Tag Archives: biking

The Calm Before the Storm

9,212m / 30,223ft. That’s the amount of vertical distance my legs carried me over a period of just over 1 week out in BC. This included a back-to-back 2 days of racing in the Squamish 50/50 event at the END of the trip, and a bunch of great hiking and running outings in the days leading up to the event. Perhaps not the exact prescription for a proper taper, but when I’m surrounded by mountains, and have time to take advantage of it, I do! Even better than that was the fact that I was sharing all the experiences with Deanna, who not only joined in on the hikes, but was tackling her first-ever 50 miler!! She didn’t exactly choose the easiest one to cut her teeth on, so it was going to be an interesting experience. Read on to hear all about our races.

Before we get into the meat of the race report, I wanted to take some time to write a post about the vacation part of the trip. Canada is an immense and beautiful country, and there are so many amazing places to visit. It will come as no surprise that being surrounded by mountains, the ocean, and lush forests, BC, and even just the areas around Vancouver, truly captivated me. More than once I imagined myself living there and being able to play in the surrounding trails all the time. On this trip, we at least got to experience a good cross-section of the adventuring opportunities around these parts, so read on to learn more about those adventures.

Touring Around Vancouver

BC 2017 - Around Vancouver

While at the Sinister 7 I only gave my self a glorified long weekend for the endeavour, with Deanna joining me for Squamish 50, we made it a 10-day vacation giving us time to explore what is essentially the Greater Vancouver areas as far as Whistler. We’d originally had plans to make a huge car journey all the way into the Rockies, but given the ongoing wildfires, and the how long the drive might take, we instead opted to only venture a few hours in any direction from Vancouver.

Fresh off the plan on a Saturday, we decided to grab the rental car and head straight to Grouse Mountain to tackle the Grouse Grind, because, well, why not? An 800m vertical climb over a short distance was the perfect way to shake out the legs after a long flight. Our only stop was at a convenience to grab granola bars and nuts as a snack. I’ve gotta say, the Grind was really cool There are some impressively steep sections, and it really would be a challenge to run that trail. Ultimately, at a brisk hiking pace, my time was about 1 hour. I figured that with a real effort, I could break 40 minutes. At the top, we enjoyed the world famous Lumberjack Show, hiking trails, and the Grouse Grizzlies. To cap it off, cold beers on the observation deck watching the Vancouver Harbour far off below. Great introduction to the West Coast life.

Still Happy Climbing

The next morning, we got out of bed relatively early to make our way to the Sea Bus and head into downtown Vancouver. Destination? A bike rental store of course! The plan was to cycle all around the city and take in the sights and the suds of Vancouver. This included a great little ride on the trails of Stanley Park before making our way to Granville Island to explore and have our first brewery stop where we also had lunch. Afterwards, more cycling and awesome beer tastings at other breweries. My only regret was that we could hit them all! This was likely the worst weather of our whole trip, and even then wasn’t bad. Slightly chilly, with a little bit of rain early in the day, but all in all great conditions for a day of bumming around on bikes.

Views along Seawall

Golden Ears Park

After our two days of exploring Vancouver, it was time to get a little further from civilization. We’d managed to borrow a tent and cooler from our friends in North Vancouver that we had been staying with, so we packed up our mighty little rental car and made our way 2 hours away to Golden Ears Park. While only 2 hours by car, it might as well have been 20 hours. Once in the park, we were surrounded only by gorgeous mountains and forests, and had no cell signal. Perfect! Of course, it was car camping, so there were others not far from us, but we had a spacious site, so we definitely felt like we were in the zone.

BC 2017 - Golden Ears Park

We had 2 nights booked here, and due to our slightly late start, opted to explore shorter hikes on day 1. I pored over a few maps before settling on a trail that would lead us up a canyon and ultimately lead us to a remote rocky beach with great views and some waterfalls. HOWEVER, as we hiked on the wide, gravel ‘trail’, I was a bit wistful, as it felt too civilized. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a little trail sign to our right heading up a steep faint trail labelled ‘difficult’. I somehow convinced Deanna it would be a good idea to head that way, even though we had no map or idea where it went. But when the direction is up, it always looks good to me!

After fighting and scrambling our way up this really cool back-country trail, we eventually arrived at a little pond higher up. I consulted the topos I had on my GPS, and figured that the trail kept going a LOT higher up to a summit. However, we were ill-equipped, and that would have been a bit more than the ‘forest hike’ I”d promised Deanna. Reluctantly, I turned back and we headed back down, and followed the original trail to the sights I had planned. They were still very much worth it, and little did I know just how much the next day would make up for it!

Day 2 at Golden Ears we got up early for breakfast, since we were going to tackle the Golden Ears Summit trail, whcih headed up to amazing vistas of the entire region. We decided to make this a bit of a training run, and geared up with running backs and gear. We set out at a good ‘ultra’ pace, making our way along the early parts of the trail in good time, as it wasn’t too steep yet. There was a lot of climbing to be done, but it was back-weighted, with the final push including the steepest sections. Unfortunately, Deanna wasn’t feeling super well that day, and although she kept pushing, I could see that it was unlikely she’d be keen to do the entire summit route with me.

Hiking Higher

Ultimately, we emerged on a bit of a plateau area that gifted us with really impressive views already. For Deanna, this was enough climbing for the day, and she wanted to head back. For me, it meant a tough decision, as I *really* wanted to summit. Eventually, we decided that she’d hang out on the plateau while I tackled the last bit alone. Partly for safety, partly because Deanna wasn’t too keen descending the technical bits alone (and a bit paranoid about wildlife). As luck would have it, shortly after I took off (at a pretty good running pace), I crossed paths with a group of three fellows who had been trekking and camping up here for 4 days, and were heading back down. I secured their promise that they would convince Deanna to descend with them. The benefit was that she’d have company for the descent, and be able to take her time, and for me, it meant I could push harder, sumitting strong, then having a good run back down to [hopefully] catch back up to them before the base.

Friends, let me tell you, that final scramble (which included another 500m of vertical in a short distance) was AMAZING, and exactly what I needed. I felt free, and was having a true adventure. I lost the trail on a snowfield, and ended up heading part way up another summit before realizing my error (I was packing a GPS with topos). The last push included pure scrambling, requiring hands and feet at some points. The reward was having my sandwich on the summit, surrounded by amazing views as I watched clouds swirling in a bit. The weather had been amazing, but I didn’t want to push my luck too long, so after about 10 minutes on the summit, I turned tail and started the super-fun scramble / run back down the trail. It took a long time before I finally caught up to the rest of the crew far below, and was happy to see Deanna feeling much better. Another hiker had been kind enough to give her some pain killers, and they’d kicked in for the descent.

Steve at the Summit

As a result, after coming out at another vantage point with the trio of hikers, we opted to start running again, to make it back to camp before too late in the day (as it was, we were on track for supper time anyway). We had a great run down, and thanks to having tired myself out with the summit bid, we had a similar pacing all the way down. Before finally wrapping up, we stopped at a water crossing to cool off our muscles. Yowza! Alpine waters sure are effective at cooling you off. What sweet relief! We enjoyed the warm sun, cold water, and good company for a bit before running the final few kms to camp. All told, my day saw me cover 20km and Over 2,000m of climbing. It was a memorable way to cap off our camping in Golden Ears!

Playing Tourist in Squamish

After another nice night camping in perfect conditions, we got up early once again to have breakfast, break camp, and make our way to the Squamish area. After, all, we had plans waiting for us there already! I’d been fortunate enough to work with Tourism Squamish on setting up a fun 2-day itinerary, and Day 1 had us heading up a mountain the easy way, climbing on said mountain the easy way, and of course, enjoying views and suds up there. If you’re looking for the TL;DR version, scroll to the bottom now, and you can watch the video I put together of our Squamish adventures.

