This would be our second time competing in the Aqua Terra Sprint race. In 2007, there was so much flooding that the race was moved to Bastrop State Park. In 2008, it returned to the original intended location of San Marcos. Our team for this one was Kipley Fiebig and myself. We headed out early and arrived at the boat drop a bit before 7am. There was lots of activity with folks dropping boats off. Hanging in the tree at the boat drop was a checkpoint marker (CP 2). Was this really going to be the second CP of the race, or was it just a trick of some sort? Well, we would figure that out soon enough. Boats were dropped, along with a few bottles of water and paddles and we were off. The race instructions told us to bring our PFDs and helmets to the starting line a few miles away.
After we checked in, we were basically told the course which confirmed that CP we saw earlier would in fact be CP 2. Also, at check in, we actually punched CP 1 (the race director did this to avoid a huge bottleneck punching the initial CP (much appreciated!). We were told we would be bussed a few miles away which would be about a mile or so upstream from our boats. We grabbed inner tubes and got ready for the start. The race would start with a short (1/4 mile) run with the tubes in hand to the river put in to start our tubing section to the boats. Kip and I had a brilliant strategy of bringing along swim fins since we expected to be swimming or tubing early. Several other teams had the same idea and also were equipped with fins. At the start, we ran pretty well and were in the first group of folks to hit the water. The water was a bit shallow so we kind of just ran along until the water dropped off and we were swimming. We decided to put on fins (which were buried in our backpack). This was the only real problem with our race strategy. It was not at all easy to get to our fins or put them on in the deep water. We floundered about for a bit, then made our way to the shore for a better attempt. We finally got our fins on after almost every team had passed us. Not a great start! But we got settled in and starting kicking our fins, and finally began passing teams at a rapid rate. When in deep water, the flippers worked great, but there were lots of shallow spots to make things interesting. At one point, I got my fins all tangled up in the grass under the water. Kip flew past me, but we were still within race legal distance. I struggled a bit trying to find a more optimal way to swim with the tube and fins. We were still consistently passing teams, so we were happy. We then hit the Rio Vista water park. This area has 3 rapids, which is why we were required to wear helmets. It was a blast going over the little rock waterfalls and accelerating quickly. I smacked my backside on one of the rocks, but it was fun anyhow. After the falls, I finally figured out a better system to swim on the tube. I caught up to Kip and we rounded the corner to the tube take out/boat put in.
There were lots of folks already launching boats, so obviously we had not caught everyone. We were around mid pack getting out of the water. We had a fast boat launch, so we passed a couple of teams at the boat put in. We were now paddling, and figured we had a good chance of making up time on the boats in front of us during this section. We started passing boats right from the start. This section of river is very narrow with lots of twists and turns. Our canoe is not the easiest boat to turn in such tight conditions. This section of the river is quite scenic. Too bad we were racing through these sections and didn't get time to look around and enjoy the scenery. There were also several sections that we had to really weave in and out of to clear downed trees and other obstacles. We got to the first portage section where we saw Sheila Reiter, who was volunteering. It was a small dam that we had to carry our boats over. We asked the golden question of "how many boats in front of us" and Sheila did not know for sure. She guessed 4 or 5. There were some folks swimming in the river along the way which was cool to see. We caught up to Jason Mitman and his step dad Mike (doing his first race ever!). Just as we were passing them, they hit a rock in the river and it high centered their boat. We later learned that they swamped their boat attempting to get off the rock. Sorry, we did not know or we would have offered to help. We could now clearly see the only remaining two boats that were still ahead of us. It was a co-ed team and a masters male team. They were both paddling well, but we were slowly making up time. We hit the tie in to the Blanco river and turned right per our pre-race instructions and warnings. (We heard that some teams accidentally turned left at this point and quickly ran out of water.) Next up was the large dam portage. We had been warned about this one. This dam was a good 20 foot drop down to the next river level. We were in 3rd place with the lead teams less than a minute ahead. The first place co-ed team was very fast and efficient with this portage. The male team just ahead of us was a bit slower and got their boat briefly stuck as they took the trail down around the dam. We were able to pass them as we put our boat back in the water. It was a short lived pass as they power-paddled their way back ahead of us a few minutes later. We were both still slowly gaining on the lead boat, and were just behind them at the boat take out. We once again passed the male team while taking our boat out of the water. We had to carry our boat a short distance from the water's edge to the boat drop location. It was now time to run for the final leg of the race.
Kip and I are usually fast at transitioning so we thought we could jump ahead here. We were required to check in at to the finish line before starting the final trek leg. We reached the check in first and grabbed some water and a quick bite of food. We took off on the run only to notice the co-ed team had beaten us out. They were quite impressively efficient. The male team was also right with us when we left transition. The three teams (co-ed, male masters, and us) all chose to do the same trekking point next (we could get them in any order). Our teams arrived at the point all at together, then we headed out for the second CP. The co-ed team then must have had some navigational difficulties, because we never saw them again for the rest of the race. I wish we could say the same about the masters team, as they were just leaving the second point as we reached it. From there we picked a better route back to the main road and jumped ahead of them. It was time to jog down a long straight dirt road out to the last loop of points. We felt confident in our running ability, but that optimism was soon shattered as the male team flew by us on the road. Kip and I agreed we could not maintain that running pace for the rest of race, so we wished them well and off they ran. We kept them in sight and punched the next couple of points not too far behind them. Then we had a decision to get the remainder of the points in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise order. The masters team chose to go clockwise, so we picked the opposite direction, hoping that we'd get lucky and find the points faster, since we knew we weren't going to outrun them. We had trouble for a couple of minutes on one of the points near the river edge, but then we found it and got out of the area. We then ran into the masters team coming around the loop from the other direction, and from the map it appeared that our teams were about equidistant around the loop. This encouraged us to keep running hard in hopes that we could get ahead. We reached the end of the loop before the other team, which meant they must had a little trouble on the same point that had given us difficulties. Excellent, we were now in the lead, but could we hold it to the finish? We kicked up our pace, but a quick glance over our shoulders revealed that our competition was only 100 meters behind us with a mile still to go. They were likely a little tired from the fast pace race as they were not closing on us as quickly as they had earlier. We hoped we could hold them off, but it was hard to tell if we'd succeed. As we got closer to the end we still had a small gap on them, so we managed to cross the finish line in first place, but barely! The chasing team finished less than 30 seconds after us, after two hours of racing. It was a close race the whole time, with lots of teams that were within striking distance of winning.
The race directors put on a fun, well balanced race. Thanks to Mike, Debbie, volunteers and all the other folks involved. Our race day was not over yet, as we had another event to get to, so we kept running to pick up our car, boat and gear in order to hit the road. Unfortunately this meant we did not get to hang around for the awards ceremony and exchange stories with everyone.
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