In the photo above, you see me proudly showing off my hard-earned trophy from yesterday’s Possum Trot XIII Orienteering Race. Okay, that’s not true. I didn’t win anything. I did NOT, however, finish last. It was an awesome race, though, and I had a lot of fun.
Bob had to “work” (aka – sitting on his ass and bitching to anyone and everyone), Zack had to “study” (aka – cramming at the last minute for finals), Drew had “piano lessons” (aka – …actually he really did have piano lessons), and Casey still lives in NY (damn Yankee!). So I ventured out to Knob Noster State Park on my own.
Apparently, the competitors that show up for this race every year are no joke. There were people from Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, all over Missouri, and even a guy from England. I think the race director said that there was even a female World Sprint Orienteering Champion there whom I of course ended up beating by an hour and a half (this is clearly another lie).
There was a short course consisting of CP’s 1-14 and 26-30 (~9 km). The long course consisted of CP’s 1-30 (~15 km as the crow flies), and this is the one I signed up for. The short course racers were allowed 1 skip, and those doing the long course were allowed two skips. We were told we could skip any 2 of the 30 controls that we wanted (they could be consecutive, but they didn’t have to be).
The race was to start at 9:00 AM, and there were two time cutoffs for the long course. The first cutoff was (I thought) CP 14, and you had to be there by 11:00 AM. If you didn’t make it here by 11:00, then you needed to do skip ahead to CP 26 and do the short course or just head back on the highway for a DNF. However, keep in mind that the short course racers were only allowed One skip. The second cutoff for the long race was at the finish, and you had to be done by 2:00 PM.
The skips made the race very interesting, because you have to think and plan ahead on the fly to determine when and where to use your skips. We were given the maps 2 minutes before the start of the race, so there was not a lot of time to stategerize.
There was a mass start (everyone started at the same time instead of a staggered start), and when the race director said “go”, everyone took off in a flash. I was like, “Aww, shit. This race is probably not designed for slow chubby guys.”
I started out jogging along the trail around the pond towards CP 1. I overshot it, though, so I had to back-track a little. I found a CP, but it was for a different course (there were also regular white, yellow, orange, and green o-courses going on). I had to back-track some more and soon found the right CP. It “only” took me 20 minutes. After doing some quick math in my head (28 CP’s x 20 minutes = Never Going to Make the Cutoff) I realized I was screwed. Damn! Not a good start.
I found CP’s 2 – 5 without any problems, and while I was moving faster than I had been for CP1, I just seemed to be moving slowly – even for me. During this stretch there was a handful of people around me, and we kept leapfrogging each other as we chose different routes to the CP’s. Most of these people, however, were doing the short course, so I figured I was in dead last for the long course.
I went down the wrong reentrant for CP 6. The group of racers around me seemed to miss this CP as well, and we all found the CP at roughly the same time. On the way to CP 7, I had a decision to make. I could skip CP’s 8 & 9, cutting off a decent bit of distance and quite a bit of elevation change, or I could save my skips for later. If I skipped 8 & 9 I would be burning both of my skips early, but this was probably the ONLY way I was going to make the first cutoff. However, if I skipped two CP’s and still missed the cutoff, then I would be demoted to the short course, already having missed a CP (remember, the short course was only allowed one skip) and ranked below anyone that got all of the CP’s.
So I decided to go for it. After finding #7, I skipped CP’s 8 & 9 and headed over to CP 10. I HAD to make it to CP 14 by 11:00 now, or my race was ruined. I found 10, 11, and 12 with no problems, and I seemed to picking up the pace. I was getting a feel for the terrain and the map, and I was getting into a groove. I felt good. I was running out of time, though, and it was going to be close. I hit 13, and then I had to haul ass to get to 14 in time.
I got to where I thought 14 should be with 5 minutes to spare, but I couldn’t find the CP. With some frantic searching, I found it and realized that no one was there to make sure I made the cutoff. Then I remembered that we actually had to get to the Water drop at the road junction to the South-East of CP 14. I hopped out on the road and heard my watch beep. That meant it was 10:59 (my watch was a little over a minute faster than the race director’s).
