"If I am so willing to throw myself face down into crisco to finish almost (but not quite) dead last, just think what I should be able to do at work for real American Dollars. This sort of logic is of course very dangerous."
-- Don Shute
We only managed to train together once in the not-quite two months leading up to the Oct. 22 race date. We ran in Central Park and did a couple laps around the reservoir. I had been training for days and my legs were dead, but it felt good to really run. It was obvious to me that I'd be holding everyone up. Craig ran the NYC Marathon last year. Don was easily matching my pace and carrying on a conversation with Craig. I was concentrating on breathing.
Craig wanted to be competitive. I told him he gave that up when he signed me up. I just wanted to enjoy the challenge. Push myself, of course, but not to breaking point. Don felt like I did. Craig couldn't hide some of his disappointment, but was genial about being shackled to two anchors. We were a team.
October 20. My birthday. The first of two rest days before the race. My achilles tendons hurt. Oh well. Lovely birthday dinner at my cousin's and a late wakeup call. I had been having an anxious dream and woke fighting for my life, my 7-yr old cousin bashing me with a sofa cushion. I had to speed back to Manhattan and attempt to get a new seat post for my roommate's mountain bike. The mountain bike I'd be borrowing for the race. Did I mention I don't own a mountain bike?
No luck with that, so off to meet Craig for the long ride to the Bronx end of the 6 train. Once there at the entrance to Pelham Bay Park (the largest park in NYC, according to its sign), we had to take a bus to get close to Orchard Beach. A twenty minute walk later and we were there. Our teamwork was starting off well: Don had just arrived as we walked up. Registration and a Q/A session with pro Team Hi-Tec went quickly. We were given two 3 foot lengths of slick plastic rope. We were told to have them on our person at all times during the race. We decided to do the kayak demo down at the beach.
The race would use inflatable 2-person kayaks. We wanted to see how they handled and get a chance to work on our team paddling before the actual event. But we were 3 people. We'd have to go with 2 in one kayak and one in another. Craig (smallest) was tapped for the 2-man boat. Don, with kayaking experience got the solo. I'd sit up front and be the motor. Craig would primarily steer.
The problem, you see, with these boats was that they would respond to the slightest wieght shift. And, being inflated, they were wider than most kayaks. So, to get a good dig on a stroke, I'd need to lean slightly to that side. The boat would compensate by shifting its nose to the opposite side. Craig was having trouble keeping us straight. In fact, we often ended up 180 degrees from our course. It was funny, but we didn't laugh much. At least we didn't violate the number one rule: No Capsizing.
Don had a date in Manhattan, and to ease the AM travel would sleep on my sofa. He gave us a ride downtown and went off to his chamber music. Craig and I took in some pasta and settled in to watch game 1 of the world series. Nearly five hours later, Craig long-gone, Don back, I turned off the TV in disgust after the double-play that ended the bottom of the 10th. Muttering to myself I crawled into bed for a scant few hours of sleep.
More anxious dreams and none-too-restful sleep. Craig called just after my alarm went off. I was awake, but groggy. Don and I headed out to pick up Craig and some breakfast. I got an awful raspberry chocolate muffin that I couldn't stop eating. I'd just forget and take another bite. Yogurt washed it down. Oh, and the Yankees won in 12. I was glad I didn't stick it out for the extra 40 minutes.
And then we were there. Set up the bike in transition area, pit stop and then gather on the beach. We were in the second wave. The first challenge: use the ropes we were given yesterday to tie our ankles together, making a four-legged team. Just walking was an adventure, but some teams managed to jog. They were mostly all the same height.
A quarter-mile and a few nice rope-burns later, we got to the transition area, hopped on our mountain bikes and were off on the first of 2 seven-mile mountain-bike segments. My borrowed mountain bike was a bitchin' machine, but way too small for me. The first couple miles my knees were on fire. Don spotted the flames and suggested Craig and I switch bikes. We did and Craig did fine. I adjusted the seat on Craig's bike (also borrowed) and felt wonderful. In fact, I had a blast on the course.
My first off-road experience was delayed, unfortunately, due to a massive traffic jam on the trail. The three waves of teams were only staggered five minutes apart. They were now all clogging even the relatively wide track into the woods. Some teams were more polite than others, but all were impatient.
I've always maintained that taking a bicycle downhill on terrain filled with bicycles-don't-go-over-these-type-things was nothing I wanted to do. I still don't see myself describing my ideal course as "taking a bike where it's not meant to go," but I'm completely sold on off-road/trail riding. The downhill, barely-single-track strewn with old bricks and rocks was an adrenaline experience (especially for my first exposure to it), but I didn't fall and managed to actually ride it both times. There were mud bogs (impossible to cross) but you could whip around the banked sides like a bobsled. That was way cool. There were also total mud portages. Those weren't nearly as cool.
