Back in the Saddle Out in the Barrens

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Following Signs

Wow! What a difference a single week can make. One week ago, I had just finished what was arguably my hardest race ever, when I completed a full iron-distance triathlon in under 13 hours in really tough conditions. Well, flash forward to this past weekend, and I once again found myself toeing the line at another race event. What was I up to this time you ask? Well, on the schedule was Logs, Rocks, and Steel, an off-road multisport race consisting of 12km of paddling, 52km of mountain biking, and 17km of trail running. I was covering the event for Get Out There Magazine, and you can check out the video that I made for that. I competed in the race last year as well, but unfortunately, the outcome of that race was less than stellar. I’m happy to say that this year, conditions were much better, and the fact that I put no pressure on myself landed me a good result. Check out all the pics that I took while there, then read the rest of my post.

In the week leading up to this race, I had quite a bit of anxiety about a number of factors. First on the list was the fact that my body had been beaten up pretty badly by the Iron-distance tri. Would I be able to actually push myself? Would I cramp up or get dehydrated quickly? Would the weather go sour like last year? In the end, I headed to the race with one primary thought in my mind. This is fun. You love to do these things. Cover the race, get great photos and video footage, and just enjoy the day. Treat it as a recovery race. With that frame of mind, the worry just dropped away. I wouldn’t care if I was passed, I wouldn’t push hard just to pass another racer, I’d eat and drink lots, and enjoy the scenery.

Turns out, this was a great venue to do exactly that. The race took place in the Torrance Barrens of Ontario, an area I’d never had the good fortune to visit before. Leading up to the race, the director, Bob Miller, shared that he counted the mountain biking in the area among his top 5 rides anywhere. That’s pretty high billing for a guy who’s been biking almost everywhere! However, as you will read further, that billing was pretty accurate. The actual race venue was the Pine Crest YMCA camp. As this is a summer camp, our accommodations were bunk cabins generally filled with boisterous youngins. In our case, Deanna and I shared our cabin with only one other couple from Toronto, doing this kind of race for the first time.

We arrived too late on Friday night for me to register, so we went right to bed in our cabin, in order to get up at the great time of 5:45am. Oh well, at least the weekend included all my meals as well, So we didn’t have to make any food ourselves. My race was slated to start at 8am, so I just had time to get all my stuff sorted out in the transition zone, as well as get my paddling gear laid out at the start area. This was in two different spots at the site. I took advantage of the early morning sunrise to shoot a few pictures and take some video as well. Deanna was set to work the registration desk while my race got underway. This was because in my race, there were about 50 participants, while a shorter race was starting a bit later, and had about 200 racers slated to take part.

The race start was a little after 8am, as it was a water start, and Bob wanted to give everyone time to get into the water safely and with no jostling. We loosely lined up near the shore until the 5 second countdown. There was a mix of solo racers and teams, meaning both canoes and kayaks. When the starting gun went off, we all set about paddling hard. I was surprised at how tight the majority of the group stayed right off the line. in other races, I’d seen the speed demons launch off the line. So far so good. My paddling arms seemed to be working okay, but definitely not at 100%. It didn’t take long (about 1.5km) before I started dropping a bit off the back. Luckily, I had a map taped to my kayak, and WASN’T going to mess up like last year.

Now about the portages. As opposed to last year, Bob had mercifully put only 2 portages in this course, one of them we did twice, and the other, longer one, only once. At the start, I had decided that I would just carry the boat using its handles, rather than muck around with the sling-type portage solution I had put together on Thursday night. Not sure that was the right decision. As soon as I got out of the boat on the first portage and tried to wrestle with it, I discovered this would be a pretty difficult ordeal. At 17′ long, it’s a bit unwieldy. Also, since it was made of thick plastic, it weighed a lot. I did a combination of lifting and dragging to get it through the portage, and lost a couple spots in the standings. At the end of lap 1 (we had to do 2 laps) was a much longer portage on dirt road, so dragging wasn’t really an option. I carried it as best I could, but it was hellish. I was passed by countless solos and teams on this portage, which was pretty depressing. I began to think this race would be much harder than I hoped.

Happily, once back in the water, I got my rhythm back, and paddled myself back into some sort of contention by passing a few teams back again. I also made the decision that on the next portage, I’d forego the caution and just drag my poor boat the whole way (after climbing over the initial rocks). i felt bad about it, and left a fair bit of plastic on the trail, but I pretty much ran the whole thing, which actually allowed me to get back ahead to even more teams, and buoyed my spirits. When I pulled out at the final take-out, I was relieved to be done that, and looking ahead to the bike. Quick run down the road, and I was in the transition zone gearing up for the 52km bike. Slowish transition, on account of filming, but I was off soon enough, and happy about that.

