Greetings friends! So, what does a fellow do when he is 4 weeks between 2 major ultra trail running races? Why, sign up for, and race in a ‘shorter’ adventure race of course! As the title implies, I was looking for a little redemption after a botched attempt at the earlier Raid Pulse adventure race in May. At that time, I was a little over-confident, and ended up with a major orienteering snafu costing me huge amounts of time. I was determined not to make the same mistake at the shorter 4 hour event this time around. When the race is only 4 hours, you have even less of a margin of error if you’re trying to get on the podium. So how did I do? Well, read on and find out!
For the first race in May, I had been gone all week, jet-lagged, and a bit overwhelmed at the start line. This time, things would be a little easier for me. The race was less than an hour from home, I had a good nights’ sleep, and I was able to comfortably pull my gear together over the days leading up to the race. Given that it was a 4 hour race, my only real pre-occupation was which bike to use. I had a feeling the cyclocross bike might be better suited to this race, since it likely wouldn’t follow crazy singletrack trails (which to my knowledge weren’t in this area). To be safe though, I prepped both bikes, and made sure I had all my gear trimmed down to the bare minimum to give me a light pack. I was raring to go and looking to redeem myself.
Upon showing up at the race, I could already tell the field would be a little different in this race. Whereas in the 8 hour race all the big local names come out to race hard, in this shorter event, some of them were now actually racing with their families! In other words, I won’t lie, the competition wouldn’t be as fierce. That being said, there are ALWAYS competitive people in the mix. To account for this, Thierry, the RD, always designs the courses to be a challenge for the top people to complete and clear all the advanced checkpoints.
Once the maps were handed out, it was clear to me that the cross bike would be the way to go. Although the original billing called for about 5km of trekking, 5km of paddling, and 25km of biking, it looked more like 40km of biking given the long road section used to link us between Lac Phillipe and Lac La Peche. The cross bike would be much faster on this section. So with that, I finalized my gear (not much to do there) and rolled my bright steed to the start. I was the ONLY one with a cross bike, and people looked intimidated by this. Lol. I was given the front berth at the start line, with all expectations that I’d fly away with the lead. Little did they all know I’m a terrible cyclist! I only used this bike to give me a slight edge.
Regardless, when the gun went off (literally, they had a handgun loaded with blanks!), I ‘shot’ off the start line into the lead. I held onto it for maybe a couple kilometers before being caught by clever bikers drafting off each other. I dropped into 3rd wheel, and went with the flow. I hadn’t expected to win based on the bike anyway, so staying at the front was all I really wanted. The first 3.5k were road, then 5k of wide trails in Gatineau Park. The roots and rocks were a bit jarring, but I knew later on I’d be happy on my steed!
The opening bike had 2 checkpoints, but not everyone picked them both up, as ultimately, the entire race was points based, with each CP worth 25 points. The goal was to get as many points as you can in 4 hours. For every minute after that, you were penalized 5 points, which is pretty steep, as every 5 minutes, you basically wiped out an entire CP from your score. Regardless, my plan was to clear the course if at all possible. I cruised into the first transition in 2nd place of those who took picked up the first 2 CPs. I wasted no time dropping my bike, changing shoes, and running into the orienteering section. I opted to do shoe changes at each transition just to have the best footwear for each section. With quick laces, it was the right call!
The orienteering section consisted of 5 regular checkpoints and 1 ‘advanced’ checkpoint, that Thierry warned was ‘plus, plus, plus’, meaning hard to get to. Lucky for me, I knew this area and the terrain, so grabbing the 5 regular CPs was no sweat. I bobbled a little on one point on a hill, but only lost about 1 or 2 minutes. Then it was time for the advanced CP. Sharp minds will recall that is where I messed up last time, wasting too much time. Although confident in my bearing and navigation, I didn’t want to screw up. As such, I made my only mistake of the day. As the above picture shows, I somehow crossed RIGHT BY the CP, but didn’t see it (the eventual winner later told me he saw me about 15-20m from it, but didn’t say anything in the bush!). Once I learned of my error, I opted to not double back, as the terrain was a rife with raspberry bushes, and I had already donated enough blood. Plus, time would be VERY tight to clear the rest of the course, given there was a ‘secret’ advance section we didn’t even see a map of yet!
