Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cumberland MOMAR

September 26, 2009

The second of two MOMAR races this year, this one turned out to be very popular. With about 360 racers entered into both the Enduro and Sport courses, it was a record field. Unlike the first race this year in Squamish where I entered as a solo, this time I again partnered with Garth Campbell. Together we have finished 10 MOMAR's and have had a lot of fun. We have also managed to find our way onto the podium a reasonable number of times. In addition to be able to share the experience with someone else, there is a distinct advantage to racing in pairs due to the presence of a kayaking stage. Double kayaks are faster than a single and unless you are a strong kayaker (or own a surf ski) the kayak stage will prove to be a challenge. Since neither Garth nor I have been in a boat since last years Cumberland MOMAR, we really needed all the advantages we could get.

Garth and I headed up to Cumberland the night before with Alison Sum (who was racing solo for the first time) to check in. We also met up with Roger MacLeod who was staying with us at a condo on Mount Washington. I hadn't really gotten myself too excited about the race, but seeing all the other participants and getting a general description of the course in the race package always gets the blood pumping again. Besides being a large field, this was also a deep one. Race director, Bryan Tasaka, always releases a racer list prior to the event. Not only is it nice to see who we know, but its also useful to scout out the competition; and this one was going to be tough. With the exception of Todd Nowack, who is still in Norway, nearly all the top finishers of the last couple of years were on the roster. I counted no fewer than 10 solos or teams who could conceivably take the overall win. The great thing about these races is that uncertainty. Unlike a road running race, where the overall favorite almost always wins, MOMAR's are much harder to predict. Squamish winner, Bart Jarmula was in attendance, as was 2nd place finisher Gary Robbins. Other talent included local Jeremy Grasby who is a very talented mountain biker and adventure racer John Markez. In the teams of two men, our main competition would likely come from Norm Thibault & Graeme Cockshedge and Jay Latiff & Jeff Riemer all of whom are very strong cyclists. With all the talent on hand we figured a top 5 finish would be very respectable.

Up at mount Washington, we did our final gear, hydration, and fuel preparation and then turned in. I had a bit of trouble getting to sleep, but luckily slept well (although not enough) until our early wake up before 6am. After dropping our bikes off in Cumberland, we headed to Comox Lake to get our rented kayak ready and wait for the map release at 8am. Conditions were cool, but sunny and most thankfully not windy - quite perfect for racing actually. Every one of the 3 other times we have raced at this venue, the wind was whipping up white caps on the lake and making an unpleasant kayaking stage even less enjoyable.

Once we got our hands on the map, we could quickly get a good idea of what the course would look like. It started with the predictable 9km kayak stage (the same as last year). This was followed by a unmarked 10km trek with a big climb where we had to find 6 checkpoints on our way to the bike drop location in Cumberland. A suggested route was marked on the maps, but we could take whatever route between checkpoints we felt was appropriate. We would then get on our bikes for a 20km cycle on a marked route which would include gravel roads and single track. We would make our way back to the bike drop location again, hop off our bikes, and do a small run in town picking up 3 checkpoints. Then we would get back on our bikes and have to pick up a single checkpoint on an unmarked route on our way back to Comox Lake. The final stage was small orienteering course. I was happy about having the orienteering last as that means the teams would be well spread out and there would not be the major traffic jams we had last year. I was also glad to see the bike course was shorter than in Squamish. I had only been on my mountain bike maybe 4 times since that race so felt I might be a bit rusty. Garth had been out a lot earlier in the year and had improved so I hoped I would be able to keep pace.

Before we know it we were out on the water and paddling. If you read my post from last year, you know that kayaking is my least favorite of the disciplines in this race so I didn't expect much difference this time around. However, it actually wasn't so bad this year. We did a little better job at drafting some of the other boats, kept pretty well in sync with each other, and put forth a solid even effort. This in conjunction with calm water, allowed us to take over 6 minutes off of our 2008 time - not bad for not training at all. We came out of the water in 58:56, good for 13th place. Altough I didn't notice it until after the race was over (thank you adrinaline) I did manage to rub a by back raw on one side with the kayak seat.

Not in sync here! Me working hard and Garth posing for the camera:-) Photo Credit: Tony Austin

Garth had some problems with his pack not being adjusted properly as we begin to run and had some choice words to say about it. Luckily, it was minor and only took a few seconds to remedy. Both our legs took a bit to get going after being stuffed in a kayak for an hour, but once the blood got moving it wasn't too bad. The course was mostly flat until checkpoint #2. After this, though, it headed sharply uphill. We had the choice to take the recommended trail that headed steeply up hill or a road which looked to be a little less steep. Since we are both strong hikers, we chose the trail. The map was a little confusing at the next intersection, but we ended up taking the correct route along with a good sized group of other racers who were around us at that point. We managed to push ahead of most of the group except Gary Robbins, who predictably was moving fast. He didn't get far though, as at the next intersection he was running around looking for checkpoint #3 thinking we were already at the top (we were not even close). Gary is an amazing athlete, but navigation is not he strong point. He even admits that he can't navigate himself out of a paper bag so even though he soon disappeared in front of us again, I thought there was a good chance that we would see him again.

