Greetings friends! So, what does a fellow do when he is 4 weeks between 2 major ultra trail running races? Why, sign up for, and race in a ‘shorter’ adventure race of course! As the title implies, I was looking for a little redemption after a botched attempt at the earlier Raid Pulse adventure race in May. At that time, I was a little over-confident, and ended up with a major orienteering snafu costing me huge amounts of time. I was determined not to make the same mistake at the shorter 4 hour event this time around. When the race is only 4 hours, you have even less of a margin of error if you’re trying to get on the podium. So how did I do? Well, read on and find out!
When you last heard from me, I was gallivanting through the hills of Bear Mountain, NY, struggling through my first trail run of the season, which also happened to be my first race of the season. Fast forward 2 weeks, and I was back out there competing in another race. However, I opted to go back to one of my other passions, Adventure Racing! I figured that since my foot has been a problem, I should dive a bit back into multi-sport racing. So with that, I found myself at the start line of one of my favourites, the 8-hour Raid Pulse Adventure Race with many old friends. Although it was my first AR in 2 years, I had high hopes, and was racing solo. Whatever the course may hold, I knew either way, it would be fun. Did it all go to plan? Definitely not, so read on to learn more about his adventure!
I’m usually happiest in two situations. First is when I’m pushing myself physically and mentally, and secondly, when I’m outdoors enjoying all the activities I like to partake in, like running, paddling, and mountain biking. Luckily, I get to combine both those into one package when I take part in Adventure Races. While I have planned to focus pretty much exclusively on trail running this year, I decided to get things started by taking part in the 8 hour Raid Pulse adventure race, now in its 15th year!! Since it may be my only AR event of the year, I wanted to make the most of it. I was racing and filming the event, and also decided to link up with my good friend and AR veteran John Ranson for the event. Read on for the skinny on the race.
Leading up to the race, my training was predominantly trail running, combined with my daily commute to and from work on my road bike. I did zero true mountain biking, and the only paddle I pulled off was when John and I got out for a nice 12k paddle on the Gatineau River. At that time, we chatted about our expectations, with John warning (read: foreshadowing) me that he hadn’t done much biking, so was pretty sure he’d be slower than me. I assured him that was okay, as my main goal was to push hard, and have fun with a friend on the race. He agreed to take care of navigation so that I could focus on filming.
Race day broke clear, sunny, and near perfect. It promised to be good weather for most of the day, with sunny to overcast conditions and not too hot. I had camped onsite the night before so that I wouldn’t have to scramble in the morning, even though the race was only an hour away at Mont Ste. Marie. This area has done a great job in building up its mountain biking options in the recent years, so I knew biking would definitely figure in prominently, but would actually be single track, aka the FUNNEST riding possible.
At race briefing, we got our maps and saw the course layout for the first time. The order of the sections were as follows: trekking, paddling, biking, trekking, biking, finish. The start featured a straight run up the ski mountain in front of us, which would help separate the race field and spread us out. We took off at a decent pace and I’d say we were in the top 10 heading up the hill. We had a few minor bobbles on the opening trek, but they only lead to a few minutes of accumulated errors in our estimation. We had ALMOST skipped a CP, but thanks to us both being navigators and double checking what we’d covered, we caught our mistake in time to not impact our routing too much. All in all, we were very efficient, and our navigation was quite strong on this leg, allowing us to pop out and get on the water in the top 8 or so position.
The water was glassy smooth in the late morning light, and our canoe was identical to most of the others, so we had no real excuse for any shortcomings in the paddle leg, which would actually total a shorter overall distance than our one paddle training outing! Once on the water, and headed to the first ‘advanced’ CP on the water, we were surprised to see the lead team already paddling back to transition! That meant they had 30-40 minutes on us. Also, I don’t think I have ever seen a canoe move so fast on water. There was a wake coming off the back. They looked like men possessed, even though there was no one near their tail. But, that’s what you have to do in order to secure a podium. Never give an inch, no matter what. 8 hours is still a long time, and anything can happen.
