WT 2015 race report (Phatty and others are welcome to correct me where I have remembered things wrong.... I'm bad for that)
It's loooooong! You've been warned. You asked for it :)
My last adventure race was in November 2011 (ARWC Tasmania). In 2012, 2013 and 2014, I played around with a bunch of ultrarunning. In the fall of 2014, Carbon and I made an impulsive move to Canmore to be closer to our mountain playground and have been loving it. I looked forward to a summer of just exploring the area around our new home. No races, no training schedule, just play and enjoy. We also started the summer with three back-to-back trips that had us vacationing and often sitting on our butts for two months. The end result: we were out of shape. When Phatty asked me to build a team with him for ARWC Brazil, the answer was obvious: I'm nowhere near fit enough for that this year (and I have no vacation days left). Just six weeks before WT, he asked me to help fill a team vacancy due to Goose's knee injury. As many of you have seen, I went through an embarrassing conversation with myself that took me from No to Maybe to Yes in under three hours. As for fitness, I had been playing in the mountains a bunch and some fitness was starting to return. My trail running was decent, my biking was picking up, my paddling was... something that I did four years ago. The next day, I hit the weights for a core workout that I thought might help for paddling and portaging.
I've followed WT online for years and heard many tales of what a great race it is. Excellent race course, super well organized, and exciting competition. Immediately I started to identify the gaps I needed to work on. My running endurance was probably okay but I'd have to bump up my speed - WT is fast and furious, especially those sick starts. So, any running would have to be higher intensity. Faster tempos, hill repeats, speed work. My biking was probably okay, but again I needed higher intensity. At my next outing where Carbon and I ran into a couple of our good buddies at the trailhead, I proceeded to drop the hammer in "gotta train" mode and turned a fun social ride into an evening of suffering for everyone. Paddling: oh man, this will be the big gap. I am genuinely scared. I haven't paddled in a loooong time, and even back then I wasn't excellent. I'm from Alberta. Enough said. Fortunately we bought a kayak ergometer in preparation for the big 2011 year and still have it, so I would hop on and be very discouraged by how quickly I would tire out. This race is in Ontario. They have real paddling there, and real paddlers! Paddling may be a significant component of this race! I kept hopping on the erg, trying to remember some technique, but I knew I had to get out on real water in a real boat too. I discovered the Banff Canoe Club which is a gem on the Bow River. The boats are right there sitting on the dock, and the scenery is to die for. I did a few evenings here, sometimes alone, sometimes with Myka and Amik, sometimes with Slice (The Frenemy!) who gave me some simple but crucial pointers and reminders re: cadence, paddle position, etc. The Frenemy also tested out her healing arm on our erg by coming over and training at our house. Yep, a really fierce, cold rivalry in Canmore ;). Slice reciprocated big time (and them some) by offering up a kayak that she has stashed in the bushes near a reservoir in Canmore. Nice boat, nice paddling spot, so convenient. We would coordinate our schedules and paddle back-to-back so that we could split the duties of carrying the boat down to the water or back. I think we were both on a mission the minimize our potential for suffering in the race, on the paddle especially, and we teamed up to help us both be as ready as possible. By the time the race would roll around, I would feel like I would barely have been on the water enough.... We'll see how that goes.
The bigger challenges of getting ready for the race were 1) finding all my gear and getting it organized, and 2) getting psyched up to suffer again. Even just little things consumed time that I wanted to use for my training cramming. My bike didn't have a computer (I have a GPS, not allowed in the race) and we agreed that we needed to start the race with four working computers because they all seem to die. I needed new shoes. I've been doing my ultrarunning in Hokas, but I needed something lower for all of the off-trail stuff. My bike box would have to be converted to accept the through-axle on my new bike, and I wasn't even certain that the 29er would fit. As I worked through all of these things during the last couple weeks leading up to my departure (right to the last day) it was feeling like it would be a lot easier to just back out, but there was no backing out. Also, I couldn't leave a team looking for a teammate this close to the race. I knew the race would be exciting and a lot of fun, but man it felt like such an ordeal to get there.
