As many of you will know, I have a bit of a love / not-love relationship with mud / obstacle races like the Spartan Race / Tough Mudder / Mud Hero, etc. events. Firstly, I absolutely love the actual races. Running in the woods? Hopping over and under stuff. Risking life and limb while getting really dirty and possibly destroying whatever you wear? Sign me up! However, what I’m not a huge fan of is the chance of huge crowds trying to do the same thing at the same time! The line-ups are long, the race crowds are think, and traffic jams are inevitable. However, there are a few tricks if you plan to actually COMPETE there. First, sign up for the 1st wave (‘elite’ if they have it). Second, Toe the very front of the start line. Third, and obviously, arrive EARLY. With that, allow me to fill you all in on my experience at Mud Hero’s inaugural Ottawa event to kick off their 2013 season. I grabbed a few pictures, and also covered things for Get Out There Magazine, so yes, there is a video that will be embedded at the end. So with that, read on friends!
Pictures from the Event
So, you haven’t heard of Mud Hero? Well, allow me to introduce you to them. Put on by Crazy Canuck Adventures, Mud Hero is a born-in-Canada version of mud and obstacle racing. Started up by the same crew that for years has put on wildly successful mountain biking events in Ontario, they know how to organize and put on an event. Let me also answer the most asked question I’ve heard. “Is it like a Spartan race?”. Yes and no. Yes in that it is heaps of fun, and lots of like-minded people show up to race. No in that the crowd demographics are a bit different, and the race a bit more.. umm… accessible? You won’t find barbed wire, feats of strength, or baton-wielding madmen near the finish. No fire or ice either. Just lots of fun over, under, through obstacles, some water, slides, and yes, heaps of mud (especially for the later waves). From a demographics perspective, over 2/3rds of the participants were female, usually in teams and there for a fun time, grinning rather than grimacing at the obstacles. Does that paint a bit of the picture for you?
Given the pedigree of the organizers, I was pretty excited to tackle their race. Also, due to my performance in the other obstacle runs I’ve done, I requested a seeding in the first wave, to give me a fighting chance. Sporting only a light pair of running shorts, short socks, and a pair of trail runners, I was ready for the race. For the Ottawa event, there were over 1200 participants registered. Apparently, this is the smallest of their events! In Alberta, they have something like 12-14,000 racers! For these numbers, we were each placed in different waves, departing every 30 minutes, with each one comprising of about 250 racers. This spacing and number was pretty good, but as you’ll see by the video, it can’t do away with some clogging.
The silver lining was the course design. We were located at Commando Paintball, a nice big wooded area east of Ottawa near Navan. The overall distance was somewhere between 5 and 6 kilometers, and had about 20 obstacles in total. However, before hitting any of the bottleneck obstacles, there was a good kilometer or more of running. This allowed the naturally faster competitors to sort themselves out in a LeMans style and jockey for position. I showed up an hour before the first wave, and got prime parking and sorted my registration very quickly. Things were very well organized and I had lots of time to start taking establishing footage before I raced. There were already a pretty large number of people out, obviously excited at the prospect of getting covered in head to toe mud. Due to the layout and timing, I decided against wearing a camera on the race, and just return afterwards and film later waves. This was a good move.
Race Summary / Stats
The time came very soon for me to get crack-a-lackin’ on the race. I made my way to the very front, doing a quick assessment of my fellow competitors. Outwardly, there was no way to tell how things would go, but I felt quietly optimistic, and focused. A few final words, and the starting horn sounded. I left at a good clip, and bided my time a little at the front to see if I’d have to go completely red-line the whole way or not. On that opening run, I was at the front, but could hear footsteps behind me, and guessed there were at least 2 or 3 other racers hoping to challenge in this wave. Okay, jets on, looked like I’d have to use my agility in the obstacles.
I hit the first water crossing at top speed and used my lightness and fleet feet to get through fast. I could tell that was already working on my challengers, as they were a touch slower. I should note that one of my biggest concerns was the fact that this was a near pancake-flat course. I like big hills to help me distance myself, but that wouldn’t happen here. However, there were a couple well-placed steep little pitches of maybe 6-10m of elevation gain that helped. I hit the first one and scrambled hand and foot to the top on the dry dirt. So far so good. I was already opening my lead and feeling good. Time to put it on cruise control at 85-90% effort just in case I needed a burst.
After another couple little obstacles like running over crushed cars, it was into the ‘deep woods’. This was a ankle-risking trail running section that had no trails. Moss-covered roots, randoms water holes, etc. I liked it! I was quite careful to not roll my ankle but keep steady pressure on my pace. The course was extremely well taped. I’m guessing they went through several kilometers of plastic tape for this (no joke), as most of the course here was a ‘corridor’ of tape to corral you the right way. I was being cheered on intermittently by Sean Ruppel, one of the race directors, who was cutting the course to see how I was doing. Apparently I was holding a nice lead.
I continued to use the momentum and good conditions to hold the lead. Luckily, as first through, things were pretty dry and in good shape for all the obstacles. In the woods, I was able to find my footing in swamps, etc. by looking at the vegetation. I guess I picked up this skill from years of adventure racing and trying to find the ‘driest’ path in swamps. Either way, it kept me moving fast. It also helps when you don’t sink down as much in mud and bog as others. Once out of the woods, it was on to some more fun obstacles, including honest-to-goodness mud pits where you had to go under logs, tunnels leading to muck pools and followed by steep ascents, etc. It was amazing to go back later and see just how slick one part of the course became after 1,000 people got through it!
A few more woods, a few more obstacles, and I was on the home stretch, being cheered on my spectators. By then, my lead had grown to over a minute. I climbed up a the final ‘super hero’ cargo net, flopped down the other side, and made my way to the final mud pit at the finish line. I dove in, clawed my way through, emerged, rounded the bend, and crossed the finish in 1st for this wave, a full minute and a half ahead of the next fellow, in a time of 32:21. Of course, there remained the question of whether that time would last the day. After all, someone else could stomp out a faster time in a later wave and snatch my victory away! Luckily, the closest anyone else got was in the 5th wave, where one fellow finished a minute behind my time to secure 2nd overall.
So there I was, elevated to the highest rung of Mud-Hero-ness. My prize for winning overall? Nada. Zip. Zilch. What?? Yup, kinda sucked, as I win so rarely, it woulda been nice to get something for my victory. Ha ha. Truth be told, just the fact that I’d celebrated my 38th birthday the day before and managed to beat all these young whipper-snappers was probably prize enough for me. As I tweeted “38 and still kickin’ ass”. Also, with the many waves, an awards ceremony is kind of impractical, as I would have had to stay to the bitter end to collect any prizing. So reluctantly, I accept the glory as it’s own reward.
I spent the rest of my day out there shooting video, talking to fellow Mud Heros, and nervously keeping an eye on the finishing times of others coming in. At one point, I was asked what I thought the fastest time of the day would be by Sean. “Mine” I replied confidently. In addition to the ability to watch other racers at the finish line, there was also a big beer gardens set up near the final few obstacles. Each racer got one free Steamwhistle Beer, and the option to buy BBQ grub. A DJ was spinning tunes, and the mood was fun. There was also a ‘shower’ station set up near a lake. In essence, it was just a place where they pumped water from the lake out through a series of nozzles mounted on a frame. Rudimentary, yes, but effective at getting the mud off your body at the finish :-). We were also lucky to have the weather stay pretty clear during the race.
