Sunday, August 24, 2008

Urban Assault Ride

Short version: I really wanted to like this event, I totally believe in what they are trying to be and promote....but in the end it was just, eh...ok. Maybe just not really my thing.

Long version: It was a beautiful (if somewhat chilly) morning. Arguably a perfect day for a ride.

Over 100 teams of two showed up for the second annual ride. A crowd that was looking a lot more serious about this "fun and crazy" ride than I expected. I figured I could rule out the Ironmen-in-training for this event, seeing how IM WI is only two weeks away....but I did not expect the caliber of racers that showed. I was half wishing I hadn't been too lazy to switch out the pedals on my road bike instead of just grabbing the hybrid.

Personally, my morning started a little slow. My stomach wasn't feeling so great and in retrospect I think I may have had a tiny bit of food poisoning (maybe raw cookie dough that's been sitting in the fridge for a week or so should just be thrown away?). I managed to eat a banana and figured I could just suck it up for the day. The ride's only supposed to be about 20 miles.

We get to the start with plenty of (really way too much) time to spare. I've got to remember that non-tri events don't need the pre-race set-up time, but in this case I did need to visit the mechanic to see what was up with my tires so we had something to keep us busy. I had new tires put on they hybrid right before we went to Manitowoc and haven't been able to blow them up since (had to visit a bike shop in Manitowoc too). So they got pretty flat from me putzing around trying to get them to blow up.

There was a surprising amount of confusion about whether or not there was actually mechanical support at the race. (Guess I'm used to tri's where this is a no brainer...there is ALWAYS mechanical support) The race director said that Trek was supposed to have 'people' there. The Trek 'people' said they were just demo people...although in their defense they did try to do what they could to help me. In the end it was the Pedro's tent guy that saved the day and ONE ARM pumped my tires with his personal pump (the little kind you carry on your bike when you ride for use only in emergencies...their regular size pump was broken, cuz it just can never be easy with me). I'm still not sure if he was actually supposed to be mechanical support of if he was just a great guy helping me out. Huge thanks. I believe they have a new customer.

So we line up with the other people in the first wave (still not sure how we managed to weasel ourselves in there). The people behind us were haggling....but they only started about 5 minutes behind us so really....they had nothing to whine about. Quite frankly, that little headstart was soooo not worth the time put into that quiz. Especially considering we weren't trying to win.

The start was not on your bike. You had to first run around the building and then find your bike laying on the hill...then you're off. And these people were RUNing. I was a little shocked by this. I mean, I know I'm slow but these people were out of the blocks like they were running the 50-yard dash.

Thankfully, my big stud of a teammate didn't feel the need to be too competitive so we brought up the tail end of the wave. Then we hit the bike trail along the lake, as planned, over to the Willy St Coop...the first mystery checkpoint (we got this clue ahead of time). On the way, I got fed up with the bike traffic and in my frustration trying get out of the crowd we decided to just head for the Gorham checkpoint first and dodge the crowd.

This was good and bad. Good because there wasn't a crowd yet. Bad, well because it was still pretty chilly and this (below) was the challenge....

That's right. One teammate on the duck, one teammate pushing the duck. One teammate must be on the duck at all times. Duck must travel out and around a buoy.

Staying on the duck was a little trickier than it looks. My duck bucked me off so I ended up as wet as my teammate. I've had some bad triathlon transitions but I can't say that I've ever went swimming with my helmet on that was new. But hey, it just wouldn't be a race if you couldn't get a little lake slime on ya!

Then we headed back toward the coop. Found the clue easily. I knew the answer without having to call reinforcements and we were off to the TrekStop at Machinery Row Bikes.

Here's where it gets interesting. Walk up to the clue. I read it and say "we must be going to the zoo". But rather than trust my gut I had to call to confirm one of the "tricks" in the clue, which actually had us heading for the Recycling center for a brief period, before a quick text from the my whiz of a sister that put us back on track to the zoo.

