Monday, April 04, 2005

April SMAR

This was to be my longest race to date...the Smoky Mountains Adventure Race, 40 hours, 25,000 ft of climbing in 107 grueling miles. I raced with Team Carolina AT/Running Amok (Stephen Morris and Michael Gladden). We arrived Friday afternoon for gear check and the pre-race meeting. The weather was about 40-50 deg. with a constant rainfall. We knew the weather would be wet to start, but was supposed to clear for Saturday and Sunday. Saturday was forecasted as a high of 51, 30% chance of precip, but up to 50 mph gusts of wind. We knew that this would translate to chillier and windier conditions on the ridgelines that we'd be traveling throughout the course. The stategy from the start would be to maintain a constant pace while simply trying to outlast the competitors. We decided that if we were still feeling good on Sunday morning, we would push as fast as we could to try to finish in the top 5-10.

We got the maps around 7pm, and Stephen and Michael began plotting the UTMs. We knew that we would be starting at 10pm, with a 17 mile paddle. We estimated this would take us 4-5 hours. 10pm came quick, and we headed out on the water. The paddle was a rogaine format so we chose to get the points clockwise which may have caused us to deal with extra strong headwinds. The conditions were terrible. Whitecaps, furious winds, pelting rain, and extreme cold. Temperatures were in the high 30's, with rain/snow mix, and sustained winds between 10-25 mph and gusts up to 50 mph. We saw some teams capsize also. Luckily the checkpoints were fairly easy to locate once we arrived at each of them. Arriving back to Transition Area 1, I was extremely cold and soaked through and my feet felt like 10 lb. blocks of ice. Michael was slightly hypothermic. We took an extended TA so he could get warm enough to head out on the bikes.

The bike leg was 60 miles, and lots of elevation gain. My legs started out slow and took about an hour to finally warm up to riding. After that, I felt great. We had a short break from the rain, but soon after that short break it started to snow. We hit some fun singletrack (fun because it was basically a mud fest). We then caught up to several teams on the forest road ride after that. The weather conditions were quickly deteriorating, and it was snowing about an inch an hour. There were sustained winds of 40-50 mph on the ridgelines, with gusts of up to 70, and 3-5" more snow, with temperatures in the teens, and wind chills less than -20 (in addition to the 6" already on the ground). It would have been easy to quit, as many teams were steadliy dropping out. But thanks to my strong teammates for being willing to continue on. Stephen gave Michael all his extra clothes to wear, and we applied our hand and toe warmers and trucked along. At CP 10 our bikes had frozen up. Drivetrains and brakes were not working. It was very very hard to make the decision to turn back. We were all still feeling strong, but did not want to contend with Mother Nature as nightfall would only make things worse. We had only prepared for the conditions predicted by the weather report...50's and windy, with 30% chance of precip! Right then it wasn't about speed and ego, it was more about survival.

Jonathan (our star Support Crew of one) picked us up at the Balsam Lodge that was currently sheltering over 20 teams that had also dropped out of the race. It turns out that only two teams made it to CP17, and the race course was closed there. So, a 40 hour race was turned into a 24 hour race. We missed the hike section and the 2nd bike leg, both of which were supposed to be brutal. Very disappointing, but we definitely made the smart decision. Of course, Sunday turned out to be a gorgeous day of 60 deg, and sunny! This year's April Fools joke was not too funny.....

Thanks again to my teammates, and to Jonathan for working so hard in terrible weather conditions!! You guys are the best! And, thanks to Eddie for your encouragement and inspiration, I thought of you a lot while I was climbing all those steep hills :)

And, of course, thanks to Tim Morris and Tony Berwald and all the volunteers for putting on another great challenge in such a beautiful area. Sorry, no pictures this time :(


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