Wednesday, May 9, 2012

2012 Smithville 8 Hour Adventure Race Report

This weekend was the Bonk Hard Racing Smithville 8 Hour adventure race in Smithville, MO.  I've done several adventure races over the last few years, with the same core group of people;  Luke, Jamie, Dee, Jesse and Sara.  They're all good athletes, but our races have been for fun more than for winning.  We push ourselves but don't get too hung up on results or being lost and wandering around in the woods for hours - our motto is personal achievement over competitive achievement.

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
The bike drop was at the "Smoke and Davey" trailhead on the north side of the Smithville Lake park, with all the mountain bike trails.  We positioned our bikes near where we expected to emerge from the woods and headed to the race headquarters at the SBC Trailhead on the south side of the park.  We arrived to find lots of people milling around.

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
After a quick transition, we were on the bikes and on the road.  We immediately joined together using our tow system of retractable dog leashes attached underneath our seats.  It was Ashley's first time being towed and she was hesitant and a little nervous on the gravel road turns, but did really well.  I think on every turn I heard "Ok guys, nothing crazy here!".

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
The paddle leg had all of the checkpoints on the banks of the lake arranged in a big circle.  Since only one person would need to leave the boat to punch the passport at the checkpoints, Jason made the call for everyone to keep their bike shoes on except me, since I'd be the one doing the punches.  We had a quick transition and after carrying our boats to the water we were in just behind Kuat.

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
After a quick gear check where they asked to see our multi-tool and spare tube, we were out on the road a little behind Kuat with Wild Hares in the mix as well.  

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
The only scary part of the trekking leg was when we came to a deep ditch in the woods with a tree fallen across it.  I'd guess it was about 15 feet deep and 10 feet across with sides that were straight down.  The tree wasn't that big, about 8" diameter.  As soon as we got there Jason jumped on the tree and ran across to the other side.  Once there he yelled "Tree's solid!" and kept going.  So Shawn gave Ashley a steadying hand and she went across followed quickly by Shawn.  My heart was in my throat as I jumped out on the tree, took two steps and leaped to the other bank.  Luckily I made it but I was WAY out of my comfort zone on that move.

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
The ride to the park was short and I towed the entire way.  I was feeling really good and I thought we had a chance to catch Kuat and take the win since they only had a couple minutes lead.  Unfortunately, they were far enough ahead that we couldn't see them up the road and I think that put my team out of chase mode and into survival mode.   We were all tired but I think if we could have seen Kuat we would have had the motivation to chase them down.  But we didn't.

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!
The team that really surprised me was the 2 person male team Wild Hares.  They were good on the bike and were good on the paddle.  Their only weakness seemed to be on the run.  They took 3rd overall which is great, but if they get their running together they'll be on the top step of a lot of podiums.

Water was a little chilly
After the race we jumped in the lake for a cool-down.  It was a great way to end a great race.  Congrats to Kuat for giving us more than we could handle.  You were fast at the end of the race and that's what it takes to win.  Good job.

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
Second place netted me 75% off a future Bonk Hard race and a nice Osprey pack.

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.
Here's a link to the results.

*UPDATE* PHOTOS ARE UP! I've grabbed several for this post, hopefully that's okay.


  1. Great write up! And, I would also like to acknowledge "All that water" picture! That was MY Adventure Race version of a wet t-shirt contest! We are team Off Road Rage (62 year old Father and 33 year old Daughter team) we were really struggling with the heat at that point, and the water sure was an added bonus! Nice to hear how the Top teams race, we take a more "back-of-the-pack" approach...this is the most amazing part of Adventure or slow...we are always having FUN! Just think how hot it was being out there for TEN HOURS! :-)

  2. Tiara, thanks for the comment. I agree with you, fast or slow it's got to be fun. Everyone on the course is doing the best they can and should be proud of the effort. Adventure Racing isn't easy; it's not supposed to be. I give kudos to everyone that toes the line. Congrats to you and your dad.

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