Tag Archives: Get Out There

Stone Steps and Cold Creeks in Ithaca

Finally! My first trail race of the season! Ok, in fact, it happened over a month ago, but I’ve been rather busy between starting a new job, training, and doing work / renovations at the homestead. The cedar deck is looking mighty fine at this point… But I digress, this post is about the Cayuga Trails 50 Miler. Yup, that’s right, I decided to start with an 80km race this season. It’s part of my decision to focus purely on trail running this year, building up all summer with a range of events to culminate with the Ultra-Trail Harricana 125km race in September, where I need vindication for last year’s DNF. Read on for all the deets on my adventures in and around Ithaca, NY, where the Cayuga Trails race took place.

Before I actually get to the race story, I should mention a few things. First off, as most of you know, I have been dealing with *really* annoying foot issues, including plantar fasciitis, bursitis, bone edema, rolling ankles, etc. As such, at the end of last season, you’ll recall I hobbled my way to a personal worst in a marathon. From there, it was off my feet for months while I awaited results from scans, MRI, etc. to try and get sorted. While I’m not at 100%, things are looking a bit better this year. Once I got the green light to get back into it, I mapped an audacious return to form, and decided that my FIRST race back would be nothing other than the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile race (80km)! Notable about this race is the fact that while I have ran in a longer event (a 100km trail run), it was not an all-out effort. And while I had started a 125k race last year, I had to bail shortly before the 80km mark. SO, this would be my first REAL 80K race.

A second notable feature of this race is that it isn’t a totally low-key locals-only kind of event. Nope, it is in fact the USA Track and Field 50 Mile trail running championship event. Yup, that’s right, I was toeing the line with some of the strongest trail runners from across the US vying for a national title. Obviously thoughts of a podium were furthest in my mind, but a strong category showing was my hope (well, that along with actually finishing feeling strong!). With this as my backdrop, as soon as I possibly could, I threw myself into my training, and actually followed a specific training program credited in part to Killian Jornet himself! It was a good mix of hard hill runs, varying pace workouts, speed workouts, really long runs, etc. You know, the kind of thing you SHOULD do when preparing for a season of hard racing. I had decided ad hoc preparation wouldn’t work, and I had to be dedicated. We’ll see how things go throughout the rest of the summer, but so far, so good!

Bacchus Brewing

So, back to Cayuga. Why did I choose it? Well, basically, it was pretty much a perfect combination of timing, location, and the fact that it looked cool and I’d never raced in that area. I’ve driven through Ithaca a number of times, but never stopped long enough to get to know it. Less than 4.5 hours away from my front door, with promises of slot canyons, state parks, and nearby breweries. I was sold. Deanna and I opted to camp the 2 nights down there, and we pretty much lucked out with the weather (we did have to pack up and bail in a hurry on Sunday, but overall, no issues. Also, in fine tradition, on the ride down, I scoped a number of breweries that we stopped in to do some sampling (hello Bacchus Brewing and Hopshire Farm & Brewery), as well as a visit to a VERY well-stocked bottle shop to buy a wide range of beers to bring back. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the Finger Lakes Beverage Center!

So, about the race, what can I say about it? Well, for starters, even though it was the Championship race, it still managed to retain a very relaxed and grass-roots feel to it. Organizers, volunteers, and participants were all awesome to deal with, and an excellent race was put on for us. For swag, we all got a pair of nice farm to feet socks, and a collapsible cup to use for drinks at aid stations. The race was very focused on having a ‘green’ footprint, and did well on that front, including composting at all aid stations, and finish line souvenirs that were made of recycled materials. I will cherish both my finishers metal cup, and metal finishers plate/plaque.

Course Map

The race course was one of the most compact races I’ve ever seen, making it super-friendly for spectators to see and cheer for their favourite runners. It was a 2-loop, ‘bow-tie’ course, meaning that it looked like a figure 8, and we did it twice, visiting the middle part 4 times. This meant we saw some aid stations 4 times during the race, and as far as driving went, Deanna never had to travel more than 5k or so at a time! Logistically, having less aid stations also meant they could be extremely well stocked and staffed, with easy road access for them. However, as a runner, we were never more than 10k between these oases on course. As a result, a large portion of the runners were content to head out with only hand bottles to sustain them over the race.

For my part, I still opted to carry a small pack, so that I could carry my camera and tripod (of course), a hydration pouch, collapsible bottle, my own food, some first aid, and ‘just in case’ foot braces. While it may have been overkill, it gave me comfort knowing I was covered. I guess I’m just more used to ‘rugged, remote’ courses, so I couldn’t imagine stripping it down to only a bottle!

Stairs and Waterfall

And this leads me to comments on the actual course. Situated literally on the edge of town, and traversing between 2 state parks, I was frankly shocked at what was hidden / tucked in the surrounding hills. Looking at a map, you’d be forgiven for assuming the terrain was not challenging. But you’d be wrong. Ithaca has a slogan. “It’s a GORGES place to visit.” Yes, there are towering canyons just out of sight in these parks, with very impressive series of steps (a combination of hand hewn stones and wooden steps). Alongside these canyon sections? Gorgeous cascading water features like Buttermilk Falls and plenty of others. Between these jaw-droppers we were treated to a good variety of trail types, including nice twisty single and double track, sometimes crossing fields, but more often than not, in the woods. There were of course also some forest service type roads which were less interesting, and a TINY bit of pavement, but all in all, a very inviting mix of trails, with nothing super-technical to deal with. It was definitely a course that would favour the fast-footed rather than the sure-footed. Too bad for me, right?

So, race time! Things were slotted to get underway at 6am for the 50 miler, and it did! It was already warm enough to be in shorts and T’s, so there was no need for warm-up gear. In fact, my concern was more about heat later in the day. Luckily, the numerous water crossings en route would help keep that at bay as I’d learn later. I had full intentions of starting at a conservative pace, and just holding that all day. My time goal was 10 hours, netting me an 8km/hr pace for the whole day. I had printed a pace card for reference with all my aid station splits. However, it was extremely hard not to let the spirit run free and just push hard right out of the gate. I felt extremely fresh, based on a proper taper the week before, and definitely didn’t feel I was pushing, even though my pace said otherwise. I decided to ‘run with it’ and see what happened.

Cresting a Hill

The opening 2k or so was flat to moderate before we hit the first set of stairs that went up pretty steeply. I was ready to tackle them all with a vengeance and did so. I found myself at the first aid station (the 5k mark) in seemingly no time flat. I completely bypassed it, in spite of the wonderful spread, and kept hammering along. From here we entered a really great section with lots of amazing climbs and canyon views. It was easy to get lost in the scenery in some spots and lost focus, which would probably be a good thing later on. We also navigated a couple shallow water crossings. Enough to cool the feet off nicely. Realizing just how many times I’d cross water, I was glad I’d opted to use a silicone cream on my feet to minimize the effects of running with wet feet all day. There is nothing worse than getting a bad ‘wrinkly foot’ blister under my foot pad. It can easily hobble me after hours.

