Back to the beginning.
I'm on the mailing list for mynextrace.com, a site that collects info on races around the area/country/continent and lists them as a calendar...probably a sign of things to come when I joined after my first STORM race in 2005. Anyway, on a newsletter a few weeks ago, they announced they were looking for team members for the Moraine Adventure Relay. I've been toying with the idea of not just getting into adventure racing but actually making myself a name/reputation in it, so I jumped at the idea of getting on a sponsored team.
I volunteered myself and Trevor right away (I checked with him) and started bugging them for details. These things take a lot in terms of planning, for logistics and gear and training, so I wanted to get stuff in order and figure out what I needed to do after the Limestone tri. Oye, this relay was a logistical nightmare. The organizers didn't really know what they were doing, I'm pretty sure they wanted to do a fundraiser and thought this would be the ideal way. It takes a lot to plan a 5K run, forget a team relay covering a geological feature. Anyway, no details were posted on the site as promised, no maps published, no gear list (just some suggestions aside from the normal ones like a bike helmet and such), no registration (at all, let alone time/place/cutoff), the published race legs (distances/disciplines) kept changing. See notes at the end!
The organization for the team was slightly better - my contact, Peter (the mynextrace.com guy), was not the captain - I never heard from her...I don't think she was experienced with this type of thing either, she didn't end up doing any of the race and she left halfway through. There were 2 'practices' (read: meetings) in the few days prior, which I couldn't attend because I live in Ktown. I didn't know till we got to the start line who was on the team for sure, people kept dropping out. Trevor hurt his ankle a week before and had to opt out too, so I went into travel planner mode, figuring out how to get stuff to TO/the race site sans car. I kept asking Peter what kind of gear the team had and what I needed to bring and who was on the team and where we should rendezvous for rides...I ended up just driving to his house and hoping he could give me a lift, because there was never any set plan. The estimated finish time was to be after dark and I wasn't sure if the team had lights or if I needed my own set. It was decided that they had enough for us. If this sounds like a random jumble of details, it's pretty representative of the planning process.
I met up with Peter on Saturday morning, got there around 7:15am. After much running around, we depart in his minivan to pick up a teammate and head out. There were a few pit stops to pick up forgotten items and re-secure the canoe, and we made it to the start area for about 9:50...for a 10am start. Oye. The organizers were late anyway, so we saw Seth and Peter off in the canoe around 10:15. And so it started. I switched with Peter into the canoe around 2/3 of the way through the leg, because Peter had to get ready for the 2nd (bike) leg. Seth is a big black inner city kid (well, late 20s but you know what I mean). This was his first time in a canoe, let alone a race. He was wearing a white longsleeve shirt and one of those pristine white baseball caps with the flat brim on the whole leg, we teased him abt it getting wet. He also couldn't swim. Apparently a bunch of his friends made fun of him about going canoeing, let alone in a race. He said when he was done that he could've gone on...but after standing around a bit, he started feeling it in his arms...then shoulders...and stomach....then it hit him. Lol, he LOVED it though, and so pleased with himself for having done the whole 8k. We were last out of the water (#1, 8K), but I'm proud of him. *warm fuzzies* lol When we came in, we could see people milling about the marina, but couldn't recognize anyone specifically, and didn't see any bikes. Then we saw a bit sign suspended by a gazebo: Walleye Derby Championships, or something of the sort. We almost freaked out that we'd followed the wrong canoe and weren't actually where we were supposed to be, since we had no map (no dry bag to put it in). A organizer called out to us though and directed us to the beach instead of the dock we were at, so that was all good. We found Peter and tagged him and sent him off.
Now a note on the maps. They were not good. They were essentially relatively up-to-date zoomed-out road maps (the area has been under development of late) with a general trail marked in red. The trail marked was the hiking trail for the moraine though, so there were a few trail markings that had nothing to do with us. There were text boxes pointing out checkpoints. As well, the trail marked was the one we were to follow, not all possible trails. There were no insets for forest sections. What does this mean, you ask? It means that if there's a fork in the trail, we don't know where to go, because only the path we're SUPPOSED to take is on the map, rather than both trails with the one we're supposed to follow indicated. So according to the map, there's only one trail. Yeah. They didn't give us detailed maps, saying the trail was marked. It wasn't, or it was by strips of white paint on posts/trees/phone poles that were hard to see in the daytime, forget at night. The terrain descriptions we were provided with (also text boxes on a road map) were inaccurate, if not outright lies.
