This past weekend my team headed out to Crowsnest Pass in Alberta to compete in a 36hr adventure race known as The Full Moon In June. There are generally only 2x 36hr races in Western Canada each year, so it was well worth the 14hr drive from Squamish to get the race experience as a team. You learn something from every race that you compete in and with most of us preparing for Raid The North Extreme in just a few weeks, this was a great place to test ourselves together.
The event started at midnight on Friday night, of course under a full moon. The weather was perfect and the night was clear and fairly warm. They counted down from ten and we were off. My team immediately ran to the front of the pack and onto a forest service road. After ten minutes of running we turned off the trail and started to bush whack up a hill side. It was fun to look back in the night and see 100 other headlamps dotted throughout the forest below.
The FMIJ has an interesting set up in which they offer advanced course options throughout the race. This allows the faster teams to race for a full 36hr while still giving the slower teams the chance to complete the course. I think it's a great idea and one which helps get more first timers out to their first big adventure race.
The first advanced section consisted of bush whacking up through the forest to find a check point in a small clearing. The pack slowly started to spread out and once we were at the right altitude it ended up taking us a good 10 minutes to find the exact clearing. Our altimeter watch was an absolute necessity for this as it continually notified us of when we had trekked too high. In fact we witnessed a line of teams playing follow the leader who simply kept on trekking up and into the night.
Once we punched our passport with the C.P. we turned around and started running down the hill side by whatever trails we could find. We popped back out onto the forest service road having taken exactly 1hr to find the first advanced C.P. We could see teams in front of us and started running down the trail to try and close the gap. The road we were running was a mix of mud, rivers and dirt. Our feet were soaked within minutes and would continue to stay that way for the entire event.
We were never sure of what position we were in, with teams in front of us who had not completed the advanced section you could never be sure. We later learned that we were in fact leading the race for a short while. We traded spots with 'Wild Rose', a team out of Alberta, a few times. They are great people and very experienced racers. Eventually they found the next C.P. ahead of us and charged into the lead. The trekking route then started to climb significantly and we were up in the snow in no time. I wasn't doing too bad, nor was Megan, but Todd and John, both at over 200 pounds, seemed to go swimming in the snow from time to time!
We caught up to and passed Wild Rose once again, and started running down the opposite side. Running downhill in snow is a blast, as long as you don't loose your footing. We all managed decent time through here and were back into the mud and water before we knew it.
At that point Todd noticed that the trail we were on was heading a bit too far east...or was it west...or south...I dunno, that's Todd's job! Anyways, we ended up bushwhacking to the next check point. It started off alright but we were quickly into deep cumbersome forest that slowed our pace.
We reached the first transition, to our bikes, in 2ND place. Wild Rose had made up 15 minutes on us by taking an alternate route, but they seemed to have had a slow transition as we were able to see them just down the road from us.
The 'Chan Clan' was out racing and in good form. Having skipped the first advanced course option we shared the transition with them.
Brent to us,
"Nice work guys, they had a slow transition. Go get em!"
We were in and out in a few minutes and off and riding into the sunrise. It was a bit chilly on the bikes, but the mountain range we were biking along side was one of the nicest I had seen in a long time. I was really enjoying being back in Alberta and the Rocky Mountains, having spent 5 years of my life in Banff it was like a home coming of sorts to see the high alpine again.
We came into the next C.P. just 6 minutes back of the leaders. Our maps seemed to show a short cut on the logging roads. The main route we were taking was nothing technical. It consisted of a 35km forest service road ride with 1,000 feet of elevation loss. A couple of climbs and you were basically there. We veered off the main course to try and make up some time on the rest of the pack. Within 15 minutes we had come to a dead end, even though our maps clearly showed a route through. This is very typical of old B.C. back country maps and in hindsight it was a bad call that the team made. We turned right back around and started hammering to the end of the bike stage to hopefully limit our losses.
We reached the next transition, back to trekking, 30 minutes behind Wild Rose. Once again we out paced them in transition and gained back 7 minutes right away. We were off on our second advanced course option. A leg that would take us up and over a summit of just over 7,000 feet and then into some bushwhacking that would take us to a zip line across a water fall! We were told the stage might take teams about 4hrs to complete, so we minimized our food and water and were off running down the road.
By the time we had reached the summit we had spectacular panoramic views out over two valleys. It was 9am, beautifully sunny out and we had take back another 3 minutes from Wild Rose, putting the gap at just 20 minutes. I was confident at this point that we could be back in the lead before our next stage, which was white water rafting! However, as in any good adventure race, you never know what the course has in store for you next and can never get ahead of yourself or down on yourself or your teammates.
We descended the ridge line down into the forest below and quickly ended up bushwhacking some dense brush. After four hours we were not even half way to the next c.p. and had virtually run out of food and water! We eventually found a small river that we topped up our water bladders with. We then followed this river downstream, as we had decided as a team that we would rather run 17km of road then try to bushwhack the second 1/2 of the stage. We followed the water until it intersected a forest service road, having crossed the glacial run off water a dozen times in the process, including one where we all had to link arms as the water was deep and fast flowing.