I left before the final waves finished, as I had previous commitments to get back to town (notably, a co-birthday party I had to attend, the perfect place to celebrate victory!). There was a bbq for the party, which was put in jeopardy when the skies decided to open up an unleash a watery fury upon us. It poured buckets, but the show went on anyway. With this race out of the way, next up was 350kms of cycling with Deanna in the Rideau Lakes Cycle tour. Stay tuned for more on that one! Till then, stay muddy (and thirsty) friends!
Hey all, sorry it’s taken me so long to put words to the page for this race report. No doubt most of you have already checked out my 3-part video review of the event, but as always, I also like to follow up with a proper blog post with some additional thoughts from me on the event. The main reason for my delay was an awesome 3-week vacation with Deanna in Switzerland that we just got back from. Although I had intended to do some writing while over there, I was truly more interested in hiking, wine, cheese, and chocolate than opening up a keyboard and typing ;-). Surely you can all understand. Regardless, I’m now back, and ready to fill you all in on this awesome weekend adventure that I took part in and also covered for Get Out There Magazine. Don’t forget to check out all the pictures I took as well.
Pictures from Event
The last time I took part in a multi-day pure mountain biking adventure was when Carl and I did the amazing BC Bike Race in British Columbia several years ago. I enjoyed this format of race, but couldn’t justify the cost and time commitments to do another week-long race in a far-flung place. Enter Crank the Shield, Eastern Canada’s only staged mountain bike race, that takes place in the Haliburton hills, which are well known for their excellent network of mountain biking trails. This race is only being put on every 2 years, and I had an opening in my race calendar, so I figured I’d sign on and do the full 3-day event. They also offered a 2-day option, but most of the people I knew were in it for the full event, and seeing as that is my normal modus operandi, I also did the same. As it turns out, this may in fact be the last time the race is actually put on (read on for that), so I definitely made the right call.
Although Carl was interested in taking part and racing with me once again, he had a bit of a scheduling conflict. In fact, a pretty big conflict. He was away on his honeymoon! Rather than try to dig up another teammate that I knew I’d be compatible with for the whole event, I decided to simply tackle this one solo. I’ve really been loving my new 29er bike, and figured this would be another opportunity to spend some quality time with it. After all, next year’s Leadville 100 will need me to be one with my steed, so the more saddle-time, the better.
The race itself was set up to allow racers to stay in the same location for both nights. We were starting on a Friday morning, and wrapping things up Sunday afternoon. Each day had us riding 65-80km on a wide range of different types of trails, including paved roads, gravel roads, ATV trails, ski trails, and purpose-built singletrack trails. They did a great job with the course design and ensuring that we had a variety of riding on each day, and not too many extended road sections, which tend to take the fun out of a ‘mountain bike’ race. For the overnighting, we were staying at Camp White Pine, which is a summer camp not far fro Haliburton Ontario. In that regard, the atmosphere truly was like being at a summer camp, albeit one with draft beer in kegs available au gratis at the end of each day!
We had a mixed bag of weather over our 3 day adventure. Unfortunately, things started out wet. Real wet. It poured rain pretty much the entire first day of the event. What did that mean for us? Well, cold, wet, and totally trashed bikes at the end of that first day. The drivetrains on pretty much everyone’s bikes was completely mucked up at the finish. Luckily, there was a great bicycle washing station to clean and tune up the bikes at the end of the day. Sadly, as it was still pouring rain at the end of Day 1, most people just chose to give their bikes a courtesy rinse at the cleaning station, and instead focus on cleaning themselves up. Warm showers almost never felt so good (although they’re still even better after a 48hr adventure race!).
As to the food on offer, this was also included in the price of admission. The fare was typical summer camp food for this area I suppose, and was actually quite good (and very plentiful). There was really no reason why anyone should go hungry at this event. The deserts were also quite excellent, and I would have happily eaten 3 plates of just deserts at each meal. Get it? Just deserts? Never mind 😉
What really makes this event so great is the atmosphere. Much like adventure racing, the mountain biking community is also pretty tight knit. A lot of people there knew each other, and there were plenty of inside jokes going around. I knew probably half a dozen other riders, so at least I wasn’t completely off in my own world! I ended up bunking in one cabin with most of the people I knew, as well as a slew of other people from the Ottawa region. It was great fun, and having people to commiserate with at the end of the long days and swap war stories with was awesome. The race organizers also did a good job of creating the right atmosphere. Each night after the meal, there would be an awards presentation for the days’ winners, as well as a preview of the next days’ riding, complete with hilariously narrated commentary by slightly tipsy course designers.
Day 1 Ride Summary
Day 1 Video Review
As mentioned, day 1 was wet. We started at the Haliburton Forest and Game reserve, and made our way to Camp White Pine. Much of this day was on ATV trails and singletrack, which was made pretty messy by the rain. We traversed a section known as powerline, which took us through a water crossing as well. There were two aid stations and they were both placed at pretty perfect locations. I was just about at the end of my rope and really needing a break when they appeared. I rode pretty much as I hoped, and the bike worked well. Well, apart from that damn flat tire I got in the last few kilometers. My tubeless sealant didn’t seem to want to work well in the wet conditions, especially given the spot where I punctured, but eventually I got things to stick.
Day 2 Ride Summary
Day 2 Video Review
The second day, things went much better weather-wise. We all got up pretty early in order to do some work on our bikes, which were in various states of non-working-ness. For my part, the front derailleur was acting up, even though I’d put on brand new cables and housings leading up to this race. I double checked the seal on my tire, and was satisfied that the bike should actually ride okay. Today’s riding took us on a range of trails all around the Camp White Pine area, and finishing back where we started from. The overall race course distance was shorter than I expected, but that was due to the neutral ride to and from the start line which was on the road and that they chose not to make part of the ‘race’. It was a rocking good day out there on the trails, and I had a lot of fun riding with a group of other riders that were in the same skill level as me. Best part of the day? Finishing in the sun, and hanging out in the sun with tasty beers in hand!
Day 3 Ride Summary
Day 3 Video Review
Before we knew it, the race was almost over! Only one more day of riding. The temperatures on night 2 dropped pretty low. We actually had a frost warning, so getting up from our sleeping bags into a non-insulated cabin and trying to get ready for the day was a bit of a challenge! Luckily, the sun was shining bright again. The start of this day involved a 15km neutral ride to Sir Sam’s Ski Hill. Arriving there, I was FROZEN! I couldn’t even feel my hands or toes. Luckily, there was a bit of time to warm up before the start, which was all uphill. After the climb, we had some amazing trails to ride back down and around the ski hill. Unfortunately, I lost my GoPro up there at some point, but was later reunited with it at the finish (whew). As a result, the rest of the day I had to shoot with my other camera, causing me to have to stop and start a fair bit. However, due to her team-mate having to bail on stage 3, I was fortunate enough to ride with and have the company of the fast and furious Tanya Hanham, so we rode together for a long chunk of day 3. That lady can ride hard!
Arriving at the finish line, we were again greeted by sunshine, and a great spread of food with all the racers hanging out watching as people finished off their journeys. Those at the front of the race included olympic riders and other pro-calibre riders. They of course finished each day hours ahead of me, but I’m betting that I got to stop and smell the roses a little more than they did, and just maybe enjoyed the course even more than them!
