Paul Cooley's Adventure

12th Man Adventure Race, Sprint Series #4 July 2, 2011
By Paul Cooley

About a month ago I received something in my email box about races in the Houston area and one in particular intrigued me. It was a race near Navasota, Texas at a place called Magnolia Hill Ranch. Since I had not heard of the ranch or the people putting on the race, Terra Firma Racing (, I began asking running friends about it, but no one I talked to had heard or been to the ranch or done any races put on by them. There were actually two events of interest a 15K on July 3rd and the day before an "adventure" race. I was initially interested in the 15K, but in talking to a running partner of mine - Michelle Castro - I mentioned the adventure race and later she told me her husband Bernard would team with me to do it if I was interested. We signed up in advance on the Internet and proceeded to do no specific training for the race. We knew the race was going to be a 3-mile run, 10-mile bike, "30 minute" Kayak and some mystery event(s). Neither of us had done a bike race before, and both of us admitted we knew little about Kayaking. We did no preparation for the race:

I had my old mountain bike tuned up, Michelle and Bernard made sure to bring a sun shelter and plenty of cold drinks to the race. After about an hour drive from my home in Southwest Houston I arrived at Magnolia Hill Ranch and was met by the owner of the land who collected a two-page waiver/release/indemnity agreement that we were required to execute and deliver upon our arrival. After I parked I began figuring out what I was supposed to be doing. As I said, the only racing I have done is running, both road and trail. I could see that other participants were taking their bikes across a field toward the lake that is on the property, so I decided to follow suit. Of course, they were going to the transition area, each group of participants staking out an area, some putting up pop up sun tents, others putting down tarps to place their equipment, shoes, clothing, etc. on. I found a tree to lean my bike against and went in search of Bernard and Michelle.

They had arrived with their wonderful children, and put up their sun shelter, in which the kids dutifully sat during the race, reading, snacking and behaving very well. In watching the other participants getting ready for the race, Bernard and I were surprised that there appeared to be very few "newbies" such as ourselves, i.e. people that did not have on compression biking clothing, non-cool (inexpensive) bikes, and did not know most everyone there. At the pre-race meeting the race director explained that the bike portion of the race would be first. It would start out with one team member riding a loop around the lake, and then tagging the second team member who would ride the same loop, and when that team member came back the team would take off together on the remaining approximately 9 mile portion of the bike ride. After that, the team would come into the T/A (transition area) put up their bikes (we dropped ours in the sand), proceed to get an inflatable Kayak into the water (after donning life jackets and picking up paddles) and proceed to do about two laps around the lake. Following the Kayak event was a 5K run around the lake and into some woods, and then would be a Mystery event, the nature of which, he did not share with us at that time.

Bernard took off as our first bike rider (there were also solo entrants, who did two loops of the lake at the start). I waited in an exchange area along with the other riders waiting for their teammates. It was not too long, in fact very fast, that I could see the first group of bikers coming around the lake toward us. They were following someone on a motorbike, who was traveling pretty fast and the 4 or 5 bikers behind him were going almost equally as fast, I really could not believe how fast they were going. Eventually Bernard made it to the exchange and I took off. I felt pretty good on the opening loop and reminded myself to pace a little bit, since we had a long way to go. I did pass a couple people on my loop, and felt good about that. Bernard and I then took off on the remainder of the bike race. The rule was that we were to stay within 20 seconds of each other at all times. After climbing a small rise, we hit a good down hill for about 1/2 mile, and I began to think that this trail bike racing was to my liking. At the bottom of the hill the trail turned to our left, the bike race was marked with orange ribbons and the run portion by pink ribbons. We began following the trail and the orange ribbons, there were several other bike riders and we more or less formed an informal group going down the trail. The trail started to get narrower, no more down hill roads, and it was sandy in places. No it was sandy in lots of places. It began to be a chore going through the sandy portions. I think I had my seat too high and was trying to ride too fast, because I would hit some sand, it would catch my front wheel and I would head either into the bushes or onto the ground. I fell probably 3 times in the first part of the trail until I wised up, slowed down some and began to shift more of my weight over the front wheel to maintain control. I was now sweating pretty good and my arms were tiring from fighting the front wheel. I checked my Garmin Forerunner to see if we halfway yet, nope, hadn't even gone 3 miles, including the 1.5-mile of my loop around the lake! Eventually we worked out of this portion of the trail onto a jeep road and I regained some strength and new confidence that I could handle the mountain bike racing well. Off the jeep road into some terrain that I can only compare to the up and down rolling small hills of Ho Chi Ming trail - in fact portions of the Yellow Trail came to mind. In fact it was so "technical" that Bernard and I, and the guys we were informally grouped with could only walk our bikes, and at times that was difficult! I could not imagine how the lead bikers had ridden through here, and if they had, at what kind of pace?

We came out of this section onto another jeep road and saw a large pack of riders going the other direction from us, which meant there was some type of half loop we would be riding. That half loop was mostly uphill and sandy (maybe I am thinking it was a lot more sandy than it was, but Bernard and I and the other guys were working pretty diligently in getting through the bike course, and at times, I would be just spinning my rear wheel in the sand and going nowhere, that sticks in my mind). At about 7.25 miles on my GPS I told Bernard we must be getting close to the TA, and we were, I told him as we headed down the shoot that I didn't want to be riding my bike anytime soon. We were full of dirt (and of course, sand) from the spills we had taken, I cut Bernard off a couple times, ran into a small tree once, which caused Bernard to ram my back tire with his front tire, I wonder if he remembers that?

