Tuesday, June 30, 2015

MRA Multisport - Summer Solstice Sprint

"June is bustin' out all over, All over the meadow and the hill! Buds're bustin' outa bushes And the rompin' river pushes, Ev'ry little wheel that wheels beside the mill!"

The next event on the "Tour O' Trahan" was the Summer Solstice Sprint Triathlon, my first official USAT triathlon. The race venue is held at Marion's Camp on the pristine waters of Lake Singletary in Sutton, MA. Always held on the closest Friday to the actually solstice. The race is organized by MRA Multisport a local triathlon coaching club that hosts a multitude of unique race offerings in central MA. They have something for everyone at any level of the sport; running, cycling, swimming and throw in a trail series, snowshoeing, and paddling and you have a nice selection of events to pick and choose. Many of their triathlon and multisport races even offer a team relay division.

We all know that committing to a race, any race requires travel and eats up entire weekends in preparation and execution. The idea of racing on a Friday evening during the longest days of the year is brilliant, leaving the better part of the weekend to be spent with family and tend to much necessary yard work. How productive!

144 triathletes enter the water to begin the 2015 Summer Solstice Sprint!
Photo by Emily Hayes
The event starts at 6:30pm sharp in a controlled time trial format where swimmers enter the water in pairs every 3 seconds.  The 1/4 mile swim is set in a triangle around two large orange inflatable buoys 100m out from shore 200m across.  Following this is a short but steep hill to climb into transition onto the bike.  The 10 mile cycling course was on the freshly paved roads surrounding Lake Singletary back into the transition area to setup for the run.  The run is an out and back 5km effort. The typical racer finishes on average in 70-75 minutes. Just in time for a brilliant setting sun over Singletary! My goal was to survive the swim and break 65 minutes.

Three Embattled Friends
 Photo by Emily Hayes

               Pairs of two, every 3 seconds in time trial start format. 
                        The women  begin their calculated assault.
                              Photo by Emily Hayes

Showing up to an event facing the leg I have devoted ZERO training time; the swim. I would surely be challenged. Anyone that knows me, I prefer to kayak and if your swimming while kayaking then your doing something terribly wrong! Lining up with seasoned triathletes is a little intimidating knowing that the Clydesdale figure 15 years older was going to obliterate me in the water was unnerving.  Good news was being surrounded by friends, colleagues and many new acquaintances from MRA Multisport.  Its always a pleasure to race with so many fellow outdoor enthusiasts. The energy in the atmosphere at an event like this is contagious!

Chef Mike and I paired up 30 spots from the front.
Photo by Emily Hayes
My triathlon version of the seal launch.
Photo by Emily Hayes

So the race started and a group of friends competing directly against each other started uncomfortably way too close to the front.  Starting out in pole position 30 with over 120 people behind me was the first mistake of the day.  Second mistake was charging out too fast in the first 100m and burning out. I fizzled out upon reaching the large orange inflatable buoy marking the first turn in the course.  Racers converge on this target area like sardines. Getting bumped and beaten out there, lost my rhythm, breathing uncontrollably, lost my direction and came up briefly treading water to look around. Surrounded by swimmers just cruising passed me almost effortlessly. I was in survival mode from this point forward and it was painful.

Athletes quickly transition to their bikes....
Athlete crossing the timing mats coming out of transition onto the bike.

Friend and Colleague Justin Deary
Photo by Mike Luchini
Working hard at playing chase on the bike course.
Photo by Mike Luchini
The bike ride around Lake Singletary is an outstanding time trail course.  Relativity flat and fast with freshly paved roads and only 5 turns over the 10 mile course make it an all out burn session.  Can you feel the pepper! Coming out of the swim in 93rd position required a huge effort out there on the bike. I passed numerous competitors but for some reason noticed how much more effort was required to make each and every pass, seemingly in slow motion. Riding triathlon specific bikes built specifically to place the rider in an aerodynamic position thus competitors were speeding right along in a fury while conserving tons of energy. My road bike and I were completely surrounded, this time by cyclists cruising at almost effortless speed. I was able to command a 21.6mph feeling remarkably good coming into transition and ready to put the legs to the ultimate test coming off the bike.