All in all, we had a great time up in the trails and woods riding hard for 3 days. I love taking part in races and events that I’ve heard about but never had the opportunity to try out. I am pretty sad to learn that this race is unlikely to happen again, as I truly enjoyed the 3-day staged format. It’s nice to have an event like this put on not too far from home, as the other options generally involve flying to the other coast! This was also a great chance for me to spend more time on my new mountain bike, and the more I ride it, the more I love it. Yes, I did have a few issues in the 3 days, but the conditions were pretty trying, so that’s to be expected. However, the race director was moving on to other things (namely his role in the Mud Hero events), and with registration numbers being comparatively low, he declared himself to have ‘sold out’ and probably wouldn’t put Crank on again. There were a number of protests from the crowd, and one half of the organizing duo is still interested, so I wouldn’t completely rule it out.
After this event, I was off on a hiatus of sorts. I’ve got some mountains to climb in Switzerland, and some relaxing to do before the winter season is upon us. I’ve got a couple other little events planned (including a ½ marathon in Switzerland with Deanna) for the late fall, but after that, pray for snow! Sorry for the lateness of this post, but at least I got it down on virtual paper now :-). Until next time, stay active out there people!
Off the top, no, the power napper was not me. However, this was going to be absolutely necessary to ensure finishing the race as a TEAM. That, my dear friends, is what adventure racing is all about. Doing the right things at the right times as a TEAM in order to get to the finish line. Of course, I’m reporting to you all on the 2012 Wilderness Traverse Race. This is the 3rd time the race takes place, and the 3rd time I participate. Also, for the third year running, I ended up racing with a completely different team. I figure as long as I keep racing with new people, I’ll eventually get ‘called up to the majors’, right? Every race more than 24 hours is a unique challenge. This one would prove so more from a mental standpoint than a physical one, but more on that later. This year, I was invited to race on a a variant of Team Spirit, a team that has been around since nearly the dawn of AR! Two of my team-mates (Dave Hitchon and Mike Popik) have reams of experience on the international, expedition-length circuit (think Eco-Challenge, Primal Quest, etc.). The third member was actually the 16-year old son (Will Hitchon) of our captain. I was also covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, and it seemed like it would make a pretty cool video to follow this rookie in his bid to complete his first ‘overnighter’. This was so true, that I ended up making it a 3-part video (See Part I, Part II, and Part III). I also took loads of pictures on course. Now read on for all the gory details!
Wilderness Traverse is designed in the classic mold of a true wilderness adventure race. There are lots of route challenges, tough terrain, remote locations, and the need to be self-sufficient for long stretches of the race. That is probably why those who take part always say they’ll be back, no matter their result in the race. Each year is a new challenge, and is exactly what we’re looking for. I’ve got to admit this is the one race that each year I not only dread, but look forward to the most. I’m always worried I might not be ‘good enough’, but in retrospect love every single minute of suffering. It’s truly good for the soul in my opinion. This year was no different and I have the race organizer and my great team to thank for it. Without further ado, let’s just jump right into the race, shall we?
Pictures from the Race
This year’s course would be split into 6 individual legs, and I’ll go over them one at a time. First up was an opening 25km paddle, followed by 25-30km trek. Rolling on next was the 30-35km moutain bike leg. From here, there was a divergence. Those who made it to a certain point before the time cutoff of 1am switched to another 20-25km trek, followed by another 20-25km bike, capped off with a 6k paddle. On the other side of the coin, teams missing the cutoff were to continue on bikes on a shortened (although no less challenging) course which increased the overall biking leg, and truncated the 2nd trek and bike legs, and once again capped off the race with the same 6km paddle. Teams had up to 30hours to complete the entire event to be officially ranked. Maps were distributed and routes chosen the night before the race. 6am saw us all at a pancake breakfast before boarding buses to get to the remote start. Our team actually had ‘local advantage’ as Dave’s cottage is in the area and had plenty of knowledge of much of the course. So much so that he had ‘guessed’ some of the course and even stashed a ‘care package’ on the assumed course for our consumption later. Did he guess right and did we get the package? Well, read on and find out!
Opening Paddle Section
The opening challenge started with a 2km running start, with all our paddling gear, to awaiting boats. There were some kevlar boats, and other royalex models. The allure of a lighter boat meant people were eager to run fast. To those ends, Mike and I took the lead for our team and stayed a bit ahead of the other two. It was all for naught though, and we ended up with two identical royalex craft. Oh well, no big deal for me, as we had agreed Mike and Dave would hand portaging duties while Will and I carried the gear (and I fulfilled my ‘media’ duties). We took a few minutes of fiddling to get our ‘paddling strap’ set-ups working (these help to brace you as you paddle on long distances). The weather was absolutely perfect and the lake was beautiful. We were already mid-pack, but that was no problem for us at all.
Over the course of the next 25km, we paddled a nice network of lakes, estuaries, swampy bits, and rivers. These were separated by the obligatory portages, both long and short. The shortest being maybe 35m, and the longest being 750m or so. We were also faced later in the paddle with a seemingly endless supply of beaver dams. These required constant getting in and out of the boats just to pull if over the obstacle, hop back in, and paddle off. We got pretty efficient at it. At one point, Mike and I tried a jumping move to clear a dam. Well, my end got over, leaving the boat balancing on the dam as we hear snapping. Luckily, it was branches, not the boat, but we decided that may not be the best approach!
For the entire paddle, there were only 2CPs. For the first one, we actually beat the volunteers, so there was nothing to punch. Instead, we just hit the ‘ok’ button on our Spot tracker (as instructed at the briefing) and carried on. The 2nd CP is where the first problem arose. Mike had the CP punch, and tossed it up to me. I hopped out, punched the CP then clipped the punch to my PFD while running around the next obstacle in order to hop back into the awaiting canoe. No problem, right? Well, much later in the paddle, after countless dams and swampy paddle sections, I realized I had somehow lost the punch, and the attached compass. The compass loss was no big deal, as it was our backup anyway, but the loss of the SI chip meant both a monetary charge, and the fact that we now had no SI!! The team, although gently ribbing me the entire rest of the race, was gracious about the loss, and luckily, at the next CP, which was also a TA, the organization was actually able to issue a replacement SI chip. Talk about a lucky break! We’d finished the opening paddle in 10th or 11th place, and were now set to tackle the first big trek.
First Big Trek
After our paddle, we were roughly 30mins – 1hr ahead of our predicted schedule. Normally, you want to have really quick transitions. However, with a long trek ahead, and not wanting to forget anything or push Will too hard, we had a more relaxed transition. As a result, I changed every bit of clothing except for my shirt, so I was starting totally fresh. What a nice feeling. We set off with high spirits and feeling good. The first few kms were on a gravel road, giving us time to eat lots and jog a bit before heading into the tougher stuff. We were getting along well as a team and feeling good about our placing. Dave was our navigator, and alhtough we asked occasional questions and consulted the map with him a few times, we pretty much completely relied on his decision making, which made it even more relaxing from my perspective for this race.
If I had to rank or typify this trekking leg, I’d say it was a medium challenge. I’ve seen much tougher treks, but it was also no cakewalk. As far as elevation gain / loss, it definitely wasn’t all that difficult. It was rolling, but not mountainous by any stretch. Also, much of the woods were fairly easy to push through. There were only a few really gnarly alder-choked bits, and they were blessedly short. Dave had purposely chosen a route to the first CP which caught more ‘obvious’ features, making it easier than a straight bushwhack over really swampy areas. However, don’t get me wrong. There were still plenty of swamps, bogs, lakes, and rivers to cross. We’d been told to expect getting wet, as at a minimum there was a 100m mandatory river crossing.
