Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Oddman Duathlon

Every year at the end of March, a large number of runners and bikers go crashing through the woods of YMCA Camp Ockanickon in a madcap race called the Oddman.  It's a 16.2 mile duathlon - 5k on foot, 10 miles on bike, and another 5k on foot.  It's called the Oddman because its organizers frequently came in 5th place, so they decided to devise a race in which only 1st, 3rd and 5th place finishers receive trophies.  And what a unique trophy they offer:

My trophy from the 2009 race.

Each one is handmade with a picture of the Oddman symbol on one side and the finisher's name on the other.  I won this trophy in the 2009 race and have been using it to drink celebratory volumes of beer ever since, making it one of my favorite trophies out of any I've ever received.

The Oddman is one of my favorite races of the year for several reasons.  The unique prize system helps, but one of the biggest reasons is the setting.  I was a camper for five summers at Camp Ockanickon, and on staff for six.  Nostalgia mixed with natural beauty make it my favorite place on Earth, which says a lot.  This picture doesn't capture the white sandy trails, the softness of the White Pine's needles, the mist blanketing the lake at dawn... but it'll get you started:

Imagine spending the morning racing around this

The first part of the race - the first 5k on foot - went perfectly.  I know every square inch of that camp and am incredibly comfortable on the trails.  I spent this part within 30 seconds of the lead pack, and not one person passed me, which is pretty good for me.

Then I got on the bike.

Simply put, I do not race well on a bike.  I am to biking what Rebecca Black is to singing.  Ok, I exaggerate, but while I held my ground quite easily in the running portion of the race, I quickly lost count of how many people passed me in the biking portion.  One after the other, while I was flailing about, clicking away at the gears and pumping like a madman on the pedals, biker after biker passed me with confident ease.  It was maddening and incredibly discouraging.  Add to this an extremely challenging race course, with abrupt dips, turns, climbs, and tree roots numbering in the thousands, and six trips up and down a hill so steep it practically requires a harness and a six man belay team, and you might imagine how frustrated I was getting.

Then I got back on my feet.

I felt good.  I felt alive.  I was passing people with relative ease.  It reminded me how much I love running and racing.  My unofficial time was 1:37:35, good for 5th place in my age group and 17th overall.  It's nearly a three minute improvement over last year when I took 2nd (and no trophy), and a five minute improvement over two years ago when I took 1st.  It's odd, man (hehe).  My times have gotten faster, but my place in the standings has gotten worse.  C'est la vie.

I don't look anything like a cyclist

After the race two men approached me and said, "So you were in the race."

"What do you mean, I was in the race?"

"You passed us at the end and you were absolutely flying - we thought you were just some guy out for a trail run.  We were going to yell at you to get off the course because there was a race going on."

It was a nice ego boost.

It's tempting to dedicate more time to cycling.  I kept thinking that if I knew what I was doing on a bike, I could easily dominate the Oddman.  Or at least stand a better chance at winning my age group again.  But I'm just not ready to commit to buying a new, expensive bike and spending hours a week on it.  For now, I'm more than happy with a simple pair of running shoes and narrow, winding trails through the woods.

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