This race was quickly turning into a foot race and our feet were taking a beating. They had been wet from the very start as we seemed to cross some form of water, glacial water at that, at least once an hour. By the time we hit the f.s.r. it was tough for any of us to actually run, instead holding a fast hiking pace. It was not until we noticed the recommended time to get in the rafts (4:30pm, and it was then about 2 or 3pm) to give your team a chance to paddle the entire 22km before sunset, that we found the motivation to dig deep and run our way to the zip line across the river. During the 17km run to the zip line we ran past our put in point for the rafts and then learned that at 9:30pm, you had to pull off the river, no matter where you were. You would then have to hike your raft to the road and run the additional km's into the transition to the bikes. This made it immediately evident of how important it was to get on the water a.s.a.p.
As mentioned our chosen route of running the f.s.r. lead us right past the transition to the rafting section and having not seen any teams in hours, we were relieved to at least learn that no team had passed through transition yet. However, the zip line was 4km further up the road, 8km return, and we were fully aware of the fact that our chosen route was probably not the fastest way through the stage.
With 2km still to go for the zip line we could see Wild Rose coming towards us, they noticed us running and quickly did the same. We exchanged congrats for hard efforts to this point in the race and continued on in opposite directions. We knew Wild Rose would be ahead of us, but it was the next few minutes that completely deflated us. A second team was not far behind Wild Rose and by the time we had crossed the zip line and returned to the transition for the rafts we were actually sitting in 4Th place! I'll be honest, we came to win, we always knew it would be a battle, but 4Th was unacceptable! We were now 90 minutes behind the leaders, but with lots of race course left I certainly was not giving up on still tracking them down. Unfortunately, our fate was already sealed.
We were the only four teams that had chosen to do the second advanced course option, and understandably, the race organization only transported four rafts upstream for those teams. It was first come first serve. Some were self bailing boats, meaning that the water would naturally flow out through valves in the boat, and others were not, meaning that you would have to pull over and bail the water out yourself.
The 3rd place team started less then 10 minutes ahead of us, in a self bailer, and by nightfall they had made it the full 22km whereas we had only made it 11km! We had to pull off seven or eight times to bail our boat, each time wasting precious time doing so.
I must admit though, the rafting section was the absolute highlight of the race for us. At the transition going into the water the team was at our low point of the event. Our feet were destroyed, having been on them for 15 of the first 18 hours we were racing, and being wet the entire time. My feet had never been so bad, not even in P.Q. last year! They had deep fissures/divots in them and looked to be completely splitting in half! When we started the rafting stage it was with sunken spirits of a near defeeted team (get it!). Within minutes of being on the water we were hooting and hollering our way downstream. It was a blast and we were all just a little amazed at the technicality of the river we were paddling. We fully expected a fairly mundane paddle with a couple of splashes here and there...we could not have been more incorrect! The river was raging and it truly felt like every paddle stroke counted for hours on end,
"HARD LEFT, BACK RIGHT, ALL ON, C'MON PADDLE HARD, SHIT, BRACE, ROCK, HARD RIGHT, PADDLE HARD!!!!!"
There would be no sleepmonsters on this stage, in fact we ended up taking three foot drops, getting stuck on the rocks, taking some rapids backwards! It was an awesome experience!
However, as mentioned, by nightfall we had only made it half way to the transition and we ended up having to get off the water and hike our raft to the road. We quickly got out of our wetsuits and into some dry clothes as it was now nightfall and cooling quickly. In fact the second night was downright cold, I think someone said 5 or 6 degrees? As we were drying off and putting on our trekking clothes I was stunned...I had forgotten my pants! I quickly put my extra shirt on as pants, snapped a pic and as I was finishing packing up I was amazingly relieved to see my black spandex pants hiding in a baggie in a side pocket...I knew I could not have been that stupid!
As we were trekking into the transition we were now fully aware of the fact that, barring injury, Wild Rose were going to take it. They had made up hours on us during the paddle. We were now shooting for 2ND and the team was excited about getting back on the bikes again and giving the feet a bit of a rest.
We arrived at the bike transition just after midnight. One other difference FMIJ has over any other race we are doing this year is that you need a support crew to move all of your gear, and follow you throughout the race. I would venture to say that we had the best support crew in the entire event! Megan's parents from Australia were visiting and had rented a large motor home...oh how tempting it was to sleep in it throughout the event, John had his girlfriend Colleen there, Todd had Kim and I, of course, had Roxy! I know it was exciting for all of us to come into transition and have someone there cheering us on and helping us get ready to go again...although Roxy ate all of my food, didn't fill any water bottles for me, and she seemed to be trying to tell me that she thought I was terribly slow out there!
We all appreciated each and every one of them being there and they helped us immensely throughout the event!
Once out on the bikes we managed to track down the team ahead of us for 3rd place, and we were all feeling much better than just a few hours prior...of course there was a river crossing every 100 meters or so on the bikes and our feet continued to stay wet and cold throughout the stage.