Coming off the bike and into transition I still had my work cut out for me.  It has been a long time since I have raced a short distance for speed and this 5km would define how far I have come since running again.  Coming out of transition in stride with a spring in my step.  Something I have not felt in a long, long time. I carried the pace and intensity onto the main road working my way past competitors asking myself, "is this for real" and concerned about loosing my stride.  It never happened and I cruised into the finish line with a ton of steam left in the tank.

Coming off the bike.... Check out the cyclists bike next to mine.

Patrick Royce of Sutton, MA coming off the bike into second transition

I successfully achieved my projected goal with a time of 1:02:10.  Thus managed a 20th overall and 3rd place (35-39  age group) after coming out of the swim in 93rd place moving up 73 positions through the 10 mile bike and 5km run. Ranked 11th in the bike and was completely blown away with a 20:15 run a triumphant 6:32/mile pace. I just whooped and hollered with excitement!  Here are the entire race day results.

Justin Deary of Uxbridge, MA accepting his finish line medallion.
Photo by Emily Hayes
In the battle among friends Justin Deary took the belt in yet another event of going head to head with him with a 16th overall with a time of 1:01:23 and 2nd (35-39  age group).  He is a pure machine on the race course and an adrenaline rush when he gets moving.  I could easily point to how poorly I felt on the swim but interesting enough I actually lost the race in transition of all places!  This is a stark reminder of how important it is to practice transitions especially between the swim and bike.  In comparison, Patrick Royce of Sutton, MA finished 4th overall with a lightning fast time of 55:57 and 1st (35-39  age group)!!!

Nick and Ted competing in their first ever triathlon.
Photo by Emily Hayes
It was such an inspiration to see racing partners Nick Draper and Ted Painter competing in their very first triathlon together. They are both members of Team Hoyt New England.What was even more impressive was their stats....

Check out these results!

                                  Swim Tran1 Bike Tran2 Run Finish        
===== ===== =================== ============ == === = ======= =======
1 258 NICK DRAPER SPENCER MA 27 M 13:36 5:37    37:47 2:41    20:24 1:20:03  
2 256 TED PAINTER OXFORD MA  44 M 13:36 5:36    37:48 2:42    20:24 1:20:03 

 Visit them online at "In the 'Nick' of Time" and keep an eye out for them.  
I think they are hooked on multisport!

Race Director, Alex Rogozenski
Photo by Emily Hayes
The Summer Solstice Sprint Triathlon is the perfect event to bring the entire family for a delightful evening cheering on the athletes and enjoy the setting sun over Lake Singletary. An entertaining evening with a DJ spinning tunes and full food service firing up the grills on-site.  MRA Multisport puts the exclamation point in what is undoubtedly a stellar racing experience for anyone from a first time triathlete to the most seasoned competitor. The support of the Town of Sutton along with local Police and Fire departments along with the swarm of volunteers making this race possible is simple outstanding!

The Summer Solstice Sprint has just become a favorite on my list of events and hopefully for many more years to come. The competition was stout and with some improvement I might even be able to edge ever close to breaking the 60 minute mark.  Must focus my efforts on both swim strategy and technique, speed up my transitions and who knows perhaps even a time trial bike in my near future!

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder

Waters colleagues Ed Ognibene, Cheryl Turner and Nicole Asrenault soaking in those very last rays of the solstice.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Balancing Burnout on the "Tour O' Trahan"

Exactly one year has passed since my comeback to soloing multisport competitions.  2014 to 2015 has been a fantastic year of competing and my personal renaissance in the world of multisport.  An incredible spring at the Berkshire Pentathlon, Tuckerman Inferno, Whitewater Triple Crown and Seven Sisters all events shared in the presence of my loving, supportive wife and sweet little daughter.

With my wife and daughter travelling to visit the Swedish family this summer season and I staying home to work, I thought to myself.  You better not watch the grass grow and God-forbid start playing MMORPG's (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games).  Trust me, if you know how much energy I place into sport; imagine what happens when I get addicted to gaming! Forgoing any plans to sit on buttocks killing time, I tentatively planned the "Tour O' Trahan!"

              2015 Early Summer "Tour O' Trahan!"

  • Jersey Inferno Adventure Race - June 6, 2015
  • Black Fly Challenge - June 13, 2015 
  • Summer Solstice Sprint Triathlon - June 19, 2015
  • XTERRA - French River, Sprint and Long Course - June 27 & 28, 2015 

With lots of baby gear I learned to travel light and only bring the necessities. You know the usual; kayak, bike, skis, half dozen pairs of shoes, helmets, packs, paddles, poles and protein! Fulfilling this hit list of early summer events I would sadly be solo. There were no strollers, carrycots, diaper bags, Baby Bjorns and car seats, etc. No heart warming support, holding hands, big hugs and sweet kisses. What was I going to do with myself? How would I hold up all alone and "feeling" like a bachelor again... and oh the trouble I could get in!

Waters colleagues band together for the Summer Solstice 
Challenged by the possibility of burnout my body was sending warning shots following each event. Sudden and momentary instances of fatigue, headaches and multitude of muscle aches and pains facing lactic acid buildup. Nothing quite like an overdose of testosterone, the HGH of the human body, followed by increased levels of cortisol, a natural pain killer.

A consistent approach in training, preparation and recovery allowed me to maintain a relatively high level of intensity going back to back for one month. Elements of cross training such as kettle-bell and TRX strengthened areas I was lacking and proved successful last season. This year I am experimenting with bike commuting which gives me additional fitness opportunities without being a time constraint on the family life. I have already accumulated a 14% increase in lower intensity zone 2 training as compared to 2014  adding to my overall fitness base. 

Trail running proves a convenient way to get combination strength based workout keeping away from the impact and road stresses triggering tricky knee tendentious. Light treadmill sessions just keep the feet moving and succeeded in getting my stride back, controlled breathing and maintaining a constant heart rate in my lower work zones were an important part of this training.

MRA club members representing at the XTERRA French River Sprint
As a certified spin instructor I have been able to supplement my outdoor workouts further delivering structured endurance, strength and internal programs to my students which is a good measure of personal discipline.

Mindful of how virtual miles stack-up I opted to instruct 4 of 9 spin classes in June from the floor.  Going over 400 cardio miles across multiple disciplines in a month of training alone can be maintained with relative care and consistency.  However, exceeding 400 miles constantly pushing the intensity of zone 4 is a bit risky. Taking command of the floor 60+ virtual miles of strength internal fitness was banked for use on race day. I could have executed additional sessions but at far greater risk of injury, sacrificing not only results but keeping things technically clean during the events.

Trying to deliver reproducible competitive efforts without completely crashing or getting injured was strategic. Taking days off before and after each event is obvious but sometimes hard to follow.  Following each event training lightly in the endurance zone allowed me to keep the mileage up. Most important addition to the racing seasons has been adding a midweek Yoga session where I would normally would have just been executing a higher intensity interval or double session.

Less is more, when your body is screaming at you. It is amazing how the body recovers rather quickly if you just listen, make day-to-day adjustments and handle with care.  After two long weekends away I chose to pull back a little and keep it local.  A nice relaxing visit with my family was planned after the Summer Solstice Sprint and preparations for a weekend at the XTERRA French River off-road triathlons.

These triathlons are discussed in my proceeding two blog posts are events hosted by MRA Multisport.  Taking the time to document each event is consuming but a privilege as I share new experiences surrounded by energetic and outgoing people of the sport.  Having learned so much in such a short period of time, I am just inspired to make these small, extra efforts in the grand scheme.

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Black Fly Challenge – 20th Anniversary

How do you protect yourself in the wilderness from dreaded swarms of flesh eating insects?
Bike really fast through the dead center of the Adirondacks.... 

On June 13, 2015 cyclists from all over the Northeast swarmed to the village of Inlet and Indian Lake, New York. The Black Fly Challenge incorporates disciplines of both cyclocross and mountain biking in one race 40 miles across central Adirondack Park!  Black Fly season was seemingly over and done early this year. Lucky for us but that would not slow down anyone coming to this party.

This is considered a “gravel grinder” which means the race is primarily off road terrain, country dirt roads and double track jeep roads and occasional single track. Choose between several mountain bike divisions or if you prefer, join the open format as a cyclocross rider. These can be long distance, speedy competitive races or more focused on participation being purely recreational for the enjoyment of being in the outdoors and truly meets the best of both worlds category. You can bring your family, group of riding buddies or a seasoned team of riders wanting to lay down a thick smoke screen of dust at blazing speeds, never to be seen again.

