My first race in nearly 4 years was moderately successful, but it certainly did not go off without a hitch. I've toed the starting line in hundreds if not a thousand races in my life and never have I seen an event as poorly organized as this one. My fears that the race didn't even exist (no contact info, no website, no confirmation of early registration) were unfounded, but what we got for our $40 entry fee certainly left a lot to be desired. I finished in 4th place overall in the long course (5k trail run, 20k mtn bike, 5k trail run) but there were probably only about 15 or so who did the long course, another 15 to 20 did the short course, although only 4 or 5 five of them finished ahead of me. Anyway, the total race featured 1040 feet of elevation gain (4 hike-a-bikes) and took me 1:39.46. Ultimately, as weird and disorganized as the event was, it was a great training day and I look forward to the next one (Kristin will be volunteering and making suggestions). The race distances go up 5k in each discipline with each race, so it will be a challenge.
The race took place at Fort Steilacoom Park in Lakewood, WA and several dozen people showed up to compete. Everyone had a choice between a short course race (5k run, 15k mtn bike, 5k run) or the long course (5k run, 20k mtn bike, 5k run). The long course was supposed to begin with a 10k run, but the distances are going to increase each month so they knocked it down to a 5k. I opted for the long course, although there was no way for anybody to know that. The race organizers had no way of differentiating between those doing the long course or the short course. And with a mass start, multiple figure-8 loops, and people in both events finishing simultaneously, it wasn't long before it was total chaos and the organizers had no way of knowing who did what.
The biggest issue with the race was the course map and "briefing" in which we were told where to go. The course was marked -- pretty well in some areas, not at all in others -- but the instructions were on a level that expected everybody to have been intimately familliar with the area. Nobody knew the park well and the time leading up to the start, in which we could have been pre-riding, was spent trying to extract a proper description of the route from the race organizer. It was like pulling teeth just to find out in which direction we'd be entering the transition area from and when. Factor in multiple figure-8 loops in varying directions for different races and you had several dozen, clueless competitors.
The race started and it was obvious everyone was going to go out way under control. I lead the race for the first 1.5 miles at a comfortable 7 minute pace around the lake and through the first hill and bit of singletrack before a couple others decided to kick up the tempo. I'm glad they did. The course featured a very steep climb to a "u turn" that wasn't marked. Five of us crested the hill together and proceeded to run around in circles like the coppers on Benny Hill looking for some sign of where to go. There were trails leading off in different directions, but nowhere where there any trail markers. After wasting nearly 2 minutes we ran straight back down the way we came. And that's what we were supposed to do. It was news to us. Thanks to the confusion atop the hill, I finished the first 5k leg in a very pedestrian 24:29.
Me in the orange shades at the start of the race.
We were laughing because none of us knew where to go.
I stripped off my mtn biking gloves on account of the warmth, quickly changed my shoes, put on my helmet and camelback and took off. I was in and out of the transition area in 56 seconds.
The bike course started with the same 5k loop we just ran and this time when we crested the steep climb -- hike a bike -- there was a cone and a sign instructing us to turn around and descend the way we came. And that brings me to another issue with this ridiculous event. The trail leading up to the turnaround was no more than 4 or 5 feet wide, was draped in blackberry thorns, and was a pure hike-a-bike. So what does the race director have us do? Immediately turn around at the top and bomb straight back down the hill into oncoming racers who have no where to go to avoid people! It was mind-boggling. I came away with several large thorny scratches and a near-wreck.
With the first 5k done we rode through the transition area and out onto the back stretch. This area was very flat and mostly double track. There was one lengthy climb that everyone I saw pushed their bike up. I pedaled halfway and then joined the march. The way back down was kind of fun, but off to our right looked to be a lot of fun singletrack with log rollovers. Why we were stuck riding boring double-track is beyond me. After this second 5k portion, we repeated the initial lap again, then back loop again. I passed a couple guys who flatted on the final 3 miles and moved up two spots to what should have been 5th place. The race leader was accidentally instructed by no-nothing-volunteer to do another full lap on the initial 5k portion instead of returning to the transition area and ended up riding an extra 2 miles. Thanks to that mistake, I was now in 4th. The mountain bike portion took 52:03 and had a total of 4 hike-a-bike portions.
I didn't have EZ-laces installed on my shoes like I used to so I worked my feet into my still-knotted laces, dropped the helmet and camelback and was back out of the transition area and on the run in 51 seconds.
Completely uneventful. This run leg utilized the "back loop" of the course and wasn't the same area that we ran earlier. A guy I kept passing back and forth on the first two legs of the race maintained a hundred yard lead on me and it wasn't until the final quarter mile that I started realing him in. I probably would have caught him if the race was a little longer, but I ran out of real-estate. Oddly enough, this very non-technical, sterile off-road course had a single cobble lying in the grass in front of the finish line. I rolled my ankle on pretty badly just two steps in front of the line and collapsed to the ground as I crossed the line. Kristin took a photo of me coming in to finish and you can see the rock I stepped on in the foreground. I'm okay now, but I was limping for about 10 minutes. The second 5k was a lot faster on account of not getting lost and I was pleased to finish this leg in 21:27, which is back under 7-minute pace, for a total time of 1:39.46.
Wrap it Up
In talking to people after the race, we learned that seemingly the majority of competitors either got lost at least once, ran or biked too far, or accidentally cut the course. Everyone's attitude was, "well, at least I got a good workout in." Which is a good, healthy way to look at it, but when you're putting up $40 in entry fees it wouldn't hurt for the race to have some semblance of organization.
Which brings up to the awards ceremony. The race director laid out two tables full of wonderful swag for the winners to pick from. But does he look at the stubs from the race numbers they collected at the finish line? No. He simply asked for the firt overall male and female from each race to come forward and take a prize. "You know who you are" he says. Well, not everyone did. And it turned out that the two guys who came forward saying they won the long course race simultaneously actually finsihed 7th and 8th. The guy who did win had already gone home. And the guy who should have won, rode too far on the bike course and got penalized for accidentally cutting the second run leg. Whatever. I did end up finishing in 4th and I know the three guys who beat me did the full course just as I did, and in picking my prize I got to snag the EZ-Laces that I cursed myself for not bringing.
Live and Learn
I'm going to come back and do the next race in the series despite how disorganized this one was. And that's for two reasons: it was definitely good, fast, competitive training (trust me, this is nobody's "goal race") and because Kristin is going to volunteer next time and we've talked a lot on the way home about how to make it better. The guy only had 2 helpers and was clearly in over his head. With a little extra help, these events could be really enjoyable. Hopefully, Kristin's help and the suggestion we are going to email him will help make the next race better. So, although I spent much of this race report complaining about the organization, I will be back. And we will help make it better.