The Year of the Multi-Sport Races

BADDLUN or Bike-pADDLe-rUN- an insanely fun combination of everything I enjoy doing with my spare-time.

I entered my first Baddlun race this past August at the Ocoee. The field is a diverse collection of folks who have one thing in common- they have realized all of the potential the Ocoee River and the Tanasi Trail system holds. In fact, most rivers in the southeast have trail options within a 10 mile radius of its put-in/take-out. I have always carried running shoes in my vehicle in-case of skunking (no water to kayak) or a need to literally “run shuttle”. The Ocoee just so happens to have 30 miles of single-track with trailheads starting at the whitewater section of the river.

Hammering out the second leg of the race

Before the Ocoee Baddlun, I had participated in several Jerry’s Baddle races which is a fast paddle down the Green River Narrows followed by a short, but very hilly 26 mile road race. This race had always been my favorite race for four years in a row. My friends come out for this race to participate or heckle, I met my beautiful wife Kate at the 2012 event, and the event is built around fund raising for combating ALS in memory of Jerry Beckwith. Unfortunately, I took a four year hiatus while fully-pursuing another addiction of mine- running. Marathon season always left me deteriorated and in need of RR around the time of Jerry’s Baddle. So I fell into a cycle of kayak racing in the fall and road running in the winter/spring.

After the 2016 Buffalo Marathon, my friend Van rekindled my love for mountain biking which had laid dormant for five years. This time I felt giddy all over again like I had when I first start kayaking. I started all-out training and studying familiar areas/maps but looking at them in a new way.

Van and I on a 100 mile ride

This brings me to June 2016. My wife and I live on the water at the Metro Chattahoochee River section. This section of water is perfect for challenging attainments. One-quarter of a mile from our house is a trailhead to a 5k track and 8 miles of SORBA-maintained mountain bike trails. If you move to Atlanta and love to multi-sport move here!

This was a typical week for me this year:

  • Four days of running- 15 to 25 miles
  • Four to five days of kayaking- 20 to 30 miles
  • Five to seven days of biking- 75 to 150 miles

I knew that this was my year to take on multi-sport racing. It felt natural and I was able to fit in all of my favorite activities rather than running 100 miles per week.

Always serious training… teaching my nephew some hydrology behind our house

August is hot in Tennessee and the Ocoee Baddlun starts midday. After staging a crazy amount of gear at the transition area, I hear about the field from a good friend Chris who had been around the Baddlun scene. I learned that an Olympic-caliber runner was in our midst. Knowing the last leg of the race was running; this made me feel anxious. Having learned this, I wanted to push really hard on the bike and paddle leg and just hold on for the running leg. The nagging image of seeing a 5:30 minute/mile runner blowing past me on the last mile stuck in my head for the entire duration of the race. I had not tapped this competitive streak since playing Division 1 football.

The race was exhilarating. Everything went very quickly and before I knew it, I had won my first ever overall race finish. Turns out, my friend Chris came in second. A light bulb went on!

Jack of all trades, master of none. While seeing some podium finishes in all three sports, I had never experienced an overall first place finish, much less experienced course records. My father always taught me: if you enjoy it and you’re good at it, then you should go all-in. So, I went all in.

Winter training meant mountain biking and kayak attainments with lights

After a confirmation at the Russell Fork Baddlun, I decided that the marathon running would have to wait a year. I set my sights for Jerry’s Baddle and my personal holy grail- the Green River Games’ Silverback race. The Silverback is difficult to finish. To compete against legends like Jack D. and Joe S. is an entirely different pursuit. I had seven months to prepare.

Good company at Russell Fork Baddlun: Geoff C and Toby McD with me on the podium

With the support of my wife, who prepared lots of delicious vegan food and was very patient, and friends who typically joined in one or two sports some days, I was able to knock out a loose, but intense training regime.

Days seem short when you are running in the morning before work and mountian biking and kayaking after work. Jerry’s Baddle came quickly. I was primed to paddle hard but had not spent very much time on my road bike. David H started one minute ahead of me. I knew he was fast, but I did not anticipate the battle that would ensue for the last five miles of the race.

Transition at Jerry’s Baddle

Louie Dog (my training partner) with the beautiful Jerry’s Baddle trophy which is passed along every year

Lines on the water through the Green River Narrows went smoothly and quickly. It was a familiar level in a familiar place. The real battle took place on the bike. I was able to power up the switch-backs out of the gorge in-order to have David in my sights. The second half of the course is rolling with two large climbs thrown-in for good measure. On this section David and I swapped positions for ten miles. We were passing poll positions (previous winners), so we both knew that if he could pick-up a minute on the last five miles, then he’d have it bagged. The last five miles is a gradual climb up the lower Green River in wind-tunnel conditions which never works in your favor. I took in my last gel and my last bit of water. Then my right calf felt like a fire-ant stung. Being a big guy, cramps are typical for me, but recovering during a race can take time. I had to let him go. However, I knew that I could not let him out of sight around a corner. He was hammering! So recovery wasn’t really an option. At the end, the strategy of keeping him within sight worked. Seeing as how this race is only a month before the Green River Games, it sent a load message: these people don’t mess around. The Asheville/Greenville area is ripe with multi-sport options and most people I know in the area take full opportunity of their fortunate locale. Jack D is a resident of Asheville and has been an inspiration of mine for years. He has won the Silverback race several times and is a true class act. He regularly pursues all-day multi-sport pursuits in the area which are hard to fathom. I was stoked to see that he was participating in the 2017 Silverback.

Training trail gnar for the Silverback in Pisgah

If you go fast on the Silverback course, the pain will be over in four hours. This course is brutal. Not only is paddling the Narrows difficult after hammering through the upper section, but the trail system is truly a masterpiece of roots, rocks, cliffs and snakes. Nine miles of paddling, eight and change for the mountain biking and then running the same course. It does not sound long but as I found, it made me dig deeper than any long-run I have ever done.

Bradley M laid wakes on the Upper Green and was out of sight by Go Left. Stephen M was hammering alongside me for the entire paddling leg. There was chatter at the transition pre-race that the water would be a bit higher than was typical in May. I knew that a 14” Gorilla would be quite scary after hammering five miles. It was, and I did not get a look at the gauge while blowing past it. I could tell the level by the curlers rolling off of the left-side of the notch wall at the entrance of Gorilla. At the moment all I could hope was that pointing my Karma UL into the seam while squeezing through would work out. My mind was at more of an ease as I saw the launch pad. I was fired up to have ran through this section so quickly at this level with my friend Stephen M. It’s these moments during the race which are the most memorable!

At the end of the kayak leg, I saw Brad M disappear into the woods. My instincts kicked in after riding on a high from a sick day on my favorite river. I had heard stories of how fast Jay D and Joe S are on the trail. So I transitioned quickly and disappeared into the jungle that is the Green River Game Lands. I saw Brad soldiering on during the bike leg. While in the front, I quickly realize that I was being chased. It is an exhilarating feeling. Again visions of being passed while at a low-point were in my head. This is a constant nagging to pick-up time when I could but never pushing too hard because cramps and fatigue can be devastating. The feeling of being chased allowed me to finish the course in 3 hours and 45 seconds. The river was running fast, the trails were in the best condition they have been and the stars had aligned for a course record.

Silverback trophy with the gear- Karma UL on top

After hydrating, I had a beer at the finish-line with Joe S, then Jack D as they came in. It was settling in. All I could feel was gratitude for the generosity of my wife and my friends in supporting my pursuits.

Enjoying a slow day on the Chattooga with Kate

Cheers,

Zach

 

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