6am, off the bikes and into the final trekking stage. We had been racing for 30 hours straight and we knew one final big climb lay ahead of us. We had just 6hr until the final race cut-off, the finish line at noon.
We went to work quickly and efficiently, doing whatever we could to make the team go faster and to ensure that we would make that finish line in time. After an hour of trekking we were all starting to fade, I saw a penguin race across the trail (I really did think I saw a freakin penguin!), Megan thought she saw a dog or something, and everyone was slowing considerably. We agreed that we would take a 10 minute nap and collapsed where we stood. Amazingly, just 10 minutes later we all popped up feeling a hundred times better and we managed to significantly quicken our pace.
When we started the stage we were told that no one had finished the race yet, so we truly had no idea of how long it might take us and if we could actually make the finish line or not...but we were going to go down trying, cause that's what we came for!
At 7:20am we reached the last manned C.P. They told us that we were now in 2ND place!! We were ecstatic, just to battle back to that point was a serious accomplishment for us, but we were not 'out of the woods' yet. We were about 1/2 way to the top of the climb and after thanking the volleys for being out there for so long we were off again. The final section of the climb was another f.s.r. and it switch backed forever, but we kept at it knowing that our time was very limited. I kept checking the watch to trying and calculate where we were in terms of our pace and actually making the finish line. We topped out to another great vista and had but a decent bushwhack to a lake and back to the finish line to go. We practically ran down the mountain side and Todd was definitely in a zone. He did not flinch when I told him that I thought he smelled like a hamburger and that I wanted to lick him! We'd been racing awhile and I was starving for real food!
Todd nailed the second to last C.P. and we had just under an hour to make it to the end of the race and a 2ND place showing...we were all running! There was an energy from deep within that was powering everyone along and I know that the team was giving it all they had at that point.
We thought we saw the finish line a few times and were slowly starting to worry that we might actually run out of time. Then Todd said it, the magic words,
Our word for the C.P. for this race, which would only make sense to any South Park fans out there!
35 hours and 31 minutes, with just 29 minutes to spare we bolted across that finish line boasting with pride at how we had all come together and fought so hard to be one of only two teams that managed the full advanced course, all 150+ km's of it! It was John Foy's first big race, he did amazing, and I may have even seen a tear in the big guy's eye at that finish line while we were all hugging and congratulating each other. I was truly proud of my team and how hard we fought throughout the race, never once getting down on each other while we were lost and always helping each other during our low points. No one gave up, no one complained, and everyone gave it their absolute all for 36 hours!
We slowly dispersed to go about our next tasks which ranged from sleeping, to eating to changing clothes, maybe even showering, some socializing with the other teams that were around, basically anything by moving or racing!
The race directors came up to me about 30 minutes later. They took the time to tell me that apparently they had a cut-off time in place for the last manned C.P. that we had come though at 7:20am. I guess they had decided that no teams should be allowed to continue beyond this point after 7am for safety reasons. I was also being told that the volleys we had spoken with were trying to say that they had told us we were not allowed to continue on the advanced course because we had arrived late.
No one, including the race directors had slept in days, and as you can imagine a heated discussion ensued, for they were telling us that our last advanced section would no longer count. They had a cut off time in place that we effectively beat by an hour, leaving late and arriving early. The race finished at noon, after which there are 10 full hours of daylight in Alberta, it was the end of the race and the cut off was at the top of a climb, I just did not get it...I still don't. However, right there at the bottom of our stage instructions it stated that there was a 7am cut off for that C.P. For the record, no one on my team recalls being told by the volleys that we had to go short course, and we were not trying to stir up shit by continuing on the long course. We were racing hard for a 2ND place finish, one which I think we deserved, but in the end it was not to be. The rules were in place, whether I agreed or understood why did not matter, they were there, they applied to everyone in the race and we were dis-credited with finishing the last advanced section. This would only give us two out of three advanced sections and as such dropped us down to what ended up being 6Th. There was an additional kurfuffle after the awards, which left us thinking for five minutes that we would be ranked 3rd, but in the end we are officially 6Th.
We hold no ill feeling towards the race directors, they had their rules and they stuck to them, which is no easy thing to do in situations like that. The race was a ton of fun, amazingly challenging, and with the long and short course options it makes it a great entry level race for people trying to get their 'feet wet' (I know, I'm full of them this morning!) in longer adventure races.
Not much time for rest as next weekend I am racing in the 67km mountain bike race known as the Test of Metal, and then from June 23rd-30th we are going to tackle the 500km expedition race know as Raid The North Extreme, although there is some significant flooding in Northern B.C. right now and the course is currently being altered to reflect the challenges they are facing with this!
A very special thank you to our support crew, Valerie, Kim, Colleen, Ivan and Roxy. You were all amazing out there and we loved seeing you at each transition are!
Finally, a very big CONGRATULATIONS to Wild Rose. They raced smart and strong and deserved to walk away champions. It was great to see you guys out, hopefully we'll get another shot at you guys in the near future!!
P.S. Anyone wondering about the posting date of June 7th? This has not been on here for three days, I started a draft three days ago but only finished it this morning, being Sunday. I guess it takes the original date for postings.