Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Dirty Mama's Beat the Red Stick Hard

from The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate
Interview by: Ira Inmybra

July 24, 2010

Baton Rouge: It's official. The Dirty Mama's are one race away from being able to compete in New Orleans at the Gulf Coast Adventure Series Championships in November. This past weekend they racked up another handful of points in the series and are moving up the ranks as they begin to get serious about their racing. Having heard about their escapades at the Spillway Race in June, I decided they would be worth following again to see how they fared in their home town of Baton Rouge. I was interested to see how their racing strategy changed from one race to the next so I decided to tag along on their journey.

I met up with them at 6 a.m. at the International House of Pancakes on race morning. It wasn't hard to figure out who they were, as one member - Canada - was proudly displaying her Dirty Mama's team tanktop. The other two seemed a bit more modest at this early hour and covered themselves with an over-shirt. It was apparent that little care was taken during their initial race day preparation, as Coug's hair reminded me a bit of Don King's, and none of the women appeared to have spent much time looking at themselves in the mirror prior to meeting up for their pre-race meal. Well, none but Canada, who had managed to comb her hair and take the time to put it in two little pointy pig tails to keep it from falling into her face.

I introduced myself and they invited me to join them for breakfast. I had to comment that I was surprised that they were eating such a heavy meal before an intense race. They explained to me that because this was a local race, they had all gone home to their families after they had gotten off work the night before, and they were not able to partake in their usual "liquid nutrition" ritual that they managed to get in at the previous race. Because of this, they felt that they needed to make up on not only calorie intake, but also on the team bonding and planning that usually went with their nutritional plans. I was amazed at what these women ate and how they seemed to not worry about keeping it down during their race. Two of the three selected a grease laden bacon egg and cheese sandwich, with a dill pickle spear as a side, along with a good portion of hash browns. The third member, Here, chose a cheese omelet with a side of bacon and toast. She followed her meal with a handful of funny little white pills which she said were "salt". Seemed strange to me that with all the bacon they just ate that they would need salt, but I decided it was not worth confronting them on the mysterious pills. In addition to the food, the caffeine was flowing with never-ending cups of coffee - some of which were brought in from home, and refills of Dr. Pepper. I, who wasn't racing, chose a bowl of oatmeal and a side of fresh fruit. Something seemed wrong with my choice.

I asked them about their strategy for this race and how it differed from the last. "This is our hometown, and I work in the downtown area. I think we've got this race covered," Here said smugly. Canada and Coug exchanged glances and simultaneously knocked on the table. "We've tried to think of every location that we might get sent to. We've decided that Here has the best knowledge of the campus and downtown, so... against our better judgment, we are going to let her navigate," Canada winced. Coug looked pained. "We figure that the LSU lakes are wide open, so we don't have to worry about going down the wrong fork of a river with this race. We're gonna give her another chance." Again I caught them exchanging worried looks. It didn't seem to phase Here as she seemed to have a confident air about her.

They glanced at their watches and hurried paying the check. I rode with Canada in her vehicle since Coug and Here rode together in Coug's van, or as she referred to it, her "Vomit Comet" ~ thanks to the numerous times her children had christened it. As we made our way towards the campus Canada expressed that she was having a hard time controlling her competitive nature for this race. The first race, she explained, was a test. She had been recovering from multiple surgeries, and it was more about "just finishing" then it was about competing. Since then, she had completed her second Ironman triathlon and felt that she was fully recovered. I asked her if it was hard having teammates that were just "mediocre" athletes. I noticed a slight shudder before she answered, somewhat robotically, that it wasn't about competing and being the best, it was just about having fun. For the rest of the drive I would catch her whispering to herself, "it's just about having fun, it's just about having fun." I wasn't sure she really believed that.

I enjoyed watching the women prepare for the race. With just one adventure race under their belts, it seemed like they were at ease with setting up their gear and establishing their authority amongst the other racers. When it was time to pick up the race maps they immediately went to work, highliters and permanent markers in hand, ready to choose their paths to each checkpoint.  I looked around at their competition, many of whom seemed to fumble with how to begin planning their race. The Dirty Mama's sped through their map instructions and quickly identified each of the checkpoints they would have to pass through. They replaced their map into their ziploc bag that Canada carried in her hand, and waited for the race to begin. I had to admit that I was getting excited watching this rather large group of racers as they clustered together to await the start.

And then it happened - there was a sudden rush of racers speeding through the parking lot on foot as the start of the race was announced. I watched the Dirty Mama's keep pace with the pack and remembered that just one month ago they were still standing at their van when the last race began. I was proud for them as I realized that they were learning from their mistakes.

I knew that there was no way I could keep up with the athletes during the race to witness their performance, so prior to the event I spoke with the race director to get some confidential information on how the race was set up. I then requested that volunteers keep their eyes open for the Mama's so I could monitor their race third-hand. At various points in the race these volunteers reported back to me what they witnessed.

Eleanor McDavenshire, a sorority member at LSU who was volunteering so she could watch her boyfriend race, was the first to report back to me. She had been stationed at the third checkpoint of the race, at the top of Tiger Stadium.

"Oh my God! I was like watching them from the minute they started to run up the stadium ramp! I couldn't believe they would go out like that in public! The race had just started and they were like all sweaty and stuff. It was oh so awful! I just don't know why any girl would let themselves be seen like that! It was bad enough that I had to stand out there in the heat and punch those silly little cards they called passports. I don't even know why they call them that. I've never seen a passport that looks like that. I bet you couldn't get into Mexico with that thing."

