USARA Nationals 2006


Itís November 2nd and Iím standing outside my apartment with all my race gear in boxes waiting to be picked up by my teammate Grant.He said heíd be there at 5:30 and now its 5:40 and raining.I wonder if this is how the whole weekend will go.†† At 5:45 he rolls up and we stuff the rest of my gear into the back of the truck to go pick up Heather our super female teammate.My legs are hurting for no apparent reason, Iíve been resting for 2 weeks with a gentle taper so they should be nice and happy ready to go, but for some reason theyíre complaining and hurting.All I can think is that they must be nervous because itís Nationals.It canít have anything to do with the long race season and the 3 previous races in the last 2 months right?


We arrive at Heatherís place around 6:30, itís not raining down in Mountain View and things are looking much brighter.As we leave, Grant decides that he is going to follow his 2002 Lawrence navigation system and head back onto the highway towards San Francisco.Both Heather and I are shouting NO!The ramp is 200 feet from Heatherís house and Grant wants to argue with her that she doesnít know the way to the highway because his old and out of date GPS system is telling him to go North. It doesnít matter that the I-85-101 ramps have all changed in the last year, Grant is not listening.Eventually we get him to go in the right direction and head South towards Santa Barbara.


The trip South was fairly uneventful, we arrived a little early at around 11:30AM.This was planned as I wanted to scout out a little of the beach to see what the coastaleering would be like.Iíd never done it before and just wanted to take a look at what was in store.We were having trouble finding beach access in the area I wanted to look at so I suggested to the team we unload the bikes and ride ľ mile.This was shot down as a silly idea so we skipped the scouting and went to find burritos for lunch instead.


We arrived at the host hotel and were lucky enough to get our room almost immediately.Grant was using some of his Wooky charm and we were in.The race registration process seemed to take forever but it was a good time to catch up with some familiar faces from last years Nationals and to say hi to the other Bay Area teams that had made it down there.As we moved through the check in line we met with Robyn Benincasa.She was supporting Merrell at the event and was doing a show and tell with some new shoes.It turned out that Grant and Robyn had the same size shoe so she kicked off the pair of trail runners that she was wearing and offered them to Grant to try.While Grant was trying on Robynís pair of Merrellís we suggested she try on Grantís brand new pair of Salomon XA Pro 3Dís that we recently received from our sponsor.She accepted the offer and made some positive comparisons on both sides.†† After the shoe swap there was nothing much to do but sort out all our gear and make sure we had our bags packed before the pre race meeting.I wanted as much time as possible with the maps before bed.I swore to Grant that Iíd kill him if he left anything behind like he did at the Big Blue 24 Hour race a few weeks back.


The pre race meeting was an interesting event.There was a role call to make sure everyone was present and the usual thank you and welcome speeches.Then Dan Barger stood up and we got into the main purpose of the meeting.Dan told us that this event was going to be hard.Dan likes hard events and as this was the USARA National championships heíd made a special effort.†† He told us that it would be 110 miles with 30,000 feet of elevation gain.Iím not sure if anyone really did the math on that but it did seemed a little ambitious.


Here is how we looked at it.††


110 Miles in total.Minus 10 for the kayak and 5 for the coastaleering leaves 95 miles and weíve not gone above sea level yet.

So now we have 30,000 feet of elevation in 95 miles.Well what goes up must come down as weíre finishing on the beach where we started, so if we have 30,000 feet of gain we have to lose 30,000 feet.So lets make this simple.60,000 feet of elevation change in 95 miles, thatís45 miles up and 45 miles down.So we have 30,000 feet of elevation gain in 45 miles.That works out to be 666.66 feet per mile.Now Iím told that the DipSea run is one of the steepest runs youíll ever do and that works out to be 300 feet per mile in the 7 mile trip to the coast.This was going to be twice as steep as that over 45 miles!!If youíre a little skeptical at this point so were we, but Dan stood up and told us that this is what we were going to do.It was going to be a hard race.


He gave us a lot of instructions about the course and told us some of the rules of travel that we would have to follow.He also made it very clear that we would be carrying everything we needed for the event and couldnít leave anything with the boats.


