I would say by all accounts it was mission accomplished for Team Canada at our first ever appearance at Rockyman Brazil. A unique format event in which teams compete for the lowest combined time. Six individual disciplines are contested by five team members, with any one team member competing in two events. As a full team of five you add one member (a steersman) for a six-man outrigger canoe race, and then you cap it all off with a team run over trail, sand and pavement in which all team members must stay together but the team is allowed to carry and use a skateboard as they see fit. Yeah, that's about as unique as it gets right.
Just building the team was far more challenging that one might guess. I received an email in mid-July inviting me to create a Team Canada for the event. Of course the opportunity could not be passed up on and after rather quickly building out the run and mountain bike components I tapped into my six year deep Hawaii relationships to come up with our surfer and stand up paddle boarder as each team is allowed one non-national, and hence I decided our two sport athlete would compete in stand up and surf.
Outside of a healthy respect and admiration for what skateboarders do I can't say I have a direct link to anyone in the scene, I do however have a few work contracts with Red Bull, so I started there and added in a Facebook call out for good measure. Almost a full month later we finally had our team together after adding Adam Hopkins. Things were progressing well and we confirmed our attendance.
Three months later and now less than a month before race day and Adam shoots me an email saying he's busted up his ankle in a fall during competition. SHIT! Shitty for him and now serious questions for us. The hardest role to fill was now empty and it was back to the drawing board. Within days I'd somehow connected with and confirmed a Canadian skater living in San Francisco by the name of Keegan Sauder. Team complete!
Anne-Marie Madden, Greg Day, Andrew Logreco, Keegan Sauder and myself were all off to Brazil, or were we?
VISAS! WE NEED VISAS! Anne-Marie flies out in 72 hours, I fly out in less than a week, Greg shortly thereafter and Andrew and Keegan a day before race day on November 8th. Plastered across the Canadian visa application page is something to the effect of:
"If you live in BC, you better start this process AT LEAST a month before you depart."
Alrighty then. The race had begun. A last minute scramble which included passport photos, three months of bank details, a letter of invitation, a letter of intent, a letter from your employer and just generally a lot of rigmarole and magically we now possessed official entry visas!
Next Stop Brazil
I'm guessing the most successful businesses in Brazil must sell spray paint. If it doesn't have wheels on it it's generally covered in graffiti, some artistic, some not so artistic. No area is beyond the reach of the Brazilian tagger, in fact many must posses harness and rope setups, or somehow have the innate ability to scale vertical walls while hanging one with one hand and spraying with the other. Either way to find an unpainted stretch of concrete must be like the fabled pot-o-gold at the end of the rainbow, for I saw none.
Slowly but surely our team trickled in and introductions were complete. Of the team members I only knew Anne-Marie on more than an email level, and outside of congratulating her on winning every single one of my races she's shown up at, I knew little else about her.
"You're a doctor! Don't you just want to complete your residency so that you can quit your career and live out of a truck though? That's what a real trail runner would do Anne-Marie, that's what a real trail runner would do."
Anne-Marie Madden - Doctor
Andrew Logreco - Lifeguard
Greg Day - Teacher
Keegan Sauder - Student
Your's Truly - Race Director / Running Coach
Marcio Franco - Whitewater rafting guide - our steersman in the 6-man and local Brazilian to help us find our starting lines while staying out of jail :)
Collectively the mix of personalities could not have been any better. Everyone had a keen sense of humour with Keegan definitely leading the way in the team clown category. After rushing around all day on Friday a near sleepless night awaited me. Race day was here!
The set up of the races meant that we wouldn't actually be able to see our teammates compete. Andrew was out the door first for his surf competition as he was in the 7am heat. The surfers had to run 2.4kms of sand to start their heat and Andrew was apparently first in the water by a large margin, but there were little to no waves awaiting him. He placed a very respectable 9th in the end.
Mountain bike was second on the docket and the heat and humidity of the day were taking hold. I saw 91% humidity on a weather forecast the night before and it was definitely now upon us. Greg finished off stage two with a 14th place finish on the bike.
Women's and men's mountain run were up next, with the women starting one minute before the men, and running one less loop than us. Total distances were supposed to be 27km and 32km. The women were off and just sixty seconds later so were we.
