Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sometimes "Accidents Happen" and sometimes they don't!

The North Country Endurance Challenge became a reality over Memorial Day relaxing and enjoying the beginnings of summer on Cape Cod. Spending a weekend with fellow racing buddies goes without saying, we talk about past events and always look for that next event to compete. 
My friend John and I found ourselves in the perfect racing opportunity. With babies on the way and limited training time we decided to join forces with our outstanding support team of Astrid and Crystal, the most wonderful good wives club.  We would team up in the North Country Endurance Challenge on Saturday, September 6, 2014.
Calm waters broken up by the lead pack of paddlers on First Connecticut Lake in Pittsburgh, NH

Team "Accidents Happen" in our first competition together!
In the year of the baby, we formed a relay team and fittingly named it "Accidents Happen"  because we are constantly one training day or event away from another injury on the mends, though the pun was too good to pass up.

Travelling greater distances to compete is becoming a reoccurring theme for me this season.  This event took us as far north as the headwaters of the Connecticut River, a stones throw from the Canadian border.  One challenge would be not having trained on the same terrain or course we would be competing.

Would John and I be trained up enough? I was coming off some extended rest and relaxation following the Are Extreme Challenge in Sweden.  John and I would both be spending relentless weekends preparing our homes for the arrival of incoming infant babies.  The Stork's were well on their way to deliver our packages.

The race is organized by Untamed New England whom puts together a pro class adventure race that attracts international teams. Unlike the multi-day adventure race, the North Country Endurance Challenge is a a single day multisport event attracting local sponsored athletes and weekend warriors alike. It is offered as a "Premier Course" estimated completion of 10-12 hours covering a distance of  approximately 66 miles.  The race features 9 separate legs in "off road" disciplines of paddling, trail running and cross country mountain biking. Divisions of both relay teams and solo are both available. Those wanting to tackle a bit less miles but still face a formidable challenge could compete in the short course of ~31 miles trail running and mountain biking with the exception of paddling. 

"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; Red sky at night, sailors' delight."

John and I entered as a relay team in the premier course and split legs evenly. I consider us to be primarily paddlers in which we both compete in varied degrees of events both on flatwater and Wildwater, which is downriver racing in whitewater. Typically, in multisport relay, a team would often be made up of the better paddlers, better trail runners and better cyclists all combining said efforts to deliver the strongest team performance. The biggest decisions were negotiating whom would race in which leg. We are equally comparable in paddling skill sets and cycling strengths. John was by far stronger runner and has a higher degree of endurance where I mostly train in the interval zone at shorter distances. This made the ultimate decisions easy. I would do the shorter paddling and cycling legs with John challenging himself across the longer paddle, cycling legs and majority of trail running in the valleys.

This was definitely no accident! Our support team was meant to be!
We decided to race one kayak between us and chose John's Wave Exceed. Having spent less than 10 minutes in this racing kayak ever before and never in an event, meant I could very well dump this boat during the race, especially if waters were rough.

They key to paddling most racing designs is momentum, neutral to slightly forward body position and maintain steady rhythm. Entry into the boat is far greater challenge. Once the boat gets sufficient hull speed, stability increases significantly. Keeping the body weight stable over midship near the beam to achieve the boats designed waterline is the sweet spot where you will find both balance and performance. Lastly, reminding myself to focus on commanding a steady stroke. Over paddling might catch a paddle with a late release in the water  but that is a common mistake when adrenaline takes control of the mind and body.

Ultimately what decides the outcome of the race happens in the form of support.  Relying on the support team is one of the most important variables. Without a support team capable of route finding their way to multiple transition sites and locales in an unknown area of northern New England could decide the race.

Our racing buddy Josh Flanagan from Cohasset, MA made the long trip up to 'North Country' and would be racing the solo division.  He certainly has both the skills and endurance to challenge the best competitors on the field that day. The North Country Endurance Challenge has an option to hire local natives as a support team. This is becoming increasingly popular in multisport and Josh took advantage. Knowing that he was in good hands Josh was certainly ready to bring it!

