Ahhh, Adventure Racing, the sport of kings. Well, perhaps that’s too glorious a title. More fittingly, I suppose it would be the sport of fools. Still noble in the king’s court, but for different reasons. After all, we spend countless hours training in a multitude of disciplines, spend countless amounts of money on equipment and race entries, all in order to suffer countless injuries and endure pain in races where the outcome is determined by much more than the money and training invested :-). In this post, I’ll take you through my first adventure race of the season, the 2011 Frontier Adventure Challenge 8 hour race that took place in Huntsville. As the title implies, I had a tactically (and physically) very strong race. Unfortunately, as is often the case in AR, it was all for not, as a bit of difficulty in the last section took me from 3rd place overall to a ranking of 66th!! And that is no indication of a tight race with everyone jostling for the finish line. This is all about strategy, tactics, when you got to the finish line, and how much of the course you completed! Parsing how that ranking was calculated, as well as the full story of my race, which I contend was one of my strongest ever in spite of it, is what this blog post will be all about. Read on for the whole story, and don’t forget to check out some of the shots from the weekend as well. No GPS race map to share, so I went old school and snapped photos of map!
Alrighty then, time for the story. The first race of the season is always exciting. I hadn’t secured any team-mates in time, so I was racing this one solo, as was Deanna! This would be her first ‘official’ solo race, as we raced together last time. Being the mean guy I am, I told her a while back I wanted to test myself on this one, and planned to race hard. As you’ll learn, she sorta got the last laugh on that one. The other special part about this weekend and having Deanna along is that this was out unofficial 1 year anniversary. We got together at this very same race one year ago, while she was volunteering, and I was racing. In the lead up to Friday, we got all the gear ready and finalized a few details. Deanna was nervous, but also excited. As was I. My training has been a bit less structured and spotty, but I still felt pretty good.
Friday night we spent time sorting gear bags and discussing a few possible strategies with other races, all in absence of any idea what the course would hold for us yet. Maps weren’t distributed till the next morning. Early morning came, breakfast was eaten, and off we all went for our maps (9 of us were sharing a condo!). In what was a rare treat, there was only one single map to deal with, making life pretty easy. Plotting the points unveiled the extent of the course. Logistically, it was awesome for race organizers, as the Hidden Valley Resort served as our basecamp, and was also the site of pretty much all the transitions, so there were no bag or gear movements involved. In order, the race would consist of the following: 1) Le Mans start running to top of ski hill, then back to start, 2) Paddle leg of either ~11km or 20km depending on whether you shot for an advanced checkpoint, 3) Bike leg heading northwest leading to, 4) Trekking section with 2 checkpoints in the bush, 5) Biking section which ultimately ended back at start, but could also include the 6) Advanced trek section with 3 remote checkpoints in the bush, after which you biked back to start for 7) the Final trek section around the resort, ski hill, and golf course area to the finish line, which we’d re-visited 3 times already!
Le Mans Start and Paddle Section
For starters, I seeded myself up near the front of the pack. This was the biggest FAC race to date, with literally hundreds of participants. I know I’m a pretty strong runner, so I figured it would be better to get a jump on the crowd and try to pick off CP1 before the masses showed up. At each CP, you had to punch a physical passport AND insert a timing chip into a device and wait for a beep. Luckily for CP1 we only had to do the beep, but the wait would still be lengthy with lots of teams at the top. Plan worked well, and I was in the top group of 10-15 at the top of the ski hill. Grabbed the CP, then booted it back down the hill, passing by Deanna as I ran by and wished her luck. Back at CP2 / TA1, another punch and timing check, before grabbing my kayak and starting the paddle.
The paddle was perfect. The water was a near-mirror sheet, the sun was shining bright, temperatures were only about 10, and the winds were quite low. It was ideal weather. I fell into a good rhythm, and made steady progress, passing several teams on my way. They were in canoes while I was of course in my kayak. I could see the leaders up ahead, but there was no way to catch them, as they were obviously stronger paddlers. Reached CP3 area, and pulled on shore, jumped out and ran up the hill to the area where the CP was waiting. Made a slight detour, but didn’t lose much time. Punched in, and ran back to boat. At this point, there was a cutoff of 11:15am to choose whether to do the advanced paddle CP or not. I had lots of time, but strategically chose to skip it. Basically, it would be nearly an extra hour of paddling to pick up 1 extra checkpoint, whereas later in the course, there was a trek section with 4 extra checkpoints. Ultimately, my time would be better spent trying to get those. At a minimum, grabbing 2 of those would result in a higher standing than someone who got the paddling CP, but ran out of time to grab the other trek checkpoints. I know, sounds complicated, but I knew my strengths, and stuck to my strategy.