For our part, we wrapped up the paddle leg pretty uneventfully. Our time was nothing to brag about, but we generally kept our place on the water, perhaps losing 1 or 2 slots. I still had us pegged as contenders in some fashion, given the future trekking leg, and our strong navigation abilities. At transition, we took the chance to fuel up a bit and make sure we had all we’d need for the next long section. We were about head into the MTB trails of Velo MSM to catch a bunch of checkpoints before doing a bit of cross-country to reach the next trekking leg.
We headed off at a moderate pace, figuring we’d warm up a bit on the road section before tackling the trails. Already, John started dropping the pace a bit, but I was unfazed, even though he was already visibly irritated at himself. I did my best to encourage him and let up my pace a tad. I’m probably strongest on the road based on all my road bike commuting. 30k per day helps! We turned onto the Velo MSM trails, and thankfully we had more mental work to do in determining routes, etc, which helped mitigate pacing issues. However, it did become clear quite quickly again that John was getting frustrated at his own progress on the singletrack biking.
For my part, I was just having fun on the trails, and felt quite (surprisingly?) strong out there. I had forgotten just how much I do love mountain biking. Maybe someday I’ll get back into more cross-country riding rather than spending all my time running like a fool out there! I kept telling John not to worry about it, just focus on the riding, and not waste energy feeling frustrated, since it wouldn’t help anything. We’d get where we were going when we got there. I felt really bad later on when he outright told me I should just continue without him. I have NEVER abandoned a team-mate, and firmly believe in the team construct, and accept that a team will only ever be as fast as the slowest person, and all you can really do is help them. Unfortunately, there was almost nothing I could do for John. I took as much weight out of his pack as I could, but it wasn’t enough to boost his spirits much.
However, John knows the game. And he also knows how to push through. He is used to being at the pointy end of the stick, and I think wasn’t mentally prepared to deal with feeling weakness. Lucky for me, I’ve been there, A LOT, over the years. Being the weaker team-mate on more than one occasion, I felt qualified to know what NOT to do or say. I stayed positive and we just kept pushing. We got all our CPs and made it up to the top of yet another mountain (hill?) to arrive at the remote trekking transition. Back on our feet, we hoped to move smoothly through this section.
We did move well, with me trying to stay ahead and grab the CPs as quick as possible, letting John hang back where we could and focus on the maps. The best part of this section was the little swim that we had an option to take. I didn’t hesitate to strip down, head into the swamp / lake to cool off, pick up a CP, and head back. Since it was under 100m, John stayed on the far shore. The water was very refreshing, but smelly. I emerged like a swamp beast, with all the insects instantly attracted to me. Wasting no time, I re-dressed, and we got back on our way.
Back at transition, John got busy mapping the final few advanced checkpoints (which we didn’t get to see until this moment). It was more biking, so not John’s favourite. He was lobbying to skip a few and just make sure we finished under the 8 hr time limit. You could go over time, but the penalty was a point per minute, and with every CP worth a fixed 25 points, you had to make a decision on your approach. After a quick discussion and looking at the maps, I conceded that we could definitely skip one outlier CP, but felt we should do our very best to nab the rest. John agreed, and we were off. By now, things were also very hot, so dehydration was starting to fall over some racers. I’d managed my fluids pretty well, but John was low.
We kept hacking away on the bikes, making steady progress. Again, we bobbled once on the bikes, overshooting and adding a couple kilometers in distance, as well as probably 20-30 minutes over ‘optimal’ at our speed, but nothing major. Certainly nothing soul crushing. Overall, I can safely say I was still having fun, and although I will admit to being disappointed at NOT clearing the course this time around, it was still a positive experience. Being mentally and physically strong for an entire race felt good, and gave me confidence going into another race season.
We wrapped up the race on the bikes with a super-fun descent on more of the Velo MSM trails. I let myself get a bit ahead of John in this section, but only because it was a downhill technical run and I really wanted to bomb it for fun. I passed a lot of other racers, then waited at the exit of the trail for John. When he came into view, I hooted and hollered, and we rode the rest of the way down smiling having fun. UNTIL I did an endo!. 100m from the finish in a ditch. Sadly, it wasn’t captured well on film, but I basically was following a track that went straight down a dropoff into a ditch rather than the track next to it which had a clean path down and out of the ditch. Thankfully, no injuries were sustained, and we crossed the line.
