Race report: The Savage

Over the weekend, NYARA raced in the two-person male division of the GOALS Savage 6-hour Adventure Race in Nockamixon State Park, PA. NYARA team members Eric Caravella (your humble writer) and Mikael Mattson, a pair that had never before met (let alone raced together), comprised the team.

With the huge lake smack dab in the middle of the park, there was almost certainly going to be a ton of paddling. But Bruce Kuo did a great job of creating an interesting and unexpected 6-hour race, with some great single-track biking, lots of trekking, and surprisingly very little paddling. It was also quite logistically complex for a 6-hour race.

After a short relay run prologue, racers could choose to begin with whichever discipline they wished. We knew the biking trails are very tight with little passing opportunity, so we decided to sprint the prologue in our bike shoes and get right on the trails to avoid traffic. This strategy paid off big time, as we were able to cruise through the biking section in almost no time at all. Traffic was beginning to build up on the trails as we were leaving, but we were already off to TA1, a fishing pier several miles down the road from the start line.

Most of the rest of the race was on foot. There were two long and narrow trek sections, one on the northwest side of the lake, and another on the southeast side of the lake. These trek sections were connected at either end by short paddles, straight across the lake. At TA1, racers could either paddle directly across the lake to begin with the southeast section, or complete the long northwest section and paddle across the lake at another crossing farther down. Since that far paddle was worth 4 points more than the immediate paddle, Mikael and I started off on foot.

I was navigating and Mikael was in charge of the passport and clue sheet. The first portion of the trek was off an orienteering map, and we started very strong at a great pace just nailing the CPs. But I made a bone-head mistake early on and blew past CP13, completely forgetting about it. Thankfully, Mikael was totally on the ball and reminded me about it, so we were able to loop back for it without wasting too much time. We finished this trek without any more big issues (except the ankle-deep, energy-sucking mud) and paddled our way across the lake for the southeast foot section.

During a race formatted to allow racers to choose their order of disciplines, it’s difficult to gauge your ranking during the race. But we started to realize we were in pretty good shape when we began passing teams on the second trek that hadn’t done the bike section yet. More mud, a hairy bushwhack or two, and a whole lot more trail running got us to the final paddle point to return across the lake to the bike drop.

Since racers could choose where to paddle across, race staff used motorboats to shuttle canoes back and forth across the lake to make sure there were boats available in all places at all times. The logistical difficulties of this became apparent when Mikael and I arrived at the TA and found no boats. We waited 9 minutes for a canoe, hopped in and hammered across the lake back to our bikes. (GOALS recorded any time teams spent waiting for boats and deducted it from their finishing times).

The final bike ride home was only a couple miles down the road back to where we started, so we pedaled it in our sneakers. After clearing the course, we arrived at the finish line with a time of 5 hours (adjusted to 4:51 to account for the time we waited for our boat). Race organizers were so shocked we finished that fast that they almost didn’t even notice us crossing the finish line! We knew right away that we had won, so we shared a Swedish/American high five and flopped down in the grass. In the grand scheme of adventure racing, 6 hours is nothing… but when you’re going full tilt for 5 hours and only one 9 minute break, it feels good to sit down.

Only one other team managed to clear the course within the time limit (one of the two GOALS Elite teams), and they did so in about 5 hours and 50 minutes. The post-race atmosphere and ceremony was great, and everyone was very congratulatory. This race was very meaningful to me, because the 2013 GOALS Savage 6-hour was my very first adventure race. Now, in 2014, the same race became my first cleared course and overall win as team captain and navigator. And it felt good that the win was so decisive. Mikael was an awesome teammate, fast and confident, and we were able to both help each other and push each other.

A big thanks to GOALS for putting on such a great event, I hope to participate in it for years to come.

Pack Rafting Strategies: Hand Paddle How-to

NYARA will have three teams racing at this year’s Untamed New England 4-day race in Maine. One signature of Untamed is the pack raft section. Most adventure races have trek sections, paddle sections and bike sections. Untamed likes to link up the trekking and paddling into a unique section that involves long distance trekking with strategic waterways/crossings. Alpacka Raft (a race sponsor and general supporter of AR) makes some great boats which have become the gold standard for races that include pack rafting.

