Tag Archives: paddling

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 🙂

Kayaking and Caching on a Sunny Day

Supper on Island

Canada’s birthday has come and gone once again, and I hope that you all had a great day off to celebrate the birth of this great nation that we live in. Deanna and I started the day off fairly lazily, with a nice breakfast and some chores around the house. A week later, we’d be leaving on our Atlantic Canada tour, where we’d actually be visiting the birthplace of Confederation. However, first up was a nice long weekend of relaxing fun in the Ottawa area. Rather than battling the big crowds downtown as we’d done last year, we had hatched a plan to take our kayaks out on the water and do some paddling, including some geocaching along the Ottawa river and a picnic out there, capped with fireworks. We managed to snap a few picures during the day, which you can check out here. After you had a look a those, pop on back for a bit more about our day. I promise that I won’t be too verbose with this post!

With the recent flooding in our basement, Deanna and I had to put any plans of hosting a party at our place that weekend on ice. We had been half expecting some company over the weekend, but a change of plans found us on our own instead, and we decided to just mkae it a relatively quiet weekend. Friday would be the big paddling day, and we’d decided Saturday would be a day spent putting the basement back into a liveabble form since it would be a while before the reconstruction work is done. To wrap things up, we also had a race lined up for Sunday, the Spartan Race. But of course, you’ll be able to read all about that in another post which should follow shortly.

We were particularly excited about heading out paddling because I have a shiny new kayak to play with, and Deanna is now the owner of my old kayak, and was anxious to give it a good try. Before setting off, we plotted a few possible routes to take, depending on water and weather conditions. We packed up some lunches inclding a couple single serving tetra paks of red wine. Yum! Slather on the sunscreen, pack up the car, and we were off! We had decided to put in at Lac Leamy and head to the Ottawa river from there. Our route was basically to head downstream to Kettle and the Duck Islands, then swing back upriver to be back around Parliament to enjoy the fireworks that evening.

The weather was absolutely stunning to be out on the water. Brilliant sun, and warm temperatures. The sky was also very clear, which would make for some excellent fireworks display later. Of course, the downside was that with the great weather, it meant there were a lot of other boaters out on the water. And I’m not talking about canoes and kayaks, I’m talking about lots of powerboats being piloted by people who were likely doing a bit of celebrating (if you know what I mean). Lucky for Deanna, my old boat is quite stable. However, since my new boat is more of a racing boat, it is a bit tippier, so all the cross-waves forced me to a bit more focussed on my paddling than I might have liked 🙂

The geocaching itself was also a bit of a challenge where we went. Once we arrived at Kettle Island, there were quite a few revellers at the place where we had planned to pull off to grab some caches. We were forced to go a little further away, and basically bushwhack to get to the cache we were targetting. In the end, it was mainly me doing the hacking as Deanna stood guard by the boats to make sure that they weren’t washed off by waves back into the river. This theme continued for several more caches, as it was much easier for me to hop off my sit-on-top boat and head into the jungles to find the caches. After a few of these stops, I decided that Kettle Island is really like the Lost World. The ferns there are huge, and it is quite wild inland. Not to mention the massive mosquitoes that were feasting on my blood. Oh well, such is the life of an adventurer, right?

We carried on in this manner for several hours, grabbing caches and paddling through cool spots. Our last downsrteam cache was particularly fun, and was a pretty tough find, but I perservered while Deanna paddled below the perch where I finally found it. Looking at our watch, we decided it was time to head back upstream, given that we’d have both wind and current against us for the return paddle. Plus, we were getting hungry and decided that supper would be closer to the fireworks. Two final caches were grabbed before we found a nice little island that we decided to call home for the rest of the evening. It was around 8:30, and fireworks would be around 10pm so we had a little time to kill.

I tried to dry off a little bit, as the waves and jumping in and out had resulted in me getting quite a bit wet, and the termperatures were now dropping a bit with the setting sun. We busted out the supper we’d packed, and casually chowed down while watching the growing armada of boats assemble in the water for the fireworks. The big show started right on time at 10pm, and as usual, this was a show not to be missed. This would have been perfect had it not been for all the mosquitoes that were attacking us! 15 minutes later, it was time to head back to the car. I put lights on the kayak, and we turned on headlights and flashing rear lights on our PFDs.

This is when the final fun started. It was now pitch black, and there were a ton of boats all speeding away from the area, causing all kinds of turbulent waters. When we reached the intersection of the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers, things got pretty hairy. There were massive cross-waves, and I couldn’t see any of them due to the dark. I was SURE I was going in. Especially when my entire boat was swamped by the waves twice in a row. I was basically sitting in a bathtub of water. However, I popped by little self-bailer and kept paddling as best I could. Remarkably, all the water drained out, and I stayed in the boat! I was actually quite surprised (and happy!).

