fitness · Guest Post · injury · mindfulness · racing · triathalon

Pause and Ponder (guest post)

This is a reblog of a newsletter post from the Rockvale Writers’ Colony by Sandy Coomer, its founder and director. Note: I’ll be there for a two-week writing residency in mid-October! She has things to say about what happened when she had to take a pause from life as usual. I’ll let her take it from here. -catherine

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m very active and busy. That’s my natural tendency. When I rest, I’m often thinking of and planning for the next burst of energy required for the next new project or idea. It’s hard for me to slow down. In fact, I rarely stop for long . . . unless I’m forced to. Funny how that works. When it’s necessary to pause, when I’m required to stop my busy enterprises, I’m pleasantly surprised at how refreshing it is to simply “Be.”

I had a triathlon race in Wisconsin this past weekend. I had a good swim and was at mile 15 of the bike when a pedestrian/spectator ran onto the bike course and we collided. The collision made me crash head-first into a parked pickup truck. The moments that followed were interesting. I was unable to say where I was or what my name was. I didn’t feel panic – just a sort of confused wonder at what I was doing on the road. I knew I was in a race, but I had no idea where. When someone told me I was in Wisconsin, I remember thinking, “How in the world did I get to Wisconsin?” Within a few more minutes, I remembered everything, and then I was whisked away to the emergency room.

I’m not badly hurt, but I will need a few weeks to heal from my injuries. It’s a forced pause, a slow-down to allow my body to heal and my concussion-addled brain to steady. Living in the still air of patience and acceptance is a lesson in a different sort of fortitude than the one I’m used to. It wasn’t in my plans to get hurt, but the hurt came anyway, and it’s my responsibility now to see what I can learn from it. Otherwise, the experience is wasted.

Here’s what I’m discovering from my forced “Pause.”

  1. People matter more than anything else. So many people have taken the time to check on me and see if I need anything. Am I attentive to others’ needs when I’m in “Busy” mode? Can I take a moment every day to tune into another person’s heart and say “I see you, you matter?” 
  2. Being still teaches a certain kind of balance which can lead to delight. I sat on my back porch yesterday and watched the afternoon fade into dusk. Two chipmunks were chasing each other from the porch to the grass and into the burrow under the shed. I felt like I was a crucial part of this scene. I belonged in an intricate way to the wonders of nature. I didn’t move or direct anything. I simply was there.
  3. Letting go of perfectionism is the key to being satisfied. I was sorely disappointed I didn’t finish the race. I kept replaying the details of the wreck in my head over and over. What did I do wrong? What should I have done differently? Sometimes, stuff happens that we can’t control. Sometimes, we simply have to accept the drama of the day and move on with gratitude.
  4. Beauty exists in every situation if you stay open to it. As I was being driven from the ER back to my hotel, I noticed the light glinting off the water of the lake, little cups of sparkle and glee. I thought, “how beautiful.” Back at home, I settled into my own comfortable bed with its floral comforter and sage green pillows and I thought, “how lovely.” Do I even notice this when I’m focused on all I need to get done?

When I think about my writing, I realize that if I get too focused on the achievement aspect and forget the beauty of each moment, I can miss the whole point of writing entirely. I write because I have something valuable to say. My writing comes from my soul, not my ambition. Remembering that is what will keep me at the page. 

A “Pause,” forced or chosen, can be a time of pondering and eventually, great insight. If we believe every situation has a purpose and a lesson, we’re more apt to let experiences teach us and take the lessons to heart. Yes, we learn a lot from work, but we learn equally from not working, from pausing our “Go” button, and simply allowing the universe to share its infinite wisdom. I would not have chosen to wreck in the race, but I AM choosing to ponder the Pause, the Moment, the Wonder of Being Here Right Now. 

It’s something I’m glad I didn’t miss.


cycling · racing · Zwift

Do you Zwift? Want to give racing a try?

Team TFC

There’s space on my team which is competing in the Zwift Racing League’s Tuesday night series. We’re a D team. The races are at 730 pm and you don’t need to commit to every week. Indeed if our roster is full we might need to have some people sit out some weeks. Don’t worry. We’re a ways to go from that.

