Thursday, February 21, 2013

Self Inflicted Exhaustion and Fun?

The Quadrathlon

Instead of spending this post talking about the gear we plan on taking on our hike, we are going to take a hiatus from talking about the CDT and talk about the most brutally awesome race that Sara and I just completed: the 30th Annual Mount Taylor Winter Quadrathlon.

This epic race is not just an ordinary quadrathlon, which is typically a triathlon with some sort of paddling event added.  Don't quote me on this, but I am pretty sure this race originated in some Grants, NM bar when two locals started comparing physical abilities.  Bragging turned into bets and pretty soon one of them double dog dared the other that he could not bike, run, ski, and snowshoe to the top of Mt. Taylor and back.  30 years later the race still attracts a couple hundred people and is one of the bigger tourist weekends in Grants.

Mt. Taylor from I-40 just outside Grants.  A long way to the top.
 I officially decided to do this in the fall and figured it would be good training for the CDT.  Plus training on skis and snowshoes sounded more fun than trying to run all winter.  The Flagstaff Nordic Center was kind enough to provide me with a season pass in exchange for wearing their logo in the Quad and some other local races so I had a place to learn to skate ski.

Sara spent most of the last couple months trying to find somebody to join her on a team for the quad so she would not have to do the entire 43 miles be herself.  Two weeks before the race she gave up on the team idea and signed up as a solo with not much serious training under her belt, but had biked the 16 miles to and from the Nordic Center a couple times so she was good to go.

We left for Grants Friday morning and got there with plenty of time to find the motel, race registration and stare up at the mountain we would ascend the next morning.  I found it nerve racking to be able to see where you will be racing, especially when it seems really far from town, really tall, and very snow covered.  Fortunately we had a great view of Wal-Mart instead of Mt. Taylor out our window so we could pretend it didn't exist for the night.

The race started on bikes at 8:00am and wove through a construction zone before beginning the 13 mile climb to the bike/run exchange.  Right before the start an official told us there was a strict 'no drafting' rule, so naturally everybody started drafting.  I got caught in a group farther back than I wanted so after 3 miles started trying to bridge the gap to the next group.  This was when I realized that my dad's bike frame (riding his because my gears are out of comission and we supposedly have the same bike) is slightly more compact than mine so I had to use my quads more than normal.  I still managed to cut the gap in half before the road got steep and when it did the next pack splintered.  I was able to catch all but one of the riders in that group by the exchange, which put me in about 8th or 9th place. At this point Sara was chatting with the riders huffing and puffing next to her as she took in the views of the prison and canyon/valley we were riding through.

I had been worried about how the exchange zones would work with trying to find my gear since we had not seen it since the night before.  Fortunately the volunteers in the race were AMAZING and met me at a bench with my bag.  While I was taking off my bike shoes they pulled out my running shoes, offered food and water, and if I had asked might have given me a massage.  It was like this at all the exchanges.

Sara at the finish line almost ready to go again
The first part of the 5 mile run was on a rolling dirt road that slowly climbed.  I caught one guy in the first mile, but he passed me again when I took off my right shoe to see if I had a rock in it.  My feet were still frozen from the bike and for some reason it felt like there was something in the shoe.  Turns out there was GU pack in my left shoe, but I did not realize that until the ski/run transition on the way down.  The rest of the run I caught 2-3 more people and started the ski in possibly 5th?  While my feet were frozen Sara was enjoying coffee, donuts and a volunteer massage at the bike/run exchange.

The first part of the two mile ski was where I looked like an amateur.  I lost a couple spots in transition because my boots did not have a velcro piece I thought they did so I kept trying to stick something together that was not stickable.  I then took off skating then realized the 'groomed' track the veteran had told me about the night before was really a siamese-snowmobile track which was not wide enough to really skate.   After 30 seconds I stopped to put on my skins (which I had fashioned for the skate skis by cutting a normal skin in to pieces and paperclipping it to the tip.  Sara had the other scraps, which I hoped were working for her everytime mine slipped) so I ended up losing another two or so minutes.  During that time it felt like six people passed me (found out later it was only two).  The rest of the ski went ok.  It was mostly a power walk up a hill.  Then the last hundred meters it turned in to a not-so-powerful staggering v-step thing because of the steepness.  I was very happy to hit the ski/snowshoe exchange.

Getting on the snowshoes went great and I turned to take off running and ran into the leader who was leaving the station on skis.  He was absolutely destroying me.  Turns out this would be his 9th victory and is 8 or 9 time Xterra Triathlon National Champion.  I am slightly more ok being beaten by guys like that.

The course description shows the snowshoe gaining 600 feet in a mile to the top of the mountain. The first half mile was a gradual uphill. Right when I started to think this would not be bad we made a left turn and went vertically to the summit.  The last half mile we gained 500 feet.  I decided not to look up for 100 steps and just keep trudging, so I only looked up at 27, 39, 43, 44, and 45.  At this point my lungs were fine.  My legs, however, were anything but fine.  My calves kept telling me it was a stupid idea to do the Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill the week before.  I was able to talk to the guy next to me as he passed me, but could not talk my calves and quads into moving any quicker.  After what seemed like an hour (really 5-10 minutes) I reached the summitt and proceeded to run/fall/careen down the mountain.

Winning the Gore-Tex Kahtoola Agassiz Uphill

The ski descent was an uncontrollable blast.  I topped out at 24.3 miles an hour on very skinny skis, fell three times, and was in control for about 100 yards of the couple miles down.  I ended up passing one guy though so I must have been controlled enough.  The few times I was going slow enough to justify skating, my legs were so exhausted they rebelled if I skated any quicker than one step every second.  While I was skiing down, Sara was skiing up and enjoying the lovely road that wound through conifer forests with occasional glimpses of the valley below and kept thinking to herself what a beautiful day it was.

The transition back to running went well and I started to feel like the race was almost over. The first three miles running down felt fine.  I was clipping 6:15 pace and feeling like I might survive.  Then the last two miles, where the road leveled and started rolling, I dropped to 6:45's, almost starting walking and wanted to curl up in a very comfortable looking snowpatch.  The race no longer seemed close to ending.  I somehow made it to the bike transition in 4th place overall and wanted to stop right there.  I sucked down a banana and Roctane before jumping on the bike and began the final stage while Sara was on the summitt taking in the scenery and looking south for a hundred miles; all miles we will be hiking in a couple months.

Descending was awesome!  Unfortunately I did not have aero bars so a couple guys blew by me, but I only hit the brakes twice and managed to somehow stay upright.  My quads started cramping in the first couple miles, but draining a water bottle full of Fluid helped alleviate that.  I ended up finishing in 6th place in 4:11.  A solid 33 minutes behind the leader.

Sara finishing in 12th overall for women.
After leaning on my bike for a short five minutes, then sitting on a curb for another 10, I managed to get to the car, back to the motel for a shower, then back to the race to hopefully be there when Sara finished.  Since she had not trained as much, and this was by far her longest race ever and she still has not attempted many races longer than a pole vault runway I was worried she would be eligible for a part in the Walking Dead when she finished.  Somehow she came in smiling, 12th overall, and in much better shape than I was.  After handfuls of gummy bears we decided it had been an epically brutal race, which was somehow fun.  We are already talking about ways to be faster for next year.  Sara's main goal for next year is to try and have even more fun because she just was not smiling enough this time around.  My goal is to train more.  Maybe a long hike will do it?

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