The end of the paddle went fairly smoothly, and once out, we loaded the boats and all the gear back on the car and headed home wet but happy. It had been a great day on the water, and we’ll definitely be back there again next year for the July 1st celebrations. Time to rest up again, and get ready for the Spartan Race on Sunday. As another distraction on Saturday, we even went to the movies and saw X-Men First Class. Great movie! Here endeth my short story about paddling on Canada Day, and hope you all were able to enjoy the great weather with family and friends as well. Up next: Spartan Race Report.

Taking the Ultimate Challenge for a 2nd Time

Silver for me in Mens Open

Let’s just clear the air here once again people. There is no such thing as an EASY race. Nor can there be a ‘relaxing’ race, or a ‘fun’ race. You are either racing, or you are participating. Why don’t I know that by now? As you are probably aware, last year I participated in the ‘Full Challenger’ version of UltimateXC. 3 gruelling days of racing, starting with a 67km kayak leg, then a 57km trail run, capped by a 100km mountain bike leg, all of which took place on and around Mont Tremblant. It was probably the toughest race I’ve ever competed in. But a great venue and event, so I wanted to come back. However, I opted to race in the 1/2 Challenger version, so a ‘mere’ 21km paddle, 21km run, and 50km mountain bike. My logic was that it would give me more time to just relax and enjoy the resort village. Ha! I fooled myself. This was still a tough race, and thanks to good friends and competitors, a hard fought battle for the podium. Curious about the whole story? Glad you are, as I will fill you in on all the gory details after the break. Before that, why not have a look at some of my pictures from the race as well?

As with last year, a group of us were planning on doing the race, but this year, the registration for the 3-day challenger events were way down. Last year, there were 39 of us signed up for the full challenger. This year? A mere 8 souls were braving the course again. As to the 1/2 Challenger, there were only 7 of us that began the race, and a mere 6 that actually finished! If it weren’t for the people registering for just the paddle, run, or bike days, there would be enough, so I’m glad they did sign up in large numbers, and that Dan continues to put on the 3-day race in spite of lower numbers. Here’s hoping that next year, the numbers take another upswing, because this truly is an epic race that deserves to be recognized and raced by those hardcore athletes out there! In our room in Tremblant village, two of us were doing the 1/2 Challenger (Mike Abraham and I), and two were doing the full (Pete Dobos and Pierluc). The accommodations were simple but adequate, and we had a full kitchen so that we could do a bit of cooking as well if we chose to.

The weather over the three days was absolutely perfect, if not just a touch too hot in the mid-day hours. For the paddle, we had nearly dead calm waters, which meant a fast easy race for all those on super-slick carbon fiber surfskis. It was definitely hot, but that’s better than a miserable paddle in the wind an rain. The run day and bike days were both pretty sunny and hot days with light winds. It would have been pretty insufferable had it not been for the fact that much of this race takes us into the woods where it is reasonably cool. Speaking of the woods, we had been warned that the bugs were out in massive numbers, so both Saturday and Sunday, my ritual included covering head to toe in sunscreen, waiting 30 minutes, then applying a liberal coat of bug dope, waiting a bit more, then slapping on my spandex outfit of choice. However, I didn’t find the bugs bad at all at any time. So again, a total plus for the weekend and the racing.

The only mild annoyance of the weekend was the fact that the 2 full challengers in our room had to be up super early each day for their race (I’m talking 4am here). That was due to 6am starts for them. On the other hand, our starts were at noon on Friday, and 10am on both Saturday and Sunday, so we had more time to sleep in and enjoy the lodgings. But that’s hard to do when, for example, the entire room is being smoked out by Pete cooking sausages at 4:30am on Friday morning! Ha ha. But like I said, only a minor annoyance, and all part of the experience and the collective memories! Alright, enough idle chit chat, let’s get on to the actual racing and daily results, which I’ll tackle by day/discipline for your ease of reading 🙂

Day 1: 21km Paddle on Lac Tremblant

Friday morning was the paddle. For us, it was a straightforward grind along the length of Lac Tremblant. 10.5 km up, loop around a boat that acted as a checkpoint, and 10.5 km paddle back. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Well, save for one thing. I hadn’t brought a boat! This was on purpose however, as I was thinking of buying a new boat for racing, and had a line on a couple at this race that I could try. So at 9am, I was already at the water trying out boats and deciding what I’d race on, even though the race didn’t start till noon. I settled on a Cobra Eliminator, a serious looking boat, albeit plastic. Based on an old K1 kayak design, but basically bulletproof. 17 feet long, and great for adventure racing due to the design. That out of the way, it was time to line up.