It was a long grind up to the top (around 500 meters of climbing in total) and then things got a bit confusing again. As is frequently the case, the map didn't seem to correspond to what we were seeing. We lost a couple of minutes trying to figure it out, and the group that we had left behind caught up. Soon though, we all figured it out and started to run down the hill toward where the checkpoint had to be. We got there, punched in and pounded our way down the gravel road. We passed Hayden Earle heading up on what apparently ended up being a better route choice, but you just never can tell unless you know the area. As running is our main strength we managed to get ahead of most of the group we around at checkpoint #3; only Gary got away. Checkpoint #4 also did match with the map particularly well, but fortunately we found it right away. We chose to take the recommended trail to checkpoint #5 which was easy to find, but almost certainly ended up being slower than an optional road route. After a steep decent, we saw some teams thrashing around in the woods near a creek. Apparently, they were looking at a checkpoint that was there. However, it must have been for the sport course because it wasn't one of the ones we needed to get. After this, the rest of the navigation to the bike transition was straight forward.

Heading for the first transition. Photo Credit: Tony Austin

Norm Thibault and Graeme Cockshedge were just behind us as we came into transition, but they must have changed shoes quickly and so beat out out by a few seconds. While we didn't need to change shoes, we had tried a new strategy of leaving one of our fluid bladders at the bike so we didn't have to haul it for 10km on the trek. While it took a few moments to put away, I think it paid off as not having that extra liter on the back make a difference. The first leg of the bike was a gradual climb up gravel roads. It wasn't too tough and we were moving relatively well. After checkpoint #8 we moved onto single track. It first it wasn't bad, but soon it became a bit rough and difficult to get any flow on. Jay and Jeff passed us as they are very strong on the bike. A bit later Kristenn Magnusson and Justin Mark also got ahead. A trail named "Off Broadway" turned out to be the most technical of the day. I managed to ride it all, but with white knuckles the whole way. Surprisingly though, for the most part, I felt quite good on the single track and not rusty at all. It seems as though you don't need to practice much to keep from losing skills.

After the descending, it was time to go back up. A steep climb on gravel roads was following by pleasant little hike a bike section. Unfortunately, Garth was feeling a little nauseous on the climb which held our pace back a little, but as usual, he toughed it out. Kristenn and Justin were just in front of us for the whole climb, but try as we might we couldn't reel them it. She is one fit woman! Then it was time for "Bucket of Blood," the infamous trail that has often been used in these MOMAR's. This year, it was somewhat changed as logging had taken place and I think it was a bit less challenging because of that. We make one small deviation from the marked route at one point, but it didn't cost us much.

Back in town we dropped our bikes and were handed the urban navigation map. There were three checkpoints which were all on the main street. It was pretty straight forward except for one checkpoint which was hidden in a tree which we fortunately were able to find pretty fast. It was definitely to our advantage to have running shoes on at this point though as most racers wearing clipless didn't bother to change them for such a short stage and were clomping around. Then we were back on our bikes to find one checkpoint in the woods before heading back to the beach. The map was again a bit off on its classifications (at one intersection, the main road was shown as a trail), but we managed to take the correct route and found checkpoint #20. Then onto the paved road for a couple km quad burner. We didn't know exactly where we were in the field, but we figured we must be in the top 10. It was time to see if we could improve that with a solid orienteering stage.

It took me a minute to orientate myself to the map. We were lucky in that it was the same map as last year so that helped me to get into the scale (which is larger than typical). At our way to the second control we caught up to Kristenn and Justin again and we proceeded to help each other out for 5 or so controls. We all did well, finding the controls quickly and then moving in the right direction to the next. At one point, I did take a minute to get my bearings again, but soon got back on track. With two controls to go, Garth and I moved ahead a bit while Kristenn and Justin ended up getting a little off track and we managed to get the last two smoothly.

We headed for the finish really having no idea where we had placed. We ended up 6th in 4:40:11, only 3 minutes behind Gary who had led for much of the race, but struggled on the orienteering. Jeremy won overall, crushing all the competition on his single speed steed - quite amazing to see what he can do with that one gear! Local knowledge of the trails helped him a lot though I'm sure as his trek time was ridiculously fast. It may have been the closest finish in MOMAR history as the top 4 teams came in within 2.5 minutes of each other and the top 8 teams all came in within 17 minutes. Norm and Graeme had a strong race coming in 2nd overall. The solo woman's title passed to Genevieve after being dominated by Sarah Seads for a couple of years. Roger raced to a solid 9th finish and Adam Lawrence and Brent Chan came in well under 6 hours. Alison raced well in her first solo and will surly be back again.

Somewhat fresh after the race: Photo Credit: Aimee Asselin

Overall, we had a very solid race with minimal mistakes and we even managed to set the best time on the orienteering stage (a first for us). Other than additional training there we couldn't have done much better. At 12 minutes behind the winner, time wise it was the closest we have even been to the podium. There had been rumors that this may have been the last ever MOMAR, but thankfully those rumors were laid to rest. Next year, there will be the same two venues, with what I'm sure will be brand new courses. I can't wait! Final Enduro Results.

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