BC 2017 - Sea to Sky Gondola and Via Ferrata

The first adventure was heading up the Sea to Sky Gondola, which whisks people up from the base of the mountain near Howe Sound to high up in the mountains. Of course there are really nice hiking trails to make that journey, but given the previous day’s hike, and the looming race in 2 days, I reluctantly agreed to the gondola. It was FUN! At the top, there are another series of trails, with a mix of family-friendly hikes, up to more advanced trails to head further into the mountains. Again, tempting as it was, I’d promised Deanna a more ‘taper-like’ day. So after strolling all the family trails, the amazing Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, and marveling at the views from the main observation deck AND the platform on Panorama Trail, we were ready for another adventure.

That adventure? Why the Via Ferrata on the mountain of course! I’ve been wanting to try one of these for a long time, so I jumped at the chance. We ended up being the only folks taking part in the late afternoon group, so we had the guide all to ourselves and spend as much time playing on the granite face while securely attached. I’m pretty sure in the world of Via Ferratas this is one of the ‘easier’ ones, but the guide was good at giving me options to make it more challenging. This included me not using the rungs for my feet for most of it, and also tackling the final section without any use of the included aid, making it more like pure climbing. It was truly a fun experience, and a unique way to take in some of the spectacular views. Of course, as you can guess, we capped things off by enjoying beers and watching the day waning around us, as it was late afternoon.

Deanna Climbing Up

Amazingly, we learned that a mere week ago, they had NO views around here. The wildfires had brought very poor air quality. We saw pictures of days where you couldn’t even see Howe Sound below, and the sun was a mere orange blob obscured by smoke. We were so fortunate, as just as we had arrived in the area a few days ago, there had just been some rain, and the air completely cleared up. We had SPECTACULAR conditions!

Once we made it back to the bottom, we checked out the now-deserted Shannon Falls with amazing sunset colours playing on the cliff faces before heading to our hotel. We stayed in the Sandman Hotel, which had an amazing 2+ storey waterslide in the pool area. After playing on that for a while, and relaxing in the hot tub, it was off to sleep to rest of the next day. For our last day before getting race-ready, we opted to go tandem kayaking on the Howe Sound. I don’t think conditions could have been better!

BC 2017 - Kayaking Howe Sound and Breweries

The funniest part of the paddle was our guide. Why? Well, because I actually knew him. As in, I had suffered with him in a multi-day race. It was none other than Eduardo from Costa Rica, a fellow I’d raced the Gaspesie Adventure with a few years before! I didn’t even clue in that he lived in the region. It was great catching up with him as we slid across the water to arrive at Galileo Coffee, no doubt one of the highlights of the day for Deanna to have a delicious coffee! I was happy for it as well, as it meant she couldn’t get too annoyed by the fact that the rest of the day would be spent touring the 3 local breweries! However, before that, it was off to a locals’ favourite spot for lunch, Mag’s 99 Fried Chicken and Mexican Cantina, and yes, it was as awesome as you might imagine!

After a filling lunch, we wrapped up the tourist experience by visiting all three of the local breweries, meeting the brewmasters, and sampling their wares. After Backcountry Brewing and A-Frame Brewing, our final stop was Howe Sound Brewing, which for some reason treated us like royalty! Eduardo actually joined us there as well, and we stayed well into the night enjoying delicious food and flights of beer. We bumped into a few other racers as well who wanted to chat about the upcoming race. All in all, a fantastic way to cap off a couple days being a tourist in Squamish. It’s safe to say I’d love to spend more time there (retire there perhaps??). One more night at the Sandman before changing gears, moving locations, and getting ready for the races! But, to hear the tales of that, you’ll need to read the actual race report instead!

Beer Tasitng at Backcountry Brewing

Video of our Adventures Around Squamish

Forging Myself into an Ironman

Howdy all! The title pretty much gives it away, but in case there was any doubt, this post will go over my recent race experience in the Muskoka region as I tackled the inaugural Ironman Muskoka. As some of you may be aware, this wasn’t my first time racing in an “iron-distance” triathlon, but it was my first taking part in the big corporate machinery known as World Triathlon Corporation, the group that puts on all the Ironman races globally. Ironically, in the week before the race, the entire corporation was actually bought out by a Chinese company. So I guess in a way, my Ironman standing was now ‘made in China!’. At any rate, this would be my 3rd full iron distance triathlon (almost 4, but the last one featured a half marathon instead of full marathon for the run.

For the uninitiated, an Ironman is a swim, bike, run race, in that order. The distances are not inconsequential either. The swim is typically 3.8km in length, the bike is 180km, and the run is a full marathon, 42.2km. The events are done in order, in a non-stop fashion, on a marked course. There is an absolute time limit of 17 hours to get it done, and some intermediate cutoffs (that really just take people off the course if it is clear they’d miss the cutoffs. Between each event you head to a transition zone to change your gear. In addition, many say that nutrition is the 4th leg of the event. Staying hydrated and properly fueled throughout the day is a big challenge to many. They say over 50% of competitors will experience some form of distress arising from challenges in either nutrition or hydration.

If you’re wondering about my preparations for this kind of race, there really was no specific preparation. On account of all the other types of races I was doing this summer, my only real preparation has been getting out there and doing general training and racing. If you surveyed the 1300 athletes that took part in this Ironman, I’m pretty sure you’d learn I was the only one who did a 6-day trail running race in the mountains 2 weeks before this race. Most folks would have chosen to ‘taper’ leading up to the race, so that gives you an idea about my prep ;-). My principle goal was to get ‘er done, and have fun doing it. As a friend reminded me, this was an opportunity for me to do something I love all day long. I should be ecstatic, right? Truth is, I was excited, and nervous. I was looking forward to tackling a race of this magnitude and seeing what the fuss is all about. So I went in with a good attitude.

Now, what can I say about the venue before I get in to the race specifics? Well, for one, the host site was Deerhurst resort. This is a place that holds a special place in my heart. Not only have I raced in a number of events there, it is also the site of where Deanna and I got together initially, AND where I finally proposed to her! Unfortunately, she was unable to make it with me to this event, but I still got to head down to the water where we got engaged, and felt her presence with me throughout the entire event as a result. It’s a gorgeous setting for a race, and they had things very well laid out for the race looming in the next couple days.

Pictures from the Race:

Swag Haul

Race registration and kit pickup went off without a hitch. I was among the last athlete to actually check in for the event. Many people arrive days in advance, so they checked in the day before. There was a 5pm absolute cut-off, and I only made it on-site around 4pm, thanks to road works on highway 60. After registration, I made my way downtown to watch the IronKids children’s races, and take take part in the full athlete briefing. There was even a beer gardens and food vendors on site downtown. Again, the town definitely rolled out the red carpet for us. Race briefing was entertaining, as they actually acted out the entire race day, including transitions and clothes changes. After that, 4 different bands took to the stage to entertain folks well into the night. However, most athletes sadly didn’t stick around much past the briefing!

The Saturday prior to the race was a low-key day. I managed to get out for a 1.5 hour bike and a 45 minute run to make sure everything was working as expected. I had put on brand new tires the night before I left Ottawa, and really wanted to test them. After that, it was just time to relax, and check in all my gear at the race HQ (run and bike stuff, as well as leaving the bike overnight). That evening, I had a lovely meal with my awesome hosts, and crashed as early as I could for the 4am wake-up.