The racers were basically split into two groups. In the front, the day racers, all of whom were out on uber-fancy carbon and kevlar surf skis measuring 20+ feet each. When the gun went off, these guys quickly glided out of our reach. Behind them was the rest of the racers, the majority of which were in the 1/2 challenger camp. Luckily, I found myself at the front of that group. Right off the bat, Mike and I found ourselves leading the 2nd group. We matched each other stroke for stroke for most of the first 10.5k. He started pulling away near the turnaround, and I had a hard time responding right away. I also ran out of drink before the turnaround. Not a good thing, as the heat and sun were doing a number on me and my long sleeved shirt. I was hot and sweaty, with no relief in sight. There was an aid station, but since Mike skipped it, I had no choice. A volunteer tossed a little vial of X4 at me at the turnaround. No idea what it was, but I shot it down. Tasted like super concentrated grape freezie.

Bzzzz! Whatever it was, it kicked in, and I was able to bring back some razor-like focus to my paddling and bridged back the gap to Mike, and together we both passed the next closest fellow ahead of us on an outrigger surf ski. We then battled hard the rest of the way back to the finish line. I was getting really thirsty, and the only thing I could do was occasionally scoop a handful of water from the side of the boat and slurp it. Mike kept up the pace, but we were both slowing a bit. Once again, near the end, he pulled ahead a little bit, and I just couldn’t respond. At the finish, he pipped me by a mere 39 seconds. That put Mike in 1st for the 1/2 Challengers, and me in 2nd. I was happy with that for day 1. The rest of the challengers finished shortly after us, with 3rd place coming in 3 minutes later. The pack was pretty tight going into day 2.

For the full challengers, they’d had a loooong day on the water. In the end, Pete Dobos came off the water in 1st place overall, and was extremely happy with that result. The top 4 paddlers all used exactly the same boat. Plastic as well, but longer and more ‘racy’ than mine. However, it was also a $1000 more than what I’d be paying. Oh yeah, that’s right, I decided to buy the boat I raced with, I liked it so much! So now Deanna and I both have boats to go out paddling in 🙂

Day 2: 21km Trail Run on Mont Tremblant

Yay! Trail running day! In my mind, this was my only chance to get any time on Mike as well as my next closest competitors. Mike is a strong runner too, but I thought my experience running the 56k race last year, and the fact that I had just come off a 3:16 marathon after months of training, should give me an edge. With that, I seeded myself at the very front of the pack for the start, as did all the other challengers though! The race started at about 10:15am, and the course looked quite reasonable. The opening 8km was on relatively flat rolling trails, looping back into the village before launching us straight up the mountain in the technical trails. In other words, a chance to warm up on the ‘flats’ before facing the headwalls. At the starting gun, I wasted no time in launching myself into the very front grouping of racers, even if they were only day racers. However, Mike was right on my heels the whole way. We led a pretty blistering pace through that first 8k loop, and by the time we were back in the village, I had distanced myself from the other Challengers, and now was on my own in the front, with the day racers. I kept pushing hard, trying to gauge the effort I could put in without seriously damaging myself for day 3. That was difficult to do during the euphoria of the race.

Pushing hard, I hit the steep climbs with a lot of spring in my step. I ran almost 100% of the course, which if you saw some of the climbs you’d understand why when I say ‘run’ it isn’t very fast! As far as I know, it was paying off, and I was even passing some of the day racers. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no way of knowing where Mike was in all of this. No looking back, I said, and kept telling myself he was right there. During the run, I had a water pack which I drank from the whole way. At aid stations, I’d grab another glass of electrolyte drink, and I had a grand total of 2 gels as well. But I felt strong and fresh almost the whole way, which was what I’d hoped for. My only tough spot came at the very end. I was catching up to another fellow on the downhills, and after hitting the village, I tried sprinting past him, at which point my calves screamed in protest and started cramping! D’oh. I dropped the pace and hobbled to the finish line a few hundred meters further.

At the line, I crossed in 1st of the challengers with a time of 2:04:16, putting in nearly 6 minutes on Mike, and over 20 minutes on the next closest challenger. With that, I was now in 1st, with 5 minutes in the bank to Mike, and 27 minutes to J-R who was in 3rd. Even better in my mind was the fact that I came 7th overall in the 21k run, out of over 130 trail runners! Great result there. Mikes time was also good enough for 12th overall, and 2nd in his category, for which he got a silver medal! Nice. With the run done, Mike and I hung out for a while at the finish watching others, then grabbed the chairlift to the summit to do some sightseeing. Ironically, soon after arriving there, Pete was just coming through a checkpoint at the summit before heading downhill to the finish. He looked a bit rough, and apparently, the run had taken A LOT out of him. I think he was already worried about the next day. All the full challengers looked pretty beat up at the end. I remember that feeling from last year, and even worse, the horror of realizing that the next day, you had to mount your bike for 100km of the most difficult mountain biking you can picture. Ugh! I was suddenly VERY glad I only had 50km of riding to do! And so endeth day 2 for me!

