Howdy race fans! Hope you all had an excellent long weekend. It was certainly a roller coaster of weather out there, but there was enough good and mediocre to go around I think. Although this post will mainly be about my race experience over the weekend, there were certainly a few other things that were pretty fun for me. I helped Haggaret work on his deck for a while. Went out for a nice supper at Milestone’s with Jody, rented The Wrestler, did a whole pile of outdoor work getting the deck ready for the summer, and even managed to head out to see Star Trek on the big screen. Yippee! Originally I had planned to also do a whole pile of training, but in the end, after the race, I opted to just stick around home and spend some quality time with the family 🙂 While I could go on about all that stuff, I’ll just stick to the race story. As with many of my race stories, you can first check out some pictures from the event, as well as check out the results if you can’t wait. As a special bonus for this one, I also managed to get pretty much the whole thing mapped out, so you can see where we were, and what we were up against. When you’re done checking all that stuff out, come on back and read the rest of my story.
The story starts in earnest a couple days before the race, when I finally had time to turn my brain to what I’d be up against. I read through the mandatory gear list and all the competitor newsletters. It’s a good thing I did, as I soon realized that there would be some swimming in the race. Sweet. Of course, I was pretty sure it’d be a short swim, but that still meant we could just give up and get totally soaked early in the race. It may also add a bit of a weather wildcard into the mix, as if it was cold at all, and we were stuck in a boat on the water, hypothermia could be a real risk. Just another thing to keep in mind when preparing for the race. The location was Plaisance in Quebec, which was about an hour out of Ottawa. Rather than camp out at the race site the night before, I decided I’d just crash at Carl’s house, which would give us the chance to prep our gear bags together and do some strategizing, then get a reasonable night’s sleep before heading out early the next morning for race registration.
Well, as luck would have it, the weather was calling for a pretty mixed bag on race day. Although the temperatures were calling for around 20 degrees, it was clearly going to be a rainy affair, with 90% probability of rain by noon. I was hoping we’d at least be off the water by that time. A quick scan of the transition bag ordering, we could tell that we’d start the race with a quick run, then do the paddling leg, followed by a trekking stage, then capped off with the mountain biking stage. Depending on timing, we’d also have an advanced trekking leg in the middle of the biking. We got up around 6:30 the next morning to grey churning skies. It was actually a bit cooler than I had expected, but I still had a good feeling about the race conditions themselves. We finished loading up the Xterra and hit the road (after a hearty oatmeal breakfast for me).
We got to the race site, and got through registration pretty smoothly. It was odd for once to actually not have to scramble to get the gear all ready before the start of the race. We agreed that from now on, whenever possible, we’d follow the same pre-race strategy. It made it that much easier to focus on the actual race preparation . I had chosen to be the navigator for this race, so obviously I was looking forward to getting the maps and instructions. When that time came, I immediately devoured. Just a quick scan told me a few things. Firstly, other than the advanced trekking stage, the navigating was going to be very straightforward. Remember I said that as you read on. The trekking leg was confined to a single park, with marked trails to help us get pretty close to each checkpoint, so that would definitely not be a problem. The biking was also relatively straightforward, as the trails were always following a river, and outside of the trails, we were on secondary roads that would be easy to navigate.
The race start would be fast and furious. It would be a straight sprint from the start line to the awaiting boats about a kilometer away. Lucky for me, given my fairly strong running background. At least I knew we wouldn’t be stuck at the back of the pack. And then the start gun went off, and it was pandemonium. We were seeded close to the front, but of course, somebody decided they wanted to sprint past, and cut me right off. The result? I stumbled, twisted, and rolled my ankle. I knew right away it was a sprain, but didn’t even imagine stopping. A number of people noticed it, as I pretty much screamed and cursed at the top of my lungs about it. My running pace was immediately cut way down, and I was actually forced to limp along more or less jumping on one leg. I was pissed, but it only fueled my desire to keep going.
Once at the boats, Carl volunteered to grab the boat while I got our paddles and life jackets set up. We made a quick transition and were off paddling in somewhere around 12th place I think. The first part of the paddle was making it down a channel until we hit the Ottawa River. From there, it was supposed to be a straight-shot to one of three ‘fingers’ on islands in the middle of the river. Well, that’s where it happened. Rookie mistake. We were so confident in everyone ahead of us, we followed blindly. All the teams ahead seemed to be making their way straight to a point that seemed to make sense. Well, almost all teams. One or two seemed to be heading further upstream, which caused only a brief moment of panic. The problem was, my compass was in my pack, along with the maps, on the floor of the canoe just a touch out of reach. We were so focused on our rhythm that I didn’t even want to waste a second shooting a bearing.
