Race Report: Michigan Adventure Race
Three cheers for Friday! It is the last weekend before my marathon (so hard to believe) and to celebrate my taper, I’m doing a race (5 Peaks Albion Hills Enduro distance) and I am looking forward to being reunited with my trail buddies. Other than that, I doing a movie night with friends, a brunch and taking a Jays game. It is so bizarre to have free time to socialize now that my training is easing up a bit. I do not hate it! (For those of you who I told that I would rest instead of socializing, that will be next week. :P)
Ok, I was getting a lot of requests for this recap (warning…it’s a lengthy one!). Last weekend, I travelled to stay with my dear friend, Kim in Michigan for an adventure race.
I love to get down to Grand Rapids area whenever I can because I adore the trails in the area. Switchback Endurance does an amazing race series and you can see some of the races I have done here and here. The last time I was down for a race, we all were out for dinner afterwards and Michelle, my team mate, joined us and said “All I want is an endurance athlete who can keep up with me so I can practice my orienteering.”
She gave me a side glance and I didn’t even hesitate. I signed up that week and began doing a bit of training on the water and mountain bike to prep myself. I have been known to just launch myself into things before and this was no difference. I think I have a bit of overconfidence in my abilities. What do I mean? The first two times I went golfing, I played a tournaments. The first two times I went mountain biking, I was in races. I went from running 7 miles to my first ultramarathon. I just have a bit of an overconfidence in my abilities combined with a risk seeking personality. It is a bit of a lethal combination but it keeps my life full of adventure.
What is an Adventure Race?
Adventure Racing is a combination of two or more endurance disciplines, including orienteering, trail running, mountain biking, paddling and climbing. An expedition event can span ten days or more while sprints can be completed in a matter of hours. There is no suspension of the clock in races, irrespective of length; elapsed competition time runs concurrently to real time and competitors chose if and when to rest.
Basic Gear: (I am keeping this basic because the actual list of gear is extensive!)
You are given a waterproof passport that has numbers corresponding to check points that are punched with stamps.
Mountain Bike and associated gear
Canoe and associated gear
The cut off time is final. If you are late, you are disqualified.
If you lose your passport, you are disqualified.
Adventure Racing Lengths
Sprint: 2- 6 hours
12 HR – 6 – 12 HR
24 HR – 18 – 30 hours
Multi Day – 26 – 48+ hr
Expedition – 2 – 11 day
The race I participated in, the Michigan EPIC edition was technically considered a 12 hr, although it was only 8 hrs. We arrived at the race location at 6 am and dropped off our bikes and canoes.
The way an adventure race works is that you do not know where the check points are ahead of time. At the race briefing, they hand out the race maps and check point hints and the teams get to work on strategizing and water proofing the maps.
At 8:40, we were off. Well, everyone else was. My team mate and I needed to run a few items back to the vehicle and had a late start. We ran a mile or so to the water and grabbed the canoe for the first portion of the race: the 6 mile paddle. There may have been a canoe accident and Michelle broke her carbon paddle. This was quickly rectified by a helpful racer who offered us his extra paddle.
There were 3 check points on the river and this portion took us about 1.5 hours. I am not a strong water athlete so this was a good challenge for me.
We transitioned to mountain bikes at around 10:10 and headed to the trails. I am not going to lie, there were some very scary portions of this for me. I am not an avid mountain biker and although I have the physical fitness, I do not have the technical skills that made the steep terrain and sand easy to manoeuvre. Every time we hit gravel or paved road, I would take off like a shot to get the next check point, but it was less comfortable on the trails. Certainly something to work on for the future. I only took one nasty fall after flying down a steep hill and hitting a rock and sand patch which pitched me over the edge. I was able to scramble back up on my bike, but my confidence was shaken a bit.
Throughout the day, we travelled by mountain bike or on foot, gathering check points from 4 of 5 local wild areas. About 2 hours into the ride, Michelle’s back tire went flat and we lost about 30 minutes changing that. We were clear in communicating and reminding each other to eat. There were some super fun areas where I needed to do intense river crossings to get the check points, which looked like this:
Around 7 hours, I was starting to fade. I missed a check point and needed to scramble back up the hill. I split open my big toe nail and was in a lot of pain. Michelle was getting tired as well, but we managed to keep moral and kept chasing check points hard. We arrived back to the race location with barely a moment to spare and dropped the bikes and shared our stories with fellow racers.
What I learned about adventure racing:
- The people are incredibly generous and kind. Like most of the endurance community, they would give you the shirt off their backs to help you.
- It is absolutely necessary to remain calm and collected. Things WILL go wrong but if it is out of your control, you need to let them slide off your back and be kind to your team mate if you are doing a team race.
- It is important to clearly communicate. After every checkpoint, I went through a check list of items with Michelle to make sure we were on track. It saved us from missing anything.
- Eat and drink whenever you can. You are burning more calories than you realize and as the day wears on, it is easy to bonk.
Speaking of food, it is important to chat about nutrition on a race like this. You want a nice mixture of sweet and salty and a number of adventure racing veterans suggested eating every hour.
I tried my best to keep up with this and this is a run down of the fuel that I used in my race:
Genuine Health – I do most of my sports supplements with Genuine Health. I drank a pre-race ActivFuel to prepare me for the race and had my favourite protein bar in the bag for mid-day. I also finish every endurance race or training session with almond milk and their chocolate protein powder.
Nuun – I train and race with Nuun Hydration. They have no sugar and a nice mixture of electrolytes and sodium. I had two tablets of tropical flavour in my bag mixed with a Nuun Energy tablet for some caffeine.
Skout Organic – Skout is a new-to-me company that was perfect for this race. It is perfect food for adventure racing and exploring. I had the trail bar which is certified organic, gluten free and few ingredients including oats and dates. I also had a package of their organic pumpkin seeds with sea salt. I will be using these in my ultra marathons in the future, including my Transrockies 120 miler next summer.
Snickers – Person after person touted Snickers as a fun snack to have in case you couldn’t eat anything else. I had no problem with my other nuts, fruit and bars so I stuck to that, but I am sure this is an awesome energy surge!
Justins Almond Butter Packs – these guys were perfect little “gel packs”. It was a substantial enough fuel to fill me up but small enough that I could take it while mountain biking on the trail.
Apples – Nothing is better than crunching on a good apple while strategizing your next check point.
I was happy to have a steady source of energy and was happy with the fuel sources I chose.
I was absolutely shocked when we were announced as the female winners! I knew we tried our utmost, but there was a strong field of female adventure racers out and it was an honour to win.
I think it was a great balance of a fantastic team mate, being in good shape and having beginners luck! I have been asked to crew a couple adventure races coming up this fall so I am excited to learn the ins and outs of this sport.
Have you ever done an adventure race? Which one and how did it go?