So today Alan and I competed in the Muddy Buddy race in Richmond, VA. The Muddy Buddy is a two man team race where you use one mountain bike and play "leapfrog" with it. Both start at the same time with one running and the other biking. The biker goes ahead and gets to the first transition point and drops the bike, does an obstacle, and starts running. The runner arrives at transition, does the obstacle, and grabs the bike and starts riding. Then you rinse and repeat a few times until the end, where you have to pair back up near the finish for a few more obstacles (including the mud pit), and through the finish line. It was a great event, but I'll start with our race planning...
My coach is wonderful about making sure I train like I'm going to race, or at least attempt to approximate it as much as we can without knowing EXACTLY how an event will go, and for that I'm very lucky. That said, sometimes you can't quite get it exactly right until you've done a particular event before, so there were unknowns. Like the fact that this is called the "muddy buddy" even though the percentage of actual mud on the course is less than 1%. If you'll recall my recent post on the Rugged Maniac, you'll know that one was mostly mud, so we expected a bit more.
After some better research, which was mostly going through picture albums from previous years on the drive up (Alan did that while I drove!), we decided that this wasn't as "muddy" a race as we thought it was going to be (especially with no rain in the forecast), so we decided to change from one of my bikes that I had prepped for this to his 29" mountain bike. It's a great bike, but it's on slightly less knobby tires than what I had prepped. Which was great for this course, but wouldn't have been as good if it had been really muddy.
So, on the way up we decided to go hit the XTERRA course Alan had raced on in the past. It's in downtown Richmond and would give us a chance to get some light work in on the day before the race, which contrary to popular belief really is the best thing to do. (I actually take the day before that off.) We did that, including some bike swapping so we both got some time on his bike with our trick new pedals. They are basically some HUGE platform BMX pedals that I borrowed from Reid with Power Grips added to them. I have big feet, and with both of us needing to wear trail running shoes, we needed something with a MUCH wider footbed than a typical bike platform pedal, and this was JUST the ticket. It's not quite as good as being clipped in completely, but definitely a world better than just riding on platforms. Still allows a good amount of "pull" when you need it, which you can't do on platforms alone. Also keeps you more stable on uneven surfaces, where platforms are easy to bounce off of. Note, too, that our bike of choice was a "hardtail", which means no rear suspension. To make matters "worse", we locked out the front shock so we had almost no front suspension. This course was pretty smooth, so we went with the setup that provided the most pedaling efficiency. We were averaging around 15MPH on our bike legs, so it was fast for a "mountain bike."
After getting our light work in, which was longer than my coach prescribed already, we headed over to the race site to see if there was anywhere we would be able to park my RV overnight. They have an awesome campground at that site, but we decided too late in the game to do this race at all to get a reservation and it was fully booked. But we hoped that wherever they were planning to park everyone who was driving in would be available to just park overnight as we didn't need any particular facilities anyway. They were unwilling to open that parking area, but the lady at the office said someone had showed up who had reserved two spaces but only needed one. She sent us to see him, and he promptly sold us his extra space with water and electric hookups! SWEET. Had we not arrived almost exactly when we did, that would have never happened. It would have been a Walmart parking lot about 4 miles away instead.
So we got in the campsite and got setup and decided to jump on our bikes and go find the course. Of course once we found it we found that we were allowed to check it out, so we started riding it. And rode all 6.9 miles of it! We took it very easy, and this turned out to be a GREAT idea. We planned where we'd leave the bike at each transition point, and got to see the obstacles enough to know they were going to be very easy, technically. We also learned there was no "mountain biking", just fast off road gravel racing and running. The only "technical" element would have been the creek crossing, except for the fact that it wasn't able to be ridden at all. The only way to KNOW that, however, was to see it the day before. Except you can't see what you need to see as the water was a bit too murky. So I took off my shoes and socks and waded in. I'm very glad I did that.
So we went back to the RV and had supper and planned things out for the race. There were five legs (with four transition points), which meant one of us had to do three runs and two bikes, the other two runs and three bikes. We decided it made the most sense for Alan to do the three runs, which turned out to be a great strategy. We also made sure we communicated as the biker passed the runner during the run leg, so the runner would know the bike would be in transition, as there was a chance the bike may be later arriving at middle transition points. This didn't end up happening, but was close on one occasion.
