This past Sunday, another bucket list item was crossed off the list – “Participate in an adventure race”.
Adventure racing (not to be confused with obstacle racing) is a combination of two or more endurance sports, usually paddling, mountain biking, running and orienteering.
We have completed the “Hike” 3-5 hour short course of Storm the Trent. Let me tell ya, it did not SEEM short at the time.
It’s touted as the original beginner-level event, featuring low-impact hiking/running on groomed trails, easy-to-moderate level mountain biking both off-road and on-road, and scenic flatwater paddling.
Other options were:
“Trek” 4-7 hour long course and “Trek Elite” 5-9 hour advanced course.
Yours truly raced on a coed team of two, with P., an orienteering guru, who made sure that I didn’t get lost. He also made sure that I didn’t drown, and didn’t fall off the bike (too many times).
The race was worth it just for the drive – once you get off the highway, it’s about thirty scenic minutes of fields, lakes and, well… Ontario! Beautiful Ontario. And the event ran like butter (does butter run?). You realize that a race is incredibly well organized, when you do not think about how the race is organized. It just… runs.
It is on a pricier side (see below), however, this is not much more than you’d pay to run a high-demand road race (Yonge 10k, I’m looking at you).
The actual distances ended up being broken down into 1) paddling, 2) biking about half distance, mostly on the road, 3) hiking/running on easy trail, 4) biking the other half, mostly on trail, and 4) a bit of hiking to pick up the last checkpoint, after which you biked the last 500m to the finish line.
More accurately, the race went like this:
Part 1: Mope & Paddle You see, it’s never what you think that does you in. Paddling? Paddling, I’ve done. Paddling is easy, right? You paddle, paddle, sit back. Chat. Paddle, paddle. Take a selfie. Paddle, paddle. Eat a sandwich. No?
Instead, as we got into our canoe (or was it a kayak? a boat?) along with what seemed like three hundred people, Have you ever been in a boat traffic jam? Me neither. As the gun went off, we started paddling. And… two minutes later my arms were tired. I kid you not. I could freaking shoulder press that canoe, but a low impact repetitive motion of paddling with no opportunity for selfies?
“You just paddle, and… suffer”, says P. You suffer while paddling? What a foreign concept! But suffer I did, and that still included resting every five minutes. Or every twenty. Or every two? However long we were in that damn boat seemed way too long.
However, I uttered the words I never thought I’d utter: “I can’t wait to get on the bike!”.
Part 2: Pedal & Squeal
Mountain biking – this is the part that I psyched myself out about. Mountain biking is my D-D.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve ridden a mountain bike hundreds of times. On a ROAD! Trail, on the other hand… The two times I managed to get my butt in a saddle, both ended in tears.
There is this metal beast between you and the trail. I can’t feel the ground underneath me. And this will be my third time on a mountain bike.
One of the closest calls I’ve had to a DNF was an off-road triathlon, Muskoka Grind. The 8k bike portion took me well over an hour. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could have run that section faster. With the bike on my back.
The trail was wet, steep, rocky, muddy… Everything I love in a trail. When I run. I was dead last off the bike. Italian started getting worried when every grandma and grandpa pedaled their way back, racked their bikes, and took off running. When I finally pulled in, I was almost hysterical – teeth clenched, shoulders hunched, eyes wet. Terrified wild cat.
I threw the bike on the ground, and quit. Just walked away. Well… that’s what I almost did. That’s what I really really wanted to do. But the next section was running, you see. Running I can do. Once my legs realized they could be useful again, I flew down that trail, passing at least two dozen confidently jogging seniors.
“Clearly, a runner!”, calls out a woman to my back, as I charge by, feet barely touching the ground.
I walked away with a medal that day – first in my age category. In case, you are wondering, yes, there was only one person in my age category. It remains one of my most prized medals. In this race, the biking section is 23km, not 8km, like last year, but thankfully, the trail is much less technical. My borrowed bike is much lighter. I christen it “puppy” almost immediately. A Great Dane puppy, no doubt – tall, lanky, with long limbs, like its owner.
Despite upgrading my ride, I realized I was in trouble as soon as I got in the saddle. And not the “I’m afraid of riding a mountain bike on trail” kind of trouble. No, I’m talking about “yes, I know today was technically supposed to be my rest day, but instead I decided to do a 4-hour race, and now I’m screwed” kind of trouble. Zero power. Zero energy. It felt like I left all of my horses (puppies?) at home.
I have one or two of these races every year, and somehow manage to forget the lesson. I. Need. Recovery. Reverse tattoo on forehead? It must be one of the most frustrating feelings in the world (exaggerate much?) – to know what your body CAN do, yet be completely unable to produce the torque. And there is another D-D – being the weakest link on the team.
Part 3: Prancing Zombie
By the time we finally got to run, I was quite ready for the race to be over. P. takes the cake for all checkpoints – navigation masterfully done. I have not even touched the map. Than again, the bucket list item was very clear – it said “participate”, not “contribute to navigation” or even “finish”. And yes, I have seriously wondered about dropping out at this point – after all, that would accomplish TWO bucket list items – participate in an adventure race AND DNF a race.
Those 6km were covered on mental fortitude and base fitness. As in – I can maintain a certain pace on trails, regardless of energy level. In fact, I couldn’t tell you very much about those forty minutes – tuned out completely.
Jog, jog, shuffle. Prance over a root. Eyes glazed over. Hence – prancing zombie.
Part 4: Quad Grinder
The second half of the bike was mostly on trail – my D-D. This was both fun, and not fun at all. P. well ahead with the map, and me, few hundred meters behind, desperately trying not to break my face on a tree. The puppy obediently chewed up grass, gravel, sand, leaves, and everything else that the trail threw our way. Good puppy.
We managed to get through mostly without incidents apart from me almost losing control when packed trail suddenly turned sandy. And when after one sharp turn, and another, and another, I decided I’ve had enough, and sat down almost in the middle of the trail to have a sandwich, completely freaking out at least thirty racers behind me, who were convinced that I must be sitting down, because I broke an ankle, or ripped off an important appendage. Definitely, a mental health moment. A safety tip – do not bother a woman when she is having a mental health moment (or a sandwich).
As we were approaching the end of this section, I killed some pretty killer hills. My quads cooperated, however, unwillingly. The things I can do when I’m ready to be done.
Part 5: Itty Bitty Mindfuckery
This little gem would make Norm Koch himself proud. About 500m from the finish, we turn towards a volunteer tent – gear check. Headlamp – yes. Whistles – apparently, my Salomon hydration pack has one built-in. Phew. Are we done?
Not quite – last checkpoint is up the grassy hill. Off you go. I look around, half expecting someone to hand me a 60-lb sandbag. When no one doesn’t, I inquire whether we are to carry our bikes to the check point. I conclude the answer from the weird look I receive from the volunteer, and we trudge up the hill, and back down.
My poor sore butt is back, riding the puppy for the last 500m. And done.
We finished in 3:44:44 – 6th out of 40 coed teams. Not bad, for napping through the whole race.
The ultimate question… would I do this event again?
Interestingly, yes. Not this year. But I can see how this can be an incredibly enjoyable day with a friend or a parent. I think my dad would love this.
Note to self for next time – take freaking rest days, and practice paddling. And… buy a bike?
P.S. This fucking bucket list will be the death of me.
Adventurously yours, Solo