As a result of my decision, I found myself in a rather awkward position for me. I was, in a geographical sense, LEADING the race!! All others ahead of me had opted to go for the advanced paddle CP, leaving me alone to paddle towards the next transition. With no one to chase, it was an odd feeling, but I tried my best to keep pushing myself hard. People were rather surprised to see me pulling off the water so soon, and cheered loudly; “I’m not really winning, I just skipped CPA” is what I yelled out. Still felt cool though.
Bike Section 1 and Trek Section
After a quick transition all alone (no one else was coming in yet), I hopped on my bike and pedaled off to the trekking section. This was also the first time I truly used my Intrepid Mapboard. It was perfect, especially with the single map.There were no difficulties on the bike leg at all. I chose to stick to the roads, later finding out that was definitely the right call. Along the way, my picture was snapped, and again I was cheered for being in the ‘lead’. This carried on into the trek. When I arrived at CP5, the start of the trek, Geoff, the race director, was there, along with a small army of volunteers. They were NOT prepared for any racers yet. The actual checkpoint wasn’t even set up yet. I stashed my bike off in the trees (the only bike at the time), and headed off to work on the first trek.
Seemed straightforward enough. Two checkpoints to navigate to, both of which were along the river that snaked through the area. However, there were several trails around there, and the challenge was choosing whether to follow them or not. I opted to use them a fair bit, while keeping an eye on the time to estimate distance. In spite of that, I still overshot the first CP by a bit, judging by the river features and direction. No problem, I decided to just follow the shore back to grab both CPs. Somehow, I still managed to miss CP6, but didn’t know till I ran into Bob Miller. Damn! He was the official leader, having completed the advanced paddle and now caught up to me. However, for the record, this guy is an animal, and untouchable by most. He was a very fast paddler. Oh, and he was also last year’s overall winner of the Full Solo UXC!!
The great part though was that we hooked up and worked together to grab the two checkpoints. Doubling back, I realized I had somehow ran right past the bright orange and white CP marker, most likely since it was on the back side of a tree. No matter, we got it, and booted back to grab CP7. I was having fun keeping up with Bob, happy that I could. We then made a tactical decision to cross a ‘creek’ to grab a direct bearing back to the transition area. Two steps, and the water was up to my damn neck! We opted to swim the short crossing and let me tell you, it was COLD! Bob had already started up the next hill, and was a little surprised to see me right with him. We made it back to the transition, and both hopped back on our bikes to start making our way off to the next section. By now, there were tons of bikes in this area, but we were the first two to clear out of the trek with the CPs.
Bike Section 2 and Advanced Trek Section
Bob and I were now making our way along the ‘mandatory’ trail section of the bike leg. Here we were finally met with some thicker mud and wet trails. Again, the overall nav was pretty easy. There were a couple decision points, but nothing too confusing. Bob managed to pull ahead of me relatively early on, as I had opted for regular pedals with ‘cages’, and was causing me grief in getting on and off my bike when I’d wipe out or have to get off due to mud. I also had the wrong tires. At any rate, I arrived at the start of the next trek in a solid 2nd place, about 12-15 minutes behind the incomparable Bob.
For me, this was another decision point, as there were 3 extra CPs off in the bush, but I was mindful of the time due to needing to complete the race by 6pm. I gave myself a cutoff of 4pm to leave that area, estimating I’d need at least an hour to bike back to the next transition, and another hour to complete the final trek, which I thought would be pretty simple. I chose to tackle CP’D’ and CP’E’. I was happy to have the chance to try this advanced trek, and wasn’t disappointed. The CPs were much trickier to find than the last section, as the features were not as defined and you had to be tighter on your navs. I wandered around and wasted quite a bit of time before finding CP’D’ hidden in a copse of trees in a marshy area. Luckily, after that one, I took a straight bearing and pretty much hit CP’E’ dead on at a little waterfall area. Coolest part of this section for me was seeing (and shadowing) a moose for a while. I kept coming across fresher and fresher dung until I was almost on top of the actual creature! He luckily wasn’t too interested in me, but seemed to be on the same bearing as me. Very cool experience.
With CP’E’ bagged, I took a straight west bearing to meet back up with a 4×4 trail leading back to transition. I jogged a lot of it, and popped back at the transition at 3:45pm. A quick consult and I decided my best bet was to boogie back to the start. I found out I was once again the 2nd person out of this section. Well, at least 2nd that actually grabbed any CPs. A few teams made it up to grab the east CP right at the transition point, but didn’t bother actually trying any of the actual trek. That made me pretty happy about my choices, as I knew that even if they had done the advanced paddle, I’d now have an extra CP over them. As I was getting set to leave, Team Running Free, with James, Leanne, and John came out as well. Lucky them, they had nabbed all the CPs. We decided to head back together.