The team takes virtual riding seriously but we’re also about having fun. The goal is to learn and get better in a supportive environment.

I think it’s fun. Message me if you’re into Zwifting, think you might like to give racing a try, and you’re a Category D rider.

Here are some steps for getting started.

competition · fitness · racing · Zwift

When is a race not a race? When it’s a ride. But don’t worry Zwift has lots of room for non racing, competitive impulses…

I’m riding the Tour of Watopia right now–having finished the Tour de Zwift last month, and in each event–in the chat waiting for the event to start, along with all of the cheers from various locations around the world–someone inevitably asks, “Is this a race?”

Answers appear fast and furious in the chat. On the one hand, it’s a tour, not a race. On the other hand, many people like to treat it as a race and think of themselves as racing. But thinking of yourself as racing doesn’t make an event a race and inevitably there’s conflict between those on the official line–it’s a tour, not a race–and those who like to treat the tours as races.

Some people think that any time there are two or more people riding bikes, it can be treated like a race. Now that’s obviously false because group rides are definitely not races. It’s rude to treat a co-operative group ride like a race. That’s bad form both in the real world and in Zwift. Group rides are not races. In Zwift, there are ride leads, with a yellow beacon, who ride at the front, and sweeps, with a red beacon, who ride at the back. In the real world, it’s also dangerous to treat a ride like a race.

Some events are clearly not races, see group rides above, and other events are clearly races. Events organized as races and as advertised as races–are definitely races. In Zwift, races use Zwiftpower for official results. There are rules that need to be followed, such as riding in the right category, sharing correct weight information, having a verifiable power source, or you risk disqualification. There are also rules for that particular race such as points for fastest through a segment, or first to the top of a KOM. For my guide to beginning racing on Zwift, see here.

Zwift’s Tours are not the usual group rides–no leads, sweeps, or advertised pace–and they also are not races.

Here’s the description, “The Tour of Watopia is a multi-stage journey on Zwift. All 5 stages will earn you double XP, shorthand for Experience Points. Collect enough XP and you’ll level up in the game. With new levels, come new in-game routes, products, and/or clothes.”

Q: Will there be races during the Tour?

A: No, but you are welcome to run/ride as fast as you like. These are group events and event results won’t be displayed at the end.

There’s actually a philosophical point here about the meaning of terms, and ‘race’ is ambiguous between meaning something that individuals do and an ‘event.’ Some people want to say that you can’t individually race unless the other person, or persons, you’re racing against agree to race. One way for sure to know they’ve all agreed is that you are taking part in a racing event.

You might know the frustration of not racing when others think you are. I used to be amused by guys passing me on the bike path and occasionally making comments about my go-fast bike going slowly, when I thought what I was doing was obeying the bike path speed limit of 20 km/hr. They thought we were racing and I thought I was riding inside the rules of the road.

On my former bike club’s weekend social rides we didn’t race–except for town sign sprints–and people who treated our club ride like a race, pushing the pace past our advertised speed were invited to come out for weeknight races. If you want to race, we have races, but this isn’t it.

Back to the Zwift tours, I think they are a bit like Grand Fondos–mass participation cycling events with the motto, let the racers race and let the riders ride. I blogged about the MEC one here, the Niagara Falls one here, and the County one here.

Zwift has a fair bit of activity that falls in the middle, things that aren’t official races and aren’t group rides either. For example, the leaderboards for KOMs and sprints when you’re just riding in the world, compare your time to everybody else’s. You might be trying to get the fastest sprint time while others are riding through the segment as part of their recovery ride. You’re racing in the sense that we might say we ‘race for the bus’ if we’re late in the morning. You’re racing but the bus isn’t.

Like Gran Fondos they provide for competitive opportunities for people with a competitive streak who don’t want, for whatever reason, to take part in organized races.

A screenshot of a Zwift ride.
competition · fitness · racing

Getting better through caring about getting faster: Skill development and reasons to race

I like racing and I like being part of sports communities where racing is part of what goes on, even if I’m not actively racing myself. I like watching races and marshalling. I like being part of a racing community. Part of the reason is that I’m a bit of snob, not about speed, but about skills, and the two things are connected.

