Team NYARA had a great showing at Untamed New England this year — two teams finished 11th and 16th overall. A little known fact is that Team #31 — Carpe Vitam — snuck in an extra two Team NYARA members. Austin Planz and NYARA President Denise Mast both raced their first expedition race with Carpe Vitam on this year’s brutal course. We are really proud of them and thought it would be interesting to hear their thoughts as first-time expedition racers. Check out this Q&A with them below. Meet Austin and Denise. They are known to throw back a cold one while carrying tons of gear through the Maine wilderness.
Q: Considering neither of you had ever raced over 30h before – how did you prepare for this race?
Actually, I did more running than I probably needed. Our team had two 24-hour training sessions that were valuable in understanding the team dynamics as well as our strengths and weaknesses. We’re still looking for my strengths.
Physically, I did not have time to train for the race. (Don’t tell my teammates). The biggest prep was gathering gear and food and separating them into gear bins.
Q: What was the biggest difference between racing 24h races and expedition races?
Obviously the time! Establishing a steady, even pace that works for all team members was big for us considering we got so far behind at the very beginning of the race. We were the last team to reach the rappel section but from there on out, we were more focused and maintained an even pace that helped us pick off a lot of teams.
The hardest thing was getting use to the distances; needing to settle into a particular discipline for the long hall. Paddling all night, trekking dawn till dusk, don’t find that in a 30 hour race.
Q: Was anything easier than you expected?
I think I expected to be more fatigued during the race than I was. But caffeine worked its wonders as well as my teammates’ constant joke cracking. Laughter is the best stimulant out there.
I’ve been more tired and beat up after a 6hr race. Our slow and steady pace and cheery disposition made the race easy on us.
Q: Was anything harder than you expected?
Denise: Going through withdrawal after getting home! I miss the guys, I miss the anticipation about racing and am ready to do it all over again if my teammates would have me.
Austin: It was way harder getting back to reality than I could have ever imagined.
Q: If you could re-do this race – what would you focus on in terms of preparation?
I would do a lot more back strengthening and carry a heavy pack around often. The shooting pains down my neck to my lower back because of the weight of the pack were not fun.
I would have set up a better bike tow system.
Q: You guys started silly slow (if I’m not mistaken you were in last place a couple of hours into the race), but then steadily moved up in the field to 23rd. What was the key to your success there and how did you manage to hold it together when so many other teams around you dropped off?
Our navigation team did a great job after the first few hours of some big screw ups. After that, we seemed to pass teams with better navigation choices that left other teams dumbfounded.
After our less than spectacular start, we made a team decision to look at the map, not get lost, and enjoy ourselves. It got amusing seeing teams perplexed as they continuously passing us, usually looking like we were goofing off, and having no idea how they keep getting behind us. Also, we kept pace steady, everyone else just got slower.
Q: Any piece of gear that you found critical for a race this long?
My North Face RDT rain jacket was amazing. It repelled water but also acted as a warm outer shell for cold nights.
Most critical gear is Aquaphor!! and maybe dry bags for when you capsize in pack rafts!
Q: Any piece of gear that you didn’t have but wished you had out on the course?
I needed a better dry bag for my pack. The one I brought wasn’t large enough so all of my stuff got wet during the paddling sections.
I wish I had a Sherpa or a masseuse.
Q: Any other last tips or tricks for racers who are looking to take the step from 24h racing to expedition racing?
Denise: Teammate selection is key. I loved my teammates even though I’m sure there were times when they thought I hated them. I experienced some really low points during the race and damn, if all three didn’t pull me back up. In particular, I have to credit my teammate Kirk for getting me to stop panicking when the packraft Austin and I were in capsized on the rapids of the Dead River. Kirk saw that I was panicking and breathing in water with every breath. He looked me in the eyes and basically yelled at me to focus, stop panicking and to swim to shore. I needed that. He shrugged it off like it was nothing but I cannot thank him enough for it. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.
Austin: If you are looking to make the leap into expeditions, make sure you like your teammates!! They made my race a ton of fun. Plan ahead as well, buying gear over a long period of time is easier to hide from the spouse.
A few other fun photos from Denise’s and Austin’s race:
Thanks Austin and Denise! Great job on Untamed New England!!