This is the 3rd edition of Rockyman and apparently it's the first time they've been able to take the run off the roads and onto the trails. Within less than a kilometer of running the men were all grouped together and asking which way to go. Someone reacted, thankfully with confidence, and we were off again. A lead pack severed from my group and given they pre-race estimates of a 4+ hour winning time I thought it no big deal to let some people blow off some steam. Thankfully I was running with three Brazilians, one of which knew the course, because time and time again as a group of four we'd come to an intersection with no flagging. We kept catching sight of the lead group up ahead as they two were obviously struggling to stay on course.
After a 5km loop we doubled back through the start area and thankfully thereafter the flagging improved slightly and the secondary trail networks diminished. I didn't feel too bad through the first 45 minutes, believing I was running an intelligent race, but by the time I'd been running for an hour the wheels fell clear off. It wasn't nutrition or pacing, it was the heat and humidity. Since we were in for a 4+ hour race and I knew I'd packed sufficient calories for the entire thing I simply went about slogging it out. I was confident that most of the lead grouping were going to incinerate by the 3rd hour and that I'd catch at least a handful of them before the finish line. The race also finished off with a huge descent so I took stock of how that favored me as well.
Two hours in and our first water crossing. I was in a bad place so I went ahead and sat in the ankle deep water, splashing it all over me. Still a few hours to go so better stay on top of things now I thought. Not sixty seconds later and a volunteer says,
"The race will be stopped at the top of the hill."
I hit a road crossing at the almost exact half way point in the race and all the male runners were sitting there, eating, drinking, stretching. I found Marshal Thompson who is one of the best Skimo racers in North America, the 2nd place run finisher from Rockyman's first two editions, and the significant other of Stevie Kremer.
"What the hell?"
"Apparently there are lots of lost runners and all the lead women are off course. They're stopping the race to reassess right now."
They transported all of us two kilometers up the road and we waited there as the lead women came in from an entirely different direction. Emotions were running high and I stood back and read body language as most of what was happening was in Portuguese of course.
Marcio was there with our team car and a few of his friends and Greg was there as well, now having completed his event. They fed us coke and chips while we waited to learn what was to occur. The official announcement said that in ten minutes (about an hour after I'd stopped) we were restarting as a full group of 40 male and female runners. We were all going to run the final 16km from there to the finish. It wasn't communicated at the time but most of us were able to guess that they were also going to throw out the first half of the race and simply double up the time for the final half of the run. I was stretching and hoping beyond hope that my body would rally. I also told myself to forget whether I thought this stoppage favored me or working against me on the day, it was what it was.
It was a 2km downhill run back onto the trails and to my own surprise I felt pretty good again. We hit the trails and I was at the back of the lead pack of maybe six guys. Within ten minutes we gapped the group behind us and were moving well. Maybe the stoppage was a good thing after all? I held the group without much of a thought. The terrain was quite technical and I was actually enjoying myself.
At 40mins I felt great, but by 50mins my body was once again unable to cool itself properly. The wheels started to shake but I backed off a notch, stopped briefly at any and all water sources and continued to tick along without losing position. There was but a few thousand feet of climbing now that would take us up to and around Christ The Redeemer, then it would be all downhill to the line. Just a few minutes up the climb however, somewhere around 1h15m maybe, my energy reserves were drained. It was gong to be a long haul to the line.
Right about the second I was thinking "well I haven't lost any positions yet" someone started to catch me from the switchbacks below. "Is that Stevie!?"
Stevie was crushing and making it look easy. She was on her way to finishing the stage 3rd overall, behind only the men's winner from NZ and her significant other Marshal.
was impressive to say the least, and I forced myself to take ten seconds to stop and take it all in. On the climb up I'd now been passed by Anne-Marie and NZ's female runner, though few men up until that point. The women as a whole seemed to be crushing the guys.