After the next aid station we were heading into the most beautiful section of the course for the next 20k, and also crossing the deepest water of the course, with water reaching up to our waists. I’ll admit it, the first time through, I tried skirting and finding a shallower (albeit longer) route around, with success. However, subsequent crossings (we’d cross this 4 times), I went right into the deep part and enjoyed the body chilling effects! I was not alone in this, especially in the afternoon heat. Shortly after the water crossing was also the longest steady hill climb (without stairs). The reward though was a spectacular rim trail along the canyon, first on one side, emerging at Buttermilk Falls State park (where we were actually camping!), then back up and along the other side. It was absolutely stunning.

By now, I had passed the third aid station, and was still making very good time. I was also taking advantage of the very well stocked aid stations, enjoying PB&J sandwiches, boiled salted potatoes, and electrolyte drinks. I skipped the real junk food, but did always grab 1 or 2 gels for the next section. I also decided that the caffeinated ones are pretty much ideal for getting me through each of the sections. I ended up creating a pretty consistent routine between aid stations, and focused on that. I was also starting to see familiar faces along the way, since most runners have strengths and weaknesses, we end up passing and re-passing each other. It gives you something to focus on in different areas, like “I’m just going to catch up to and pass black hat guy on the next hill”… that sort of thing. But they are also great excuses to chat and get your mind off the running if you need it. Most people are willing to at least tolerate a little chit-chat along the course, but you have to know when to talk and when to shut up J. I liked motivating / joking a lot on tough uphills. Not talking to anyone in particular, but getting people to laugh and not think too hard about what they were doing. I *think* it was appreciated on the 2nd time up the really hard hill.

Running the Lonely Trails

So get this: I’m arriving at the turnaround point, the 40.5k mark in the race. My time? 4:29!!! Yikes, I was essentially 30 minutes ahead at this point, and at that pace, would bust my goal by an hour!!! I was simultaneously excited about being that fast and petrified that I’d gone too hard. It didn’t take long to learn which it was, as I had a SERIOUS drop in energy for the next 10k or so. I felt depleted and started really worrying that I had blown up. At the next aid station, I thought hard about my nutrition and hydration needs, and made a couple adjustments, adding salt pills to the mix to ward off cramping, and adding more fresh fruit (watermelon, bananas, oranges) to the mix. After the initial 10k slump, I got my groove back, and started picking things back up. Nowhere near my first lap speed, but definitely back into the ‘needed’ speed territory. The thing about having the pace card was that I knew at almost any point exactly how much time I had in the bank. I had flashbacks to the time I needed to finish a marathon in 3:10 to qualify for Boston, and what I had to do at the finish to meet the goal.

The next 20-25 km went pretty well, with me wasting NO time anywhere at aid stations. I’d come in basically either yelling out my ‘order’ of what I needed (not rudely, but they actually WANT to help you at the aid stations), or grabbing it directly on my way through, pausing only long enough to re-fill my bottle before trotting off. No point in stopping to eat, I’d just shovel things in as I kept moving (forward progress above all else). This left the final 5-10k of the course. I knew I was cutting things close, but was most definitely starting to bump the needle on E in my tank. Knowing it was so close, I dug deep, blocked all else out, and veritably started FLYING again where I could. I ignored any pain (there is ALWAYS pain after running these distances in punishing terrain).Remember, this isn’t flat terrain, but lots of up and down.

Running Strong

As I got closer and closer to the final finish, I recognized the landmarks, and could tell I should make it provided I kept it up. I desperately scarfed down 2 caffeinated gels in the closing 5k. I also foolishly ran out of liquids, so had to run through knowing I could cramp if I wasn’t careful. Lucky for me, I made it. Official time: 9:57:24. With a high 5 from the race director, I crossed the line, collected my cup and plate, and was welcomed by Deanna, who had been shadowing me all day at the aid stations cheering me on. For my efforts, I was rewarded with 47th overall, 38th male, and a very satisfying 5th in my age group.

FIlling up on Beer at Finish

Directly after finishing, I got to enjoy some excellent BBQ food for racers, and wash it down with a special beer brewed by Ithaca Brewing just for the race, the Lucifer’s Steps IPA, in honour of one of the longest and trickiest stair sections of the race. After hanging out for the awards, we returned to camp, I grabbed a shower, and we headed back out, this time to the actual Taproom of Ithaca Brewing, where we had junky food and sampled lots more beers, along with a lot of other runners. All in all, an amazing day of racing in great company and with a great atmosphere.

Funny enough, I know that when I had crossed the line, I mused that I really didn’t want to do that again, but as I type this, I’m actually really looking forward to my next 50 miler, which is in under a week! Can I improve on 10 hours? I don’t really know. Perhaps if I hold it back a bit more at the start, and keep the nutrition, hydration, and pace right, I can pull off 9.5 hours, but it all depends on the course. Stay tuned here to see how things work out!! And till then, I know I’ve been slow updating the site, but rest assured, I’m not gone, and there will be lots of future adventures! Till then, get out there and have some fun! Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, have a watch of the video I put together for this race!

Kicking the Season off with a Classic

I’m usually happiest in two situations. First is when I’m pushing myself physically and mentally, and secondly, when I’m outdoors enjoying all the activities I like to partake in, like running, paddling, and mountain biking. Luckily, I get to combine both those into one package when I take part in Adventure Races. While I have planned to focus pretty much exclusively on trail running this year, I decided to get things started by taking part in the 8 hour Raid Pulse adventure race, now in its 15th year!! Since it may be my only AR event of the year, I wanted to make the most of it. I was racing and filming the event, and also decided to link up with my good friend and AR veteran John Ranson for the event. Read on for the skinny on the race.

Leading up to the race, my training was predominantly trail running, combined with my daily commute to and from work on my road bike. I did zero true mountain biking, and the only paddle I pulled off was when John and I got out for a nice 12k paddle on the Gatineau River. At that time, we chatted about our expectations, with John warning (read: foreshadowing) me that he hadn’t done much biking, so was pretty sure he’d be slower than me. I assured him that was okay, as my main goal was to push hard, and have fun with a friend on the race. He agreed to take care of navigation so that I could focus on filming.

Slopeside Camping

Race day broke clear, sunny, and near perfect. It promised to be good weather for most of the day, with sunny to overcast conditions and not too hot. I had camped onsite the night before so that I wouldn’t have to scramble in the morning, even though the race was only an hour away at Mont Ste. Marie. This area has done a great job in building up its mountain biking options in the recent years, so I knew biking would definitely figure in prominently, but would actually be single track, aka the FUNNEST riding possible.