We were also told that the CP locations had been checked and double checked and that ALL the CPís were in the correct location.No exceptions.Some people asked questions about misplaced CPís but we were told not to worry about it because theyíre all exactly where they were supposed to be. ††Yea Right..Weíd soon prove that wrong.


The final tidbit of information came just before the maps were given out. Dan stands up and tells everyone that they must use the small USARA UTM plotter that was in the swag bag as this was the one he used to set the course.As the supplier of the Basic Roamer AR I was shocked.Iíd worked with the USARA to have the Basic Roamer AR added to the gear list as an option and it was the official navigation tool of the 2006 USARA Nationals.Now we were told we shouldnít use anything but the cheap swag plotter to lay out our route.People were looking at me and asking WTF, weíve got Basic Roamer ARís for this event.I didnít know what to say as I didnít understand the reason for this call from Dan.I found out later when I got back to the room and compared the swag roamer with the map and the Basic Roamer AR.It turns out that the swag roamer had been stamped incorrectly and the center of the plotted point was up to 30 meters off from where it should have been.We had to use this crap tool as ALL the locations would be 30 meters off if plotted with another tool.Just note that if you find one of these things, donít use it at any other event as youíll probably be in the wrong location.


We took the maps back to the room and started plotting.Heather and I worked on the route and we decide that weíd be riding the roads up the canyons rather than taking the direct trail.Riding is always easier than hiking with the bike.Heather was fantastic with helping me plot the UTMís and plan the route and I went to bed thinking that the plan we had was optimum and would work well for us.


I had the worse night sleep you could imagine.I kept waking up thinking Iíd missed something during the plotting, I couldnít remember were Iíd put our punch card so I had to find before I could go back to bed.I also had all kinds of route plans buzzing around in my head.When the alarm went off at 4:30 AM we were up and moving straight away.We had to stage the inflatable boats on the beach and then ride 5 miles down the coast to get to the start and first bike TA.Staging the boats was easy, weíd brought our own pump and made sure the yellow rubber duckie was has hard as possible without ripping a seam.I could imagine the thing going pop and taking us for a ride like a party balloon that was inflated and let go.


Once we finished with the boat staging we went back to our room to clean up and have something to eat before the ride to the start.As we rolled the bikes out into the lobby to start the ride, Grant notices that he has a flat.He had changed the tires the night before we left for Santa Barbara and as usual with Grant something had gone wrong.We didnít have time to change the tube so we went back to the car for the pump and re-inflated the tire.I canít remember how many times Iíve told Grant not to leave stuff to the night before the event but the never try anything new gremlins struck him again and I was about to hit him too.


Now weíre behind schedule and Iím trying to make it up on the way to the start as we have to collect our race bibs, get the UTMís for CP 1, and do all the early plotting before the start.Grant is dragging for some reason, Iím barely touching the pedals and Iím leaving them behind.Teams are flying past us and itís getting lonely.I try to tell Grant and Heather that were better of in a group as we can draft but they donít see the urgency.In the end I drop back and ride with them to the TA.



We arrive and everyone is frantically running around getting their last minute gear ready and plotting points.We set up our gear while trying to choke down some last minute food.Ken White is trying to scrounge up some last minute mandatory gear.Apparently there was some confusion over who should bring the UTM plotter and a pen.Someone helped him out as I didnít have a spare Basic Roamer AR on me.Who knew I needed to bring extra product to the start line?



The coastaleering looked quite straightforward with 2 waypoints before we hit the boats and the paddle to CP1.†† As we get down to the beach we see the sea wall and itís really only wide enough for one person at a time.It looks like it will be quite a bottle neck trying to get 150 crazed racers onto the wall.They tell us that weíll be running in the opposite direction for Ĺ a mile to spread things out, so Grant and I decide that weíre going flat out to get a good position going onto the sea wall.


Almost exactly at 7AM Dan says GO!And weíre off running.Iím feeling no pain and Iím going as fast as I can on the sand with my pack while maintaining a position in the top 10.I have to thank DR. Lonna Denny of Optimum Health Chiropractic for putting back together ready for Nationals.

