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I didn’t intend to do any of these crazy virtual challenges. You see, I’m currently a recovering ultra-runner. Quite literally recovering – I spent the majority of 2018 & 2019 running myself into the ground, chasing insane ultra goals (100 milers, Barkley Fall Classic, Georgia Death Race…) while simultaneously grieving the death of my father. It’s not that I won’t return to the ultra world – I most definitely will – it’s just that I desperately needed a break. And my body let me know by systematically falling apart.
I started 2020 in a physical and emotional slump, which seems only fitting, considering the state of the world right now. But right before we were all advised to social distance (literally two days before) my husband finally got me to show up to the start line of the Palmetto Swamp Fox Adventure Race. An event he’s been begging me to do for YEARS, but we could never attend because I always had an ultra that took precedence. Admittedly, I had an amazing time, and it sparked something inside of me that I desperately needed: a resurgence of enthusiasm for movement, without feeling like I had to run a ridiculous amount of miles to enjoy myself.
(Not that there is anything wrong with that…)
The first inclination I had to do any sort of virtual race during this pandemic was when Geoff found Rootstock Racing’s “The Lockdown” virtual adventure race on Facebook. We figured with the cancellation of our beloved Tuckfest, we needed some sort of crazy adventure to fill the hole in our hearts – I mean our weekend.
The Lockdown Virtual Adventure Race
Once we registered for the race, we were sent four pages of detailed instructions. To summarize it for this blog post, here is the challenge:
- 8 various discipline stages, that can be completed in any order
- Stage 1: Run/Trek
- Stage 2: Bushwhack
- Stage 3: Road Ride
- Stage 4: Trail Ride
- Stage 5: Multisport
- Stage 6: Non-Bike/Run Discipline
- Stage 7: Strength Building
- Stage 8: Navigation challenge
- 1 stage must be completed between sunset & sunrise
- In lieu of check points, some stages have required photo stops
- You also have to find 10 geocaches along the way (during any stage)
- The required duration of the stages equals 21 hours
- You must complete all of the stages withing 96 hours of starting
- Then you submit all of that data to the race directors
There is definitely more to it than this, as some of the stages had more specific requirements (for example, what percentage had to be done on trails, etc.) But out of respect for the race directors, who are asking people to sign up to find out the nitty gritty details, I’m not sharing everything.
(Plus, you can participate until May 31st. Registration includes a t-shirt to be sent after the race, and the opportunity to win a bunch of cool prizes. And, 100% of proceeds beyond t-shirt costs will be donated to covid-19 relief efforts, split evenly between the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund and the No Kid Hungry Coronavirus Fund. So go sign up!)
So, without further ado, here’s a ton of pictures and rambling (as I do) about our “The Lockdown” experience
After spending a solid week planning, obtaining equipment (thanks Jeff D. for letting us borrow your boat!), and checking the weather, we decided to start our “The Lockdown” attempt on a Friday. The kids were with their Dad, the radar looked clear from rain, and our zoo of small furry animals really don’t care what we do with our days anyway, they’ll be napping in the sun.
Stage 5: 5 hours multi-sport
Our race started an hour or two later than anticipated, due to sleeping in and typical morning distractions here in the Hart house (“but I can’t leave until I say goodbye to the cat again!”). But hey, it’s virtual, the race doesn’t start until we say so, right?
We had decided to do a bike – run – bike in an area near, in, and around Lewis Ocean Bays Heritage Preserve here in Myrtle Beach. The environment changes quickly out there, from Carolina Bays, to desolate swamps with carnivorous plants, to open fields, to massive Carolina pines in deep forests. And we frolicked through all of it.
The first portion of our multi sport adventure was a 10.59 mile bike ride. It was a pretty straight forward, gravel and dirt road ride. We saw tons of wildlife, including deer, snakes, wild turkeys, and a nesting mama killdeer. Adventuring, with me, is like an in person version of some wildlife reality show. I wouldn’t dare say “The Crocodile Hunter”, as I’m not that brave or nimble, but more like “Jack Hanna’s Animal Bloopers“: I’m curious, I want to hug everything, but I also might run screaming if said critter lunges at me.