Overall Course Map

At race briefing, we got our maps and saw the course layout for the first time. The order of the sections were as follows: trekking, paddling, biking, trekking, biking, finish. The start featured a straight run up the ski mountain in front of us, which would help separate the race field and spread us out. We took off at a decent pace and I’d say we were in the top 10 heading up the hill. We had a few minor bobbles on the opening trek, but they only lead to a few minutes of accumulated errors in our estimation. We had ALMOST skipped a CP, but thanks to us both being navigators and double checking what we’d covered, we caught our mistake in time to not impact our routing too much. All in all, we were very efficient, and our navigation was quite strong on this leg, allowing us to pop out and get on the water in the top 8 or so position.

Running to Water Transition

The water was glassy smooth in the late morning light, and our canoe was identical to most of the others, so we had no real excuse for any shortcomings in the paddle leg, which would actually total a shorter overall distance than our one paddle training outing! Once on the water, and headed to the first ‘advanced’ CP on the water, we were surprised to see the lead team already paddling back to transition! That meant they had 30-40 minutes on us. Also, I don’t think I have ever seen a canoe move so fast on water. There was a wake coming off the back. They looked like men possessed, even though there was no one near their tail. But, that’s what you have to do in order to secure a podium. Never give an inch, no matter what. 8 hours is still a long time, and anything can happen.

For our part, we wrapped up the paddle leg pretty uneventfully. Our time was nothing to brag about, but we generally kept our place on the water, perhaps losing 1 or 2 slots. I still had us pegged as contenders in some fashion, given the future trekking leg, and our strong navigation abilities. At transition, we took the chance to fuel up a bit and make sure we had all we’d need for the next long section. We were about head into the MTB trails of Velo MSM to catch a bunch of checkpoints before doing a bit of cross-country to reach the next trekking leg.

We headed off at a moderate pace, figuring we’d warm up a bit on the road section before tackling the trails. Already, John started dropping the pace a bit, but I was unfazed, even though he was already visibly irritated at himself. I did my best to encourage him and let up my pace a tad. I’m probably strongest on the road based on all my road bike commuting. 30k per day helps! We turned onto the Velo MSM trails, and thankfully we had more mental work to do in determining routes, etc, which helped mitigate pacing issues. However, it did become clear quite quickly again that John was getting frustrated at his own progress on the singletrack biking.

Cycling in VeloMSM

For my part, I was just having fun on the trails, and felt quite (surprisingly?) strong out there. I had forgotten just how much I do love mountain biking. Maybe someday I’ll get back into more cross-country riding rather than spending all my time running like a fool out there! I kept telling John not to worry about it, just focus on the riding, and not waste energy feeling frustrated, since it wouldn’t help anything. We’d get where we were going when we got there. I felt really bad later on when he outright told me I should just continue without him. I have NEVER abandoned a team-mate, and firmly believe in the team construct, and accept that a team will only ever be as fast as the slowest person, and all you can really do is help them. Unfortunately, there was almost nothing I could do for John. I took as much weight out of his pack as I could, but it wasn’t enough to boost his spirits much.

However, John knows the game. And he also knows how to push through. He is used to being at the pointy end of the stick, and I think wasn’t mentally prepared to deal with feeling weakness. Lucky for me, I’ve been there, A LOT, over the years. Being the weaker team-mate on more than one occasion, I felt qualified to know what NOT to do or say. I stayed positive and we just kept pushing. We got all our CPs and made it up to the top of yet another mountain (hill?) to arrive at the remote trekking transition. Back on our feet, we hoped to move smoothly through this section.

We did move well, with me trying to stay ahead and grab the CPs as quick as possible, letting John hang back where we could and focus on the maps. The best part of this section was the little swim that we had an option to take. I didn’t hesitate to strip down, head into the swamp / lake to cool off, pick up a CP, and head back. Since it was under 100m, John stayed on the far shore. The water was very refreshing, but smelly. I emerged like a swamp beast, with all the insects instantly attracted to me. Wasting no time, I re-dressed, and we got back on our way.

Back at transition, John got busy mapping the final few advanced checkpoints (which we didn’t get to see until this moment). It was more biking, so not John’s favourite. He was lobbying to skip a few and just make sure we finished under the 8 hr time limit. You could go over time, but the penalty was a point per minute, and with every CP worth a fixed 25 points, you had to make a decision on your approach. After a quick discussion and looking at the maps, I conceded that we could definitely skip one outlier CP, but felt we should do our very best to nab the rest. John agreed, and we were off. By now, things were also very hot, so dehydration was starting to fall over some racers. I’d managed my fluids pretty well, but John was low.

We kept hacking away on the bikes, making steady progress. Again, we bobbled once on the bikes, overshooting and adding a couple kilometers in distance, as well as probably 20-30 minutes over ‘optimal’ at our speed, but nothing major. Certainly nothing soul crushing. Overall, I can safely say I was still having fun, and although I will admit to being disappointed at NOT clearing the course this time around, it was still a positive experience. Being mentally and physically strong for an entire race felt good, and gave me confidence going into another race season.

We wrapped up the race on the bikes with a super-fun descent on more of the Velo MSM trails. I let myself get a bit ahead of John in this section, but only because it was a downhill technical run and I really wanted to bomb it for fun. I passed a lot of other racers, then waited at the exit of the trail for John. When he came into view, I hooted and hollered, and we rode the rest of the way down smiling having fun. UNTIL I did an endo!. 100m from the finish in a ditch. Sadly, it wasn’t captured well on film, but I basically was following a track that went straight down a dropoff into a ditch rather than the track next to it which had a clean path down and out of the ditch. Thankfully, no injuries were sustained, and we crossed the line.

At the Finish

When the dust settled and results were tallied, John and I finished off in 7th in our category and 11th overall, in a field of 40. Not podium material, but completely respectable, and still quite high in terms of number of CPs attained (we only skipped 1). After reflection, John decided that he got what he deserved, as he knows that you need to put the training in to do well, and he simply hadn’t been putting in the time to be a top contender. He also shared that he was used to being strong, and had hated the thought of slowing me down and/or holding me back. But while I would have liked to race harder and push myself to my limits, I was completely content to race the way we did. I accomplished my goal and spent my day in my ‘happy place’. What more can I ask for? It’s not always about winning. It’s about learning about yourself and about others, and savouring the experience.

As usual, the entire Raid Pulse crew put on a great event. Just the right size of event, with the right number of volunteers, and a well laid-out course. Thierry knows what he is doing, and I hope to be doing this event for another 10 years! Shortly after we finished however, storm clouds rolled in, and I suspect some racers may not share my fond memories, as they got caught in a torrential downpour on a very technical descent on mountain bikes! Yikes! Hopefully the rotisserie chicken meal at the awards ceremony made up for it!