I hear Grant call out behind me and I reply to let him know Iím there.As we come to the turnaround flag there is some pushing and shoving and Iím on the inside being leaned on by a girl from another team.No worries, itís just like the final turn in a Criterium where elbows are flying in the pack and Iím well used to that.I maintain my position while laughing and keep running full speed to the sea wall.I hear Grant behind me so Iím quite happy that theyíre still right there.I hit the wall somewhere in the top 20 and start clambering over the obstacles.This goes on for about 500 yards until we drop down onto a beach.At this point Iím not holding anyone up so I wait for Grant and Heather.Iím waiting for a while and I see a bunch of familiar faces run by including Jen Klafin and Ken White.Itís a couple of long minutes before Grant and Heather show up but they made it through the rough stuff safely.Itís a long race but weíre now a good few minutes behind the leaders as we run along the beach, but weíve opened a big gap on the group behind.



We hit the boats and make a fast transition.I jump in the front of our boat and Grant starts to push us out into the surf. Iím not really sure how he managed to do it but as he went to get into the boat he managed to dive right over it and straight into the ocean on the other side.I look around and Grant is up to his neck in water with that ďwhat happened thereĒ look on his face.Heather has managed to get her boat out past the surf and is patiently waiting for us to join her.On his next attempt Grant lands in the boat and tries to get comfortable as I start paddling out to sea.As heís moving around in the back of the boat, the inflatable seat pops out from under his ass like a wet bar of soap and gets caught by the wind.The thing just takes off.We have a choice of either carrying on or going back for it.We look around and see another seat floating about 100 yards off to our right so we decide to go pick that one up instead, someone else must have had the same problem.Hopefully the seat we lost floated back to shore or was picked up by another team.


We had decided pre race that we would tie the boats together and tow Heather on the paddle section.This would have worked fine but we were told during the pre race meeting that we couldnít tie anything to the boats.What we ended up doing was tying Grant and Heather together rather than the boats.I could tell from the groaning coming from Grant that this wasnít comfortable especially when Heather would stop paddling to eat or when a wave took the boats in different directions.


We were paddling along with Jen Klafin and her team but they seemed to be having way more problems than we were.They kept going around in circles but still managed to be keeping up with us.They must have added at least a mile to their paddle trying to keep the boat straight.


We were getting close to the surf and CP 1.I was going to jump out of the boat and punch the CP while Grant spun the boat around.Weíre heading into shore on a wave and Grant tells me to lean back.Heís yelling that we need to lean back to avoid tipping.I lean back as far as I can when suddenly Iím hit in the head with a wing blade paddle!Lucky I was wearing a helmet as Iím sure it would have been a serious injury.I start cursing at him, I know heís pissed at me for something this morning but hitting me with a wing blade wasnít going to solve anything.Especially if I decide to hit him back.


I fall out of the boat and try to walk but I end up on my hands and knees in the surf.My legs seem to have stopped working.I manage to get up and start running to the CP to get the punch.Grant has turned the boat around as I get back in and we start paddling again.We hook Heather back up on the rope and weíre off on the 7 mile paddle back to CP 2 and the TA.This section just took forever.The water was crystal clear and there were some seals swimming around, but other than that we didnít see too many people.Just before we hit the shore we were passed by Dogs in Space.We were coming into shore and Grant is yelling ďlean back!Ē right in my ear.So I lean back again and WTF! Iím hit in the head for the second time with a wing blade paddle!Now Iím pissed, thatís twice heís told me to lean back and twice heís hit me around the head with the paddle.†† Am I leaning back just so as he can get a better shot at me?He was lucky I was distracted by the race or we may have been fighting with paddles on the beach.