Pre-Race Video:

Morning came far too early. It was dark and chilly out. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, had my bagel and bowl of granola, and pured myself into the car to head to the start. The transition zone was hopping with activity. I got my body marked, added my nutrition and drinks to my bike, and headed for the water. The swim was a rolling start as opposed to age groups. That means is works like a running race. You line up next to a sign that reflects the time you think you’ll take to finish the swim, and get in the water with people at your speed. In theory, it means less jostling in the water, and avoids getting kicked and bumped. For the most part, it worked well. I got in the water with the 1:15-1:20 bunch, and set out at a nice steady pace. I had no major expectations based on my challenges breathing on account of my lingering cold. However, when I finally pulled myself out of the primordial soup at the 19th hole to find my land legs, I noted that my actual swim time had been 1:10! Not bad at all.

I let the magical wet suit peelers do their job stripping me of my rubber cocoon, then trotted off up the hill to the transition zone within the Deerhurst Resort ballroom. I wasted no time in stripping naked to apply chamois cream before putting on my cycling shorts and jersey. Volunteers were on hand to help us with our gear bags and clean up after us. It was a great help to racers. I did some quick filming, then jogged to the start of the bike, pausing to allow sunscreen appliers do their thing (even if it was overcast).

I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the 180km course. I knew it was quite hilly and challenging, but I’m pretty good on hills, so hoped I’d eke out a 6 hour ride in spite of the challenges. Unfortunately, I was untested this year at racing 180km on my bike. I’d done Rideau Lakes, which is 180km each day for 2 days, but that is not at race pace, and not part of a 3-phase event like this. My focus had to be on nutrition, hydration, and energy conservation. Running is traditionally my strong suit, so I wanted to make sure I had gas in the tank to pull off a good run later.

On the Road

I felt very smooth and relaxed on the bike. For the most part, I held my position, and in fact seemed to pass a good number of folks on the first loop. I was passed by some as well, in particular the speedy cyclists that are not strong swimmers. My nutrition was quite simple. I avoided all aid station food and stuck to my Fruit2 and Fruit3 bars. I wanted to avoid GI issues all day if I could (and trips to the potties). I’d had a Boost before the start of the bike as well, to kick start my nutrition. I also had a bottle of Hammer Nutrition Perpertuem on the bike. I had mixed a 3-hour bottle, and had another 3-hour bottle ready to be mixed at the special needs area at the 90-100km mark.

Everything seemed to be dialed in and working well for me. Even the 2nd loop didn’t seem too bad. I knew where the hills and turns were from the first loop, and where I could push a bit vs. save a little energy. I dare say I was having FUN the whole way, with a smile painted on my face much of the way. I stopped twice for a roadside pee break, both times at about the same place on the loop. The scenery was great, and the slightly overcast skies for most of the bike helped. It only started getting sunny at around my 135km mark. We were now into the afternoon, and I realized this would mean a hotter run, so I tried to ensure I kept well hydrated.

I was soon on my last 10km chunk of the course and heading back to Deerhurst. This section has the steepest hill, and while I definitely felt it in my legs, I still felt pretty good overall. Having not really paid too much attention to my time, I was very happy to see my time was just over 6 hours when I finally pulled back into transition. I believe it was 6:04 on the official clock. I should be able to comfortably break 12 hours unless things went really poorly on the run. My original goal had been 12:30, with an internal goal of sub-12. In other words, I was having a good day and getting what I deserved so far.

Back into the big hall I went, once again stripping off my lower layer to swap the bike shorts for running shorts. I opted to keep my cycling jersey on, since it fit nicely, and was good at thermal regulation. It also benefited from having pockets to store food and my camera. I decided to stick with my 100% self-fueled race, using only what I brought instead of grabbing food at the aid stations. The reason for this was that I KNEW it wouldn’t bother my stomach. Of course, it meant that when I ran back out to the course, I felt laden like a pack mule! I’d brought way too much food for a 4-5 hour effort. I ended up jettisoning some Mojo bars by the 1st Aid station on the run. The bouncing was just driving me nuts. My only course food was on the hydration front. I had to switch to Gatorade from my usual Nuun, since I had no bottles. I alternated aid stations with water and Gatorade (or both). As I’d soon find out, this might have been a bad idea.

Running in Huntsville

For the most part, loop 1 of the run (21.1km) was not too bad. I wasn’t exactly breaking any PBs, but had to remind myself that I’d already swam almost 4k and biked a HARD 180k course. So the pace was obviously lower. Energy-wise though, I was good. Looping around for Lap 2, I had already watched the winners come in, and was blown away by their performances. There are some amazing athletes out there! Running back into Huntsville in the now full heat of the day, I could start feeling the tightness in my legs. I focused on a very even stride, making sure I minimized any extra movements, lest I risk cramping. I also popped a few salt pills, and even Ibuprofen, since my plantar fasciitis was flaring up badly. I knew I’d get through the rest, but knew it’d be a mental struggle combined with actual physical pain.

My plan worked well, and with short, even strides, I was on the final road (and 3km) from the finish. Then at 2k out, disaster struck! Both my quads completely spasmed and seized up. I was stopped dead in my tracks, and it was all I could do to not fall. I screamed out in agony alerting all those around me of my pain. I got some sympathetic looks and words from other racers. One fellow even stopped to fish out more salt pills for me to take. Unfortunately, I knew it was too late to really help. I stood there massaging my legs for precious minutes, trying to coax them back to life. I briefly envisioned myself needing to CRAWL 2k to the finish. It wouldn’t have been pretty, but I WOULD have done it.

Luckily, I got the legs under control enough that I could start a cautious walk, being very careful not to trigger more cramping. At the aid station a few hundred meters away, I had a cup of chips to get more salt in me, and decided I had to just keep going. When finally back on Deerhursrt drive, I managed a very half-hearted jog-shuffle into the dying sun. Daring to look at my watch, I realized that I was still well on track for sub-12, so I didn’t worry any further about my state. Instead, I took the time for me. I took in my surroundings, marveled at the beauty of the setting sun over the tree tops and the manicured greens of the golf course, and realized just how lucky I am to be able to do the things I love to do, and with the support of the woman I love. Everyone goes through these experiences in a race like Ironman, and crossing the finish line without having had that kind of struggle or adversity truly would be a shame.

Speaking of finish lines, it was soon my time to hear my name being called. “Stephan Meyer from Chelsea, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”. Yes, they call out every single athlete that crosses the line to recognize their accomplishments. After crossing the line, I let myself loosen up a bit and not worry about legs cramping again. Instead, I focused on getting some food in me, and collected my hat, t-shirt, and medal :-). After chatting with other racers and volunteers at the post-race food area in Deerhurst, I dragged myself back out to the finish area to watch more athletes cross for the next few hours. Wth over 1,300 athletes, there were still plenty of folks out there battling their own demons and physical limits just to hear their name be called! It was humbling and inspirational watching all the people streaming in.

Guiding Lights

The party lasted WELL into the night, as the final cut-off was midnight, 17 hours after the start. For my part, I’d capped off my race at about 11 hours and 45 minutes. Not my fastest time ever, but a time I was very pleased with. Of course, my mind was already turning towards my next challenge, which lay only 3 short weeks away, when I’d be taking part in Ultra Trail Harricana and trail running a continuous 125km in the mountains of the Charlevoix Region. How the heck will I pull that off? Well, I’m sure I’ll be carrying LOTS of salt pills this time to hopefully avoid cramping. In addition to that race, I had a trip to Las Vegas for a full week in the middle, which is where I’m writing this up from!

The next morning, there was an awards ceremony to recognize all the overall and age category winners, as well as to hand out the coveted slots to the Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2016. We had a bit of breakfast along with that. After the awards wrapped up around 11am, it was time for everyone to make their way back to their respective homes and training grounds, to reflect on their experiences. Personally, I was just looking forward to stuffing my face with lots of junk food for the next week! So there you have it, my tale of Ironman Muskoka. As you may have guessed, I lugged many cameras along with me, and as a result, I have a video to show for is (actually, 2!). The first was embedded up top, and below is the final, race day video. Enjoy both, and here’s hoping everyone is still getting outside and making the most of the tale end of our good weather!