One particularly nasty crossing involved ‘swimming’ through a swamp. Emerging from the far end, I was covered in nasty swamp juice. However, I’d adopted a new tactic with the knowledge of multiple crossings. I’d brought a big dry bag with me. At each crossing, I’d take off my gloves, hat, sunglasses, and shirt, and stuff these, along with my race bag, into the dry bag. Extra air was left in, the top sealed and presto! I had a buoyancy bag with me, and dry clothes in it. Surprisingly, this really didn’t take much time, and I think from now on, I’ll always do this. I don’t mind the wet shoes and tights, but having a dry top at the far end always makes me feel better! In one surprising twist, Mike came accross a secret grow-op near a swamp. Middle of nowhere, covered in chicken wire to keep animals away. However, there were no buds, so no, we didn’t ‘harvest’ anything 🙂 I will not reveal the location for fear of retalliation or incrimination!
For the most part, the trek was uneventful, and we kept a steady pace. We stopped at one point for a short while so that Dave could address a bad heel blister that had already popped and was causing discomfort. At the same time, I decided to address some early chafing on my hips with some taping. Preventative maintenance is one of the most important things in a long race. Small niggles soon become major issues as you get tired and things get worse. We dropped back from 11th to 16th at one CP, but by the end of the trek, were apparently back in 10th. Solid performance all in all, and we were still ahead of our schedule as we did the final swim across a river (at fear of being hit by a boat!) and jog to the transition to bikes. It was still light out, and we had another leisurely transition tending to all our needs. Time in transition was pegged at 22mins., but we knew we’d have a long, chilly ride in the dark ahead of us.
First Mountain Bike Leg
With the opening paddle and trek out of the way, it was time to hit the bikes. Little did we know this would be a very long ride, with darkness, dampness, cold, sleepmonsters, and just when we thought it would be over, the news that we’d be riding even longer. Yup, as luck would have it, we ended up taking the short course option due to missing a time cutoff, which is what the picture above shows. We started the bike in good position and quite pleased, but things did deteriorate, and we had no choice but to slow (and even stop many times) the pace to take care of the team. In our race, this was truly the ‘test’ and the ‘crux’. I’ve been feeling pretty strong on AR bike courses of late, so I was pretty optimistic until the deep of the night descended.
It is worth giving an overview of the biking. While we did start on a road, we quickly moved off into the ATV / Snowmobile trails that pepper the entire area. Dave was on the maps, and I had our only working bike computer, so was responsible for keeping an eye on distance so that we knew when to look for trails / routes, etc. Luckily, this worked perfectly, and I’m happy to say that our actual route-finding was flawless. It was truly more a matter of the terrain and tiredness overtaking us (or rather, poor Will specifically). With each passing minute, we could only joke that this was the longest time Will had ever been on a racecourse or awake racing. The terrain? Horrendous for much of the bike. The trails were rife with bike-swallowing ruts and extremely gummy mud. We suffered several mechanical issues due to this mud, not to mention our lightweight bikes gaining several pounds in caked mud! Things were complicated by the fact that just as we hit these trails, we lost most of our daylight and had to rely on lights. This made it more difficult to spot the ‘cheat routes’ around the big mud pits, and left us more often then no ankle-deep in mud walking. The drought of earlier in the summer was slightly erased by lots of rain in the past 2 weeks, just enough to cause all this carnage!
This extra work was taking it’s toll on Will, and by 10:39pm (yep, I looked at my watch) he finally needed his first ‘power nap’. I really didn’t know what to say. This seemed pretty early to need a rest for anyone, but you could immediately see by looking at him that this was needed. We gave him a quick 10 minute nap while we ate and consulted maps, etc. The other side-effect of this tiredness was that we were forced to walk quite a bit more, as he simply couldn’t bike upright! This was the first sign that we might miss the cutoff. However, when he got back up, we pressed on, and I hoped he felt a bit refreshed. To improve things, we even popped out on a road momentarily, which is when I had a big mechanical issue. Chain suck caused by entire chain to figure 8 around the chainrings, requiring some work. Dave went ahead and got Will down for another nap while I worked on the bike. Another 15 minutes lost, as after I fixed the chain, we took the time to clean our drivetrains and re-lube to avoid more issues while Will slept.
Back on the trail, trying to press on, but not 20-30 minutes later, the wheels completely fell off Will (figuratively!). We knew he needed a real sleep, so Dave decided we’d need to give him at least 30minutes. This is when the mental game kicked in. I had expected a slowish pace, but these repeated stops and constant walking where we could be riding were hard to deal with mentally. THere was no way Mike and I were going to nap, as that would just kill any and all drive and momentum. So instead, we went up ahead and just cleaned our bikes and sat around telling stories about past races and commiserating over this unique ‘challenge’. It was obvious we wouldn’t get to do the full course, but even worse was that I feared we’d have to decide on the entire fate of our race sooner rather than later. The one saving grace here is that we had absolutely no choice but to press on to the next TA, as we were in the middle of nowhere, and were not in any danger, just sleepy. We knew Dave was also uncertain how things might play out, so one option was also that at that TA, the 3 of us would go on and Will would head back to HQ.
The other challenging part was that when Will was awake and talking, his personal outlook and attitude was rather defeatest, which unfortunately was also making it hard to keep up a good outlook and strong team morale. I really hoped he’d bounce back, as I didn’t want to have a bad memory of the race. It’s really amazing the stuff you can go through in a race of this type out there. We are all stripped to our basest emotional reactions, and you can really learn a lot about your fellow person in those situations. Luckily, it was easy to see that Mike and Dave were kindred spirits on this. The three of us had enough race experience to see all this for what it was, a rookie’s tough first race. We all wanted to see him finish.
Once we got him back up, things started to get a bit better. We still walked a bit, but he was also being encouraged to ride a bit. I think the TSN turning point was actually when I took a nasty endo on some rocks. I went over HARD, slid along a rock, and had my bike crash on top of me. Mike stopped to wait with me while I shook it off, and we told Dave and Will to press on and that we’d catch up. When we finally took off after them, it took a LONG time to catch up. Will was slowly but surely catching a second wind, and this was an exciting moment in the race. Arriving at the next CP, we were of course well past the cutoff, and knew that meant we’d have to keep biking on the shit trails. Whereas initially Will may have been very tempted to pull the plug, he pulled something deep from inside his own suitcase of courage, and stated to his mom who was there that he’d go on with us and finish. Yup. Even though I barely knew him, I was proud of his comeback. That’s why we were team “Spirit”. We took our time getting fed and putting on warm dry clothes, and inevitably re-mounted our bikes for the next biking leg.
Here’s the ironic bit of the final bike section. While heading out, we were told the weather forecast called for no rain, but some isolated showers. Isolated indeed. We got absolutely drenched by a sustained rain shower along this horrible trail. These isolated showers were apparently ‘isolated’ right above our heads. Also at about this time, Mike and I were both down to almost no light as our batteries had either died (in my case) or were nearly dead an throwing out minimal light. However, the silver lining to this section is that while we had been passed by several teams on that last leg, we actually passed by at least 3 teams on this section, and were gaining on others! Yup, we were back, and Will was doing a great job biking on now! It was totally awesome to see!
We finished off this section by pulling into the final TA just as the sun was starting to come up. The rain had stopped, we were all still warm, and knew that all the lay between us and the finish was a mere 6km paddle. There was even still a team there getting set up for the paddle. Whereas we could have pushed here though, we really didn’t care much, and took our time. Especially since this was where our ‘special drop’ was hidden. Will and I retrieved a taped up styrofoam mini-cooler to take with us to the final portage to the finish line. On to the final paddle…
Final Paddle to the Finish
Watching the mist on the lake as the sun just starting making its presence known in the early morning was a great way to start the final leg. That had truly felt like a really long epic night, filled with physical and mental challenges. I’m happy to say that for my part, I still felt at about 95%. I’m generally good for about 40-42hrs before I get wonky, so there was no problem at all for me. Also, my nutrition had worked well, with my legs, arms, and all muscles still feeling ready for the battle. No cramping at all, and I stayed warm all night. I’m really pleased with how I feel these days in longer races. I’ve come a long way from my first DNF 10 years ago!