Well, that was the downfall of our opening play. We kept pushing, all the way to a spot 2 islands beyond where we were supposed to be, along with several other teams. Unfortunately, the winds also picked up, making the open river paddling trickier than some teams might have liked, no doubt including all those teams whose boats flipped in the water! Luckily, we were spared, but did end up doing a couple quick portages to avoid paddling the long way around our mistakes. When we finally hit the right area, we saw lots of teams far ahead of us having already picked up Checkpoint 1. We regrouped and pressed on, hoping to make up some time. We were lumped with a few other teams at that point, and did our best to pass them, but the water conditions were too tricky to try any bold moves. We waited until we got to the start of a 900m portage to make a move. Carl took the first shift, putting the boat on his shoulders and taking off at a nice quick hike. Halfway through, I took over, and kept applying the pressure. We managed to pass 5 or 6 teams on that portage alone.
When we put back in, the rain started up. We paddled hard to the transition area, getting ready for the trek. We made a quick turnaround, passing another team or 2 in the mix. We took off at a brisk job and kept it up for the whole trekking section. It was a fun jog, and that’s where the swimming section took place. The rain had started coming down a little harder now, and the marsh / swampy areas were running high with water. Needless to say, we all got very wet very fast. It was just as well, because we could just ignore the discomfort and get on with the task at hand. We got through this section in great time, probably passing another few teams on the course. We were in fairly high spirits as we ran to the 2nd transition area to transfer to the mountain biking stage.
We were definitely looking forward to the biking, as our training has been focused on the bike skills, and were confident we could put more time into the lead teams and maybe fight our way back to the front of the pack. Ahh , but the great equalizer showed her nasty face. Good ole mother nature. The first part of the ride was on roads, but we were soon to turn off onto ATV trails. That’s where we encountered the greasiest, slickest mud I’ve ever encountered in an adventure race. The first little piece of the trail was laughable, but soon after, we were growing very tired of the conditions. Even the slightest incline would result in tires slipping out from under us. I only fell a couple times, but we also ended up having to hike-a-bike far too often. I know it’ll sound trite again, but we still did manage to pass a number of teams. This might bode well, as we were bumping up close to a time cut-off for the advanced section, and we really hoped to make it.
Most of the teams we had been passing were good racers, but mainly middle to back-of-the-packers, which is why we were able to pass so many of them. The real strong ones were already out of reach, so our only hope now was to at least have the honour of doing the advance section. We pushed hard, and Carl told me we still had 20 minutes to spare before the cutoff. We got to CP 10, and immediately declared we’d do the advanced (that in spite of really de -motivating conditions) section. The volunteer sadly informed us we were 11 minutes late. Cutoff was at 2pm, and Carl had been working on the assumption that the cutoff would be 2:30. Oops. That was a big disappointment for us, but there was sadly nothing we could do.
We had no choice but to dust ourselves off and press on. Our new motivation was just to see how quickly we could get to the finish line, and to see if we could pass a couple other teams. We pulled that off pretty well, by passing another few teams on the final push to the finish. We’d been told there were about 10 teams that made it to the advanced section, so we were hoping there wouldn’t be too many other teams in the queue. When it was all said and done, and we saw the results, we ended up 11th in our category, and 20th overall. It was rather nice for a change to get to the finish early. Even though we hadn’t gotten to do the advanced section, it may have been the best given the state of my ankle. By finishing early, we got to enjoy a chance to sort out our gear and take a few layers of mud off ourselves, as well as grab a nice hot shower. Once a little more comfy, Carl and I headed to the depanneur , picked up a 6-pack, some chips, and a box of Advil. I popped a couple pills and enjoyed my first cold beer of the day while watching other teams finish the course.
As usual, the day was capped off with a great meal put on by the community center, including lasagna, beef macaroni casserole, shepherds pie, baked beans, salads and desert. I stuffed myself silly. Then we had the obligatory awards ceremony. Needless to say, Carl and I didn’t make the top 3, but it was great to see the other teams that won. I can honestly say that every team in this race suffered on the course. And there were a lot of them this time! Probably the best-attended race I’d seen in a while. It was great to see. I told a little story about our rookie mistake, and for that, got a prize (I ended up choosing a free race entry!). I also put a plug in for our fundraising efforts, and lo and behold, it paid off, as a new donation came in the next day from a stranger which was no doubt someone from the race. Sweet. All in all, a great day, a great race, great friends, and a great weekend. My post has clearly grown out of control, so I’ll leave it there and hope you all had an equally enjoyable break doing whatever makes you all happy!