We got up race morning and got our nutrition in and headed over to the start. We did a good job of staying at the front of our wave with the bike, but we did learn one potential problem...they were starting the runners a full two minutes behind the bikers in each wave. We also realized there were a lot of casual competitors in all the waves, and our wave was next to last. That meant a LOT of passing would be happening, which is less than ideal, but the same for everyone in our age group, anyway.
At the start, I was lined up in the second line of bikes. I took off hard, but not quite true sprint speeds. I quickly found that trying to ride Alan's riding position and bike wasn't ideal and should have been trained for better. Next time. Well, and next time we'll probably do more of a "compromise" position instead of me fully adopting his position, especially since I was doing more of the biking than he was anyway. I noticed most of the guys ahead of me off the line seemed to be sprinting and only a few were pulling away any at all. So I kept my pace and before half the leg was over I was in the lead of our wave. I kept on it pretty hard and got into transition and over the first obstacle (a small climbing wall) and headed out on the run. It's worth noting they had water stations at every transition, but I rarely get much water out of a cup into my mouth if I'm trying to run hard, and with my total run being a one mile leg and a 1.35 mile leg, I wasn't willing to "take it easy" so I could drink. I knew we'd be under an hour in this race, so hydration just wasn't necessary (the winners last year were a mid 47 minute time in our age group).
So I started at a pretty good clip and ended up running that first leg at around a 7:50 pace. I thought I could pull a little better than that, and I may have and just can't pull it out of the data exactly. It wasn't better than a 7:30, though, which was about where I thought I'd be. I thought if I ran that hard after a really fast bike leg that I'd have to wait just a little for Alan at this transition, but he ran so fast to start that he ended up passing me back right before transition, which was basically ideal. So we both did the "frog maze" at the same time and headed out again (a "frog maze" is a small maze you have to crawl through that's got solid walls and is covered, so it's fairly dark...but it was so easy there was no getting lost).
I started to feel the legs pretty good in this stint, but dug hard and got to transition. I chucked the bike where Alan could find it and took off through an inflatable "obstacle course". That would have been easy, but there were people "stuck" in there that made it a little dangerous and definitely slowed me down by 20-30 seconds just waiting. There's just nothing else you can do if you hit the obstacle at the wrong time like that. And it's not like I could have just beaten those people by being faster...they were slower people from previous waves.
Took off on this run, but was really struggling. I think this was more of a 9:30 pace stint. Couple hills got to me a little, and my legs just felt a little heavy. I think I just need more experience feeling like this, though, to know I can power through. I also need a little more work doing short distance running for speed, too, but for other reasons I've needed to get the base miles in to get my distance capability up, so that kind of thing will come. Alan passed me a lot earlier than I would have liked here, so I knew I was holding up the team just a little. He got the bike to the final transition and I got in there and got through it and took more time finding the bike than we hoped, but got it and got through. The problem there was simply the time gap meant a lot more bikes came in after he left, so it was "buried" a little deeper than I was expecting.
At this point, we were in the final leg. What I needed to do was catch him, but didn't really need to pass him since we had to finish the last obstacles together anyway. The creek crossing went very well for him thanks to my recon work, but it didn't help me as much because again, I got there with traffic in the way. It was a narrow area we were allowed to cross, and I was behind a clump of people. You can't really just squeeze between people when you have to carry a bike, which we did thanks to the rock ledge as you went into the water. But I got through, got past the clump, and took off. From here a lot of it was uphill to the finish, and I really felt burn in strange places in my muscles thanks to the odd riding position that I wasn't used to.
I actually never did catch Alan, but it turns out he only had to wait maybe 30 seconds for me, so I didn't hurt our time too much in those final two legs. I dumped the bike and we hit the rope wall and then plowed through the mud pit and to the finish. We were fairly certain we had done very well, but decided to head back to the RV to clean up. As we talked more about who we saw where (each wave had a color coded wristband, so it was easy to know if you were passing or getting passed by people in your wave, which likely meant they were in your age group), we realized we really did probably do very well, so we hurried back over and checked the results. Turns out we won our age group by over a minute! And qualified for the Muddy Buddy World Championships in December! YES! Our time was also nearly two minutes faster than the winning time from last year. Supposedly the only changes to the course were to add two hurdles to the running legs, so it wasn't any easier than last year. So, needless to say we're really proud of our finish!