Now somewhere between the first mystery checkpoint and the zoo there was a major communication breakdown on the team. And since there were only two of us there are fingers pointing at everyone on the team as to who's to blame. The teamwork wasn't clicking. And there was some navigational error that ensued. And some stoplights that seriously slowed us down. Not that we were trying to win this race, but if we were....this is where the race was lost.

This is about the time I had the realization that I am seriously directionally challenged, that or I just don't pay as much attention as I thought when I drive through the city EVERY day. The city looks very different when one is sitting on a bike. And, you can't bike across a lake. One should remember that when trying to navigate a city with three lakes.

Once we found the zoo stop (which we, of course, had to find the hard way after a loop around the entire zoo...apparently I've never entered the zoo from the actual zoo entrance) we had to truck it to the far west side. Trying to take less traveled roads to get there meant lots of stop signs. (annoying, and slow) We also had to stop a few times to consult the map. I know Madison pretty well, but once off the main thoroughfares I'm not as sure of myself.

This is the part of the race that kind of sucked. You're basically just off biking around town....with numbers on and no other riders around, for the most part....getting odd looks from people out mowing their lawns. I was just trying to act like we were in The Amazing Race or something so we seemed cool.

We stopped to check the map at one point and got passed by two other girls coming from an entirely wrong direction. They say "oh, are you guys lost too.....doesn't this suck?", making me feel a little better. So we weren't the only team to put a few more miles onto the course.

Once to the west side there were four challenge checkpoints, all within five minutes of each other. Which was kind of lame since there was only one road to take between them. Where's the challenge in that? First we hit Chipotle and Fleet Feet on Old Sauk, where we rode miniature bikes through cones, and played a little newspaper route game that involved one teammate throwing rolled up papers from the basket of a little kids bike (while riding) and the other teammate catching these papers in a box.

Then it was down the road to Trek West, where we played a little bicycle limbo (which is a skill I do not possess, in case you were curious). Then on to Princeton Club West, where we donned oven mits and had to pick up enough poker chips from the football field to fill a bowl while being doused with SuperSoakers.

Then (finally) the last challenge was at REI....where my muscle bound teammate held us together for a strong finish in the human wheel barrel challenge. (incidentally the girls to the right of us took a major digger on this challenge and one teammate took a wheel to the head that looked a little painful)

Then we cut through the parking lot at West Town Mall (something I doubt they see very often at the mall) and headed back to Olin via Odana (yes, through the major intersection at Gammon and Odana acting like cars) - Monroe - and a time saving jaunt down Drake and around the south side of Monona Bay.

Once back to Olin park there was a big wheels course to run, and then this thing -- which pretty much did me in:

28+ miles later (course ran a little long I guess! haha!) we were finally FINISHED. Bring on the beer and burritos please! After only eating a banana for breakfast I was starving.

We weren't last, but it sure felt like it.

Would I do the race again.....well, I'm never one to say 'never' but this event probably won't be on the top of my list of ways to spend my hard earned race entry fees.

Did I learn something from this....yes.

  • Communication is KEY to teamwork. (maybe this was more of a reminder than something learned)

  • Madison really is a pretty bike friendly town. A lot of the day we found ourselves either on bike trails or following little green "bike route" signs that I didn't even know existed.

  • Madison is surprisingly hilly. Roads I drive on every day and thought were flat became hills on my bike.

  • My hybrid bike is HEAVY. I have a new found respect for carbon.

  • A banana is not enough fuel for 28 miles on your bike.

  • Biking in traffic really isn't as bad as I make it out to be.

I was really hoping this event wouldn't draw the usual uber-competitive crowd, but it seemed to. I think in order to really draw out the casual cyclist and promote urban cycling to the crowd that hasn't already discovered it, they need to make the race a little shorter. And a few more mystery checkpoints would really make it a little more interesting. But that's just my opinion.

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