The overall goal of the pack rafting section (aside from not popping your boat) is to keep weight down and speed up. Teams have a number of strategies from using four individual boats, to squeezing two people into a one person boat. Some teams use kayak paddles that collapse into four pieces others rely on hand paddles. Here’s a quick how-to that gives you step by step instructions for DIY hand paddles. The big upsides include: huge cost savings (these babies can be made for the price of a 5 gallon bucket), weight savings (they weigh almost nothing) and space savings (they take up almost no room in the pack).

For all you visual learners out there, here is the step by step in photos. For everyone else, we will detail the steps below.

This whole process will take under 15 minutes.
1. Get a five gallon bucket
2. Using a hack saw, cut off the thick ring at the top if the bucket
3. Flip onto its side with the newly cut side facing you
4. Lay your hand on the bucket with fingers slightly spread out (like how you would paddle)
5. Trace an arc around your hand
6. Using some heavy duty scissors and/or exacto knife, cut out the shape you traced
7. Place hand on the cutout and mark (about knuckle height) outside your first and third fingers
8. Use a big ol’ nail to punch holes into your two marks
9. Get something stretchy — elastic, an old bike tube, etc.
10. Stick the elastic through the hole on the left, tie a knot on the back side (concave side)
11. Pull the stretchy stuff through the second hole so that it is laying flush on the surface ( you want it to have enough tension to hold onto your fingers) then trim and tie off

There you have the finished product — with some action shots. We will keep you posted on how well they work in our tests.

First race ever — Q&A with a brand new racer

Most of the readers of this blog have probably done several adventure races and are familiar with the sport. It’s hard to remember how overwhelming it was in the beginning–you had never set a bearing on a compass and a seeing a tow system on a bike was similar to spotting an alien. So instead of focusing on our team and other elite teams, we decided to do a post for all of you who have never done an Adventure Race before.

Whitney Hedberg, from Team NYARA teamed up with Annie Hooper, for Annie’s first adventure race ever. The duo decided on AXS Moab 12h adventure race. We sat down with them after the race, to hear what Annie thought about her first race and what recommendations she has for other people who are in the same boat (or kayak) and looking to do their first race.

NYARA: First some back ground, Annie – who are you and why did you want to do this race?

Annie: I’m a 32 year old anthropologist, psychologist and mom.
Whitney and I have been friends since we were 9 and I learned of AR through her. After being pregnant and having a baby I really wanted to do something for me. AR racing just sounded fun!

NYARA: So the race is now over. How did it go and what are your initial thoughts?

Annie: It was incredible. It was so hard but so fun. I feel so satisfied.

NYARA: What was harder than expected?

Annie: It was hard to think about the training that goes into it. It was also nerve wracking to sign up and really commit. Once we started the training I really enjoyed it. Even if the race would have been miserable, I would still be really glad I signed up because it gave me a goal that required months of fun and challenging preparation.

NYARA: What was easier than expected?

Annie: I had never mountain biked before starting to train for this race, but the biking was not as hard as I expected. It was actually a lot of fun!
Also, when you hear 12h it is really intimidating, but once we were on the course, the hours just flew by.

NYARA: How does this compare to other races in other sports you have done?

Annie: This is one million times more fun than other races I’ve done (running or running/biking). The variety of disciplines that you get to do makes time go by so fast.

NYARA: This race was extremely bike heavy, with over 65 percent of the course on bikes. I happen to know that you got on a mountain bike for the first time in your life just a little over a month ago. How did you deal with this, and how did you feel about the mtb sections of this race?

Annie: I really focused on starting slow and mentally preparing that it was going to be hard no matter what. Passing guys on the first big uphill also helped a lot. 🙂

NYARA: You had help from Whitney in preparing for the race. What advice did you get from Whitney that was especially helpful?

Annie: Not to lose momentum in TAs. It is so easy to stop and linger and then lose time. Eat early and often was also very important.

NYARA: Twelve hours can sound very intimidating for someone, like you, who hasn’t raced longer than a half marathon before. How was it and how did you deal with the distance?

Annie: Before the race, I tried not to think about it too much. Doing 5-6h long cross training sections really helped me.
During the race, time was the furthest thing from my mind. There are just so many other things to think about. Navigating, finding checkpoints (CPs), strategizing transitions, and enjoying spending time outdoors with a great friend all made time go by so fast.

