News Article in Squamish Chief Newspaper
I've always said that you learn something new about yourself as a person, and as a racer, with each and every event you attend and attempt.
This past weekend's Squamish Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race hammered home that point for me on a whole new level.
I hadn't touched a mtn bike since the previous MOMAR, on Sept 27th 2008 in Cumberland. Unfortunately I no longer own a mtn bike and it was not until 2pm on Friday, just 19hr before the race was to begin, that I managed to solidify my ride. Kim Steed, of Steed Cycles is my personal hero! Not only was I rocking out a sweet Santa Cruz ride, but it was painted in the hot green Team Steed colors...I almost looked like I new what I was doing!
As I lined up on the starting line at five minutes to nine I was surprised to see that not a single racer had taken advantage of the ability not to carry a fully loaded pack along with them on the first 4km running stage. Todd and I started doing this a few seasons ago. I had all the mandatory gear stuffed into the rear pockets of my biking jersey. The only two items of any 'bulk' were the extra long sleeve tech shirt, of which the Helly Hansen Mars Jacket packs up to nothing, and the minimum one liter water capacity, of which I actually had a two liter platypus bag rolled up and stuffed into my jersey. With under ninety seconds to go Bryan announced that you had to carry your climbing harness with you as well. I shot out of the starting area and sprinted back towards my bike and the rest of my gear! I quickly riffled through my backpack, grabbed the harness I had in a stuff sack, and made it back to the start just in time to hear the countdown...and we were off...
I knew going into this race that the navigation would determine how I fared on the day. Everyone, including me, was wondering if I could actually win without my regular partner, and orienteering superstar, Todd Nowack. I was determined to prove that I could, but the reality of the last few months would catch up with me. I had fully intended to work on my nav skills by attending the weekly GVOC training sessions. Unfortunately that never materialized for me, and much like my biking, I had not touched a map since I handed it over to Todd at the last MOMAR in Cumberland.
I hammered out off the start, figuring that I needed to gain some sort of lead on the flagged section of the course to have any shot at holding people off through the O stage which was to come later. After looking over the course map for twenty minutes before the race I had just about every marked trail embedded in my brain and I also wanted to use this advantage by not allowing people to follow me if possible. Any intersection that someone behind me had to stop and reflect upon their map meant a few extra seconds for me in the long run. I should also mention that my first reaction while looking over the maps was...The Chief!...The Chief!...how in God's name did they get permits to utilize The Chief!!
I came in off the first 4km run in 19min and with a slight lead over Shane Ruljancich, who along with John Markez, and Bart Jarmula, were considered to be the favorites on the day.
I had a quick transition and was out on the bike within seconds. As I climbed away from Alice Lake I could not help but feel that although I was riding well, I was most certainly lacking the high end cadence and pull through within my pedal stroke. I knew I would hold my own on the downhill technical singletrack terrain, especially since I lived in Squamish for three years and knew most of the trails inside out, but I did not question for a second that I would eventually be caught on the flatter, more rideable terrain. Sure enough, with only a few minutes to go until the Orienteering section, John Markez pulled up alongside of me, offered me his draft, and then slowly disappeared up the next hill.
Welcome To You Worst Nightmare...
I managed to close the gap and hit the transition area in sync with John. I was the first to switch out shoes and after looking at my map and thinking I had myself orientated, I proceeded to run up a forest service road. Thankfully for me, John decided to follow. After about four minutes of climbing I heard John's voice behind me,
"GARY! You sure you're going the right way here?"
"John, I am most certainly 100% positive that I am definitely-maybe not heading in the right direction right now!!"
As John proceeded to turn back, "We're heading South. We should be going North!"
I pulled out my compass, confirmed what John was telling me, cursed myself, and then barreled back down the way we had just come from. We hit the bikes at the same time again, now five minutes since we first arrived and right back where we had started from! There were numerous others who had obviously caught up to and now passed us, as was evidenced by the additional bikes now surrounding ours.