Black Fly Challenge Starting Line
Photo by Carolyn Belknap
It all started during a get together among race buddies and our families.  During a social trail run the Black Fly was mentioned in causal conversation along with any other half dozen events that are on the to-do-list.  What! A 40 mile off road ride in the Adirondacks sounded cool enough to check out online.  The seed was planted but I did not sign up.  I was tentative, perhaps a little intimidated by the distance and not knowing if I would be able to even, remotely compete having never previously participated in a gravel grinder.

Long forgotten were thoughts of the Black Fly until a timely Facebook post came across the screen from an old whitewater paddling buddy. One of the New Yorkers I met on the Hudson River Gorge years ago….  There I was, solo in an inflatable ducky on the Indian River 12 years ago welcoming me into their group for the 17 mile river-run down to North Creek. This was too good to be true, the New York crew was going to the Black Fly. This beckoned me and I was called into immediate action and registered to join them for an epic day of riding!

The swarm at the Black Fly Challenge - Ready and waiting to send this thing off!
Members of Just for Giggles Cycling making a cameo in this photo.
I had a modest drive that morning which allowed me to hydrate, fuel up and settle the nerves in anticipation for the event. Arriving into Indian Lake bikers everywhere, warming up, working through the gears and checking equipment with an enormous crowd already gathering at the start. The cyclist parked behind me started pulling out his cyclocross bike and took one look at my whitewater playboat and struck up some conversation. Coincidentally, this paddling pedaller was named Mark as I explained the Hudson River Gorge was the to-do-list on Sunday. He sure would have liked to join me. There is no shortage of outdoor enthusiasts in Adirondack Park, might as well make it a multisport weekend!

Epic Outdoor Adventures is the headline sponsor and they were at the start assisting bikers with last minute adjustments, offering advice and answering questions. It just so happens one of the paddling acquaintances from the New York crew is the owner of that company. No doubt solidifying that this crew just eats up and loves the outdoors in each and every way possible.

Pedals & Petals bike shop in Inlet is the presenting sponsor and is one of the top bike shops in the Northeast. Go check them out for any last minute needs or post ride debacles. I am sure business is booming that weekend.

Mark #120 holding position waiting for his chance to breakaway to post a 2:30:28 Finish!
As you can imagine what it must feel like to start a race with 800+ other cyclists,  the energy in the place is electric!  Typically the cyclocross crazies are out in front as they intend on lighting trails of fire along the course in blazing, record setting speeds... all on 35mm tires!  You also have the Expert MTB division flexing their quad muscles followed by a mix of cyclocross, the Sport MTB class and beginners out for an awesome experience all around. Playing it safe my choice of bike would be MTB and I was riding the 2011 Niner E.M.D.

Casually pushing forward through the sea of cyclists.
Photo by Pat Hendrick

It was an excellent racing opportunity, pacing myself by starting in the middle of the entire pack and "slowly" working my way to up through the ranks. I found a couple people to latch onto but kept pushing forward. I chose a causally competitive game plan, not to burn out too soon "redlining" against seasoned competitors with unknown terrain and hills on the road ahead.  Road support from the local community was outstanding with many locals outside their homes cheering on all the cyclists. Plenty of water "stops" along the way for those needing to take a break or perhaps, snatch some water on the fly.

Strategically launching my "casual" assault on this course!
Photo by Pat Hendrick
Taking every draft opportunity as crowds begin to thin out. Thanks Chris #170.
Photo by Pat Hendrick
I was pulling a small group along a strong stretch of road and someone called out from behind to take lead. This dude was huge on this cyclocross bike and he just powered past me. Some extra effort to hang on for the ride as I knew this guy was a complete monster. Sometimes the advantage of taking a formidable lead out in front on your own power will reap rewards like this one!

Barry from Rochester leading the charge forward!
Barry #125 Climbing Strong!
Photo by Pat Hendrick
Looking back at my Garmin he volunteered to take over quite conveniently when I started to loose some steam. I had clearly dropped from a sustained 19+ for 2 miles carrying the group and dropped to 16.7mph.  That must have been when he shouted out to take the lead.  He surged back up to 19mph rather quickly for the final two miles of road and we left the MTB following directly behind us in the dust. I offered to take over when I felt a loss in his tempo but a sharp turn to the right revealed the beginning of the gravel grind and the longest climb of the day ensued.  I naturally broke away but it was a solid 4 miles of working together that made some difference and he launched me up that climb. The hills can be very demanding on that Clydesdale figure!

