USARA Nationals – Part 2
So last week, I introduced you to Ed. He is taking over for me in explaining the USARA Nationals and is tackling it through the lens of a first-time racer. Before you read this, make sure you have read part one.
Ok, over to Ed.
chapter 2: the paddle
It was almost as though I anticipated my 4:30am alarm, and I was wide awake before Titanium got to its first few beats. We quickly made ourselves vertical and started dressing. I left everything I would need in a pile on the floor the night before, so that I knew if I forgot something, it would be sitting on the ground staring at me.
I snacked on a few chocolate bars and a Boost while we drove to the resort to get our maps. EDITORS NOTE: Ed has coined one of my favourite endurance athlete quotes: “Boost is Bae.” Inside the front lobby, most of the teams already plotting and planning the next 30 hours on the maps that were handed out. We got ours and settled at a table to begin plotting.
This part is Brad’s speciality, so we left that to him while I opened my laptop to try to find an online plotter to help. EDITORS NOTE: Electronic devices were allowed at this point. Jess got us some snacks and double checked all of our gear.
We were given three large UTM topo maps at 1:24000 scale, and several supplemental maps of the state parks and game preserves we would be trekking through. Amazingly, I was able to find a plotter online, so I began helping Brad by searching the UTM coordinates and then cross-checking his work on our paper maps. The coordinate system uses (I think) three designations: the region, east-west coordinate, and north-south coordinate. So, for example, our region was 18T and a CP (check-point) could be located at:
18T 448010E 4523742N
There were 42 something points to plot, and we only had two hours to plot, and plan a route to connect all of them. Oh, I forgot to mention, there were also two orienteering segments of the race where we would be given new maps and new plots of CP’s to find. So, there was more likely going to be close to 60 or 70 CP’s to get in total, but only 42 that we knew of.
7:30 came quickly and we packed our maps into dry bags, grabbed our gear and headed for the busses. We all managed to get a bathroom break in before boarding the bus and used this time to just relax. There was nothing left to be done. All the planning was complete, our bags were packed, what we had with us was all that was going to get us through the next 30 hours. It was surprisingly calm on the bus. Nothing like I’ve seen before Ironman, where every athlete has a shell-shocked sort of look on their face as if they are about to storm the trenches. Instead, we were joking, chatting about other races, and sharing our strategies for different race segments.
In a rush, the bus stopped and racers flew out the door and started fanning out, only to find out the bus had taken us to the wrong spot. So we got back on and five minutes later stopped at the correct park, where the canoes were waiting for us. We unloaded and found our team #6 canoe. There are only two seats in a canoe, but AR (adventure racing) is teams of three. Jess volunteered to sit on a makeshift seat of our packs and spare PFDs, seemed comfortable enough on land. I shoved my incredibly tightly packed bag in the front of our red canoe, and brad got the back. We each had our own kayak paddles for paddling efficiency.
The race began with the singing of the national anthem—I even managed to get in most of the words—followed by a cannon and a mad dash with the canoes to the water. 64 teams and 64 canoes were dragged side by side and thrown into the water with incredible haste and effort. I ran nearly waist deep before getting in the front, soaking any hopes of staying dry for the paddle segment. Jess hopped in next, followed by Brad, and we started stabbing the water with our paddles to get some space between us and the other canoes.
between us and the other canoes.
If felt surreal at first. There were about 40 of the teams, including us, going straight for the first CP across the lake in near perfect formation. A convoy of canoes. I say ‘near’ perfect because there were a few incidents where some canoes would collide, or paddles would knock, but for the most part, it was coordinated.
After about 15 minutes, we crossed the lake in about 12th spot, and Jess hopped onto shore to grab the first CP. Because there was no particular order you needed to collect them in, our first CP was #6. How fitting, that was our team number. Jess was back in a hurry while Brad and I finished readjusting her now dilapidated seat. In the hurry of getting the canoe in the water, the improvised seat had fallen apart and Jess was forced to paddle with her arms nearly straight over her head so she didn’t whack the gunwales. I felt so bad she had to sit in this (for lack of a better word) shitty seat with what was now completely waterlogged and covered in mud. She earned major respect for toughing through that for the next four hours.
