Monday, July 18, 2011

Mountains to Sound Relay (MTS)

Mountains to Sound Relay – June 26 2011
After a week of wet weather, Sunday, the morning of the race was just beautiful.  All of us were ready to go. In order to fully appreciate the implications of this race, a little background is needed.
Our first attempt at this race was in 2006, the inaugural event. It was an extremely hot day for Seattle and it was also Amber Chambers' (Alison daughter) first race ever.
MTS for us was a team event and consisted of 5 legs – Mt Bike, Road Bike, Kayak Paddle, a half marathon run and a 5 mile run.
When we cheered Amber off on the last leg of the race we were in a very competitive overall position. Since we all like to take home some hardware we were feeling pretty chipper. Amber had a practice run on the course and we could tell chances were good that if she ran at her pace we might be able to clinch third place.
At the finish at Golden Gardens Park, huge flags were flapping in the breeze and the rockin roll music was pumping up the crowd watching the runners come in. A few runners came in, no Amber. A lot of runners finish and still no Amber. Mom is worried.
Alison knew from running the half marathon that the heat was oppressive. The race directors hadn’t included enough water stops, Alison even (inadvertently?) stole a glass of lemonade from some kid’s stand she was so thirsty.
As we were deciding to split up to look for Amber, we see her pull up to the finish in a car!
According to Amber here’s what happened: Pumped with all the adrenaline that comes will race day, Amber set out on a much faster pace than here practice run. Heat and fatigue wore her down, she became confused, went off the poorly marked race course and momentarily passed out on the railroad tracks near the Ballard shipping locks.
Someone saw her, wanted to take her to the hospital or call 911 but she convinced him to take her to the finish.
Fast forward to 2011 and Amber wants redemption. She’s been running a lot and running well. We couldn’t convince our Road Biker to do a redo so we switched things around a bit. We found an 18 year old Mt Biker who had never raced but was eager. Amber decided to run the half marathon and Alison the now 10K. Nick our first Mt Biker decided to do the road bike leg, even though he hadn’t raced on the road before either. Well well here we go again, says I.
Race day was a 3:00 o’clock get up, pick up the Mt Bike kid in B’ham and be at the start near Snoqualmie Pass. MOUNTIANS TO SOUND – 1 DAY 100 MILES!
At the start I look at the bike our mountain bike racer was using, it’s way different than almost all the other bikes around. His has drop bars (low slung handle bars), green skinny tires, and a purple and orange frame. He said he looked at the website and noticed that it was technically not a mountain bike course but a trail ride. We watched the start and our guy is in 6th place when they bike up the hill, and a steep one at that. Some of the bikers are walking their bikes.
Next over at the start of the road bike leg a few of the pros have their bikes on stands and are warming up riding. Their Mt Bikers come flying in and they are off. Our biker comes in in 9th place, bloody leg and a flat tire. He road that bike for more than half of the 17 mile course on that flat. Very impressive.
Once our Road Biker got on the 48 mile course we all head towards the start of the kayak leg. The kayak leg is a 12 mile paddle down the Samish Slough, a slow moving river that ends up in Lake Washington.
Nick, the Road Biker, tells us his story like this: He catches up to some guys, a few others catch up to him and they form a group. Nick, not a bike racer, quickly catches on to the idea of drafting one another and motors along with the group. He doesn’t understand the biker’s hand signals but takes his share at being in the lead. He figures he is going to powerhouse towards the end only to realize that all the other bikers have the same idea. They arrive at the kayak put-in all in a big group.
We discussed earlier how we would put the kayak in the water but as we all bunched up, somehow, the kayak was going in backwards down the ramp. By the time we squared that away, four or five of us jumped into our boats all at the same time.  I passed two boats in the first 100 yards and the next guy in front of me was steering wildly from one side of the river to the other. Before I could figure out which side to pass him on, he overturned and the last view I had of him was of him walking his boat down the river.
The next boat up ahead was a double with two guys doing a decent job getting downstream. I eased up behind them and paddled in their wake. Like biking, a kayaker can benefit from drafting another boat.
When I tried to pass them, they picked up their pace too and we paddled neck and neck for awhile. Luckily for me they couldn’t hold it for long. I don’t think they had as much experience in picking out the current in the river either. I focus on keep the kayak in current as much as possible and I think over the length of the course it made a difference.
Later I did get passed by three boats - two surf skis and a double outrigger. I can’t keep up with boats like that. Overall it was a pretty lonely race.
At about and hour and half I could feel my energy level drop. I reached for the tube of my hydration pack and all I got was a bunch of air and a teaspoon of liquid. Somehow the valve was left open. I hate to stop paddling so I decided not to fuss with it.
The river empties out into Lake Washington and the finish is around a buoy to the right. I had two run-ins with power boats who just weren’t looking. One dude I had to yell at, he would have hit me if I hadn’t. So much for non-motorized boats having right away.
The picture of me at the finish looks like I am having trouble walking on the gravel. Not so, I was just having trouble walking at all. Paddling for two hours there just isn’t any circulation in the legs.  
Originally I had some real misgivings about my portion of the relay race. My practice sessions didn't go all that well (other than being scenic) but there is something about the whole race thing that makes me want to do well and push limits. The best thing I did for myself before the race was watch videos on youtube of Olympic kayak racers and their paddling style. Form carried me through.
My time was 2 minutes faster than what I did five years ago, but I was more than a little concerned about how long it took my heart rate to drop after the race. Thirsty and wiped out I was.
I tagged Amber for her start of the half marathon and it was with great joy that we saw her finish her leg of the race with a smile on her face and a time that was under her predicted pace. Yeah Amber!
The day was getting steadily warmer and Alison once again had a hot run on an asphalt trail. She had the unfortunate experience of watching a runner turn around before actually reaching the halfway point. Chump! Still Alison turned in a strong performance under adverse conditions. We’re trail runners and running on hard surfaces is a lot tougher on our bodies.
We came in 5th in our division, 11th overall out of nearly 70 teams. We had by far the largest age spread of any team. Just being around so many other competitors and the positive vibes that get generated makes training and racing so worthwhile.

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