Anyway, once we reached a road where we knew we could safely lock our bike to some trees hidden from view, we took off for part two: a pretty uneventful 4.41 mile run down a road littered with pitcher plants.
Then the REAL fun began.
We hopped back on the bike for another 17.39 miles of bikewhacking, getting stuck on flooded ATV trails, finding massive sandpits, and ending up much further away from our start point than anticipated (aka “lost”…). It was absolutely perfect.
It was also messy, slow going, I only dropped my chain twice, and we ended up absolutely filthy. I considered it a success.
Stage 6: 2 hour paddle
For our non run / bike discipline, we decided to paddle. We live in a pretty run down apartment complex in a less than desirable neighborhood here in good ol’ Myrtle Beach (but it’s still a roof over our heads, and for that I’m grateful). But one of the amenities here (that no one uses) is a tiny, private dock on the Intracoastal Waterway.
So, we haul our bellyak and our borrowed stand up kayak (yeah, kayak, not paddleboard, this thing is pretty cool) down to the dock. We most definitely count the portage time in our overall 2 hours, because we definitely live on the wrong side of the apartment complex.
And we jump in.
Unfortunately, 4 pm in Myrtle Beach on a Friday afternoon once the public boat ramps have been reopened isn’t the best time to be on the waterway. Avoiding party boats and people who CLEARLY do not see us paddling close to the shoreline becomes the adventure. But spoiler alert: we survive, and I do not tumble off the stand up kayak into the water.
At our turnaround point, Geoff decides he’s over the bellyak (we really need to invest in some kayaks) and so I tow him all the way back. Before you think “what a lame husband” let it be known, he knows I love a challenge. And I’ve learned recently that dragging your teammate along is TOTALLY acceptable in adventure racing.
A little tired, but still super enthusiastic, we were ready to tackle day #2
Stage 3: 4 hour road ride + Geocaching
In a different lifetime, I was a triathlete, with a fancy bike, aero bars, the works. But I could never get over my fear of riding on the roads: distracted drivers are my kind of nightmare. Never the less, I put on my brave pants (cycling shorts), and got to it.
Our friend and fellow HSEC coach Brian joined us for this leg (social distancing, of course), and we decide to add the Geocaching challenge to this stage. Our most realistic (and safest) road course conveniently passes a dozen caches.
Other than me getting momentarily frustrated with Geoff over a navigation error due to miscommunication (would it even be an adventure race with your spouse if that didn’t happen?) we had a blast.
Geocaching is a new discipline to us, and turns out, kind of fun. It’s somewhere between finding actual AR check points in the woods, and hunting Pokemon with your phone (more on that, later). Who doesn’t love popping out of the woods in public places, completely confusing random passersby? We hope to continue geocaching with the kids.
Our ride, summarized, because this could go on forever:
- 31 miles on my mountain bike …on the road.
- 14 Geocaches found.
- 8 required photo check points
- 2 bridges
- an interesting tombstone
- a historical marker / monument
- an abandoned building
- a ruin
- a mutli-purpose recreational trail
- a coffee shop or other eating establishment
- 1 stop for bagels
Stage 2: 3 hour bushwack
After our bike ride we came home for lunch, told the animals we haven’t forgotten about them, and got ready for our 3 hour bushwack.
Now, as a New Englander living in coastal South Carolina, I’m here to tell you this: NOT ALL BUSHWHACKING IS THE SAME. This area is full of angry plants that want to tear at your skin, or at least cover them with some sort of oil that will make you unbearably itchy.
Further, the underbrush is so thick, it often creates a wall of intertwined branches and shrubs and vines that you literally cannot penetrate.
But this is exactly the type II fun we’ve come to enjoy.
During this stage, we had to find:
- two hilltops
- three spurs
- three reentrants
- some sort of rock formation
- some sort of water feature
Now, if you’ve ever been to Myrtle Beach, you know the topography is…well…consistent. To say the least. So we definitely had to get creative (I’m still considering submitting a 2 foot high fire ant hill photo in as a ‘hilltop’).