NYARA: Whitney – Annie had never raced before, but you still managed to finish 3rd. What was the key to that, and what qualities did Annie have, that made her a great race partner?

Whitney: One of the keys to success was to stay positive and attack the course one part at the time. Annie was a gymnast in her youth and I think that training really helped her take on the challenge and keep the right mental state.

NYARA: Last – do you have any recommendations for other people who are looking to get into adventure racing?

Annie: Go for it – just sign up for a race because ultimately, it is much more fun than it is hard.
Also, if you think you want to do an adventure race – you do.

So there you have it. If you are a beginner looking into AR racing, NYARA had some great races for you. Check out the Krell adventure run on Staten Island or the Jersey Inferno at Mt Creek for two fantastic races this summer!

Training Report — How do you train for a four day race?

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Olof and Whitney Hedberg with Denise Mast at the top of Cerro Pedernal


A common question adventure racers get is “how do you train for a multi-day race?” There are probably as many different answers to this as there are adventure racers — here are a few ideas from Team NYARA.

Team NYARA members Whitney and Olof Hedberg escaped the brutal winter in the Northeast and spent their winter training in the sunshine of the Southwest. Here they talk a bit about their training strategy and share a couple of their sessions as they prepare for Untamed New England this summer.

Untamed New England is a 4 day race and, for us, 4 days is a pretty long time to do anything. So our training revolves around a few different elements: developing strength and flexibility; skills training and getting in some long days.





Strength and Flexibility:

We focus on plyometric strength training — lots of jumps and dynamic strength moves.

For flexibility we practice yoga at least once a week.

Skills Training:

In four words: Bushwack and climb stuff.

Some recent skills-building adventures have included:

Hiking/Scrambling the Rabbit Ears in Las Cruces, New Mexico

Length: ~ 5miles (90% bushw
Start elevation: ~5650 ft
Peak: 8130 ft
Vertical: ~2480 ft
Difficulty: Mostly 3rd class with 2 shorter (~20ft) 4th class sections
Time: ~8 hours with breaks

Hiking/Scrambling Cerro Pedernal in Northern New Mexico

Length: ~ 6.5miles (40% bushwacking)
Start elevation: unknown(maybe 8,000 ft)
Peak: 9,862 ft
Vertical: ~1,800
Difficulty: 3rd class for two short sections
Time: ~4 hours with a lunch break on top

We also take full advantage of La Luz — a trail that starts in Albuquerque and goes to the top of the Sandia Mountains. The 9 mile (oneway) trail gains more than 3,000 and is mostly runable. The best part is it has some awesome scrambling and bushwacking objectives that you can access from the trail — including one of our favorites, The Thumb.

All of these trips involved route finding, bushwacking through some pretty gnarly desert — think cactus, lots and lots of cactus — and scrambling up things. The more time you spend outside exploring, the easier it becomes. Most important, you have to do things that are both fun and challenging.

Long Days:

You have to make your training fun and challenging so for our long days we often use ski mountaineering — Say what?

Ski Mountaineering trips are seriously good AR training, even though most races include little to no skiing. Typical backcountry trips take 8 hours and include miles of skinning or boot packing, downhill skiing and occasionally some climbing. Skinning and booting up mountains are great for overall fitness while hauling skis on your back helps prepare your back and shoulders for carrying a backpack full of AR gear for four days. Route finding and strategy choices are common when you are out in the mountains and especially with ski mountaineering — navigating variable snow conditions, avalanche risk/safety and varying ability levels. A couple of our recent trips include Heaven’s Hill in Santa Fe, NM and Mount Daly outside Marble, CO.

We are spending the month of April hanging out in Leadville, CO and racking up lots of loooooong ski days (and strong legs). Not to mention getting in some high altitude training — the town of Leadville sits at over 10,000 ft in elevation. We will keep you posted on our progress.



What are you doing this weekend?

Hey adventure racers! We hope you are all planning on racing Fool’s Rogaine this weekend. It is a super fun race and a great way to try out adventure racing for the first time. Check out our 10 Questions with the Race Director — Alan Young for more info. Or just register here!


For some weekend inspiration, check out this short film following a couple on their adventures through South America. It will definitely make you want to get out there and explore: