Raid the Rock 2012

Roger, me & Phil during Raid the Rock 2012

It’s the end of the triathlon season. I had my A race, but by no means does that mean I hung up my running shoes. No, it just means that I get to have fun and cut loose. I can say that one of the best ways to do that is by competing in an adventure race. Training for triathlons, you (or at least, I) train myself so much for what to expect on race day: The course is going to be hilly so I better train on hills. I know I’ll be on my bike for X amount of hours, so I should bring this much food. Or, the run is short, I can wear my racing flats. Adventure Racing is the opposite of this. When we signed up for Raid the Rock, all we knew was:

  • the date (not the start time)
  • that the race was going to be in the Little Rock area (it has previously been as far West as Lake Sylvia)
  • we would be racing for 8-12 hours
  • that we would cover somewhere between 40-55 miles.
  • that we would be orienteering, mountain biking, canoeing, doing some kind of ropes element (whether it’s zip lining or rappelling) and trekking/running. In what order was anyone’s guess.

There was also a gear list posted on the website that included required gear and recommended gear.

This was the third year racing Raid the Rock for Phil and I, but this year we had a new team member in Roger Weldon. I knew that he would be a great addition to our team because he is a triathlete and is in fantastic shape, but more importantly, he has an amazing attitude that I knew would be a priceless asset during the race. Now, he did have skills he needed to work on (orienteering, ropes and mountain biking), but Phil and I both knew he would be a great teammate.

Last year was the first year that Phil and I raced the long course (8-12 hours) and we learned a lot of lessons! One of the biggest mistakes we made was with nutrition, or lack thereof. Adventure Racing isn’t like triathlons, marathons or any other endurance sport. You don’t really know what is coming next and it requires an amazing amount of mental focus, so, you don’t focus on other things like eating and drinking. This year was going to be different. We weren’t going to hit the wall. It helps just knowing not to make the same mistake again, but I also got a new backpack with pockets on the hip straps that made it easy to grab some food on the go. I would definitely recommend this type of pack to anyone that was participating in adventure racing.

The Pre-Race Meeting

The Monday before the race we received an email that let us know that the pre-race meeting was going to be held Friday at the Arkansas Boathouse Club in North Little Rock on the Arkansas River. This isn’t like your typical packet pick up. Yes, we did pick up our packets, but before doing so we had to go through a gear check and our orienteering and ropes skills were evaluated (we all passed!) Then we were given our packets that included our race numbers. Lastly, we had a pre-race meeting where the race organizers gave us as many details as possible without giving away too much about the race. Racers were also able to ask questions. It was at this point that we found out that we would not need a support crew. This was a bummer because I had lined up our friends Rebecca and Chris Irons to be our support crew. Both of them are interested in adventure racing and both are Ironmen and have incredible attitudes. It also doesn’t hurt that Chris really knows his way around a bike so, if we had any mechanical issues throughout the day I knew we could count on him. Too bad we didn’t need them, but thanks for coming to the pre-race meeting anyway Rebecca & Chris!

Displaying our mapping skills at Raid the Rock 2012

Displaying our mapping skills at Raid the Rock 2012

Race Day

We got down to the boathouse a little before 5:15am and we were the first team on site. We waited in the car for a bit before setting up our base station. This included a folding table, a lantern, camping chairs, extra food, water and all of our extra gear. We had a meeting at 5:45am with a roll call of all the teams and were released for any last minute preparation. Then at 6am we gathered in front of the boathouse again for one last roll call and then the start of the race.

Running Across the Clinton Bridge

Running across the Clinton Bridge after getting our packets.

All of the teams took off to run across the Clinton Presidential Park Pedestrian Bridge where our race packets were laid out on a grassy hill. Once we found the packet with our race number on it, we opened it up to find a small rock with our race number on it. We were instructed that we must carry the rock with us at all times and we would have to present it upon request at different parts of the race. We then ran back across the bridge to our base station and began plotting the points provided. Phil was calling out the different coordinates, I was using a UTM reader to plot the points on the provided map and Roger was double checking our work. Once all of the check points were plotted we got on our bikes (the designated form of transportation) and headed out to start finding check points.

Check Point at the Capitol

On of the first check points in front of the Capitol

The first few check points were very easy to find because we are familiar with downtown Little Rock. The first check point was just under the I-30 bridge, followed by the second check point in front of the Capitol Building. The third check point was at the gate for the water park in Hillcrest, then we headed into Allsopp Park for several more check points on the trail. I did get a little lost when we first headed into Allsopp, but Phil and Roger got me back on track. The trail kicked us out onto Cedar Hill Rd. where we saw Nate, one of the race directors. He told us that we were the forth or fifth team (overall) he’d seen so far — very good! We proceed to the River Trail for several more check points.

We could tell that the next check point was near the Rebsamen Park Golf Club, but couldn’t pin point it exactly. Once we arrived there, there was some thick trees and brush between the road for the golf course and the River Trail. Somewhere in there was our check point. There were maybe two other teams searching for the check point but before we knew it other teams started to trickle in. Eventually we found the check point, but not before a few more teams got in front of us. The next check point was also a little difficult to locate. It was in a creek bed/ravine, which made it more physically challenging to find. We didn’t spend as much time on it as we did on the previous check point, but I wish we would have been able to find it a little faster. We passed a three-person, co-ed team at this point, but they weren’t far behind.

