Adventure Racing 23:59:02  87.04 mi (16:32 / mi) +12242ft 14:35 / mi
Adventure Enablers Epic with Jim, Brent, and Nicki, in her 24-hour race debut! The organization was testing some things out for Worlds, so there were a few notable changes from past editions -- namely, no maps until race morning, and a prologue preceding map distribution.
The race started at 12pm, but the prologue window opened at 6:30am. We could pick up a map anytime between then and 9am for a short 4-CP trek through Shenandoah River State Park, and once we completed the prologue, we were given the actual race maps and directions. It was an interesting concept but felt a little bit unnecessary to have to wake up at 5am for a race that didn't start until midday.
Knowing that there wasn't going to be a whole lot of navigation and strategy for this race (going in with those expectations made such a difference in terms of the experience!), we rolled in at 7:30am and enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the park to collect the prologue points (so leisurely that Jim brought his DD coffee along with him). The rain started rolling in right as we finished, so we grabbed our maps (two sets - another test run for Worlds) and ran to a covered picnic area to look over the course.
It took us a little while to make sense of the 15 double-sided maps, but as we expected, it was a relatively straightforward course. The race would start with a 30-mile bike loop on technical single track, and then a second point-to-point ride to Camp Roosevelt (fun for us history nerds, the first CCC camp), which we'd visit three times throughout the night. After a short foot loop and another 12-ish mile ride, we'd have a half-marathon trek up and along the Massanutten Ridge Trail before descending to the Shenandoah River for an 11-mile paddle, taking out at the finish, and doing another short foot loop on the same trails as the morning prologue.
RD Mark Harris said they were confident that top teams would clear the course easily and that the winning time would be roughly 19 hours, so we weren't super concerned about optional vs mandatory points. We boarded a bus at 10:15am, rode an hour to the start at New Market Gap, and readied our bikes for what ended up being an 11:30am start, meaning we had 24 hours and 30 minutes on course.
It had rained through the night before the race and rained steadily throughout the day Saturday, which made for slower riding than everyone anticipated. After Jim ran a short (second) prologue loop, we set off toward the front of the pack and enjoyed riding with Rev3 SOTF for the first couple hours of the race. We hit the first two CPs and then, based on some info we'd heard pre-race about the quality of the trails to CP3, we made the decision to hike-a-bike up and over a ridge and drop our bikes to run for 3. Since we parted ways with SOTF just after CP2, we knew they'd be a good barometer for whether we'd made the right call. When we started crossing paths with a whole bunch of teams who were coming from the CP as we were trekking toward the point, we began doubting our decision. Feeling a bit deflated, we hit the CP and then ran back toward our bikes -- and right away started passing the teams who'd just passed us, as they were hike-a-biking down the technical trail. In the end, we got back on our bikes at the exact same time that SOTF hit the trail intersection we came down, so it was probably a wash in terms of time -- but nice to be on foot for half an hour.
We continued on through the next several points, aware that we were pretty far off the initial time estimates but not quite ready to consider dropping points yet. We rolled through TA1 (which was more checkpoint than TA since we were continuing on bike) and made it through CP8 and the next big hike-a-bike ascent before turning on our lights.
We could do the CPs on this leg in any order and had some route decisions for 9-10-11. We contemplated dropping our bikes and running to 10 before hitting 9 and 11, but ended up continuing in order and were happy to find that we could ride almost the entire way. We dropped our bikes at the base of Duncan's Knob and undertook a Class IV scramble up to CP11, but otherwise we just made steady progress through the mud and muck (or, as Brent noted on more than one occasion, the diarrhea that was clogging up the trails).
We rolled into Camp Roosevelt at 11:15pm, avoided the temptation of the TA bonfire, and transitioned quickly to a short foot section that was surprisingly less straightforward than it seemed from the maps. It was a good nav challenge -- we wandered a little bit on a couple of the points and ended up walking right past a CP in a narrow saddle, but overall Brent and Jim worked the maps pretty cleanly. We saw in the results that a lot of teams struggled up there - one of the many times during an adventure race that I've felt grateful for racing with strong navigators (something I also often take for granted).
We returned to Camp Roosevelt around 1:30am and ran into Jesse Tubb, the eventual overall winner, who had just finished the bike loop. He said it took him just under three hours. We knew that he was moving far faster than we were on bike, and we also estimated that we'd need about 7.5 hours for the last three sections so wanted to be leaving TA by 4:00am.
So, time to start dropping points. We tossed around a few different possibilities and ultimately ended up riding out to CP21, the lone mandatory point on the ride a handful of kilometers up the road (I didn't realize it was also up a considerable climb until we flew back down afterward) and then hitting CP27 on the way back to TA. There were five more points on the section, but going for one more meant another 2000+ feet of elevation and essentially committing to the whole loop, so it wasn't in the cards. And really, none of us were too disappointed to miss another few hours of muddy single track.
We got back to Camp Roosevelt, packed up our gear, and headed out for the Massanutten ridge at 3:50am. There was only one CP on the trek, just before the TA, and there was a sign on the ridge that directed us to the named trail down to it. So, not a lot to pay attention to, but by that point it was a clear night and the stars were out, and we got to see a beautiful sunrise over the river. We enjoyed the company of the Trail Vets and another male-2 team and it was nice to push each other to shuffle along at a steady pace. We hit CP29 with the Trail Vets and then rolled into transition around 8:00am to learn that more than half the field had dropped out of the race or gone unofficial. We were bummed to hear it, but it was understandable. It would have been a tough race regardless, given the terrain, but the weather just caused carnage.
For us, we had just under four hours on the clock to complete an 11-mile downriver paddle and a 5-mile run. The Shenandoah moves relatively quickly with short stretches of ripples, and with the sun shining and the temperatures starting to rise, it was a beautiful morning on the water. We pulled out at the finish just before 10:30am, shook off the stiffness that came with two hours of sitting in the boats, and set off for the final foot loop. The points were in the same section as the first prologue and Brent and I know those trails pretty well, having done the Epic a few times previously, so we were confident we were okay on time. We moved along steadily, enjoying crossing paths with all the families out for the Tenderfoot 3-hour race, and descended the final hill to the finish at 11:30am (a rare lack of urgency, since we usually leave only a few seconds on the clock).
We ended up in second overall behind Jesse, who cleared the course in commanding fashion. Great reunion weekend with so many AR friends, fun team effort, and really enjoyed the journey the course took us on, even with the relatively straightforward format. And a huge shout out to Nicki, for completing her first 24!