Tag Archives: mountain biking

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

Three Days of Mountain Bike Nirvana

Me and My Bike

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!

Paying it Forward at Raid Pulse

CPA1 Installed

Greetings loyal readers! It’s been a pretty busy year once again for me in the race world. I’ve participated in and covered a whole range of events from simple running events to obstacle runs, mountain bike races and triathlons. I do all of these because I love participating in them, regardless of the outcome. I enjoy the challenge of new events, and just getting to spend time outdoors with like-minded people. However, not a single one of these events could ever have gotten off the ground without the help of volunteers. To those ends, even though I’m very busy, I do try to pay it forward now and again. This past weekend, I did just such a thing at the 4-hour Raid Pulse sprint race. The key with volunteering at these events is to view them as fun, not work, and to see the great time participants are having as they tackle what could be their greatest challenge of the year. Don’t they deserve a well-run race and to cross the finish with a big smile? I think they do, so read on about the fun I had at this top-notch event!

Pictures from the Event

Raid Pulse is celebrating 11 continuous years of putting on adventure races. That’s a lifetime in the adventure racing community. Its very lifeblood is the dynamic duo of Thierry and Annick (who are now also proud parents to boot!). For the past 11 years, they’ve been putting on high-calibre local events for anybody looking for a challenge, be they experience racers or newbies. The races have ranged from 4 hour races, to 24-hour continuous races, 2-3 day staged races, and even winter events. I have participated in the majority of them and can not recall a single bad experience. I know that a lot of local racers only participate in these events, and others that got their start and interest in the sport through Raid Pulse’s events. As such, I have volunteered on a number of occasions to make sure people continue to have great experiences there.

With the 30-hour Wilderness Traverse race coming up the next weekend, I decided to not race, but to use this event as a venue to test out a few new bits of kit, and get in some training under race-like conditions. As such, Thierry gave me a pretty prime responsibility. On race morning, I was given the advanced mountain biking CPs, and asked to set up that part of the course, patrol it, then take it down once all the racers had gone through. This meant I’d get to bike the whole course (since I opted to bike from the headquarters rather than drive), and experience what the racers would experience on the bikes. In the end, I put just under 40km of biking under my belt, and had a great time. One piece of gear I was testing were my new tubeless 29er wheels, and they performed admirably, even under some pretty crap conditions (I’ll explain). I also got to test a new ‘front pouch’ system for my race pack, along with a home-made attachment system for it. All worked well, making me confident going into Wilderness Traverse.

Although we’d had drought-like conditions for much of the summer, the rain has finally returned to these parts, and the forecast was calling for rain all day. However, we once again got lucky, in that during the race, if was merely overcast. It had rained the night before, but then cleared up. That made the start of the race wet, but drying out over time (with the sun even making an appearance later!). Much of the race took place in the confines of Gatineau Parc, and I headed off on my bike from HQ in Wakefield at about 9am bound for Lac Taylor. I was confronted with a trail closure not long after setting out due to highway construction, and opted to hike up and over the area. This is where I learned of my disdain for clay.

With the rains, my bike (and feet) sunk deep into clay as I hike-a-biked the construction zone. The end result were wheels that seemed all but encased in concrete. Suddenly my new lightweight wheels seemed made of lead! I lost probably 10 minutes just trying to clear it all off before setting back out. I later learned racers actually took the main road out, and crossed the highway with the help of police instead of taking my stupid route. And on the way back, they were allowed through the fenced-off construction area to take the quick route through the construction. Silly me!

At any rate, the rest of the ride was fun on the trails, and I passed both the paddling section, as well as the bike drop-off where the trek section was located. I got my 2 remote CPs installed just after 10:30am. The race had started at 10am, and I wasn’t expecting anyone until at least 11:30ish. And true to that, my first visitor was sometime around 11:20am. For the rest of my time in the area, I hung out near a lake, with a bug-net on my head (another experiment), eating, drinking, snapping pictures, and encouraging racers. I had a race radio and was in touch with Thierry a few times to get a feel for how many teams to expect. I also recorded all the times of the people that I could as they punched the control.

