Foiled by Past Lessons

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The Start Gate

Howdy race fans! Time to update you on my first adventure race of the 2010 season. The race in question? The Frontier Adventure Challenge 5-8 hour race held at Deerhurst Resort in the Muskoka region. Yes, the very same resort hosting the upcoming G8/G20 summit in June. And yes, it actually did have an impact on the race and the venue, which I’ll fill you all in on in the coming paragraphs. Although this was supposed to be a ‘short and sweet’ race, you’ll soon find out that my race was anything but. It was longish, and bitter-sweet. I did manage to complete the whole course, including the advanced section, but my placement was deep-sixed by a navigational error of my own doing. That’s what I get for racing solo to really push myself I guess :-(. At any rate, I’ve got a few pictures from the weekend, but no map to share. Bill Young has some great race shots that he took and shared on Facebook as well. If you want the whole funny tale about my race, please read on. I’ll *try* to be succinct.

For starters, an early May adventure race is always a crap shoot. There’s no telling what kind of weather will be in store for racers. Luckily, with the mild winter we’d had, and the generally dry spring we also enjoyed, it looked like the race would be pretty much ideal, right? Well, not so much. Pretty much the moment the starting gun went off, the rain started. And although it didn’t last the whole race, it did manage to start off pretty heavy, and early enough to turn sections of the course into some pretty interesting terrain. Witness this shot for an idea of what the bike section turned into πŸ™‚ Pretty awesome, eh? Of course, as I’ve said before, bad weather really doesn’t bug me in a race. I feed off it, so I was hoping this would be my chance to shine!

I managed to leave work early on Friday, and was therefore at the race site at Deerhurst fairly early in the evening. Since I was racing solo, I was able to get fully registered and gear checked, and just chill out while I waited for the rest of the Ottawa crew that I was sharing a room with. We crashed around 10 or 11, and got a decent nights rest prior to the early morning race briefing. Looking over the maps and plotting out the course, it really looked pretty straightforward. Even the ‘advanced’ section was basically just some trail running on resort trails. They’d had to cut out anything more adventurous as the land around the resort had become ‘off-limits’ due to the G8/G20. The hardest part appeared to be the trekking, and only because it was anyone’s guess what the terrain might be like in the bush. Luckily, I love bushwhacking, and again, planned to just nail it!

Good and ready, I hit the start line. The countdown commenced and boom! We were off. First was a flat-out sprint from the start to the water where the boats were. I got there pretty fast, and was ready to just hop in and kayak away. I was probably about the 12th craft on the water, but basically the 2nd solo from what I could see. I passed a few canoes on the way to the first transition, but was also eventually passed by a couple other kayakers. However, I had a speedy transition, and believe I was the 2nd place solo out of the transition (or 3rd). We were on bikes at this point, and it was a pretty easy nav to get to the next transition to trekking. Half of the bike at this point was roads, half on trails, but not too many confusing intersections to deal with. I was feeling awesome and my performance had me pumped! There was only one uncertain bit to the bike here, as we had been told to find a trail that would take us to CP4 (trekking transition), but there was no real way of knowing whether we were on it. I grabbed what I thought was the trail, double checked the heading, and dug in.

I made the right call πŸ™‚ I was one of the earliest to arrive at the transition. I can’t recall my exact place, but I saw a couple teams there at the same time, and they were the eventual winners, so I was only 10 or so minutes off top pace at that stage. Now of course was the deciding factor. Bushwhacking is always hit or miss. In the past, I’ve been sucked in to following trails, only to have them disappear, leaving you uncertain exactly where you are. As a result, I repeated this mantra in my head: “Trust the bearing, trust the bearing”. I decided to take my bearings, and stick to them. This is a lesson I learned long ago. Keep that in mind πŸ™‚

First nav checkpoint, CP5, I nailed almost dead on. In fact, I came to where I expected it to be, but couldn’t find it. Then I noticed Geoff, the race director, running around the little lake. Apparently, the checkpoint hadn’t been set up yet, so he had it with him! That gives you an idea of where I was in the pack. Very cool in my mind. Elated, I simply doubled back to CP4 in order to take a fresh bearing from a known location. Another lesson I’ve learned. Only two points left to get. Straight shot to CP6, and pretty much nailed that too! Awesome. I was convinced now that I’d be doing very well in the race. I set my compass for the final checkpoint in the trek, and took off in the woods.