We headed off in the right direction and upon reaching the known area of the first checkpoint, John, myself, and Norm Thibault all spent well over two-three full minutes searching for the hidden flag and CP punch. Right after we found it and as I was referencing my map John looked at me,
"C'mon let's go!"
"I don't know where the hell I'm going yet!"
"Just follow me, we'll tackle it together."
I paused, thought about his very kind offer, and quickly remembered what I had promised myself just three days prior while out on a morning trail run. I told myself that I would absolutely refuse to follow any other racer through the navigation section. I wanted a true result. I wanted to know if I could indeed win a MOMAR by myself and without relying on someone else to do all the thinking for me. Orienteering is a MAJOR component of adventure racing. I had struggled with the thought that I was not a complete adventure racer and that I was simply a decently fast runner and biker who often tagged along for the ride. I looked back at John,
"Thanks John, but I can't. Get yer ass outta here, I'll figure this thing out."
And with that, my free ride disappeared into the forest again.
I managed to smoothly find my way to the following CP and my confidence slightly rose. As I headed off to snag my third CP however, it all went to shit. I simply misjudged a slight V in the trail, headed right when I should have veered left, and before I knew it time was evaporating out from under me. I could not fully place myself on the map and after minutes of struggling with this I started to back track. Shortly after doing this however Roger McLeod and Garth Campbell both came running towards and eventually past me. I stopped to reference my map, realized the error in my judgment and collected the CP just a few minutes later.
From here however it only continued to go sour for me. The masses were now attacking the O course and it was killing my confidence to see so many people now running ahead of me. I struggled to stay focused and within my own map, and again on the very next CP I took a trail just a bit too early and dropped another five minutes before realizing my mistake!
I have the necessary navigation skill set. What I lack however is the ability to stay within my map and to recover quickly from incorrect decisions. The rest of the O course flip flopped between finding a CP and feeling good, and struggling to do so and feeling frustrated. By the time I finally collected the final CP and returned to grab my bike I knew I had dug myself a massive hole. The lead guys had all put close to 25min into me! I grabbed my bike with a tinge of anger, hopped on and just started hammering on the pedals for all I was worth. I was a good three plus minutes and a few km down the logging road before realizing that I was YET AGAIN, going the WRONG WAY!! I turned back, with my tail between my legs, and again started pounding on my pedals to at least get back to where I was over five minutes prior!
Eventually and finally, I was heading in the right direction again. By this time however there were a ton of racers in front of me. The trail was packed and I just kept calling 'on your left' and trying to be as polite about it as possible. I heard the exact same comment no fewer than a dozen times,
"What are you doing back here!?"
"Oh ya know, just taking the scenic route!"
Thankfully this section was a fairly large climb and I lucked out in a huge way as I managed to catch the lead people within this pack of riders just meters before they were to turn and descend the technical singletrack terrain that lay ahead. Having even one rider in front of me through here would have seriously impeded my ability to try and make up any ground on the lead racers. I was still uncertain as to EXACTLY where I stood in terms of time, as no one had a definitive time to throw at me. Shortly thereafter however, I can into a CP manned by two friends from Squamish.
"We were wondering where you were!"
"How far back am I?"
"Twenty fivvvv, six minutes."
"SHIT. Twenty six minutes!"
"Thanks, see ya!"
Are You Gonna Step Up, Or Step Aside?
As I departed this CP, which was very close to the half way point in the race, I was completely uncertain as to what I was going to do. I had very serious thoughts of simply shutting down the competitive side of things and enjoying the course for how spectacular it actually was. I was heading towards some of my favorite trails in all of Squamish, it was an incredible day with nothing but sunshine and warm temps. I was back in a town that I love and participating in a sport that I love and hold very dear to my heart. Maybe I could just cruise it on in from here and enjoy the day for how perfect it was. I had a legitimate excuse for being so far back. Everyone knew I sucked at nav and would be helpless without Todd by my side. There simply was not enough race course left to even attempt to get back in this thing. I had blown it and was heading for my worst MOMAR finish in over three years.