Post Race Meal

Well, that wraps up my race report. If you haven’t done so already, please watch my race review below to get a sense of this race. Put it on your calendar for next year. If you’ve never done an AR event, this is one to try. With both a 2hr and 8hr option, there is no reason NOT to try it! That’s it for now. Stay tuned for my report from my first 50miler (80km) trail race of the season coming up next.

Racing Under a Million Tiny Lights

I know what you’ve probably all been thinking. ActiveSteve must have gone into hibernation due to the cold winter we’ve been having! Well, rest assured, that is most definitely not the case. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve been so busy between training, traveling, racing, magazing obligations, and getting settled into the new house, that there just hasn’t been enough time in the days to bang out the requisite blog posts. As such, I’m taking some time while on a business trip to Edmonton to try and bang out a whole pile of posts to put up. I now present you with the first of these posts, a tale about my participation in a snowshoe race at night in Upper Canada Village in early January. I was taking part and covering the event for Get Out There, so you can view the video at the end of this post.

Now, obviously, over the holidays, I didn’t get a whole lot of run training in, and with this race early in the year, I wasn’t sure if wanted to go whole hog and sign up for the 10k version of the race (there was a 1 loop 5k race, and a 2 loop 10k race). I decided that it would be more fun to redline the 5k race and hopefully have a better chance at filming the beautiful surroundings. After all, this race was called ‘Ignite the Night’ and featured the amazingly well lit-up Upper Canada Village. To attract people to the village, which is open most of the year, they had decided to string up what I think may have literally been a million coloured lights throughout the property. The effect was absolutely breathtaking. Well, that and the cold temperatures (which will be a main theme of this year’s winter roster).

I convinced Deanna to join me for the evening, seeing as it should prove to be quite nice. There was also a pretty decent contingent of racers from the Ottawa area, given that Cornwall is not all that long a drive, and conditions for driving were pretty decent. Snow cover was not stellar yet at that point in the season, but definitely enough snow for a race. The course itself started in the heart of the village at the big barn, and saw us sprinting through the main areas of the village. However, after the first kilometer or so, we veered off into open fields and closer to the St. Lawrence River.

Due to a surge in race-day registrations, the event start time ended up getting pushed back around 30 minutes or so, and there was a fair bit of confusion leading to people going in and out of the heated barn a few times before the actual start. Temperatures were cold, but bearable. What was not quite expected was the arctic blasts when we actually did hit the aforementioned open fields.

At the start line, I seeded myself near the front, but not at the very lead pack. I wasn’t sure how fast things would go, given that this was a pretty flat course, which definitely doesn’t favour me. I knew the speedy road running dudes would destroy me out there. So, when the start gun did finally go off, I did my level best to kick into high gear right away. Unfortunately, so did the fellow behind me. To the point that he actually ran onto my snowshoe, causing me to fall down, 20m from the start!! I was a little annoyed, and got an instant adrenaline rush, causing me to surge ahead, and catch [briefly] up to the leaders. I stayed up there a bit until it was clear I’d fade fast. Sure enough, on the first little climb, with the howling arctic winds blowing, I had to dial it back.

In spite of the slight slow in my pace, I still had a good clip, and was near anaerobic levels. I had a string of racers sitting on my heels, and didn’t know if I could hold them off. All I could do was keep turning over the legs and hoping for the best. I also wasn’t sure whether people behind me were in the 5k or 10k race, so I had no idea whether I was truly ‘racing’ them or not. Of course, none of that really matters. Your best bet is to simply give it your all and hope its enough. Sure enough, as the course made it’s way over the hills and through the fields, I was passed a few times.

I decided to basically coast in and try to get footage. Sadly, with the cold wind and gloved hands, I was having problems getting my camera gear to work properly, so I didn’t get too much actual race footage. What’s worse, is that with he fiddling with camera to get shots at the finish line, I ended up letting 2 other racers basically pass me for free within 300m of the finish, when I could have stayed ahead. Ultimately, I think that’s what kept me off the podium in the 5k race, where I think I finished in 5th when all was said and done. Regardless, I had registered just for the heck of it anyway, so there were no tears shed.

Deanna and a few other were at the finish cheering everyone on. I got right back into the race, now just following other racers and getting clips of runners in the lit-up village. I also back-tracked into the final 200m of the course, to make sure I caught and cheered on the winners of the 10k event. Several of the talented folks I train with managed to take the podium slots in both the male and female categories of the 10k. In fact, they crushed it! It was great to watch the winners come across the line. I don’t often get to see that on account of being out there myself.

After the race was done, it was back into the warm awaiting barn for a post race meal, the camaraderie with fellow competitors, and the awards ceremony. Spafford Health and Adventure puts on this race, and they always dig up some great sponsors and price swag. There were prizes for the top finishers as well as a good number of door prizes. We stayed around till the very end, enjoying the evening, before finally piling back into the car and making the journey home. All in all it was a great race put on by great folks. It was  little unfortunate that we had the late start, but the rest went smoothly. Personally, I prefer more varied terrain when racing, but the twinkling lights did make for a unique way to enjoy what would have otherwise just been a mental slog for me!

Now, if you haven’t done so yet, take the time to check out the race video I put together below! See you in the next report.

 The Video

Journey to Jamaica – The Story

Greetings race fans. Welcome back to another riveting race tale. This particular narrative comes from the sunny and warm skies found in Negril, Jamaica, where I have just come back from participating in the 14th annual Reggae Marathon. So how exactly did I find myself in Jamaica for a brief 4-day reprieve from the Canadian winter? And how did I do in this hot weather? Well read on for the answer to those questions and several more that you haven’t even been asking yourself!

A few months ago, a simple call out came via Get Out There Magazine, whom as you know I do work for now and again. The call was to see which reporters might be interested in covering this event for the magazine and product 3 videos for it. Even though I was just back to work after 2 months of time ‘off’, and in spite of the pending move AND trip to Belgium for the holidays, I simply couldn’t ignore the call. I threw my hat in the ring, and was lucky enough to get picked! So now you know how I ended up toeing the line down there.

As to how I might actually perform in the event, I had high hopes at the outset, but life got in the way, and by the time I was flying down there, I had to come to grips with the fact that this would likely not be a very impressive performance by me. I’ve been having some ankle issues, rolling it a fair bit in the late fall on leaf-strewn and dark trails at night. One in particular had been sidelined for a good 3 weeks. Then, just when I felt I was getting better, I headed out for a very short, innocuous trail run, and ended up rolling the same ankle THREE TIMES!!! This was a week before boarding a plane. To add ultimate insult to injury on race morning, on the warm-up, in the dark, I couldn’t see a drop-off on the side of the road, and ended up badly rolling my OTHER ankle, forcing me to let everyone else head off ahead before I felt I could at least hobble across the start line and start my own journey to the finish. More on that later.

