Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Greenway Challenge Race Report

Back on September 28th (yeah I know, I'm a little behind) me and five of my favorite ladies competed in the Blackstone River Valley Greenway Challenge.  This is a 60-ish mile relay race comprised of some combination of running (trail or road) cycling (trail or road) and paddling.  The route goes through the Blackstone Valley Corridor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  It changes every year and the course is unveiled only two weeks before the event, leaving very little time to practice the actual route.  The segment types are listed in advance (road run, mountain bike, etc) so that people can register for their sport, and then the waiting begins.

The girls (Kristen, Coleen, Marie, Julia, Jackie) and I formed a team and dubbed ourselves the "Iron Maidens".  We had fun with this name and even bought matching Iron Maiden shirts from H&M.  As we decided who would compete in which segment, we recognized there could be a couple problems with injuries.  Jackie and I have each been dealing with nagging foot injuries so we knew we'd have to be flexible.  I was assigned a 19.5 mile road bike, and Jackie was assigned a 6 mile mountain bike.  We decided that we would be each other's backups in case one of us had an issue come race day.  Sure enough, weeks before the event I was diagnosed with that pesky torn ligament in my foot which hobbled me in a walking cast.  I was ordered not to cycle, and with that I decided to back out of the Greenway Challenge.  Naturally, my fellow Maidens wouldn't let me go without a fight, so I was instead reassigned to kayaking while Jackie took over my bike segment.  Well, it's a good thing we Maidens are hardy and flexible, because Jackie's injury flared up as well, and Marie ended up having to pull double duty by taking on the orphaned bike segment as well as her own run.

Having absolutely no kayaking experience whatsoever, I wasn't feeling very confident in this segment and the last thing I wanted to do was disappoint my Maidens.  Just a few days prior to the race, Kristen took me out to Wallum Lake so that I could experience kayaking.  It was quite a process too with my foot in a walking cast, which I had to remove and then try not to put weight on my foot as I made my way into the boat.  Once secured in the kayak and in the water, Kristen and I had a great time on a sunset kayak trip.  We stopped and took pictures, I got used to how to paddle and focused on not hitting my thumbs on the side of the boat.  It was beautiful and fun, and I was thinking, wow this kayaking thing is so easy!  I'm in such good shape! This is not hard at all!  So with that crash course on kayaking, I was good to go.  The only other possible issue I was running up against was some terrible stomach problems I had been enduring for a couple weeks before the race.  Two days before the race I spent a lovely 7.5 hours in the emergency room, and was unable to eat nearly anything that Friday or Saturday.  (This is actually news to my fellow Maidens.  I didn't want to worry them with my issues, so I only told Kristen in case she had to unexpectedly take over my kayak spot).  Anyhoo... my stomach pulled itself together fairly well for race day, so crisis averted!

Okay enough about all that, let's get onto the race!  Well I think because I had it in my head that I wasn't going to compete, I never really paid attention to the segment details and all the logistics of the race.  Thank God we had Julia as our team captain.  She was clutch at telling us what to do and where to go.  I, on the other hand, couldn't even grasp the concept that I wasn't at the start line (I was hanging with Kristen at the start of the 2nd segment).  All day I just went wherever people told me to go, and answered about a billion and a half questions about my walking cast.  No, I'm not running - haha.  Yes, you're right it probably would make a good anchor - haha.

Early morning at the Quinsigamond River

It was fun hanging out at the transition stations though and chatting with other competitors as well as the guys on the TVFR team.  One nice guy took this picture of us while we waited for Marie to finish her run.  He said his wife told him to take lots of pictures, so he did.  Of us. :-)

Marie came blazing in from her run and set us up nicely in the standings.  We were off to a great start.  Literally, she was blazing.  Look at this - she's gazelle-like:

Marie handed to Kristen and she was off like a lightning bolt down a very steep and tricky path to the water and into her kayak.  It all happened so fast that I never even got a chance to see her off!

Once Marie caught her breath we headed over to Washington Mills where Kristen would be arriving in the kayak and Coleen would be heading out on her bike.

Waiting with Coleen for Kristen to come in

At this location, they were allowed to have a sprinter from the point where the kayaker came out of the water to where the biker was waiting to get tagged.  Marie was the sprinter, and then Coleen was off and biking all the way to Wallum Lake in Douglas!

Jackie waited at her transition while we went to the lake to get my kayak ready.  I was weak and nauseous and nervous but also getting pretty excited.

We had asked if there was any way we could have someone pass the slap band from Jackie to me since I can't walk without my cast, and the answer was a big fat no and something like "they wouldn't even let me have help when I was missing both my legs!" or something equally dramatic.  And since we were starting to be seen as a "competitive" group, I didn't want to take any chances.  So I stood there at the transition station and waited for Jackie to pass me the slap band, and then I walked/limped/shuffled to my kayak.  If it sounds like it was a slow process, trust me when I tell you it was slower than it even sounds.

Once I finally made it to my kayak, I underestimated how far into the water I should have pushed it before getting in.  I jumped in, bottomed out in the sand, and had to do some aggressive thrashing/humping/jiggling to get myself off the beach.  I wanted to die of embarrassment.  Once in the water though, I focused on kicking ass.

I paddled way faster than I expected and was excited that I passed one guy in a kayak and two guys in a canoe.  I was nervous about how I was going to exit the kayak.  The transition was a really lousy incline up a rutted up grass strip, so I was praying that I would be able to hand off the slap band to a sprinter.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to, but they said I could have someone help me drag the kayak out of the water.  So I hopped out, and very, very slowly made my way up the hill and hobbled over to Marie, who was waiting on her bike.

The pep talk/ass pat
Once I was done, I couldn't believe how much faster I was than I expected.  I thought it would take me 30-35 minutes, and I was done somewhere just over 20 minutes.  In fact, I apparently paddled across the lake faster than my mother could drive across, because by the time she got to the other end of the lake I was already packed up in the jeep and headed to Rhode Island!

By this time in the race, we realized that we only had 2 other teams ahead of us in the Women's division, so we started getting serious about competing.  Marie pushed hard on her bike route from the lake to Woonsocket to retain our 3rd place standing, and then Julia crushed her 6 mile run, edging out the 2nd place team, to take over 2nd place for the finish.

It was so nerve wracking waiting to see in which order the females would finish.  We saw 1st place arrive, and it was so exciting to see Julia heading to the finish line next!  We all lined up to give her congratulatory hugs, which I apparently needed to live tweet or something...

After the race we hung out in the field and enjoyed a nice barbecue lunch.  Some of the cutest little Iron Maiden groupies came too!

Group photo - 2nd place winners!

And another with all the guys from TVFR...

The Greenway Challenge hosts an awards banquet, open only to teams and individuals that placed 3rd or higher in their division.  We were pretty excited to make it to the banquet, and had a great time.  Look how cute we are, all dressed up and spiffy!

And in case you haven't figured it out yet, yes we are already talking about next year.  Yes there has been scuttlebutt about buying better tri bikes and mountain bikes.  Yes I'm thinking about buying my own kayak.  One thing I know for sure is that I was woefully under-prepared for that level of kayaking.  Although at the time I felt guilty for "only" kayaking, the next day when I couldn't even roll over in bed, I realized I have a lot of work to do!