Fortunately, the chart from the race organizers giving the order and estimated length of disciplines made the packing a lot simpler. Rather than bringing everything just in case, I dialed my gear and food exactly to the info provided. It didn't occur to me until I was at the race that I didn't bring anything extra in case the plans changed.
Thanks to the wonderful habits that Carbon has instilled in me, I got the the airport very very early, checked in and dropped off all the gear, relaxed and read while waiting for my flight. The direct flight was smooth, and when I arrived at the baggage pick up, my bike box was already there (I always worry about bikes not making it there on time, it happens to me a lot). Then things just got easier and easier. Goose was waiting nearby to pick me up, and with a simple text he was at the curb as I walked out. A quick handshake and hug, and he almost single-handedly had my bike box and bag loaded in the car. We crawled our way through a nasty mess of traffic for about an hour. When we were about 15 minutes from the house, he pointed out that he works around there. Uggghhh.... So all of this grief was out of his way :(. That wasn't the point that he was making - this pick up is just one of the many things he would do for me and not consider it a big deal. Then I get the luxury of walking into the house to "dinner is ready", say hi to Phatty and meet Tman and CoachLD. A great evening of chicken, sausage, veggies, salad, and birthday cake for Tman's birthday!
After a great sleep, I built my bike and then Phatty and I loaded up the car (that Goose simply gave to us for the weekend - wow!) and headed to the race. We got to the race check in super early. It was great to not be rushed... for now. There wasn't much for us to do because we were so early. We couldn't check in because the team wasn't all there, and Phatty was still waiting for a borrowed bike to arrive, delivered by Storm.
It was great to meet so many people that I felt like I already knew from Attackpoint and
Facebook. Lots of "Ohhhhh! You're !", and lots of bumping into the small handful of people that I have already met in person. It felt like an AR reunion, it was great!
We headed over to our very nearby cottage that Shannon scored for us. Four bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom with fantastic hot water. I was already picturing how I would long for this cottage when we were on the race course. I decided to work on the one or two things I could before we got the maps. I checked my tire pressure and decided to put a little more air in one of them. I borrowed Phatty's little pump that has a nice hose that threads onto the valve. When I unscrewed it to take it off, I succeeded in removing the valve core from my tubeless valve and watched all of the air dump out. My mind then went through a paranoid sequence of events: tire deflates, bead comes off, Stan's leaks out, reinflate tire, tire bead doesn't seal perfectly and tire has lost all of its Stan's onto the cottage floor, during race get flats and cost the team several positions. As a result I spent the rest of the evening worrying about this like Rainman about to miss Wheel of Fortune. Gotta find a floor pump, gotta find a floor pump, hi Jean-Yves, I'm Mike, do you have a floor pump, can I borrow it NOW? Yes, nice to meet you too, gotta go. Anyway, the tire got pumped up, everything sealed well and there were no issues during the race. Although I did give my tire a squeeze check each time I would start a bike section.
Race check in went well and Phatty's bike arrived. We got the maps. Phatty was working on the maps with Junk Yard Dog helping out and me looking over their shoulders simply to gain my own familiarity with the race course. I wasn't adding much and Phatty realized that I could be a lot more helpful by getting his bike set up so he asked. On go the pedals, map board, light, Bento box, tow system, tail pouch, and the biggest, thickest, cushiest, heaviest seat you've ever seen. You know your co-workers who never ride so it always hurts their butt and they think they need a cushier seat? Phatty doesn't have that seat. He has a bigger one.
Later this same evening, Phatty says the shifting seems strange and asks me to test ride it. Yes, the shifting is sluggish and it drops down really hard when it finally does shift. On the other hand, once it is in a gear, the alignment seems good. I'm guessing the problem is something with the b-spring tension, something I don't know anything about. We agree that we are better to not mess with anything for fear of making it worse. Stay tuned to find out how the bike does....
(Wow, for someone who wasn't going to write a race report, I can sure babble)
Prior to the race, the four of us sent a bunch of humorous emails back and forth, building a connection where only two of us have ever raced together. Everybody seemed great, the big question was how we would click on the race course and how well we would match up. I got to race against Phatty and Junk Yard Dog at RTNX 2011, and worried that this was the racer they were expecting to have on the team. 2011 was a huge year of training, I was definitely at a different level of fitness then. I was worrying about disappointing the team. Also, I felt like I didn't have much to contribute on paddling, not having much experience at steering or portaging.