Race Day Video:

Perfect Bike Touring Weather?

Howdy folks. Today’s blog post will take you on a wondrous journey from Ottawa to Kingston and back by  bicycle. Yes, I’m speaking of the famous Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, the yearly fundraising group ride organized by the Ottawa Bicycle Club. This year marked the 44th time the event took place, which is a pretty astounding number when you stop to think about it. To properly commemorate the event this year, I dragged along some cameras and even made a video for Get Out There Magazine. You can see the video at the end of the post, if you haven’t already seen it. I also took a few pictures along the way, which you can enjoy below.

As many of you are aware, RLCT has a number of different route options and lodging options each year. For routes, there are now no less than 4 options. The Classic (177km each way), the Cruise (185km each way), the Challenge (225km each way) and the Century (100km each way). The first three depart and return to Algonquin College in Nepean, whereas the Century starts and returns at the Perth Curling Club. In all cases, your first day finishes off at Queen’s University in Kingston. Once there, you have the choice of either sleeping and eating on campus, student style, or taking care of your own accommodations in town. Since I was filming the event, and wanted the ‘Classic’ experience, Deanna and I had signed up for that route, and also booked ourselves in the luxurious dorm accommodations on campus. After all, that’s really the easiest way to make the most of that particular weekend.

My cycle training leading up to the event was actually quite decent. I’d racked up more than the minimum recommended 1,000km of training, and that, combined with my ongoing running, skiing, snowshoeing, etc. etc., meant I wasn’t too worried about the ride itself. Unfortunately, Deanna hadn’t been able to log as many kilometers on account of working from home, and she also ended up spending most of the week prior to the event sick! In spite of this, she was excited to participate, and I knew she’d push on in spite of any perceived weakness on her part. While we knew other people participating this year, the majority of them were registered in the Century ride, so we had already planned to just ride our own ride, taking our time as needed, stopping  to ‘smell the flowers’ and just generally enjoy the weekend.

The promised (and delivered) forecast made that enjoyment pretty damn easy this year. Generally speaking, it’s hard to get a ‘perfect’ RLCT. Usually you’ll have one or several of the following challenges on the way: rain, cold temperatures, headwinds, mechanical issues, etc. However, upon setting out on Saturday morning, we were happy to note that we had near cloudless skies, favourable winds (mostly tail- and cross-winds), and reasonable temperatures. While it was a little chilly as we took off, it was obvious that it would warm up to a goldilocks temperature (juuuust right!). As the weekend wore on, I’m happy to report that we also had no mechanical issues at all!

We took advantage of packs of riders whenever it was convenient for us. In other words, if a group of cyclists travelling only slightly faster than us passed, we’d tuck in and join the draft. After a little way, we found a great little group that we worked together with until all the way to Perth (at the 70km point of the ride). We were in great spirits and really enjoying the day. Having some snacks and drinks, we headed back off, and the rest of the ride progressed at a nice pace pretty much all the way to Kingston. At about the 30k to go point, Deanna was a little tired, so we had a nice little rest at the last checkpoint before riding into Kingston with a group of people and big grins.

In the end, we pulled off the ride in about 6 hours of pedaling time. Not TdF worthy, but very respectable. In fact, upon checking in and heading to the luggage tent, we were shocked to see what appeared to be MOST of the luggage still there! This was a big difference from the last time we had done the tour, arriving towards the ‘back of the pack’. This was definitely another mood booster. We were so early (in our minds) that we took the time to shower, change and get settled in our dorm BEFORE going to the beer gardens.

Once at the beer gardens, we met up with a bunch of different friends to hear how their respective rides went while enjoying beer, sausages and chips. Supper wasn’t for another couple hours, so we just enjoyed the afternoon sun with like-minded folks. It was awesome! We had supper with another friend from the group who had basically ridden the Classic route solo that day, and made tentative plans to find each other in the morning to make the return journey together.

After a hearty post-race supper, I was planning on making my way downtown to meet up with others and convince them to join me at the local brewery. Well, Deanna was quite pooped by now, and decided that if she had any hope of completing the return trip in its entirety, she had to get some shut-eye. So on that, I dropped her off back at the dorm and wandered downtown alone. Before long though, I joined another big group at a restaurant where they had just finished supper and convinced 5-6 of them to join me for a night cap. After a round of drinks and many laughs, I wandered back to the campus to essentially get to bed around 10pm. I know, it seems early, but we were getting up at 5:30am the next morning again to catch early breakfast and hit the road hopefully by 7:30am after dropping off gear and getting ready.

We met our buddy Paul, and the three of us started the long journey home after a quick tire pressure check with the fine folks at Velo Fix, who were lending support to the tour. Although the legs felt a little stiff starting out, it didn’t take too long to work out the kinks and fall into a decent rhythm once again. Paul and I did the pacing by swapping leads, while Deanna drafted off us and conserved a bit of energy. As it turns out, she was quite tired still, and uncertain whether she should have simply jumped in with the century riders that morning. Either way, she was stuck with us until at least Perth now :-). Her spirit was willing, but the body was not convinced. Being sick the week before had caught up.

We kept a relatively relaxed pace, and took a few extra breaks along the way on the second day. The three of us chose to just ride together, and not try to join any other groups as they went by. Once again, the weather was remarkable. Amazingly, overnight, the wind actually changed directions so that once again, we had tail- and cross-winds. I can not stress just how unusual it is to have two completely perfect cycling days at Rideau Lakes. While it was quite as sunny on the 2nd day, it was still comfortable temperatures the whole way. For the most part, I was completely comfortable in my shorts, jersey, and keeping the arm warmers on. We never really needed jackets or anything.

Another bonus of the extra stops was that it gave me the chance to take advantage of some of the road-side rest stop offerings. Namely, tasty home baked goods like chocolate peanut butter rice krispy treats and date squares. YUM! Nothing better to power you through a long ride than home baked goods. I also managed to get some good footage for the video. In fact, I had so much good footage it was hard to cull it down for my summary video!

As the kilometers racked up, Deanna became increasingly frustrated with her lack of pep, and was worried she was holding us up (which she definitely wasn’t). As a result, she pushed herself a bit too hard, and was pretty wiped out when we hit Perth. At that point, a difficult decision was made by her. She opted to stop her ride there, and make her way to the curling club to meet up with the group of friends that were riding the century route. They had already offered to take her back to Ottawa if she didn’t feel up to the whole ride. Honestly, that’s the most difficult thing in a situation like this. You KNOW you have a way out, and can stop the ‘suffering’. I personally fight against that instinct, but I know it can be tempting. She was a bit disappointed in herself, later admitting she is pretty sure she could have ridden the last 70k with us, but the temptation was just too great. I still think she did an amazing job, and we kissed and parted ways at the Last Duel Park in Perth.

This left Paul and I. Paul also admitted to being a little tired, and requested we didn’t take off like madmen from there. Ironically, I felt amazing. This was the strongest I’ve ever felt at an RLCT. I credit this to the fact that 2 weeks before, I had been racing in Pennsylvania, where I had spent 35 out of 40 hours (31 hours of which were non-stop ) on my mountain bike with a LOT of climbing big hills. As such, I was happy to lead the whole way if needed. Sadly, my slight frame does no provide much relief in the form of drafting to anyone following my wheel. So rather than a 20% benefit, I’m guessing folks only get a 10% benefit. Regardless, Paul is far too nice a fellow to suck a wheel the whole way, and we got into a nice little rhythm of trading leads. Then, at one point, we were passed by a quick group of guys, and decided to hop on the caboose.