Despite the poor lead-up, there was no way I wasn’t at least going to have a great time while down there! I was again almost sidetracked the day of my flight, as the plane was delayed so much that they re-booked me on the NEXT DAY! That would shorten my trip to less than 3 days. Luckily, some quick work on my part and sweet talking had the airline re-booking me on another airline and getting me I Montego Bay only about 30 minutes later than originally scheduled. Crisis averted. That put me on the ground in time to catch my transportation to Negril, but didn’t get me to my hotel until round 5:30pm on Thursday night, with the sun already setting. But still with enough light to exit the hotel grounds, find a grocery store, and grab some local cold beers to sample. Yum. No problem, right?

So began my whirlwind 3.5 day visit to Jamaica. The next day, I grabbed a cab to the registration area to meet up with the organizers and some of the other international media folks. I picked up my race kit and took in the surroundings. Gorgeous blue skies overhead. Temperatures hovering around 30, and pretty high humidity. Pretty reminiscent of the hottest summer days in Ottawa. You know, the kind of day you’d really rather NOT run a marathon in? Before dwelling on that too long, I piled onto a shuttle bus to whisk us off for a ‘tour’. Sadly, it didn’t work out that well for me First stop was supposed to be at a school to witness Jamaican high school kids in the middle of a track workout. I was looking forward to getting footage of this. Unfortunately, we arrived too late, and the workout was over. The majority of media folks were staying elsewhere and had arrived earlier and caught the fun. From there, we were supposed to go to Mayfield Falls, a nice natural place nestled in the hills and wilds of Jamaica. Unfortunately, once our largish bus got the road we planned to take, we were strongly encouraged not to even try. 4x4s were okay, and MAYBE smaller cars, but definitely not a bus. So another strike on the tour, which instead turned around and headed right back to where I’d started my day! In other words, my tour was about 3.5 hours of sitting on a bus going nowhere.

Oh well, I certainly wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff. We ended up at Cosmos, a restaurant right on the 7 mile beach in Negril, and spent the rest of the afternoon there, eating first, then having ‘free time’ on the beach. In other words, they just off-loaded us there, a mere 500m or so from registration. On the plus side, I was getting to know some really cool media folks who do this stuff for a living, and heard some pretty wild stories. In the end, a writer with the LA Times and I bargained with a resort dude to get our hands on one of those oversized aqua-tricycles you may have seen. We figured we could squeeze in a leg warm-up. Hilarity ensued, with the resort eventually sending a speedboat after us in a mere 30 minutes. I guess they weren’t used to seeing people actually trying to locomote somewhere on those things. I don’t know if they thought we were making a break for it or not, but they basically shepherded us back to the start point. Either way, we’d had a good time out there, and were ready to end our fun!

Next up, back to the registration area to attend the World’s Best Pasta Party. Unsure what to expect, I can honestly say it pretty much lived up to its self-aggrandizing name. There were probably 1300 or more racers and local in attendance, but that wasn’t a problem. There were a ton of unique pasta booths there, manned by many of the excellent chefs from the various resorts in Negril. I was blown away when I realized that each ‘booth’ had its own twist on pasta and fixings, so you could truly get massively gluttonous there. Knowing we’d have to get up at around 3am the next morning, I tried not to gorge myself too much. They also entertained us with an excellent steel band as well as circus-type performers including aerialists, contortionists, and fire jugglers. It was pretty spectacular. Oh, and did I mention there was beer too? Luckily, it wasn’t free for unlimited, so I was good (in fact, I had only 1 beer that day!). Soon enough I was back in a shuttle, and at my hotel by around 9pm.

Good thing too, as I had to get all my race and filming gear sorted before heading to sleep. I was getting up at 3am, eating at 3:30am, and picked up by 4am to catch a 4:30am shuttle bus to make the 5:15am start! That’s a whole lot of scheduling for a country that operates a bit on ‘island time’ isn’t it? Turns out, my 4am taxi also didn’t show up until 4:26am, stressing me out just a little! However, I made it just in time to do a little shooting, stash my gear in the media tent, and head out to the darkened roads for my fateful warm-up disaster. Given that I had already planned on a pretty slow running day, the rolled ankle confirmed it even more, and dare I say even cast doubt on my chances to finish. Luckily, the whole course was flat and fast, and was double out and back loop, which meant in theory I could easily pull out at the ¼, ½ or ¾ mark if I really had to. But you know me, I really had no intention of stopping no matter what. Having just finished reading ‘Born to Run’, I was tapping into my sheer fun of being there, pasted a non-fading smile on my face, and got busy with the task at hand.

At 5:15, it was still pitch black out, with the rapidly sinking full moon our main source of illumination. This was simultaneously exciting and terrifying, as I couldn’t see potential ankle busting potholes as I dodged around armies of walkers and shufflers taking on the 10k and ½ marathon course. You see, it is a free-for all at the start, with all distances starting at the exact same time. Owing to my warm-up mishap, I literally started at the very back of the pack, so as not to risk anything. However, I soon realized this was a pretty big mistake, as I was in the middle of the slowest-moving mass of humanity for the first 5k or so. You see, all these people seemed petrified of the dark and apparently were devoid of any desire to actually move quickly in this RACE. Oh well, no biggie, this way I was also guaranteeing myself that I would push too hard at the start!

Let’s just cut to the punch line now shall we? This marathon ended up being the absolute slowest I have EVER run in! I was even slower than my first ever marathon. Oh course, I have a myriad of excuses, so I’m not really disappointed at all. Amazingly, it still nabbed me something like 26th overall! Nuts, right? The first half was also my slowest ever at that distance, but what really killed me (and all others around me) was the fact that when the sun finally rose in the sky, the temperatures becoming unbearable, and running in that heat was a true slog, Looking a the stats though, it appears it didn’t hurt me as much as others, as I was consistently moving up the rankings with each subsequent checkpoint, passing people all along the way. In spite of that, when I did finally cross the finish line (as the first place media runner I might add ), I was overheating and beat. Not to mention that once the endorphins were switched off, the ankle pain kicked in nicely. Thank goodness for fresh coconut water and beers!

Another sad consequence of the early mass start was that although there were all sorts of things planned out for the finish area, but the time the marathoners were wrapping up, of which there were less than 200 of us, the party had already subsided. Most of the free ‘stuff’ was all gone, and most people had already buggered off to escape the heat and continue their day. After all, it was only around 9am!! I stayed around to cheer on more finishers, including the media types I had hung out with the day before. Then, I tucked in to my 2 free Red Stripe beers, and had a fresh coconut. Afterwards, it was back to the hotel to pick up the pieces of my day. With the 3am wake-up, the effort of the marathon, and my ankle issues, my day was pretty shot. I dozed in a hammock for a while, finally had a nice big lunch at around 1:30, then showered and continued to just relax and read magazines. I was BEAT. After a late-ish 7pm supper, I basically returned to my room and crashed around 9:30pm, after sorting my luggage for a pending room change in the morning.