The next check point was easy to find. It was on a jetty at the Murray Park Boat Launch. Phil and Roger waited at the top of the boat ramp with the bikes while I stumbled my way out onto the jetty to punch our passport. (The passport is a little piece of paper that has spaces for each check point that you punch with a unique punch when you find the check point.) I had been dubbed the official passport carrier. After punching the passport, I headed back as quickly as I could in my mountain biking shoes and got back on my bike. I was a little worn out after that because, well, mountain biking shoes and rocks don’t go together very well and because I didn’t get to have a little break like Roger and Phil, but we continued on over the Big Dam Bridge. The other three-person, co-ed team wasn’t far behind us. We slowed down a bit after going over the bridge, but the next check point was on another jetty by the ski lake in Burns Park. I did not volunteer for this one so, Phil stepped up to the plate while Roger and I took a bathroom break and got some food and water. The other team arrived just a minute or so after us. Roger and I chatted with them, briefly, while Phil and one of their teammates were getting the check point.

Once Phil got back we headed to a check point in the Northeast corner of the soccer fields in Burns Park where the other team passed us. Then, we headed to the mountain bike trails of Burns Park for a few check points before getting to a transition area where we ditched our bikes and began the trekking/orienteering part of the race. The other team that we had been playing leap frog with got to this point before us and left a little before us.

Arriving at Transition

Phil arriving at the transition with me and Roger in the background.

While navigating to the different check points, we were in a groove! I was pace counting while Phil was shooting bearings and Phil and Roger were both using their compasses to keep us on bearing. Most of these check points, we hit dead on! Because of this, we were able to pass the other team we were competing with, but they were still very close. Then, they made a risky move and used a road to navigate to the last two check points. This is risky because it is very easy to get off course on a road or trail, but in this instance, it really paid off for them. They passed us and we didn’t really see them for quite a while after that.

After finding the last check point we took the road back to the trail where we left our bikes. This gave us a good break to eat some Clif bars and drink some water since we didn’t have to be actively navigating. Once we got back to our bikes we did a quick review of what was coming up and got back on our bikes. We took a marked trail back down to the River Trail where we found a check point at the base of Emerald Park trail, an unpaved trail that switch backs up a steep hill, we took this trail and it was a haul! I was getting nervous because I didn’t see any more markers after the initial marker at the base of the hill. Thankfully, when we were almost at the top we saw another marker and the check point a little bit after that. The check point was across the trail from a peninsula that looked out over an old quarry and gave us this beautiful view.

View from the Top

Soon we were back on our bikes, bombing down the hill that we just huffed and puffed up. I can say that it was much more fun going down than up. We got back to the River Trail that took us to downtown North Little Rock where we took the Junction bridge over to a parking garage in downtown Little Rock. This was the site of our ropes section; we’d be rappelling off of the five-story building.

As we came up to the parking garage, we saw the other 3-person co-ed team. This was the first time we had seen them since they crossed in front of us on the road. Unfortunately, they were just finishing up with rappelling, so they were still a good bit ahead of us. When we arrived we were greeted by the men and women of the Tactical Rescue Services and asked to present our rock. Phil dug it out of his pack and showed it to him and then we were told we could leave our gear (with the exception of our climbing gear) and go up to the top. When we got up to the top another lady asked for our rock. What!?!? We just showed our rock to a guy at the bottom and left it there! Luckily, they verified with the guy at the bottom, that we did indeed present our rock and we got hooked in and rappelled back down.

Many people find rappelling to be very intimidating, but it really isn’t that difficult. The strangest/hardest part about rappelling is stepping over the wall and leaning back to let the rope take your weight. As long as you didn’t go crashing to the ground after that, it’s smooth sailing.

Rappelling during Raid the Rock 2012

After we got our gear packed away we headed over the Main Street bridge and back to the Arkansas Boathouse Club. Once we got to the Boathouse we checked in with the race organizers and were handed a sheet with several more check points. At this point we took a break at our base station to eat some PB&J’s, drink some Gatorade, hit up a real bathroom and of course plot the new points we got. In retrospect, our break was about 40 minutes long which was longer than we really needed to take. This was one area we could of made up some time.

After getting all of our points plotted we chose a canoe (the designated form of transportation for the next leg) and paddled West on the Arkansas River. There were six check points located on the river, three on the South side and three on the North side. We decided to get the three checkpoints on the South side on the way out and they weren’t very difficult to find. Roger sat in the front, me in the middle and Phil in the back. Phil had steering duties while Roger and I switched off who would paddle on which side. It took about an hour for us to reach the take out where we would transition to trekking/orienteering to find five more check points on land.

Most of the check points were pretty close together, but there was one check point that was way further away than the rest. We found two check points near/in the quarry and then carried on to find another just off the River Trail. Then we decided to take a road to get the check point that was really far away. It turned out not to be too bad to get. We did have to shoot a bearing once we got to the corner of the road and Burns Park, but then it was only about 100 meters into the park. We had one more check point to find on land and we had heard that it was a little difficult. It was back in a warehouse area and other than being on a steep hill side (which didn’t make our tired calves very happy), but we found it relatively easily. Now it was time to get back in the canoe.

Canoeing during Raid the Rock 2012

We got back to the canoe and paddled along the North shore finding the final three check points. Just as we were paddling in for the final check point the sun dropped behind the hills and it got noticeably cooler, which made me very happy that we were almost finished. After getting the last check point we could hear the people at the boathouse cheering us on. It was just what we needed to finish strong after a long day. We carried the canoe up the boat ramp and turned in our passport with 40 unique hole punches (representative of the 40 check points we found throughout the day).

Overall, it took us 11 hours and 13 minutes to complete the course. This put us in 5th place (out of 8) in our division and 6th place (out of 17) overall for the long course. It was a long day, but it was a lot of fun. This year was much more urban than they have been doing the last few years of Raid the Rock, but it was a nice change of pace. I’m so appreciative that we have an opportunity to participate in a race like this right here in Central Arkansas. I hope that they have many more years of racing, because I definitely look forward to participating in this race for awhile.

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