I'd asked Jamie about doing Smithville as a 2 person team in March. Then, a couple weeks before the race Jason Bettis asked if I'd race with his team; Dynamic Earth/Team Fusion. A competitive team, a team that's won, and a team where I'd have to work really hard to keep up. Also a team I wanted to race with. So I told Jamie the situation and he said "go for it".
The Dynamic Earth/Team Fusion team I decided to race with consists of Jason Bettis, Shawn Gates and Ashley O'Reilly with Jason as the navigator.
Jason and I traveled to Smithville together while Ashley and Shawn drove separately. It worked out well because it gave us a chance to talk about racing and I got a pretty good handle on how Jason approaches it. He's obviously an excellent navigator, based on his previous racing results, but as the leader of the team (the person saying which way to go is "leading"), he's not going to get in someone's face, tell them to suck it up and push harder. He's a lead by example kind of guy.
The packet pickup was at Dynamic Earth where they had a 50% off sale on all apparel and shoes in honor of the race. MUCH APPRECIATED! The maps were included in the packet so it would give us plenty of time to go over them and still get a good night of sleep. That was pretty cool.
Friday evening, the team got together and went over route choices and how we would work as a team. I hoped to bring some strong biking ability to the team as I expected to be the weakest link on the run and in the boat. To even things out, we decided to utilize tow straps on the biking legs, pair me with Jason in the boat, and have Ashley, the best runner, carry the passport on the trekking sections. That setup would allow me to pull when possible on the bike, be in a boat with a skilled paddler and just have to keep up when on foot. The order of the disciplines would be: run > bike > paddle > bike > run > ???? (probably bike). I figured we could win.
Saturday morning we were up at 6. We got ourselves ready, loaded the cars and headed to the bike drop. Weather-wise the day was shaping up to be a warm one. There were a few clouds and some fog early but the high was going to get around 90. Hopefully we'd be finished before the heat got too bad. I decided to carry 100oz of water/perpetuem with another 24oz on my bike. I drank less than that at the Branson AR on a warm day so I thought it would be enough.
|Official park trail map|
Once I saw all the other teams, I finally started to get that race feeling. It's kind of a nervous energy where you know you're going to be busting your ass for hours and you just want to get going. I've always thought that waiting for a race to start is the worst part of racing. Once they say go, you stop thinking about what could happen and you start doing it.
After a short pre-race meeting and the Star Spangled Banner where I swear I was the only one singing, Gary yelled go and we took off. The first section was a run to the bikes where we needed to collect three checkpoints along the way.
Ridge Runner/Downhill Bikes Branson (Dathan Atchison, Kindall Combs, Lullel Hickman and Melisa Lemus Mckay) led out on the run followed closely by Team Kuat (John Bradley, Beau Mooneyham, Doug Assenmacher and Anna Assenmacher). I could tell that Ashley, who is an amazing runner, wanted to be up there with them, but we stayed back a bit in order to keep the team together. I think a tow system for the run would have been helpful since we were running on a greenway trail and could have used Ashley's strength to get us a little closer to the front. In reality though, we got the checkpoints and arrived at our bikes in pretty good shape, with only four teams ahead of us and within a minute or so of the lead.
|Heading out from TA1|
The first bike leg was probably only four or five miles, but within minutes, we started reeling the other teams in. I just can't say enough about how beneficial the towing system is. When I was on the front, I was digging pretty deep to catch the teams in front of us but when I started to slow down, Jason would jump to the front so I could draft and recover. The teamwork was excellent. There was one mishap where Ashley's tow strap got tangled in her rear hub and broke, but it wasn't a big deal and she just had to be at the end of the train from then on. We got all the checkpoints and on the last downhill leading to the paddle transition area we were able to catch Team Kuat who had moved into the lead. We pulled into the TA just ahead of them.
|Going from bike to boat|
We went the same direction as Kuat so we could try to keep up with them. Wild Hares (Scott Stopak and Justin Hankins) were right there as well and we ended up getting most of the CPs at the same time. Kuat was a little unbalanced in their boats at first with John and Doug getting ahead, but swapped it around after a CP in order to even things out and keep within the 100 ft rule. They are blazing fast but with Jason coaching my paddling technique we were able to hang with them. After making the circuit around our little section of the lake, we pulled our boats out at the same time. That had me really stoked because I expected with my weak paddling we'd be killed on the boat leg, but we were right there with the leaders and I was still feeling great, plus we were getting back on the bike!
|Wild Hares, Kuat and us finishing the paddle leg|
The second bike leg was pretty short and after a few minutes we got to the next transition area to the orientering course, which was the make or break section of the race. We went the opposite direction of Kuat and Wild Hares because we didn't want to be thrown off by being around other teams. The course was a mix of really dense wooded sections and open cornfields. By this time of the day, the heat was really coming on so even though we could move faster in the cornfields, I really preferred the woods because of the shade.
Jason was nailing the CP's and Ashley was running and jumping through ditches and creeks in order to punch the passport while I was doing my best to hang on the back of the pack. I was feeling the effort from the bike and the heat and was struggling to keep up on foot. About halfway through the course I ran out of the 100oz of water I was carrying. They had water at the transition area but for some reason I didn't think to refill before starting the trek. Luckily for me Jason had a full bottle that he gave me and it got me through until I could refill back at the transition area.
|Look at all that water|
As we came in after getting all the trekking CP's Kuat were getting on their bikes and heading out; we were the 2nd team in. Jason got the next set of checkpoints which were pre-plotted and it turned out this was the final leg of the race. We were to bike back to the Smithville Lake park and ride trails to the finish line. Awesome!
|Hard working volunteer|
When we got to the trail, the first section had some slick rocks and roots and Ashley took a spill early on. That made her ride cautiously instead of attacking the trail like she should. I rode behind her for awhile and she's a good mountain biker. I think she needs to trust her skills more and go right at the technical stuff. If you're hesitant, you'll have problems.
At the end we got to the finish line about 6 minutes back from Kuat but 30 minutes ahead of Wild Hares. A 2nd place overall that close to the front is a great accomplishment and I'm really proud of my team. Everyone was strong and we worked really well together. I didn't mention Shawn in this report very much but he's a solid all-around racer, plus his humor keeps everything light on course which when your tired is a welcome relief. I'm happy I got to race with them and I'd do it again anytime.
|Post-race I'm all smiles!|
|Water was a little chilly|
Gary and Ellen, owners of Bonk Hard Racing once again put on an excellent adventure race and as usual pulled in a ton of swag for the racers. Thanks for sponsors Kuat and Dynamic Earth for supporting the sport.
|Spoils of racing|
Lessons learned from this race;
- Form over effort on the paddle. I've had races where I worked much harder and gone much slower than I did at Smithville. Thanks to Jason for the guidance.
- Carry enough water. I should have refilled when I had the chance. I've got to stay on top of my water. It's critical. Again, thanks Jason for giving me your water.
- Tow whenever possible, even when you think you're all going the same speed.
- Take advantage of strengths and minimize weaknesses and mistakes. Having me pull on the bike and having Ashley as the rabbit on the run were the best way to use our strengths. We had very few mistakes and that made the difference.
- It's nice to be on time for the race start and I loved getting the maps earlier in the day Friday. Sleep is good.
*UPDATE* PHOTOS ARE UP! I've grabbed several for this post, hopefully that's okay.