I get out of the water and start to drag the boat up the beach to the TA.The bloody things are full of water so theyíre heavy.We hit the TA and Iím much happier.Weíre getting on the bikes and Romero Road is waiting for us.We get out of the TA before Dogs in Space and start navigating to the start of Romero Road.Dogs in Space catch us just as we start the climb and we chat for a little while.I want to stay with them as I know that as soon as they get out of sight we would really start to lose ground.We hook up the tow line to Heather and catch up with them.Weíre also catching a couple of other teams including both Checkpoint Zero teams.As we all hit the dirt section of the road, Grant is riding with the CP0 guys when something happens and one of them ends up lying in the road.Iím still wondering what happened but Grant seemed ok so we kept going.We start riding the dirt road to the top of the mountain and as it turns in to single track we start to catch Dogs in Space.I think this is great as weíll be able to keep them in sight.Grant and Heather are a little way behind me but Iím putting pressure on Dogs in Space to keep them moving, hoping one of them will crack.I fall back a little to see if everything is ok with the team but Heather tells me she has a flat tire.Iím guessing itís a pinch from one of the rocks weíve been riding over.We rip the wheel out and change the flat before weíre caught by anyone but weíve lost touch with Dogs in Space.As we climb the second half of the mountain we see the Checkpoint Zero photographer for the first time.This guy would end up haunting the end of the race for me as I kept seeing him in hallucinations popping out from behind rocks.He was never actually there.


When we get to CP 3 we were told we were in 12th place!We were so happy to be moving up the leader board.A bunch of teams must have taken the canyon route and were still pushing their bikes up the hill.We quickly threw off our bike gear and started the run down to the San Ynez River.I had to stop almost immediately due to the amount of sand that was still in my shoes from the coastaleering earlier in the morning.


Iíd set the ARNavSupplies Waterproof Pedometer at the TA and we were looking for a trail off on the left.We came across a trail after .2 of a mile. We could see another team down the trail but the distance to the trail head was wrong.It was too soon.We carried on until the pedometer hit 0.45 and there was the trail with a sign saying Romero Canyon.This was exactly the trail we were looking for.As we went down we could see the other team still up on the rocks above us looking for a way down from the wrong trail.After a mile or so we hit the river and turned left towards CP 6 on the main river trail.Team EMS were coming towards us having found the CP, they didnít look happy but were moving fast. I estimated we would be about 20 minutes behind them. ††We only had about ĺ of a mile to the creek where the CP should have been.We continued until we found the creek with water and then cut down to the stream where the CP was marked.Once we got there we found some other teams wandering around looking for the CP.According to the map and the surrounding terrain we were in the right place.We decided to follow our strategy and immediately go to a known landmark and measure the distance with the Waterproof Pedometer with the bearing to the CP.We did this twice but still didnít find the CP.We walked all the way along the river bed with a number of other teams.We came across Ultimate Direction along with Revo 1& 2 who were all in the right place but couldnít find the CP.We decided to head back in the other direction towards the Romero trail and CP 4. After about 200 meters we just walked into a little clearing where we found Olive and Galen manning the CP.I told the guys they were in the wrong place and they said that everyone had said the same thing.They said this is where they were told to stand and they couldnít move because it wouldnít be fair to the first teams that had come through.


This was a disaster.Weíd wasted more than two hours looking for a CP that was misplaced.We knew from earlier years that the CP locations were triple checked by the promoter and the USARA, how could it have been in the wrong place.We would find out later from the USARA that the standard protocol wasnít followed and someone really screwed up.


It was time to regroup and move onto CP 4 & 5.This involved following a trail East along the river and then heading up the ridge to the 2 CPís that were on the small peaks of the ridge.We saw a number of teams bushwhacking up the side of the canyon but we had decided to save our energy and follow the trails.CP 4 & 5 were easy to find and we headed back up to CP 7 along the fire road.



When we reached the TA again we were told we were in 25th place.But we were also told that a number of teams hadnít found CP6 so we would be given credit for that.