Blackfly Challenge - Indian Lake to Inlet, NY - GPS Garmin 310XT

Elevation profile through central Adirondack Park
The course follows the parallel to the Cedar River with the first 18 miles commands 1300ft of gradual elevation gain to a height of 2700ft in elevation and then the ground drops out from under you plummeting on loose dirt some 800 ft over the next 10 miles. The most dangerous aspect is actually the shadows of trees and leafs dancing all around you making it very difficult to negotiate your way down the rocky road. Some racers achieve 40+mph during this stretch. Only managed a meager 36mph max speed but was in "control" yeah, sure I was!

Some of the rocky ares on the course had yellow paint on them and arrows facing down meant to slow down because you were entering either rocky terrain or a steep descent. A week worth of rain was of some concern but course conditions could not have been better.  A little soft once cyclists started chewing up the dry, top layers.

Dancing lights in the wilderness make it difficult to see the threatening "baby head" boulders
The absolute bomber descent takes you into the wild forest of the Moose River Plains. There is this one stretch of almost 3 miles where the terrain is a fine grain sand that sucks the life out of you.. This would normally be an opportunity to tear up some serious miles on the plains but the sand is relentless, absorbing your every attempt at turning over a strong cadence. I was out there all alone with nobody around to work together.  This would have been the perfect opportunity to score a draft.

Cranking out the miles alone on the sand flats of the Moose River Plains Wilderness.
In the final 10 miles an ~900ft elevation gain comes covers half that distance in three short, but sustained ball busting climbs. This is where you have to reach down deep and hope you saved a little effort to push over these helluva speed bumps. Each climb is rewarded with another descent, containing sharp twisting, turns and some fast paced rollers.  Several short and sweet, roller coaster rides!

In the final set of hills before charging into town.  #206 finished less than a minute behind me.
Photo by Pat Hendrick
The final mile before heading into Inlet's Fern Park is a very surprising and welcomed stretch of rolling single track.  Muddy, rooted, water bars, somewhat slopping fall line of single track definitely posed a challenge for many a rider that day.

Final downhill coming out of the 1 mile of single track chasing down another rider!

I recovered all week in preparations for the Black Fly Challenge and came screaming into the finish line on the back wheel of my next target and pulled off 2nd place of 38 in my age group and 16th place of 241 in the Sport Class with a time of 2.27:13. 37th overall of 508 MTB. It was certainly a continuous, just non-stop  40 miles of grinding  hill climbs and speedy, loose descents, sand flats,  single track and fighting off cramps towards the end.…Success!

Black Fly Finish Line Selfie!
It is true, Showtime was the ultimate post race party band, playing music as racers approached the finish line at Fern Park.  They are an incredible live band delivering Pop/Rock/R&B sounds of the 80’s with epic precision; the music reverberated through your soul.  Local firefighters firing up the grill feeding some 800 participants and well over 1000 with volunteers and spectators. The draft beers were flowing too so getting all hopped up was not a problem and the temporary relief to the pesky leg cramp! It was one of the most groovy, social events I have done all year.  A fun event bringing both recreational and competitive riders together in the most primitive backdrops in the entire Northeast.

Did I mention how cool New Yorkers are? An open invite sent me to Utica the evening before where I met another old paddling buddy.  We watched some of the Comets getting whooped by Manchester in the AHL Calder Cup.  Helped me swap the more aggressive trail treads for the fast, low rolling resistance WTB Nine Line's. Thanks Chad!

New Yorker Craig and I celebrating like rock stars!
I made a decision "hiding" from the posse led by Crazy Craigy at the start of the race knowing full well that I would meet and greet them once again the the finish where we could truly spread and share some CHEER! I finally met Craig's better half and he introduced me to some of his outstanding friends.

That monster cyclocross rider was quite unmistakable. Approached him just outside of the food court reminding him of our teamwork on the course. None other than Cyclocross Barry from Rochester!  Overheard he was heading back to Indian Lake to drop off their lady rider. I needed a ride back to Indian Lake and they took my bike along in the pickup. I was like... SCORE! Lots of riders seen making the long cycle back to the starting line. These riders were obviously in training for much longer distance gravel grind pursuits later this season. This was my backup plan but did not need the extra miles planning on river-running the Hudson Gorge the following day. 