Three hours and only 4.61 miles covered later (it was definitely slow going), we were scratched, cut, and definitely itchy, but still had smiles on our faces.
The fun isn’t over yet! We saved the longest day for the last day.
Stage 1: 3 hour run / trek
Geoff and I decided to head inland a bit to check out the Cox Ferry Landing trails on the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge in Conway, SC. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning, and these trails were surprisingly not crowded.
We nearly stepped on a 2 foot long copperhead who refused to move, so we bushwacked some more…
There was walking…and standing…
Made friends with the local wildlife…
And of course, we explored places WE thought would be a great place for a check point.
I’m not going to lie: we definitely milked this one. I’ve got an 1:40 half marathon PR under my belt, yet today, we covered a whopping 8.25 not at all technical trail miles in 3 hours. We were tired. And today, we were just getting started.
Stage 7: 1 hour strength building
This stage called for one hour of continuous upper body/core strength building. We’ve got exactly two kettlebells and a couple of bands in our tiny apartment, and we were ready to get it done. But our friend Brian suggested that instead, we come to his house, tear down a shed, and mow his 2 acre lawn. Anyone who knows me well knows I absolutely love to mow lawns…except I don’t have a yard of my own.
Brian set me up with a lawn mower that had no assist, and 3.62 miles and just over two hours later, and barely covering half of his lawn, my back and shoulders were on fire.
Geoff on the other hand, successfully spent his two hours tearing down a shed and moving wood. We’re still unsure if this “officially counts”, but we’re counting it. I’m still sore, reminding me that it’s been 6+ weeks since I’ve seen the inside of a gym.
Stage 4: 3 hour off road/trail ride + night requirement
In retrospect, we really shouldn’t have saved this one for last. Everything you’ve ever heard about hindsight can certainly be applied here.
We headed to our local single track trail and got started at about 8:30 pm. The first hour and a half was fine. Then the wheels started to fall off. Not literally, of course, though with our history of mechanicals and technical difficulties, that wouldn’t surprise anyone. Rather, I became so sleepy that I literally couldn’t stay on the trail. The last two days worth of stages, combined with 2 hours of yard work in the hot son, combined with two nights of sub-par sleep suddenly piled up on me in the woods.
At one point Geoff asked me if I was going to be OK. I assured him I was fine. And I said “the crazy thing about being a stupid long distance endurance athlete is that you can certainly lose your fitness. You can find yourself out of shape. But you never forget how to suffer. Once you learn how to embrace -and dare I even say enjoy suffering – that never goes away.”
11:30 ish pm, just over 17 miles of single track and gravel trail later, we were done.
As I mention in the video above, I did indeed go home for pizza and a celebratory beer, one I had been saving specifically for the end of this event. Except I made it only a third of the way through before I fell asleep. I’m sorry beer, it wasn’t you, it was me.
The Lockdown: Totals & Conclusion
Our final stats:
- 74 miles on the bike
- 15 ish miles running
- 14 geocaches
- 4.6 miles bushwacking
- 3.6 miles mowing a lawn (ha!)
- 3.4 miles stand up kayaking
All in about 23 ish hours. At some point early in the weekend I asked Geoff the rhetorical question of “why do you think people like us purposefully enjoy this type of suffering?” I’ve thought about this often over the last decade or so of this nonsense. Personally, there are a number of reasons why I choose to push my body to do ridiculous things, whether it be wading knee deep through muck carrying a bike over my head, or running in circles for 100+ miles on no sleep. Most of the reasons are positive, of course, but there is no doubt that I use endurance sports and purposeful discomfort as an escape, a distraction from reality.
And let’s be honest: right now we could all use a distraction from reality.
So, Rootstock Racing…a million thank you’s for creating this virtual event. For 3 days it brought some sort of normalcy back into our life – and yes, I realize how hilarious it is to consider that this is our kind of “normal”. We can’t wait to race with you guys again, hopefully next time in person.