After a few hours, I packed up the two remote CPs, and once again took the trails back out to the headquarters. Along the way, I stopped at the paddling and advanced trekking section, which is where most teams were now battling it out. This was the last stop before the finish line, and it was a mere 5 minutes or less away. People all seemed to be having fun, and as usual, there was a good group of volunteers on hand to make sure things went smoothly.

Rolling into the finish, there was once again a small group of helpers recording times and helping answer racers’ questions and collect the used race bibs and bike plates. The race wrapped up in the next hour or so, after which we all had a great meal of rotisserie chicken from Au Coq, while watching a slideshow of the days images (they actually ended up using mine, as they were auto-rotated). There was also a good array of prizes, most of which were drawn for, rather than awarded, which is in the spirit of including more people in the event.

All in all, Raid Pulse once again proved to be a well-oiled machine with no hiccups. We got lucky with the weather, there were no major injuries, and I believe there was practically a 100% success rate out on the course. Kudos to all! The whole point of this post is two-fold. First, do what you love. Second, if you love something, help it along, and do what you can to show others why it’s so great. Without volunteers, there would be no awesome races, so if you can, get out there once in a while and lend a hand! Up next: 30 hours of suffering and fun at Wilderness Traverse, which I WILL be racing and WILL be covering!

Radical Racing at the RockstAR Race

RockstAR Pose CP

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

Race Pictures

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

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

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

The Race Stats

Trek and Paddle Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climbing Mountains to reach the Race Across the Sky

At the Finish

“I commit, I won’t quit!”. Those words were chanted by the Leadville Race founder, and he made us all recite those very words ourselves. So began the journey to complete the WilmingtonWhiteface 100km Mountain Bike Race. This was the pre-race briefing, and one of the most inspirational ones I’d been to in all my many races. I was in the beautiful Adirondack mountain area, a scant 9 miles from Lake Placid, and 3 miles from Wilmington, NY, the host town of this race. My mere presence at this event was somewhat unexpected, as it was not on my radar at all until I heard about it through Get Out There Magazine. I was there covering the event for them, and also there due to the allure of getting a shot at a slot to race in the the Leadville 100 Race. Yup, the one and same MTB race that has seen Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong, on 2 separate occasions, get beaten by local legend Dave Wiens. Also the same venue where Levi Leipheimer smashed a previous course record held by Dave. That race is only 18 years old, but has quickly become the stuff of legend, and only accessible by winning your way in, or winning a ‘lottery slot’. So there I was, seated in the room with another 300 fellow hungry athletes, looking forward to ripping up the course the next morning. The rest of my tale will take you through the whole race. But first, a word about the area and what Deanna and I got up to on our ‘weekend getaway’. Check out the pictures we took as well as my finalized race review video. Read on friends!

Pictures from Race

Amazingly, even though the Adirondacks are only 3-3.5 hours from Ottawa, I’d never been down that way. Well, let me say that after this weekend, we’d DEFINITELY like to get back there again, perhaps on the motorbikes. It was absolutely gorgeous, and the people quite friendly as well. Perhaps a fall trip will be in order. One of the big differences with this event was that it occurred on Sunday, which left us with a full day to enjoy the area and all its sights. As it turns out, that is much nicer when travelling for a race. It would make for a long Sunday and tough recovery day at work, but at least we got to truly experience the regions.

