June 11 saw near perfect weather conditions at Marsh Creek Lake State Park, Pennsylvania for the 2006 edition of the Cradle of Liberty sprint adventure race. Dry trails and temperatures around 70 meant fast conditions for everyone. And in that mix Team Remolino rocked the Cradle of Liberty, winning the event in 4 hours, 35 minutes on a ~30 mile course.
The event started with the field split into two groups: the first group: 1- ran a relay where each team member ran up and down a hill for 1/2-3/4 mile; 2-hopped on their bikes and hit a few checkpoints on the way to a rock gym in nearby Downingtown; 3- climbed an indoor slope to the top; 4-biked back to the park, hit a few more checkpoints, then; 5- ran an orienteering section; 6- biked to the start/finish area; 7- then carried canoes to the water and paddled around Marsh Creek Lake, one of the windiest lakes in the state, back to the start/finish. Group two ran the legs 1-7-2-3-4-5-6, starting with the canoe leg and finishing with the last bike leg.
Team Remolino (Spanish for tornado) started in canoes with what appeared to be a majority of the teams. Only a day before, the team was debating whether to race the 6-hour sprint, the 24-hour race, or not to race at all. Teammate Don Seel had just dropped out to a last-minute school commitment, while Katy Heaney injured her shoulder the Thursday before and Drew Walker came down with the flu just the day before the event. Between the three of them they had only attempted eight adventure races, and Drew especially was afraid he would get really sick if he tried the 24. He was crying like a little girl, and eventually Katy let him chicken out and do the sprint as a two-person team. Fortunately, the GOALS staff let the team decide at almost the last minute what they were going to do.
About six canoes who took the same path to the lake checkpoints clustered at the first three spots, with Remolino just ahead of the other teams at each punch. Every team lost several minutes at a checkpoint stashed about 50 feet offshore, and fought through headwinds all the way back toward the transition area. Fourth out of the water, Remolino passed two teams on the first hill and the third team at the top as they made a navigational error- searching for a trail in the wrong place.
Remolino thought they might be in the lead. But even if they were, there was no telling what was happening with the teams who started out on the bike and would finish with the paddle. The path wound down a road, along a lakeside trail and ended up at several miles of paved bike bike to Downingtown. Again fortune smiled upon Team Remolino as they hit the climbing wall (a relatively easy 5.4-5.5) just ahead of four other teams. Remolino got a huge lift when the lady checking passports didn't recognize where the climbing punch was- a sure sign that this was the first "canoe first" passport she'd seen.
Back up the bike path, it was decided that this whole race could have been done on a road bike. Soon the race turned into a different section of the park with some really sweet and confusing (but still road-bikable) singletrack. Remolino hit the checkpoints perfectly but lost some time looking for the way back, then felt the suffering really begin on a gravel road segment in full sunshine. This was soon after the three hour mark, when all the little things in one's race planning and execution become bigger and bigger things.
At the next stop, now-tired teams transitioned into a run/orienteering section. After more than three hours of sitting on either a bike or a canoe, running did not come naturally to many. Team Remolino walked in a few places, and Drew almost puked twice trying to keep up a "winning" pace. The whole team (all two of them) felt frustration boil over as a shortcut trail revealed itself to be thoroughly overgrown with both sticker bushes and stinging nettles. But the shortcut worked out perfectly, strategy-wise, and back at the bike transition teams knew they were only about four miles of biking to the finish, half of which was on paved road.
But the biking was just technical enough to frustrate the tired, and any problems with the body were magnified as teams tried to pour it on for the finishing stretch. This was a SPRINT race, after all, and anyone who wants to compete knows that speed is crucial. Since the paddling leg at the very beginning (Katie and Drew had just bought their first kayak paddles the afternoon before), Katy's shoulder injury (a year ago she broke her arm playing chicken with a tree) had flamed up. By the time the last biking leg began she could barely move her right arm. At times she couldn't feel it at all. She had showed enormous strength and courage for the entire race, but was now digging deeper. As the singletrack jostled her skeleton, she kept riding through everything. At last the pavement appeared, and one last short, but steep hill, the kind that can really really demoralize you. Especially if it seems your arm is about to fall off.
Finally, after much longer than it seems it should take, you reach the top before a glorious two-minute downhill to the lake and the start/finish area. In the end, not many teams finished before the six-hour mark, and only a handful beat five hours. Team Remolino thought that with a perfect race they could have shaved 20+ minutes off their time. But in the end 4 hours and 35 minutes was fast enough to claim the prize.
Remolino is a new team formed out of the scene at Gold's Gym in Conshohocken. At every GOALS race, Gold's sends about five energetic and fun teams to compete. Congratulations to Gold's and to Maureen Solomon, the heart of that scene. Thanks also to REI, who last year employed all three members of Team Remolino, and is where they met. Credit must also be given to one of the Gold's Gym teams, Brothers from Another Mother, whose trash-talking really inspired their opponents. And thanks to GOALS for turning the screws a little! If only next time it can be 50 degrees and raining!