Expedition Frankfort: Run| Ride| Paddle - Race Recap
Curled up under a blanket on a cold Chicago Winter night I find myself scrolling through races on Paddleguru dreaming about SUP racing season. California, Florida,...wait, Kentucky? “Expedition Frankfort: Run|Ride|Paddle” catches my eye. I have never heard of this race, no surprise as it is the inaugural event. I don’t know where Frankfort is (other than the Frankfurt in my home country, Germany) A quick google search reveals that it is the state capitol of Kentucky - it also reveals clear gaps in my knowledge of geography. A doable 6-hour drive from Chicago. Ok, ok, but I don’t have a Mountain Bike. Still only half-serious I e-mail the race director: “Is it ok to use my Cyclocross Bike?” Almost instantly I get a response from Gerry, the race director: “Yes you can use your bike as the trail is moderate. You should be more than capable of tackling the course.” Excited about starting racing season early I sign up.
The time to train specific to this event is short, six weeks, during which I get to paddle exactly five times requiring to work my way through patches of thin ice on the Lincoln Park Lagoon in Chicago. Six weeks during which I never run the full race distance. I am not a runner unless I have to and my running shoes have seen better days. In last minute research I even listen to a podcast on running biomechanics on my drive to Kentucky.
The organizers are really good about sending instructions about the race but the logistics of where to drop-off my bike and my board, and where do I find the shuttle to the starting line are still a mystery to me when I arrive Thursday afternoon.
I find my way to Capitol View Park to try out the bike trail. In the parking lot I ask a mountain biker, who strikes me as a local, about the trail. I get my first dose of southern friendliness and learn where I need to go.
The trail has challenging parts for a cyclocross bike. It starts an intense drop - A steep up and down in the trail. I attempt it half committed only having to run up the backside. Oh boy! Please let this not be part of the race. I get lost a little before I find my way back to my car. This is doable but I am dialing my hopes of even placing in this race down to a sobering “Well, let me just finish and enjoy the course”.
On Friday I pre-paddle the river. I launch from the Lawrenceburg Boat Ramp. There is nobody here. I post to my Instagram story just in case I get lost or drown so my friends will have a way to find me out here. My worries are unfounded. The Kentucky river turns out to be very calm. I am having a great time and I go further than planned. Ok, now I really have to rest before the race.
In the afternoon I explore downtown Frankfort. My job, a combination of Fitness Training and Engineering consulting, gives me the freedom to make my own schedule and travel pretty much when I want but it often means bringing my laptop to finish work at a random coffee shop, which I am looking for now. Frankfort is small but as my AirBnB host tells me, they are making an effort to revitalize the downtown area with new little shops and restaurants. I can see that. I stop at Kentucky Knows where the owner, Tony, tells me all about his process of aging coffee beans inside bourbon barrels. I smell and taste different coffee flavors and think to myself: “What interesting places I get to see thanks to SUP racing!”
Friday night it is time to drop off my bike at Capitol View Park . As I pull into the parking lot, I see a number of cars with SUP boards on top. I have spent enough time in this sport to know what is serious equipment and what’s more of a recreational setup. These racers are serious! I see mountain bikes and riders taking practice laps. My heart sinks a little bit more. What did I get myself into here? This is a serious race!
Volunteers assist in staging our bikes and I get to meet Gerry at the registration table. He makes sure I know where to go tomorrow morning and I leave with a race number, a T-shirt, a raffle ticket and a printed list of addresses and schedule because “We found out that some people don’t read emails” .
Everything works well according to my usual routine. Breakfast consists of oatmeal with protein powder and coffee. Hydrate but don’t over hydrate. Don’t forget any gear.
Ok. Let’s go!
I drop off my board, paddle and pfd at the Lawrenceburg Boat Ramp. It is dark and only a couple other people are there. I get nervous. Am I running late? My worries are unfounded. When I find the shuttle bus I am the only person there. I start a conversation with the driver for a moment while we wait for other racers. Then I close my eyes and try to be as relaxed as possible.
A few other racers arrive at the shuttle. I scan their gear, second guessing if I made the right choices. I meet Stephanie and Mark from Louisville who wonder if wearing a drysuit will be appropriate for the paddle. Glad I am not the only one uncertain about what to bring or wear. I advise against it as I found out how warm it was during my practice paddle.
At the Starting Line
The starting line is right outside the State Capitol. 28 racers have gathered to take on this Triathlon. This being the inaugural event, everything is pretty low key and relaxed. I am excited. I stretch and jump up and down in anticipation of the start. I know that if I fall behind on the run, my mental game will be over. I need to start strong whatever it takes.