To avoid any sort of disappointment on my final day, I planned NOTHING. I was just going to have a straight-up relaxing day drinking beers idly, swimming, exploring, and doing some filming. After breakfast, I changed rooms, and then did some ‘work’, ironically filming a gear review for some thermal gear in the 30 degree heat! From there, it was back to my favourite cliff jumping spot at my hotel, to do some filming there too and swimming. I cruised around in the water till I decided I’d had enough exercise (and seen the neighbouring resorts from the water). That meant it was time to enjoy beers. I later also scored some snorkeling gear, so I popped back in the water for another 40 minutes. Upon emerging, I met a group of 4 couples who had just arrived. I befriended them quickly enough, and by later that evening, we were drinking up a storm and playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’. It was a great ending to my short Jamaica Jaunt. I closed out the night by myself at the water’s edge watching the stars and moon playing games in the sky while listening to the restless ocean crashing into the cliffs below. I turned in at midnight, happy with the end of my trip. One Love indeed. Everything always ends up the way it should when you just let life happen.

As I type this, I am high above the ocean in a plane bound for Ottawa. Forecast is calling for 20-25cm of snow in the next few days, so thoughts of waxing my skis are top of mind, as is returning excitedly to our new home. Looking just a little further out, I also just realized Deanna and I really have to start a little bit of planning for our Belgian holiday coming up way too soon!! So till the holidays, I hope everyone is doing amazing and enjoying life to its fullest. Respect. See you all back on the ground! To close, below I’m embedding the three videos I pulled together as part of my coverage.

Video 1: The Preparation

Video 2: Around Negril

Video 3: The Race

Stranded in the Woods with No Passport

Welcome back readers! This past weekend I managed to kick off my adventure racing season in fine form at Raid Pulse, an 8 hour adventure race in Bowman, QC. I’m assuming most of you are familiar with this local race series, since I’ve been racing in them for years! At any rate, I was racing as a solo, and also filming for the magazine (See video below). When the results were all tallied up, I finished off in 3rd place in the solo category and 12th overall, in spite of not fully ‘clearing’ the course (but only the top 3 overall managed that feat!). It was a fantastic race, and allow me to fill you in on some of the details without boring you.

As the race was less than 90 minutes from home, I had the luxury of a decent nights’ sleep in my own bed, and a relatively unhurried drive to the start. The weather all week had been pretty wet, so we knew conditions would likely be muddy and have overflowing rivers, etc. However, on race day itself, in spite of a forecast of rain, we emerged completely unscathed. Temperatures were perfect, ranging from about 10-15 degrees Celsius, and there was only a bit of sun, so burning to a crisp or overheating wasn’t a concern.

Due to the fine weather and a pretty good hydration and nutrition strategy, I felt pretty good for the entire race. In retrospect, I should have drank more (only drank about 2.5L over the course of 7.5 hours), but due to the length, I managed. The whole point of this race was to work out the kinks in my gear and strategies leading into my LONGEST RACE EVER, which takes place under a month away at Untamed New England. That race will be 4+ days of non-stop racing, where I’ve taken the role of head co-ordinator and navigator! Pretty stressful entry point into expedition racing, but I’m looking forward to it. This short race was meant to be a sanity check that I knew what I was doing out there. The good news? I feel confident coming out of it. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, but little mistakes are easily covered up in a long race (as long as you catch them early enough).

So, as to the course itself? Well, even though we had the same race HQ as 2 previous events, the course was completely different. This time, we were starting in the water. The opening section was paddling combined with trekking. 3 regular checkpoints, and 3 ‘advanced’ checkpoints. The race was rogaine style, which meant each CP was assigned the same number of points (25), and you were ranked according to your finish time and accumulated points. The ‘advanced’ designation of some points was more to let beginners know that they might want to skip these CPs. Although the maps we got prior to the race had all the info marked on them, they did NOT include the final 2 advanced CPs, which could only be attempted if you were basically back at the finish area by the 7 hour mark. As mentioned, that was only 3 teams!

What I really liked about this race was that everyone had OPTIONS right off the start. On the paddle, it wasn’t just a case of following all the boats. For example, some teams went the OPPOSITE direction from the start in order to try a portage to CP1. Others paddled straight to it. Finally, there was the option that I (and maybe 8 other teams) took, which involved paddling straight to the furthest point in the paddle, and basically doing that section in reverse. By doing that I started with a longer paddle, then hopped from point to point on the way back (and picked up the trekking CPs). The paddling was pretty calm, with only a slight cross-wind / waves to contend with. One racer managed to flip even before the start, but once underway, everyone was fine in the water.

I ended up portaging a total of 3 times in the leg (adding the 3rd one at the last second). However, by portage, I mean ‘drag’ my boat. She’s a tough little plastic kayak, and I’m a wee lad. It was just easier that way. I had no problem finding any of the advance CPs in that section, and headed back to transition feeling pretty good.

On shore were probably 10-12 other boats already, but several of these were teams that skipped the advanced CPs, so it was impossible to tell where I was in the standings. I wasted FAR too much time trying to change socks and shoes (don’t try putting on compression socks with wet feet and tape on an ankle!). On the plus side, I left with very dry and warm feet, shoes and legs (put on tights as well). I didn’t change again for the rest of the race. In other words, I did all the trekking with my bike shoes on. They are the bomb for this sort of race, so if you are looking for an upgrade, I recommend the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek V Shoes highly.

The next section was a bike and trek section, with the trek simply consisting of grabbing a CP on a nearby summit before heading to the bike pickup. I chose to go straight up the hill rather than take a trail, which I believe helped me pass a couple teams. From there, straight to the bikes where I hopped on and pedaled off on the trails. From here, it was a seemingly straightforward point to point slog to the next transition. Or so it appeared on the map! Starting out, we had obvious, double-track road / trails to follow. However, at one point, all that changed, with the trail veering off into what looked like just the bush. Supposedly there was a ‘faint trail’ to a beaver dam to cross a marsh to the TA, but damned if I (and those around me) could find the right one. There seemed to be many ‘faint’ trails. In the end, I said ‘screw it’, and marched straight into the marsh carrying my bike. Slogged across it to the other side hoping to find the trail on the other side. That didn’t happen as planned either, and I essentially ended up bushwhacking with my bike to the TA. Luckily, I found it, but it was a struggle to carry the bike through the woods like that.