I trekked. And trekked. And trekked. Every time I thought I should be there, I kept saying “trust the bearing” and “just over the next hill”. This is where humility turned to humiliation for me. You see, normally I’d wear a watch, that way you know how long you’ve been on a bearing, and can make a decision that yup, you missed it. Without a watch, and with race mentality, I had no clue if I’d been going for 20 minutes or 40 minutes. I tricked myself into thinking I was moving much slower than I was. Big mistake. Eventually, I spotted a clearing, which I hoped was the lake I was seeking. Instead, I came out onto a steep bank leading to a freshly paved road! Hunh? Not on any map I had. I realized it was a subdivision. WTF?!? No houses anywhere on my map either. This was not good, as I realized I wasn’t sure where I’d ended up. I didn’t feel like backtracking in the woods, as that’s too slow, so I decided to try and figure out what roads would take me back on track, so that I could run it.

Upon reflection, I made the wrong decision there too. Although I couldn’t tell from my map, I really wasn’t that far from the lake I had been searching for in the first place. In fact, I could have simply backtracked about 1k or less in the woods to get to the lake. At least, that’s what I’ve pieced together by looking at Google maps, which shows all the new roads! Instead, I ended up running around like a fool on roads for about 7-8km. Aaaargh. Of course, before choosing to do that, I had sought out some assistance from a couple guys working on drywall in one of the houses in this new subdivision. Sadly, between their broken English and my broken Spanish, I ended up running an extra 1.5km in a circle through this subdivision before getting on the good roads. Needless to say, I completely took myself out of the running because I easily lost an hour on a mere 5-8hour race from this error. Fark!

My resolve did kick in though, and instead of throwing in the towel and skipping checkpoints, I decided I WOULD finish this race, and WOULD get to the advanced course before it was closed. I dug deep and RAN this race. I’m almost positive that I was flying through the woods and along those snowmobile trails faster than anyone else had. I was pissed! On the trails heading back to the transition to get my bike back, teams kept passing me on bikes going the other way, encouraging me on. I felt like a tool, as these were teams that I normally be well ahead of, and in fact, I’D be the one encouraging them. I felt like a total rank amateur. Even more fuel for the fire. By the time I got my bike, I was a man-demon possessed! I hopped on the bike, and gave ‘er stink through the mud and water trails on the way back to the resort. After all, I didn’t need to navigate at this point, as I’d JUST finished running along all these roads!

With reckless abandon, I flew past many teams slogging along slowly in deep mud. My legs screamed and I just prayed they’d hold it together till the finish. After all, I had run out of water, so cramping was a possibility if I pushed too hard, but I no longer cared. Once back on the paved roads, I locked out the fork and dropped the hammer again. I kid you not when I say I have not gone that fast on my mountain bike in a looong time, if ever. At one point, on a hill, I glanced down and noticed that I was clocking just over 70km/hr! For real! I didn’t even notice it or think about the consequence of wiping out on the slick roads.

Before I knew it, I had gotten back to the resort, threw my bike on the ground, and barked out to the race staff that I’d be going out on the advanced course. I think I’d made it with about 10 minutes to spare. Put on my running shoes, and tore out of the finish area once again to track down the final 2 advanced checkpoints. Lucky for me, they were both located relatively close to marked trails to which we had a map, so it was just a matter of running hard on the uphills and picking them off. One was located right where expected, but the other was nowhere to be found. Teams were crawling all around where we expected it, and were giving up. I decided not to waste time, but played on a hunch, taking a different trail back down. Guess what I found? Yup, the checkpoint! Saved a bunch of time over other by not wasting my time. Flew back down the trails, and called it a day at the finish line. I was annoyed at my mistake, but overall, very happy with my performance physically. Clearly, my body had been up to the challenge, just didn’t have ‘my’ day, which is always a risk in adventure racing. I can take my lumps.