ZOOOOM! We were making amazing time with this gang. Over the course of the next hour, we covered roughly 40km! It was awesome, and put our time back on track. We stopped at the final rest stop and had an extended break to re-fuel, allowing our group to leave ahead of us. We rode the final 30k as a duo once again, finishing up at Algonquin College once again in the top end of riders. It was still relatively quiet at the BBQ and beer gardens. Paul hung out with me for a while, then headed off as I was left to wait for Deanna’s return. Unfortunately, they had decided to go for a meal in Perth, which had slow service, so I ended up sitting around alone for a couple hours waiting alone. I filled my time doing a little filming and sorting my gear.

When all is said and done, this was my most enjoyable RLCT in memory. I felt strong the whole way. I got to share most of the ride with the love of my life, laughing and talking the whole time. I met up with good friends and shared more laughs and beers in Kingston, and the weather was perfect. What more could I ask for in an early summer active weekend? Nothing! Even my bed and shower in the dorm were great! With this ride out of the way, it is now time to focus on the next big challenges of the year, including a 1/2 and full Ironman triathlon in Muskoka! So with that, I must bid you adieu and get back to training! Now get out there and enjoy the summer!!

The Video Re-Cap

Chasing Checkpoints in Beautiful Lac Ste. Marie

Well, the race season is shaping up quite nicely so far this season. I’m staying busy, but trying hard not to over-commit to racing in order to give myself to properly train for a few key events. However, it’s hard to say no to fun adventure races when I get the chance. With that, I bring you my re-cap of the ever-awesome Raid Pulse adventure race close to home. This early May race is a nice 8 hour duration, and this time, was held and hosted at Mont Ste Marie, a mere 1 hour drive from home. As a bonus, that means sleeping in my own bed the night before and after the race! Bonus.

This was, in fact, the 14th year that Thierry and his crew have been putting on events. In the world of AR, that is something to brag about. What makes it work and keep people coming back? Simple. The race is both accessible, and challenging. Top racers can put it all out there and try to clear the course to get all the advanced checkpoints, and novice racers can choose to chase less checkpoints yet still have a great day. Thierry has done an excellent job of crafting courses that can take you pretty much to the full 8 hr mark, both for the top racers and the newcomers. To make things even more accessible this year, there was even a 2-hour event, but I didn’t see any of that, given that we started before, and ended after their entire event and awards were done!

Based on the fact that the course was hosted at VeloMSM, the mountain bike trail group out of Mont Ste Marie, we had an inkling that this race would feature a fair bit of biking on the amazing trails of the region. We were not disappointed. VeloMSM has been around for a few years, quietly building up the trails around the ski hill. They have done some amazing work. This was my 3rd time racing in the area, and each time, it seems they have added to the trails, including building amazing wood berms and structures and ensuring there is a good mix of easy, medium, and hard trails. But I digress, back to the race.

Leg 1 – Mountain Biking

Leg 1 - VeloMSM

As mentioned above, our race began with a pseudo-remote start. For the start, we were bused back to where we had dropped bikes off on our way to the race HQ. This was about 10-12km from the ski hill, along rolling roads. The intent was to give everyone a chance to sort themselves out and separate the pack before the technical trails. After the roads, the next equalizer was the fact that most people opted to bike straight up the access road winding its way up the ski hill. This meant a steep climb, and chance to further spread out. A theme of this particular race was that pretty much all the checkpoints of the race could be picked up in any order within each leg.

For this leg, there were 8 regular checkpoints and 2 advanced checkpoints that we could snag. I had sketched out a tentative route at the briefing, but on the bus ride to the start, basically decided on the fly to try a completely different approach after the first big climb. The trick was to minimize the amount of double-backs on this section. Certain trails were 1-way only, and were scattered around a lake, so it was hard to tell on paper the most ‘efficient’ route. All in all, I’d say I made pretty good time. I learned early on that there was a faster way to get to one CP right off the bat, but only a few teams had lucked out on that (it involved a non-marked ATV trail from the original road INTO the ski hill area, where most of us got there via conventional trails).  For that reason, I knew I was about 5 teams back from the get-go.

Another good sign was that as I exited this area of the course, I linked up with Adam Mallory and James Galipeau, both of whom are strong competitors, and whose paths I’d crossed on the trails a couple times. We all took slightly different routes, but all started the next KILLER climb on a dirt road to the first transition. And by climb, I mean hard walk up a near-vertical road with our bikes!

Leg 2 – Trekking

Leg 2 - Trekking

The next leg of the race was what I consider my strong  suit. Trekking and orienteering. This time, we had 4 regular checkpoints and 3 advanced checkpoints to go after. Once we had reached a the transition zone at the peak of one mountain, we dropped our bikes, and headed off into the bush. A quick study of the may showed that the first regular 4 checkpoints shouldn’t be much of a problem, as they were located on ATV trails criss-crossing the area. Not only that, but our maps seemed to be pretty accurate, improving the odds we could run between these CPs. However, the 3 advanced CPs were placed at much further distances, and also involved some considerable elevation gain and loss.

I grabbed the first four points, then struck out on a bearing through the bush to reach the first of the advanced CPs. In this little section, I came across a few other racers, including James and Adam once again. Once again, we had NOT taken the same route in this section, but were together in the search for this particular point. Upon reaching the first point, we agreed that the most efficient route to the next point was down a pretty steep re-entrant along a stream from our high point. While it was not necessarily advisable to go at this one alone due to cliffs, we decided that by heading down together, there was some safety in numbers.

Not long after grabbing the next CP, I realized there was a serious problem with my navigation. James and I agreed on the bearing for the next point, but for some reason, we were pointed in complete opposite directions. Shortly after, I realized my compass was completely borked! The needle wasn’t moving. At first, I thought maybe it was a magnet or something, but I came to realize that the fluid in the capsule had somehow drained, to the needle was not able to properly moved. I guess 10 or so years of compass abuse in races leads to damage. Even more surprising is the fact that I *ALWAYS* carry a spare compass in a race….. until this one! I had NO backup. I was shocked. Not only that, but I was in the bush in the most remote part of the course. I had to trust contours, instinct, and most importantly, James!

I told him my predicament, and given the fact we had the same CPs left, we stuck together until the end of this leg. At one point I remembered my watch has a compass on it, but it wasn’t quick enough to give readings, and they were only bearings, making it harder to use in a hurry.

Add all this to the fact that there was a 2pm cutoff back at the TA in order to be allowed to continue onto the next ‘advanced’ bike section, and you can understand my concern for our pace. We picked up the pace as best we could , but ended up over-shooting the TA by veering a little too far east. Luckily, we hooked back up with a trail and ran / jogged back as quick as we could. We showed up a couple minutes after 2. Normally, it would be game over, but the race organizers had decided to add 30 minutes to the cutoff. Sweet! Still in the hunt for a course clearing. No time to waste, it was time to grab a couple glasses of Nuun, plot the new advanced CPs onto my map, and head back out.

Leg 3 – Biking / Advanced Biking

Leg 3 - Biking

Compass snafu aside, I was feeling that I was in a good position now. Not that many teams had made it to the cutoffs, and I was on track to finish and clear the full course. In other words, whatever position I was in at that point in the race should be the worst I’d end up in. With that in mind, I wanted to charge hard and see if I could pick up a spot or two. The rest of the race was bike / paddle / bike, and wouldn’t require the use of my compass, so I put that fear out of my mind. What I didn’t count on however, was how miserable the advanced biking leg would be. Ostensibly, it was on a ‘trail’, but this thing was horribly overgrown, and resulted in a lot of bike-whacking, and when riding, resulted in a lot of branches smacking me in the face. It was demoralizing. Eventually, I just closed my eyes and rode through the branches. Apparently, my wife does not approve of this technique.

