Tuesday, August 12, 2014

4th Annual Chiques Challenge - Race Report - Run Then Kayak (& this year I added a swim stage)

August 9, 2014

The Chiques Challange is maybe the most fun event I've ever done. Run 4+ miles and then get in a kayak and paddle 2+ miles. It's hosted by the Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center and billed as a race, but having fun is encouraged and the only true requirement. With only a few awards given, there's competition, but it's low key at best.

This is the fourth year I've participated. Since its inception, the event has fallen on the same day as Janice's family reunion so we've made the Chiques Challenge part of the family day. Having 5 of us run and kayak two years ago, until this year we never had less than 3 of us participating. We've also taken it even less seriously than the event hosts probably expect. Once in the kayak, our fastest runners would wait somewhere on the river while the rest of the paddling family members catch up. We would then paddle to the finish line together. We carry squirt guns in our boats as bilge pumps. Those "bilge pumps" of course double for a fun time squirting one another as we go down the lazy Susquehanna. After our first silly appearance in 2011, we dubbed ourselves as Team Squirt Gun. We had also made it tradition to finish in numerical order. Yep, you could be sure to leave us off the list of "game facers" who had shown up for their beloved PR's.

This year was unfortunately entirely different. Becky (the fastest runner of Team Squirt Gun) is in Arizona, Grant (who claims he's faster than Becky) is in Nashville, Katie (our Pitt nursing student - kept it quiet <from me at least> that she would be in town for the weekend), Janice (said she'd have to walk it and she claimed that "nobody ever walks the Chiques Challenge") and  with all that said, that left me to carry on the tradition of our family participating (and I almost didn't get registered).


Having my registration accepted(even a week after the registration had closed) I decided since I was going it alone this year, I'd try to complete it as fast as possible. My events of choice are ultra trail races, measured typically in hours and dozens of miles and "fast" really isn't something I ever consider. This day to make Team Squirt Gun proud and say thanks for letting me register so late, I'd give the "fast" thing a shot.

The run isn't but it feels mostly downhill. The run starts at the Marietta River Park back off of Vinegar Ferry Road. The course is on paved surfaces, running along the Susquehanna River on the Northwest Trail and then the streets of Marietta to the Marietta Boat Launch. My watch measured it this year as 4.29 miles. I ate too many hot wings Friday night, I got out of the house late and I felt rushed/slightly tired already when I finally got off the school bus shuttle at the start line.

I decided to start off comfortably and wind up my pace to something that felt sustainable. I started my watch, but never looked at it, and running solely on feel I finished the run portion in 32:40. I passed a bunch of folks and didn't get passed so I felt pretty good about the first half of the challenge. There was only one runner I was chasing who I never caught and he was wearing an orange shirt (fore shadowing).


Arriving at the kayak staging area under 33 minutes, there were still a lot of boats there. I was happy that my bib number 80 put my boat out on the end of the last row, making it quite easy to grab my paddle, PFD and kayak and take off towards the launch. In the transition I saw that I passed at least two others, but stalled at the water's edge, I couldn't get my life vest on. It's required that you wear it so I struggled to get it over my shoulders and as a volunteer approached to help, I finally got it on, but it wouldn't close. Off I paddled leaving one guy struggling to wiggle his boat into the water and passing another and still chasing the guy in the orange shirt just a few boat lengths ahead. I passed a few other paddlers, figuring I'd work as hard as I could until my deltoids imploded and I'd simply finish by drifting. I noticed that the fellow in the orange shirt had taken a line farther "river right" and I wondered  why he was over there seemingly adding distance to the finish. I also noticed that I was catching and passing boats and now I could only see a few kayaks between me and the finish line.

I was approaching a swift spot and I could see a woman stuck on a rock. As she wiggled free, I saw the orange shirt guy come in from the right having effectively avoided this tight spot. I thought, "cool, I've cut the corner on him and now I'm right behind him". As that thought fleeted, I entered a chute which added speed to my boat and shot me right at the rock where the woman had been. The Susquehanna River is excellent for recreational kayaking, it's wide, flat and lazy with nothing more than little ripples here and there. I've paddled on the Susquehanna River and this particular area many times. The difference today was that I was paddling as fast as I could. When I typically see a hazard, I'm going slowly enough to easily get around it safely. Along with my excited paddling, the little pinch of rocks that caused the chute also added speed and I was shoved swiftly right into the rock, striking the left side of the bow of my boat and I was rolling over in what seemed like seconds. My boat took on a little water, but I was able to get back in and in no time, the next rock was rolling me right back over again. Now I was in a bit of trouble. I've had training in water craft rescue, but now I was the one needing help. As I was bouncing  off rocks, I was trying to keep my head above water and fighting to keep my boat from swamping and I heard a voice say, "get over to this eddy and you'll be able to get back in". At the start line, we were reminded that volunteers from Chiques Rock Outfitters and Shank's Mare Outfitters would be on the water as guides and help should any of us need it. A woman standing next to me told me her husband had capsized during last year's race. All I could wonder was who the heck capsizes on this mellow river at this mellow event?...and here I was... The voice guiding me to the eddy was one of those volunteers announced at the start. I told him my boat was swamping and asked if he could help me. He was quick to remind me that my PFD should be secured (he was oh so right). This savior helped me to empty most of the water, right the kayak and get me back in. While doing all that he also adjusted the strap on the life vest so it actually clipped (it's my vest - I'm not sure who wore it last, but they were definitely tiny).

While flopping against rocks I watched as boat after boat passed me by and all I could think of was, "so much for going fast". Now I was back afloat, the guy in the orange shirt was long gone and my left shoulder and right side felt like I had been playing football instead of being out for a lazy paddle. Now instead of seeing only six or seven boats between me and the finish, all I could do now was dread how far I still had to go. My pity party ended quickly and I decided to go back to paddling as hard as I could and I did eventually reach the finish line at Columbia River Park.

I was officially 20th place with a total overall time of 1:03:27(32:40run/30:47kayak) - the fellow I was chasing wearing the orange shirt finished 4th/8 minutes ahead of me... Oh well...

The Event:

I can't say enough about how much I owe the young fellow who helped me out of peril. I did find him later and thanked him again, but I still felt foolish and embarrassed for being so unsafe and placing us both in that predicament.

This year the Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center's event was poorly attended and their disappointment was evident. The field is limited to 150 and this year only 80 registered with 74 participating. I can't say "thank you" enough to the volunteer who got me out of that watery jam, but I can blog about the event in hopes of a bigger field for 2015. I plan to field as many of my crew as possible next year. If you're looking for a truly fun event next August,come down to Columbia and have fun at The Chiques Challenge, I highly recommend it!

Fun Tech Note:

For the first time I had a reason to use the multi-sport function on my Suunto Ambit2 S watch. Set up prior to the event, with the simple press of a button, my running and paddling were measured as two separate efforts combined to make up the multi-sport event. (The sad part is seeing the time gap at about the mid-point of the paddle where it's evident that I was going nowhere for several minutes while floundering on the rocks.) There's always next year...

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