Thursday, April 23, 2009

LBL Challenge - Kentucky 2009

By: Mike LaFontaine
The start of the 2009 race season for me began with the Land Between the Lakes Challenge, put on by Bonk Hard Racing. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is situated on the southwestern edge of Kentucky along the Tennessee border and boasts rolling hills, large tracts of forest, and of course, the Cumberland River which is damned to creat the two large "lakes that surround the recreation area. This race had me racing with Scott Eveningred, Hilary Witbrodt, and Phil Shrader as Michigan Racing Adicts. This was our first time racing together and we were treating it as a training race for the upcoming MIX, a 3.5 day race in northern Michigan.
After meeting up near Elizabethtown, KY, we drove together to Grand Rivers, KY, home of race headquarters. We spent the remainder of the evening preparing for the next mornings race start and plotting points on our map.
The race started at 8 am with a noon cut-off on the following day, making it officially a 28-hour race. The first leg of the race was a short trek of about 3 miles on mostly paved trails with some bushwacking. The end of this trek took us to a bike transition where we then took off on several miles of single track, picking up check points along the way.
The single track started out fairly muddy, and I was having derailer problems that kept me lagging behind the rest of the team for a while. Once I figured the proper way to shift to keep my chain from slipping, about 30 minutes into the ride, I was able to stick with the team. The ride took to the noon hour, where we found our next transition, a boat dock that would eventually be our return point off the paddle.
Leaving the bikes, we were once again found ourselves on foot searching for three check points. The first check point required a fair amount of bush-wacking. Once attaining the CP, our original plan was to drop back onto the easy to travel road and make it to the next attack point. We decided, however, that we could navigate directly to the next CP through the woods, as it was still fairly open this time in the spring. After easily getting the following two CP's, we made our way to the next TA, a canoe put in.
At this point, I was starting to first feel the effects of a bonk that would keep popping up the rest of the race. As we surveyed the coming paddle, it did not fill any of us with confidence. The water was very choppy, the wind brisk, and the provided canoes were heavy aluminum. We were also about to pay the price for using the provided canoe paddles rather than our personal kayak paddles. The trade-off is that we didn't have to carry paddles through other sections of the race, but now that was looking to be a bad choice.
Teams using kayak paddles clearly had an advantage, as heading into the head wind, the powerful but slow strokes of a canoe paddle were no match for the rapid strokes that can be taken with kayak paddles. Without such a wind, this wouldn't have been the case. At one point, as we neared a channel marker in the lake, it was obvious how slowly we were going by gauging our progress against the marker. It wasn't pretty. By now, I was pretty well bonked. One position that worked a little was to lay full back and row.
As night began to fall, we pulled into a manned checkpoint. This gave us a brief respite from the sitting position. Paddling is my weakest discipline primarily because sitting so long really bothers my lower back. Getting the chance to move around helped. Once back in the boat, we made our way to the paddle take out a few minutes before 10pm.
Now in the dark, we geared up for the bikes and after a brief stop to water up we were on our way. Being back on the bike rejuvinated me quite a bit. I am strong enough on the bike that even bonked I can typically fare better than most. Our short ride to Hematite Lake required stopping for a couple of CP's and a short "hike-a-bike" through the woods, perhaps 300 meters of bike-whacking.
Hematite Lake was the location of the score-O, the portion of the course where we could attain points in any order. Prior to taking off, we sat for a bit around the fire at the TA. Filling our stomachs and drying our feet, it was at this point I realized I had a dime-sized blister on my heel. Up until know, it didn't hurt, and probably wouldn't have had I not known it was there, but of course, once you see it...After feet were dried, we set off on the O-course. Hilary was kind enough at this point to give me her caffeine shot which did some serious kickstarting once it took. The first two points I felt sluggish and would have loved to curl up for a nap, but after that second point, I woke up and was ready to go!
Our original plan was to grab a slew of clustered points near the north end of the course, points that we had deemed easier because of obvious attack points and relatively short distances to hold a compass bearing. After the first two points, however, we decided that since we were using this race as a training race, we weren't too concerned with the number of points we got, so instead made the choice to go after the southern portion of the course. With fewer points that were a bit harder to get to, we knew this would cost us at least a few easy points (and ultimately a few positions in the final ranking), but it would be a great chance to practice some night orienteering.
We grabbed a few points pretty easily, easily enough that we became pretty confident with our navigation system. Essentially, our set up was such that I kept the pace count for distance approximation with Phil taking the lead with a rough bearing to give me proper directional. Scott was on the map calculating bearings and distances, and he and Hilary held back behind Phil and myself, giving us the fine bearing, guiding us as we strayed too far to one direction.
While searching for a hillside checkpoint, we had our first set-back. Although the pace on that particular point should have been accurate, there was little in the way of undergrowth to interferre with it, and the topography matched well with the pace I was keeping, we could not find the point. Perhaps we misplotting the point the night before, but at any rate, we gave up hoping to get back on track with the next point.
Our following point was 355 degrees from our attack point at 1900 meters. Unfortunately, we made our first tired mistake, as we instead went 55 degrees from our attack point. This put us way off course, and although we ultimately found our location (along the southern shore of Hematite Lake, we decided to abandon the point since time was getting late and the map indicated the likelyhood of swamp between us and the point. We instead opted for a different point, but unfortunately took off from the wrong attack point...maybe. Essentially, we realized we were making mistakes due to fatigue, and rather than mire about with a poor cp-to-time ratio, we decided to call it a day on the O-course.
Back on the bike shortly before 6am, only a few hours on the bike stood between us and the finish. Much of the first part of the route was on road, and we cruised on the easy terrain. A river crossing that we had already done once turned problematic when Hilary nose-dived into the water. Soaking wet, we paused while she changed into drier (less wet might be a better word) clothes. Scott and I also divied up the contents of her pack, as her knee started to bother her as well, and the lightened load would be much easier on it. At one point, I bonked completely on the single track and had to stop for about 10 minutes to get some sugar in me, but once that soaked in, I was ok.
The last half of the ride back took us on a few miles of muddy single track looking for a couple final CP's. Around 9:30, we bypasses a large chunk of single track for a much shorter, faster hike-a-bike along a powerline row, followed by a short bushwack to a paved trail that took us to the finish.
We rolled in to the finish around 10:30 to cowbells and applause thanks to a sparse crowd of volunteers and families of other racers. The post race festivities were unfortunately unlavished, as only the top 3 or 4 teams were even on hand to enjoy it! That was the disappointing part of the race; typically at Michigan-based races, the post race meal and ceramony is held only after the last of the teams come in. When we came in, over half the field was still out on the course, yet none of them would be able to be a part of the post race either. Final standings had us in 11th place, not bad considering the first race together as a team, injury, and my bonk issues.


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