It has been forever and a day since I wrote a race review. Since I was never really any good at it, this recap of the Palmetto Possum Jump promises not to disappoint.
(you can read Heather's race recap HERE)
Heather and I have talked a lot of smack about moving to the Upstate at some point. The terrain is better, the athletics are better and all and all there are just a helluva lot more races and things to do there than Myrtle Beach.
This race really enforced how much we need to get out of flat, dull as dishwater, coastal Carolina. I’m not going to say the vertical destroyed us, but it was a huge wake up call for some of the races we want to do in future.
Alrighty, enough preamble, let's get into it!
The Possum Jump 8hr was held in Croft State Park in Spartanburg, SC. This is a pretty great park and was once home to the One Epic Run that Heather and I had the pleasure of doing a couple of times a few years back. I won’t bother blabbing on too much about the park itself, you can head to the park's website to get all the info you might need.
We were able to get a rental cabin for both the Friday before the race and Saturday night after at a funky local RV park, so we were able to make the optional Friday night pre-race meeting. Here we got to meet with a couple other teams, both doing their first AR, as well as get a little more insight on what Saturday’s event might bring. And although this meeting was geared to the new and newish racers, I’ve always found that you can learn something useful in any pre-race meeting. And, meeting other racers is always a good thing to boot.
After our meeting we went back to our interesting little cabin-box rental thing. (Gah, I really feel like I should do and old school Bigcatbox Blog on this campground! ) to get a quality nights sleep before the pleasantly late 7AM checkin on Saturday morning.
It’s a pretty quick drive, maybe 15-20 minutes on some nice back roads to get to Croft from our camp. When we pull into Croft, there was nobody at the gate, but as we were told parking was included, we just drove right on thru down to the start line.
We pull in, say hello to a few folks and start lumping all of our gear and bikes over to a picnic table which would serve as our TA for the duration of the event. I’d gotten the lamps on the bikes the night before and already had my mandatory gear all set, so there wasn’t really a ton of prep to do before getting our maps.
We check in, get our T-shirts, maps and big hellos from the crew at Possum Jump. The maps are pre-plotted so all we really have to do plan our route.
The race is going to be three legs. Foot, MTB, Foot. Each leg has its own map and only after completing a leg will you be given a passport to the next leg. This means each map is going to require its own unique route choice as getting CPS from the 3rd leg while on the 1st leg isn’t possible as you have no passport.
BUT, no worries! Heather is pretty good at Nav and route planning. Which is good, because I am all but useless. I can't see anything within three feet of my nose. Even will +300 readers on, maps are still hard for me to see.
Heather has our routes done right quick and heads off to the loo. With us now knowing approximately how long each leg will take, I’m able to edit down my fluids and nutrition from the 8hrs worth I was expecting to carry down to around 3hrs worth. Much lighter.
As I'm re-packing my new pack (UltrAspire Zygos 5.0) the RD comes around to each team to let us know that bushwacking is out and there are some roads that are 100% off limits.
Not a huge deal in the big picture, we had to rethink our route and strategy a bit, but everyone did. And, its adventure racing. You learn to deal with things not going as planned.
The biggest drawback to this was it taking some of the advantage of being a good navigator out of the equation. By having to stay on trails, overall fitness and speed become a major component.
8:45ish we have the standard pre-race meeting. Final word on the rules, last bits of advice, blah, blah around 8:55 maybe we get the prologue instructions: Run to the playground, do 10 jumping jacks and 10 push ups, then come back for your first passport.
NEAT! I finally got to do a prologue (Heather always does the prologue at Swamp Fox because I can’t see the teeny map you get). So I sprint up, do my thing and sprint back…along with the entire pack…I honestly think Tracey was just trying to mess with us as the prologue did nothing to break up the pack, only forced some people into anaerobia a bit early.
I que up, get the passport, collect my lovely team-mate and we are off on Leg 1!
The Leg 1 trek consists of seven CPs with the furthest one out at a good 5-6K from the start. And I gotta tell ya, even though I usually prefer MTB to foot, this was my favorite leg of the race.
The trails in Croft are fantastic. Just enough technical to keep you from getting complacent, but smooth enough that you can open it up and just run for good periods.
With no bushwhacking allowed this leg was reasonably uneventful. We did have a CP that some yokel had stolen, so we, along with another team, took pictures of the landmarks around the area to prove we were there.
And of course there were my standard GoPro snafus, but this flew right by and although the ten miles hurt a bit, it was pretty enough to make up for it.
Just under two and half hours for Leg One, we trot into TA. Heather brings the passport over to the RD, she checks our punches, good to go. She also confirms that the missing CP had been snagged by somebody. Leg One cleared and off to MTB Leg Two.
Transition goes pretty smoothly. Heather slaps the Leg Two map onto her board, I get our lights going, refill our waters. We remove the trash from our packs, grab new groceries and I stick a bike lock on my pack for one of the more suspect CPs where theft could be an issue.
Quick note here, mostly for me to remember, I’m once again riding my Surly Pugsley.
I had planned on the ICT, but bent a rim a couple of weeks prior. Knowing the trails in Croft would require gnarlier tires than what I usually run on the Pugs, I put on the knobbies that came with the bike when I purchased it. These tires never sit well on the rims though, and I was honestly afraid of having some kind of wheel technical. I’m happy to report that the Pugs worked wonderfully and I had no problems at all.
Leg 2 has eight CPs (I think. I can't see the map very well and my memory is that of a goldfish), and we start our ride on some pretty gnarly terrain. Roots, rocks, ups and downs, the fun stuff! But also the slow-going stuff. We pick our way along the singletrack and climb up to CP 8.