I sprinted back to transition after emerging from the swamps and bushes, very happy to get back on the saddle. It was now a long ride to the paddling put in at Lac La Peche. And by long, I mean 17km, but a rolling 17k on dirt roads can take a while, and when the entire race is 4 hours… well, you get the picture! There was only one easy checkpoint to punch along the route. When I arrived at the transition, it was clear I was one of the first to get there. Presumably most teams had taken longer in the bush. After exchanging a few pleasantries with Thierry and some race staff, I literally dragged my kayak to the waters edge, hopped in, and started paddling madly. Even now, I was worried about timings. In a little over 1 hour, they would eliminate the final advanced trek, as you had to be back in transition before 1pm to get the map and continue.
And with mad paddling comes rookie errors. While the orienteering map showed ‘true north’ lines, the paddling map showed ‘magnetic north’ lines, meaning using my previous navigation logic meant I was 14 degrees off! Lucky for me, it resulted in only a minor annoyance. I got to the opposite shore, and had to follow the shoreline for a bit to get to the CP, rather than hitting it straight away like the other team that had set off the same time as me. I was wondering why their line was different from mine. We had a good laugh about that, and both boats took off to the next 2 CPs. The paddle itself had 3 regular CPs and one advanced.
I tried getting cute with one of the CPs, opting to test a bushwhack instead of padding up a little side waterway. I thought it would save time and prevent me from needing to do an Austin Powers type 42-point turn in my long boat to backtrack. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this whole area was literally a floating bog! I got very wet, very mucky, and picked up lots of new scratches! Luckily, I nailed the actual CP on my adventure, and was able to efficiently get back to my boat. When I emerged and paddled off again, I was once again tied with the team paddling their canoe. So plus side… I didn’t lose time! We all paddled over to grab the final advanced CP, then I grabbed the lead and once again paddled madly back towards the transition. It was dead easy now, as I knew exactly where I was heading.
Once again, I hopped out of the boat, and dragged her poor bottom over all the rocks to make it up to transition. I called out for the advanced trekking map, and was handed a paper map printed on regular paper. Uh-oh, soaked gloves and hands would soon make soggy pulp of that map, so I stripped off my gloves and tried drying my hands. There were 3 advanced CPs in a nearby area of woods, and I felt good about picking them off quickly. I ran right off on a mission. I knew I needed up to 45 minutes to get back to the finish line by bike, and by my watch, I had just over 1 hour left. That gave me about 15 minutes to get this done. Let me tell you, the pressure never once let up in this race! With some luck on my side, I cleared the advanced trek in just under 20 minutes, with no problems. That meant I’d gotten everything except that one CP back at the beginning. Would it be good enough to podium? Only one way to know!
Back to transition, helmet on head, and took off like a bat outta hell. I wasn’t sure whether the bike back would be harder or easier, windier or calmer, so I had to just put it all out there. There were no CPs to collect, just make it to the finish line. 37 minutes later, I was cruising into the finish area. My final time was 3h54mins. So I’d had 6 minutes to spare. Definitely not enough time to have doubled back for that first CP in the bush! I had made the right call. A perfect score would have been 450 points. I got 425. Ultimately, this was good enough for 2nd overall. One dude cleared the course, getting 450 points, and finishing about 10 minutes before me. He’d had what he described as a ‘dream race’. He had been running scared worried about me catching him on the bike, which drove him even harder. 3rd place had 400 points, and was only 3 minutes after me! We were actually the only 3 teams to even finish before the time cutoff!! And the only 3 to score 400 or above. In other words, the solo category was the competitive one, and I managed a silver. I was pretty happy with that result, and had a hell of a good time doing it!!
Once again, I was reminded up just how much fun adventure racing is. There truly is no other sport like it in the world. You need EVERYTHING to be good in this sport. Multi-discipline skills, ability to navigate well, mental fortitude, and ability to plan long term and short, and have a great mind for logistics. Plus, you see and do things that no one else does, since you aren’t even on trails! With that in mind, I have recently decided to join a team to contest for a podium spot in a 30 hour adventure race in Parry Sound in late September, the incomparable Wilderness Traverse! I’m looking forward to going back to that race!
Till then, that does it for my race report. Hope you enjoyed it, and that it gave you motivation to get out there and try something fun! After this race I was heading over to Europe for my marquee event of the year, the CCC race in Chamonix! Stay tuned for that exciting report in the near future!! Sadly, no event video this time from Raid Pulse, but hopefully the pictures gave you and idea of the race…