When the dust settled and results were tallied, John and I finished off in 7th in our category and 11th overall, in a field of 40. Not podium material, but completely respectable, and still quite high in terms of number of CPs attained (we only skipped 1). After reflection, John decided that he got what he deserved, as he knows that you need to put the training in to do well, and he simply hadn’t been putting in the time to be a top contender. He also shared that he was used to being strong, and had hated the thought of slowing me down and/or holding me back. But while I would have liked to race harder and push myself to my limits, I was completely content to race the way we did. I accomplished my goal and spent my day in my ‘happy place’. What more can I ask for? It’s not always about winning. It’s about learning about yourself and about others, and savouring the experience.
As usual, the entire Raid Pulse crew put on a great event. Just the right size of event, with the right number of volunteers, and a well laid-out course. Thierry knows what he is doing, and I hope to be doing this event for another 10 years! Shortly after we finished however, storm clouds rolled in, and I suspect some racers may not share my fond memories, as they got caught in a torrential downpour on a very technical descent on mountain bikes! Yikes! Hopefully the rotisserie chicken meal at the awards ceremony made up for it!
Well, that wraps up my race report. If you haven’t done so already, please watch my race review below to get a sense of this race. Put it on your calendar for next year. If you’ve never done an AR event, this is one to try. With both a 2hr and 8hr option, there is no reason NOT to try it! That’s it for now. Stay tuned for my report from my first 50miler (80km) trail race of the season coming up next.
Well, the race season is shaping up quite nicely so far this season. I’m staying busy, but trying hard not to over-commit to racing in order to give myself to properly train for a few key events. However, it’s hard to say no to fun adventure races when I get the chance. With that, I bring you my re-cap of the ever-awesome Raid Pulse adventure race close to home. This early May race is a nice 8 hour duration, and this time, was held and hosted at Mont Ste Marie, a mere 1 hour drive from home. As a bonus, that means sleeping in my own bed the night before and after the race! Bonus.
This was, in fact, the 14th year that Thierry and his crew have been putting on events. In the world of AR, that is something to brag about. What makes it work and keep people coming back? Simple. The race is both accessible, and challenging. Top racers can put it all out there and try to clear the course to get all the advanced checkpoints, and novice racers can choose to chase less checkpoints yet still have a great day. Thierry has done an excellent job of crafting courses that can take you pretty much to the full 8 hr mark, both for the top racers and the newcomers. To make things even more accessible this year, there was even a 2-hour event, but I didn’t see any of that, given that we started before, and ended after their entire event and awards were done!
Based on the fact that the course was hosted at VeloMSM, the mountain bike trail group out of Mont Ste Marie, we had an inkling that this race would feature a fair bit of biking on the amazing trails of the region. We were not disappointed. VeloMSM has been around for a few years, quietly building up the trails around the ski hill. They have done some amazing work. This was my 3rd time racing in the area, and each time, it seems they have added to the trails, including building amazing wood berms and structures and ensuring there is a good mix of easy, medium, and hard trails. But I digress, back to the race.
Leg 1 – Mountain Biking
As mentioned above, our race began with a pseudo-remote start. For the start, we were bused back to where we had dropped bikes off on our way to the race HQ. This was about 10-12km from the ski hill, along rolling roads. The intent was to give everyone a chance to sort themselves out and separate the pack before the technical trails. After the roads, the next equalizer was the fact that most people opted to bike straight up the access road winding its way up the ski hill. This meant a steep climb, and chance to further spread out. A theme of this particular race was that pretty much all the checkpoints of the race could be picked up in any order within each leg.
For this leg, there were 8 regular checkpoints and 2 advanced checkpoints that we could snag. I had sketched out a tentative route at the briefing, but on the bus ride to the start, basically decided on the fly to try a completely different approach after the first big climb. The trick was to minimize the amount of double-backs on this section. Certain trails were 1-way only, and were scattered around a lake, so it was hard to tell on paper the most ‘efficient’ route. All in all, I’d say I made pretty good time. I learned early on that there was a faster way to get to one CP right off the bat, but only a few teams had lucked out on that (it involved a non-marked ATV trail from the original road INTO the ski hill area, where most of us got there via conventional trails). For that reason, I knew I was about 5 teams back from the get-go.