Then from here things start getting interesting.
There are a lot of trails at Croft. More than what will print out on a Cal-Topo. Although there were plenty of trail signs at each junction, we had to stop at each trail junction, check out the signs, and confirm where we were.
We actually got lucky at one point and stumbled across a CP while bumbling around at a trail junction. It wasn't the CP we wanted…but it was one we needed! So…win? Sure, lets call it a win.
After busting out of the area around CP #8, the trails did start flowing nicely. Nav was still a bit of drag for us with the multiple trails, but our overall pace did start to increase a bit.
Some lessons emphasized on this leg:
- Use your compass to determine your direction of travel and compare it to where you THINK you are on the map.
- Other teams get lost too.
- Faster isn't always better.
- My hearing is even worse on the bike than usual
- Watch for the obvious catching features.
For comparison purposes, the bike leg was also just about ten miles and also took around two and half hours. The technicality of some of the trails, the new Nav technique of stopping to look at the trail’s maps and plain bumbling around caused us to lose a good chunk of time on this leg. However, we ultimately were one of the top five teams to get off the bike leg.
We roll into TA just around five hours and twenty miles in. Just like our first TA, we bring the passport to the RD, she checks our punches as we explain the mis-punch. She looks at our photos to prove we visited the cemetery CPs and gives us our third passport.
This transition takes us just under three minutes as we again remove all our trash from our packs, refill water and food, turn off bike lights, swap GoPro mounts and all of that stuff.
Leg Three is another foot leg, only our route has a LOT of pavement on it, maybe seven miles of it. (I know…seven miles isn't really that awful, but I don’t run pavement.)
Fortunately, we start our trek on trail to snag CP #18. Along the route we bump into Jason, a new friend from Conway that we had the pleasure of meeting at the Lynches River race a couple of weeks prior.
Together the three of us search for #18 to no avail. Heather ultimately stops to take a picture of the three of us where we feel the CP is supposed to be and we mosey on down the trail.
Now, I have no idea what made her look that way, but I’ll be damned if Heather didnt suddenly see the CP hanging from a tree around a half K from where we thought it would be. Cool beans, 18 found.
Then the slog began. Uphill, on pavement for a good 3+ miles thru CP 19 and on to CP 21.
At this point Heather and I are doing a Run/Walk. The hills are rolling and not too horrible yet.
This is where I really felt my recent tethered Ruck training to be beneficial as we are easily ticking out sub 15s on our Walks up hill. But this is also where I realize that our scheduled Spring/Autumn races in VA and VT are going to kick my ass, big time.
CP 19 is a pretty easy find, we’d seen the cemetery entrance on the drive in and knew exactly where it was.
Our trek from 19 to 21 (no CP 20) actually brings us thru the park gates and out of the park for a while onto a more well traveled road. We’re still doing a Run/Walk, feeling pretty good and conversing about our strategy with CP #22.
We dip back into the woods to search for 21 and another team catches us. We’d been playing cat and mouse with these two gals all day. SUPER strong athletes, we were stunned when we cleared the bike leg before them, and only slightly surprised they caught us here.
Now we have four pairs of eyeballs looking for 21. Eventually we all became frustrated thinking someone had again nicked the CP so Heather took a video of the area that matched the CP on the map. But while she was filming, another racer shouts from up the hill, and closer to the road, that she’d found the CP at a rootstock.
So up until here we had only one more CP to go to clear the course. But, it looks to be around a seven mile journey to get the CP and make it back to the finish. We have around 90min left and know there’s no way in hell we’re gonna make it in time, so we go back out the way we came onto the pavement while those super strong gals run off to get CP 22.
Our way back to finish is pretty uneventful, other than Heather noticing that I still had that goddamned bike lock in my pack…gah, I should have taken that out after the bike leg.
We Run/Walk our way back to thru the park, holding hands here and there and all around just enjoying a gorgeous afternoon and talking about how much our legs hurt.
We run up to the finish line at about seven hours thirty minutes race time and one CP short of clearing the course.
We hand in our final passport and sit to chat with the RD and volunteers for a bit. There’s some good groceries on a table out back for the racers so Heather and I make our way back to our table, drop all of our gear and hit up the buffet to wait and watch the other teams roll in. (Thank you Possum Jump for having veggie options!!!)
Eating our Impossible Burgers, we cheer as other teams roll in and I’m anxiously watching the time. Our competition is stil on course and if they make it in by 5pm, they’ll have one more CP than us and take the win.
4:45, Heather goes to shower.4:55 I go to shower and the other team still hasn't come in.
5:05 no sight of the other team, which means they’re docked one full CP.
5:15, no sight of them, docked 2 CPs and then I knew Heather and I had won the team division.
Credit where due, those gals HAMMER. I was later told they’re part of Checkpoint Zero. It was kinda neat to race neck and neck with them. Heather and I may not be the strongest athletes around, but this is the great thing about AR, there’s strategy, and a bit of luck involved too.
My final words on this race: It was really damn fun and I will absolutely do it again, terrain be damned.
- The Nav was a bit tricky, but we just need more experience. The CPs were pretty damn close to where we thought they’d be, and the only reason we were so suspicious of them was because it being a public area, we knew people would be taking the flags.
- The format was neat. I love a good paddle, but it was also nice to not have to worry about the extra gear.
- There was plenty of post race food! This is always appreciated as most of us are craving real food after this kind of thing.
- The RD and volunteers were fun and interactive and obviously cared for each and every athlete in the race.
- The course was well laid out for both hammerheads and newbies alike. I feel Leg 3 made every team think about their strategy.
So ya, there it is! 28-ish miles, seven and half hours and a first place for Heather and me!