Now we were back on the bike and needed to ride Camino Celo to the Cold Springs Trailhead.The Cold Springs trail would be a fun single track downhill back to the river.It was now dark and there were a number of landmarks that we were looking for.We needed to find the correct trail out of the campground that would take us down all the way down to the river again.After a couple of minutes exploring we found the right trail.We had to the push the bikes up and over a small saddle but then it was another fun downhill to an intersection at a stream.†† Now we had about a mile of pushing the bikes up to a trail that traversed along the side of a ridge and down to the Gibraltar Mine.In the dark the trails around the mine were a little confusing, but after another little exploring session a few hundreds yards down a trail we found the right fire road that would take us towards the dam.Once we passed the dam we had a decision about which trail to take to the road that lead to CP 8.We could either stay low and follow the trail in the riverbed or follow a main fire road that climbed a little but then was flat and downhill to the paved road.As we climbed the fire road we could we could see a number of teams down in the riverbed moving slowly.The riverbed trail was rocky and hard to ride and I guess that it would be much slower than the road even with the 400 foot climb.When we hit the paved road I figured weíd overtaken about 5 teams and now we had a fast ride on pavement to CP8.As we hit CP 8 we needed to refill with water but wasted no time punching the CP and starting the 4000í 12 mile climb up to CP 9 & 10.This loop would take us about 4 hours.


On the climb we would see a team up the trail in front of us and put in an effort to catch them.We were moving fast and catching teams.We even found one team sleeping in a ditch at the intersection with a main trail.I never thought you would sleep in a 24 hour race but it seems part of the strategy with some teams.


CP 9 was easy to find as it was at a large turn in the trail.Jeremy was manning this CP and just as we arrived Grantís tire went flat again.We begged a CO2 cartridge from a team that we had just caught and they continued up the trail while we changed Grantís tube.We left the CP and found the team we were chasing a few hundred yards up the trail with a flat of their own.Theyíd lent us a CO2 cartridge and then got a flat.We stopped and chatted for a minute but they had everything under control so we carried on up the climb to CP10 at the top of Pine Mountain.


There was a little confusion at the top of the mountain.We missed the left turn and followed the trail to the left instead.After a short downhill I realized we were going the wrong way and turned us around to go back to the intersection and the turn we needed.This lost us some time and was a stupid mistake.We eventually found the single track trail that lead down to CP10.We could see the CP from a way off so it wasnít a problem.When we got to the CP there was a guy in a sleeping bag who looked cold, but he was in good spirits and told us we were in about 15th place.


We now had the longest single track ride Iíve ever done back down to the river.It was about 4000í feet of descending in about 7 miles.I was leading our team and having a blast flying on the well groomed trail.There were a couple of sections of the trail that were a little dodgy but other than that it was smooth.Then WHAM!Iím upside down in a bush at the side of the trail.I was so far ahead of the other two that Iíd managed to get myself back on the bike before they arrived.This kind of thing happened a couple of times before we hit the main fire road at the bottom of the trail.As we came to the bottom of the fire road we saw a bunch of teams just starting on the loop that took us around CP 8 and towards CP11.A number of those teams in front took the highroad up and over the peak, ignoring the trail that went around the side of the mountain.We were with the Marin Bike Masters team for a while but Ken White was bonking and needed to stop for some food so we passed the message along to his teammates who were a little further down the trail.


We flew through CP 11 and started out along the main road to find the entrance to Aroyyo Burro road that would take us back up a fire road to the ridge where we would take Camino Celo to CP12 at the top of the mountain.This is where another route choice would be key.We decided it was time to stop for some real food so we sat at the side of the road for about 5 minutes and took a little rest.



As we crossed the river and started climbing some teams looked like there were going to do the bike push up the canyon but we decided to take the longer route up the road.†† I think this paid off as we were in 13th place when we hit CP 12.We found out that the trek down to CP 13 had been cancelled and that teams arriving more than an hour behind us would be short coursed.



We were about 30 minutes behind the next team and I was determined to make up some time on the way to the ĎOí course.We had a little climbing on the ridge road before we hit a long paved descent down Painted Cave road all the way back into town.It was along the ridge road that I was sure I saw the Checkpoint Zero photographer in the road ahead.When we get to the point where I thought he should be there was no one there. ††The next section was a blast.It was so steep on the down hills and we were flying.I canít imagine anyone making up any time on us during that section.We arrived at the ĎOí Course just as were leaving.Heather was really hurting and the painful look on her face, that had been there for most of the morning was looking much worse.