Now a note on the trails. It relates to the note on the maps. The event was marketed as a scavenger hunt and an adventure relay (ie, mountain biking, trail running, canoeing), but there was only 1 canoe leg (right at the start), and a lot of the rest was on country roads - pavement, gravel, sand, with a few dirt trails sprinkled in. There was no scavenger hunt, that part was an online game on the website (that, incidentally, I hadn't noticed despite my perusal of the site for info).
These two notes being made, Peter got lost on the first bike leg (#2, 17K). When mountain biking, you watch the trail in front of you, so you know what you're riding over and don't fall and crash and die. You don't watch for little white marks made on trees. So he went in circles for awhile. He also got bogged down in sand. For the record, riding a bike in loose beach sand (put down to combat trucks getting bogged down in mud when it rains, I assume) is awful. Your tires spin, you skid out, you have no speed, you lose any momentum you have and it's nigh impossible to gain it back. The sand gets into your chain and gunks it up; it works its way into small crevices and grinds away at joints and connections, requiring you to essentially take your bike apart to clean it. Salt water does the same, it's why you never see people riding bikes they own on the beach. A lot of the bike course and a bunch of the run course was sand. So he took awhile coming out...but other teams got most lost than him and I think we moved up to 4th.
Ashley took over the next two run legs (#3, 4 - 10K, 6K). She's 22, a distance runner, and crazy like that. She got lost in the woods and bogged down in sand too. While we were waiting for her at the end of the 3rd leg, a girl came out of the woods. We saw her go in about half an hour prior. She'd done a long loop and was no further along. Trail markers. Whoo. Ash came out and continued on. The weather at this point was warm and kinda humid, but it was still a gorgeous day - people were a bit sweaty but still happy.
Patrick took over running after (#5, 6K). He's an older guy, I don't know how we found him, he didn't seem to have met anyone before, but he was a nice guy. He didn't report getting lost or anything. *shrug* It was about 5pm by now.
Nick took off on the bike after (#6, 10K). He got a little lost but not badly, more bogged down in sand. He said he walked the first 2k of his leg. I pre-rode a bit of it, and I would've done the same. Beach sand = evil. He's not a particularly experienced rider, so his concept of using gears is a little shaky, I think he spun most of the way thru the course. Weather at this point slightly cooler, but still sunny, no rain.
I left around 7 (#7, 19K). The initial double track was hard packed dirt thru the woods, relatively flat - awesome. I could've ridden that for hours, though it was getting a little dark in the woods. I'd checked our map against the trail map in the parking lot - good thing I did too. I followed the trail markers as instructed and came to a T junction intersecting another trail. I knew which trail I was supposed to be on though, and it wasn't the one I was at. I backtracked through the woods a bit till I saw an opening in the trees gated by a fence. Not like a no-ATVs fence, a do-not-enter fence. I checked the trail marker post where I was. It said go straight from the direction I was coming from before. Uh-huh. I turned off onto the unmarked path, climbed around the fence/gate and found a road. I checked my map. This was were I was supposed to come out. Frig. I continued along the road for a bit then turned onto an unmaintained (sand) road. Whoo. After much spinning out and walking and cursing the sand at my feet, I made it back to road. Then turned onto another sand road, for longer. Oye. There were some sections of packed dirt road scattered in there, you could see where the trucks had spun ruts into the mud, they were deeper than the radius of my wheels, I almost got caught in a few. Then more sand. Then more road. At one point, I saw I was heading back into sand and seriously considered just taking a much longer route on the paved roads than attempting the sand...but went for the sand. I skipped some by riding in the grass banking the road, but it was so long it was hard to pedal through and you couldn't see dips in the terrain. Eventually I came back to a road and up to the checkpoint...odd, as I was supposed to have done another loop but saw nothing directing me onto it. Oh well. The sun was still up at this point, but it was pretty dim in the woods.