Now it’s true I also like racing for its own sake. I’m often in the position of trying to persuade other people to give it a try. See Six reasons not to race and why they might be mistaken. Racing or not is an ongoing conversation at Fit is a Feminist Issue. We’ve written a lot about competition and racing here on the blog. Regular readers know that Kim has mixed feelings about racing. Tracy has written about racing anyway even though she knows she won’t win. I’ve recently written about why I love racing on Zwift.

In this post though I’m going to talk about one thing I like about racing. But to be clear I’m not arguing for it in the sense of giving reasons that others need to accept. If you don’t like it, that’s just fine too.

My suspicion is that lots of women might like it but don’t think it’s for them. See my post Where are the women?

When some people talk about the benefits of racing, they focus on the value of testing yourself and developing your potential as an athlete, but the benefit I want to talk about is about is community and skill development.

I’ve been part of recreational racing teams as a road cyclist, a track cyclist, a dinghy sailor, and briefly as a rower.

I like it best when teams race regularly, recreationally, against one another. You get to know people and learn a lot from one another. We don’t think about that as part of competition but it’s very much the case for recreational racing.

In communities where everyone who has a road bike starts out racing, you find that people are pretty skilled riders. Racing teaches you to ride around corners and to ride closely with others, to descend at speed and to climb efficiently. It’s true you can learn these things without racing but racing communities tend to focus on skill development. You get an awful lot of practice even if you only race for a little while.

An aside: I also like it when club social rides and races are clearly separate things. You can tell the guy (why is it always a guy?) who keeps pushing the pace and riding off the front, to cool his jets and come back on race night if he wants to race. You can say, decisively, this is the team social ride. There is a time and place for racing and this isn’t it.

Back to skill development. This is even more true when it comes to dinghy sailing. You learn to sail by learning to race. Once people can do the basics then you go out to club races once a week and follow along, watching what other people do, accepting friendly suggestions from other racers, and competing against other novice crews at the back of the fleet. Racing means you get good at maneuvering near other boats and good at getting the boat in and out of the water in all sorts of conditions. If you’re not racing there is no reason to tack cleanly and quickly. These skills are useful for all kinds of sailing but it’s racing that encourages their development.

This also all true for rowing. There may be recreational sailors and rowers who’ve only ever recreationally raced or sailed but I suspect there aren’t very many.

You might only want to ride a bike, row, or sail for fun but for most people, you learn the foundational skills to do these things well, through racing.

Sam and Sarah snipe racing. It’s a light wind day and no one is going anywhere very fast.
cycling · fitness · racing · Zwift

Riding with the women on Zwift

I posted this morning about racing with guys and missing the company of women on Zwift.

For what it’s worth, by profile, for racing purposes, I’m much more like the men my age in terms of weight and power which are the factors that matter in cycling.

But I also like riding with women.

So this week I did a bit of both.

First, I rode in a meet up with Australia’s Queen Bees. Their Friday afternoon lunch hour ride (in virtual France) was 8 pm my time Thursday and that worked out perfectly. It actually ended up being a nice mix of Canadians and Australians. I didn’t want to race the usual Thursday night TTT as we’re all in various stages of recovering from covid here at my house. There was lots of chatter on text and on discord in the meet up and I’ll definitely ride with them again.

They also have awesome, real life, kit.

Queen Bee bike jersey

Saturday I had planned to ride Wahoo Le Col’s team recon race since my TFC Team, Dynamite, will be racing in the ZRL series Tuesdays. “The Wahoo Le Col team has organized a Saturday racing series for men, and a separate (new!) series for women, where each week’s race uses the route that will be raced in ZRL 3 days later. Women’s event Saturdays at 3pm GMT/10am EST/7am PST.”

I started but I’d already ridden 25 km with Sarah’s ZSUN team for their Saturday morning base builder ride, quickly realized that I’d recovered enough to ride my bike but not enough to race, and decided to sit and have coffee instead. Excellent choice.

And then the ladies of the Herd, on their Sunday Sip ‘s Spin ride also decided to do a ride over of the Tuesday ZRL race course, Neokyo All Nighter. Yay! It was a great group and a nice easy-for-me pace.