I downed a full can of Red Jak energy drink and grabbed the ĎOí map.Grant hooked Heather up to the bungie cord and started towing her along behind us.We knew Heather was tired and hurting because every time Grant stopped, Heather would immediately unclip and let the bungie go, even from 30í away.We would stop and Iíd hear Grant yell ouch! as the cord hit him in the back.††I ripped off my pack and top layers as the sun had come up and it was getting warm.Grant took my pack so as I could move faster punching the CPís.We had a good run at the ĎOí course and the Red Jak was giving me a bunch of energy.When we got back to the TA, I grabbed another Red Jak and downed it straight while I was changing back into my bike shoes.I took another Red Jak for my water bottle and the ride for the finish.I was so wired.Three cans of Red Jak was like crack cocaine at this point in the race, I was even having trouble speaking properly.I put Heather on the tow rope and stuck the bike in the big ring.I was towing like a maniac and trying to read the map.I had a couple of problems finding the small bike path entrance under the highway but once we found it I hit CP 17 spot on.It was then a crazy tow along the bike path and City streets to get to CP 18.I was in such a frenzy from the Red Jak that we rode straight past the intersection where CP 18 was located and I had to go back for it.Heather was really hurting at this point and could barely peddle due to the pain in her knee.I continued to tow Heater hoping that she could hang on for the finish.We didnít see any other teams on the way to the bike drop.When we got there Oliver told us we were in 12th place with no penalties assessed.We should be moving up some places and could possibly be well in the top 10.Weíd got CP 6 and knew that some of the teams in front of us like Revo 1& 2 hadnít.


We got to the finish and punched in.The first thing that Grant did was ask Dan Barger if we would get credit for finding CP 6.Dan said that CP 6 had been cancelled but there was no time credit given.They would be looking at it when everyone was in, so we hoped to find out all the details at the happy hour or dinner.†† The second thing we did was to hit the breakfast buffet that we being served in the foyer of the hotel.We sat and ate a huge breakfast in our race gear.We must have smelled awful to the other diners in the restaurant and looked even worse.After breakfast we went up to our room, Heather was walking very slowly and had to hold her butt cheeks apart as she walked.I didnít want to know what was going on down there but it looked painful as she moved.After a quick shower Grant and Heather took a nap but I was still too wired from the Red Jak that Iíd chugged at the ĎOí course.There was no way I was sleeping.I wandered around the hotel and eventually headed out to find the Lays Potato Chips that Iíd been craving for hours.††


When the final results were announced they had removed CP 6 but hadnít removed the time associated with it.They had electronic timing at every CP and could have easily worked out the time every team spent looking for CP 6 and removed it.†† This would have made the removal of CP 6 equal for everyone even the teams who didnít find the CP.This would have had a dramatic effect on the final outcome of the race but the existing results stood.We had a few beers with some old friends and then went to bed for some well earned rest before our drive back to San Francisco.


We were a little disappointed that we didnít crack the top ten but very happy that weíd raced so fast and done so well even with the setback at CP6.12th in the National Championship wasnít so bad.†† We felt competitive enough to give any of the teams a good run for their money and apart from a couple of minor wrong turns everything had gone really well.†† Weíll be back next year for some more Nationals fun.It turns out that the 30,000í of elevation gain was a little over estimated.†† The Suunto managed to track 17,010 feet of ascent which was more than enough.The download is below along with the UTSís and rules of travel for anyone who wants to follow the course.


Congratulations to team EMS for a fine win and to all the other teams that competed in the event.

Here is the Suunto Download for the Course.


Start : 11/3/2006 6:58:00 AM

End : 11/4/2006 11:24:19 AM

Duration: †††††††††††††††††††† 28:26.19

††††††††††† Altitude

High point: †††††††††††††††††† 4304ftTime:11/4/2006 2:23:00 AM

Low point: †††††††††††††††††† -59ftTime:11/3/2006 9:16:00 AM

Total ascent††††††††††††††††† 17010ft

Ascent time: †††††††††††††††† 13:13.50

Average ascent: †††††††††† 20††††††† ft/min

Total descent††††††††††††††† 17020ft

Descent time: †††††††††††††† 06:24.20

Average descent: †††††††† 43††††††† ft/min





CP UTMís and rules of travel







Thanks again to our sponsors who have supported us throughout the season. The gear and support they provided us was the key to our success during this event.We look forward to working with you again next year.