At the running start of the race, Phatty laid out a plan: I would take the lead and the rest of the team would "Try to keep up" as he said, while Junk Yard Dog would be our sweep. I had managed to squeeze in 10 minutes of warm up jogging before the start but it still wasn't enough for a WT start pace. Soon, the rest of the team was pulling ahead and I was the one in the back, dropping back a little. It felt like I could go a little harder but at too much detriment to my energy later in the day. I was definitely stressing a bit about letting the team down. Yes, they were expecting the 2011 guy, the UTMB finisher, etc etc. These guys were fast and it looked like I would be holding them back today.
A quick transition to the bikes because we decided to run with our bike shoes in our packs and not change for the first short bike section. I struggled with trying to keep my feet on the Eggbeaters, those pedals have so little platform if you aren't clipped in. When we hit a puddle and my shoes got wet, there was no friction left and my feet kept flying off. Oh well, suck it up, it's not much longer.
In the bush, Phatty and Junk Yard Dog had a great system of JYD being sent ahead on a bearing while Phatty navigated and fine-tuned from the back. Hermes and I simply had to keep up with JYD - no small task, that guy can move, he was always pushing the pace. I was given the SI stick for punching the controls, again on the logic that I was the big runner and could dash ahead whenever we saw a CP (hmmmm.... I wasn't appearing to be a strong runner so far); it also let us split up some of the duties. When we got to CP2, didn't know what position we were in. I figured we were down a few spots because we didn't hit the bike pick up and bike drop in top position, but felt pretty proud of myself when I saw O-Store (Vincent) coming into the CP as I was just starting to head out. Knowing that O-Store was the big competition and had such a dominant track record of wins, I felt some pride in showing him that at least at this one CP, we could do well too.
Trying to find CP3 was tricky due to an extra drainage that wasn't on the map. We lost a bit of time there and I worried about how much it had set us back. Back on the bikes, JYD got the tow system going and he and Phatty got some pacelines going with Hermes and I drafting off of them. Man, I had thought I might be strong on the bike, but my strength was just enough to keep up with these guys, nevermind tow. We continued on at a good pace, matched by a male duo. At times on an ATV trail, these guys felt like they were in my way, so I simply opened up the suspension on my ridiculously over-engineered bike and passed them off the side of the trail going down a staircase of boulders. It didn't accomplish much but it was fun.
At the TA to paddling, I think it was Phatty who suggested that we wear our rain gear to stay warm. I was a little worried about overheating and not being able to unlayer easily, but deferred to his knowledge of what it can be like out on the bay. Wow, was that ever the right call. The entire time, I felt like I was sheltered in a nice comfy house. The paddling was the discipline I was most worried about, given how little of it that I do. I really feared that I would die partway through. I kept thinking of the chart from the race organizers which estimated four to six hours of paddling. With some portages to break it up, I was hopeful that I may survive. As it turned out, I felt good through all of it. However, I did have the luxury of not having to sit in the back and do the steering work, and was always in a two-male boat which was usually a little faster. This also gave the luxury of little breaks to grab a snack. As for my drinking set up, I can drink from it without having to stop paddling. We tried towing but our tow system was too short, just a couple of short lengths of shock cord. I remember thinking "if only I could find a scrap of rope floating in the water or sitting on the shore". It wasn't until I got back to Alberta that it dawned on me that each safety kit would have a rope in it... We also tried a sail but the wind direction was never quite right. We went over to the marshy area to check out the possible portage to cut across some land and save a longer paddle around. It would all depend on how fast we could travel over this land. I stepped out to have a look at the ground ahead and sunk to my chest before catching myself on a log. I climbed up again, looked futher and concluded it was more of the same for at least enough distance that it wasn't worth it. The team did a great job of quickly coming to agreement, making the decision to paddle, and didn't look back. Of course, we then kept wondering how it was working out for O-Store who decided to go for it. Hats off to them for going for it; if anyone could push hard enough to make it work, it's them.
