When my dear friend Abbey originally suggested that we sign up for the winter Grand Rapids Urban Adventure Race, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. But I was game. Because, wasn’t 2012 supposed to be about me putting the fun back in run? And what’s more fun than running through the woods with a map, a friend and some good ol’ Michigan snow?
Except Michigan hasn’t been cooperating on that whole “snow” front thing. It’s been warm. And melty. And smooshy. Not that I’m complaining — because it’s certainly made my weekend expeditions to Mr. B’s much less of a white-knuckle nightmare than it could have been. But it threatened to make the adventure race a little less adventure-y.
And then there’s that whole “I don’t know how to read a map” thing. Yeah, orienteering was part of the race. And I haven’t done that since once in Girl Scouts. (I still maintain that I should have been a Boy Scout.) Thankfully, the organizer of the race and one of my very favorite stores put together an Orienteering 101 clinic. It helped. But not enough.
The week leading up to the race was warm. No snow. Grass was showing. And then, Friday came. And it snowed. A lot. And the roads turned to ice. A lot. And it was, magically, winter once again.
When I woke up dark and early Saturday morning, my Weather Channel app told me it was -6 degrees (I was too scared to check the “feels-like” temperature). I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Because I knew what was waiting for me outside. But, alas, there was a friend — and a race — waiting for me. And race day means … oatmeal pancakes!
It also means … race hair!
I got ready in my many layers of race attire:
- Tank-top base layer
- Short-sleeve tech shirt
- Long-sleeved tech shirt
- Wind-breaker running jacket
- Running tights
- Two neck gaiters
- Calf sleeves
- Two pairs of Smart Wool socks
- Hot-pink, zebra-striped leg warmers (as awesome as they sound)
- Ski band
- Hiking/running shoes
- Spikes (thanks to Abbey for the encouragement on wearing these!)
Once I got to the race site, Cannonsburg Ski Area, it took all of 3.6 seconds outside of my car to know that the clothes I brought to change into afterwards would need to be on my body. Immediately. So, I added one more pair of socks and a second pair of pants. And Abbey contributed a thicker, warmer pair of ski gloves.
I think we both could have talked the other one out of the race. I mean, it was cold. My nose was frozen shut. Abbey had crystals of sparkly ice hanging off of her hair. But we decided to be brave adventure racers.
So, here’s how it works:
- The race is completed in teams of two, in three different waves: male/male, female/female, male/female. (Our team name? Aquatic Powerhouse. Because we’re both super Pisces.)
- Teams are given a passport with squares on them, and at each checkpoint there’s a unique punch to mark the square
- Teams have to make their way around the “course” using a map, a compass and — in our case — Abbey’s sense of direction
- There also are challenges to complete throughout the race — you can choose to complete them or skip them (we did a little of both)
Abbey and I had one goal in mind when we started the race: Have fun. Let me tell you, it was one of the most enjoyable races I’ve ever run. And I would do it again in a heartbeat. (Good thing there are spring, summer and fall versions of the race!)
The first checkpoint was at the very top of the ski hill. (Yeah, the hill behind us in the picture above.) It was a tough climb. But, honestly, up was WAY easier than down. I don’t know how many times we nearly fell.
And, yeah, by the time I got to the bottom of the hill the water in the Camelback had frozen in the tube. So, basically, I was waterless — save the drops Abbey kindly shared with me from her Camelback before hers froze.
We had “mapped” out our plan and headed right off the ski hill — pretty certain most of the other teams went left. Somehow we ended up passing about six of the first checkpoints. But, but, but! We got to the very farthest checkpoint before any of the other teams.
we Abbey got our bearings and we were able to make pretty good time to the rest of the checkpoints. Some were up. Some were down. There were hills. And mud. And lots and lots of brambles.
Just over two hours and 30 minutes later, we called it good. With a three-hour cutoff for disqualification, Abbey and I weren’t certain we could get out to the checkpoints we missed earlier in the race before the time limit. After seeing our results online, we both realized that if we had actually tried — rather than just went out for fun — we could have placed. That’s what next year’s for, right?!
After the race, we headed inside where there was food and beer (for Abbey) and Mr. B (for me). All in all, it was a fantastic experience, despite the ridiculous cold.