“Wake me up when it’s all over” by Avicii sounds over a big speaker. I soak up the race atmosphere. It always makes me emotional. We are embarking onto something special, together. Something not everyone gets to do.
Gerry waves a big blue blue flag ( Kentucky’s state flag ) and off we go. I am close to the front still hanging with a pack of guys and one woman, Maranda, who I had talked to before the race on Facebook. She’s a fast runner.
“Explode from the ground, extend your hip” I tell myself. My Garmin shows a 8:30 minutes per mile pace. This is faster than my last painful run along Chicago’s lakefront. I am doing ok. My earphones (last minute Amazon purchase looking for something with a built-in mp3 player so I don’t have to bring my phone) play Rise Against “To them those streets belong”. That’s right! I feel Meghan breathing down my neck behind me but it seems as long as I keep my 8:30 min/mile pace I can stave her off. We go uphill, and then uphill again and then some more. Oh no, I have not trained on hills! We don’t really have those in Chicago. Surprisingly I do well on them, I even increase my gap. I later discuss this with my sister, a strong marathon runner. Dah! You strength train all the time, hills are easy for you! I guess…
Run Stage - Trying to stay ahead of Meghan
Coming around a curve, a volunteer shouts “You are almost done!” Wait, what? Already? He’s right, I can see Capitol View Park! If the race goes bad for me from here on out, I am ok with that! I did well on the run, much, much better than expected.
The bike transfer is quick. “Number 45 leaving”, I shout out to the volunteers. Into the woods. A curvy trail full of tree roots. I want to drink out of my hydration pack or the bottle I had left on my bike the night before but I cannot find a moment to get my hands free. I manage to pass Maranda ahead of me. She just pulls off to the site: “Go ahead”. I thank her. Meghan catches up to me with ease and I let her go. No big deal. I am perfectly fine should I come in second place.
This trail never ends. My back starts hurting and I am being reminded that a bike with suspension would have been the better choice. I am ready for this to be over. I am just waiting for the promised road section. I figure I can shine then. I am not tired though. Not even hungry. I am thankful for what my body is giving me. I look around. It is pretty out here. There’s the “deep hole”, the one that scared me the other day. I hesitate for a moment. Play it safe and run it? Or, I could just close my eyes and freaking ride it! I decide for the later and make it just fine. Ok, I am thinking, the run went well, I overcame my fear of this part of the trail, I’m cool, no matter how this ends. It doesn’t bother me that I don’t really make up time on the road section. Uphill again? Really? My legs are starting to get tired.
Finally, the paddle transition. This is my strong part. I am happy to be reunited with my favorite piece of equipment. My ONE Edge SUP board. Just a few months ago I traveled to Vancouver to meet with the ONE representative and pick out my new board. I went much narrower than planned. A 22” wide rocket. And it delivers! Upstream, downstream. Who is this SUP paddler in the distance slowly turning from a speck in the water to a full-size person? Wait, this is Meghan! I inch closer. Catching up to someone in a paddle race takes time, it can take miles, of which we only have 5. Eventually I pass her, apologizing “I know you had me on the bike, I know, I’m sorry!”
I enjoy paddling down the rest of the Kentucky river route passing different types of crafts and paddlers of all ages, some of them doing the Paddle Race only, another option in this event. This is what I love about this sport. Anyone can do it and I am sure planning to still do this when I am in my 70s. At the finish line my Garmin reads 2:05 and I have won the female division. Whoa!
The other racers and volunteers greet me at the finish line and I once again experience what keeps drawing me to this sport: Community first, competition second.
Having spent time in other sports, I have never felt this more than in paddling. We support each other, we escort slower paddlers to the finish line, we hold up a corridor of paddles for the last one in. We pick up that random piece of plastic floating in the water and we enjoy nature together. We help others explore what’s out there. The team behind Expedition Frankfort did just that. They showed us their sanctuary. They supported us along the way and spent sleepless nights making this race happen. Not an easy task when you just think about the logistics.
After a small awards ceremony at Sig Luscher Brewery (the oldest brewery in Kentucky) where I am being handed an enormous trophy in the form of a barrelhead (Kentucky does everything Bourbon I guess?), I leave with new friends in my contact list and great memories.
My Expedition Frankfort was a great success and I am grateful to have found new racing grounds and a new form to compete in a multi-disciplinary way. A big thank you to Gerry and all volunteers that help moving this sport forward and who create opportunities to get outside and explore.