Back at the transition area and into the first of 2 trail-run segments. We were given a map and directed to retrieve 7 of 10 possible numbered tokens from locations not on the trail, but in the woods. We had to run the trail as marked, but at various points could leave it to navigate to locations on the map.
We started out fine. Another challenge. Take a one foot diameter loop of bungie cord and get one team member through without touching it, and without using your hands or arms. Not too hard. Don and I just flopped down and spread it apart with our feet. Craig stepped into it and we raised it. Craig ducked under and out. We got the idea from the other 15 or so teams doing it. After that we really lost it.
We're smart guys. We don't drag our knuckles. But we couldn't follow signs to save our freakin lives. We weren't lost, but the looks on the race official's faces said "losers". We had trouble seeing things right in front of us. Part of this was that we didn't know what to look for, but another, much larger part was that we were just dialed down mentally. This would get better over the day.
The 2.5 mile trail went out near a peninsula and through calf-deep water. Our shoes and socks were soaked with cold water. Oh well. Then onto the beach (after missing the trail markers twice!). While running on the wet sand we spotted some of the pro teams already in the kayaks. For a team with less than zero pretentions, this was surprisingly demoralizing. All the teams had put the 2-person kayaks in front, with the single tied to the back. We made a note of this. Any help in steering straight would be appreciated. If the pros did it this way, we could do worse than to try it.
We brainstormed better team names. Our leading candidates:
- Team Donner Party
- Team Why God Why?
- Team Dehydrated on Arrival
We got tokens 1, 2 and 3 in order and finished the trail. The other four would have to wait for the second trail run segement. Back on the bikes. This time the trail wasn't crowded at all. This was probably because everyone was ahead of us, but no one mentioned this out loud. I was more confident and had even more fun on the course the second time around. This means I did it faster.
A small gear digression. Pedals that secure your feet (called clipless for a reasonable, but silly reason) have pros and cons. I've used them for road cycling recently and had some epic dismounts (on hills, in traffic on Broadway, outside the shop, etc). Wearing them on terrain I wasn't convinced could be riden in the first place wasn't going to happen. So, while I understood the power advantage of pulling the pedals in addition to pushing them, I opted for what I considered a safer course. This decision was mostly smart. I used a few judiciously-timed stick-my-leg-out balance moves. What I hadn't counted on was that having your feet attached to the pedals meant that they'd be there when you needed them to be. Happily, I didn't suffer to get this insight.
The pro teams were finishing as we got back to the transition area. The 1.5 mile kayak was next, but first we had to use two wooden beams to get one of our team over a string held taut at 7 feet off the ground. Another team was there and offered to work together. We readily agreed. The two poles were balanced against each other, their apex over the line. The other team had their female member climb the pole and slide down the other side. Teams could help balance the climbing partner, but no one could touch the string. Our man Craig did the scramble for us. This sort of impromptu inter-team teamwork is standard at these kinds of events.
Now to the kayaks. We pulled two kayaks from the large selection and carried them (we were threatened with disqualification and flaying if we dragged them) to the water. We had forgotten the paddles and life-jackets, of course. Back to get them. We found out why the pros all had that funky arrangement we saw earlier. The variation for this race was as follows: the two kayaks must be tied together with those slick rope segments. The team member in the rear kayak, riding solo, wasn't allowed a paddle. He or she had to take a ride. There could be no switching once underway. Naturally, we put Craig back there.
So Don, with the kayak experience, sat in back of the 2-man boat and mainly steered. I was the motor again. Craig lounged and got hypothermic. We were quite giddy and made lots of jokes about depth charges and Craig being an unruly passenger. They seemed funny at the time.
We engaged a couple other teams on the 2 mile course. One got very close and we mock-battled with our oars. Then we raced them in sprints singing the Hawaii Five-O theme. The first half of the course was interminable. The team in front of us seemed to speed up past the first buoy. Cool, we must have been fighting current on the way out. This invigorated us and we (meaning me) dug harder to get there. In the process we passed a couple teams.
Who passed us back like we were sitting still. Past the buoy we did speed up remarkably. This was a very welcome morale boost. Until all those other boats just motored past. We couldn't figure it out. It didn't make sense and still doesn't. We thought maybe we were just outside the current, but other boats were in line with us and accelerating. The high quickly dropped us even farther down. I was terrifically cold, even with the exertion. My teeth were chattering. Craig had fallen into a coma.
