Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Valdez Summit to Sea adventure race!

A couple of months ago while visiting some friends in Anchorage, they mentioned the Summit to Sound race in Valdez over Memorial Day weekend. I was able to get the weekend off of work (rare, but doable in advance), and some interested friends to do the race as well. Initially, I had them convinced to do the race as a team, but Patrik somehow convinced Kim and I that it was worth the extra $50 to do it solo, and that the three of us could all do it solo and rock it.  I never did believe the "we'd rock it" part, but did see it as a challenge!

There were two choices in the race - nordic skiing or alpine skiing. I chose alpine skiing with my newly defined hobby skinning up on AT skis (which I am still becoming efficient at), while Kim and Patrik signed up for the nordic division. I was thrilled to be skiing on May 27th! That was my latest official ski ever.
We got to Valdez Saturday afternoon, in time to try out the kayaks, attend the pre-race meeting, set-up the kayak transition, and make some new furry friends.  The weather was decent for Valdez on Saturday, so we hung around Allison Point for awhile and socialized with friends from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

 Brian skipping rocks

My friends Dean, Emily, and Celine from Anchorage with their flair and cameras at the race start.
The race start as seen from Thompson Pass
The course started out with the ski course at Thompson Pass, in heavy snow!  It was very exciting for me. I love snow no matter what time of year it is. I realize this frustrates unhappy people in Alaska, but as far as I'm concerned, snow is better than rain! We were at 2805 ft...not high up, but higher than most roadways in the state.  Right away off the start, I had a binding malfunction (user error.. I am learning how to use the fancy pain in the arse bindings that I found on clearance), but it only took me back a few seconds.  My friend Heike was in the same heat as me, so we skinned up together before she transitioned downhill faster than me at the top. The course was shortened to about a 1 mile uphill due to poor visibility and then back down.  Skiing down, I lost any depth perception and quickly lost the little speed I had at one point, and ended up having to double-pole near the bottom of the course! Oh well, you live you learn.
Here is a random Alpine skier skinning up the course.

Next, was the transition to biking... I knew I had a slight handicap biking, as I brought my not-very-aerodynamic-a-bit-heavy commuter bike, but didn't realize how much the handicap would set me back. The thing is, my very nice neighbors Jen and Harper let me borrow a road bike for the weekend, but I didn't have much time to try it out and just didn't feel comfortable riding it 28 miles in the rain.  I flew down Thompson Pass as fast as I could, until I noticed some wobble in my bike... then racing through my head came thoughts of "oh my goodness, are the wheels on tight? I didn't check them!..... what if....?" The slight wobble continued and I made a brutal decision of stopping from about 40 mph going downhill to a complete stop, which took approximately 10 seconds, if not more...the longest ever stop for me!  But, in stopping, I found out that my back wheel was in fact slightly loose. Scary thought!  The skewer was not latched on tightly, and though the tire was not about to come off, there is nothing to say that it couldn't have.  I lost a few minutes here, though in hindsight those few minutes could have saved a major crash.  As soon as the course flattened out, I was being passed by fancy road bikes. Part of me wanted to pedal hard and give it 100%, but I was uneasy about the next part of the course (the sea kayak portion), and I wanted to make sure I conserved some energy so I didn't go floating away into the big blue ocean. My feet began to get extremely soaked and cold while biking, even with neoprene socks on, and the idea of jumping into a boat for 2.6 miles, and then running 4.5 on frozen toes wasn't ideal.  On the bike course, I saw someone stopped on the side of the road - a flat!  I slowed down to ask if she needed anything, and realized it was my friend Erica from Fairbanks. She mumbled something in the thought process of, "I can't fix it. I don't have a pump!", in a near state of panic and defeat, so I stopped. At this point I wasn't winning any world records, and the defeat in her voice made me think, "No! You can do this!" even for someone I don't yet know very well.  So, I found out upon stopping that she only had CO2, and this was her SECOND flat on the course.  The first one was fine, but she could not get the CO2 cartridge to work for the second flat. I gave her my pump and we got the tire back up to pressure.  That was my second stop on the bike ride. As you're reading this you're probably thinking, "what the heck are you doing stopping during a race?" but I guess after doing much longer races and many long trips having been in situations where I'd be in serious trouble if someone else wasn't there to help me, it's a natural reaction to try to move someone else forward in their adventure. Defeat sucks, in any manner in life. I understand we should be prepared for anything, but realistically, you will prepare for what you think it will be like, but hindsight is always 20/20! About 5 minutes later, Erica passed me with shouts of thankfulness and her cheery self again. That was awesome.

