Race Report: Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge

 

For the Mayan Mountain Adventure Racing Challenge (MMAC), which also serves as the North American Adventure Racing Series Championship, NYARA sent a relatively young, up and coming team, with Olof Hedberg, Whitney Hedberg and Mikael Mattsson all new recruits to NYARA for 2014, and Jason Brown who normally races for GOALS ARA and SWIFT, making an appearance to complete the team. Below is a race report from team captain, Olof Hedberg.

Ready to start the race after weeks/months of preparation.

Ready to start the race after weeks/months of preparation.

We had a lot of uncertainties before the race: none of us had ever raced in the jungle before, the team of four had never raced all together, Whitney was sick before the race and just barely recovering, and two out of four had never done an expedition race before, and at the other end Mikael hadn’t done an AR in seven years.

It was almost a relief to be at the start line, because then all we could do was focus on the race and finally stop worrying about other potential problems.

The race started with a 30+k bike leg. The first 16k was relatively easy if it wasn’t for the fact that I overheated my breaks in the first downhill and we had to stop and do mechanical work while the rest of the teams raced away. How did this happen? – Well one of the brake rotors on Whitney’s bike got damaged on the flight over, and finding a replacement in Belize was not possible. The only solution was for me to race without a front brake, which lead to some problems throughout the race. More on that later.

After being dead last and playing catch up during the first 16k we had our first experience with Belizean mud. Just after punching CP1, the route turned off the road and into a double/single track.  A thunder storm the night before had made the trail so wet that while riding was not an option, neither was pushing the bikes. The only way forward was to shoulder the bikes and carry them while trudging through the mud. Needless to say, a lot of thoughts crossed our minds at this time, but we found relief in that at this point the situation was the same for everyone. After about 3k, the mud-fest stopped and the trails became ride-/walkable again and we caught up with ENDracing/Yogaslackers – a super nice team which we saw again many times during the race.

After punching CP2 at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall, and fixing our first flat, we crossed a river and headed towards our first TA.

The team in great spirits after finding CP2 at the bottom of the first of many beautiful waterfalls.

The team in great spirits after finding CP2 at the bottom of the first of many beautiful waterfalls.

We arrived at the TA in third place in the elite class (and 5th overall), but with ENDracing right on our heels. After switching to foot our first task was a Tyrolean traverse over a river. This was a new experience for some of us, but it caused no problems and we always love well designed ropes elements.

Whitney in the Tyrolean Traverse - Photocredit: MMAC fb page

Whitney in the Tyrolean Traverse – Photocredit: MMAC Facebook page

The next trek was a lot longer than we had expected. It started with me making a navigation error which cost us about an hour. After that we realized that many of the trails marked on the map did not exist in real life and instead there were a few new ones. This is basically adventure racing navigation 101 – trails change, but hills don’t. With our maps last updated in 1992, a lot of changes had happened. So when several of our proposed route choices didn’t exist, and jungle bush whacking didn’t seem like a good option, we chose the long boring road around. A couple of hours later, which we had spent jogging dirt roads, we came into the TA. When we saw other bikes there we joked, “at least we are not last”. To our surprise we were still in 3rd place and hadn’t lost too much time on the leaders. Sometimes the long way around is not that bad.

Mikael defies any fear of snakes or aligators heading towards CP5

Mikael defies any fear of snakes or aligators heading towards CP5 on the trek

 

The author smiling since he is not the one who has to punch CP5, and we are on the right track again after the navigation miss.

The author smiling since he is not the one who has to punch CP5, and we are on the right track again after the navigation miss.

Following that motto we decided to do the same thing on the upcoming bike ride. Dusk was nearing, and instead of riding 30+k on smaller roads we decided to play it safe and ride 40+k on “bigger” roads, which we also knew had a great stream for purifying water.
As the sun set, we saw the 2 person Ecuadorean team about 30 min ahead of us while ENDracing was about 30 min behind on the “out and back” to CP9.
The bike ride was pretty uneventful, but a full day of racing started to leave its mark on our bodies so at the next TA transition to foot we made a heater meal. Eating something hot at nightfall is a great feeling (there will be an upcoming blogpost entirely about food and what we learned from this race).

After eating, we started the night foot section. It was a 16k out and back (8k each direction), with a 4-6h foot-o at the far end, making the entire section between 7 and 10 hours. The slog back and forth on the road was not the most fun, but the actual foot-o section was beautiful, with unique trails, small wood bridges and gorgeous waterfalls. It got even more interesting as we had an addition to the team. The film crew following the race wanted some night shots of our team and sent a crew member with a camera along with us on the foot-o. We can’t wait to see how it turned out! Sometime during the night we also passed the 2-person Ecuadorian team and now only had Merrell Denmark (2-person Co-ed), Odyssey and Yogaslackers (both in our class elite 4-person Co-ed) ahead of us.