Bike Section back to Final Trek
The final bike section was just a hammerfest to get back to the transition area. With Running Free at my heels, I tried to stay just ahead of them for much of this bike leg, and did a very good job. In the end, we basically stayed very close the entire bike leg, with me coming in only slightly ahead of them. Considering the strength of their team, I was very happy to be able to match them pedal for pedal. On the way, we collectively passed quite a few other teams who had skipped all the advanced sections, and were just heading back. It was nice to see more bodies again. Definitely put me back in ‘race mode’.
Unfortunately, my 1hr estimate was a little off, and in spite of some hard biking the whole way back, I didn’t get to the transition until about 5:10! That left me with under an hour to clear the final section.
Final Trek and Finish
Really quick transition, and I was off again. On the map, this looked pretty easy, as we were now in the golf course / ski hill area, so I assumed things would be a piece of cake. Again, I made a tactical choice. I opted to follow the road all the way back out to the road in order to take what I thought would be an easy bearing to CP10. This was my complete undoing. What I should have done was just follow the same trail we’d used nearly 8 hours ago on the Le Mans start. My route was much longer, and also involved a lot of climbing, and a distinct lack of features to landmark off of. End result: very long search before actually grabbing CP10, which was not where I expected it based on the map. Turns out the ‘lake feature’ I was looking for had been drained and replaced by the friggin golf course! Grrr.
Time was running out, and I still had 2 CPs to go! I was frantic, and only managed to puch CP11 at 5:55 or so. In my mind, game over. Cutoff was 6:02, and I was still 1.5km away through bush. I didn’t even bother grabbing CP12, since I assumed I had now DNF’d. Extremely disappointed, I made my way back to the road and managed a bit of a jog back to the finish. I wandered over to the finish area, and admitted defeat and tried to hand in my stuff, but was told I still had to punch in. Apparently, I would still be ranked. Crap, maybe I should have grabbed CP12 after all.
But now I give you the tale of the tape for real. Baseline race is completing all regular checkpoints within 8 hrs. If you finish all those AND get any of the advanced CPs within the 8 hrs, you were ranked higher. If you finished under 8hrs but with less than all CPs, you were ranked lower. However, finishing in over 8 hrs, regardless of regular or advanced CPs, and you were torpedoed in the standings. That’s how my dear Deanna, who had some rough luck on the first CP, and missed a large part of the racecourse, but punched in at the finish just under 8 hrs, still managed to be ranked 10 spots higher than me, even though I did a pile of the advanced course! Crazy, right?
Well, believe me, there were a lot of very ‘experienced’ teams that got burned on this course. In the end, it was agreed I made all the right decisions, and it WOULD have paid off, if I’d only not screwed up the last trek. After all, only 2 teams (Bob and Running Free) actually finished the whole course, including all the advanced CPs in the 8 hrs. If I’d finished under 8, I would have been 3rd overall, as I had nabbed the next most of the advanced CPs. Bugger, eh? I had a few beers to ease the pain and decided to just enjoy the rest of my night
Post Race Party and Anniversary
After cleaning up and some good food, it was time to unwind. There were many battle stories to share with other racers, lamenting our bad luck and great decisions. There was some fun live music, and I even brought in my bongos and tambourine to join in the fun. Eventually we started a sort of drum circle with a hula dancer in the middle entertaining everyone. Good fun. Deanna and I ended up turning in before midnight, after only a few beers. We were pooped.
Next morning, the weather wasn’t as awesome, but still pretty decent. In my world though, it was a perfect day, as this was essentially 1 year to the day that Deanna and I had gotten together. We decided to stick around the area a little bit, grabbing some geocaches, and visiting a couple spots that were special to us together. Eventually, we made our way back to Gatineau via the 60, with my semi-traditional stop in Barry’s Bay at the Dixie Lee chicken for post-race pig out.
All in all, it was another great race (in spite of the annoying result), in a great area, with great people. It was especially special getting to share it with Deanna, who had her own stories to tell about the race, and new-found appreciation for the sport I think. We’re now both looking forward to our next race, which is a week from when this gets posted, where we’ll race as a team of 2. That race, we vow to both complete with honour 🙂 But who knows, it’s adventure, so anything could happen, right? As always, I’ll lick my wounds, and return to the battlegrounds once again to challenge my demons and my fellow combatants. Till that time, hand tight friends, and thanks for sticking with me through the whole story!!