Tuesday night it will be and TFC’s Team Dynamite racing on that course. I’m looking forward to it!

cycling · fitness · racing · Zwift

Sam is racing with the guys and wondering, where are the women her age?

For most of my cycling life, I’ve ridden with men. Aside from brief stints riding in Australia and New Zealand where there are enough women riders to form our own groups, I’ve ridden with the guys. But even there when I looked ahead to groups of older cyclists there weren’t as many women. I remember when I started racing occasionally with the Vets in Canberra, Australia, during my first sabbatical year there in 2007-08.

You don’t need to be that old to join. “Started in 1993, the ACT Veterans Cycling Club was formed to cater specifically for veteran racing cyclists in the Canberra area. Veteran category for cycling is 35 and over for men and 30 and over for women.”

I don’t remember how many racing categories there were–lots, I know. And lots of older men, though not very many older women. There were jokes about needing a doctor’s note to continue racing after 80.

During my first race I let an older Italian-Australian man draft me. I was impressed that he was still racing at his age and I thought he needed my help to finish. If you’re a cyclist you likely know how this story ends. At the very end, he sprinted past me and beat me in the race. His wife, who was getting the post race tea and biscuits ready, said, “Oh, he does that with all the new people. Never let him get away with drafting.” I laughed.

We joked that in my category it was women over 40 and men over 60. But even then I wondered, where are the older women cyclists?

Now I am one of the older women cyclists, I’m really wondering.

I’m racing on Zwift with Team TFC. I’m the organizer of a team, in the Zwift Racing League series, Team Dynamite. We’re an all genders team, in category D. But I am the only woman.

In lots of races on Zwift there are open categories A-D and which category you’re in depends on your power to weight ratio. But the women all get lumped together in E category. If I race with the women, I’m competing against women who would be in the open A, B, and C category. As a D rider I don’t stand a chance. Some races have Women’s A-D categories but not very many.

There are lots of younger, smaller, speedier women racing on Zwift but to race with people of my size and power, I need to race in the open or mixed categories which really means racing with men.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like my male teammates. They’re a great bunch and they manage to be encouraging without being condescending, they’re helpful without mansplaining, and they are kind and funny. But sometimes I wonder where the D women are and where the older women are.

I joke about being Smurfette!

The Smurfette Principle - TV Tropes
Smurfette with the Smurfs

Of course, not everyone likes racing. There’s no need to feel defensive if it’s not your thing. But the proportion of men to women makes me think there are women who would like it, if they knew racing at all levels was available, if they understood the range of styles of bike racing there are, and they knew they wouldn’t be alone even if there aren’t that many of us out here.

I came across a fun Zwifter recently with her own YouTube channel, Zwifting with Granny.

Her description resonated because of osteoarthritis pain and cycling being a thing that helps make it better. Me too!

“I’m just a lifelong cyclist who, in my 60’s, developed severe osteoarthritis, and the only thing that would alleviate the pain was riding my bike. Riding in the winter didn’t help because the cold negated the effects of the riding. I had heard about Zwift for years but didn’t have room for the setup. In 2019…new house, more rooms, enter Zwift. This is my journey.”

Zwifting with Granny, YouTube Channel

Past posts about older cyclists:

Cycling into One’s Retirement Years

Sharon on Cycling After Sixty

Silver hair speedsters and good news on growing older

Want the health of a 20 year old at the age of 80? Ride a bike!

On Turning 56 and Thinking About Age and Speed

cycling · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running · swimming · training · triathalon

A Triathlon and a Half Marathon with Imperfect Training (Guest Post)

by Şerife Tekin

As I have written on this blog before, I have not started engaging in athletic endeavors until later in my adulthood. So, when the pandemic first started and all my triathlon friends were really upset about all races being cancelled or postponed, I didn’t quite understand or empathize with the loss they were experiencing. I always thought I love training for training’s sake, for being able to get out of my head, and all the structure that regularly training brings to my life and writing.