Once we’d fiddled with our strap system once again, and got ourselves settled in the boats, we took to the water and paddled at a steady, if not slightly leisurely paddle across the calm waters. We could see 2 other teams in the distance, but felt no need to really push. Had we been interested in that, we could have just jumped in the boats and paddled off right away, rather than getting our package and fiddling with straps. Honestly, gaining a place or 2 really wouldn’t have added to the experience (other than to say “Top 10”).
The paddle was completely uneventful, and we just enjoyed it, chatting amongst ourselves and reflecting on the great times we’d had over the past 23+ hours. When we finally got to the pull-out, we once again took our time. In this case, it was to finally open our package, which was 4 iced Heineken cans to crack open. We had a nice team moment at the waters edge. Cheers all around, cracked them open and had a few swigs (except for Will, after all, he’s underage!). Canoes planted back on their heads, Mike and Dave started the final 200-300m portage to the finish, beers in hand. It was very quiet at the HQ, with just a few people there to greet us, but it did include both Bob and Barb who congratulated us on the finish. And with that, the race was over, and there was nothing more to do than drop the gear, and contemplate a nap. We finished in just under 24 hours. It was good enough for 12th overall, and 5th in the short course group. Huzzah!
And that, my friends, is pretty much it for the race. Once we stopped celebrating (it was fairly short lived after 24hrs racing), I dropped my gear bag, headed to the car and grabbed my sleeping bag and pad. Piled into the community center and took the stage with fellow racers to indulge in a nap. It was a fitful 1-2hrs of rest before getting up to start sorting through wet stinky gear in the team bins. By around noon, we headed over to the Legion for a nice BBQ lunch, then the final awards ceremony, where stories were told, prizes were handed out, and winners were acknowledged. Pentathlon des Neiges won for the 2nd year in a row, making them the first defending champions. They had managed to complete the entire course in under 19.5 hours! Amazing, and inspiring! As for me, I’ve actually oddly got the next 3 weekends off (although fully booked!) before tackling the 3-day Crank the Shield mountain bike race. Good thing I have the time, seeing as I have a bit of fixing to do on the ole bike! Till then, have fun all!
They say everyone has a doppelganger somewhere in the world. Well, apparently, I may have inadvertently crossed paths with my ‘sporting’ doppelganger at the recent inaugural Muskoka Grind Off-Road Tri. You see, I finished this race in 4th place in my category, a mere 1m14s off the podium. Okay, 1:14 isn’t that close in a 2.5hr race, right? Well, it get’s interesting event by event. For the swim, this fellow was a mere 3 seconds faster. The bike? He was only 16 seconds faster. And the run? Well, I took that one by 16 seconds! So in reality, our moving time was only 3 seconds different!! However, where I lost time was in transition, and with good reason. I had to get cameras mounted and ready for the bike and run, since I was on-site covering the event for Get Out There Magazine. As a result, I once again have a nice race video and some pictures to share with you all. Read on for the whole story about this well-run race at the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve.
Pictures from the Race
Regardless of how the event turned out, I must say that I have once again found a gem of a place in Ontario. The Limberlost Reserve is a really nice place for trail running, hiking, paddling, and biking. While it is privately owned, and there are active forestry operations there, it is also a reserve with over 70km of trails that are free to use by anyone (although donations are appreciated). This place is just east of Huntsville on the 60, and in all my trips in that area, this is the first time I’ve set foot there. Apparently they also host a great trail running ultra that I may have to look into!
The idea of doing an off-road tri was right up my alley. It combines two of my favourite sports, triathlons, and being off the pavement 🙂 The last time I took part in one was in Calabogie way back in 2006 (read my report here). I’ve done a lot more racing since then, but apparently, I’m still a 4th-place type finisher :-). At any rate, for this race, Deanna and I opted to camp once again in Calabogie at Jim’s place Friday night before and Sunday night. That left a drive from Calabogie to Huntsville on Saturday, and staying with family friends in the area, which was fortuitous, as while Friday and Sunday nights had good weather, it poured buckets in Huntsville on Saturday! Now on to the race.
We got up on Sunday morning with trepidation. Forecast had called for 100% chance of showers this morning. We had pre-rode the bike course Saturday in the blazing sun, and while an amazingly fun course, it would definitely be ratcheted up in difficulty level with heavy rain. Luckily, it was NOT raining, merely overcast, and the forecast had actually dropped down to like 20-30% chance of rain. Lightening was also a risk, which could really mess up the plans by the RD. He couldn’t have people in the water if there was lightening. Again, so far so good, and at the race site, things looked relatively calm.
I got my gear together in my transition area, and headed off to get my body marking done. Deanna offered to help by taking some video for me while I was out for the swim, and I also planned to film the bike course with my GoPro on the handlebars, and carry another camera with me on the run. We were slated for an 8am start, and that went off without a hitch. The swim course was a double loop. 200m out, 100m across, 200m back, around a buoy in knee-high water, then out for a 2nd loop. What can I say? It was uneventful. I gave it a good push and came out of the 1km course in under 18 minutes, good enough for 13th. Happy with that, I trotted off to transition to get out on the bike.
I took a few minutes in transition fiddling with the camera on my bike, as well as getting all my gear on and smiling for a quick photo before heading to the mount line. As a result of pre-riding the course the day before (2 full loops), I knew what I’d be up against. The trails are actually designed for hiking, so there are no flowy berms to follow on turns in the woods. Often, there were sharp turns with rocks lurking just out of sight. Being aware of some of those would definitely prove valuable to me, as with the overnight rain, things were much slicker than the day before. The trail was immensely enjoyable, and I found a pretty good groove on the pedals. Of course, I know I’m not a world-class mountain biker, so it didn’t take long for Mike Abraham to catch and pass me on lap 1. We were having another of our unspoken battles for supremacy on a racecourse :-). My only hope would lie on the run.
In addition to the sharp turns, there was actually a mandatory dismount section where there were rock steps taking participants down a steep section. I had ridden it the day before, but can confirm they made the right call to make this a walk section. I suspect several people would have gone down and possibly gotten injured otherwise. I stayed focused the entire 2 laps, and don’t think I lost too much time on lap 2, as I kept a steady output. I managed to pass a few people, and was only passed myself 2-3 times. Heading back to the transition, I had the 17th fastest bike split, but looking at the numbers, I had unfortunately lost 9 minutes to Mike, who is a very strong mountain bike. That was a huge deficit to try and overcome in an 8km run! But at the time I had no idea where I stood. Off to the run!
Okay, with the bike out of the way, it was time to tackle my strong suit, the run. I tried a quick transition, and was just running out of the t-zone when I realized I’d forgotten my hydration belt. Given the heat and terrain challenges, I had opted to wear a hydration belt. In retrospect, I regret the choice. Not only did I lost time doubling back to grab it, but the damn thing was bouncing around a fair bit and kept rotating on my torso. Although it meant I could just run by the aid stations, I think it was more trouble than it was worth and led to some lost time. But I digress.
