POCAR Race Report
It’s been a couple weeks past POCAR so it is time to do a recap before it completely fades from memory. This was my very first winter rogaine race so I literally had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it was supposed to go down to -15C (5F for all my US readers) so I packed as many layers as I thought I could get away with.
Packing for a race like this is an adventure all on it’s own.
On the Friday before the race, I met with my Ripkin AR team mate, Brad and friend, Peter and we headed across the border to meet with our US team mate, Jonathan. After doing some explorations of the area including finding an incredible place with every craft beer imaginable, we grabbed some pizza and headed to the hotel room to sort gear for the race the following morning.
In a race like this, you want to make sure that you know where everything is in your pack to make sure everything is as streamlined as possible. A new and delicious thing I tried this race was wrapping up my left over pizza to enjoy it cold out on the course. This race was luxurious in that I knew we would be back at the headquarters 3 times throughout the race so I had a bin of extra layers and a special food bag full of my go to sports nutrition like Rumble, chocolate avocado bread, peanut butter and Genuine Health protein bars.
The morning of the race dawned cold and icy. The roads were treacherous getting to the starting line and there was a race start delay as a result. There were two start times randomly assigned to teams and we were lucky enough to get the first one. We were given our check points in a sealed envelope at 10:30 AM and we quickly set to work plotting our routes.
Around 10:45, we left the headquarters and set off for the first leg. Brad was our lead navigator and Jonathan was co-nav for this race. I am still working hard on my orienteering skills (and have a race to test that out coming shortly!) For this race, I followed their navigations and took care of the passport, nabbing check points when we discovered them.
The first section was difficult. We did quite a bit of bush whacking and were confused as there were walking teams that kept meeting us at checkpoints and we were running. We later discovered that there were trails that more or less lead to the vicinity of the check points and changed our racing approach.
When we arrived at the Fire/Water station on the first course, we were given a challenge with an additional 4 check points to get. This is not a simple request and can add many miles on to a race. We went out and snagged them all, heading back to headquarters while it was still light outside.
I have gotten much quicker in my transitions. I used to try and soak up every bit of comfort I could when we stopped and reluctantly head back out, knowing I have hours and hours ahead of me, but this race, I focused on avoiding the warm fire until I had changed base layers, refilled my water bottles, had a substantial snack and unloaded and repacked my bag to make sure it was lightened up for the next leg. I did this all as quickly as I could instead of savouring the slower pace. We also take this time to replot check points for the next section of the race. If there was ANY time left after that, I would use the Stick to roll out my legs by the fire.
We grabbed our map and headed into the night leg. This leg went by extremely fast as we had adjusted our race approach. For this section, we could not return to headquarters until we had 15 points and each check point was given a value between 1 – 5. The 5 point check point is obviously much more difficult and timely to get to, so it was all strategy. Brad is a fantastic navigator and we returned to the headquarters with all 15 points in less than 5 hours.
I did a quick transition and we replotted our points for the next section. It was a bit bleak because we were heading into the darkest, deepest part of the night with about 40-50 km more to travel. Night navigation is extremely difficult and you undoubtedly are slowed down. This was the TSN turning point of the race for us. We were riding a high from a successful second section and were searching for checkpoint L7 in some deep ravines about 4 miles from the headquarters. And searching. And searching. Keep in mind, the temperature is plummeting, it’s about 3 AM and we are unexplainably lost. We had the correct coordinates and there was no reasonable explanation for the check point to not be there.
Finally, there was a race official who came and announced the checkpoint was in the wrong spot and he would give us the point. That is fantastic, however, it was nearly impossible to take a correct bearing to the next check point in the dark without the L7 checkpoint to guide us and we spent the darkest hours of the night lost. This is where the beauty shows up in adventure and rogaine racing – that ultimate test where you are exhausted, the sleep monsters are coming for you, you are frustrated because you are lost and you can’t show it. In racing like this, you are docked points for being unsportsmanlike and it is vital to remain calm and as emotionally steady as possible for team morale and for the navigator to do the job as effectively as possible. So sometimes, you are just lost out there and it needs to be ok. This type of racing brings a new type of endurance and mental strength to athletics which is why I always say it is the most difficult sport I have stumbled into.
We finally abandoned the hope of finding the check point and took a straight bearing to the road to reorient ourselves just as the sun was coming up. We started nabbing check points but the night had worn on team members and we were no longer running due to blistering, chafing, sore muscles and the extra 10 miles that being lost had added. We arrived at the Fire/Water station for our next challenge. Here is the hardest part of adventure racing: you have no idea what that challenge could be – it could be another 40 miles of check points or it could be one. That is where the adventure comes in.
Our challenge ended up being swinging on a rope swing over a mud pit where each team member needed to land perfectly in each section marked by a log or the entire team needed to start over. I almost lost it when they kept correcting us for each little nic of our feet but again, it is vital to be as sportsmanlike as possible. We finally achieved it and headed out for the last 3 check points.
We rolled into the finish line at around 2:30 PM at 28 hours of racing, 120 KM covered and 3639 m/12,000 ft of elevation gain in fourth place OA.
We collected our badges and hopped into our vehicles. Brad asked me to talk to him on the way to the hotel to keep him awake and I failed to the highest degree – audibly slurring my words and spitting out utter nonsense. Once we checked into our hotel, we shivered through our post-race tradition of greasy fast food and fell into bed for a delightful 15 hour sleep before heading back home.
I’m proud of this race.
We placed well.
I changed a bit of my on course nutrition to include more fat, sugar and carbs and nixed a lot of the protein and it made an enormous difference in my digestive health throughout the race.
I also ate something small every hour instead of just following hunger cues (although in a race where I burn 12,000 calories, I can assume I will always be hungry.)
I drank Nuun at every hour and at every checkpoint.
The sleep made a huge difference in my overall recovery as I had no post-race fog or severe muscle soreness and went back to regular training within 2 days and introduced speed work within a week.
Adventure racing will never be easy, but it is fun to see my body adapting to the unique load and I am looking forward to some fun ones in 2016 with the team!
I would recommend POCAR to anyone who is comfortable racing in cold temperatures, enjoys Rogaine racing and impressive prizing. I walked away with a $100 gift certificate, Mountain Meals and more. The race costs $70 USD/PP to enter and is held at Morgan State Park.
My next adventure style race will be on February 6 where my team mate, Brad will be hosting a fun 3 hour/21 KM event called the Symons Snowshoe Adventure. I am taking out another AR newbie so I can work on my nav, per my goals for 2016.
Before I close this off, I wanted to leave you with something from my friend, Peter. It was his first introduction to the Rogaine/Adventure Racing world and he decided to go for a winter 48 hour, making him even more mad than I am. I love you all, but there are VERY few people in my life I would ever consider taking out on one of these races because of their intensity. In fact, there were about 10 hours of the race where I couldn’t make direct eye contact with Peter because I was convinced our friendship was officially over. No one wants to see people they care about in severe levels of pain, but he soldiered through some intense discomfort and rocked the race.
Here is his take on his very first adventure style race:
Adventure Racing! What a cute name for a sport. When Jess’ invite arrived in Facebook Messenger, I snorted and thought aww isn’t this cute, she wants some brother-sister bonding time while we prance around playing adventurers. Mind, I did some due diligence, I checked the website and saw pictures of smiling older people and loads of student girls taking selfies………. Piece of cake Kuepfer! [EDITORS NOTE: I went on the website and saw no such thing. Still not convinced that this was not improperly investigated.]
Race day came and I was starting to get a nagging feeling that I really underestimated this adventure racing business, from what I gather all those happy pictures are the volunteers, the participants certainly looked way more hard-core than the selfie crew. The race starts and we are given the map coordinates for a large number of checkpoints, Brad our excellent navigator (strangely put him in a car and he gets lost at every turn) set our route and off we went, about 30 minutes into the race I realized this wasn’t going to be easy “Our Checkpoint is about 1km that way” interesting realization as I follow where Brad is pointing, its directly through a thicket of briars, down a 100 foot gully and up the other side. Little did I know but this was probably the easiest part of our 28 hour adventure.
– That WTF are your for real moment when you realize that these people are not joking when they suggest descending down an icy hillside stream which in some countries would be considered a waterfall, the WTF moment when they decide to climb back up said deathtrap.
– The feeling of being lost for hours because someone moved or put the checkpoint flag on the wrong f*&king hill.
– The feeling of death by a million briar cuts.
– Wondering if that pain in your shin after you catapulted straight down a hill into a rock is possibly a fracture or something that will pass after a few hours.
– Spending 32+ hours awake and constantly alert and moving.
– When all your blisters on your feet form one big blister and you actually welcome the new type of pain.
– Going past a house and fighting that urge to knock on the door and claim that these 3 people you are with are holding you against your will (lol I jest, I think)
There is so much more I could write but these are just some of the moments I’ve used to try and capture just how badass and tough this sport really is, truthfully I love the fact that I did this. Who we are is shaped by our experiences and after this, there is very little physically and mentally that I can’t ask of myself. If I had to give one piece of advice, bring 10 cheeseburgers because believe me trail mix, peanuts and cereal bars is nowhere near enough and nobody ABSOLUTELY NOBODY wants to be in that awful position where they need to rely on Lattes baking…. [EDITORS NOTE: Peter has himself convinced I am incapable of baking well. Those of you who have raved about my recipes obviously can see he is mad] oh and get a good coat, turns out my rain jacket is not really good enough for -11°C and $60 shoes probably aren’t the best life choices for such an event.