Thanks to all these side effects, I was able to cope with the pandemic and the stress associated with being the partner of a frontline worker, by dedicating more time to triathlon training. I was able to continue to swim and run with my teammates outdoors (Thanks, amiable San Antonio weather). As the vaccinations spread and the impact of the pandemic lessened in severity, regional races started coming back, and I did a quarter triathlon in September (close to Olympic distance), and a half marathon in December.

Both of these races went a lot better than I expected, and I appreciated what people love so much about racing. Spoiler alert: For me, it wasn’t so much about my speed or how I ranked overall but being able to enjoy every minute of the race, seeing new sights, and experiencing all the rush that comes with pushing the body do something challenging, in the company of others.

My first race was at the 2021 Kerrville triathlon Festival.  Initially I was registered to do a sprint triathlon, but decided – with the push of my coach and teammates—that I could challenge myself to do a quarter distance. I was hesitant because I had not trained for it but I also knew that I have been active in all three sports consistently and that I could treat it as a little challenge. The distance was 1000m swim, 29-mile ride, and 6.4. mile run. The race morning was fun, always great to see that many high-energy people at 5 am in the morning. I knew I had to be on top of my nutrition throughout the race so I got some last-minute tips from my coach, Mark: Eat something every 20 minutes on the ride and hope for the best.

The first 5 minutes of the swim were a bit nerve-wrecking, I love swimming but I hate pushing through the crowds as I swim. Once I settled into a steady pace, I was able to distance myself from others by falling behind or cruising ahead. There were times I felt like I could try to go faster but I paced myself, I knew I needed the energy in bike and run. I got off the water in good spirits and ran to my bike. I took an extra couple of minutes in transition making sure I have my nutrition easily accessible.

Then on to the bike, which was my favorite part. The wind was on my side and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the rural Texas. I didn’t always feel like eating on the bike but I did, knowing that I would need it to not crash on the run. Once the bike course was over, I was in a good mood and felt like the race was just starting. I made friends along the course during the run, who were the same pace as I was and we chit-chatted supporting each other. I reminded myself to enjoy the course and not worry too much about the speed. It helped and I finished.

Overall, I was done in 3 hrs and 33 minutes, which was pretty good for a first quarter-tri without that much training. It felt so good to do the race, I had gotten the race bug. I registered for a half marathon in December thinking I would for sure be able to train for it and do well.

Turned out training for the half marathon in the Fall when we all got back to real-world ended up being tricky. I had more work responsibilities than anticipated, and was hard on myself for not training properly but I tried to do as much as I could. Some days I could not do the 5-mile run on my training plan but instead of doing none at all, I went for a quick 2-mile. When the half marathon day arrived, I said to myself ok I am not trained the best but I have tried consistently.

The race was fun. The weather was more humid than desirable but I enjoyed being able to run with a dear friend and enjoy exploring the areas of San Antonio that I had not seen before. I took regular walk breaks for about 10 miles as my friend and I had decided to do the race together and she needed to slow down a few times to catch her breath. At mile 10 she insisted that I go ahead and I gave all I got to the last three miles and went fast (for me). I finished it at 2:38. It was not a PR.

My last half marathon was 6 years ago, and I had run it with my students and had finished at 2.22. But I still felt great as a good come back half marathon. I left with feeling that I wanted to and could run another 10 miles. I was also happy that I did not let my feelings about my imperfect training to prevent me from racing. Perhaps I am one of those athletes who love racing now? I signed up for my next half, to take place January 8. I am going to try to perfect my training!!!

How about you, readers? Do you like racing or do you just like training with no particular race in mind? How do you feel about imperfect training?

Photos of our blogger on her bike (left) and after the race (right)

Şerife Tekin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Director or Medical Humanities Program at UTSA. Her favorite exercise involves being chased by her cats Chicken and Ozzy. Her website is

fitness · racing

Applying the terms DFL-DNF-DNS to life these days

Is it me, or is life right now kind of hard, very unpredictable and undeniably weird? This fall marked my return to the philosophy classroom, everyone masked, most of us vaccinated, and no one feeling like their before-times selves. University administration is trying very hard to usher/cajole/push faculty, staff and students back into a new-normal routine. And I get it. But man of man, we are so not back into a routine of any sort.