The run consisted of a single scenic 8.6km loop around a lake. The trail was properly challenging in spots, with lots of roots and rocks to navigate. Although it was relatively flat overall, there was one moderate climb at about the mid-point. I focused on a steady, near-redline pace that I hoped would catch me up to Mike (and all others ahead of me). My efforts were rewarded in the form of passing 6 people on this run, but never even catching sight of the mighty Mike. I also got an additional reward towards the end of the loop in the form of a severe left hamstring cramp. I had just passed a fellow, but then had to reduce speed to a limp (as well as totally stop to massage it out) for a good 200m. Dang!
Luckily, I kept this competitor behind me, and managed a little finishing kick when he tried to pass me coming into the finishing 100m of the course. I didn’t like doing it, but I pushed hard to get to the line and keep my spot. Of course, then I found out he was in the duathlon, and hence a different race! Ha ha ha. Either way, the push felt good, and I finished the race quite exhausted and knowing I had put pretty much my all into this. I had the 5th fastest run split, and had put 4.5 minutes on Mike, but in the end, that gave him victory by 4 minutes. Well played Mike! I knew the race would be won or lost on the bike course, by far the longest and hardest part of the race. Overall though, I was very happy with my performance.
All in all, a great day at the office for me. The race was excellent through to the end, where an amazing post-race spread of food was on offer for racers, all catered by local businesses. That included a tasty post-race beer from Muskoka Brewery. Yum! As we packed up and headed out, the rain finally made an appearance. So basically, the entire event had a bubble of good weather for us. Nice. I’d be back in the area in 2 weeks for a 30 hour adventure race, and till then, just training, and volunteering at another race. The summer race season is winding down kids, but stay tuned for a few more reports from cool events!
Looking back on my various race and event results, I have now been a pretty physically active fellow for almost exactly 10 years. I have done countless events of every type and description. Short 5k runs, up to 7-day major international events. I’ve done grass-roots style events and slick corporate-backed mega-events like the Boston Marathon. They all have one thing in common. Registration and kit pick-ups. This is sort of the ‘welcome mat’ to an event, and sets the tone and stage for what follows. It says a lot about the overall event’s organization and ability to execute. In these 10 years, I don’t believe I’ve ever had to wait more than 30 minutes to deal with this part of a race. Until GranFondo Ottawa. So shall begin my little post on this inaugural event in Ottawa, and my PERSONAL opinions of the entire weekend. I also covered it for Get Out There magazine, so you can check out my ‘official’ video review which will be a little kinder than this post will be. You can also check out some pictures that I posted from our group. Now, please read on to get my full impressions 🙂
Event Pictures from the Day
Two hours and 10 minutes! That’s how long it took to snake our way through the ever-expanding line to pick up our jerseys, swag bags, and get our race numbers. This is utterly and completely inexcusable. I’d like to say that the RD was apologetic on this matter but this was not the case Friday night. He was just standing there watching, making no apparent attempts to fix this or call in for help. The ‘race expo’ on Friday night? Non-existent. Starbucks had packed up and left by around 6pm. The Enervit booth? Packed up with no-one in sight. Just lots of very moody riders waiting as patiently as they could in line. To be clear: 1 line. 3 volunteers trying to sort everything out, with what can only be described as very spotty actual records on who was registered. There were lots of incidents of them just giving out a number on the spot while riders assured them they had paid. Jersey sizing? Well, never mind what you physically ordered. You got what they had, which in the case of several, was too large, as all the smaller jerseys had been given out already.
As my friend pointed out, this is simple math. You have about 1700 riders. Each one could take up to 2-3 minutes to deal with. That’s 3400 person-minutes, or 566 man-hours. For the love of Pete, set up at least 3-5 registration spots, either numerically, alphabetically, or whatever-the-hell you want. It’s the absolute simplest concept to understand if you’ve EVER organized an event. And yes, I’m speaking as someone who has helped at numerous events and registration processes. Enough of that. On to the sling bag. Here’s a quote from the website while it’s still up there: “sling|musette [rider bag] w/$300.00+ [no, not a typo] in cycling & related items”. So what was in mine? Two water bottles, one plastic cup with lid, bottle opener, tire levers, a small sample of chain lube, and a couple coupons (think X% off). My guesstimate value? $15-$20. Hardly what we were promised.
Sadly, the super-long registration also threw a major wrench into our fun Friday plans of a carbo-loading supper with friends, along with wine and some hot-tubbing. Instead, it was a mad scramble to cook the supper, wolf it down, then go our separate ways to prep for the early morning call for the ride.
We opted to go to the start early in the morning in case there was more madness to contend with. The 220km route was slated to leave at 7am, but didn’t get going till around 7:20am, under a bit of confusion from all involved. And why the confusion? Well, there was no event announcer, no official start, no proper lead-out, no nothing. Not only that, but anyone who actually wanted to take part in the ‘timed sections’ (there were 4) had to pick up a chip in the morning. That’s right, it was separate from registration on Friday. What did that mean? Another line-up where someone actually physically wanted you to hand over a piece of ID for the day as a deposit for the chip. As if. It goes without saying that a LOT of us opted out of this. Not like we’d win anything anyway. Another thing missing at the start? No water to hydrate. Some coffee, but it disappeared fast. Just a lot more confusion. Heck, we missed our own event start. We were just regrouping when we realized the ride was getting underway!
Now, gentle reader, please excuse the overall negative image I’ve portrayed thus far. I promise you that I have been quite objective in my assessment, and vowed at every twist to not let a prior disappointment colour my opinion of the next aspect. I’m old enough and have done enough events to know that there are always elements out of control of the organization. With that in mind, let’s turn our mind to the actual ride now!
Overall Ride Stats
I was really happy to be riding with 6 of my best friends and a group that I’d collectively say have good experience on bikes and have great patience. I knew that no matter the outcome, we’d have fun and still be smiling and laughing at the finish together. I was not let down in that aspect, and we most certainly were, but the journey was not without it’s challenges, some of which were self-inflicted, others due to design. At 8am, we got underway, and started rolling at a nice clip of 28-30km/hr moving speed. This was pretty much ideal. The gents would take turns at the front in different configurations, keeping the pace nice. There was lots of chit-chat, and some great catching up, as we don’t see each other nearly enough these days. And this, I would say, is the real spirit of a GranFondo or Cycle Tour. Camaraderie.
Our route was 170km (well, ended up at 175km total, but close enough), and took us through a number of small towns in the Ottawa Valley. Namely (and in order), Ashton, Beckwith, Tennyson, Perth, Balderson, Lanark, Almonte, Blakeney, Panmure, Carp, and back to the Kanata start/finish. In my opinion, the course was actually quite well marked. You had to pay some attention, but for the most part, the indicators where there. There were 3 sets of painted arrows and major intersections. Blue for the 220k route, Green for our 170k route, and Red for the 100k route. This should have ideally been supplemented with some sort of printed instructions or map that should have been included in our race kits, but no such thing existed, so we were on our own.
As I understand it, that did cause some consternation for some riders. I’m not overly surprised at that though. As an adventure racer, I’m used to route-finding and keeping a close eye on where we are at all times, and having a good sense of where we should be. To those ends, there was only one place where we paused and nearly missed a turn. More on that (and it’s unfortunate result) in a moment.
Along all routes were also rest stops. For our route, there were five such stops. In the lead-up, riders had been told that all these stations would have water, Enervit and that they’d “do [their] best to offer bananas, bagels, peanut-butter/jelly and some baked goods”. My suspicions were raised immediately by the ‘do our best’ comment. Aid station #1? Two coolers of Enervit, and a pump bottle of water, with 3 volunteers. This station was common to all 3 routes, ergo was supposed to serve 1700 riders. No food of any sort. No big deal though, as it was early on. Luckily, stop #2 was the big one in Perth, in a park. Here again they had a 2-3 coolers of Enervit, 2 water coolers, bananas, and tasty peanut butter and jelly bagels. There was also a local vendor on site selling lots of baked goods. This was a great place to stop, and most people languished in the shade here, due to the mounting heat. However, there were NO PORTA-POTTIES set up anywhere!!