Another good sign was that as I exited this area of the course, I linked up with Adam Mallory and James Galipeau, both of whom are strong competitors, and whose paths I’d crossed on the trails a couple times. We all took slightly different routes, but all started the next KILLER climb on a dirt road to the first transition. And by climb, I mean hard walk up a near-vertical road with our bikes!
Leg 2 – Trekking
The next leg of the race was what I consider my strong suit. Trekking and orienteering. This time, we had 4 regular checkpoints and 3 advanced checkpoints to go after. Once we had reached a the transition zone at the peak of one mountain, we dropped our bikes, and headed off into the bush. A quick study of the may showed that the first regular 4 checkpoints shouldn’t be much of a problem, as they were located on ATV trails criss-crossing the area. Not only that, but our maps seemed to be pretty accurate, improving the odds we could run between these CPs. However, the 3 advanced CPs were placed at much further distances, and also involved some considerable elevation gain and loss.
I grabbed the first four points, then struck out on a bearing through the bush to reach the first of the advanced CPs. In this little section, I came across a few other racers, including James and Adam once again. Once again, we had NOT taken the same route in this section, but were together in the search for this particular point. Upon reaching the first point, we agreed that the most efficient route to the next point was down a pretty steep re-entrant along a stream from our high point. While it was not necessarily advisable to go at this one alone due to cliffs, we decided that by heading down together, there was some safety in numbers.
Not long after grabbing the next CP, I realized there was a serious problem with my navigation. James and I agreed on the bearing for the next point, but for some reason, we were pointed in complete opposite directions. Shortly after, I realized my compass was completely borked! The needle wasn’t moving. At first, I thought maybe it was a magnet or something, but I came to realize that the fluid in the capsule had somehow drained, to the needle was not able to properly moved. I guess 10 or so years of compass abuse in races leads to damage. Even more surprising is the fact that I *ALWAYS* carry a spare compass in a race….. until this one! I had NO backup. I was shocked. Not only that, but I was in the bush in the most remote part of the course. I had to trust contours, instinct, and most importantly, James!
I told him my predicament, and given the fact we had the same CPs left, we stuck together until the end of this leg. At one point I remembered my watch has a compass on it, but it wasn’t quick enough to give readings, and they were only bearings, making it harder to use in a hurry.
Add all this to the fact that there was a 2pm cutoff back at the TA in order to be allowed to continue onto the next ‘advanced’ bike section, and you can understand my concern for our pace. We picked up the pace as best we could , but ended up over-shooting the TA by veering a little too far east. Luckily, we hooked back up with a trail and ran / jogged back as quick as we could. We showed up a couple minutes after 2. Normally, it would be game over, but the race organizers had decided to add 30 minutes to the cutoff. Sweet! Still in the hunt for a course clearing. No time to waste, it was time to grab a couple glasses of Nuun, plot the new advanced CPs onto my map, and head back out.
Leg 3 – Biking / Advanced Biking
Compass snafu aside, I was feeling that I was in a good position now. Not that many teams had made it to the cutoffs, and I was on track to finish and clear the full course. In other words, whatever position I was in at that point in the race should be the worst I’d end up in. With that in mind, I wanted to charge hard and see if I could pick up a spot or two. The rest of the race was bike / paddle / bike, and wouldn’t require the use of my compass, so I put that fear out of my mind. What I didn’t count on however, was how miserable the advanced biking leg would be. Ostensibly, it was on a ‘trail’, but this thing was horribly overgrown, and resulted in a lot of bike-whacking, and when riding, resulted in a lot of branches smacking me in the face. It was demoralizing. Eventually, I just closed my eyes and rode through the branches. Apparently, my wife does not approve of this technique.
There were only 2 CPs to grab, and both were super-easy to find once we were out of the really gnarly ghost biking trail. Having grabbed those, it was back onto backroads that were on the map, and the longish ride to the next transition. On the ride, I studied the maps a bit more to see if there might be a shortcut, and ended up devising a plan to cut back through the MTB trails at the ski hill and ultimately through a golf course rather than taking roads the long way around one spot. The jury is out on whether that was faster on the way TO the transition, but it would pay off later. There were a few delays as I had to consult maps and double check where I was.