I’ve been trying to come up with a way to understand how I’m doing these days. Yes, I’m back to commuting to work (aided by my new, beautiful Aegean Blue Honda Civic Hatchback and copious podcasts). And it’s a great pleasure to see my students in person. But living my grown-up, working life with its pre-COVID responsibilities is still too much for me. I’m not crossing the finish line of the day, feeling triumphant and looking to high-five anyone. No, that is definitely not my end-of-the-day feeling.

Enter some race designation acronyms that might help describe what’s going on some days. You may or may not be familiar with them. Here’s the list:

  • DFL: Dead F*cking Last
  • DNF: Did Not Finish
  • DNS: Did Not Start

Conventional wisdom/advice for anyone who’s dabbling in amateur racing (I did some bike racing and also two triathlons in the distant past) is this:

Shorthand for: Dead Freaking Last is better than not finishing, which is better than not starting.
Shorthand for: Dead Freaking Last is better than not finishing, which is better than not starting.

Let me state for the record that I’ve been DFL in at least one race (cyclocross), DNF in a few (got lost in two mountain bike races, got pulled in various crits, and lost steam/motivation in another), and several times DNS’ed (I signed up for races but never made it to the race or the start line). Hey, it happens.

And I am reminding myself that these DFLs, DNFs, and DNSes happened when I was 13–16 years younger. Here’s me in 2005, coming into the transition area during a triathlon.

Me in 2005, pedaling for all I’m worth as the triathlon folks yell at me to slow down going around a corner.

Fast forward to 2016, when I last did anything like a race. This one was a costume cyclocross race, and I’m dressed as a banana.

Me on bike in banana outfit in 2016, pedaling hard, but with no one around me. Hey, it's a big course... :-)
Me on bike in banana outfit in 2016, pedaling hard, but with no one around me. Hey, it’s a big course… 🙂

Full disclosure: I ran out of steam after 2 laps, so I pulled over and pretended to check my bike chain. However, I was really trying to get my breathing under control. There you go…

Honestly, this is how life is feeling these days. I am mostly making it to the start line of my day. I am not rocketing out of bed, getting the hole shot and shooting ahead of well, anyone. Nonetheless, I’m mostly not DNS’ing on workdays Yay!

But I have been DNS’ing with physical activity more than I’d like. Getting out the door, making it to the yoga studio, throwing a leg over the saddle of the bike– all of these feel a lot harder to manage. Okay, duly noted. I can pay attention to what’s going on around my DNSes and see what I want to do.

What about DNFs? Well, yes, I would say there are a bunch of projects and plans that I’ve started but not finished. And yes, a couple of them I’ve just had to cut my losses with, realizing that it’s just not going to happen. I took on too much, or overestimated my energy and underestimated the time commitment.

Of course DNF’ing happened with me before March 2020, but I’m much more aware of it these days– not just in me, but also in my students, friends and colleagues. We all run out of oomph on some projects and in some areas. It happens all the time. If it didn’t, there wouldn’t be this DNF acronym. That suggests it’s kind of a regular thing. And if it’s a regular thing, then maybe it’s worth noting but not flogging ourselves about it.

And then there’s DFL: Dead Freaking Last. Honestly, at this point, in 2021, I got no worries about this one. First of all, I’m often DFL on administrative things in my job. I try not to be, but it happens often. Hey– someone’s going to be DFL every time. My view is, as long as I get it done and cross that finish line, I’m good. In terms of speed and distance and duration, DFL is also not bothering me too much. In my 221 workouts in 2021, I may be DFL on reaching 221. We shall see. But who cares? It’s a FINISH. YAY!

So, to sum up: if you’re worried about how well you are adulting these days, ask yourself:

  • Am I DNS’ing? When and how? What do I want to do instead?
  • Am I DNF”ing? When and how? What do I want to do in future about this?
  • Am I DFL’ing sometimes? Does it matter at all? No? Excellent.

boats · competition · fitness · race report · racing · sailing

Sam and Sarah Race in Snipe Nationals

Last weekend I did something brand new. And I had fun. And I will definitely do it again.