Not only was the Wilmington Whiteface 100 occurring this weekend, but it was in fact part of a larger festival known as the Wilmington Bikefest. They had a whole suite of events planned for the entire weekend, including a welcome party, an uphill-only race, a downhilling race, a slalom race, a beach party, the Whiteface 100, live music, a costumed parad, and so on and so on. In fact, their only downfall was that with so many things, attendance at some events wasn’t quite what it deserved to be. However, I’m confident that over the next few years, this should truly grow into a world-class event. I actually got to chat with several of the organizers a fair bit, as well as hoist a beer with the Wilmington town mayor. As the small cousin to the East of Lake Placid, Wilmington has all the beauty, but doesn’t get as many tourists. However, that could be a good thing. For rour part, Deanna and I made a point to attend all the events we could, as well as spend some time in Lake Placid, and spend money all around :-). A couple of the big highlights has to be the boat tour we took around Lake Placid, the gondola ride up Little Whiteface, and culminating with the awesome drive to the top of Whiteface mountain, the 5th highest peak in the ‘High Adirondacks’. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I did place in the top 5 of the ‘best calves in Wilmington’ contest held at the welcome party at a local watering hole just off the highway (Steinhoff’s). Great time was had by all.

Although I could go on and on about the fun stuff, I should really get to the meat of the issue here. The race. I mentioned Dave Wiens earlier. Well, both he and Rebecca Rusch (the Queen of Pain and an AR legend) were present here as ambassadors, and Rebecca was also racing as a pro and trying to encourage more women to get involved. I managed to get my picture snapped with her, and Deanna got me a signed poster while I was on the course! Given the region we were in, there was definitely going to be lots of climbing on tap for the day. While a lot of the course was slated to be on secondary and gravel roads, there were also a couple different purpose-built singletrack sections to play on, and of course the crowning jewel at the end of the race is a grueling climb UP Whiteface mountain before bombing down to the finish line. It was not going to be an easy course, but nor would it be super-technical. Basically, it was a classic MTB endurance race. Those who can endure the pain and keep up the pace longest would end up victorious.

Race Stats

Although podium was definitely not in the cards for me, I can tolerate pain, and am pretty accustomed to endurance events, so I knew I’d be finishing, and doing so having a great time. I seeded myself in the middle of the pack at the start line, as I’m well aware of my limitations. My plan was to keep a good, steady pace the whole day, and ensure I was properly hydrated, as the day was once again promising to be a hot one. Promptly as 7am, the starting gun went off, and we slowly started rolling uphill to get to the first highway. It was amazing how fast the speed ratcheted up. Once on the main road, we were basically in a giant peloton, rolling along at 38km/hr or so. This is no mean feat on bulky mountain bikes. Amazingly, this pace held for a very long time, due in large part that the opening section was predominatly rolling paved roads. There wasn’t a whole lot of chit-chat in the group, as I think most people were full of nervous energy and just wanted to hang in there. There were some inevitable ebbs and flows in the speed as we hit slight inclines or encountered traffic coming the other way, but for the most part, we were one giant mass. Of course, I say that, but I’m sure there was already fracturing at the front and at the back, but that’s the nature of a peloton. You have the bulk, then splits at front and back for the competitive folks and the unprepared folks respectively.

After the first 20km or so, the road finally took a serious uphill turn. The first of several major climbs of the day was upon us. Now, the group definitely started spreading out. Those who had pushed too hard slowed pace a fair bit, and places were jockeyed. I still felt pretty fresh, and bantered with some fellow Quebecer’s around me, as well as some locals. We had a good uphill pace, and just kept grinding it out. I also distracted myself from trying to shoot some footage for my review. The difference between the climb here and elsewhere is that it just sort of kept going for quite a while. However, I had actually been expecting much worse, so when we reached the plateau at the top, I was both relieved, and surprised that I still felt great. Of course, I wasn’t going to push my pace much higher, but happy that I could maintain my speed. As you can imagine, the downhill went MUCH faster, and I hit speeds approaching or possibly over 70km/hr! Also, I had the misfortune of loosing one fo the 2 cameras I had on me. It was in a pocket in front, and bounced out in a particularly bumpy area. Sadly, I didn’t notice until the bottom. On the plus side, I knew that I’d have to come back the same way later, and hoped I’d find it, or someone would turn it in. I didn’t dwell on that and kept going.