At the transition, I was told that none of the teams were coming out where they were expected, and none of them had very high praise for the last bit of that bike leg. So at least I was in good company in that respect. Again, there were a fair number of bikes already there, but no way to know my standing. I was told that with the advanced points, I was still near the top. Buoyed on by this, I unclipped my helmet, and dashed off towards the next section, which consisted of 2 advanced CPs and 3 regular CPs. I decided to head straight for the advanced.

I love ‘advanced’ sections, because it usually means true navigation, and taking bearings. When you’re on a bearing, you can’t mess up. It’s always the trails that screw me up. With that in mind, I took a bearing early on and took an approach to a mountain-top CP that had the gentlest approach. In no time, I hit it bang on. Felt great. Took a new bearing, and made my way to the 2nd advanced point. Unfortunately, at one point, I made the mistake of following a couple trails, so it took me longer to find than it should have. Either way, I grabbed it, and jogged (as best as possible in the woods) back towards the TA. Once there, I did a time check. It was already 3:15pm! I was surprised (I had forgotten my watch at home). No time to waste, I chugged a Boost, and headed out for the next 3 regular CPs. I got them all, but spent longer than I should have when I overshot the first one, not realizing that they were in a much tighter area than I thought.

However, that was where a minor disaster occurred. I realized I’d lost my passport! It had been tied around my neck, on a string, but one end had apparently untied, and passport slipped off SOMEWHERE in the bushwhack. I doubled back as best I could for a bit, searching for the white paper, but to no avail. I didn’t want to waste more than 15 minutes on it, so resorted to punching the map instead of the passport to prove I had visited the CPs. Once back at transition, I reported my loss to the marshals, proving I’d visited the CPs. They had also verified all my controls up to the final 3 regular CPs, so they signed the map attesting that I’d gotten all the controls. WHEW! That meant I was free to continue to the next leg.

I was now back on the bike, racing against the clock in the hopes of making the cut-off for the final 2 advanced CPs. However, it was looking dubious, as I only had an hour or less, and still had to pick up 2 other regular CPs AND bike all the way back to the start area. All I could do was try. This final bike leg took us once again on what I’ll call a ‘phantom trail’ to retrieve the final 2 regular CPs. It was actually a lot of fun, and they weren’t super hard to pick up, but I realized there was NO WAY I’d make it back by 5pm. As a result, I decided to just end the day strong, have fun out there, and take some nice video on the way.

On my ride back, I helped a few beginner teams with some route finding, and chatted with others about their day as I passed by them. Seems everyone generally had a good time, but lots of comments about the difficulties of some spots. All in all though, that’s precisely what I’d expect to hear. After all, it is ADVENTURE racing, not trail racing! We all had adventures out there. Rolling into the finish area, I was welcomed by lots of racers and volunteers. Lots of people milling about enjoying a cold beer and swapping stories. I found out that I was 3rd in the solo category, but didn’t even check my overall standings at the time. Frankly, it didn’t matter that much. I’d had a great day grinding it out in the trails, and was happy with my finish, and even happier to hear that James had snagged 1st place overall with a brilliant race.

Once gear was thrown hastily back into a bag and zipped up (to be dealt with the next day), and the bike and boat were secured to the car, it was time for the meal and awards. We had a tasty post-race feast of beef, veggies and rice, while watching a slideshow from the day and hearing a few stories from racers. Home by 9pm and enjoying a celebratory beer. All in all, a good day at the 2nd office. Now, I get to focus all my efforts on preparing for UNE in under a month. *gulp*. Stay tuned for many more stories from that!

In retrospect, and in looking at the various times, I realize I probably should have pressed on hard towards the end rather than cruising. My 12th overall could definitely have been improved on (especially if I hadn’t wasted 15 minutes searching for my passport). But the mental crush of losing the passport also made me slow down, as I felt I had ‘lost’ my speed. Oh well. Either way, I had a blast, and here’s the video to prove it:

Fighting to the Finish for Fifth

RP_Paddling the Boat

I truly am a big fan of alliteration. That, and palindromes. Although, I’ve always wondered why exactly the word palindrome itself isn’t a palindrome. But I digress. The point of this post is obviously to tell you all about my latest race, not of my grammatical proclivities :-). This time I’m writing about the May Raid Pulse race, an 8hr adventure race. Note I’m calling this an 8hr race, and not a 5-8hr race. Thierry, the race director, does an impressive job at ensuring most racers are out there for the full duration, so it does, in fact, end up being a solid 8 hour physical effort. For this race, I teamed up with the formidable James Galipeau, a seasoned multi-day international adventure racer, so you know we were planning to go for the win! I was also covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, which meant I’d have cameras in tow. With that in mind, there are of course a nice little folder of pictures to check out in flickr, as well as the full video review at the end of this post. Now read on for the exciting tale!

Pictures from the Event

One of the best parts about racing with a team is that you can split the tasks in a race. Most notable in this sort of race is that one person needs to be responsible for navigation, and the other can take care of things like checking for land features, punching the passport at the checkpoints, and in my case, doing some filming and narration as we go along. With that in mind, we decided that James would handle the navs for the race. He wanted the practice, and I was happy to oblige, as then I could blame him if we lost (or got lost). Ha ha. Kidding.

To avoid a painfully early morning drive out to the race venue, we both opted to camp at race HQ, and partake in the morning breakfast buffet on offer. Seemed a good way to spend $16. It also allowed us to get registered the night before and ensure all our team gear was sorted and ready to go. What we hadn’t counted on was how cold it got that night! Not below zero, but close. I was in my hammock, with no insulation underneath, so as the night wore on, I gradually moved from bag unzipped and in my underwear, to bag zipped, to bringing extra clothes into the bag with me, to putting on said clothes, to finally even wearing my jacket! Judging by the tossing and turning sounds from James little tent, I’d say he underwent a similar metamorphosis.

With the rough night, I think I only managed 2-3 hours of fitful sleep, not ideal conditions for getting ready to race for 8 hours, but no time to dwell on that. We fueled up with a good breakfast, dropped off our bikes and gear at the transition zones, and headed to race briefing, where we got our race maps and instructions, and got busy planning our route. Lucky for us, the cold of the night disappeared quickly enough, and we had a sunny warm day for the race itself. No complaints on that front! Racers assembled at the start for final instructions before taking off on foot at 10am for the first section.

Race Summary / Stats

Race Stats

The initial section was all trekking / orienteering, and consisted of a pretty good mix of terrain to deal with. The very first checkpoint was located high up at the summit of a nearby hill. We overshot slightly on the trails before heading off-trail to find it. However, we were pleased to learn we were in 3rd place when we finally grabbed it. From that point, it should have been a relatively straightforward WNW bearing to get CP2. Unfortunately for us, a slight navigational error had us heading on a more WSW trajectory. When you do that and traverse 1km of bush, it can add up to a pretty chunky time loss. In our case, hard to judge, but probably 30 minutes or so. This is NOT good in an 8hr race. We found ourselves smack-dab in the back of the mid-pack racers. Ugh. Time to put the game face on and push hard.