The negative thoughts kept on coming, but I simply kept telling myself a few key things that I have learned through adventure racing over the years. You NEVER know what's going on ahead of you within an AR, and it is ABSOLUTELY never over until you find and cross that finish line.
Just two CP's later, another two friends, with additional split times...
"Nineteen minutes behind fifth, twenty two minutes behind fourth."
I had come to race, and I was going to do just that. I did not care how far back I was, I fully intended to get my ass back into this thing somehow. Maybe I could still catch third place? Maybe I could just 'win' a few stages and at least slightly redeem myself on the day? Either way, the decision had been made, I was going to destroy myself if I needed to. I was going to find a way.
From here I was onto some of Squamish's finest singletrack and admittedly I was totally shocked at how well I was handling it. Before The MOMAR a friend warned me against doing anything stupid and injuring myself and my chances at Western States in just over one months time.
His words to me,
"Dude, you haven't even been on a mountain bike in eight months...eight months! Don't do anything stupid or you'll end up in the hospital!"
It's Just Like Riding A Bicycle...
His warning flashed through my mind for all of 1/100th of a second. I was having WAY TOO MUCH FUN on the singletrack to even ponder what would happen if I messed it up now. I 'found my flow' and simply unleashed Kim Steed's bike upon the terrain below...it was small slice of heaven, and even now, three days out, I am still missing being on a mtn bike again!
As I was pushing myself through the next few sections of the course my legs started to cramp up on me in numerous different places. It originated in my adductors, hit my calves, and even my hamstrings, and arms were feeling it. I kept popping my Thermolytes, pounding my 1200 and praying that my body would not crack on me now.
Again I had some major luck on my side while biking as I only seemed to catch up to people where there was ample room to pass them. Not once was I impeded by a rider in front of me!
The next trekking stage, up The Chief, was approaching fast, and I had zero idea of where I stood in terms of the overall pack. I just did not know if I had made up or lost time in the last hour of racing. All I knew was that I had not pushed that hard at any previous MOMAR race, and my body was starting to feel it. I had run out of fluids about thirty minutes before hitting the transition area of The Chief, and as I dropped my bike I made sure to spend an extra minute getting some liquids back into my body from the race provided water station.
I could now see Team Helly Hansen Vancouver Island just ahead of me, and as strong as they are, I had no idea how high up they currently were within the overall pack. I still did not know what was going on ahead of me, and it took a hell of a lot of internal chit chat to convince myself that it was still worth while to push as hard as I possibly could.
I reached the top of 'The First Peak' on The Chief and could see Norm Thibault just ahead of me and heading towards the rappel site. I had finally caught a solo racer! I turned and ran down from the top of The Chief to the ropes section and hit it in unison with Norm.
An EPIC Rappel!
I normally have some apprehension with any kind of ropes work, and anything involving heights in general, but what I heard next allowed me to overcome this without so much as a fraction of a thought.
"You guys are the third and fourth place racers."
There was no time to think about how all this had all transpired, I simply strapped in and practically jumped off the rappel site! My bike gloves were burning my hands as I tried to get down the 165 foot rope as fast as possible. I hit the bottom first...now in third place overall!! (I would later learn that two racers ahead of me ended up crashing out and seriously hurting themselves. Unfortunately Norm Hann and John Markez both had to go to the hospital, but thankfully by the sounds of things they will both be back on their bikes in no time)
From here there was an additional cool feature where we had to scramble up a small rock face, while again roped in, and then use our safety line around a slightly exposed corner. The rappel site was pretty epic and ranked right up there as one of the best I've seen in an adventure race, most certainly tops amongst any sprint a.r.!