Sarah and I raced our Snipe, a 15 1/2 foot dinghy, in the Canadian National Snipe Championships. It was two days of racing over Saturday and Sunday based at our home club, the Guelph Community Boating Club, on Guelph Lake.

We had one goal, and one goal only, and that goal was to not slow down the racing. The next race doesn’t start until the last boat finishes and sometimes, earlier in the season, we were far enough behind that people had to wait. But not this time. We weren’t even last every race and often we were right in the mix with the other boats, having to worry about right of way rules and the like. Starboard! (That’s a thing you can yell when you’re on starboard tack and have right of way. Other boats need to move.)

We also had the perfect amount of wind. Yes, gusty. We have enough weight to be able to deal with that by getting up on high side and hiking. But also not dead calm which can be a bit of an issue this time of year.

What else to love? The community. One of the things I like best about Snipe racing is the range of ages of people racing the boats. Best guess? 12 to 70, but with a fair number of teenagers. There’s a perfect mix, for me, of community and fun and competition.

Our strengths? We got better over time and I think we’ve got lots of endurance and stamina. Thanks bike riding! We’re also good at paying attention and concentrating.

Our weaknesses? We need more time in the boat. We have to go out and deliberately practice mark roundings.

For me, I’ve been getting better moving around in the boat. With my severely arthritic knee, it’s taken a bit work but I am getting there.

After two days in the boat we both felt incredibly beat up, after a fair bit of crashing around. Both days we came home, grabbed food, and fell hard and fast asleep. That was a lot of work and concentration. Zzzzz!

So next year, and we will race again in the Nationals next year, we’ll practice and we’ll also break out our race sails. It was fun to be close enough to the fast boats to think that with work we can actually be competitive.

Here’s hoping that next year pandemic restrictions remain eased and we can actually get out and sail earlier in the season. Fun times!

And here’s some photos! Thanks to the lovely volunteers for taking them.

fitness · racing

What a 24-hour adventure race is like

I’ve never done a really long race of any kind. I prefer short, punchy, all-out contests where you leave everything out on the field and then retire to the picnic tables for a well-deserved cold beverage, with plenty of carbs on the side. I’ve never gotten into multi-sport races, either. I did two triathlons and came to the conclusion that, all things considered, I’d prefer to just stay on the bike the whole time, thank you very much.

But loads of people of all ages and shapes and sports backgrounds are spending their weekends doing multi-sport adventure races, called adventure races. My friend Janet did one in Maine recently, with her friend Dan. I asked her some questions about it.

Me: You did a 24-hour  adventure race in Maine July 17—18. Tell me about it.

J: It was the Maine summer adventure race, run by Strong Machine Adventure Racing. It was 24 hours of mtbiking, paddling in a kayak and pack raft and trekking with route finding and navigation, in teams of 1—4. They had 3-hour and 8-hour races as well.

Me: What made you decide to do this race?

J: My friend Dan, who I mountain bike and sea kayak with, made it sound like fun. My friend Steph and I did a 6-hour race earlier in the season, and he joined us.

Me: What do you like about adventure racing?

J: There’s a variety of endurance sports and thinking. And it is a super-friendly community, as it turns out.

Me: Are you surprised about the friendliness?

J: In bike races, the fast people finish first, and then the rest of the people come in over time. By the end of the race, most everyone has left the finish area, so there’s not a lot of fraternizing between faster and slower folks.

But in the 24 hour races, the goal is to try to get as many points as you can. Only the best and fastest teams will get all the points, but everyone finishes at about the same time. I think this makes for more collegiality. Also, people were more friendly on the course, in ways I haven’t experienced in other kinds of races.

Me: How were they friendlier?

J: At a mountain bike race, it’s a big deal to be passed from behind. People yell “men’s leader coming through.”

Me: Oh yes, I remember this. The riders from the faster races, when lapping the slower groups, can swarm the beginners. I’ve personally experienced this.

 J: In this race, sometimes teams cooperated to find tricky checkpoints.

Me: Is that allowed?

J: It’s unclear. (Chuckles). I think so. 

Me: Walk me through the race: where and how did you start?

J: We started with mountain biking. Mostly people were together like in a bike race, but for the first 45 minutes, which felt unlike bike races. Then it spread out. We did a combo of single track, double track and road.