Emerging as hoped by the golf course, it was a quick 800m bike to where the boats and transition bags were waiting.
Leg 4 – The Paddle
Considering I had only managed to go out once on my boat this season, 3 days before the race, and for a mere 45 minutes, I wasn’t expecting to break any records. However, I had the rush of being near the end of the race in my favour AND the sight of a lot of other racers around me. Keep in mind that these were racers that had skipped certain parts of the course, so there was the mental boost that I would likely keep up to, and/or pass them on the water. For this section, there were 3 main CPs and 1 advanced CP to grab. Looking at the distances and time, it looked pretty much a lock that I could grab them all and finish under the 8 hour mark, so off I went!
Not long into the paddle, I linked up with a few other solo racers in kayaks, and couple canoes. We were similar in speeds, so ended up paddling much of this section together. This lead to a few traffic jams near the CPs, and one spot where I tried hopping out of my boat only to discover that the ‘rocky shore’ was actually a dropoff. I dropped down to my belly button before propelling myself upwards again owing to the frigid water. Lesson learned. I decided to just wait my turn at the CPs and try to better position myself for the next ones.
James and Adam had started the paddle ahead of me (they got through the bike quicker), but I caught up to Adam on the water. James had gotten too far ahead, so we crossed paths with him on his way back to the transition. I’m guessing he had 10-15 minutes on us. I decided I had to at least stay ahead of Adam in this mini-battle we had set ourselves up for. After grabbing all the CPs, I gritted my teeth and focused on a smooth paddle stroke to get out of the water first. On the way, we also passed Deanna and Adam’s wife, who were racing as a team of two (ironic, no?).
I reached the shore at ramming speed, hopped out into the mud, and dragged my kayak up as fast as possible…
Leg 5 – Bike to Finish
It was down to the final 4-5k of biking. I knew that I would only be out for maybe 15-20 minutes from here. As a result, I made what I would arguably call my fastest AR transition ever. I left all my paddling gear on (well, mainly just PFD). Threw on my helmet, dropped paddle off in my bag (along with my map bag that I wouldn’t need) and hopped on my bike, all in one relatively smooth movement. I was back on the road probably within a minute or two of pulling off the water. It was time to put my shortcut theory to the test again.
Word on the street is that when Adam pulled off the water, he was gunning for me, and was fighting for an equally fast transition (although he took time to take off his PFD, which I think was a bad decision). I rode back up to the golf course, and turned in, now having memorized the exact route to get to the faint trail back to the ski hill. A few other racers watched me turn with some interest, as the conventional route was to stick to the road all the way. However, this was the time to gamble in my opinion. Adam might well have caught me on the road!
Pushing hard, I emerged right where I’d hoped, in the ski parking lot. I crossed the line, relieved to see no sign of Adam. James was already there, and let me know he’d only just gotten there a few minutes before! In the end the results show me as having arrived 5 minutes after James, and Adam arriving 4 minutes after me! Our standings were 3rd, 4th, and 4th in the solo category. I’ll take it. Sad to be a mere 1 step off the podium, but there was some heavy competition in this category in this race. 1st place had beaten us all by an hour, and 2nd had beaten James by about 15 minutes. I feel the main difference had to be speed in the advanced bike section, and time lost on the trek due to the compass issue. Oh, and for the record, my finishing time was 7 hours, 34 minutes.
Time to celebrate! We all made our way to the awards ceremony to await the warm meal awaiting us. It was a tasty spaghetti with salad and bread, followed by a desert. The obligatory awards presentation, then lots of random draws. Sadly, I won no prizes that night, nor did Deanna, but I was happy just having had the chance to run yet another fun race. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention, I actually filmed the whole event with my array of cameras while racing ;-). If you haven’t done so yet, have a look at my re-cap video below. This should definitely give you a sense of the actual race. Enjoy! Next up, 44 hours of racing in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania!
Welcome back readers! This past weekend I managed to kick off my adventure racing season in fine form at Raid Pulse, an 8 hour adventure race in Bowman, QC. I’m assuming most of you are familiar with this local race series, since I’ve been racing in them for years! At any rate, I was racing as a solo, and also filming for the magazine (See video below). When the results were all tallied up, I finished off in 3rd place in the solo category and 12th overall, in spite of not fully ‘clearing’ the course (but only the top 3 overall managed that feat!). It was a fantastic race, and allow me to fill you in on some of the details without boring you.