After those minor setbacks in the bike course, I kept going, keeping my gearing higher than I'm used to and trying to keep the same cadence.  I had to gear down occasionally, and I was pretty darn tired a few miles out from the bike to kayak transition. But, I had my bugle horn on my bike and entertained myself on the ride by honking at volunteers. Finally made it to Allison Point and unmounted my well-loved commuter bike. Next, cold toes into a cold boat that I was not super comfortable with.

We had this brilliant idea to put the spray skirt of the kayak on the night before, so I could just slip into the kayak and not deal with the skirt which was way too tight for the kayak.  It actually worked out FANTASTICALLY for me. I felt rushed in my bike to kayak transition, but took a minute to try to warm up my toes by jumping around.  I switched out hats, and was assisted by two volunteers in taking my kayak to the water.  It was up to me to push offshore, which involved some serious hip wiggling.  But off I went, only 20 feet out to realize I forgot to pull the rutter out (this was not controllable from the inside of the rental kayaks). Partway across the sound, I was also regretting not shoving food into my face before I got in. I thought I could stop paddling temporarily and get food, but it just wasn't practical.

After being passed by a couple of kayaks, I eventually made it to shore where Brian was volunteering, excited to show him that I made it across the sound (he was worried maybe more than I was). By this point, my feet were very cold, so I was antsy to run. The transition from kayak to run took a bit of time, as I was winded from an activity I have little practice in, and I needed to strip all of my upper layers off to put a running shirt on, as well as switch out socks and shoes.  I found out Patrik was already done with his race (2nd place of his division) and Kim was behind me. This was motivation for me to go and try to run well, because I knew Kim is a faster runner than I.

 Patrik in his kayak

Erica kayaking into Valdez port

Exhausted at the end of the kayak and happy to get out and run.

Kimmie right behind me!

I started the run out slow, gaining control of legs that biked 28 miles and jumped into a restricted kayak. It actually was not as awful as I was mentally preparing for, and I found that starting out so slow really helped me.  I was able to gradually run faster (which is a very relative term), and felt good... way too good for the 4th leg of the race!  I know for sure that a big part of this was that I got to see familiar faces and other competitors on the out-and-back course. I felt better that I wasn't THAT far behind everyone else. I managed to pass another woman near the turn-around... though at that point I didn't mind going slow and chatting, but eventually broke off and starting moving faster for the last stretch.  I saw Kim and found out she was the last finisher, which I was shocked by.  There were some really fast folks out there!

The end of the run was great - I could see the finish line a half mile away, and I saw Brian coming toward me to run the last 100 feet with me, but I decided to sprint it out through the finish line.  I felt way too good at the end, a sign that I didn't try hard enough. But hey, how was I supposed to know how I'd feel after 40 miles in snow, rain, and 4 different sports, all of which I can do, but none of which I am great at?  I was proud of my 4:15:00 time.

I was the last finisher in my division (alpine solo), but I don't think by much. We haven't seen the results yet, but I know of at least one other friend who was in the same division and was maybe 10-15 mins ahead of me.  If the mechanical issues hadn't happened, and I decided to be more competitive, then I could have surpassed it, but eh, I am happy the way things worked out.
On top of that, as the red lantern for my division, I got a nifty award and gift card, not to mention a real-working kerosene powered red lantern! How neat is that?  I was happy to be with such a fun crew, and to see so many friends from Anchorage as well as Fairbanks there. Considering all the people who we knew, there was still time to make some new friends statewide, and enjoy some post-race drinks!


Karen said...

You didn't know that I still follow your blog, did ya? I keep one of my own now too if you're interested. Love the green shirt, seems like I might have one like it too!! ;)

Great job on the red lantern, it sounds like a pretty crazy race.

Liama said...
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