And that is where we had our own little issue. As a group, the ladies used a public restroom. The gents decided we’d head a little down the road and just use a shady tree once out of town. However, on leaving, Bonnie discovered a flat tire, so she and Grant doubled back to the bike mechanic at the park. We all agreed we’d meet up down the road and we’d go slowly. That’s where we NEARLY missed the turn, but took the right route. We found shade, relieved ourselves, and the 5 of us waited for Bonnie and Grant. And waited. And waited. Eventually, I doubled back and cycled all the way back to Perth. No one left. Crap! They must have missed the turn! A little later, Kev finally got a call from them. They were in Balderson, quite a ways down the road.
When we were finally re-joined, we learned that they, along with about 100 riders, missed the turn, headed all the way to a highway, then took a different road to Balderson, cutting off about 8km, but leaving us waiting in vain. Time lost? Probably 40 minutes, AND we were now basically at the very back of the ride. Ha ha. No one really got too miffed on that one, as we probably should just not have split up in the first place. Live and learn.
With that ‘behind’ us, we rolled on uneventfully to Lanark, then Almonte, both very compact rest stops offering 1-2 jugs of enervit and a jug of water. Luckily, one stop also had tasty pre-packaged cookies that we all enjoyed. At this particular stop, the event director also happened to be there, and was chatting about the Friday snafu. Rather than sounding apologetic, he actually had the gall to talk about another ‘event’ he attended, that was celebrating it’s 40th year, where the waits were 4 hours to register! I loudly exclaimed sarcastically that it just proves there are obviously amazingly even worse-organized events out there.
Our final bit of bad luck happened just outside Almonte. As we were biking along, we came across a railroad crossing where a rider was motioning to slow down. There was a rider down, and injured quite badly. As we slowed to pass, one of our own also managed to take a tumble and take a bump to the head. Then, a few minutes later, a third rider went down! As we waited a little bit there an ambulance and police finally showed up. Unfortunately, the first girl had a broken jaw and had to be whisked off to hospital. Our rider also felt unable to continue and therefore we had 2 riders from our group abandon and wait for the sag wagon. This dangerous crossing continued to claim riders as the day wore on. Rumour is that the OPP were going to pay a call to the RD on the fact that this was not signed, marshalled, covered off, or even warned about. Personally, I was ok, as I’m used to pretty gnarly riding, but many others are not as experienced., and hence this was not safe to be left as it was.
With slightly heavier hearts, our remaining group of 5 rode out the remainder of the route. There was another ‘fun’ section a little further on, with a 2km gravel section, entered by crossing a treacherous gravel bit, but there was a volunteer warning riders to dismount to cross the spot where the railroad tracks had recently been removed, so that went without incident. There was one final rest stop located on the side of the road in Carp, and from there, it was a mere 12km or so to the finish. This last bit took us along nice shaded roads for a bit before finally re-entering suburbia proper in Kanata.
The finish was almost as anti-climatic as the start. We turned into the parking lot and under the GranFondo banner, and that was that. The actual finish line was located a parking-lot away from the ‘fest’ area, so we just sort of rolled over to where all the other participants were hanging out. The barbecue was in full swing, and there was lots of food on hand to re-fill our bellies. I had braised beef on a bun, and some pasta salad, along with a San Pellegrino drink, and eventually, a glass of tasty Kichesippi Beer. There once again was no race announcer, or any discernible events of any sort going on apart from the food and beer. After about 30 minutes, a live band did take the stage, which was fun, but by this point, most riders had already departed to their homes to presumably shower. I will say that the finish was actually pretty well organized. We had no waits, and we did get pretty much exactly what we were told we would, so I will not complain about that 🙂
All in all, I’d say I pretty much got what I figured I’d get out of this event. Being the first time it was put on, there would obviously be a few hiccups that could be addressed should the event be put on once again next year. I stand by my initial assertion that the registration issue is not one that should have happened, but that’s life. Judging by many comments on the facebook page, there are others that were much more irate than me, and several people making no bones about the fact that there is no way they would return. It’s a shame really, as this event could be a great destination event for cyclists looking for a good 1 day challenge rather than committing to the full 2-day Rideau Lakes tour. Time will tell what will happen to the GranFondo Ottawa for 2013. Personally, I’m not convinced I’d return. Again, I’m reminded how nice it might be to just organize a small group ride and put the money towards a nice meal at the end instead of forking over the money to a big event and not really get that much value for our monies.
At any rate, this event kicks off 5 weeks in a row of races for me, so I’ll sign off now, and get back to, umm, resting? training? eating? Sure, all those things! Next up: the RockstAR 8hr Adventure Race with my buddy Carl at the Bark Lake Leadership Center. Stay tuned for that report in a week or so! Till then, stay cool (and preferably not too dry!!).
As I trotted around the turnaround point of the run loop to head out on my 2nd loop of the 10.5km run course, I made the final decision. I would NOT upgrade myself to the full iron-distance event by doing an additional 2 loops after this one. It had been a scorcher of a day on the course so far, and completing the Epic-distance race, as originally planned, would be plenty enough racing for me on this fine Canada Day in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. After all, I would still have raced 205km by the time I crossed the finish line! Welcome to the inaugural Epic Dartmouth Triathlon in Dartmouth. Deanna and I had driven from Ottawa to spend time with family, take in the sights, and for me to take part in yet another excellent endurance event, all in a whirlwind 6 days. Read on for the full story, check out pictures of the race and of the touring (including paddling near Peggy’s Cove as well as watch the video review I pulled together for Get Out There Magazine.
Pictures from Race
The decision to make the long driving trip out east again this year came about quite early in the year. I’d caught wind of a new race that was being created in Dartmouth, and the race director was looking for racers to sign up for his inaugural event. The timing seemed to work, and I thought it might be a good chance to visit with my dad again, and this time, make a trip to Halifax, since that was one spot we’d missed last year (along with Peggy’s Cove). Also, another friend of mine, Mike Caldwell, was also eager to commit. What’s more, we hatched a plan to actually hop on the motorbikes and make it a big road trip as a little group.
Well, fast forward to late June, and plans changed slightly. Due to problems with dates and schedules, we were no longer all traveling together. Furthermore, we’d also decided (quite wisely) NOT to travel by motorbikes. A few short roadtrips showed us quickly how much longer traveling by bike takes, and we just didn’t have the luxury of time if we were going to visit family and friends. Also, as luck would have it, Deanna’s parent also managed to make a trip out east to coincide with us, which meant our parents would meet for the first time! Pretty good idea seeing as the wedding is just over a year away 🙂 At any rate, this post is mainly about the race, so let’s move on to that, shall we?
I was once again slated to cover the event for Get Out There, so as per normal, I had 3 cameras in tow with me, and was bound and determined to attend most aspects of the weekend. We did miss the welcome dinner and race briefing on Friday night, but the race wasn’t till Sunday, and we were in Pictou with family. However, we showed up early on Saturday to the race check-in and transition area. This gave me lots of time to scope out the layout, as well as chat at some length with Tim, the Race Director. He has put in a herculean effort to make this a true destination race that will grow over time, and after having attended this first edition, I’m sure he’s well on his way.