Peter took off on the next leg (#8, 17K), mostly road with a bit of course gravel. I was going to do it, but he volunteered. He flew down it and beat us to the next checkpoint by 3 minutes. Now, we travelled as a team CP to CP, but some other ppl were just showing up at their checkpoints from wherever and planned to be there at a specific time, according to the team schedule. There was a guy waiting there for another team, he'd been there for an hour and a half already, but hadn't heard from his team that they were behind (sand, getting lost). I don't think he was happy
Ash did the next run (#9, 10k), her iPod had died and her back was bandaged up from scars garnered from her heart rate monitor strap rubbing for so long. She gave up on the map and just followed trail markers. Stupid maps.
Patrick took over the next run (#10, 10k). He was making pretty good time, but the sun was setting by now and he left with a head lamp. Unfortunately, he had it on the dim setting and missed a trail marker with about 1km to go and got lost for the next 45 minutes or so. He left at 8:45 or so rolled in two hours later. He packed up and went home while the rest of us trooped on.
The headlamp was the only light we had apparently. It was a head mount, not a handlebar (or helmet, for that matter) mount, and definitely not enough to light forest trails in the pitch black, let alone the hard-to-see trail markers. I had the opportunity to borrow/rent a light system from friends in Ktown, but as I was told to save my money (because they had enough), I didn't bother. So we ended up following Nick in the car (#11, 12K), lighting the way with the highbeams. When we came up to his entry to a singletrack path in the woods, we said "screw it," turned around and took him on a road route around the forest. There were no unmanned checkpoints to see that we actually went into the woods, nor was there any way for the checkpoint volunteers to tell if we'd actually taken the marked trail or not. We directed/followed him all the way to the next checkpoint. There were no volunteers outside to tell what direction we'd come from.
Peter took off from the driver's seat on the next run section (#12, 7K). He took the headlamp, a map, and his dog Jefferson. Jefferson is a border collie/Australian sheepdog mix and still a puppy to boot, so he's loud and energetic, if smallish. He was our mascot that day. It was around 11:20 when Peter left, and because he's a runner by training and the leg was short, we booted it to meet him at the next checkpoint. And there we waited. We expected him in 40 minutes, darkness, forest route and all. And we waited. He didn't get in till just before 1am. Apparently those trail markers and that map really didn't do it for him. He came up to a junction at one point of 6 paths, and none of them marked for the race. He also didn't have an extra light - we were convinced his light had burned out and he was wandering the forest lost in the dark, or that he was hurt or his dog had gotten run over. This leg should not have taken this long.
A note here on safety. We did have to sign a waiver, standard practice for things like this. However, certain safety precautions are also taken. Other races require you to carry a whistle to call for help, a compass, a cell phone, and enough emergency gear to survive in the woods if necessary (waterproof matches, first aid kit, extra clothes, flashlight, food, water). They also hire emergency services specific to adventure racing (ESAR), notify the police that a race is going on, have radio contact between the race directors and all volunteers/emergency crew, send well-equipped volunteers on ATVs or bikes to sweep the course for straggling/lost/injured people, and give racers jerseys to denote that they're participating in a race and not just random idiots running around in fields. This race had none of this, just volunteers patiently waiting for people to emerge from the woods. This race was marketed as no-orienteering and no-experience-necessary. They told us to call a cell phone # if assistance was required during the race, or 9-1-1 if there was an emergency. Right. "Hi, I've broken my arm and I'm alone in the woods...not quite sure where...." And that's assuming your phone gets a signal. When Peter went into the woods, he had a light, his dog, a bad map and maybe a bottle of water. He was wearing a Tshirt and spandex shorts. His cell phone had died hours earlier, and didn't get reception up here anyway. When he didn't emerge from a 7k run (half an hour on the road, max)...yeah. Fantastic.
There was some debate as to who would do the next bike leg. I wanted to do it on Ash's road bike, but my shoes weren't compatible; she wanted to do it to get out of there earlier (road bike = faster than mountain bike), but she'd already done 3 legs and I'd only done 2, and I didn't want to run and if she did both legs, then it'd be a 5:2 split and blah blah blah. She ended up falling asleep while we were waiting for Peter, and since she was doing the last leg anyway, that settled that. I left the checkpoint on my mountain bike just before 1am with Nick following in the car (#13, 10k)... in addition to the debate, I didn't want to flaunt that we had given up on the maps. I was supposed to go down the road and enter straight into the forest, then tackle 5k of sandy road before exiting onto road, doing a ride through a park, then coming into the checkpoint. Instead, I turned up onto Aurora Road and booted it (in aero for the most part) down to Wellington on the shoulder with Nick in tow. I finished the leg in under 25 minutes. The next CP volunteers commented on the fact that I came in on the road, but with everyone getting lost like they did, it wasn't uncommon to come in from the completely wrong direction. I'll let you know if the organizers even notice how impossibly fast that leg was. The first two teams had finished hours before, and the next teams were lost in the woods still, so it's not like places would've changed anyway.