Epic Outdoor Adventures showing off some of their sweet rides at the finish line!
Matt's Draft House at the Screaming Eagle in center of Inlet is where the flock of racers congregate following the race. You can even bump elbows with race director Dave Scranton who really knows how to pull together an outstanding event. I met the entire crew back at the Screaming Eagle to replenish the some 2500 calories burnt that day.  Lots of shared stories of everyone's heartful rides and some good old-fashioned trash talking... Good Times!

Big shout-out to all the New Yorkers that always welcome this “chowder-head” into their inner circle. The Black Fly Challenge successfully achieved the 20 year milestone and is probably one of the best "gravel grinds" in the entire Northeast at both distance and logistics making it the perfect event for a beginner as an introduction to this riding format.  Looking forward to letting it “FLY” in the opposite direction next year from Inlet to Indian Lake! The event is always held on the second Saturday in June so mark your calendars for June 11, 2016....

I will be back to get me some Black Fly!

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

New Jersey Inferno - 12 Hour Adventure Race

"Is this Hell? No, It's The New Jersey Inferno"

With my wife and daughter spending an early summer visiting the homeland of Sweden, I attempted to find a demanding alternative as time goes by.  The goal; find the absolute hardest competition possible within respectable drive and an event unlike normal off road triathlons. Adventure races have evaded me for many years and an impulse decision led me to the New Jersey Inferno. A little bushwhacking and mountain biking through the highlands of New Jersey. All I needed was a map and compass.... right?

I have never navigated adventure race checkpoints before. Applying basic orienteering skills learned in Scouting and having worked my way through a 5-km flagged orienteering course in the wilds of New Mexico were a distant memory and remembering only to avoid stepping on rattlesnakes.

This is the third year of the event hosted by New York Adventure Racing Association (NYARA). Two first time race directors took on the enormous challenge of putting together their very own race. Brothers John and Aaron Courain have been more than committed to the sport of adventure racing for the better part of 6 years.

Hint:  Skip the long winded trip report... Scroll to the bottom and check out the video edit.

New Jersey Highlands

Racers would converge on Allamuchy Mountain Park in the New Jersey Highlands on the morning of Saturday June 6. Allamuchy is well known locally for the restored 19th Century Waterloo Village on the Morris Canal system contained within the parks boundaries. Numerous hiking trails including the popular Jersey Highlands Trail and a growing mountain bike trail system maintained by JOBRA.

The race format for the New Jersey Inferno was a modified Rogaine. Maps were provided bright an early at the start of registration at 5:00am which gave teams one hour to review the course and lay out your strategic plan of attack. 10 mandatory checkpoints must be navigated in order across the 25 mile course broken up into three distinct sections of the park. In addition, teams could pursue 26 optional points which starts adding up the distance traveled for the day. Every team has 12 hours to collect as many points as possible along the course. The team with the most points wins. A strategic plan to navigate the course and a good deal of time management play key roles in being successful.

Check-in 5am was non stop for over an hour 

(Photo Credit GTLUKE)

Aaron highlighting restricted areas  

(Photo Credit GTLUKE)             

An adventure race in New Jersey? The Appalachian Trail runs through a good portion of the Delaware Water Gap in the Northwestern part of the state so this might be promising and what the hell, even the Jersey Devil might make an appearance..  The Jersey Inferno would not disappoint. and ended up dishing out as significant a backcountry experience you could ever dream of this close to NYC.

Off road, racers would experience all types of horrific plant-life poison ivy, concentrated patches of stinging nettles, penetrating thorns of Barberry bushes. Inchworms, caterpillars and creepy crawlers of all kinds covered clothing. Quite an active natural habitat with many wildlife sightings such as black bears, numerous close encounters with deer, snakes and plentiful turtles along the Musconetcong river.

Racer preparing strategically (Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

The grassroots nature of the sport is attractive to me.  Taking competitors to hidden gems in our backyards is not unlike searching for that next river run in some back-county town of New England you would never traveled on purpose. Competitors at different levels from exploratory newbies like myself, recreational teams and seasoned adventure racers all coming together in the same race to compete. Who knew that AR could be considered romantic?!?! It was awesome to see this one couple handling the entire course with patience and affection. The mission. Complete a course that is almost always brand new and will never be reproduced in quite the same way.  Venues and racing formats change year to year. This unique variable puts everyone in the same playing field no matter what the experience level.