As the race was less than 90 minutes from home, I had the luxury of a decent nights’ sleep in my own bed, and a relatively unhurried drive to the start. The weather all week had been pretty wet, so we knew conditions would likely be muddy and have overflowing rivers, etc. However, on race day itself, in spite of a forecast of rain, we emerged completely unscathed. Temperatures were perfect, ranging from about 10-15 degrees Celsius, and there was only a bit of sun, so burning to a crisp or overheating wasn’t a concern.
Due to the fine weather and a pretty good hydration and nutrition strategy, I felt pretty good for the entire race. In retrospect, I should have drank more (only drank about 2.5L over the course of 7.5 hours), but due to the length, I managed. The whole point of this race was to work out the kinks in my gear and strategies leading into my LONGEST RACE EVER, which takes place under a month away at Untamed New England. That race will be 4+ days of non-stop racing, where I’ve taken the role of head co-ordinator and navigator! Pretty stressful entry point into expedition racing, but I’m looking forward to it. This short race was meant to be a sanity check that I knew what I was doing out there. The good news? I feel confident coming out of it. Sure, I wasn’t perfect, but little mistakes are easily covered up in a long race (as long as you catch them early enough).
So, as to the course itself? Well, even though we had the same race HQ as 2 previous events, the course was completely different. This time, we were starting in the water. The opening section was paddling combined with trekking. 3 regular checkpoints, and 3 ‘advanced’ checkpoints. The race was rogaine style, which meant each CP was assigned the same number of points (25), and you were ranked according to your finish time and accumulated points. The ‘advanced’ designation of some points was more to let beginners know that they might want to skip these CPs. Although the maps we got prior to the race had all the info marked on them, they did NOT include the final 2 advanced CPs, which could only be attempted if you were basically back at the finish area by the 7 hour mark. As mentioned, that was only 3 teams!
What I really liked about this race was that everyone had OPTIONS right off the start. On the paddle, it wasn’t just a case of following all the boats. For example, some teams went the OPPOSITE direction from the start in order to try a portage to CP1. Others paddled straight to it. Finally, there was the option that I (and maybe 8 other teams) took, which involved paddling straight to the furthest point in the paddle, and basically doing that section in reverse. By doing that I started with a longer paddle, then hopped from point to point on the way back (and picked up the trekking CPs). The paddling was pretty calm, with only a slight cross-wind / waves to contend with. One racer managed to flip even before the start, but once underway, everyone was fine in the water.
I ended up portaging a total of 3 times in the leg (adding the 3rd one at the last second). However, by portage, I mean ‘drag’ my boat. She’s a tough little plastic kayak, and I’m a wee lad. It was just easier that way. I had no problem finding any of the advance CPs in that section, and headed back to transition feeling pretty good.
On shore were probably 10-12 other boats already, but several of these were teams that skipped the advanced CPs, so it was impossible to tell where I was in the standings. I wasted FAR too much time trying to change socks and shoes (don’t try putting on compression socks with wet feet and tape on an ankle!). On the plus side, I left with very dry and warm feet, shoes and legs (put on tights as well). I didn’t change again for the rest of the race. In other words, I did all the trekking with my bike shoes on. They are the bomb for this sort of race, so if you are looking for an upgrade, I recommend the Pearl Izumi X-Alp Seek V Shoes highly.
The next section was a bike and trek section, with the trek simply consisting of grabbing a CP on a nearby summit before heading to the bike pickup. I chose to go straight up the hill rather than take a trail, which I believe helped me pass a couple teams. From there, straight to the bikes where I hopped on and pedaled off on the trails. From here, it was a seemingly straightforward point to point slog to the next transition. Or so it appeared on the map! Starting out, we had obvious, double-track road / trails to follow. However, at one point, all that changed, with the trail veering off into what looked like just the bush. Supposedly there was a ‘faint trail’ to a beaver dam to cross a marsh to the TA, but damned if I (and those around me) could find the right one. There seemed to be many ‘faint’ trails. In the end, I said ‘screw it’, and marched straight into the marsh carrying my bike. Slogged across it to the other side hoping to find the trail on the other side. That didn’t happen as planned either, and I essentially ended up bushwhacking with my bike to the TA. Luckily, I found it, but it was a struggle to carry the bike through the woods like that.