As shared by Bob, this definitely was a great bike course. I almost immediately fell into a great groove on the pedals, focusing on drinking and eating a lot on the way, to ensure the heat of the day didn’t become a factor. In fact, I must have peed out a bathtub on the route with the amount of ‘nature breaks’ I took. that was fine by me though, since it meant my performance wouldn’t be hurt. There were a few stretches of road to traverse which were pretty speedy, but there was also a good balance of single and double-track riding to be done. Overall, the course was relatively flat, with no major climbs to speak of. And due to the recent dry weather, most of the ATV trails were pretty dry. There were still a few bike-swallowing mud pits along the way, but not enough to make it annoying. Also, there was lots of exposed Canadian shield in the form of slick rocks to ride. Very cool terrain. I biked some sections with people for a bit, and stopped a few times to get photos and videos, but for the most part, I was on my own and loving it! The other happy part was that no one passed me on the bike, instead, I got to pass a bunch of people.

I should note now that although this was not an adventure race (meaning navigation was not needed), you still had to stay in contact with your map and be familiar with the trail markings. Blue flagging tape marked our route where we had to make decisions, and for the most part, it was pretty good. A few spots I had to hunt a little bit to ensure I stayed on course, but I never got lost or did extra riding. I later learned that I was among the few that didn’t screw up. Some very talented racers, with AR backgrounds even, got turned around and/or did extra kilometers on this and/or the run course. After last year’s fiasco, I was very vigilant about following the trails, and it paid off.

Coming off the bike course, the last 12km was all road, so I locked out the suspension and rode hard. It was fun to fly along knowing I had finished the bike and only had the run. I felt really good and happy with my decision not to push too hard. I got back to the transition, quickly grabbed a bite and a drink, and laced up the running shoes. A little voice in my head was worried that I’d fall apart like last week, but I ignored that, put my cap on, and affixed a bit smile on my face. People at one point commented that I shouldn’t look so happy, this was supposed to be grueling. The thing is, I felt awesome, and the run truly was my strong suit on this day.

I followed the course marking on the narrow winding trails, until they ducked into a marked ‘bushwhack’ section that was really just hacking through the woods. Even there however, I felt light and fast and ran a lot of it (except when I couldn’t find the blue tape!). Before long, I was back out on a part of the course that we’d already ridden on in the bikes. There was a bit of confusion as people were running towards me that shouldn’t have been. A quick map check and confirmation by this team that they had screwed up, and I kept going. My eating and drinking strategy were bang on as well, and I finished my liquids with about 3k to go to the finish. Once again, I kept a good pace in the run, and made up a few more spots again. Looking back at the final splits, I actually had the 4th fastest run time of all the competitors! Sweet.

One final run along a trail that popped out to a boardwalk, and I was being cheered to the finish line, where Deanna was awaiting to record times and hand me my medal (made of wood!). Celebratory chocolate milk, and it was all over. By now I was quite hot, but as luck would have it, the finish line was on the dock at the Y Camp. Shoes, socks, shirt and shorts off, and a dive into the cool water. It was heaven! The perfect end to cap off a great day of racing in a new place. After a bit of a chat with Bob and other racers, I headed off to eat some food that was being served (sandwich buffet), and pick up my gear from the transition area before the awards.

I’ve gotta say that sometimes, it’s a bit of a pain to have to scramble and drive 5+ hours to a race, race all day, clean up, and head back, but this weekend actually felt like a more relaxed event to me. After the day of racing, there were the awards, then some down time in the cabin. Supper was also served at 7ish, and that was capped off by the post-race bonfire. Ironically, I’m the one that actually took the lead and got the fire started for everyone. We built up a nice fire, and eventually, most of the racers that were staying overnight made their way down to the idyllic waterfront fire pit area. Numerous beverages of various descriptions were consumed, many stories were swapped, friends made, and music was even brought out. It actually felt a lot like a summer camp for a little while. Eventually, we were down to the last 4 people at the fire, so I doused the flames at midnight, and we called it a night. Off to bed for another nights’ rest before packing up the next morning and heading home.

All in all, this was a vastly different race experience for me this time around as compared to last year. I can’t recommend this race highly enough for those looking to do an off-road event. It combined (successfully) the best elements of triathlon racing and adventure racing, in a great location and with excellent organization. After this race, I actually feel even more recharged and ready for my next event, which, as luck would have it, is next weekend! Until then, I’ll recover a bit, and wish you all the best. Hope you enjoyed the story!

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