We got to a park, then did a mini adventure race—3 loops—biking ,paddling and trekking. In whatever order the team preferrred. The trekking had a swimming section. Then you bike to a mountain bike park, ride there for a while. We then rode to a downhill ski area where there was more trekking. We didn’t do that—we knew we wouldn’t get all the points, and trekking wasn’t our strong suit. We decided to spend more time on the bike and pack raft sections.

Me: Tell me about that.

J: We biked to a park near a river area with 4-wheeler ATV trails. A bunch of checkpoints on land, and at any point you could transition to your pack raft and get points on water.

Me: How do the pack rafts work?

J: They are little inflatable one/two person whitewater rafts. They’re small enough to carry in a backpack or on a bike. You inflate it, get in, start paddling (you carry a paddle also). And a PFD (life preserver).

Me: How long were the pack raft sections?

J: Around 10 miles total. 1am-6am to do those. Some of that time was spent finding checkpoints.

Me: Is it scary to paddle in a pack raft in the dark? 

J: My amazing teammate Dan was the navigator. It wasn’t scary, but it was disorienting. There was dark, but also fog and rain. And pack rafts spin when you’re not paddling them on flat water. So Dan had to use a map and compass in a spinning raft in the dark. And rain. Which he did!

Me: How did you choose which sections to do?

J: We did all of the bike sections—we like to bike. We did all of the paddles, as we’re strong paddlers. That leaves the trekking. We had to make a judgment on how many we could do in the time allotted. There is strategy involved in doing these races.

Me: But you didn’t get the course info until just before the race start, right? Was that confusing?

J: Yes, both confusing and stressful. Luckily my partner is very experienced.

Me: Did you like doing the race?

J: About 80% of the time I was having fun. The other 20% was type II fun— a fun feeling later on when done. That was mostly because for the last 7 hours there was record-breaking torrential rain.

Me: ugh.

Me: What was your favorite part?

J: The mountain bike trails—NEMBA Apatite trails. They were swoopy and well-built. And there was a very refreshing swim across a lake after some trekking. We almost didn’t do it, but were very happy that we did.

Me: Let me point out to the readers that you swam in college for Carnegie Mellon, so you’re quite speedy.

J: Well, this swim involved carrying both PFDS and sneakers, so it was definitely not speedy.

Me: What was your least favorite part?

J: Checkpoint 33.

Me: What happened there?

J: We got turned around in the woods in a soggy, raspberry-prickly mud pit around 11pm. We never found the checkpoint.  Also there was some call-of-nature distress, but enough said on that score.

Me: How did you feel when you finished? Other than wet?

J: The thing that was so great about this for me is that I’m a recreational athlete. I do a lot of things, but am superlative at none of them. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do this, but it turned out that I could.

Me: Do you think you’ll do one of these 24-hour races again?

J: Yes. At 3am, Dan and I had a conversation about how we were both never going to do this again. By the time we crossed the finish line though, we changed our minds. I’m hoping to do another one.

Me: Shall I put out a general blog call to anyone out there who is good at middle-of-the-night-spinning-navigation in water?

J: Yes, thanks.

So there you have it, readers. If you want to travel to Maine, and can use a compass in the dark while spinning in a pack raft, also while reading a paper map in a ziplock bag, leave your info in the comments. I’ll hook y’all up.

For those of us for whom a picture is worth a thousand words, here are a bunch of pictures from the race.

Here are some photos of bike transition points.

Here are some of kayaks and packrafts:

Here is a weather radar shot during the race, and a participant with her nighttime gear.

Wanna know what the course looks like?

The course, spread out over 11 (?) sheets of paper.
The course, spread out over 11 (?) sheets of paper.

Another cool thing about the race is that they had real-time tracking of the teams. If you could interpret the web-based maps.

And of course, here are our finishers, Janet and Dan, looking soggy but satisfied as they ride to the finish.

Janet on left, Dan on right, riding to the finish with smiles.
Janet on left, Dan on right, riding to the finish with smiles.

Hey readers, have you ever done a 24-hour race? Did you like it? Did you ever do one again? We’d love to hear from you.