Jason plotting the route for the night foot-O.

Jason plotting the route for the night foot-O. Photocredit: MMAC Facebook page

As morning rose the second day, we were back to the TA and our bikes. We now had a full day of biking ahead of us, estimating that we would bike for about 20h (it actually took us to ~24h) until we would get to our oasis box. After about 30 min Whitney started having problems with her backpack so we redistributed her weight and I took her food. I have never had such a heavy backpack racing. It was also hills galore and after a couple of hours we stopped to eat a little. I pulled out all the food from the backpack and start counting. It turned out I had food for over 80h in my pack (40h each for 2 people)! I was not happy about it but not much to do about that then, instead just keep biking and eating.

As the day progressed and we caught and passed Merrell Denmark when they made a navigational error. The hilly landscape continued and at one point we dropped more than 300 vertical meters in less than 2k of trail. The downhills were extremely scary for us (me), because I had no front break. This meant that my back brake constantly overheated and I had to stop and pour cold water on it. Over the race I poured over 3L of water on my brake, water that I originally had planned to drink.

The author happy about 300+ vertical meters of hike a bike. At least the breaks doesn't overheat going uphill.

The author happy about 300+ vertical meters of hike a bike. At least the brakes don’t overheat going uphill.

For CP 15 we made a navigational mistake and lost almost 2h. Both Ecuador and Merrell Denmark passed us again. We were still ahead of ENDRacing and we were excited to head towards CP16 and CP17 – there was fresh water and a sleeping opportunity there. At the map it looked like CP17 was located in a small town and we discussed and dreamed about having dinner at a restaurant and getting Cokes at a store. At this point I was pretty thirsty since I had poured most of my water over my breaks instead of drinking it.

We found CP 16 in one of the coolest caves I have ever been to, and we took an extra 5 minutes just to look around. With only 20 minutes left to CP17 suddenly my thirst was not the biggest problem. Whitney, who had been feeling bad for some time, started vomiting up everything in her stomach. On top of that, Mikael was feeling bad and having some problems staying upright on his bike. We rolled into CP 17 and the medical check at the same time as Whitney vomited up the very last of any fluids that were still in her. As an additional blow to our spirits the “town” turned out to be a couple of houses without anything resembling even a mini-mart. While the rest of the team took an hour to sleep, I started the task of thoroughly repacking the backpacks. The CP was also manned with volunteers from the Belizean military (they followed the entire race keeping everyone safe) and it felt great that I could donate 40h of food to them. Not only did my backpack get significantly lighter, but also the food went to good use. Lesson number two: bring extra food, but make sure not everyone does it, because then you end up with a LOT extra. ENDRacing was also sleeping at the TA, and hadn’t yet gone out to CP16. They let us know that they didn’t plan to take CP18 and instead would take a longer rest at the TA, which meant that if we managed to clear the course we would have 3rd place in the bag.

Jason punching CP16 at Rio Frio cave, one of the most awesome caves we have ever visited.

Jason punching CP16 at Rio Frio cave, one of the most awesome caves we have ever visited.

The team felt slightly better after an hour nap and Whitney’s and Mikael’s backpacks where now significantly lighter. We headed towards the last 5- 8h of biking. When we got to the out and back for CP18 we took a short lay down on the road and made an assessment. Whitney was still very weak but Mikael was feeling better. If we took 5h or less to make the 22k, we should theoretically be fine, making the cut-off at 1.00 pm the next day for the jungle trek. Sitting at home reading this, this sounds like a no-brainer, because who can’t bike 22k in 5 hours? Well, after 40+ hours of racing and seeing some of these “roads” you would not be as sure anymore. Sand and mud often meant you had to walk your bike for miles and what looked like a jeep road on the map could in reality be more of a swamp that no four wheel vehicle had passed in years. To add to the fun, my chain and derailleur had started causing problems (thanks Belizean mud), making it impossible for me to use the small chain ring in the front. After some discussion, we decided to go for it. The out and back was brutal for the team. Jason towed Whitney as much as he could for the first 4k. We all had sleep monsters, and Mikael was sure he saw me ride through a herd of antelopes, while Whitney slammed on the breaks to avoid the men standing in the road. None of this was actually real, of course, but provided amusement for the rest of the team mates.

We came back to the road after a little more than 3h, and had another lay down on the road. Mikael had crashed, and cracked one of his ribs. I hadn’t slept one minute since the night before the race, now 46h ago, and Whitney was exhausted. Jason who had managed to catch some sleep was doing the navigation at this point, as I couldn’t keep my eyes straight. Still we felt happiness and relief. We had made it! We were still in the run for clearing the course!

