It is a race for the pros. It is a race for the newbies. It is a race for people who want to sprint, people who want to take their time, and everyone in between. Most of all, it is a race for people who want to have fun!
My first adventure race was the 1998 Dallas Hi-Tec race, where my brother Kip and I got a taste of things to come as we tried not to overheat in 112 degree temperatures. The next summer I met my future husband, John, while looking for teammates for the 1999 Dallas Hi-Tec race. That year we got covered in Crisco and muddy water, resulting in one of our best finish line photos ever. Eventually we turned to longer races with navigation and without Sevylors as we determined that we have more endurance than speed.
John and I signed up for the 2001 Dallas Hi-Tec race in order to give our teammate, Jason, the experience of the exciting special tests and the thrill of racing with and in front of big crowds. We prepared our gear based on previous experiences and our desire to bring as little as possible into the transition area (TA). The only additions were two keels and Yak straps that would make the boats easier to handle.
The race started at 5 a.m. which was a huge improvement over previous years. It was dark and much cooler than normal as we set up our bikes and talked about the special tests. The organizers handed out booklets with instructions for the special tests during the Saturday race briefing and we had guessed what to expect from most of them. For once we did not know the order or the distances of the events in between the special tests, making this a unique Hi-Tec event.
A couple minutes before the start of the race, we were handed instructions for the first event, a trail run. We were told to tie knots at the ends and in the middle of an 8-foot rope we had been given. Each person had to hold onto one knot for the entire 6-mile trail run. We were already prepared to set up a tow so John could help me run faster, but the extra person on the line was unexpected.
"Bang!" The gun went off and we took off into the night, swarms of light beams invading the darkness of the road around the transition area. Each set of three lights had a slightly different shape, whether in a row or in a V or some kind of slant. I hung on to the middle knot as John and Jason sprinted along and helped me up the hills. Soon we were swinging by the starting line again and then one by one each team disappeared over the hill toward the woods.
The jeep road seemed to last a long time. I wanted to go as fast as possible while we had room to pass people (or people had room to pass us). It took all that I had to keep moving quickly until we got onto the singletrack. Usually this section would be a reprieve from the relentless anaerobic state I had put myself into. However, on this morning it turned into the most difficult section of the whole race.
John ran in front and called out obstacles as soon as he could see them. "Root!" "Step up - and up" "Tree!" and "BIG step" echoed through the woods as teams struggled to keep each person upright and running. I tried to drift to the left of John in order to see the trail ahead of him part of the time, risking scratches on my left leg. Jason had the chance to move to the right to see ahead of both of us, but I'm not sure how successful he was. It felt like being blind would have been an advantage for about 45 minutes as we needed to trust John completely and react immediately to whatever he said. We each took turns with knees on the ground and hands flailing in the air, as the trail relentlessly took us up and down, left and right, over roots, roots, and more roots!
Our one regretful move took place in this section. We were shadowing a team, waiting for a chance to pass while my breathing recovered. A team came up behind us and tried to pass us. I decided that wasn't right, so we took off to pass the team ahead of us instead. It was a mess, as various people ran into each other and one of the women screamed. We ended up ahead of both teams and I don't think anyone got hurt, but we felt quite bad about creating a scary situation without even letting them know we were coming.
Occasionally we would see a light ahead and our hopes would rise that we were getting closer to the TA. But it would turn out to be just a break in the trees or a camera crew filming in the middle of nowhere. Finally the purple trail run signs were joined by red bike course signs so we figured we were getting closer. The end of the singletrack portion featured a steep downhill, followed by a long steep uphill, then we finally broke out of the trees. After another mile of John towing my exhausted body up the last couple hills, we were back at the TA!
The first special test was a cargo net tied to the ground at the corners. Our task was to crawl under the net with our hands still gripping the rope. I stayed even with John and Jason as they held the net up between them. Near the end of the crawl I started losing ground so they helped pull me through to daylight.
Then a volunteer handed us an elastic band which was about a foot in diameter when placed on the ground. Without using our hands or arms, we needed to stretch it out and make a hole for John to crawl through. Jason and I grabbed opposite ends in our teeth and got one foot each through the loop. Then we stretched it as much as we could. After one false start we got it wide enough and in a good position for John to work with. Two down!
Kip filmed us with his digital camera as we sprinted to the entrance of the TA. We picked up instructions for the next section, which we initially interpreted incorrectly. It seemed to be in two parts, a bike ride and then a "ride and tie" section where you use two bikes for three people. So we took all three bikes to leave the TA. The volunteer told us we could only use two bikes, so John ran to put his bike back while I pondered the real meaning of the instructions. Finally we all agreed that the volunteer was right and this was simply a 5.7 mile ride and tie.
Jason and I rode toward the back exit of the spectator area, while John pounded the pavement after us. On the fly we decided that I would ride the whole way while John and Jason would switch off on the bike. Amazingly, they were able to keep up with me as I took my time weaving through the trail in the growing light. At various times I was ahead, between, and behind the two guys, depending on the terrain. John was absolutely amazing in his ability to run extremely fast, passing other teams and gaining more momentum by doing so. He would ride for a while to catch his breath and Jason would take a turn running along the winding trails. I'm sure both were just glad to be unshackled and able to see everything ahead of them!