I tried to probe for more information on their actual performance when Eleanor saw them, but had a difficult time determining how they were doing. "I couldn't focus on anything but the sweat coming off of them as they ran. They looked like those big sweaty race horses at Evangeline Downs. All lathered up and frothy. Do you think they do steroids? I heard that women in sports do that to make themselves look like men. It's so awful. Oh my God, I bet that's it! I saw them popping these little white caplets at the water fountain. Roids! That's what that was! They should be disqualified!" Before I could finish interviewing her, another sorority sister came and ushered her away, whispering something about how she shouldn't be seen around such types of people with her letters on.

I searched for other volunteers who had seen the Mama's along the race. One stopped to tell me he witnessed them during the early bike portion when they realized that they had missed a checkpoint and had to ride back to Mike the Tiger's cage to punch their card. He said it had to have set them back 15 minutes or so, but he wasn't sure exactly when they returned as he was busy directing other racers when they must have come back.

Marta Espinosa, a tourist from Columbia who was walking the streets downtown with her daughter during the race, said she saw the women as they neared the war memorial to drop their bikes. "I see them por bicicletas. They drop on ground, and one with hairs gracioso... How you say?... funny... she open up fanny pack and give muchachas some ting to eat." She gestures, putting her hands to her mouth. "Stubby one she make a face, like... you know? Like she no like the way it taste. She spit it out on the ground. Other do the same. I no tell what they eat, you know? They, how you say.... run... down street but look tired, no? I no get these Americans. In Columbia, we no have races. Es muy loco. How you say in engles? Es crazy." She shakes her head in disgust and walks away.

Finally I find a reliable witness. A big weiner. The Sonic Weiner. Although he didn't talk, he managed to get his point across with gestures. It seems that one of the Mystery Challenges was to drink a Sonic slush as fast as possible without using any hands to hold the cup or straw. The Weiner acted out the Dirty Mama's attempt at this challenge. The Weiner puts his hands behind his back and pretends to suck, then grabs his "forehead" (pun intended) in pain and thrashes around. He staggers a bit and looks as if he is about to throw up. I get the point. The Mama's struggled a bit with this challenge. He shakes his head in agreement, and wanders off down the street.

At this point the word has gotten around that I am looking for witnesses to the Mama's race, and volunteers are coming forward by the dozens. One lady tells me that she saw them strip down to their bras in public and stand in a fountain trying to saturate their shirts with water so they could squeeze it out into a bowl as part of another mystery event. She said one of the women seemed to be an expert at filling up her mouth and used this skill to capture more water than her teammates.

Another woman said that she witnessed the Mama's balancing a large ball on three sticks and carry it back and forth inside the downtown YMCA. She watched through the window as they struggled to coordinate their moves, but said that they were successful on their first attempt.

The fastest teams are starting to come in at this point, and I wonder where the Mama's will finish in comparison. Another hour or so passes, and I see a blur of blue teal fly by on their bikes as they race to the finish line. I note the time. 3:49:00 Having done my research, I realize that this is a good two hours faster than their last race. I am excited for them!

They pass through the finish chute and immediately go through the food line. I laugh to myself as I can't think of a better ending for their race than large amounts of food being involved. We sit together while they eat, and I can see their satisfaction at their performance.

"How was the canoe?" I ask. "Much improved, but still needs work," mumbles Coug as she swallows a bite of jambalaya. "Here, earned a place back at the helm, at least for a little while."

"She earned a new nickname too," says Canada. "She is now the Rock. She held steady, navigated well, and was solid throughout."

"I still think she needs a better nickname," argues Coug. "That just doesn't flow off the tongue."

"I'm just glad you let me paddle." Here seems satisfied.

I expected drinking, celebrating, and chaos after the race. Instead I was told the party was over. Everyone had to get back to their kids and spouses, clean house, and hopefully get in a nap. I thought to myself how fitting their team name was. As a final request I asked for their "Lessons Learned" list. This is what I got:

1.  Next time we will invest in a real map holder that can be worn around the neck on a lanyard. It looks more professional than a Ziploc bag with a carabiner shoved through a corner with a shoelace attached.

2.  As much as we want to document the race with pictures, we are finding that with each race our level of competitiveness becomes heightened and our level of photography becomes lessened. We fear that by November it will be all about using the imagination to re-tell the adventure.

3.  Amazingly all three of us have IRON stomachs, even though only one of us is truly an IRON woman. There is nothing we can't eat pre-race.

4.  We talk a big talk, and load the cooler with liquor for every race, and never touch it when it's over. Next time we will not fool ourselves and just pack ice water and Capri-Suns and accept that we are old.

5.  Reading the map and instructions out loud to each member of our team just might keep us from missing a checkpoint in the future.

6.  Red, Purple, and Green slushies that are ingested in under three minutes could make a pretty rainbow on the sidewalk if one is not careful when running.

7.  A male tiger weighs 400 pounds, and Louisiana became a state in 1812.

8.  When your navigator makes a decision, back her or disagree quickly. Otherwise it just slows the team down. Strong direction is needed when navigating. It is not a job for the timid.

9.  Strawberry Banana flavored Goo sucks, especially when it is hot.

10.  Salt tablets work wonders on hot humid days.


  1. So, are you saying we look like men...? Again, you have me snorting coffee out of my nose this morning. Hilarious! Favorite parts: "forehead" pun, CC's mantra of "it's just about having fun," strawberry banana GU SUCKS, "all lathered up and frothy," and our (still) untouched cooler of toddies. We ARE old. Sigh.

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  3. I loved this post and the new renovations to your blogspot site. I find it particularly interesting (brave, kharmic, prophetic?) that you used an OPEN WATER SCENE for your new background. Way to put water on notice that it is the Coug's prey!