Luckily, the fun wasn’t over yet for the FAC race. After all these races, there’s always ample time for socializing with other races, as well as awards ceremonies and a post-race meal. First order of business was to unlock my car so that Pete and I could bust out the clean clothes and grab showers. I’d also stashed a half a pizza in the car, and enjoyed a slice. After cleaning up and changing, I headed back to the car and sunshine. Eventually, all my gear was rounded up and put back in the car to stink it up while I partied. In line to wash my bike, I chatted with a bunch of other racers, and just generally enjoyed the atmosphere.

I’d had grand plans to hijack the post-race party and play DJ for it, but as it turns out, at the end of the meal and awards, things pretty much fizzled out in the main reception hall. Luckily, I’d gotten wind of another post-race party in one teams’ suite. Sweet πŸ™‚ I still had to get my boat, and ran a few other mini errands with uber race volunteer Deanna, but eventually, it was back to party mode. In the end, there were probably 12-15 of us in the room. The beer flowed nicely, and there was a great mix of racing friends old and new to talk with and party. Eventually, I got my iPod and took over DJ duties, which is when a bit of madness ensued. At one point, there was some sort of dance-off between me and another racer, and lots of other general silliness. One of the attendees? Lawrence Foster. Don’t know him? Well, he’s the man behind the prey camera on Mantracker, as well as the chase supervisor. He’s a racer as well, which is how he got into that gig in the first place.

Anyway, the party wore on into the wee hours of the morning, with a few eventual noise complaints coming our way from other resort guests. Oh well, it wasn’t my room. Oh yeah, that’s because I had no real room that night! At one point, I was assured there was room for me somewhere in another building. I took note of the building and number for later. The party eventually petered out, with people going there separate ways, including my ‘roomies’ for the night. I wasn’t quite ready to give up the ghost yet though, and went on a walkabout around the resort for a while, including a nice little trip back to the waterfront where the race had started so many hours before. The peace of the night was great to clear my mind, and it was a pretty pure moment by the waters’ edge, just enjoying the world around me πŸ™‚

Sometime around 3 or 4, I stumbled back up to the buildings, trying to make it to my ‘crash pad’. Sadly, the door was locked, and a few soft knocks did nothing to rouse anyone. Being the polite person I am, I decided to seek shelter elsewhere. My only option? My car. Ha! I opted to passenger side, so that no one would think I was drinking and driving, but didn’t think to move gear around to be able to recline or move the seat back. So I had an incredibly uncomfortable 3 hours of sleep in the front. I was beyond caring by that point however. I still went to sleep, happy at how the day had unfolded. Once again, I’d been given the opportunity to do what I love to do, surrounded by others that also love this stuff. What could be better? This is living! I wouldn’t trade a hundred uncomfortable nights in my car for a comfortable night being unable to do the things I love.

The next morning, it was sadly back to reality. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, and joined a few other friends outside to chat. I stuck around a bit longer, to help out a little bit with the high-school race that was going on that day, but sadly, had to leave in order to get home and deal with ‘responsibilities’. After 3 hours of sleep, a tough race, and partying all night, the drive home was a bit mind-numbing. I only stopped once at a Dixie Lee for some delicious fried chicken. 4.5 hours after leaving Deerhurst, I was back at home ready to start my week all over again.

As usual, it was an amazing weekend, and I look forward to many more like it this summer with the various races and training engagements I’ve got planned. Let the ‘Summer of Steve’ begin (a la ‘Summer of George’ Seinfeld reference)! Till next post, y’all have a great time doing whatever it is you do between my stories πŸ™‚

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