At the next portage, JYD was again off and running with a canoe on his head. Phatty, Hermes and I swapped positions back and forth with an aggressive bunch of young, fit racers who would be keeping us company on the next trek (The Warriors). I didn't recognize them and felt like they might not have been around the sport for very long, but they had speed and skill.
The next section of the paddle was even more windy and required even more work by our guys in the back of the boats to keep them on track. While the paddle section wasn't long, it felt like it was more than long enough by the time you got through these conditions. Slice's mom and dad were on the dock at the canoe take out, cheering like mad with cowbells. Again, fun to keep running into people that we know.
My gut had been pretty nasty the evening before and all day today. Rather than carbo loading before a race, I simply calorie load. The day before a race, I nervously eat a lot, envisioning this as fuel for what lies ahead. More fuel equals more performance. This meant a big lunch in Parry Sound at the Timmy's. A big sandwich, and the Thai chicken curry soup sounded great. A bit spicy but tasty, and additional calories. Then at race check in, Hermes had pre-ordered a vegetarian pizza for us (great pizza from that local bakery!) and brought her own chicken curry salad to share for upping the protein. Phatty and I helped ourselves to some chicken curry salad, making jokes about the risks of eating curry before a race. That evening and night, I was rushing to the toilet several times, let's hope I can get this all out before the race in the morning.
The next day, add a bunch of nice Cytomax sugars to this questionable gut, run hard, and see what happens. On the paddle, I would often have releases that would make Phatty's face curl up like someone had tried to give him a croissant made in
Sudbury. By the time we got to the canoe take out, I knew I had to sneak into the bushes. Instead there was an outhouse. A real, sit down, full roll of paper outhouse. I got my transition done quickly and then enjoyed a couple of glorious minutes in the outhouse. Allellujah!
I think we heard O-Store come into this TA just as we were heading out. I get confused because it seemed to happen at several TAs and CPs. Then onto the road for more running. At this point, my feel for ultrarunning came back and it felt like I settled into a groove where I could do this for miles. That's a good thing because there were plenty of miles. The trekking from CP9 to CP10 was quite pretty, often trying to stay a little high above the water to our right. We were making good time, really wanting to nail CP11 before the extra challenge of darkness; we seemed to be on track but anything could happen. That's when we kept running into THEM (The Warriors), these damn young, fit racers that felt to me like they hadn't been in this sport long enough to be racing as well as they were. It definitely seemed to present a bit of a threat.
We were still close to each other when we started to hit the marshy sections. Would they wimp out and we would jump ahead with some gutsy go-for it move where we would just crash through the muck and keep going? No, we danced around the edge, and they dropped in. We kept an eye on them as we worked our way up along a channel that seems to got deeper and more distinct... It definitely wasn't getting narrow or shallower.... until we saw the beaver dam. We dropped down with excitement, across (dry!) and zipped up the game trail on the other side.
As we continued on, some things didn't seem to be matching the map exactly and as a result I think Phatty was maybe wondering if we were going to hit CP11 from the other side? By now, we were separated from The Warriors and it felt like any slight delay or imperfection might let them get ahead a little. And where was O-Store? We nailed CP11 and 'Bent and Goose (the hosts with the most) were offering cheeses, soups, hot chocolate. I knew that The Warriors hadn't arrived yet but must be close. I beeped the SI stick and immediately stepped away from the CP, cursing at my teammates to move away from there (not realizing that these convenient snacks were especially valuable to Phatty who can't eat as easily because of his nav duties. We would often offer him snacks as we would all share our food but he was still probably in a deficit.).
Soon after leaving the CP, we spotted a basic cottage in the woods. My first thought was: if there's a cottage, then maybe there's a road that goes out. Or maybe not, maybe people do all do their access by boat? And if there is a road, it doesn't necessarily go where we want. A couple of kilometres later we did come across an ATV trail. Oh please let this work, but it must be too good to be true. Do we risk following it, have it take us in a wrong direction, and then we lose contact with the map? We tried the trail and it continued to work, swinging back and forth on either side of the bearing we wanted. We resumed jogging mode and I was grateful for those years of ultrarunning; for this race especially, I think they made me a better adventure racer. Wow, we ran and ran and ran. The trail just kept going. I wondered how long we could keep it up for, but this was a good running team. We did end up running all the way, barely letting up to hike a few of the uphills, and ran most of the powerline trail that we then turned onto. As we ran toward CP12/TA3, we saw a couple of teams riding out toward us. We picked up our bikes and did a quick transition, mostly just changing shoes, pulling on some bike shorts over top of what we were wearing (except Hermes), lubing up our undersides and making lube jokes.