For a while we traveled on an open jeep road and I gained ground on my teammates. By this time it was fully light out, making travel easier. Then we entered the woods again and I carefully rode most of the singletrack, glad to have time to work out the small hills, turns, and of course the ever-present roots across the trail. I was ahead of Jason and John when I passed a group of volunteers by the trail. I told them that it was strange, I'm usually the slow one. Almost immediately I heard Jason behind me yelling that they were still with me. OK, so I wasn't going that fast after all! We overtook a couple teams in that section because my teammates can RUN!
When we returned to the TA and replaced the two bikes on the racks, we were ready for the next special test. We correctly guessed that we had to traverse a diamond-shaped obstacle made of 2X12 planks placed on their ends and driven into the ground. We had to remain in contact with each other and all three of us could not be on the same side at the same time. At the widest point John and Jason were about 5 feet apart. I hung onto John's shorts while Jason and John leaned toward each other and supported each other's weight with their open palms. It took two tries for them to figure out how to lean without bending at the waist while I learned how to hang onto John's waist when he moved without warning. But we got through it fairly quickly.
Then we were off on a sprint around to the boats, waving and yelling to Kip and Jason's girlfriend Sheila along the way. I grabbed three life jackets while John and Jason found two boats and a pump. Special test #4 involved inflating the boats so they would float on the lake. This worked in our favor because we also wanted to add the Yak straps and keels to the boats, so two of us worked on that part while the third person pumped the boats up. The straps work by pulling the sides of the boat together to increase the hull speed, while giving us improved back support instead of the inflatable seats. The keel is attached under the boat to provide a stabilizer during windy conditions. Together these attachments reduce the biggest problems with Sevylors, slow hull speed, susceptibility to wind flopping the boat around, and lack of a comfortable, braced paddling position.
Jason and I got in one boat and John boarded the solo. We took off with a couple other teams nearby. Jason and I paddled well, keeping up with other teams and becoming pleasantly surprised how well the boats worked with a couple modifications. John did a great job keeping close to us, although a single person paddling a boat is going to be slower than many two-person boats. In retrospect we may have gone faster with the boats tied together, but in any case we still completed the 2 mile kayak section much faster than in previous years.
Jason and I docked first and removed the straps and keel from our boat. After putting everything away we caught a breather while waiting for John. As John pulled up to shore, he tipped himself out of the boat to get out of the way (and possibly to cool himself off), and we took care of that boat as well. We were pretty sure "Part II" of the biking section was next, and we were right.
This time we were allowed to take all three bikes and we headed out on the same 5.7 mile course. Jason hooked up the tow system so we could fly along, as I tried to stay off my brakes and go with the increased speed. Jason towed me for the paved and jeep road sections, while I tried to hold my own in the singletrack. I appreciated the chance to "pre-ride" the course during the ride and tie section, and I tried to improve my speed the second time around. A couple teams passed us in this section, but not as many as in previous years.
John rode ahead to wait for me at the long hill near the end. When I saw him I hopped off my bike and he carried it most of the way up the hill. I was going to walk up this hill anyway, but at least I could do it more quickly without my bike. From the top we exited the woods and Jason throw the tow system on for one more dash to the TA/finish line.
We put the bikes on the rack and dropped all of our camelbaks for the last two special tests. Heading out of the TA for the last time, we could hear the announcer talking about teams going over "The Wall", our final special test. But first we had to complete "The Weave". Five large logs, approximately 3 inches wide and 5 inches high, were horizontal and parallel to the ground, about 5 feet up. We had to go over the first, third, and fifth logs and under the second and fourth ones. Jason and John attacked the apparatus with enthusiasm, while I needed some help. First John knelt over so I could climb up, then both John and Jason helped me as I clung underneath the second log. Trying to get back up, my feet and calves started to cramp up. Ow! OK, now they are OK. I moved over to the fourth log and attempted to repeat that task without the pain. No such luck. It took a few seconds to recover as John helped me down. Apparently John and Jason had no trouble swinging under the logs, but I was concentrating too much to notice at the time.
Finally, we had one more challenge to conquer. We had heard about "The Wall", as it is a standard special tests at all of the Hi-Tec races this year. It is 12 feet high and the first person must get to the top without a rope. John jumped up on Jason's shoulders and then almost fell over backward, but was caught by me and several spotters on the way down. He tried again and this time caught a hand on the top of the wall and pulled himself up. We had brought a rope with knots in it and we expected John to throw that down to us. But he called down "our rope is no good here!" We weren't sure what he meant (it had come untied), so we tossed up one of the ropes placed there by the organizers instead. Then I climbed up on Jason's shoulders, stepped up on one of his hands, grabbed the rope, and got help from John getting my legs over. Last of all, Jason pulled hard to climb up the rope, getting help from John to make it over the top.
We stepped down the boards on the other side and hurried around to the finish line. Yay! Then I collapsed in exhaustion on the ground. My prone state didn't last long and soon we were hugging and smiling for Kip's camera. I was absolutely awed to find out we had come in 15th overall and 4th place in the co-ed division for our first Hi-Tec plaque. There is no way I could get anywhere close to that by myself. My teammates are incredible!
These sprint races are fun, short, interesting, and great learning experiences. If you want to try out some new team dynamics or get an intense workout, go out and race one! You never know what will happen.