From here it was back onto the main trail heading back down The Chief. I know this trail intimately as I used to run it on my lunch breaks from North Shore Athletics when we had a store in Squamish. I pushed hard and only increased the pace when I came across other racers hiking up towards me,
"You're less than a minute behind the next guy! Go get him!"
Again I was in total and utter shock at hearing this and I pushed myself very near my breaking point. As I approached the last half of the descent my body started to go a bit numb and I had the very real thought process that I was on the verge of passing out. The timing of my footsteps became more of an effort and I thought to myself,
"There are lots of hikers out here, so I should be fine if I black out...just be sure not to do it on a steeper section of the trail Gary!"
I spotted the final chunk of rock at the very base of The Chief, and my only thought was,
"Is that the bottom? REALLY? How?"
I truly had no recollection of the bottom third portion of the descent, and I was pretty damn happy that it was now over!
I just Want To Lay Down & Take A Nap!
I managed a slight run back into the T.A. and again concentrated on getting some fluids back into my body. I had buy one gel remaining, and after sucking it back I perked up ever so slightly.
The T.A. crew to me,
"He just left one minute ago. You can catch him!"
I was just trying to hold on and over the final 25min biking section of the course I altered between trying to catch Shane, and shoulder checking for Norm.
After a fun little river crossing I could see Shane just up ahead. His lead was now down to just seconds, yet he continued to disappear around each successive corner.
Unfortunately for Shane, and somewhat fortunately for me, as I came into the final small climb of the race, Shane was standing next to his bike and fiddling with his chain. All I could say as I passed him was,
Just kidding...I looked over at him and just said,
"That's not fair. I'm sorry."
I was. I thought I could have caught Shane before the line, and it's unfortunate that a mechanical issue took that slight battle away from us. HOWEVER, I now found myself in second place overall!! With under ten minutes of riding left to go I put my head down and pushed for the line with all that I was worth...past 'The Inn On The Water', under the highway, onto Logger's Lane, I could hear M.C. Dave Norona just down the street...one final shoulder check...holy crap...I DID IT...I DID IT...I dropped my bike and sprinted across the line, cramping up almost instantly...SECOND PLACE OVERALL!!! SECOND FREAKING PLACE!!
Honestly I find myself more proud of this second then of most of the first place finishes I've been a part of over the last few years. Todd and I have done some wonderful things together, and we've shared in some pretty fun battles...but this one stands alone. I was on the very verge of completely quitting on myself out there. I messed up in a big way during the orienteering course, but I stood by my own personal promise and struggled through my inadequacies on the course. I am truly amazed that I was able to salvage a result out of this race. Coming down The Chief...I've never been there before, that deep into my physical reserves I mean, that was a whole other zone that I have not visited before. Obviously I don't want to go much deeper than that, but to expand my personal limits, even ever so slightly beyond where the were before, is more than I ever could have hoped to accomplish in this past weekends MOMAR race.
I know it's just a five dollar medal that I get to keep...but honestly, it means so much more than that to me. I'm not gonna get cheesy here, but I will end with this. You just never know. You have no idea how you will handle the greatest challenges in your life until they are thrown in your face. Don't back down, don't turn and run...well unless you're in an adventure race...or if you're being faced by a rabid three legged dog, then you should run...four legs and you haven't a chance...I guess all I'm trying to say is that you just never know. You truly have no idea until you lay it all out there. Don't be afraid to do that from time to time, you may just surprise yourself in the end!
Special thanks to all THE MOMAR staff and vollunteers for putting on yet another INCREDIBLE event. The rappel was truly EPIC, and the course was amazing. The after party, as always, was a ton of fun...but I'm gonna throw this out there, too many people left way too early. Stick around and enjoy a single beer next time...you've definitely earned it!!
P.S. IF you've made it this far, you deserve to see one of the funniest MOMAR pics from the last few years...
It's ok racer...I feel ya...
FUll RESULTS HERE