- Technical mountain biking. I have the hills. I have the endurance. Now I just need to incorporate blistering speed into technical terrains. No issues, right? I’m hacking away at this by doing night mountain bike rides on technical terrain to help attack my fear head on.
- Paddling technique. I have some big paddling sessions planned this summer where I will be learning how to better read water movements and improve my stroke efficiency.
Overall view of the race – This was hands down my favourite multi-day race I have ever participated in. It was well organised, the people everywhere were absolutely lovely (we were given cold bottles of water out of the blue by the kind ladies at the American Gothic Farm), and Tony puts on a heck of an event. I am hoping to do a number of his races in the future and do not hesitate to recommend them to anyone who wants to test what they are made of.