From that point, there were 2 more CPs to grab before the first transition. One of them involved a bit of a water crossing. Apparently, the previous evenings’ temperature left the air, but not the water. It was COLD. Especially when I stumbled on a submerged log and went almost completely under. Let’s just say there was shrinkage, and a desire to get out fast. Trouble is, this was semi-swampy, meaning very unsure footing. Regardless, we nabbed the CP and fought our way back onto solid ground. We made relatively quick work of CP4. We chose another ‘interesting’, if not inefficient routing to get from there to the transition, and as a result, still found ourselves in a position more than 30 minutes behind the 1st place team.

With little time to dwell on our current position, I put one of our bike trail maps on my bike map board, we grabbed some quick energy food, and took off in hot pursuit of the phantoms ahead of us (as they were out of sight). Lucky for us, it was nice gravel roads under the tires, and we hammered hard on the opening sections to make it to the start of the fun mountain bike section that was located on the trails at Velo MSM. We managed to make up a few positions on this section, with high hopes to nail the rest of the race course. On arrival at the marshal point at the start of the bike leg, we were shown the location of the ‘advanced’ checkpoints on the trails. There were 2 to find, both pretty easy to grab on the trails.

After copying the location onto our maps, we made our way onto the trails. What a treat! These are some amazing new trails that criss-cross the Mont St. Marie ski area. Well worth the drive up if you’re looking for a new mtb challenge close to Ottawa / Gatineau. Things in there went very smoothly EXCEPT for trying to find the stupid entrance to one of the trail sections we needed to get to. Lack of signs and confusing map illustrations complicated matters, and we lost a bit of time, although from what we gathered, we WERE NOT alone (and had a mini-train of riders with us at one point. Once we found the right trails, things were pretty straightforward. We made one big loop, ducking into the more technical trails to grab the advanced checkpoints.

All CPs gathered in the Velo MSM trails, it was time to head back out onto the gravel roads and make our way to the next ATV trail section on the bikes, and ultimately get to the next transition. This particular part of the bike course got rather interesting. By that, I mean kinda tricky. Lots of tough riding with downed trees, and debris on the trails. There were quite a few overgrown sections and bike walking sections. For us, we held hope that it would improve our standing, as we kept pushing hard. At one CP, we were told we were sitting 11th overall. We passed one other team on this section, meaning we were at least sitting in 10th. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that other teams had pretty rough times out there, with one friend going through all their spare tubes and patches and being forced to basically walk out of the woods. VERY rough go for them.

For our part, things weren’t great, but we kept moving forward. As you may recall, it had been 4 short days ago that I had a bad roll on my ankle, warranting x-rays. Although it hadn’t been broken, it was plenty tender, so I was wearing ankle braces. Due to the terrain, I found myself hitting the soft spots numerous times on rocks, trees, and even the bike frame. I had to really retreat to my pain cave to prevent from giving in to the misery of the moment. Luckily, good team-mates know when to talk it out and when to leave you be. James wisely let me suffer in silence, letting me dictate the pace and push as hard as I could.

To close out the bike section, we dropped our bikes off at one clearing, then had to trek about 1km along the waters edge to get to the paddling transition. Along the shore, we also had to grab a couple more checkpoints, but they were pretty obvious and easy to grab. No chance of errors there. Arriving at the paddle transition, luck was with us. There was one ‘fast, lightweight’ canoe left in the fleet, so we grabbed that quick. We also pulled another quick(ish) transition and had more Boost and grabbed more food from our stash. As well, we once again had to consult a supplementary map and sketch out 4 advanced checkpoints along the paddle section that we had to grab if we hoped to stay in the front pack of finishers. I took over navigation duties for this leg, as I was in the bow of the boat, which allowed James to handle steering duties while I’d check our course.

Timing was going to be tight, but we headed out on perfect waters and with full intentions of grabbing all the checkpoints. They had to be picked up more or less in order so the route was pretty much pre-determined. That is, up until the advanced CPs, which we could complete in any order. Here, there were a few options how to grab them, each involving different amounts of trekking or paddling, as they were located inland from different features. I made decisions on the fly as to how we’d attack them, and for the most part, things went pretty smoothly. Of course, things always look easier on a map than on foot, and I’m pretty sure one of the CPs was located a little further inland than intended. We still got it easily, it just meant more bushwhacking.

Time was of the essence, and we could now see that finishing in under 8 hours would be a pretty tough challenge. We calculated our average boat speed, and looked at the distance of the last inland checkpoint. We had to make the tough call of how hard to push before making the decision to turn back to get to the boat in order to make the time. In essence, each CP was worth 25 points. Those with all regular CPs AND advanced CPs are ranked ahead of others. HOWEVER, for each minute past 8hrs, you were deducted 1 point. We had to time it that IF we were late, we needed all CPs, and be there before 8hrs. 24mins. Happily, luck was on our side. The adrenaline of the final push helped us grab the final CP in very good time, and piling back into the canoe, we figured we had exactly enough time to make it by 8hrs.

Paddling our butts off for the last several kms, hitting the shore, and pulling the boat out, and we were still pushing hard. We had to run up a steep set of stairs and accross a grassy field to get to the official finish. As we crested the top of the stairs, we saw we had 3 minutes to spare! So, we ended up clearing the entire course, including the advanced CPs in under 8 hours. Whew! Sadly, we were a full 43 minutes behind 1st place! That dropped to 30 minutes behind 2nd and 3rd though, so overall, not THAT bad of a result 🙂

There may have been no prizing, honour, or glory in our final ranking, which was 5th in our category and 9th overall, but we still had a bang-up race. As is typical in AR, a couple little mistakes ended up costing us the podium. However, we still finished strongly, had a great race, and overcame physical and mental challenges to get there! I’ll take the rush of the event over the victory in most cases, since the podium is so elusive to us mortals anyway! Luckily, my next story MAY have a happier ending, but you’ll have to wait to read about that one.

As usual, the post-race feast and atmosphere was great, and we enjoyed catching up with all the other teams to hear about their days. Per usual, our story was neither unique nor that impressive compared to what some teams had to go through for their ‘victories’. That is probably the best part of this whole community. We can all relate to the successes and the failures of the sport and our own abilities. It is a humbling pursuit to take on these challenges. But as always, Thierry and the whole Raid Pulse delivered a great experience in spades. If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to watch the race video below to see some of the highlights. Until next time, play hard, and I hope to see you all out there!

Video Race Review