Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cumberland MOMAR

September 25, 2010

This was the one and only adventure race I will do this year, having skipped the Squamish MOMAR in favour of volunteering. Since I have been almost exclusively been concentrating on running this year with a lot less biking than I used to do (particularly mountain biking) I wasn't sure how things would go on this race. I did manage to get a couple of 3 hour combo run and mountain bike sessions in just to make sure my body remembered what it was like, but it was really a bare minimum of training. My race partner Garth, had been doing a more biking than me, so I hoped that I wouldn't dragging my ass on biking sections too badly.

As race day drew near, the weather forecast was particularly grim. Not only was it calling for steady rain, but also for high winds. Winds can be a huge problem on Comox Lake which can have decent waves even on a relatively calm day. The only apparent saving grace was that the temperature was predicted to be fairly warm with highs of 18-19 degrees. On our drive up the Friday before the race, things were not looking up with rain pounding down and gusty winds. If things stayed that for the race, it would be a soggy one and the already unpleasant kayak would be that much worse with the wind.

Fortunately, we really lucked out and conditions were quite good when we arrived at race central Saturday morning: overcast and mild temperature with only a small amount of wind. We parked our bikes at the transition zone along with our hydra packs, found our rental kayak, picked up our first map, and were soon ready to go. The map showing the kayaking, and mountain biking stages was nearly a formality as nearly all of the this portion of the course was flagged. Only the last checkpoint before the orienteering stage required self navigation and we luckily knew approximately were it was based on last years race.

Stage 1: Kayak

If you have read any of my Cumberland MOMAR race reports before, you know that kayaking is not my favorite thing. Garth finds it equally unpleasant so it is a good thing that we get it over with right away and move onto more enjoyable stages. The winds were calm to start with and we moved fairly well as we made are way west down the lake to the turn around. Once we got around a point, there was a significant headwind, but nothing that caused us too much grief. We were in about 12 place which is on par with our normal performance. Once we turned around and started to head back, we were able to surf some waves which was pretty fun. Surprisingly, we managed to pass and put a couple of boat lengths on race favorite Todd Nowack. Todd is a pretty decent kayaker and despite the large disadvantage of being in a single rather than a double, I expected him to be further ahead.

Unfortunately, while we soon found our way back to the starting area, we were not done yet. We still had 3 legs to go: across the lake and then further east, before turning back to the start area. As we neared the far side of the lake, it started to become unclear where we were to turn. Apparently there were pilings with pink flagging, but we couldn't spot it and others were seeming to have the same problem. There was some confusion on the water with some paddlers starting to move east without going around anything. Not wanting to be passed by a pile of boats, we followed suit. Shortly after making the turn, the wind stared to blow like crazy from the east. Paddling suddenly got very difficult and it was really challenging to keep the cadence up. I also think we were both starting to fatigue at this point. Todd and at least 2 other boats managed to pass us while we wallowed in the water. We finally make our way to the final turn around piling and were headed toward the finish of the stage. The wind was now less punishing and we were able to hold steady for the remainder of the stage. We ended up taking 1:12:28 for the stage, nearly 15 min longer than last year. This was partly due to conditions, but mostly due to the fact that with the marking confusion we actually traveled over a km further than last year.

Stage 2: Mountain Bike # 1

We punched Checkpoint (CP) #1 and then hustled to our bikes. As usual my legs felt like I had strapped 10kg to each one - I expected this though as it is the result of being wedged in the kayak for over an hour. The first part of the bike is just on paved road heading toward the village of Cumberland. This is a good opportunity to get the legs moving again before the real climbing began. We passed a team on the road whom I believe held on to the top placing for a team of 4. We traversed some double track on the for a while before starting our climb up a trailed named "Buggered Pig." We passed a team of two at this point, but soon after were passed by a solo (I think it was Ryan Stuart) although he didn't get all that far ahead. This section of trail is a little challenging when wet as there are a lot of slick roots to pull you around. Still, we fared pretty well getting it done in 23:41 and posting the 3rd fastest time through this section of biking.

Stage 3: Navigation Trek

Time to get off our bikes and onto the running stage. We were supplied another map which had 7 checkpoints we had to collect in whatever order we choose. As navigator, I had to quickly assess the map and figure out an appropriate route. It is always temping to get going right away as other people seem to start running almost as soon as they have the map in their hands. Garth was urging me to get going, but I have found through experience that it is worth the minute or so spent figuring out a decent route rather than running without really knowing where we are going which can cost much more time. At a very minimum, I have to be able to orientate myself to the map or I will have no idea where we are going. I choose to grab the checkpoints to counter-clockwise order starting with a small backtrack to get onto a trail named "Hai Gai" which paralleled a creek. This turned out not to be the best option as the trail is a bit slow to run and there was a better option which had no backtracking, easier running and only a little simple bushwacking. At least I knew the way though and soon we picked up CP #3.

After a power hike up the steep trail I make a error thinking that I was at a different intersection that I was. I soon figured it out though and it should not have been a big deal since there should have been two comparable routes to the next checkpoint, but we were unable to find the trail as it was marked on the map so had to bushwack a bit to get us back on track. It only cost a couple of minutes, but was still a bit frustrating. Just before arriving at CP #4 a racer came running back toward us asking if we had seen a passport (used to record the punches for each checkpoint). Without the passport, your race is pretty much over as you have no way to prove you went anywhere so hopefully he was able to find it. After that checkpoint, the rest of the checkpoints came pretty easily. We started to see a trickle of racers coming the opposite direction although I heard later that most choose the same way as we did. In retrospect, I think a clockwise direction would have been slightly faster as it included more runnable uphill than the direction we took. We made our way back to the transition point in 1:11:54 and we told we were in 2nd place. "Really? - it was a bit of a nice surprise for sure" The only bad news was that we were already 15 min behind Todd!