There were only 2 CPs to grab, and both were super-easy to find once we were out of the really gnarly ghost biking trail. Having grabbed those, it was back onto backroads that were on the map, and the longish ride to the next transition. On the ride, I studied the maps a bit more to see if there might be a shortcut, and ended up devising a plan to cut back through the MTB trails at the ski hill and ultimately through a golf course rather than taking roads the long way around one spot. The jury is out on whether that was faster on the way TO the transition, but it would pay off later. There were a few delays as I had to consult maps and double check where I was.

Emerging as hoped by the golf course, it was a quick 800m bike to where the boats and transition bags were waiting.

Leg 4 – The Paddle

Leg 4 - Paddle

Considering I had only managed to go out once on my boat this season, 3 days before the race, and for a mere 45 minutes, I wasn’t expecting to break any records. However, I had the rush of being near the end of the race in my favour AND the sight of a lot of other racers around me. Keep in mind that these were racers that had skipped certain parts of the course, so there was the mental boost that I would likely keep up to, and/or pass them on the water. For this section, there were 3 main CPs and 1 advanced CP to grab. Looking at the distances and time, it looked pretty much a lock that I could grab them all and finish under the 8 hour mark, so off I went!

Not long into the paddle, I linked up with a few other solo racers in kayaks, and couple canoes. We were similar in speeds, so ended up paddling much of this section together. This lead to a few traffic jams near the CPs, and one spot where I tried hopping out of my boat only to discover that the ‘rocky shore’ was actually a dropoff. I dropped down to my belly button before propelling myself upwards again owing to the frigid water. Lesson learned. I decided to just wait my turn at the CPs and try to better position myself for the next ones.

James and Adam had started the paddle ahead of me (they got through the bike quicker), but I caught up to Adam on the water. James had gotten too far ahead, so we crossed paths with him on his way back to the transition. I’m guessing he had 10-15 minutes on us. I decided I had to at least stay ahead of Adam in this mini-battle we had set ourselves up for. After grabbing all the CPs, I gritted my teeth and focused on a smooth paddle stroke to get out of the water first. On the way, we also passed Deanna and Adam’s wife, who were racing as a team of two (ironic, no?).

I reached the shore at ramming speed, hopped out into the mud, and dragged my kayak up as fast as possible…

Leg 5 – Bike to Finish

It was down to the final 4-5k of biking. I knew that I would only be out for maybe 15-20 minutes from here. As a result, I made what I would arguably call my fastest AR transition ever. I left all my paddling gear on (well, mainly just PFD). Threw on my helmet, dropped paddle off in my bag (along with my map bag that I wouldn’t need) and hopped on my bike, all in one relatively smooth movement. I was back on the road probably within a minute or two of pulling off the water. It was time to put my shortcut theory to the test again.

Word on the street is that when Adam pulled off the water, he was gunning for me, and was fighting for an equally fast transition (although he took time to take off his PFD, which I think was a bad decision). I rode back up to the golf course, and turned in, now having memorized the exact route to get to the faint trail back to the ski hill.  A few other racers watched me turn with some interest, as the conventional route was to stick to the road all the way. However, this was the time to gamble in my opinion. Adam might well have caught me on the road!

Pushing hard, I emerged right where I’d hoped, in the ski parking lot. I crossed the line, relieved to see no sign of Adam. James was already there, and let me know he’d only just gotten there a few minutes before! In the end the results show me as having arrived 5 minutes after James, and Adam arriving 4 minutes after me! Our standings were 3rd, 4th, and 4th in the solo category. I’ll take it. Sad to be a mere 1 step off the podium, but there was some heavy competition in this category in this race. 1st place had beaten us all by an hour, and 2nd had beaten James by about 15 minutes. I feel the main difference had to be speed in the advanced bike section, and time lost on the trek due to the compass issue. Oh, and for the record, my finishing time was 7 hours, 34 minutes.

Time to celebrate! We all made our way to the awards ceremony to await the warm meal awaiting us. It was a tasty spaghetti with salad and bread, followed by a desert. The obligatory awards presentation, then lots of random draws. Sadly, I won no prizes that night, nor did Deanna, but I was happy just having had the chance to run yet another fun race. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention, I actually filmed the whole event with my array of cameras while racing ;-). If you haven’t done so yet, have a look at my re-cap video below. This should definitely give you a sense of the actual race. Enjoy! Next up, 44 hours of racing in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania!

The Video

Winning and Touring

Unnatural Fitness Lab Rats

Note, the title is *not* wining and touring. This is (perhaps unfortunately) not a post about cycle touring in wine country :-). However, I’m still happy to say it does involve some drinking, lots of cycling, and even another race victory! As most of you know, I’m really more of an avid endurance racer than sprinter, but I find myself doing a smattering of short races these days, and actually faring quite well. My latest foray is the shortest to date, a 5-person 10km relay race, meaning I was only running 2km! I was actually kind of nervous about that, as I have no idea how to pace that distance. However, the majority of the post is dedicated to Deanna and I taking part in the annual Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. I’ve got a bunch of pictures from that event to share, but no video, as this was purely for fun (and some good in-the-saddle training). Now read on to learn about both of these events!

The Challenge in the Pasture

First up, a decisive win at Tunney’s pasture for Team Unnatural Fitness Lab Rats. If you haven’t guessed, it’s a play on the name of the group I do most of my trail running training with, Natural Fitness Labs. Our team of 5 brave public servants consisted of some of the speedy guys from the group who decided to put in a team and see how we’d do on the pavement over a short course. Of course, the race organizer also happens to be married to our team captain, so there was some pressure to take part, but I was happy to do so, as the main goal was to raise some funds for the local United Way campaigns anyway. So as you see, win-win for all.

The race was set up as 5 individual ‘waves’ leaving 5 minutes apart, rather than a baton hand-off type of relay. As such, each of the 5 of us were in a different wave, then our combined time dictated our placement. I was in wave 2, and with no frame of reference, arbitrarily said I’d like to finish between 7 and 8 minutes for 2k, and the closer to 7 minutes, the better. As it turns out, I finished 1st in my wave, and 4th overall with a time of 6:52.7, less than a second behind the 3rd place overall winner. This also put me as the fastest on our team! Needless to say, I was surprised (but happy!). My strategy was to go out hard, stay ahead of everyone, keep a little in the tank for a final sprint if needed, and win. Seems to have worked pretty well.

All the gents on our team put in great times in their waves, finishing near the top of the heap for each wave. When the times were put together, we finished in 1st place for the teams, about 3.5 minutes faster than our nearest competitors. There was a bit of jeering when we accepted our ‘trophy’ in our matching race shirts. We were accused of being ‘pros’. Ha ha. Regardless, I’ll take it. In spite of the falling rain, we took the honours and had a fun time, and I learned that I *can* lay it out there for a sprint race if needed. Now onto the bike….

Two Long Days in the Saddle…

For those of you unfamiliar with the yearly Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour (RLCT), this is an annual bike touring event that goes from Ottawa to Kingston and back again the next day. There are a number of routes to choose from, ranging from 100km to 220km, and goes rain or shine. No timing, no prizes, no fixed start time, just good fun riding your bicycle for a full 2 days in the Ottawa valley. This would be the 3rd time I did the tour, and the 2nd for Deanna. My other experiences were with a smallish group of 6-8 riders working together making our way along the course. Due to life getting in the way, this year, it was just Deanna and I alone on the ride itself (although we obviously ran into plenty of people we knew on the far end).