Team getting ready 6am (Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

Aaron at racer meeting and debriefing (Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

Racer meeting 72 competors at 615am (Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

It is very important to listen to everything the race director has to say at the debriefing. There are lots of last minute hints, edits and changes. I was so overwhelmed with anxiety by this point I could not even think straight. The race began with a "King of the Mountain" KOM segment introducing an element of speed off the start and finished with Blazing Saddles.These point-to-point sections would be clearly marked and require no decision making other than how hard do you want to push the body. How could I mess those up.  That is my style of racing!

Racers were transported to the starting location in the north section of the park north of Interstate 80. This is where I did most of my strategy and planning. Northern Allamuchy was the trekking section pushing towards the final checkpoint and rappel down a cliff to the mountain bike transition area. An athlete from a 2 person team sat down beside me and introduced himself. His name was Matt Lunt and he recently raced the Tuckerman Inferno solo alongside me this past year. Small world indeed.

New Jersey Inferno Course Map

Off the bus things moved pretty fast and I was the last person off the bus. Everyone shuffled down a dirt road following the race directors and I went off into the woods to pee.  Thus the event started with the KOM and I was 100 yards behind taking a leak in the woods.  Great start! Going hard could break you early on trying to speed to the top of the hill. This was an extremely long pursuit and I managed to catch up to the lead pack. It went on forever. "Don’t make the rookie mistake of taking off too fast!"


(Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

Matt Lunt on team "Sustainable Athlete" from Maine worked his way up the trail fast and furious taking a first place KOM with a time of 44:18.  Here are both Matt and teammate Doug pushing forward towards Checkpoint 1.

I made the first major mistake an racer could ever make during an AR. I followed several packs of people on trail completely missing the trail marker taking you over to the KOM checkpoint. Making mistakes in off road triathlon might cost you 30 seconds here 3 minutes there. This mistake cost me well over 30 minutes and expended a ton of unnecessary energy. "Don’t ever assume the people in front of you know where they are going!"


(Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

Speed kills adventure racing it's not about who's the fastest point to point.  Achieving a high cardio effort you get the tunnel vision of a triathlete continuous breathing patterns, maintaining elevated heart rates and focusing on both stride and cadence all elements of delivering a strong performance. AR requires a delicate balance with the right combination of efficiency through decision-making and strategy.

In Adventure Racing mistakes are magnified exponentially in mind bending, mind altering ways pouring on the physical exertion to retrace steps. Pushing forward even when things were looking pretty bad because finding each checkpoint instills a sense of accomplishment. Getting into rhythm along the course is methodical. Failures and small triumphs would ebb and flow the entire day but continue to push on. Finishing was the only option.

I pushed through the woods with a sense of urgency. Moving too fast I incorrectly took bearings from the wrong trail intersections and shooting off into the woods multiple times in the wrong direction. I was demoralized and frustrated knowing that it took me almost three hours and only reaching 3 checkpoints.  I should have taken off in the direction for the final two mandatory checkpoints to complete this first section. Get back on schedule to recover hopes in section 2. I made the biggest mistake of the day and did not change plans. A relentless bushwhack ensued toward the first of 5 options I had originally planned to attack.

Searching for option A in the thorny thickets and twisted brambles of the park.

The race directors pointed out that morning, not all trails are on the map there a primitive trails that will positively confuse the hell out of you. Essentially using trails as the primary source for information failed very quickly and not reading the features of the land.

Collectively it took me 7 hours to get through this section and get the 5 mandatory and ended up with 5 of 6 possible options. Trekking Section 1 ending with a ropes element and a guided rappel.  Thus taking me 2 hours passed the cutoff time to participate in the ropes element.  Race director John encouraged me to continue onto section 2 and just go after ONLY mandatory checkpoints.  I had less than two hours to get 4 checkpoints on the mountain bike.  It could be done..... Right?

Note to self: Be prepared to diverge as the route is not set in stone and plans can change several times along a race course. Double check bearings. Estimate the distance between checkpoint and understand the time it will take to reach. When in doubt, check the map always and often.

NYARA team member on the ropes descending into transition!