Now for the Kayak, which we had talked about, but did not practice. Michelle told us that everyone heading to the Kayaks had taken their shoes off, so we did the same. We put on our life vests, carried the boat and paddles to the shore, successfully got in the Kayak (they are inflatable, so very hard to tip over) and began to paddle, Bernard in the bow, I was in the stern. Most everyone else had these yellow inflatable boat seats that supported your back while rowing. Not Bernard and I, we decided not to spend the $15 each for them. For me, it was o.k. I lay down in the boat, propped my back against the stern portion of the Kayak and could paddle just fine like that. Bernard had to basically squat on his legs, at one point he leaned against my feet, I should have offered to switch with him half way through, but I now was tired enough to be looking after my own comfort instead of being the outstanding team mate I should have been. I told Bernard this AFTER we finished the boat event, and he said he was o.k. with what we had done. Bernard was a good teammate. We paddled down to the island on the north end of the lake, about 3/4 mile, went around the island, to the south end of the lake, paddled around an island there, then back to the north island, then to an orange buoy, and then to shore. We were passed by a few boats, but may have passed more than had passed us.

We took a Gatorade break and then set out on the 5K run. Running felt good at this point, but it was hot. We ran around the shore of the lake, to the north end, and then the pink ribbons led us into the woods. We got lost one time, but found our way back to the trail pretty easily. The trail was so narrow, rooty, and the limbs of small trees so close, that we could only walk for several portions of it. At this point, that was just fine with me. I took a glimpse at our elapsed time when we started the run; it was 1:56 hrs, so I figured, a slow 5K, 30 minutes. At elapsed time of 2:33 it appeared we were nowhere near the end. The 5K must have been at least an 8K, or seemed that way. We were very happy to be back at the TA, as both of us had run out of water about 3/4 of the way through the run.

We stopped for a Gatorade break and then went to the last event: the Mystery Event. Well now they were calling it a "test.” What the "test" was, was to take one of the Kayaks (they were all the same and all bright yellow), one team member inside and one in the water, and get the Kayak across the lake, carry it around a flag about 200 meters away, then carry it back and swim it back to where we started. Bernard was in the boat and I swam pulling it across. It was pretty easy, since I had on the life vest. On the way back, about half way across, I told Bernard to take off in the boat on his own and I would swim the rest of the way. We may have stretched the 20-second rule a bit there, but this was the very end of the adventure race, or so we thought. Actually, all we had to do was get from where we beached the boat to the finish line, which was about 150 meters. We began jogging and Bernard said he was going to fake a collapse at the finish line, which he did, in very dramatic fashion. The guy at the finish line lost it for a second, and then had kind of a puzzled look on his face and congratulated us on the finish. In fact, he had something that looked like one of those grocery store scanners and scanned Bernard's race number, I guess that is their version of the timing chip. We took our dirty shoes and clothes and took a dip with them in the lake. Michelle looked at the results and told us we were 4th place Men Masters. That was great! There were only 4 entrants in that division! We were, ah, 30 minutes behind 3rd and 58 behind 1st, out time was 3:33 hrs. At the award ceremony we got a medal for 4th place and they announced our time as 3:03, I did not bother to correct the race director, but did tell him we were rookies, and he announced that fact to the crowd and congratulated us on placing 4th in our first adventure race. They did not have the type of food spread we have at most running events. They did have hamburgers, chips, and Gatorade - for sale by the landowner, I passed on it.

As you can tell from this report, it was a lot of fun, but it was a lot of work too. I stand in awe of these adventure racers. It was a new experience for us, but many of them obviously had been doing this type of thing for some time. Where have I been? Racing 5ks! Michelle took lots of photos so I am anxious to see them to relive our "adventure,” I greatly enjoyed it. Would I have done some specific training for it if I had known the challenge it presented? Logic would say yes, but I don't think so. On a down note, after I wrote this report I went to my email box and found this note from Bernard:


I have some bad news. On the way home, we realized we left our camera equipment at McDonalds in Heampstead. All the pictures are lost. I have a feeling one of the employees took it, but I have no proof and they are not too cooperative. We even drove back after we got home. I am really sorry. They were good photos, too. For now, we are camera-less until we get a good deal on a new one. In addition, we lost 3 lenses. Really sorry. Can't tell you how bummed we are. We are perusing the intenet for a replacement, but those pictures are lost forever.
Bernard and Michelle

From me:

Not a joke, I am so sorry that this happened to them, they are the nicest people.

From Bernard
Hi Paul,
No report attached. Thanks for doing the adventure race with me. Just some thoughts:
I found out that Paul Cooley
Gets on his bike like a girl. Must have 21 gears because he never stood up on his bike to pedal up those steep sandy hills. Has a sense of humor even when he can hardly breathe from over-exertion. Is hilarious when he takes turns too fast and runs into bushes. Has a mountain bike older than mine. Thinks camel back water packs are for weenies until he ran out of water on a looong 5K trail run. Treads water very slowly even with a life vest on. One hell of a great guy who can run circles around younger guys!! Should have named our team, Chico and the Man. Sanford and Son would have been too far of a stretch!
Thanks Paul! I never would have had the guts to do this on my own! Proud to be your teamate!

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