Ash took off on the final run around 1:30am (#14, 11K). She took the maps, and had Peter following in the car. It was mostly a residential run through a suburb with a bit of stuff in a park. Even with the maps, they went in a complete circle and emerged on the same road half an hour later. The neighborhood she was running through was new, and completely different from what it used to be (ie, on the map). They gave up and drove to an equivalent distance as what she'd run closer to the finish, and she finished on the road. Even then, she couldn't figure out how to get to the finish line. When Nick and I drove up, we almost turned onto the lawn of Seneca College (the finish was at the gate house). The grounds were unlit and no one was on duty at the gate; we had to drive around the grounds for a bit to find the entrance to the right parking lot. There were some people and signs under an outdoor security light behind the gate house, bordered by the unlit parking lot and the woods. Uh huh. Most of the volunteers were sleeping in trucks or tents; 2 were sitting on lawn chairs. There was a picnic table with bug spray, flashlights, souvenir Tshirts, cold pizza, juice boxes, granola bars, bananas, and an uncovered cut fruit platter. We were still happy to see Ash at the finish around 2:30, but as there wasn't going to be much in the ways of ceremony or awards or results, we grabbed some food and took off. Peter wanted to be at a race starting at 7am, and Ash had to be at work at 6. It was Nick's first race ever, so he was dead. We were all caked with sand, grime, sweat, bug spray, and suntan lotion. Gross.
In summary, we finished 3rd, in a time of approximately 15.5-16h. We maintain we came in first, as the first place team had an Olympic athlete on it (Marnie McBean, whoo) and the 2nd team consists of professional racers...and should be disqualified anyway for littering (one of the only rules they had). :D I have no idea how much distance we actually covered, but ideally, it was around 160km. No one got dehydrated, no one passed out, no disastrous injuries to speak of, no deaths by bear that I've heard of yet. The weather stayed perfect throughout. All in all, it was a idea for an event, but the logistical aspect leaves SO much to be desired. I love this sport. :-P :D
- it sucks to have to carry race gear on public transit (have you ever run through Union Station with a bike, stuffed duffel bag and backpack?), but it's better to bring more than you need (excess bike lights for night riding, flashlight, dry bag, map bag) than to be screwed for something mid-race.
- hand sanitizer in a first aid kit = good. Same with pain-free wound cleaner.
- have non-racing support people driving the vans, dark roads after a 20k sprint makes for erratic drives.
- excess plastic bags = good
- never go to an inaugural/"first annual" event.
Lessons to be taught to the organizers:
- If you're going to organize an adventure race, be an adventure racer. How can you know what to expect if you've never done it before? (This can be applied to almost any field, really.)
- DO NOT set a route for participants if you have not done the ENTIRE route PERSONALLY, AND with a random person of the ability level you are targetting WITH the maps you plan to distribute. Why would you give us something you won't/can't do yourself?
- Give extra maps to the checkpoint volunteers. 2 maps/15-person team is not enough.
- See note above on safety. Frig.
- Have a gear list.
- Update your website.
- If you're going to have rules, follow/enforce them. (Rules 5, 12, 15 on the site are BS. There were no wrist bands, spotchecks or online registration sites.)
- Have deadlines.
- Have set meeting spots.
- Have your own bullhorn if you plan on making announcements.
- Know how you plan to start the race, don't just tell us to go when you're done the announcements.
- Publicize your event more than a month before it happens.
- Gear your race to the level you're targetting. Get opinions of people in the field if necessary you're not sure how. Don't get a person who competes at the elite/professional level to set a course for beginners, he might be biased.
- Start small and grow; a trail running 5K might have been more appropriate for a first time race project.
(xposted to adventureracers)