My strongest suite became my nemesis as my legs started seizing up completely on the incredibly steep descent. Position after position were dropped as I struggled my way to the line. A flat three mile paved run around the lake took everything I had and delivered me to the line for 11th place. For a brief moment on my way down from The Christo I consoled myself in the knowledge that Anne-Marie was holding her own against the men and I was now filling in sufficiently in the women's field :)
Anne-Marie was just ten minutes back of Stevie, which would have been good enough for 8th in the men's race. We actually weren't doing too bad for ourselves all things considered.
Andrew greatly helped the team by coming off the water shortly thereafter in 4th for the SUP.
The races were all behind now due to the trail run gaffe so it was into the car and rushing off to the 6-man outrigger race. Traffic was bad and there was no parking, so our guys dropped us off and before we knew it we'd drawn our boat and the countdown was on. The horn sounded and the craziness began. Our team had managed 45 minutes of practice the day before, with only Andrew and Marcio having paddled a proper outrigger before. Twenty strokes per side at a time and all of a sudden Anne-Marie let out a celebratory woohoo. We were in 3rd!
Going into the outrigger it appeared that our collective time had us just behind a local Brazilian team for 3rd OVERALL in the event. With but the outrigger and team run to go we were still podium threats.
The first buoy was coming up quick on the six lap, eighteen turn, twelve kilometer long race. It all happened so quickly we didn't have time to react.
"WE'RE IN THE LINES! BACK! BACK! BACK!"
We'd caught the tie downs for the buoy and as we struggled to get ourselves free the entire race passed us by. We were now in dead last. Andrew, our lead paddler says,
"Alright guys, lots of boats to catch and pass now."
And that's exactly what we went about doing. Personally I was still cramping all to hell. My hip flexors, my quads, my hamstrings. No matter how I contorted my body something seized up on me, though I ensured no matter what it took that I didn't miss a single stroke.
By the time we closed out the six-man we'd gotten ourselves back up to a very respectable 13th, having passed a half dozen boats, which in and of itself is no easy task. I climb out of the boat, completely spent, now cramping in the arms and back.
"TEAM RUN STARTS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES!"
Holy shit. I might die. I might actually be the weakest link on our team run. We're allowed to carry the skateboard for the final seven kilometers of seawall pavement on the other side of the mountain. I told the team no egos during this run and I meant it. I might be the one asking for the skateboard.
We clamored around while attempting to get the sand off our feet and our feet back into socks and shoes. I had just enough time to grab a handful of chips and down an acai thanks to Marcio and Jorge, who were continuing to take incredible care of us.
100 athletes from seven countries, with twenty skateboards, were off on the final stage of Rockyman. We ran the road for 1km before hitting trails that take us up and over a 1,000ft spit of land. The singletrack came quick and the backlog began. Thankfully we found ourselves in about sixth at this point. Going into the run we were told we had about fifteen minutes to make up on the third place team to snag a podium spot.
Keegan was behind me and saw my struggles. He started pushing on my mid-back to help me up the steepest sections.
"If you're gonna mean it Keegs, you gotta lower you hand just a bit."
It was truly phenomenal how this group of people had come together in less than 30 hours, from complete strangers to one cohesive unit. At the steepest section of rock it was full hands and feet scrambling for a short section. Andrew was up above and called for Keegs to toss him his deck. Without hesitation he put some oomph on it, Andrew snagged it, and we were collectively up and over.
"Guys there's no reason we shouldn't be able to win this stage right now!"
We picked off team by team until we crested the climb in 2nd, immediately on the heels of the Kiwis. Once it flattened out Andrew and Keegan went about a flawless transition between running and skateboarding while Anne-Marie drove the bus home. Greg was super solid the entire time and both Andrew and Keegan could actually run which allowed us to move at a great overall pace.
We dropped the other teams almost immediately and collectively hammered out the final kilometers. With less than 1km to go they direct you onto the beach to grab your finish line. Everyone but me was able to crank it up under the excitement. I uttered, "uhhhghghhgg" which meant "sorry guys, don't leave me here to die, this sand is doing a number on my legs." We immediately regrouped to cross the line in unison, stage winners, 4th overall, and definitely front-runners for most-fun-team-ever-award.
We waited as the minutes ticked off, would it be enough? Three minutes, four minutes, five minutes would be all we could grab back. Third place was held by the Brazilians and Team Canada officially finished fourth.