We paddled another 40 minutes to the second CP, and then another 30 minutes up to the third. Now remember when I said there were two orienteering sections that we would learn about on the course?…this was the first one. At CP #4 we docked the canoe in what now was a muddy riverbank, and ran to collect our new maps and passport. The passport was our card that had a list of all the CP’s we needed to collect. It was essentially a piece of paper with marked out squares designated for us to punch a pattern into it using hole-punch type clips located at each of the CP’s. There was a total of 11 extra CP’s we had to find.
We were allowed to split up at this point, and only this point, to finish faster. This is not allowed on any other part of the course, where your team must be within 10-15 meters of each other at all times. We took full advantage of this, however, and divided so that Jess and I would get CP’s A6 to A9 and Brad would get A1 to A5. Ours were simpler to find along the loop trail, and Brad had to do some actual orienteering, but that was his strength.
We successfully got all of our CP’s, but while we were waiting at our meeting point for Brad, Jess realized that she no longer had our passport or original maps that she was carrying in our dry bag. EDITORS NOTE: This was, by far, the worst moment in the race for me. The clip holding the maps to my pack was broken from sitting on my pack in the canoe. Big learning for next race. They must have fallen off or got snagged on a tree branch when we were running, somewhere along the 2-3 miles of trail. If we don’t have our passport or maps, we can’t continue the race. My heart rate started rising as we thought of the best plan. I would stay and wait for Brad, and Jess would re-run the trail in reverse to look for the maps. It must be close, and the trail was easily navigable. So, I waited for Brad, and waited, and waited, and waited. I know I was breaking the cardinal rule, but I left to try to find A5 thinking that I would see him there as well. No luck. Then I ran back to A9, and I heard a familiar voice. “BRAD!”
I ran to him and told him we already got A9, but that we lost the map and Jess was back on the trail. By this time, it was nearly 11. Only three hours into the race and we had already lost the only thing that we couldn’t lose. We stood at the trailhead for only about 30 seconds, when a distance voice yelled from the top of the ridge,
“Are you team 6?”
“We fond your maps”
“OMG THANK YOU!!!”
With our maps back in our custody, all we were missing now was our third teammate…Jess. I looked at my watch, and it had been only about 15 minutes that she was gone. Brad was concerned that she would comb the entire trail looking and taking precious time. I said that all we can do is wait, and there is no sense in going in after her and possibly getting in more trouble. Worst case if we wait is Jess gets back and we lose another 10 minutes. I guessed based on our first loop that it would only take her 30 minutes if she jogged at the same pace we did.
I was wrong. I underestimated Jess’s tenacity to get shit done, and she was back in 20 minutes! Sprinting the whole trail. EDITORS NOTE: This was not my wisest choice 4 hours into a 30 HR race. We told her the good news and she said that she figured someone must have seen the map and picked it up when she didn’t see it where we thought we had dropped it. All-in-all, we had all the CP’s and waded back through the mud to our canoe. It was one of the only ones left, sinking our morale, but only a little.
We had to refocus and have short memories. These setbacks are minor in the grand scheme of the 30 hours race, and 20 minutes can be made up later on. We paddled in overdrive to try to crawl back a few places.
I remember at one point, I was in my rhythm and I suddenly felt a tingling sensation on my thigh. My arms were aching by this point so I thought maybe my hips were starting to struggle. I wiggled my legs without looking down to try to shake them out, but the tingle didn’t go away. I finally looked down, and with the reflex of touching a hot stove, I swiped a grape-sized spider off my thigh. I don’t think I let out a scream, but I probably did. It must have gotten in our canoe during the orienteering course and crawled up my leg while we were paddling. Uhuhuhuhuh… No time to think about it. Just get over it and keep paddling.
Now that I knew how to stamp our passports at a checkpoint, I took over hopping out of the canoe at the next CP’s. We got faster and faster with each one, passing teams at each CP on the way and a few just from our raw paddling speed. After the last CP on the water it was a short paddle to the first transition TA1, where we would dock the canoe, pack our paddle gear, and run to our bikes. It was 1pm when we got to dry land and with a quick pee, began the one mile uphill run to our bike transition area.
Check back in next Monday for the third instalment of the race recap.