The Team at CP18 following the NYARA motto - it's better to look good than to feel good!

The Team at CP18 following the NYARA motto – it’s better to look good than to feel good!

At this point we thought there were still 5 teams in the running for clearing, but it turned out Merrell Denmark also decided to skip CP18 so it was actually just 4. Now it was time to take it easy. We rolled down to CP19 and our oasis boxes completely exhausted and ready for sleeping. Our only goal now was to make the 34k out and back to CP21 on top of the Mayan ruin, Caracol before 1.00pm – it was 5.00 am in the morning and we knew this was on a bigger road.
We took a 2h+ break to eat warm food and sleep – seldom has sleep felt so good. It was like all our worries, fears, exhaustion and problems washed away with the sleep and the knowledge that as long as we finished the course, we had secured a third place cemented itself in our brains. Our strategy now changed tremendously. We started playing with huge amount of safety, resting and eating as soon as anyone felt like it or wanted too. We ate two hot meals before even heading out to the ruins. We left for the ruins around 7.30 am and to our surprise, the road turned into asphalt after a couple of kilometers. This was fantastic! The miles flew by. At the ruins we met the film crew again and we stopped to talk to them, did a small interview, and took personal pictures. We knew there was no hurry, since the cut off for the trek was at 1.00 pm and we had almost 4h left for what should be 1h 30 min bike back. Of course, at this point, something had to go wrong- just because things were going too well. 6k from the TA, Jason’s sidewall of the tire got slashed, and our repair efforts didn’t work. This is almost ironic because before the race we discussed having extra tires in our oasis box, but we decided to take them out due to weight restrictions. It turned out to be just a small set back, since Jason was able to run fairly fast while Mikael took his backpack and I rode with two bikes on the flats and downhills. While we lost some time, it was nothing huge and we made it back around 11.30am with an hour and half to spare before the cut off.

The Team on top of CP 20 - the tallest "building" in Belize - The Mayan ruin Caracol.

The Team on top of CP 20 – the tallest “building” in Belize – The Mayan ruin Caracol.

It's all smiles and happy faces as it's not often you get interviewed on top of a Mayan ruin.

It’s all smiles and happy faces as it’s not often you get interviewed on top of a Mayan ruin.

 

The worlds most awesome stair master ?

The worlds most awesome stair master ?

Happy to ditch our bikes, we headed out on the jungle trek, fully knowing we would get caught in the dark zone. Upcoming sleep and food made us excited and the first half of the 30k trek went extremely well and at a good pace.
A search for a new trail and a Y in the road (seriously, we should just have kept going straight), cost us about 2-3h, but at that point we didn’t really care, as it was irrelevant to our overall finish. It was much worse for our Ecuadorian friends. They had pulled ahead during the night, while we slowed down and was roughly 3h ahead of us. Unfortunately the jungle is very unforgiving and they had got some major foot problems. When one team member took off his shoe, the foot swelled up enormously and “looked like it was boiling”, so they had to quit the race in the middle of a jungle road. We feel so bad for them, as they were fantastic racers and deserved a better race finish.

Along the jungle trek.

Along the jungle trek.

We came into the dark zone at ~9.30 pm and got great food and drinks – they even had beer! At this point frankly none of us were excited about the dark zone. We all felt pretty good and wanted to continue. Instead we got almost 6h of sleep and time to hang out with a bunch of other teams – something I don’t think has ever happened before in an adventure race for any of us.

Next morning we were up bright and early to head to a cave for CP24. The cave was guided and off the clock which made it like a fun exploring experience instead of a race. We saw Mayan pottery and relics which had been preserved over 2000 years in the cave. Pretty cool place for a CP.

Heading into an old cave to see some 2000+ years old mayan pottery and CP 24.

Heading into an old cave to see some 2000+ years old mayan pottery and CP 24.

Once we got down from the cave, the race started again with a couple of miles run to the canoes and then canoe back to town. After sleeping for hours we all felt strong, and together with ENDracing we picked up the pace to running. The final paddle was beautiful, amazing and fun. Mikael, who is the master paddler in the team, kept the team organized and focused even though we took our fair share of scenic breaks as the river flowed through the jungle landscape.

The absolutely awesome paddle that was so scenic that at times we just had to take photo breaks.

The absolutely awesome paddle that was so scenic that at times we just had to take photo breaks.

A final run through town took us to the finish line and there was nothing but joy as we crossed in third place and as only one of three teams clearing the entire course.
We could not be happier with the result and we are so excited about the upcoming race season.

Last trek to the finish. Less than 2 miles left and then we are done - but in our heads we have already started celebrating.

Last trek to the finish. Less than 2 miles left and then we are done – but in our heads we have already started celebrating.

