• Tue November 29 2005
  • Posted Nov 29, 2005
USARA National Championships - Race Update When you’re going up against the best of the best in the country, you realize that all your hard work has paid off. The only question that remains is: How do you stack up against the competition, just how good is your team. I felt we had a pretty good team, but then all the other teams were also good. Even so, I set a goal of finishing in the top 20, feeling that would be a respectable finish. 67 teams entered the race, consisting of pro and amateur teams. How difficult would it be to obtain my goal? Well, here’s how it played out! Nationals took place in Tampa, FL. Myself-Jeanne Baum, Gary Roll and Jason Plunkett entered under the name: Team I.O.W.A. This was a 24-30 hour, expedition race (you carried everything you needed for the entire race with no support crew). The race began at 7am Friday, November 4th. Right from the git go I was not thrilled about racing in FL. I knew a race in FL meant we would be in swamps and have to deal with alligators and snakes and lord knows what else. At the pre-race meeting the night before, I found out what else-wild boars; and during the race I was introduced to Florida SPIDERS-the size of baseballs and they come in all different shapes and colors. Friday morning came early, we were up at 4:30am and in the starting area at 5:15am. Having not slept Thursday night, I felt amazingly ready to race. I was calm and relaxed and ready for an exciting journey. By 7am the race was a foot, all 201 racers loaded down with kayak paddles, hydration, power bars, clothing and the rest of the mandatory gear. We had a total of 20 checkpoints to collect, which didn’t seem like a lot, but proved to be more than enough. The first section of the course was a long bushwhack/orienteering section. Needless to say bushwhacking in FL is a little different than bushwhacking in IA. I think we spent more time with parts of our body below water than above land. The swamps of FL are very dense with under brush, spruce trees and palm. The palm is especially annoying because the leaves are razor sharp and will easily slice you open. The leaves are also very good at grabbing kayak paddles, as I found out! The first bushwhacking section was very challenging and took a lot longer than I initially thought. Unlike racing in the Midwest, there is no topography in FL, so it is very difficult to read the contours of the land and match that to the contours of a map. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that much of the land we were orienteering was under water. During this first section we also had a river crossing on a rope bridge. A rope bridge consists of a single suspended rope that your feet move along with two additional ropes at about eye level-for your hands to steady yourself as you make your way across. Basically the name of the game is to center yourself and you won’t end up in the drink. Jason was the first one on our team to step up to the challenge and he did fine for about the first 10 feet and then his center of gravity got too far left and splash-into the river he went. This did not give me a whole lot of confidence. Gary went next and after seeing how long it took to get across, I decided F it, so I jumped in the river and swamp for the other side. After several hours of bushwhacking we finally made our way to the 2nd section of the course-canoeing. It was here that we saw Becky-Jason’s wife and what a welcome sight she was. Adventure racing really is not a good spectator sport, but for the people racing it helps to have someone you know cheering for you! That periodic boost in your psyche can have a positive impact on your race. I would say that 50% of getting through a tough race is mental and the rest is being physically fit and trained for whatever is thrown at you. The canoeing section proved to be just as challenging as the bushwhacking section. All I can say is if you didn’t know how to maneuver a canoe through a very windy/switchback river, with lots of low hanging tree limbs and debris, you were screwed! And that was the easy part of the canoe section! Then we came to bushwhacking with a canoe. I have never seen so many downed trees criss crossing a river. For a mile, we spent more time out of the canoe than in. This actually turned out to be a very good section for us. In a span of 15 minutes we passed about 5 teams. While many teams were making their way through this section of the course by portaging there canoe along the river bank, we just went straight over whatever was in front of us. Gary took the lead on this, by using good old brut strength to pull our canoe over log after log. I was exhausted just watching him. The one nice thing about the canoe section was we had some spectacular scenery. The variety of birds (cranes, storks, etc.) were amazing and naturally there were a few alligators sunning themselves on the river banks. And as long as they stayed there, we were fine! From the canoeing section we jumped on our bikes and at this point we only had about an hour and a half of daylight left and we were not even close to having completed half of the race. We had now been racing for 10 hours and I knew we had a long night ahead of us. Having already spent much of the race with part of my body under water, I was not real anxious to jump on my bike. I figured that swamp land is swamp land, whether on foot or a bike. And sure enough, we hadn’t been on our bikes for more than a half hour and the dry trail turned wet. Not just wet, but submerged! I know the photographer was having a great time watching the teams get through this section; because the water kept getting deeper and deeper. With my bike above my head and water up to my neck, he yells out, “Don’t worry that’s as deep as it gets!” All I could do was laugh, as I’m thinking-What the hell am I doing here! I’m filthy and stinky, I’ve been eating gu, powerbars and dirt for the last 10 hours and I spent a $1000 to see how much pain I can endure-I must be nuts! And at the same time I’m thinking-I love this sport, where else can you have this much fun and test the boundaries of your endurance. It’s raw, it’s me and nature, it’s being and feeling alive; and there is nothing else like it! So its smile pretty for the camera, and off we went. At the end of the bike section we transitioned back to bushwhacking, it was pitch black, and without lights you couldn’t even see your hand in front of you. It was somewhere around 8-9pm and little did I know I was about to enter hell. We were now racing against the clock. By midnight we had to complete the bushwhacking section and make it to Transition #4 to have an opportunity to complete the course in its entirety. The bushwhacking section started off with us having to cross the rope bridge once again. What was I going to do! The last time I watched one of my teamies get dumped into the river and it was way to cold for me to swim it this time. It looked like I had no choice-I was going to have to make it across the rope bridge. Fortunately, all three of us were successful. Looking back I now know that was the easy part of this section. I later found out that a girl on another team stripped down to nothing, put her clothes in a dry bag and swam across. I’m still glad I did the rope bridge, but let it not be said that Adventure Racing doesn’t allow for creativity. From the rope bridge we immediately entered the forest of no return. The forest was so dense that if you blinked your team mates would be gone from your sight. In an instant you could be all alone in a sea of blackness. Fortunately or unfortunately my head lamp did illuminate a variety of spiders like I have never seen before-all shapes, sizes and colors; oh and I’m sure a variety of poisons as well. I know I went through a few webs and just thinking about it now, makes me cringe. This was a night I will never forget and one I thought would never come to an end. From about 9pm to 2am up to half of my body was under water. The air temperature in Tampa at night seems to be a consistent 64 degrees, but it is very humid and the water is cool, so it feels like 40. There were a few racers who had to drop out for hypothermia. For hours we trudged through swamp lands looking for check points, racing to meet the midnight deadline. It is difficult to move fast in swamps because every step is met with a downed log in the shin and a murky muddy shoe sucking bottom. I was amazed no one broke a leg. Somewhere between 1-2am we rolled into Transition #4, unfortunately we missed the midnight cut off and so were given a shortened course that cut out 3 check points. The remainder of the race consisted of a bike section and finished with a canoe section. We had now been racing for 19 hours, we were cold and wet and still had several hours of racing ahead of us. By now I was getting really sick of eating power bars to sustain my energy and popping e-caps to minimize lactic acid build up. But this is what an adventure racer must do if they are going to make it to the finish line. There is a fine balance to keeping yourself going and every individual has there own menu. If you eat the wrong thing you could get sick, if you don’t eat enough you could get sick. If you don’t take the right supplements your muscles could seize up. If you don’t have the right clothing you could become hypothermic. If you haven’t trained properly you might not have the endurance to finish the race. And if you don’t work together as a team you make more mistakes; and mentally, emotionally and physically wear down faster. This is a multifaceted race and each individual needs to come prepared to race for the team. The biking section proved to be a little more of a challenge than it should have been, simply because we were getting worn down. So we took about a 15 minute break around 4am and then got back into the race. From there on out Team I.O.W.A. pretty much sailed through, crossing the finish line Saturday morning a little after 10am, with a race time of 28:32 and in 20th place out of 67 teams. I am very proud of our team. This was our 2nd race together, we all have comparable abilities and finishing 20th against the best of the best in the country is very respectable. The Midwest was well represented this year with 12 teams from Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin; and 6 of those teams placed in the top 20. Congratulations to all the teams that raced nationals this year. For those of you who haven’t tried adventure racing, I highly recommend it! This is a sport like no other, where there is great camaraderie and sportsmanship amongst racers. Teams actually work together during races to help each other get to the finish line. Adventure Racers (AR) belong to a special community where there is lots of fellowship. I love that about AR! I would also like to thank my sponsor: Adventure Girl Challenge. If you are a female between the ages of 10-80 and interested in exploring this sport-please go to for the 2006 schedule of races and work shops. You can also submit questions and get answers through this site. Happy racing and I look forward to seeing you all on another great adventure. Jeanne Baum

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