For the 2nd time, we also chose to do the ‘cruise route’, which this year was a 174km route. It is limited to 250 riders, and offers no support. On the plus side, there are no masses of cyclists to contend with (like there is on the ‘classic route’), and relatively quiet roads. On the downside, no roving support vehicles, and less people to draft off of and/or rely on for directions (in my mind, neither are a detraction). It was just us, my trusty GPS, and our own food and water, although we were never without an option for refreshment along the route in the form of gas stations, and church ladies (more on that in a moment).

This year, in a first, the organizers actually published the various routes electronically on a site called Ride with GPS. It was my first time using that service, and I must say it worked quite well for the most part. After signing up for my free account, I was able to download the .gpx routes, and load them into any number of GPS devices I own. I opted to use my eTrex Legend HCx, as it provides me turn-by-turn navigation. My only nit-picks here were my GPS seemed to assume a speed of 60km/hr for the time estimates, and in a lot of spots, I had conflicting info (like instructions saying “turn left at right06”, or arrow icons pointing the wrong way. However, as long as I followed the actual ‘purple line’ on my GPS, it was bang on. It ended up being a little game to guess which of multiple instructions was right before upcoming turns.

The riding itself this year seemed superb to me. Although we did start with rain on Saturday, it wasn’t too heavy, and by the time we’d hit Merrickville, things more or less dried out, and we rode in merely cool, overcast weather, which is fine for a long day on the bike. Even though we were only two, we made pretty decent time, riding at a pace that was comfortable, but not pedestrian. We only stopped a few times in the day, twice for nature breaks and/or quick refuel breaks, and once in Toledo for a proper lunch.

Why Toledo? Well, the local church there rolls out the proverbial red carpet for this route. The church ladies have a great menu of soups, sandwiches, drinks and deserts on offer for weary cyclists. These are offered at very reasonable costs, served with a smile, and occurs pretty much halfway. There is also free drinking water for all there. I had an awesome egg salad sandwich (can ANYONE, except church ladies, get this right?), a huge date square, and a special peanut butter / corn flake cookie for later, all for 6 bucks. The place was hopping with bike riders fueling up when we stopped on Saturday. On Sunday, we stopped there again, but it was a bit quieter. The main reason is that we weren’t sure they were serving, as it was actually 11am, peak church time! However, they were there again, serving tasty food. This time? Grilled ham and cheese, date square and cookie.

Once we arrived in Kingston, we got sorted, showered, and changed, then headed to the beer gardens with hundreds of other like-minded cyclists. It didn’t take long to find a gang of our friends from the trail-running community (and most of my team from the race above…). In spite of a now-persistent rain falling again, we enjoyed a few beers outdoors before heading to the dining hall for the inevitable carbo-load recovery supper to prepare for the next day. I can safely say that I ate entirely too much food for my size. Not sure where it all went, but one thing was for sure, I’d be needing a post-food walk!

Luckily, we’d made plans with the group to head over the Kingston Brewery Company (website currently kaput) for some additional tasty beverages before retiring for the day. This was another departure from previous years where we just hung out on campus. I must say though, this field trip was well worth it, as I truly enjoyed my Dunkelnacht dark beer :-), oh, and the numerous others I had! We chose to drink on the outdoor patio, as the joint was packed. There was no server there, so we had to get our own beer at the bar and bring it out, but no one minded, and while we started the trend, it wasn’t long before the whole patio was packed with other cyclists. However, I’m happy to report we outlasted them all, and were the last to leave for the night (at the late hour of 10ish…). Back to the dorms for a well-earned night of sleep.

The next morning, we got up again far too early for a weekend to pack up, have a big breakfast and then make our way out on two wheels once again. While there was no bacon, there was sausages, eggs, french toast, potatoes and lots of other goodies to fuel up on. We hit the road before 8am under the beginning of a beautiful day. While we set out with arm and leg warmers on, it wasn’t too long before we started moulting our spandex in favour of bare arms. It was an absolutely gorgeous day for riding. Deanna sadly missed a few spots with the sunscreen and got a burn, but it was still awesome! Our routine was pretty much the same as the day before, although we may have added an extra stop later in the day, as we were getting a little pooped after over 300kms in our legs.

Once again, we did the whole journey alone. You really start to notice the headwinds when you are only 2 out there. The final 80k or so seemed to pack some persistent little winds. Not fall-over strong gusts, but steady winds. Of course, that just makes you even more happy when you are on the final 10k of the ride, and know it’s just a straight shot up Woodroffe to the Algonquin campus, where our car was parked, our bag was waiting, and the post-ride bbq was in full swing. We didn’t stick around too long, as there was no free food on offer, and the line-ups were pretty long. We decided it may be easier to just hit the grocery store and grab something we wanted for supper. Pizza was the ultimate choice 🙂 A perfect end to a great weekend cycling with my friend, my partner, and my future wife. I count myself truly lucky to have found someone to share many of these adventures with. We honestly had a blast together the whole way:-)

The other fringe benefit of 350km of bike riding for me is that it gave me a lot of training time in the saddle to prep for Leadville later this summer. Gotta get in peak bike shape! The next weekend was slated to be a ‘training weekend’, then it’ll be off to Maine for a last-minute 24-hour adventure race called Untamed New England with a speedy US team (I got drafted in due to an injury… very flattering!). Till then, enjoy the fine weather, and keep the rubber on the road friends!

Radical Racing at the RockstAR Race

RockstAR Pose CP

Greetings friends, and welcome to another exciting race report from the wilds of the Muskoka region! Yup, that’s right, once again, I made my way into the beautiful lands west of Ottawa and north of Toronto. This time, I was taking part in the RockstAR Adventure Race, an 8-hour rogaine-style adventure race (more on this later), with my friend and team-mate of years gone by, Carl. And for a change, I actually wasn’t covering this event for the magazine. I was bona-fide just there for some fun and a good hard race with no thought being given to capturing good footage to distil the entire event into a little video. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a camera with me, and to those ends, why not check out some of the pictures I took before reading the rest of the post? It was another fun-filled weekend, with great weather, and a pretty cool race experience. Find out all about it after the jump!

Race Pictures

My decision to try this race out came pretty early in the season. I actually had it on my list of events that I wanted to cover for Get Out There, but then that option didn’t materialize. However, I had already asked Carl if he was interested in racing, and he said yes. As such, we pulled the trigger, plunked down our cash, and made the plans to race. The fact that I wouldn’t be covering the race for the magazine made it a little less onerous on me as well. I could just focus on the race and having a good time rather than fretting about getting good footage, then spending 5-6 hours putting it together for a 3 minute video 🙂

Not only has the RockstAR race been running for the past 5 years now, but it was also voted by readers as the Reader’s Choice Winner in 2011 for Adventure Races. This of course was part of the allure to trying it out. Also, this whole ‘rogaine-style’ approach intrigued me. We were given a little advance notice as to how this would play out. Basically, the race would consist of 2 distinct legs. The first leg was a 25km marked mountain bike section through ATV trails, gravel roads, and a bit of pavement to get back to the Start / Finish area. There would be no CPs along this section, just a race to get back to the ‘hub’. Leg 2 would consist of 30 checkpoints to be tackled in any order. They had different point values, and the intention was to get as many as you could before the time cutoff via trekking and paddling. The race was to start promptly at 11am (remote start), and would end promptly at 7pm. Each minute you arrived at the finish past that, and you’d lose 10 points.