Stage 4: Mountain Bike # 2

The start of this long biking stage was a grind up the steep road we had just ran down. We saw some other racers coming in, but no one was closer than a few minutes. This would give us a bit of a buffer and we hoped to be be able to hold everyone off for the stage. Then it was onto to some single track before getting to CP #11. Then more single track to CP #12 where friends Adam and Kate were volunteering. By then Todd had gained a few more minutes on us. Unless he made a large navigational error (which was highly unlikely) we were not going to reel him in. No matter though, if we could hold onto a 2nd place finish we would be doing well. The route popped us out onto a logging road which climbed up to the high point on the course. Based on what things looked like on the map, I was thinking it would take perhaps 10 min, but it probably went on 10 min longer than expected. It wasn't too steep, but was all up hill and took some effort. We moved well though and I we both were feeling as good or better than could be expected at this point in the race.

We eventually made it to CP #13 and Garth proceeded to have a bit of a panic attack as he frantically tried to find the passport in his deep pockets. Thankfully, he finally managed to dig it out and the crisis was averted. Then we tacked a new trail named "Thirsty Beaver." It was evident that a lot of work has gone into this trail with tons of boardwalks and logs. Since it was wet, we really had to be careful not to bail, but overall it wasn't as slippery as it could have been. It wasn't particularly flowy with lots of corners, humps and mud to navigate. It was actually a fair amount of work to ride as I don't think my butt touch my seat for the whole ride. I took a minor bail off a boardwalk, but we rode cleanly for the most part. After the Beaver we grabbed CP # 14 then then had a bit of road to do before being through back onto another new trail named "Blue Collar". This trail was faster and flowed well and was really a blast. We crossed through the checkpoint with Adam and Kate again (this time punching CP #15) and headed down the second part of "Blue Collar."

Then onto the road again before hitting the final stretch of single track on the "Crafty Butcher." We had seen no one since leaving the trekking stage, but finally Jeremy Grasby (winner of last year's Cumberland race) caught up to us as we punched CP #16. Jeremy has amazing mountain biking skills particularly when you consider he rides a single speed - how he is able to crank up such steep terrain is quite amazing. We managed to hold him off until getting into town , but I took us a block too far and lost a few seconds while Jeremy went directly to the transition area to the planned urban navigation. I was thinking that our choice to run flat pedals would soon pay off as Jeremy would either have change into running shoes or clomp around in his biking shoes. Either way would lose him a bit of time as long as I could find the checkpoints quickly. As soon as we got to the transition, however, we found that the urban section had been dropped due to racers taking longer than expected so back onto our bikes we went. It took us 1:18:40 for this section of the bike, only 5 other teams did it quicker. Considering I don't think I made it onto my mountain bike more than 10 times this year, I was pretty pleased. I actually seem to feel better, more confident, and more skillful in a race environment than I do when just out riding.

Stage 5: Mountain Bike #3

There was only one more checkpoint to pickup which we were to self navigate too. As previously mentioned we had a bit of a leg up on racers who hadn't done the course last year as the CP was in a similar location. Jeremy had the same route choice as we did and we hit the CP at the same time. We then followed him back to the main road where he made up a bit of time on use by taking a sightly quicker turnoff. The pavement is where the single speed becomes a liability, however, as we popped our chains onto the big ring and powered our way back to him, pulling about even just as we got to the final transition. We finished this bike in 15:45, tied exactly with Jeremy for the fastest time.

Stage 6: Orienteering and Finish

Due to time issues, they had knocked the farthest off CP from the orienteering which I wasn't too upset about since my legs were kind of fried by this time. A clockwise direction seems to make the most sense for this course so we were soon off. I fumbled just a little getting the first CP, but the next came easily. I overshot the 3rd, however, and we had to bushwack back to pick it up loosing precious minutes. Jeremy had done better on this one and I though that he may have had us at that point, but the damage was done and the only thing to do was move on. A couple of the CP were off the trail a bit which took just a bit of scrambling around to find, but were not too bad. To get one on the beach we had to jump down part of the cliff, but it was a good move and then we rushed to find the last one, clearing it pretty quickly before sprinting for the line. It wasn't a clean stage taking us 31:19 (compared to the fastest time of 25:30), but it was good enough to keep us in 2nd place which ties use for our best ever finish and is the highest we have placed at the Cumberland venue which tends to be a competitive one. Our finishing time was 4:53:47 - a mere 32 minutes behind Todd! Jeremy came in about 5 min behind us followed by Ryan Stuart, Norm Thibault, and Roger MacLeod. Marshall House and Brady Fleguel held onto 3rd place in the team of two men after putting in a amazing paddle in their 2 person surf ski (they were nearly 10 min ahead of us). Despite a few navigational errors, it was a good race for us and I was quite pleased at how my body held up even with my poor preparation.

Congrats to all who raced, including Brent Chan and Sarah Newman who pulled of a respectable 6:41:48 and Sonja and Louise Proulx who despite having a major rudder issue and navigation woes still manged to finish under the cutoff. Thanks to Bryan Tasaka who put on yet another great race. There are rumours that a new venue to replace Squamish is coming for 2011 so that should be exciting.


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