At the transition, I was told that none of the teams were coming out where they were expected, and none of them had very high praise for the last bit of that bike leg. So at least I was in good company in that respect. Again, there were a fair number of bikes already there, but no way to know my standing. I was told that with the advanced points, I was still near the top. Buoyed on by this, I unclipped my helmet, and dashed off towards the next section, which consisted of 2 advanced CPs and 3 regular CPs. I decided to head straight for the advanced.
I love ‘advanced’ sections, because it usually means true navigation, and taking bearings. When you’re on a bearing, you can’t mess up. It’s always the trails that screw me up. With that in mind, I took a bearing early on and took an approach to a mountain-top CP that had the gentlest approach. In no time, I hit it bang on. Felt great. Took a new bearing, and made my way to the 2nd advanced point. Unfortunately, at one point, I made the mistake of following a couple trails, so it took me longer to find than it should have. Either way, I grabbed it, and jogged (as best as possible in the woods) back towards the TA. Once there, I did a time check. It was already 3:15pm! I was surprised (I had forgotten my watch at home). No time to waste, I chugged a Boost, and headed out for the next 3 regular CPs. I got them all, but spent longer than I should have when I overshot the first one, not realizing that they were in a much tighter area than I thought.
However, that was where a minor disaster occurred. I realized I’d lost my passport! It had been tied around my neck, on a string, but one end had apparently untied, and passport slipped off SOMEWHERE in the bushwhack. I doubled back as best I could for a bit, searching for the white paper, but to no avail. I didn’t want to waste more than 15 minutes on it, so resorted to punching the map instead of the passport to prove I had visited the CPs. Once back at transition, I reported my loss to the marshals, proving I’d visited the CPs. They had also verified all my controls up to the final 3 regular CPs, so they signed the map attesting that I’d gotten all the controls. WHEW! That meant I was free to continue to the next leg.
I was now back on the bike, racing against the clock in the hopes of making the cut-off for the final 2 advanced CPs. However, it was looking dubious, as I only had an hour or less, and still had to pick up 2 other regular CPs AND bike all the way back to the start area. All I could do was try. This final bike leg took us once again on what I’ll call a ‘phantom trail’ to retrieve the final 2 regular CPs. It was actually a lot of fun, and they weren’t super hard to pick up, but I realized there was NO WAY I’d make it back by 5pm. As a result, I decided to just end the day strong, have fun out there, and take some nice video on the way.
On my ride back, I helped a few beginner teams with some route finding, and chatted with others about their day as I passed by them. Seems everyone generally had a good time, but lots of comments about the difficulties of some spots. All in all though, that’s precisely what I’d expect to hear. After all, it is ADVENTURE racing, not trail racing! We all had adventures out there. Rolling into the finish area, I was welcomed by lots of racers and volunteers. Lots of people milling about enjoying a cold beer and swapping stories. I found out that I was 3rd in the solo category, but didn’t even check my overall standings at the time. Frankly, it didn’t matter that much. I’d had a great day grinding it out in the trails, and was happy with my finish, and even happier to hear that James had snagged 1st place overall with a brilliant race.
Once gear was thrown hastily back into a bag and zipped up (to be dealt with the next day), and the bike and boat were secured to the car, it was time for the meal and awards. We had a tasty post-race feast of beef, veggies and rice, while watching a slideshow from the day and hearing a few stories from racers. Home by 9pm and enjoying a celebratory beer. All in all, a good day at the 2nd office. Now, I get to focus all my efforts on preparing for UNE in under a month. *gulp*. Stay tuned for many more stories from that!
In retrospect, and in looking at the various times, I realize I probably should have pressed on hard towards the end rather than cruising. My 12th overall could definitely have been improved on (especially if I hadn’t wasted 15 minutes searching for my passport). But the mental crush of losing the passport also made me slow down, as I felt I had ‘lost’ my speed. Oh well. Either way, I had a blast, and here’s the video to prove it:
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
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!