Now that the first of the 3 major climbs was over, it was back to the roads and making our way to the second aid station of the day, and the first singletrack section. Aid stations were spaced about 20km apart, and usually showed up just when you really needed them. All along the course, there were clear markings and volunteers to make sure we never took a wrong turn anywhere. All of the major intersections also had state troopers or fire department support ensuring our safety all the way. So far, my choices of food and drink were working well, so I just cruised past them this time and kept making my way along to the trails. This section was known as the Blueberry Hill trails. Just as I was about to duck into this section, a friendly volunteer said, “now you get a break from the sun”. Sounded good to me. Unfortunately, I soon found out that shade does not mean cool. These trails made some headway uphill again. With the added pressure of having to all be single file and making quick turns to avoid obstacles, it actually seemed warmer in there than on the road! A lot of that was no doubt due to the still air and slow speed. I will admit that at first I wasn’t all that enamoured with the trails in there.

Happily though, what goes up must come down, and the downhill singletrack in that area was quite fun. I hit some pretty hairy speeds while whipping between trees spaced barely more than my handlebar’s width apart. The smile came back on my face, and by the time I got back out of that section, I was once again renewed with energy on the roads. We were also now about halfway to the finish. Carrying back along the road we took to get there, we once again came across the aid station again. However, this time, I took a well-needed quick break. I grabbed two fig newtons, two 1/4 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and refilled two bike bottles. In fact, a really nice volunteer did the bottle filling for me. What service! Fig newtons firmly planted in my cheeks, and sandwiches clutched in my gloved hand, I tore back out of there.

Not far out of the aid station, I heard someone yelling ahead of me. Seeing no one around this lone rider, I could only assume he was yelling to himself. Intrigued, I decided to catch up and chat with him. His name was Keith, and indeed, he was psyching himself up for the next major climb. I commit, I won’t quit! Nice. As it turns out, Keith was a local. In fact, he is in the Bark Eater’s Trail Alliance (BETA), the local trail-building group. He was super friendly and we cycled and chatted a long way back together. We were pretty evenly matched, and pushed each other and others around us. As he would say as we passed people “join the pain train!”. And soon, we had a little train chugging back up Jay / Saddleback mountain. At one turn, there were volunteers. This was at the base of the hill where I’d lost my camera. As passing, I yelled about the camera, and the guy got on the bullhorn of the ambulance yelling he had it! I turned back, and collected my treasure as the train kept chugging.

I lost some time with my short turn around and stop, but worked hard to get back on the train. In fact, I caught up, and kept pushing hard, passing everyone in the train until I was at the front, and then I just kept pushing. To be clear, this was on the steepest area of this climb, but I felt good. The only person to stay with me was Keith, and we kept [laboriously] chatting as we went. Once on the plateau at the top and rolling along at good speed, he let me in on a secret. Apparently some local kids would be cooking up bacon at the next aid station for the BETA guys that were racing. He said he’d get me in on it. Unfortunately, I stopped at one point to relieve myself, and he slowly got away from me, so I put it our of my head. However, upon arriving at the aid station, a kid comes up and says “You look like you need bacon”. The word had been relayed to look for the guy in grey riding with a camera. I had 3 of the most perfectly cooked greasy strips of bacon ever in that short stop, and the biggest grin of the day as I chewed them. Chock full of salt and fat and bursting with amazing flavour, it was absolutely symbolic of the great community spiritof the race and the area in general.
With that climb out of the way, it was now back to rolling roads, heading to the 2nd singletrack section, and culminating in the tough climb up Whiteface. I now was feeling like I was slowing down a bit, but overall, the energy was still good, so I just focused on whomever I could see ahead, and slowly try to close the gaps. By doing that, I found myself closing in on the 2nd singletrack section. It had also mercifully clouded over a bit, and there were even a few drops of rain falling on us now. That was actually quite nice. The turn to get into the trails was not marked, so it took a last-minute swerve to get in safely, but soon enough I found myself navigating some really nice flowy singletrack stuff. This area was known as the Hardy Trails, and were brand new for this year. I’d say they were probably my favourite part of the entire course. The only downside was that I once again lost a few spots, and this was due to a mechanical issue. I was cranking hard up a short steep pitch, tried to shift into granny in the back, and the chain dropped into my spokes! Yikes!

