On September 10th, the family and I headed out to Lawrence, KS for the first ever Wakarusa Off-Road Challenge. I would be doing the race as a solo since no one else could go with me. It was to be a final preparatory race for the Berryman Adventure, and then we were planning on spending some quality family time camping the rest of the weekend.
Becca took off from work early, we loaded the van up, strapped the canoe on top (solos had to bring their own boat), and hooked up our pop-up camper. We picked the girls up from school a little early, and we headed out on the 3 hour drive.
The weather was supposed to be almost perfect: Chance of thunderstorms on Friday night, but sunny and warm-but-not-too-warm the rest of the weekend. It was beautifully sunny on the way to Lawrence, so I knew it wasn’t going to rain on us.
We tried to make it to Sunflower Outdoors by 6:00 to register for the race, but we had to park 3 or 4 blocks away because of the pop-up. So I just missed registration as I got there to see Jason and Laura from Bonk Hard Racing packing everything up. No big deal. I would just have to get up a little earlier the next morning to register before the race.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat and then drove 20 more minutes to Clinton State Park as the sun set. We stopped at a store to buy some firewood, and the cashier said that there was a tornado warning in the area. That’s just great.
We rolled into camp in the dark, and the wind began to pick up. Shortly after getting the pop-up set up and all of our gear inside, I turned on the radio and heard the tornado warning for myself. Unfortunately, the kids also heard it. Then the rain started coming down as the wind grew stronger. Now, wind and rain in a small pop-up can feel and sound like a hurricane, so my girls were beginning to freak out on Becca and me (Otis was chillin’ as usual).
As the storm grew in strength, we tried calming the girls down by assuring them that we could always go to the bathroom/shower house to wait out the storm. Then the skies unleashed their furious rage. The driving rain pummeled the camper, and it felt like the punishing wind would tip us over any second. I could see that even Becca was beginning to freak out a little. Of course Otis was still as cool as a cucumber.
We decided to play it safe, so we all donned our jackets and made our way across the street to the bathroom/shower house. We were completely soaked by the time we got there only to realize that there was no roof. Well, there was a partial roof over the bathroom stalls, but it was basically an open-air building. So much for our promise of shelter.
By now the girls were almost hysterical. We were all wet and cold, and the storm was only getting worse. We ran back across the street and hopped into the van. We drove around the campground looking for a shelter… anything with a roof. No luck. Fortunately, the storm, although fierce, was short-lived. As it died down, we headed back to the camper with the girls completely shivering and Otis just grinning.
We dried off and changed clothes, and the girls calmed down. The storm had passed, and it became pretty muggy in the camper. We opened up the windows, took our shirts off (except for Otis and Becca), and we played some highly competitive Go Fish.
So I had to get up early, and much to my surprise, everyone wanted to forgo sleeping in to go and watch my race. Very cool. Other than a 5k, the fam had never really been to one of my races. Let’s face it… Adventure Racing is not a great spectator sport. This race, however, would allow them to see me come through the transition area a few times, and it wasn’t going to be an all-day race. So we woke up early and made it to the race to register and stage my canoe and bike.
It was a beautiful morning, and Jason assured us that the trail was in great shape. After dropping my canoe off (and realizing that I was the ONLY solo with a 17 foot canoe – Hey, it’s all I had) and getting my bike staged, I gave the kids and the wife a hug and a kiss.
I really wanted to intimidate all of the other racers to give myself a competitive edge. As we all lined up on the Levee Trail, I wanted to look fast so I busted this out:
I’m pretty sure my plan didn’t work. Not only did I not strike fear into the hearts of anyone, but I don’t think anyone even noticed me. It didn’t matter. I was just here to have fun and to get an idea of how ready I was for the Berryman Adventure.
I saw a team of two young guys with matching green tank tops and feather Duck hats on. Now, I’ve learned long ago that it’s never a good idea to pick someone out of the pack that you just have to beat, but in the back of my mind I told myself that it would really be nice to beat those guys.
The first leg of the race was a 2.2 mile run. The first mile was on the flat Levee Trail, and then we had to pop into the woods and run back to the transition area (TA) on the north side of the River Trail. When the gun went off, we started out jogging. I got caught behind some slower runners, but it wasn’t too long before everyone spread out enough to go my own pace.
I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t feel very strong. I’m not sure what it was, but my legs just felt a little dead. It wasn’t terrible. I just felt a little sluggish. The first mile was uneventful. When I got onto the trail, it was a lot more fun. I was passed by a few people (including the duck brothers), and I managed to pass a few people as well. I was holding my own, and I was able to stay right behind the duck bros. I finished the first running leg in 21 minutes – tied for 18th out of 30 solo men. Not bad, but I was hoping for better.
Happy to be done running for the moment, I was ready to get on the bike. I could hear the family cheering for me, and it was really great. I loved it. I waved to them and asked them how it was going, and then I made my way over to my bike as they told me I was doing a good job. I transitioned as quickly as I could and headed out onto the Levee Trail again.
The biking leg consisted of 17.2 miles. For this race we had to ride nearly 4 miles on the flat, open Levee Trail before hopping onto the south side of the River Trail which is all single track. We had to ride the south side of the trail back to the TA and then immediately get back onto the north side of the River Trail and ride the entire loop before coming back to the TA.