To give you all a very quick overview of the race course, there were, as always in triathlons, three legs. The opening swim, the bike, and the run portion. This event was unique in that it had three options. Namely, the ‘Aqua Dartmouth’ the ‘Epic Dartmouth’ and the ‘Iron Dartmouth’. All three options involved swimming 3.8k and cycling 180km. In the Aqua, it stopped there. in the ‘Epic’ you ran a 21.1k course. Finally, in the ‘Iron’, you run a full 42.2k course to finish off. I had chosen the Epic with the expectation that even after finishing, I should be fine to do some touring by foot around Halifax. Another unique aspect of the race was that you could start at one distance, and change on the fly. For example, some participants registered in the ‘Iron’ distance, but due to heat and/or not really feeling it, they ‘downgraded’ to the ‘Epic’ distance. That was a nice option. The intention of this was to ensure that as many people as possible finished the race. Now on to the actual race synopsis.
The Swim Stats
The 3.8km swim all took place in Lake Banook, right in the heart of Dartmouth. This facility has actually been home to at least 4 world championship paddling events in the last decade, and is very well set up for this sort of thing. There are no less than 3 paddling clubs within spitting distance of each other on the water there. There are also permanent buoy lines stretching along the lake, and lots of great spectator options to watch the fun. Owing to these facts, the water was very calm, and there were even lines you could sight off in the water which meant you didn’t have to keep looking ahead to make sure you were headed straight.
The race itself started at 7am, which actually seemed to be a pretty reasonable start time. Water temperatures were around 21-22 degrees C, and everyone (except Mike) wore a wetsuit. On account of only having gone swimming 3 times this year, I seeded myself towards the middle, and just planned to get ‘er done. In the water I didn’t feel very fast, and was sure I was losing tons of time to others. Fast forward to the exit, and my watch read 1:09! That was my fastest swim split yet. I was 8th out of the water, and had even beaten Mike, a stronger swimmer than me. I was flummoxed!
Happy to take it though. I jogged over to the wetsuit stripping area and let the volunteers disrobe me of my neoprene cocoon. From there, it was a 100m or so jog to the transition area, and the giant circus-like tent where I could change into my super-hero biking costume (well, not quite, but I feel fast when I wear it…). Since I’d had a quick swim, I languished a fair bit in the first transition, and I think I had the slowest transition of anyone, but I had to fiddle with camera set-ups, and took an extended lavatory break as well. I knew it would be a while before I could take a rest, so I took advantage!
The Bike Stats
180km. Anyway you slice it, that takes a while to pedal. Even longer depending on the weather conditions and pavement conditions. This bike course had a bit of everything in the mix. While the pavement was for the most part pretty new and smooth sailing, there were sections that went against that trend. Unfortunately, they also seemed to be combined with the biggest climbs, and the gnarliest winds. The basic layout was an out and back 90k leg, so in theory, if it was headwinds in one direction, you’d have a tailwind in the other direction.
After the swim and my lethargic transition, I felt pretty fired up to get on the bike and put in the mileage on the asphalt. I settled into a pretty decent speed of just over 30km/hr and dropped into my best aero position. My plan was to try and maintain an average speed of 30 the entire way, which would give me a decent bike split of 6hrs. In theory, it would also leave me with enough gas in the tank to run the entire run course rather than have to walk. My previous iron-distance experience was only in Ottawa, and the course was repeated loops. On that course, you did 12 loops, giving you a chance to know exactly how you were doing on average. The challenge here was that there was no repetition, and you didn’t know what awaited you.
As it turns out, what awaited us were soaring temperatures, and increasingly challenging headwinds. I still felt good at the 90k turnaround point, where our aid bags awaited us. I loaded my ‘picnic basket’ with food and took back off at my decent clip. Surprisingly, I found myself passing quite a few riders on all the uphills on the way back, in spite of the mounting winds. Although I was feeling a little less energy, I kept motivating myself to push hard to get my 6hr goal. I’m told I looked strong the whole way and maintained a good form. Nice to hear, but I can guarantee you that the final 15k seemed pretty miserable, and I really wanted to get off the bike. However, when the final meters closed, my time was just over 6 hours, so I was definitely pleased with that time over what i consider a challenging bike course.
Once again, it was back into the transition zone to change into another outfit to tackle the run. By now, my legs had turned very red from some poor sunscreen application by a volunteer my first time through the tent. This time, I made sure they put a good amount all over my legs, and I did my own arms while they tended my neck. It was still incredibly hot, and the sun was beating down on us, and knowing I had almost another 2hrs out there, I wanted to be safer. I also had to yet again mount my camera again, and this time on my chest, before trotting out.
As I jogged out of transition to get on the course again, my spirits were uplifted by the fact that Dad and Nicole were there cheering me on, as well as Deanna happily snapping away with the camera. I took the time to pause and give her a quick kiss before running off merrily into the hot zone. I knew I had 21.1k to run, but in the grand scheme, that really didn’t seem like too much more work before I could rest.
For the run, we had a closed loop of 10.5km, which meant I’d have one loop to warm up and get to know the terrain, and my 2nd loop to basically get ‘er done. This run was a combination of surface types. We followed a paved pathway for a good chunk, then ducked into a provincial park where we followed shaded trails for several kilometers, before emerging out onto plain sidewalk paralleling busy roads. The path and sidewalk were mostly exposed and baking, but the woods provided a much-needed respite from the sun at least. The heat was still there, but not quite as intense. As hoped, I had gas in the tank, and managed to keep a run pace the entire way. It flagged towards the end, allowing a fellow racer to pass me in the dying 2 kilometers, but at least I didn’t walk at all. Something to be proud of. I’m quite sure that had I opted for the full iron distance, I may have walked at some point in the final 2 loops.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the run course (and bike course for that matter). It was thoughtfully laid out, with aid stations at very regular intervals, all offering water, Gatorade, some with food, and most also with sponges, which were quite useful to beat the heat back. There were lots of volunteers present on all stages of the course as well, smiling and friendly, and quite willing to help in any way they could.
As I crossed the finish line, I instinctively raised my arms triumphantly, as so many do at the conclusion of an event like this. Not because I won anything, or broke any records, but simply with the acknowledgement that i once again slayed a beast of a race and put in a great effort that I was happy with. The race director was nearby, and congratulated me, and we had a chance to speak shortly as well. The word was that a lot of people were out there suffering, and this was definitely hotter than anticipated or expected, but the event was still a success by all counts.
After finishing, there was some great food to gnaw on, including bagels, fruits and HOT PIZZA with COLD BEER! Yup, healthy victory food for sure. It took me a little while to actually feel up to eating and drinking, instead opting for a quick free post-race massage as well as a refreshing dip in the lake. However, when I finally did eat and drink, it was marvelous. Of course, the real meal was the next day, and featured fresh Atlantic Lobster, and lots of other great food options. This was the official awards banquet, and by having it the next day, all participants were able to rest and recover a bit and therefore show up in high spirits, and willing to relive the day, no matter how tired they had been at the finish the day before.
All in all, I give this race a huge thumbs up. Granted, it was a long trip to make for a race, but many people like to seek out a ‘destination race’ to train for, and I think this race would definitely fit the bill for many a triathlete. Check it out online at Epic Dartmouth if you’d like to learn all about it or register for the next year’s event! I’m not sure I’ll make it due to other commitments, but I’d certainly not hesitate to sign up again in the future. From here, I had a couple weeks off before the inaugural Ottawa GranFondo, so stay tuned for that one folks!
Stories from an athlete, adventurer, and lover of life