The point ranges for these CPs was 20 all the way to 120, which was meant to reflect the difficulty of getting a particular checkpoint. Historically, no one had ever ‘cleared’ the course. What does that mean? Well, racers had to spend some time planning out their plan of attack to get as many CPs as they could, while deciding which ones to possibly drop from the list in order to finish in time. The other thing that meant is that you had to be able to change the plan on the fly as you went, in order to maximize points. Ultimately, this also resulted in everyone pretty much being out there for the full 8 hours. This differs from other adventure races billed as an 8 hour race, as top teams can finish in 5-6 hours. Nope, we’d be out there the whole time, and needed enough food / drink to sustain the pace all day. So how did we fare? Read on!

The Race Stats

Trek and Paddle Map

Sorry, no Garmin track this time, as no GPS trackers even permitted, but here are some stats:

  • Time on Course: 7:53:47
  • CPs Cleared: 25 / 30
  • Points Obtained: 1610 / 1980
  • Rank: 10th (of 32) Male team of 2, 11th Overall (of 76)

As you can see from the above stats, we had a good race. In fact, I’d even say a darned good race. Sure, we would have liked to grab a few more CPs, but that was not in the cards. As it turns out, only one team, the overall winner, managed to get all the CPs. We set out an ambitious plan, and did well, but also made the right decisions on when to skip CPs. With just a little more speed, we probably could have picked off one more, and with a little luck, would have gotten the points for one of the CPs that we visited (I’ll explain shortly).

First thing in the morning, we got an early start by having breakfast in the main dining hall with other races. Following that, we registered and got the race maps, giving us nearly 2 hours to decide on a course of action. The picture above shows what our overall plan was for grabbing CPs. We also had to submit a copy of this to the race organizers, just in case we went missing and they had to know where to look for us. Safety first! We managed to plan out a course to get all the CPs, just in case we had time, but also discussed our ‘skip strategy’ depending how we felt. It boiled down to 4 ‘sections’ in our minds. Section 1, the bike. Section 2, the ‘east’ and ‘north’ CPs. Section 3, the ‘south’ section, and Section 4, the ‘hub’ section. We could tweak a few things if needed to ensure a 7pm finish.

The bike section was really fun, and had a great flow. It was nice to just focus on the biking, rather than have to find CPs along the way. The course was easy to follow, and basically made it a great way to spread the field out. We covered the 25km in 1:09:19. Looking casually at the results, it looks like that made us around 9th to complete that section, which was a strong time. To make this, we pushed hard, and worked with another team to draft some sections. Carl faded a bit towards the end, but we pushed on. The top team finished barely 10 minutes ahead of us for this leg. I was quite happy with this result. Admittedly, Carl and I haven’t raced in almost 2 years together, and he hasn’t been doing all that much serious training or racing, so this was totally understandable!

Finishing that quick gave us nearly 7 hours for the rogaine section. With that in mind, we immediately decided to focus on clearing the full east and north sections, as they involved the most distance, but also had a lot of high-value CPs in the offing. We made an on-the-fly decision on how to tackle a few of the early CPs by foot rather than head out on boats, and were happy with that decision. Then, it was in the canoe to reach some of the shoreline CPs before parking our craft and going for the long march in the ‘north’ section to clear it.

We used a combination of quick walking and light jogging to try and keep momentum up. Luckily, most of the CPs were relatively easy to navigate to. I carried the lead, and did the navigation as well, using our agreed-upon plan and route. We get close to each CP, and I’d run ahead to punch the CP card and insert our timing chip. I’d then yell back at Carl to turn around (if we were on a spur), or continue on the trails. Most CPs were on very easy landmarks such as trails or streams, dams, etc. I was really happy they were that easy. A few involved a bit of bushwhacking or stumbling over a lot of deadfall, but that’s to be expected.

Whenever our pace would dip a bit, and the trail allowed it, we’d pull out a tow system so I could help take a bit of the load off Carl and keep moving forward together. With all my trail running, this was clearly my forte, so we had to work smart to keep a consistent overall pace during the long hot slogs on gravel roads, ATV trails etc. It worked very well, and we kept reminding each other to eat and drink, as well as encourage each other the whole time. In other words, we worked very well as a team, which gave us more strength together than if we’d just gone individually.

One by one we picked off all the north CPs, and eventually were back at the boats. Timing was good, as we’d both run out of water, but both of us had some stashed in the canoe. We’d also made a decision during the north trek to cut out the 2 highest value (120pts each) CPs in the south, as it was clear we would NOT have the time. We also pieced together a slightly revised route that saw us do a bit more paddling to pick up some of the south CPs clumped together near the water, rather than attack them by foot, which had been our plan if we’d gone for the 120s. This would give us the time to clear most of the other south CPs, as well as clear the hub CPs. It was a solid plan, and gave us renewed energy to tackle them.

Included in that clump was the first ‘fun’ CP, which was an inner tube hand paddle out to an island to reach a CP, the kick back. Only one of us had to do it, and I was the lucky guy. At least it gave me a chance to cool off in the water and gave Carl a chance to take a little rest in the shade. By this time, we were closing in on 5:30, and knew we had to do a mandatory check-in at the hub by 6pm or risk disqualification. We took a gamble after the inner tube CP and paddled to grab the 2 other nearby water checkpoints. That left us with a mad paddle back to the hub to make the cutoff. In the end, we punched in at CP “B” at 5:54pm, leaving 6 minutes to spare. Whew! Close call.

It was now on to the final part of the course for us. We decided to grab a couple more of the ‘fun’ CPs near the hub before heading south for the final hour. First up was an underwater CP which Carl took. Basically, swim out, dive down, retrieve a CD, and bring it to a volunteer. He polished that one off double quick, and we were off next door for the ‘rock star pose’ CP where you just need to pose for a picture to get the CP. WIth that done, we set off at a trot for several kms down the road to reach the final ‘far’ CP we hoped to grab. After that, a loop back on a trail to nab 2 other CPs on the way back to the hub. Here we had to skip a 60 pointer that was a couple hundred meters off the trail, as we knew that bushwhacking to get it could very likely cost us more than a few minutes at the finish line. With that in mind, we were ready to head home and grab one final CP before punching in at the finish.

Sadly, that final CP was more of an insult than anything to us. This was the infamous ‘slingshot’ CP. We each had 3 loonies as part of our mandatory gear, and at this CP, we had to shoot these at targets 25m away. If you hit it, you got to punch in for 40 points. If you miss, no points. Well, we gave our best with 6 shots, and missed all of them (we weren’t alone in missing). Accordingly, we were denied our 40 points. Kinda sucked to actually make a CP but not get credit 🙁 I attempted bribing the volunteer to no avail! Oh well, we finished the final dash to the finish and punched in with [again] 6 minutes to spare. That’s exactly how it should be in a rogaine. As close to the wire with as many points as possible. Hugs all around, job well done, and big smiles on our faces!

The post race was already underway, with food being served in the dining hall, and the bar open for business at $5 a drink. We decided to first shower, pick up our bikes and gear, then turn our minds to celebrating with fellow racers. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying food, beers, and the company of great racers swapping stories about their day, and of other past race exploits. This is always the highlight of a long day racing, sharing ‘war stories’. To entertain us through the night, there was also a fellow playing tunes on a guitar. We were amongst the last people to turn in for the night, and had a great time.

So ends the RockstAR race for 2012. This was truly a unique event (although with many familiar elements) that I’d recommend to others to try. Not only was there the 8-hour event, there was also a 4-hour option on offer for beginners and those looking for a shorter length. The whole day was run smoothly and had no hiccups. Everything was where it should have been, and we all got exactly what we expected. Hats off to the entire race organization for this one! Next up: the Muskoka Grind off-road triathlon in Huntsville. Yup, that’s right, heading right back to the same area for another weekend of racing! Here’s hoping for another strong showing in solidarity with all the Canadian athletes participating in the Olympics at the same time 🙂