I got passed by two riders on the Levee Trail as the wind made it a little more difficult for someone of my stature (aka – husky). However, that would be the last time I got passed on the bike, and I passed many people here including the Duck Bros. So I thought that maybe I had a shot at beating them after all.
If you’ve never ridden these trails, you should do so if you’re ever in or near Lawrence. No, they are not technical at all, and there is not a lot of elevation change. But these trails are FAST and FUN! There are so many banked turns and berms that you almost never have to use your brakes.
Being somewhat of a slow runner, I got behind some inexperienced riders. You could tell that many racers had never, or almost never, ridden off-road before. Although it was difficult to get around some of the newbies, I thought it was great that they were out there racing. They may have been way out of their comfort zones, but that’s what it’s all about, right?
My first lap on the bike (~4 miles on the Levee Trail and ~4 miles of single track) took 45 minutes including my transition. This was good enough to have me tied for the 22nd (out of 30) fastest time for this leg. Again, not bad but not great. So I decided to push it a little bit on the next lap. My second lap (~8 miles – all on single track) also took 45 minutes – tied for 9th fastest time out of 30 solo males for the second lap on the bike. Now that’s what I’m talking about. That was much better.
I made it back to the TA where I once again heard the cheers from the Lamb fam. I dropped my bike off and put my trail shoes back on. I headed down a short distance to the canoe put-in. I slapped on my PFD, grabbed my white-water kayak paddle that was way too short for my canoe (Hey, it’s all I had), lifted the heavy, aluminum canoe, and made my way to the Kansas River.
This is where my race sort of fell apart. After a decent biking leg, my paddle down the Kansas River was S-L-O-W. I had to kneel in the middle of my canoe for the entire 4.2 mile paddle. My paddle was much too short for being in the middle of the boat, but I did the best I could. I got passed by 15 – 20 teams and solos (I quit counting at 10 because it was bumming me out).
Aside from being slow, the paddle was uneventful except for one soloist in a kayak somehow going for a swim. I never heard how or why he tipped the kayak, but seeing that the volunteers were there in a motor boat to help him, I passed him. It wasn’t long before he was once again in front of me, though (stupid kayaks!).
I finally made it to the aptly named Mud Creek Boat Ramp in 1 hour and 7 minutes. This was good enough for dead last – 30th fastest time out of 30 solo males. Out of all 84 Duos and Soloists combined, only 3 had a slower time and two had an equally slow time. Not good at all, but I gave it my all and did the best I could with what I had.
As I struggled to carry my canoe up the boat ramp, my legs felt like blocks of concrete from kneeling in a canoe for an hour after running and biking all morning.
I grabbed a quick drink at the aid station and then “ran” (and by ran I mean trotted slowly) into the woods. We had to run 4.1 miles on the north trail back to the finish line.
The first mile of that run was pure hell. I wanted to walk so badly, but I kept telling myself that I could “run” this whole thing no matter how slow I had to go. Every time I wanted to walk, I told myself that if I walked then there was no way I was going to be able to finish the upcoming 36 hour Berryman Adventure Race. I guess it worked, because I never walked.
The first mile was ridiculously slow. By the second mile, my legs were at least functional. By the third mile, I was actually feeling pretty good, so I picked up the pace a little bit (although it was still ridiculously slow). Then the 4th mile came, and I almost fell apart. If the first mile was hell, then the last mile was Hell’s purgatory (if there is such a thing).
That last mile felt like an eternity. I kept hoping to see the trail bust out of the trees into the grassy field where the finish line was only to be disappointed. With about a quarter of a mile left, the Duck Bros passed me. Bummer. Like I said, though, that is the danger of picking someone that you “have” to beat. When you don’t, it pretty much sucks – especially when they look like ducks. The Mighty Ducks ended up beating me by 1 minute. Kudos to those guys.
I made it to the finish line as my wife and kids were all cheering for me. That part was great. It was also great to be done because I was wiped out. My final 4.1 mile run (including the transition from the paddle) took me 50 minutes – tied for the 19th fastest split in my division. This was actually better than I thought since I felt like I was slower than I’ve ever been.
Overall, it was a really fun race. I must admit, though, it didn’t make me feel any better about my chances at Berryman. If you read our blog much, which I highly doubt, then you know that the Berryman actually went pretty well for us.
My finishing time was 3 hours and 48 minutes. I ended up 23rd out of 30 solo males, and I was 46th out of 84 solos and duos overall. Not bad, but I was honestly hoping to do a little better than that. On the other hand, it was a great race, and I had a blast. Official results with split times are right here.
I loved having my family there to watch me and cheer me on. There was enough pizza and soda provided by Bonk Hard Racing for my kids to have some which was very cool. After the awards ceremony, we made our way back to our campground.
The rest of the weekend was perfect. The weather was great. The campsite was great. We all had a blast. I’ll leave you with a few photos of our camping trip to show you how much you missed. Here you go:
It was really great race and a wonderful weekend with the family. Thanks to Jason and Laura for putting on a great event. It was a lot of fun, and I hope to be back next year with more of Team Virtus by my side. And thanks to my amazing wife and incredible kids for going with me and supporting me. You guys are way too good to me.
So, that’s it for now. Until next time… Peace out!