Try as I might, I couldn’t yank the chain free, and it took the kindness of a stranger to pull off and help me for a minute to get back on the trail. Luckily, the damage was minimal, as the chain did not twist, and I didn’t ruin anything. Close call. However, i also noticed that my rear tire was really soft. In fact, it was down to around 10-15PSI! Not flat, but really close. No wonder I had been losing ground on the roads. It was obviously a slow leak, and instead of swapping the tube, I opted to just pump it back up. I’d already covered over 85km or so, and expected I’d be able to wrap up the race even with a slow leak. The slightly lower pressure may even help on the final climb and sketchy descent. Quick bite to eat, pedal pedal pedal, and I was back on the paved roads leading back to Whiteface. It was now time for the final showdown on the mountain!

With my tire inflated again, I felt yet another surge in energy and speed. Usually when you feel like you’re slowing, you want to think it’s your bike, but usually, it’s you, I was really happy to find out it was the opposite this time. I threw myself into the final 4-6km climb up the mountain. Now that it was overcast, temps were a little lower, and made the hurt dull just a bit. It got quite steep quite fast, and with sections sand and loose gravel abounding, a lot of people were disembarking and hiking a lot. I remembered the wise words, and focused on the spot right in front of my tire, and kept pedaling as much as I could. To my surprise, I started passsing people. In fact, I passed a good number of them! At one particularly nasty curve with a steep uphill there were a group of volunteers, and they cheered me on as I kept grinding slowly up while everyone around me was walking. Eventually, I also had to dismount, but had put in a huge effort and stayed on long, to much whooping and hollering from the volunteers! It felt great!

Once at the top, I paused just long enough to exchange a few words with Keith, whom I caught back up to here! We launched into the craziest of descents I’ve done in a long time. A downhill bike would have helped, but I just threw caution to the wind, knowing that it was the final push! Again, I made up a few slots on the downhill, and felt so pumped to see the finishing banner in the distance below. Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line with the clock reading about 6:13! I had no idea what to expect, but that seemed like a damn reasonable finish time to me. Nowhere near the leaders, but I felt like a winner nonetheless, especially when the Leadville founders cheered me in and put the medal around my neck personally!

Upon finishing, there was a barbecue for finishers, live music, massages at a dollar a minute, and just an overall festive atmosphere. Deanna and I ducked out to grab a shower and pack all the gear up before the awards cermony, which was to get underway around the 8 hour mark. Upon return, we hung out with new friends we’d made over the weekend and awaited the final results. Although they started just a little late, awards were fun to watch…. for a while. Rebecca Rusch entertained us for a bit, and lots of people had things to say. To spare the suspense, I did NOT get a slot in Leadville on account of my great speed. It turns out I was quite a ways down the list in my age category. HOWEVER, there were also 30 slots to be drawn for in a lottery. Everyone who finished in under 8 hours had their name in the draw. First name drawn? Stephan Meyer!! Boo-yah! I graciously accepted the fabled coin, thereby committing myself to racing the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race in Colorado! I’m all registered now, but am defering to 2013 to make sure I get all the pieces in place to make this happen! How cool is that! You see, if you want something bad enough, and work hard enough for it, it’ll happen. I actually willed and called that I’d be the first name drawn, and it was!! It was fate for sure. I’m already excited at the prospect of this marquee event for 2012, and promise you all here and now that you’ll hear all about it! But for now, back to other events. Next up: the Perth Kilt Run in full regimental dress! Should help me stay cool if it’s a hot day, right? See you there!

Video Review