I started to sprint (using that term loosely) as fast as my chubby ass could go. I was picturing a race volunteer standing there looking at a watch with an evil grin on her face, counting down the seconds and getting ready to tell me I had failed. I made it to the water drop with mere seconds to spare and… there was nobody there. I guess the whole cutoff thing was on the honor system.
It doesn’t matter, because I made the cutoff. Yes, the margin was thinner than a supermodel on a two-month long herion binge, but I had made it. So skipping the two CP’s was the right decision so far. I had covered 12 CP’s in 120 minutes exactly. So, if I could keep up the 10 min per CP pace, I might actually make the 2:00 cutoff (16 CP’s left x 10 min = 160 min and I had 180 minutes left).
I slammed a cup of Gatorade, ate a couple of cookies, and headed off to CP 15. I hit CP’s 15 through 20 with no problems. I mean I nailed them! I was still moving slowly by most people’s standards, but, for me, I was rockin’ it. I was keeping contact with the map at all times, and I found the CP’s exactly where I thought they would be.
Next, I would’ve really liked to skip CP 21 (it was actually the most skipped CP of the race), but I had already burned my two skips. I hadn’t seen any other racers since CP 14, so I was sure I was in last place as I reached CP 21. After I punched my passport, a woman comes jogging up to the control out of nowhere and punches her passport. We both commented that we thought we were the only ones left on the course and then started on our way to #22.
I “let” her start out ahead of me since I am so chivalrous – you know, ladies first and all that. Okay, that is yet another lie. She took off ahead of me before I took my bearing. We both seemed to be taking the same route to 22. We also took the same route to 23, with her ahead of me once again. I hope she didn’t think I was following her, because I wasn’t – seriously. No really, I wasn’t. I swear.
On the way to #24 is where I made my move. I was like Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder. We slammed into each other as I was trying to pass her (“Rubbin’ is Racin'”), and I smashed through the brush as she fell behind me wondering what the hell just happened (“He’s going high. Goddamn it!” Trickle takes the lead).
Okay, so it didn’t happen exactly like that. She decided to take the trail, and I decided to bushwhack. I got to CP 24 and didn’t see her anywhere. Did she beat me here? Did she have a skip left? I had no idea, but there was no time to think about it. I moved on to #25, and then hit the water drop again on the way to #26. Always looking over my shoulder, I never saw her again, so she must have taken the faster route. Another cup of Gatorade and a couple more cookies at the aide station hit the spot.
The rest of the CP’s went very smoothly. My legs were starting to hurt, and time was running out. Fortunately, I didn’t make any errors, and I made it to the finish line with 6 minutes and 25 seconds to spare. I handed in my passport and got a couple of congratulations. Most people had already left by now. I ate a baked potato (apparently there was no other food left for slow, fat guys), and hopped in my car after snapping this cheesy shot:
I checked my phone, and I had a voicemail. It was from the meet director saying that they were ready to go home. Now, I know that I was slow, but this pissed me off a little bit. If you’re not gladly willing to wait until the very end of the race for people like me, then you should make the time cutoff 3 hours. This would have only allowed 16 of the 36 competitors to finish, but at least it would have been a shorter race. I know I’m not one of the elite guys (and maybe I never will be), but shouldn’t these races be open to everyone? I think so.
Maybe the race director was just worried about me, and I took it wrong since I was worn out. That’s what I’m going to think anyway because the race itself was phenomenal, and I don’t want to taint it. The course was great, the park was great, the weather was great, and I got a lot of great orienteering practice in. Like I said, this race was fantastic. I’ll definitely do it again, although I hope I won’t keep anyone waiting next year.
As I drove out of the parking lot, I saw the woman I had met at CP22 running towards the finish line. I must have passed her with my Cole Trickle move after all. I wonder if she, too, got a phone call from the race director. It doesn’t matter. I ended up taking 35th place out of 36 racers.
I know Some of you may think of finishing second to last as a failure. Well, to that I say, “Screw you!” Just kidding – sort of. But I don’t think of it as a failure at all. I had fun, I got better at orienteering, I experienced a great race, and I finished. And that, my friends, is what it’s all about – is it not?