We headed back out the way we came, figuring the first bit of nav would be simple because we were just there. As we rode along, a few things looked obviously different and we realized we'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. Again we thought this would be enough to let O-Store catch us but we didn't see them before we got back on the correct trail. I can't remember if we did see them ( I think we did) but I remember estimating that we had about a 20 minute lead on them. Hermes asked me if Liza was a good mountain biker and I had to give the honest answer: yes. Still, we figured we would fight to hold onto our lead as best we could. Hermes rode great through all of this technical stuff even though she criticized herself. Then we hit the road through MacTier which enabled some higher speeds and let the team use more towing. Again JYD was showing his strength and willingness to give whatever he had to the team.
I think it was just after CP13, as we just slightly undershot the powerline trail and wandered around for a minute looking for it that we heard some québécois voices just below us. Man, they were close. But had they been to CP13 yet? If not, I was still thinking we had a 20-25 minute lead. I let the others know this in case it would give a bit of optimism and thoughts of "this is still ours, keep fighting". Frankly, everyone kept fighting fantastically the whole time even though we all knew that O-Store could probably come blowing past us at any moment. We kept listening for voices and looking for lights behind us.
When we crossed highway 400, I recognized our Timmy's lunch spot from Friday afternoon, the home of Thai Chicken Curry soup. From there we were back onto the Seguin Trail. Hermes was feeling a little unhappy due to not wearing any padded bike shorts. She just wanted to be done, so she put down an incredible pace. Phatty and I were doing what we could just to keep up as she led the charge. I couldn't eat or drink at this pace on trail but was doing math in my head and figured it was about 40 minutes to the finish. I wondered if I could make it without having to eat anymore. Poor Phatty had eaten less because of all of his other duties and was fading a little on this fast-paced section. JYD came by and explained a strategy for the last few kilometres to the finish: when we hit the pavement, I would use my energy to tow Phatty and JYD would go ahead of me so that I could draft off of him. I loved that people were still thinking of great strategy right down to the end, and frankly we were probably just minutes ahead of O-Store so every bit mattered. This win could be ours, but we couldn't stop pushing.
As we hit the road, I dreaded bonking so I ate the remaining half waffle and drank some water. I then proceeded to bonk. I could see the team up ahead, pushing hard and expecting me to come by and hand Phatty the towline. Instead, I shouted "Dropping!" as they pulled away. Next thing I knew, JYD had looped back and was pushing me. He handed me his towline which was now quite short and would pull me into his wheel when it went taught. We touched wheels once and I didn't have much energy to respond. We didn't crash, and we tried it again. With extra effort to not align wheels, I got towed up the last climbs, past our glorious cottage that would have been such a nice destination right now, and then a little further to the finish.
At the finish, we were greeted with cheers, photographs, chocolate milk and congratulations. We looked around for O-Store, not sure if they may have taken a different route, which could explain why we didn't see them catch us and blow past. After letting out a few very excited and tired loud whoops to celebrate such an exciting finish, I did have to ask just to be sure: are we first co-ed?
What an incredible team. Phatty's nav was excellent. There is never a perfect race, but he hardly gave up anything. Everyone pitched in whatever they could to help the team. The way the team came together so well and so naturally was quite remarkable, especially considering that we just met on Friday evening. And what an incredible race. We pushed the pace all the time and in the end, every bit of it mattered. Team O-Store finished 15 minutes after us. They were incredibly gracious, all smiles and congratulations at the finish. The next day, Benoit seemed pleased when he commented that we looked quite proud of our win and the trophy. Yes, proud enough that we are taking Bob the Beaver on tour. First stop: Canmore in the Rocky Mountains!