Day 3: 50km Mountain Biking around Mont Tremblant

To say that day 3 is hard is definitely an understatement. After 2 days racing, getting up and starting the engine up again is tough. This year, it was much easier to do thankfully, and I was elated to find that I still had pretty strong legs to start this day off. Of course, so did my nemesis Mike. And to top it off, biking is by far his strong suit, as well as J-R’s, the fellow in 3rd currently. On a 50km bike, I could easily lose the 27 minutes to him. I headed to the start line with Mike with great trepidation. There was chit chat with both he and J-R, but there was no joking when I told them this was my weakest link, and that I would be lucky to stay close. They knew that though, and they were hungry to chew me up on the bike. That was abundantly evident when the race got underway. J-R and Nat (his girlfriend) took off like bullets right away. I had to pump my little legs double fast just to keep up. This was not inspiring confidence. Mike was also sucking my wheel right away. Ironically, our little group was actually leading the entire charge, with the single day racers behind us. I took a mental note that this was probably not the smartest way to start the long bike.

It wasn’t long before other racers started passing me, including Mike. I watched, feeling a bit helpless, as the little group started putting distance ahead of me. I kept telling myself that this was for the good in the long run, as there were lots of tough climbs coming up, and I was hoping that they would burn themselves out or maybe not keep as hydrated as they should, and accordingly, suffer a bit more than me later in the day. I did my best to keep a very even pace, and whenever I caught glimpses of riders ahead, tried to keep the distance constant. In a little while, we started hitting the long climbs, and here I was able to make up some time, and catch some of the stragglers on the front of the group. When the going got tough uphill, I’d hop off, but jog up the inclines, which was met with a lot of surprise when racers learned I’d been racing all weekend. I made sure I kept putting electrolytes in me, ate food when I could, and drank lots. The plan was to keep running in top form.

Unfortunately, that fell apart for me around kilometer 36 or so I think. We had finished a really long uphill climb followed by some really gnarly and technical descending. We were now turning back up the hill for a long exposed climb on an access road. That’s when the cramps hit me. Leg cramps. The most painful and prolonged cramps I’ve felt in a long time. It reminded me of a 48hr race I did once where I was taken off course for severe dehydration. The cramps hit, and I just completely fell over sideways from the pain. It was like someone was passing an electric current into my muscles directly, causing them to fully contract and not let go. I was devastated. I screamed in agony, and passing cyclists felt my pain. I dug as deep as I possibly could to tell my brain to ignore the cramps and keep going. As the muscles seized and pulsated, I was able to force myself to walk/shuffle, dragging the legs as I went. Gradually, the cramps would fade and allow me to ride for another while, but always seemed to come back later down the trail for the rest of the ride. I did A LOT of walking on the final sections, and it DID NOT make me happy. I knew with each walking ‘break’ I took, my competitors were gaining on me.

When I finally rolled down the final steep pitches back into the village, I was mentally crushed. I put on as much speed as I could muster, but feared the worst. I knew the worst would be 3rd place on the podium, but even that depressed me, knowing I had held the top rung. I crossed the finish line, still elated by the accomplishment, but needing to know the outcome. J-R was there to greet me right away, and grinning, he said ‘I nailed you on that one, I finished long ago’. But just how long? Well, it turns out it was only 13 minutes earlier, which mean I still had roughly 15 minutes on him overall! Sweet! 2nd was assured. But what about Mike? He was nowhere to be found. Turns out he finished another 7 minutes ahead of J-R. Between them, they grabbed 1st and 2nd overall for the 50k bike of all the competitors! Very nice. If you do the math, it essentially meant Mike was on the top rung, and roughly 15 minutes back was me, and another 15 minutes back was J-R. We were all pretty stoked with the results. Mike a little less energetic, mainly due to the fact that the effort on the bike landed him in the medical tent as he was very dizzy and lightheaded. Turns out they both gave it their all on the bike, which makes me feel pretty decent about how I finished, considering it was my weakness!

Looking back on the whole weekend, it was once again cemented in my mind that UltimateXC is a tough race. But it’s also a great race. A competitor’s race. You can run head to head with the best, or race yourself. Either way, there is something for every level of racer there. Everyone comes out both grinning, as well as with a bit of angst over the difficulty of the race. But hey, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. As you can tell, this was not a ‘lazy weekend’ by any stretch. As to enjoying Tremblant and sightseeing? Well, we went out for supper once. We hit the gondola to take in the views once, and took a quick dip in the hot tub. But, I enjoyed many kilometers of some of the best paddling, running, and riding in the region, and that in itself made for an epic ‘vacation’ 🙂 That ends my tale for this race. Stay tuned for my next report, where I hopefully can claim my place among the Spartans. Yup, the Spartan Race is coming up, and I’ll be reporting on it for Get Out There Magazine. Till then, stay cool!!