 

The race was truly an adventure and included the tallest mayan ruins in Belize, countless waterfalls, and the mountains of the Cayo district, but nothing of that can compare to the hospitability of the people of Belize. NYARA would like to extend a huge thank you to American Adventure Sports for putting on a fantastic race, Friends of Conservation and Development in Belize for making the area accessible, to all fantastic volunteers and fellow racers. Looking forward to see you all again!

Done - what a race and what an experience!

Done – what a race and what an experience!

 


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Team NYARA Comes in 3rd Place at Maya Mountain Adventure Challenge

The inaugural Mayan Mountain Adventure Racing Challenge was a 4 day Adventure Race held in Belize, that also served as the championship for the North American Adventure Racing Series.

Team NYARA, reached its goal and a spot on the podium after crossing the finish line in third place.

The course was brutal and became even harder after a small tropical storm passed on Wednesday night, forcing the start to be delayed and the course altered. Fourteen teams started the race, and only three managed to clear the course and take all CPs.  NYARA is happy to be one of those three teams, and together with Yogaslackers and Odyssey to make the overall podium.

Highlights of the race included CP placements on top of Mayan ruins, at the bottom of enormous waterfalls and deep in caves. The mud made certain trails almost impassable, and for miles we had to carry our bikes on our shoulders while trudging through the mud.

The race was also followed by a film crew to create a documentary that will hopefully be shown on NBC Sports.  As NYARA was racing towards the top of the field, a lot of attention was directed towards our team (We actually had a film crew member following us through a night foot-O, filming us for six hours straight). It will be fun to see the final footage as I’m sure our sleep-deprived selves will be quite amusing.

A full race report will follow soon, but for now a big thank you to American Adventure Sports for putting on a great race, all the fantastic volunteers, the wonderful people of Belize and mostly all our fellow racers we shared this experience with. We don’t think we could have started the 2014 racing season in a better way.

Off to Belize!

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Team NYARA leaves for Belize in a little over 24 hours and we are *mostly* ready. It has taken WAY more research/planning/shopping/logistics than expected to pull together our first 4-day race as a team, but I think we have things covered and are in for a great adventure.

If you are interested in following along check out the race website HERE. We will have a GPS SPOT Tracker with us during the race so (in theory) you will be able to track our progress in real time. You can also “friend” Mayan Mountain Adventure Challenge and New York Adventure Racing on Facebook. They will be posting updates and photos.

Check out the race preview video…looks pretty awesome!!

Photo credit: Mayan Mountain Adventure Facebook Page

Weekend Update

The Hike-a-thong was a huge success! It was our biggest turnout ever for this annual event and thanks to everyone who came and hiked in thong solidarity.

Hike-A-Dog

Team NYARA member, Chris Rice raced in the Winter Death Race this past weekend and got 3rd place OVERALL!! We are so proud of Chris and his accomplishment. We got a short race report from one of Chris’s support team members, Greg Rice, which I’ll share here:

Rice

“Some background for those who might not know Chris’s passion, which has been driving him since 1999 when he completed his first adventure race. Since then he has done extreme racing probably on an average of 8 races a year.  They include 2, 3, or 4 day adventure races, Ironman races, triathlons, 50 and 100 mile races and the World Tough Mudder. He generally finishes in the top 10% in those races, although lately he’s been improving.This weekend he was in the Winter Death Race in Pittsfield, Vermont. I went with him as his support team, assisting him in transition from one event to next, helping him with food, drink, etc, and  being his all around cheerleader.  Chris said I “did good.”

The Winter Death Race was a 48 hour race in which there were only 50 racers allowed to enter (because of the logistics of safety and managing the race). Typically only about 15 people finish the race.   The race is completed when the racer finishes putting together a 24 piece puzzle.  Puzzle pieces are given out when the racer completes an event. The events in this race included: 2 hours of chopping wood; carrying a full pack of gear plus a 70lb bag of sand up and down a mountain at least 6 to 7 times; building fires without matches or a lighter (Chris used a flint and knife); an hour of hot yoga; 3 hours of ballet; holding the 70lb sand bag over his head for 45 minutes (15 minutes then rest and cycle it two more times); finding 30 pennies in the snow; and I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

Chris finished the race in a little over 31 hours and came in 3rd.  Chris and the 1st and 2nd place winners were 3 to 4 hours ahead of the next racer. When we left, about a dozen racers had dropped out. The race directors expected a lot more to drop on their own, but they would pull the racers out because of safety concern ( hypothermia, injuries, exhaustion).  No awards were given for winning the race, but everyone who completed the race got a small skull (the symbol of the race.)”

 

Again, huge congrats to Chris and thanks to Greg for this report!