Teams converge the hilltop cliff where the rappel 

(Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

Matt and Doug coming into checkpoint 5 at the rappel 

(Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

Working my way into the southern section of the park on mountain bike became an immediate slogfest. Working up a continuous slight grade for 0.9 miles with team after team completing this section coming down that trail moving onto the paddling transition area. It had been 4.5 hours since I had been in the presence of another team on course so I welcomed the opportunity to see the competition and send a shout-out to each of them as they passed. Overall the riding was primarily easy single-track, rolling terrain, the kind of terrain you could tear up at speed and was super fun to rip up some dirt. Plentiful ferns abound in this section.  Lots of fun log overs and quick windy sections free from technical obstacles.  Fast and flowing.  I learned that it is very difficult to navigate when your having so much fun cranking out the miles in the fast, flowy terrain.  Miles go by quickly and next thing you know you way overshot a checkpoint.  Oops!  After overshooting checkpoint 6 I tried to go back and took a wrong turn.  The map was backwards when I was choosing my new direction.  I looped entire Deer Park Pond in a figure 8 until I finally got back to checkpoint 6.  This was the second time I had gone in a complete circle on trails race day.  Once again speed kills.

Serenity of Deer Park Pond

Once I grabbed checkpoint 6 my mountain bike race began. Knowing exactly where 7,8 were Ispeeded off to meet back up at the next transition area as I was already overdue.  It took me less than an hour to crush checkpoints 7,8,9 which 9 was on a hill that required a bearing.  It was a crampy, winded trek to the top. Race director Aaron was waiting for me at transition, a bit more than an hour later than the cutoff.  My tardiness was improving but I failed to move onto the next section in transition to the paddle leg. Without any doubts he gave me an open door to continue. Just go get CP10 the last and final mandatory checkpoint and using the marked Blazing Saddles course to take me to the finish.

Blazing Saddles (Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

Blazing Saddles (Photo Credit GTLUKE)  

I finished dead last place 31 of 31 total teams in my first AR missing both cutoff times and was on the course for 11:09:34 minutes. This is familiar territory. Progression in this sport will come slowly.  In retrospect, the winning overall team was ridiculously impressive, Rev3 completely cleared the course of all checkpoints in 11:31:41, 100% Success! That is a reflection on the caliber of racers that meet both the physical and more so, the strategic and mental demands of adventure racing. Link to the posted results.

I walked away with minor degrees of poison ivy, two ticks, dozens of bites from a swarming forest of insects and possibly picked up some parasites drinking water from a small stream coming from an area of sketchy marshland on the plateau.  Running out of water several times on course was tough. Katadyn water bottle filter or Aquamira chlorine water treatment will not stay home next time. Quite coincidentally, orienteering years ago in the Rockies had me watching out for snakes the entire time on course.  This would be no different.  I hurdled over a large black snake whom I am sure was as scared as me as it slithered frantically beneath my legs.

This is what an adventure race team looks like!

Race directors John and Aaron did a fantastic job organizing their first AR race and choosing Allamuchy Mountain State Park was brilliant. The course encompassed the entire boundary of the park with certain areas marked as restricted.  The selection of terrain incorporated off trail navigation and existing trail systems in pursuit of checkpoints in perfect balance. Racers immersed themselves into a sprawling deciduous forest teeming with flora, fauna and insects! King of the Mountain and Blazing Saddles were awesome elements. Transitioning between sections with a rope and paddling discipline was well planned and executed. A classy and ever so tasty Italian buffet awaited you at the finish line.. No lag time.... Just dig right in! There is no doubt in my mind they succeeded!

John and Aaron were especially concerned and aware of my whereabouts or lack thereof at all times on the course. They were encouraging and gave me every opportunity to continue racing. They wanted nothing more than I get to experience the entire race. All 10 mandatory checkpoints. I cannot thank them enough for sticking with me out there.

There is no glitz, no glamour in Adventure Racing. It's a raw racing experience in the natural world. Every single event is dramatically different on every level. Off road triathlon and multisport races were just a stepping stone into building the endurance and skill sets necessary to apply in the field when navigating variable terrain for long periods of time subject to any and all environmental conditions that stand in your way.

As in all sports, I would like to say that I am hooked but that would require an entirely different level of commitment to achieve the pursuit of personal greatness. I do look forward to the next event to continue building where I left off....  getting lost over and over again.  I took this opportunity to take on a new challenge and have an entirely new experience. Adventure Racing has found its place on my things to do list. I will be back.

Work Hard, Train Hard, Play Harder.