John showing off his team skills

Josh Flanagan with his Epic V12 Surf Ski down to the shoreline

Starting Line 2014 North Country Endurance Challenge

Le Mans style start of the 2014 North Country Endurance Challenge!
(Photo by Jo M. Wood)
The weather conditions were absolutely were stunning.  Cool, crisp morning, that feeling of early autumn season was upon us. First Connecticut Lake was glass.  Perfect conditions for my first time racing the Wave Exceed. The forecast called for thunderstorms and heavy rains moving into the area in the afternoon hours. Would the weather hold off or would conditions take a turn for the worse? With our first concern put at ease.  Now was the pressure of executing!

Off to the races across First Connecticut Lake.

Taking a lead on the first 4 mile paddle leg is key to maintaining momentum but I had to play it safe.  I positioned the kayak on the shoreline far to the left of the majority of the competition and faster racing boats. Thus, lowering the risk of collision or having turbulent waters affect my stability in an unfamiliar boat off the start.  This gave me an opportunity to pick up some speed off the start and maintain some control.
Crystal Clear Waters!
(Photo by Jo M. Wood)
James Kovacs & Josh Flanagan setting the pace. The chase is on!

Leading the charge and preparing for first transition to John!
Feeling burnt never felt better!
Coming into transition in first place off the opening leg was not my intended plan. There were faster boats on the course that day and I dropped in behind the lead boats off the start. Making a move about halfway into this paddling leg, the strong push was what was needed to hold the lead into transition. This would not have been the choice decision if solo or paddling both legs. I had the energy to expend and burnt myself on the water but John was doubling up over the next two legs running 3 miles into Lake Francis State Park and hop right into the kayak, traversing 5 miles across Lake Francis. I had plenty of time to recover.

Getting the boat over to the shore of Lake Francis for John
Lake Francis looking pristine....  Are you ready for it John!
John coming into transition finishing up the second leg strong
John putting James Kovacs in his sights.... 

Adventure racing formats often require teams to navigate between checkpoints. The multisport events I participate resemble that of an"off road" triathlon and do not require orienteering. In this case, racers will follow a preset course point to point. The entire course was impressively well marked, though you start second guessing yourself moving fast in unfamiliar, variable terrain and more concerned with not crashing. This could be a game changer especially during the mountain biking legs when speed takes over. Competitors could very well miss a marker at an important turn and be lost, off course. Paying attention to the markers on the course at all times is critical.

Surprised the heck out of  the team flying unexpectedly into transition
Waiting patiently: Who would exit first from 11 wilderness trail miles!

I was racing a Gary Fisher Cobia 29er for the first time and having little to no time to train on this bike. It was a rather interesting choice of equipment because it is on the heavy side compared to my only other go to option a 26" full suspension cross country bike.

The first cycling leg shortest of the four biking legs went through the Clarksville Highlands. A fitting warm-up on the new bike as it was primarily dirt road and rolling sets of hills. The bike turned out to be an excellent choice. The Cobia 29er very capable of maintaining momentum with every bit of energy I delivered.  The bike soaked up many of the smaller obstacles without loosing speed along the mostly double track roads. I cannot even begin to explain the incredible efficiency when hill climbing on this bike. This bike just chewed up the rolling hills saving much needed energy.

John was looking steadfast and had good energy 
Coming into transition I would surprise my team as they were not ready for me.  John quickly dropped what he was doing as I was hitting the checkpoint. We swapped the numbered bib and he was off on what would soon become labelled as the most difficult leg of the entire event.  Everyone would be challenged when race organizers changed the trail run from the Diamond Ponds to Coleman State Park from 7 miles to almost 11 mile distance....

There was general agreement among the competitors to continue on the course that had been changed. The results would seemingly tell the tale of a different story.  These were the kind of miles that come slowly, uneven, soft muddy landscape and turned out to be a long, grueling trudge through high grasses and wetlands. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

2014 Haglöfs Åre Extreme Challenge - Video Edit

Finally!!!!  It took me forever to get this edit out.  That is what happens when you have to image the laptop, incompatible video editor and have to convert all files to lesser format to edit.  Not too mention two corrupted projects, having to start from scratch a third time. Lots of patience and well, weekends spent preparing for a baby helped me forget about these silly video edit failures.

I used a ContourROAM2 mounted to my whitewater and bike helmet.  Yes, I wore a helmet during the mountain running leg.  How else would I have captured all that footage up and over Åreskutan! The support team  had the Cannon VIXIA HF R500 which was great to capture some third person shots coming in transition and at the finish line. 

Here is my 2014 Åre Extreme Challenge video..............Enjoy it as much as I did!

Work hard, train hard, play harder!