At the beach (finally!) we had to portage the kayaks up the beach and and over a fence. We hardly thought it possible, but we were even colder after taking off the life-jackets. Run to the transition area, scarf a powerbar and change into a dry top. Still shaking and shivering. I put on my fleece jacket and pogoed in place for several minutes, to no avail. Team 176 next door makes conversation: "Great feeling isn't it?" "Yeah. (pause) Oh. We're not finished..."
Off on the second trail run, I sprint away into the sun and keep running because I can feel myself warm up. I dread re-entering the forest without getting my temp up a bit. I was acting like an escaped mental patient, screaming like Daffy Duck. My teammates have to run to catch me. Our map skills were closer to average this time. We didn't have to turn the map around several times clockwise anymore. :)
There was some cooperation with other teams "oh, it's up there, under that funny tree". We ran out into the marsh, on rocks for one marker. Found another near an old abandoned house. We ended up taking a leisurely stroll for the last mile or so to the end. After the checkout there verified we had all the markers, they threw them away. That was painful to watch.
Now to the remaining challenges before the finishline. The first was a pyramid of large timbers painted green and black. The logs ran parallel to the ground and looked like a large unfinished set of steps. From more than an arm's length away, you had to catch hold of the lowest log and, without touching the ground, climb under it. Once having gone under, you could stand on it. Then you had to get to the next highest log and go over it. Then under for the next, etc. At the apex, you begin descending the other side in like manner: over, under, etc. The last log has you go under and then swing out, so as not to touch the ground inside the chalk line. The team did it all together. Failure of any teammate sent the whole team back to the start.
We're all rock climbers, with good upperbody strength. It's fair to say we enjoyed this one best of all the challenges. Given what was next, there's no mystery why we didn't hurry through it.
The crisco valley. Two roughly 35 degree slopes of slick formica-like surface with a small flat area between. The tops of each side were about 10 feet high. You had to climb on wood beams to get up and slide down to the flat area. The valley was about 50 feet long. We started climbing near one end, got to the top and saw the dude with the crisco.
The slides were white colored to start with. It was hard to gauge just how much crisco was on it, but we were sure it was a lot. And what was up with that guy hurling great gobs of the stuff at teams already covered in it? That guy was a psycho.
"Are you going to throw that at us?" I asked incredulously.
"Fucking hell!" We descend to try a spot farther away.
"I'm gonna walk over there..." he yells, peeved.
We climbed up and peeked over. We must slide down into the valley then ascend the other side. we'd have to climb on one of us up and them pull the first up. We slid down, get all gunked up (and not in the rock-climbing sense :) We realized belatedly that we should have kept our hands out of it to keep grip. Doh!
Don lies down and Craig climbs up onto his shoulders, lies down and can barely get his fingers over the top edge. He pulls himself up and over. I climb Don as well, and repeat Craig's move. Standing on the outside is considerably more difficult now that our shoes are slicked beyond belief w/Crisco, 6 feet up. We have to pull Don up as he has no traction of any kind. We use: the ropes! After a quick Crisco stained double-grapevine (which holds!). I had to lean back off the structure to generate any pull. When he got close and we didn't have any more torque. I leaned over and got what hold I could of his shoulders, just enough to get his hands to the top.
We jump down and feel good. Our most efficient challenge yet. "Way to go Team 177!" yells a spectator. A momentary flush and then back to reality. The memory challenge. At stake, a repeat of the Crisco valley. Failure was not an option.
One side benefit of our slow pace was that we were thinking more clearly as the day went on. The rules didn't preclude the whole team participating in the memorization, they merely stipulated that just one person had to deliver the report. We memorized, consulted and nailed the items. Two paper clips, a pencil, three pennies, an Outdoor Balance Bar, a key, a bike and a kayak. With that it was over. And most importantly, we didn't have to conquer the Crisco Valley again.
We ran the final 50 yards screaming like maniacs, crossing the finishline as if we'd been running. :)
My shoes, post event. May they rest in peace.
The Crisco was everywhere. I didn't have a spare pair of pants. I was ravenously hungry all of a sudden. We packed up and went for a hearty diner meal. Don dropped Craig and me off at the subway for the long ride down. Both of us fell asleep on the ride.
Our time of 5:22 was, to be frank, dismal. But we didn't really care. We were 9th from last among all teams, 4th from last in the all-male division. The winning pro team (all pro teams are co-ed, by the way) finished in about 2:30.